Learning to Ride (Sunnybell #1)
By: Erin Knightley
When an unexpected chance at promotion sent Madeline Harper to sleepy Sunnybell, Texas, to oversee the successful completion of her company's latest merger, the farthest thing from her mind was becoming involved with a local. Sunnybell was just a stop on her way up the corporate ladder, and one she intended to make the most of -- but she didn't count on a cowboy with a smoldering gaze making her forget every one of her rules of engagement. And when her anonymous hook-up turns out to be Tanner Callen, local celebrity, she becomes more determined than ever to sever the connection. After all, for a city girl like herself a relationship with a thrill-seeking country boy is a recipe for heartache. But Madeline is about to discover that when it comes to matters of the heart, her best-laid plans may be the only thing standing between her and happiness.
Having read (and loved) several of Erin Knightley's historical romance novellas, I was excited to see how she fared with her first contemporary release. For those looking to discover new authors, James Patterson's BookShots are the perfect vehicle -- short, fast reads that are priced to sell. Learning to Ride is basically a Hallmark made-for-TV movie waiting to happen (sans Madeline and Tanner's initial spicy hookup of course). I've always liked that Knightley's historicals fell in the "sweet" end of the historical romance spectrum -- passionate, yes, but not explicit. And while this is certainly tame by the standards of many romance releases, the hook-up conceit felt awkward. Knightley seems to be in uncharted territory here, and it shows, however she is quickly in her element as Tanner and Madeline are forced to navigate the fallout of their initial meeting, as their undeniable chemistry wars with their disparate life goals and worldviews.
While Learning to Ride is your typical opposites attract romance, it underscores an issue I often have with this type of story, whether in books or on film, and that is the idea that a woman with a career either isn't happy or doesn't have anything resembling a healthy work/life balance. All too often it is the woman who gives up the career or the lifestyle FOR LOVE and I ask you, where is the equity in that? Now I realize that I am completely overthinking Knightley's storyline here, and Tanner and Madeline are perfectly likeable characters...but the tropes of their romance frustrated me. City = bad, country = good, etc. -- for once I would LOVE to read a story that flips these tropes on their ear and gives us a romance where the devil-may-care, nominally employed man gives it all up to move to the city for his career-driven woman.
In fairness, Tanner is willing to compromise with Madeline on the city versus country issue, but it ends up being essentially lip service as it isn't necessary for their relationship to progress. Both Tanner and Madeline are perfectly nice characters, and their interactions possess some of the hallmarks that I've come to expect from Knightley's writing -- well drawn, multi-faceted individuals sketched with warmth and humor on the page. Although the storyline is symptomatic of some of my general frustrations with romance tropes (particularly in a contemporary context), this was an engaging summer read -- and should Hallmark or Lifetime ever elect to make this story into a film, I would watch the heck out of that (which I fully realize is a double standard as regards my toleration of certain tropes in text versus film). Make it happen, networks! Now I'm off to read more historical romance, wherein discussions of a woman's career goals would be anachronism at its finest.
About the book:
She never wanted to love a cowboy. . . .
Rodeo king Tanner Callen doesn't want to be tied down. When he sees Madeline Harper at a local honky-tonk and everything about her screams New York, he brings out every trick in his playbook to take her home. But soon he learns that he doesn't just want her for a night and, instead, hopes for forever. . . .
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