by Jami Davenport
Never look a gift horse in the mouth?
City boy Carson receives a temperamental gift horse complete with strings attached: transform a run-down horse farm into a showplace and a disorganized horse trainer bent on self-sabotage into a winner. His horse trainer has her own agenda, one that puts her life and his heart on the line.
I pretty much automatically love a person with a sense of humor, and going by The Gift Horse, I have a feeling Jami Davenport is my sort of person. Maybe not Barbara Dunlop sort of hilarious, but damn amusing in a way that doesn't involve desert raiders and a character's belatedly realizing they don't know how to read a language like, say, Arabic. For me, this is fantastic, because if we're going to head straight back into romance on this blog, there had best be some comedy. It's the only thing that saves me from rolling my eyes.
Well, anyway, to the plot. Sam is a disheveled mess who has recently returned home from Germany after a harrowing experience with a barn fire that inconveniently occurred at the barn she just happens to be returning to. Carson is the son of the owner. Carson is also neat and orderly and what some might call boring. At least he's good looking. And Sam is at least sort of pretty (if not beautiful) under all that dirt. Through family plotting that I am in no way going to get into, Carson becomes the half-owner of Gabbie, the dressage horse Sam hopes to ride into the upper echelons of the sport. But then her old trainer shows up, and all this crap starts to happen that drags up her past with the aforementioned barn fire, and a plot from Days of our Lives suddenly springs forth.
New friendships are tested! Old friendships are (really) tested! Gabbie keeps throwing herself at Carson, who keeps rebuffing her! The barn manager keeps slinking around, taking detailed notes on everyone! Everyone thinks this is very weird! Also, why are these horses suddenly going lame? Who stands to benefit? Will Sam learn how to brush her hair and launder her clothes in a timely manner? Will Carson loosen up a little and stop storing his underwear in tidy rows in his dresser? Will Gabbie ever get Carson to reciprocate her feelings, or will she be doomed to her own species for the rest of her natural life? The drama! The drama.
Okay, here are the two main things that I loved about this book. The first: Sam and Carson's first sexy encounter occurs in a "bordello on wheels." The bed may or may not "whirl around like a carnival ride." I kind of think that was metaphor working its magic, but I like to think of it as literal. The second: people spend most of the book thinking Juan the barn manager has lost, literally, all of his sense, because he will not stop acting like a private investigator who is very obvious at his job. This, however, is an act. By the end everyone does a collective who is this guy? and I fell in love with him...just a little bit. And I really love how he's like, "I'm out, bitches!" and just randomly leaves and everyone's too in awe of his awesomeness to really question it. Juan, you so deserve your own romance novel!
Anyway. I liked Sam's inability to function, while still demanding she can function just fine. Most romance novels seem to hinge on the girl being the most amazing girl ever and the boy being the most manly boy ever, and this book seems more focused on the two continually surprising each other, which would be great if it wasn't the characters moving away from their quirks and into the romance novel formula. For instance, as it turns out Sam can clean up nicely! And Carson can actually play sports, evaluate an engine, and fix fences! That said, the book does go the opposites attract route, and then does follow up on the suggestion that they'll never work out, like, twice. So that was interesting. Another fun aspect is the point of view changes. Every so often, Gabbie gets to step up and tell it like it is...despite not really knowing anything because she's a horse who cannot speak English. Gabbie makes the book and refreshes the old romance formula. Whenever Carson and Sam get sort of tiring, Gabbie is always portrayed perfectly. And Juan never gets old. Obviously.
So, other than a few small things and some typos (unfortunately for most of the population, "shoe-in" is a misspelling) I enjoyed it.
And I totally want Juan to get his own book. Please, Jami? Pretty please?
(The Gift Horse will be available in print at Amazon and B&N June 2009.)