Friday, April 29, 2022

Jo Goodman - Stages of the Heart

Experience has taught Laurel to be suspicious of the men who pass through Morrison Station. She's been running the lucrative operation that connects Colorado's small frontier town of Falls Hollow with the stagecoach line since she inherited it from her father, and she's not about to let some wandering cowboy take over the reins. But newcomer McCall Landry isn't just any gunslinger. He seems to genuinely care for Laurel, and with his rugged good looks and mysterious past, he could be the one man to finally tempt her off track...
Call Landry doesn't expect much from Falls Hollow. He doesn't expect much from anything anymore. But Laurel Morrison took him by surprise when she put in a good word for him, a virtual stranger, after the stagecoach was robbed--and she keeps taking him by surprise. Charmed by her clever wit and fierce loyalty, Call finds himself falling hard. Now all he has to do is convince her he means to stay--in her bed, in her life, and in her heart.

Comment: This is the second book I try by this author and I decided to get one of her westerns, opposed the other one I read which was more along the lines of a Regency. I suppose it worked for I liked this one more than the other.

In this book we meet Call Landry, a sort of drifter who arrives at Falls Hollow and plans on doing some work until he feels like moving on, but he is taken with Laurel Morrison, the surprising female owner of the stagecoach station there, a family inheritance after her father and brothers were killed. At first, Call accepts a job investigation the theft of money from a rich man of the closest city just to do something but the more he gets to know Laurel and those who work for her, the more he feels he might have found his last stop. However, the war left scars on everyone and he doesn't know if Laurel will want to be with him, but there is no reason to worry anyway... will Call solve the theft? Will he find a forever place at last?

This was a very well structured and complex novel. I sometimes felt this could not be the same author of the other book I had read because the intensity and complexity of this one seemed to have been planned better, and the way things were presented to the reader easier to follow and appreciate. Perhaps it's a feature of the author's westerns, that the stories "flow" better? I'll probably try another to compare.

Call Landry is a very interesting character, with layers and complex personality. He was at war, has no fixed destination when the story begins and has hat whole vibe of not feeling worthy of the kind of stability other people have. At the same time, he is confident in his abilities and skills and he doesn't suffer fools, which is a sort of contradiction to his feelings of lacking worth. I found him to be complex yes, but likable and competent.

This aspect is especially visible as the plot moves along and he works for Laurel while investigating the money theft too. Little things, as we would see in any mystery novel are present here, as how things happened and possible explanations for this or that, and I really felt invested in this, in how the plan was so that someone could steal the money without witnesses seeing it. The explanations for this, both after Call's work reuniting information and due to secondary situations, felt believable for what we knew and for the time, and I think the author did a good job making everything fit.

In the midst of all this, while we get to know all characters though their actions and descriptions, making some more likable than others of course, we get to understand how these people's lives weren't as easy or as complicated as often we tend to imagine. Not as easy because there were worries for everyone, like Laurel's fear a railroad will put her out of work and this how this would affect those who work for her, but then not as complicated because plans and decisions seemed to have been simpler to achieve, considering the amount of things people might not have, like too many goods/belongings...  (as opposed to modern times for instance).

The romance is also a considerable part of the story. Laurel is a strong willed heroine, with her feet on the ground, not really into silly things or behavior and I liked her immensely for her quiet personality and her ability to recognize something good when she sees it (such as the positive of someone's personality and ability to help)and that certainly made me like her more because she sees Call as a worthy man. I found their interactions to be quite complex and relatively intellectual, because they did discuss a lot of their decisions.

I suppose for some this might not sound very romantic and, to be fair, there was a situation or two where a bit more spontaneity and passionate decisions would help them become closer, but it was also so good that they talked and exchanged ideas about a possible romance and, later on, about how they could be together. The HEA is a little analytical, but sweet to, especially when they confide in each other about their pasts and so on.

All things considered, this book did impress me more than I anticipated and now I'm curious to try another western.
Grade: 8/10 

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