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Erica Vetsch – The Cactus Creek Challenge

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Guns, outlaws, and women included.

Publisher: Shiloh Run Press (Barbour Publishing)
Pages: 309
Type: Fiction
Age: Adult
ISBN: 978-1-630-58927-1
First Published: 1st July 2015
Date Reviewed: 3rd May 2015
Rating: 3/5

Schoolteacher Cassie loves sheriff Ben, but Ben still sees her as a child. When they are paired together, tasked with doing each other’s jobs, both are confidant they can rise to the challenge. Then there is new resident, baker Jenny, a widow with a past she’s not divulging, who is paired with another widow, stable owner Carl. Whoever does their temporary job best wins money for a certain sector or the town but it’s likely they’ll win each other, too.

The Cactus Creek Challenge is an inspirational (Christian) western romance that focuses on domestic and social relations.

The story is simple and mostly predictable but that’s no bad thing; it leaves Vetsch able to look at her other themes. There are two romances. The reader is likely to vastly prefer one to the other due to how much more natural it is. The slow burn of Carl and Jenny’s relationship is rather special and it’s written very well. The addition of Amanda, Jenny’s child, only adds to it. Yes, Amanda is included a lot and almost too talkative (in the way of info-dumping) but the relationship and development of the new family is rather lovely.

Cassie and Ben, on the other hand, is a relationship that’s more forced. There is a nice passage in which Ben realises Cassie has grown up but otherwise their relationship isn’t so believable. It’s hard to see why Cassie likes Ben, particularly when we’re told they are like siblings but never shown any true evidence of it or any friendship. The relationship rests on what we’re told, that Cassie loves Ben but she’s always moaning at him, that Ben now likes Cassie (that nice passage) but it doesn’t really blossom.

Carl and Jenny are the stand outs in this book; both work hard to do the other’s job and to understand life from that point of view. Carl’s efforts to bring Amanda out of her shell and his love for her are written brilliantly; he is a very endearing character. Jenny worries about her past but Vetsch keeps it from becoming frustrating – there is no constant pushing away as there can be in other books.

One of the problems with this book is that Cassie is a bit of a mismatch. Vetsch presents a woman who was a tomboy in her youth, a woman who loves the idea of being sheriff for a month, and who shows promise to the reader as such – and then has Cassie prettifying the jail in a way that makes no sense and bares no relation to the set-up. This second Cassie does not comprehend why Ben is angry she’s added curtains and crockery and cushions to the jail, does not understand why it’s inappropriate to have a tea party there with all the ladies of the town, whilst simultaneously wanting to be the sheriff.

In the main the story reads well, but there are a few issues. Foremost is the way two of the characters kill a kidnapper – they are worried about the child which is understandable, but there is no mention of any remorse or prayers to God, which in the context of the Christian background is difficult. The body is pulled back home and will be planted in the ground; no prayers, nothing. The man is shot and anything else is simply ignored by the text.

Otherwise religion is included well. There is one time wherein an entire hymn is included, which is a bit much and lessens the effect, but otherwise faith lingers in the background, naturally informing the character’s lives. The romantic scenes show well how a book can be perfectly steamy without the characters ever adjourning to the bedroom. Carl and Jenny’s scenes stand out as their scenes do in general, but there are some lovely moments between Cassie and Ben near the end.

Throughout the book you know there’s a fair chance of a particular event occurring – it’s something that is reported as a possibility in line with Jenny’s leaving her old home. It’s something that’s almost expected as an element. However when it comes down to it Vetsch decides to use the concept itself but place it in an entirely irrelevant context, an unimportant plot device sort of context, that could be considered frustrating due to how successful and meaningful the alternative would have been. It’s a case of close but no cigar – not bad, per se, but the alternative was so remarked upon that it does feel as though the story’s going down the wrong path.

There are continuity errors, for example a character says that a person should follow them outside and moments later the second character leaves by themselves with no mention of changing the plan. Chairs are pulled out, never to be referred to again. Part of the story is made up of accident after accident after accident. Lastly there is a great amount of info-dumping and the text is overwritten (excursions that are simply to introduce someone to the reader rather than having an actual raison d’etre).

The writing itself is strictly okay. Here again there is too much description (to paraphrase, there are lots of sentences akin to ‘he took the chair from the desk and sat on the seat’), factually inaccurate statements and anachronisms.

The Cactus Creek Challenge isn’t as refined as, say, A Bride’s Portrait Of Dodge City, Kansas, but it’s generally well set in its era and the twist of women doing the men’s work is as fulfilling as you might have hoped upon reading the blurb. It’s also a fair choice for those looking for faith in their fiction without it being a theme. It’s not going to ‘wow’ you, but you may find yourself lingering over it all the same.

I received this book for review from the publisher.

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May 4, 2015, 5:09 am

Definitely doesn’t sound like my thing, although I do prefer inspirationals that don’t entirely focus on that aspect.

Tracy Terry

May 5, 2015, 1:12 pm

Definitely intrigued by this one I’ll be sure to keep a look out.



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