Back in the Saddle by Karen Templeton

This RITA® Reader Challenge 2017 review was written by Meagan M. This story was nominated for the RITA® in the Mid-Length Contemporary category.

The summary:

A SECOND CHANCE IN THE SADDLE

All widowed veterinarian Zach Talbot wants is to raise his two boys in the peace and quiet of his New Mexico town. Who’d have thought that being roped into helping a woman choose a horse for her son would upend the single father’s whole world?

Except ex-actress and rodeo rider Mallory Keyes isn’t just any woman.

With its wide-open spaces and sky that goes on forever, Whispering Pines is the ideal temporary haven after the accident that changed Mallory’s life forever. Falling for the sexy, caring man who found the perfect palomino for her eleven-year-old wasn’t in her short- or long-term plans. Zach’s also determined to get Mallory back in the saddle. Can she return the favor by helping to heal the still-grieving vet’s heart?

Here is Meagan M.’s review:

As the book opens, we’re introduced to Zach Talbot, a veterinarian who lives in Whispering Pines, a small town in New Mexico, and Mallory Keyes, formerly an actress and now a paraplegic woman hiding from everything and everyone. Zach is a widower, he has two boys that are 3 and 8, and while he’s kind of lonely and overwhelmed, he’s doing okay. Mallory bought a house in Whispering Pines in order to hide out from the paparazzi, because she was afraid that their dogged pursuit of her, post-accident, was negatively impacting her 11 year old son, who stayed behind with his father and new stepmom.

If their first meeting is supposed to indicate love at first sight, it did not come across that way to me. Attraction is there, and maybe even curiosity, but I didn’t get some sort of soul-shattering connection from their first meeting. And normally, that would be fine. Some gentle build-up can be good, too, but their romance ramps up much too quickly after they meet to be considered a slow burn, and they seem somewhat obsessed with each other.

They resist the so-called pull between them for about a week, despite having some pretty good reasons to stay apart. (He doesn’t want to deal with loss again after his wife’s passing, and she feels like she is too physically broken to be able to give herself to someone.) They go on an overnight trip together, both of them hoping the other will instigate sex, and so it’s no surprise that they do sleep together. Both of them seem to think it’s a one-time thing, as if they just needed to have sex once and get it out of their system. There’s some minor drama with her son and then lickety-split, they’re in love and committed. And then, if it already wasn’t fast enough, Zach proposes marriage to her before the book’s just-over-200 pages comes to a close.

I was not satisfied with how the disability tied into the story. The point of diverse fiction is both to increase representation and to show others what it can be like to live differently than others, to perpetuate understanding and empathy for someone on a different life journey–but here, the paraplegia is little more than set-dressing. Which would be okay if most of Mallory’s characterization didn’t center on it. Most of her identity in the book comes from the fact that she considers herself broken. But while Mallory’s new identity centers around her disability, we don’t get much of an idea about how life has really changed for her. She mentions that not everywhere is accessible, but instead of being told how much her life has changed, we could have been shown, as she goes through her day-to-day routines. The horse therapy was a nice touch, especially how Mallory needed to use special ramps and belts in order to ensure her safety, and then afterward, she could ride just like anyone else. But, isn’t horse-riding somewhat dependent on your legs, in order to communicate with the horse? Wouldn’t she have to learn a new way of riding, using her upper body?

And let’s talk about that sex scene. It was not at all explicit, so if you’re a reader that prefers the sexy be behind closed doors, this book will probably make you happy. It’s about a page long, and it is not explicit in the least. However, Mallory alludes to certain challenges for paraplegic women in the bedroom, and Zach replies that he did some research, and so he gets it. But what? What exactly is the challenge? I did some Googling myself, and let me tell you, it would take days to uncover whatever the particular challenge of hers was, because there are as many types of paralysis injuries and problems that come with them as there are snowflakes, and while I did learn some interesting things, this passage kind of irked me. I had no idea what they were talking about, and while I surmised it had something to do with bathroom functions, I can’t be sure. Yes, toileting is not sexy; I get it. The passage didn’t need to go into meticulous, medical-jargony detail. It just needs to be enough so that the reader can understand what the heroine is going through, or don’t mention it at all.

The other characters were vibrant and well-rounded. I enjoyed the glimpses of other people in the town, and how they interacted and seemed to have history with our main characters. (From the way the author writes them, with familiarity and love, it came as no surprise to me that most of them also star in their own books. In fact, Back in the Saddle is the 8th book in the Wed in the West series.) But the romance on its own was bland, dull, and skipped over all the interesting parts. Zach’s realization that he was in love with Mallory and ready to try again seemed so rushed, especially since he was still mourning his late wife for most of the book.

The actual writing was not bad at all. The pacing was the issue with this book, and it made it very hard to be invested into the story when, after some careful groundwork is laid, it all gets tossed aside in order to get the characters together for their HEA. Sometimes, a plot needs to breathe a little more, and relationships need to be explored in order to give the conflict and conclusion the oomph that it needs.

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Back in the Saddle by Karen Templeton

March 1, 2016

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