A Hearts On Fire Review
"I knew the first time I saw you I was in trouble, Eli Watkins."
*cue 'I Knew You Were Trouble' to play in the background*
This is my first time reading Lisa Worrall. I'm unfamiliar with her writing style but let me tell you I was entertained. Probably for the wrong reasons, but entertained nonetheless. Trigger Warning: animal cruelty, physical and verbal abuse, attempted and off page sexual assault
Set in 1892 Texas, Before Sundown is about gay horseman & country boy Eli Watkins. He joins the Somerfield Ranch. He's there looking for more cash to send home to his family in Kansas but doesn't expect a cruel boss or his beautiful son to be as nice as his father is mean. Samuel Somerfield is the long time abused son of the owner, who is straight and is being forced into a courtship with a wealthy ranch owner's daughter he does not want. When he claps eyes on Eli, the two get off on the wrong foot, but there is an undeniable connection.
This story had a strong start. There was a frenemy vibe going on between the protagonists but the ranch owner was downright mean. And he made his presence known from the beginning. Please look at those triggers. Because the villains of the story take their villainy to extremes that really brought the story down in to OTT-ville population: them.
I'm not a fan of cowboys. Wait! Contemporary cowboys don't do it for me. I like looking at the pictures (duh) but the romances aren't really my go to. Historical cowboy romances I find I respond in a more positive light. Something about cowboys having to fend for themselves against real dangers and riding horses like the elements or starvation that I enjoy. This book read modern which was another minus for me. Though it had soap opera like antics and feels and the characters came off just as modern too, I couldn't stop reading to see what next crazy thing they'd do. This story could have easily been told in today's time just switch the horses for cars.
The men fall in love very quickly, declarations are made too soon. There is the plot line of Samuel's coming out and realizing he can fall for a man that just wasn't fleshed out enough. Add to that by 40% the men who didn't have a pot to piss in or any fighting skills, just took all kinds of silly risks that didn't jibe with the historical setting. I felt Eli was way too open. The gay secondary characters (a coincidence?) , the rapey second villain who somehow became a mind reader in the last third of the story...over the top. At points, the story felt like it was trying outdo itself with what crazy new plot device it could pile on top next instead of focusing on the romantic aspect of two damaged men finding love in 1892.
I'm on the fence with authors writing the dialect for their characters. Some authors can make it work if they don't over do it, some can't. In Before Sundown, be prepared for a heavy handed "yer", "y'all" and other heavy drawls spelled out. I felt like I was reading was reading a D rated cowboy movie at times the weird way Eli and other ranch workers spoke.
The story had good romantic scenes in the middle of the issues. I couldn't help rooting for the couple. Reading a player falling in love with that one special person is always fun to read especially when they're opposites: Eli's openly gay player who has been around the block a few times against Samuel's straitlaced hetero abused man who is realizing how to accept love, was good. Plus, double butt virgins. I wasn't mad at that, even if one sex scene got a little wonky in sticking to the characteristics of the main players.
The issues were heavy parts of why I can't rate this story higher. The cartoonish dialect, the time jumps and plot holes where characters knew what the other characters thought and planned and the horrible villains - too much.
And the way the story ended? I was shaking my head at how silly it all seemed. The entire scene at the Somerfield ranch before the grand finale...that was so unnecessary. I highly doubt the ending would have been so easy. The plot could have been more direct or maybe that plot twist could have been dropped. The final ending was rushed and after that big climax before the final score...underwhelming.
Again, I'm unsure if this is the author's style or just a one time thing.
Would I read more from this author? *squints* Maybe I'd probably try contemporary.
I think readers who like cowboys closer to the dramatic side and don't mind modern historical cowboys and the triggers might enjoy this most.
I was entertained...and needed a drink afterward.