Sweet Return by Anna Jeffrey
Series: The West Texas Books #3
Publisher: Signet Eclipse, Self-Published
Publication Date: December 27th 2012
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When renowned war correspondent and photojournalist Dalton Parker is dragged back to his hometown to face his past and handle a family crisis, the last thing he expects is to see a prime pasture of his family's Lazy P ranch taken over by hundreds of stinking chickens. There's an explanation for this and its name is Joanna Walsh, his mother's best friend.
While Joanna is a good-looking woman who's no dummy, she's the most uncompromising and infuriating woman Dalton has ever met. Still, he can't keep from admiring her caring nature and common sense. The dumbest thing he could do is try to lure her into his bed, but he's never been smart when it comes to women.
Joanna Walsh is known for trying to fix other people's problems. Believing the oldest Parker son could and should help his mother, Joanna is the one who called him to come back to town. And that turned out to be the biggest mistake she's ever made.
Once the rugged, self-assured Dalton sees her hens and her free-range egg operation, he's determined they have to go. Yet, through their daily conflicts, Joanna starts to see that while he's seen and photographed the worst of humanity and grown a hard shell, deep down he's a softie hiding a damaged heart. At the same time she dreads his abrasiveness, she can't keep from being drawn to him in a way she's never been before. Can she fix him, too?
I love the South. I don’t know why, but there’s just something so…Southern about it. The lazy Southern drawls, the laid back Southern life, the sexy Southern men. drool But even more than I love the South, I love Texas. Really. I love Texas more than cops love donuts. Yep, that much. Well, ok..let me clarify…I love romance novels set in Texas. I honestly can’t say why this is. I’ve never lived in Texas, so I can’t say I have some loyalty to it. I don’t like their football team, so I can’t claim that as a reason. It’s just one of my quirks, loving Texas.
So when I was contacted by Ms. Jeffery and asked if I’d like an ARC of this, I immediately – upon learning it was set in Texas – said, “Yes!”. I can’t say I regret it, either.
Joanna is one busy woman. After leaving for college, her dream was to return to Hatlow, Texas, her hometown. Unlike most other people, Joanna loves the small town and all it’s residents. But to make a living in Hatlow, Joanna’s had to run several businesses at once. She owns and operates a Beauty Shop and Janitorial Supply store and also has an egg business. Yes, Joanna is in the business of chickens. Her good friend, and Dalton’s mother, kind of talked her into it, and she works hard to run both of her businesses.
When Dalton’s brother is involved in a car accident, Joanna calls him and asks him to come back home to help his mother. Dalton isn’t interested at all, but finally agrees because Joanna guilts him into it. He comes home and he and Joanna are immediately attracted to one another, but he hates her chickens and she thinks he’s a bad son with no morals…plus, do to a miscommunication, she thinks he has a woman waiting for him back home (in California).
I really enjoyed this story, despite the few misunderstandings. Right up until the end. Joanna was a good character, well developed with a strong work ethic and a good personality. She has a habit of “meddling” into other people’s lives, because she wants to fix things for them – or help them – whenever she possibly can. Although this can be an annoying trait, Ms. Jeffrey pulled it off brilliantly. Though Joanna “meddled” she wasn’t annoying or overbearing..she simply just wanted to help.
Dalton was also a well fleshed out character, though I wonder at his pigheadedness. He had very firm ideas about how things should be and that grated on my nerve a bit. For example: He hates that Joanna has chickens on his mother’s farm. So he constantly makes rude – and derogatory – remarks to Joanna about it. Plus, he thinks Joanna somehow swindled his mother and talked her into letting her have the land the chickens are on, even though both Joanna and her mother explained otherwise. He even helps Joanna care for them on more than one occasion, but still persists in calling them stupid animals and degrading Joanna for having them. There was just something inconsistent about his behavior.
That’s not to say I didn’t like him, or the part he played in this novel. I did, quite a bit. But something just seemed…off about his actions. Or perhaps I just read too much into them.
Watching him and Joanna circle around their attraction to each other – and eventual feelings – was at equal parts hilarious, frustrating and sweet. I feel they should have been more open and honest with each other from the beginning, but I think I understand why they weren’t, considering they didn’t get off on the best foot.
The secondary characters enriched the story rather from detracting from it and I felt they gave the story an extra kick just when it might have become boring or bogged down. There were a few things I felt were left unresolved, such as Joanna’s relationship with her mother, but it wasn’t so much that I couldn’t enjoy the story.
I guess my big issue with the book comes at the end. I think it was rather abrupt and not as well done as the story deserved. Towards the end middle of the last chapter absolutely nothing had been resolved between Joanna and Dalton, and had in fact gotten worse for them. As you can imagine, I found that more than frustrating. I like my HEA’s all tied up in a nice neat, tidy little bow and although the ending was Happy, it wasn’t tidy or tied up with a bow.
I don’t want to spoil it for any of you, but I will tell you the conflict isn’t resolved until the very last second and it was done well, if not quite to my satisfaction (again with needing it tied up in a bow).
Despite the ending, I truly enjoyed this book. It’s very character driven and something I’d say made me feel good, which is a powerful thing for a novel to do. For a contemporary romance, without a suspense plot to be found, it’s something I’d recommend.
3.75 out of 5