My rating: 4 out of 5 stars
The publisher provided me with a copy of this book to review via Netgalley.
The Wrangler is the fifth book in Lindsay McKenna’s Jacksone Hole series. However you do not have to read any of the previous books to enjoy the story, though I would suggest at least reading the previous book The Last Cowboy to get a better understanding of Griff’s relationship with his brother Slade, but it is certainly not a requirement. Because I had read The Last Cowboy before stating in on this book I came into it with a relatively large dislike of Griff. After how he treated Slade I doubted he could do much to redeem himself in The Wrangler.
Val Hunter has left her job at the Air Force to return home to help her grandmother, Gus, run the family ranch, a place that has very few happy memories for Val. Having grown up with an abusive father Val has a very difficult time trusting me, refusing to let them get close to her or opening up to them and rightfully so. Her transition from a withdrawn, damaged, standoffish woman to someone who could once again live a happy life filled with love was a great part of this book. It gave Val’s character a lot of development and showed that not everything happens easily or right off the hop. While she is not the strongest main character I have seen she was certainly a nice change from your typical strong female who needs no help and is perfect right from the beginning.
Gus, Val’s grandmother, was a very good addition to this story. She’s an old ranch woman who is tough and stern, doesn’t take crap from nobody and isn’t afraid to put in some sweat equity even with her bad hip. She really is the backbone of Val’s transition, along with Griff. I really enjoyed how she stood up to Curt Downing and put him and his little minion in their place. She also adds that sense of family to the story, after all she’s the only family Val has left.
Griff has changed a lot. After losing his job on Wall street after the markets crashed he has returned home to Jackson Hole. After struggling at first, mainly because his brother Slade refused to accept him back and because Griff is inexperienced at ranch work, he has found his place and works hard at the local feed store. It’s hard work but he loves it, and it shows that he has begun to embrace his heritage as a Wyoming bred ranchers son. Showing that he has a good work ethic, is respectful, kind, a bit shy and willing to put himself in dangerous positions is a major selling point, and goes a long way to redeeming himself from his previous ways.
While all the characters are enjoyable for various reason, I have to say my favorite is probably Curt Downing. Even in the book The Last Cowboy he was the perfect villain and he continues to be so in The Wrangler. He’s rich, he’s rude, very few people like him and he has his dirty hands in just about everything. He is definitely the type of person you love to hate.
There were a great number of small subplots within this book. Between both Griff and Val trying to overcome their pasts and start on their futures, the feud between Griff and Slade, the presence of a drug cartel and FBI investigate of it, along with the romance itself. So while certain things did distract from the romance aspect of the book I don’t think it took away from it all that much. One aspect I liked was the tie in to The Last Cowboy, having Slade present in this book and showing the brother finally putting their past and their feud behind them for good, they still have some work to do on their relationship but it’s gotten better.
The love between Griff and Val is slow to develop, mostly due to Val being so withdrawn and resistant to men, but also because Griff is respectful of her aversion to men. Because of this he doesn’t try to speed things up even though he feels an attraction to her and believes on many occasions that Val may be developing feelings for him. Through working together on fixing up the ranch they slowly go from co-workers, to friends and then at the end falling in love.
Though slow going at points the ending does make up for it, when Griff and Val finally come together and let their passion and love take them to the next step. Of course Gus’ reaction to it made for a great laugh. Leave it to good old Gus to point something obvious out to the pair in her typical manner.
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