Book Cover Book Cover Book Cover Book Cover Book Cover Book Cover Book Cover Book Cover

Erica Vetsch – The Cactus Creek Challenge

Book Cover

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.

Related Books

Book cover

Erica Vetsch – A Bride’s Portrait Of Dodge City, Kansas

Book Cover

As people learned to say cheese.

Publisher: Barbour Publishing
Pages: 309
Type: Fiction
Age: Adult
ISBN: 978-1-616-26506-9
First Published: 1st September 2011
Date Reviewed: 17th October 2014
Rating: 4/5

Addie moved to Dodge City with her uncle after troubles caused them to move from Abilene. Now Carl is dead and Addie is trying to build up their photography business by herself. She has a romance-minded friend, Fran, and then there’s the new Deputy Sheriff. Miles has started his new job, and has a few personal conflicts about the job, owing to his new found faith, but he’s excited nonetheless to be working as a lawman, especially given his past.

A Bride’s Portrait Of Dodge City, Kansas, is a pretty fair historical novel straddling the mystery, suspense, and romance genres.

Christianity features in this book. It is a big part of a few of the character’s lives however in terms of the novel itself the faith is woven in enough that the general reader should be okay with it. There are a couple of times where Miles feels he should be declaring his faith to his boss, which isn’t really appropriate, but otherwise the times the characters think of God are totally natural – Addie prays for help whilst hiding from shooting, for example. And there isn’t all that many textual references to it, it is more a case that the reader knows the characters have faith.

The language is generally very good, the characters well written. Addie is self-employed, a woman working as a photographer in the 1800s against various prejudices. She is strong throughout. Fran is a dreamer and doesn’t realise the potential danger ahead, and Vetsch does put her in some situations, including a scene of harsh words from the man who says he loves her, but overall you can see where the author was wanting to show how the good guy can be a mysterious knight in shining armour if given the chance. This said there is a scene in which a bad guy gets perhaps more nasty than he had previously seemed (yes, even for his associations) that readers may find uncomfortable for the way it plays out. Miles will appeal more to a Christian reader than otherwise, though either way you’re likely to see him as a fair hero.

There are repetitions, for instance you hear about Addie’s move from Abilene a few times and there aren’t really enough updates to warrant it until later in the book when she gives you the whole story, and these feel as though a word count was needed because as soon as the narrative moves away from it the story carries on well.

The book is somewhat predictable by fact of it’s romantic genre, but another thread that seems predictable is not so much. This said, the mystery and suspense take a somewhat surprising turn near the end and one of the most obvious suspects isn’t spoken of until this end. The suspense itself, however, is written excellently and Vetsch hasn’t shied away from the details, in fact it could be said she lures you into thinking everything will be just about drunken cowboys, red lights, and saloons, until getting to the gritty stuff. And she shows the difficult and otherwise immoral choices that must be made in times of emergency.

There is a great deal to learn about photography and the times in general. There is a lot of detail given to photography but not so much as to make it boring. Indeed if you’ve even the smallest interest in the subject you’ll likely enjoy Vetsch’s descriptions. The book is firmly in cowboy territory and the balance between ‘protect the women’ and Addie’s freedom is good. Fran could have done with more freedom to choose, but given the way she is presented from the start, you know she’s going to go back on her words somewhat.

Lastly, this may be a clean romance, but its kisses and thoughts are pretty steamy all the same. Indeed Vetsch shows you don’t need sex for a fair tale of romance.

What works in A Bride’s Portrait Of Dodge City, Kansas (it’s a long title but interesting for its difference) makes up the vast majority. There may be flaws but looking at the big picture the book is very good. Cowboys and photography, gangs and romance, independence and dependence; if you’re looking for a western with a bit of faith, you could do worse than read this book.

Related Books

Book cover

Ella Drake – Silver Bound

Book Cover

Sometimes you might get what you always wanted, but you’ll have to fight for it first.

Publisher: Carina Press (Harlequin)
Pages: 191
Type: Fiction
Age: Adult
ISBN: 978-1-426890-79-6 (only avaliable as an ebook)
First Published: 22nd November 2010
Date Reviewed: 20th February 2011
Rating: 3.5/5

When Jewel attempts to run away from her evil husband, taking their son with her, she’s caught and her memories are wiped. Prepared to become a sexual slave, no one thought that it would be her much-loved ex-boyfriend who would come to claim her as his, the motive being to save her.

This was pushing the boat for me. Even though I didn’t think my venture into Mills & Boon too shabby an experience, it hadn’t been what I thought it would be. I was therefore still lacking in what I’d set out to gain – experience in a genre far removed from what I usually read. The summary of Drake’s Silver Bound found it’s way to me through one of the statuses of the author’s Twitter account, and I knew without a doubt that this was it.

Silver Bound deals with a deprived subject but although Drake uses it for erotic purposes she doesn’t let the storyline sink to such levels as you may imagine. Indeed the space, western, and escape elements are just as important, and it’s obvious that time has been spent just as much on them as the romance.

What Drake does is present the situation but makes it so that the man, Guy, who claims the slave, Jewel, is a lover from her past who regrets their parting and is thus wanting to save her from her predicament. There is actually less sex than you might think because the love Guy has for Jewel does not permit him to use her to his advantage. Guy makes for a very worthy hero.

All that said I can’t really shy away from describing the sex. It’s hot, it’s in a variety of flavours, and it goes back and forth in control depending on Jewel’s recovery of memories at any given time.

Another point of interest is the growth of Jewel, the enslaved woman. Before her enslavement, upon which her memories are wiped, she is a sassy and confident woman despite her horrible situation. After her enslavement, especially when she meets Guy, she begins to regain them so that the story doesn’t remain as much about Guy’s feelings and it becomes a story of two equals. That’s not to say that Jewel’s thoughts are given no time, indeed they are included in all sections of the story.

I couldn’t write about this book and not talk about the mix of living in space and the realm of the cowboy. Silver Bound isn’t so much futuristic as it is fantasy, the people inhabit and use space stations, journey through the universe in “hoppers” and have futuristic technology – but they appear to have lived on their different planets for ever. The western aspect blends into this flawlessly, as Drake explains how the ranchers use the older ways of living – the cowboy ways – to keep their patch of land fresh. Guy can use a technologically advanced weapon, but he’ll just as often bring out the lasso.

The writing is good but there is a sense of the short story in that many times the scene switches suddenly, sometimes it’s very confusing what is happening. The book could have done with a little more development to keep the transitions between sections of the plot smooth.

I can’t say that my comfort zone in romance overall has changed, even if after the third time my boyfriend asked me what I was reading on my phone and the answer came back, sensationalised for maximum effect, “a dirty erotic novel”, he no longer blinked an eye lid, quashed further by my reminder that men have had access to porn for centuries – but having read Silver Bound I feel less daunted by the genre and see that if you choose wisely you don’t have to land yourself with something that is stereotypical or badly written.

Drake drops an original mix into the pot and shows that a combination of genres at opposite ends of the scale can be blended to good effect, even when the least of details in the blend is examined. The universe created could support a vast number of interesting stories of many types – and as a small slice from this massive universe, Silver Bound does not disappoint.

Related Books

Book coverBook cover

Alex Bell – Lex Trent Fighting With Fire

Book Cover

Talking foxes, more fire-breathing rabbits and the anti-hero discovering a fear of octopuses. It could only be another Lex Trent book.

Publisher: Headline
Pages: 376
Type: Fiction
Age: Young Adult
ISBN: 978-0-7553-5519-8
First Published: 3rd February 2011
Date Reviewed: 30th January 2011
Rating: 4/5

The Games have been scheduled once again and, once again, Lex has been chosen. But whom will he pick as his companion this time, as he seeks a life-giving sword in the Wild West? The decision is obvious, but Lex and his companion will have to do more than simply spin a couple of pistols and walk beside the tumbleweed. One of the other players is the grandson of a person affiliated with the Trents and having been shunned, the idea of winning the three rounds becomes all the more appealing.

Lex Trent Fighting With Fire continues the same basic format as Lex Trent Versus The Gods but features a lot more events in between the rounds, providing the reader with a chance to get to know the anti-hero even better but also, this time, to see where he can be a bit nicer. That’s not to say that the character improves exactly, because he doesn’t, in fact if anything the more you learn in many respects makes your opinion of him worse, but there are some very good points to him, no matter how well he tries to conceal them, that end up surfacing during the course of the book. This allows for Lex Trent to be ever more awful without alienating the reader.

Money had made them stupid. Lex could have announced himself as Tex Lent and they still wouldn’t have put the pieces together.

Lex’s companion Jesse, is superbly stereotypical as are the other contestants, and this is one of things that makes the book fun to read. Bell exploits stereotypes almost viciously, really making the most of them, and you can’t but be amused even if sometimes in reality it wouldn’t be correct.

More so than the first book, because of the connections between the characters, the other players play a bigger role in the story, at most times being just as much important as Lex and Jesse. The game rounds are more extreme too, whereas in the first book they were very dangerous but more interesting, this time they are more nightmarish and deadly. One round, involving books, is a treat because of the very nature of readers. And Bell includes a far share of libraries.

After all, when a mysterious volcano range suddenly appears on the landscape and may erupt at any moment, what could be more natural than to build a café right there beside it?

The story is slower than Lex Trent Versus The Gods because there is more information in it. The Wild West element is a whole subplot in itself as Lex is doing more than last time; he has two games to win – again the structure and writing style aid in helping the slowness to pass.

Lex Trent Fighting With Fire continues on a theme but succeeds in taking the story further thanks to that theme. In a time when second books are generally fillers it stands out from the crowd with the golden glow of a glowing canary that’s nearing the treasure. And it fits into a sole tradition – it’s own. It is a worthy follow-up and solid piece in a series that is likely to continue.

Related Books

Book coverBook coverBook coverBook cover