Trey Duvall is a cowboy through and through who loves running his family's ranch. He also loves his hometown of Wildcat Bluff, Texas, a community that pulls out all the stops for their annual Christmas celebration, which draws tourists from all over the state and where all the locals get into the act. In addition to his ranching duties, Trey is a dedicated volunteer firefighter, and unfortunately the station has been experiencing far more calls than usual as suspicious fires keep cropping up all over the surrounding area. When one such fire hits the outskirts of his ranch while he's out on the range alone, he runs onto the nearby highway, looking for help from a passing car, and what he finds is a lovely young woman who bravely fights the fire alongside him despite her aversion to the flames, leading him to dub her his "Christmas angel." When he discovers that she'll be staying in town for a little while, Trey is eager to get to know her better.
Misty Reynolds is a troubleshooter from Dallas, who works for a small firm run by her best friend. She's been hired by a Christmas tree farm to look into a mysterious fire that decimated a large portion of their crop of trees. However, events from her past have left her wary of both fires and Christmas, so this isn't her ideal assignment. When Trey comes running full-speed onto the road, at first she thinks he's a crazy man, but when she sees the smoke from the fire, she jumps into action to help in spite of her fears. Putting out the blaze helps lift her confidence, as does the handsome Trey's attentions. When he offers to show her around town, she can't resist, but can she truly trust him? As more fires crop up that appear to be arson, Misty's investigation heats up, too. The more time she spends with Trey, the more she comes to believe that he couldn't possibly be involved, and as a result, their desire for one another burns hotter by the day. But what will happen when Misty's probe into the fires is complete? Can a city girl like her see herself moving to a tiny town like Wildcat Bluff to be with a man she's only known for a short time?
A Cowboy Firefighter for Christmas was one of those random impulse buys that I picked up at my local library book sale. I'm a sucker for Christmas-themed romances, but the majority of these stories seem to be novellas. Therefore, it can be difficult to find full-length novels centering around the holiday, so when I do, I always take a closer look. Just the title alone caught my eye. Cowboys? Firefighters? Christmas? What's not to like? I'd never read this author before, but the GoodReads rating for it was pretty good, so I thought surely this would be a winner. However, as it turns out, not so much. It was an OK read, but one that could have been so much better. The main characters were likable, but very much lacking in depth and dimension. The story was alright, but pretty predictable, too. Despite those things, though, it probably would have been worthy of at least four stars, except that large swaths of the narrative prose fell into the dreaded "telling not showing" trap. If not for that, this would have been a good story, but instead it ended up being pretty "meh."
Misty lost both of her parents as a child and was raised by an aunt, who eventually died of cancer, so she's mostly alone in the world except for her best friend who hired her to work as a troubleshooter. She had gone to school to become a librarian, and despite a rather convoluted explanation as to why, I never quite understood how a librarian ended up as a troubleshooter. Troubleshooter is a pretty vague job title, too, something that the hero actually states at one point in the story. She's hired by a Christmas tree farm in the small town of Wildcat Bluff to look into who's been setting fires on their property, so it seems like an arson or insurance investigator, or perhaps even a private eye would have been a more appropriate job title for her, but oh well, I just went with it. Misty has a deep-seated fear and perhaps a bit of PTSD associated with fires, but as she helps the volunteer firefighters battle several blazes, she starts to overcome that fear. She also hates Christmas. We don't learn until toward the end of the book exactly what caused her anxiety and dislike of the holiday, but it wasn't difficult at all to extrapolate. Misty was an OK heroine, but not a standout. She didn't do anything to annoy me. However, her journey was far too easy IMHO. All it took was fighting a few fires and one breakdown moment, followed by a heart-to-heart talk with Trey and suddenly she's magically "cured" of all fear and loathing surrounding fires and Christmas, which was just a little too much to be believable.
Trey is an only child whose parents decided to take a cruise during the Christmas holiday, leaving him alone on the family ranch, although he has cousins and other extended family who live in town. He's a cowboy who helps run the ranch and who sometimes competes in rodeos, and he's also a volunteer firefighter. To be honest, this is about all we learn about him. He's kind of just a generic, good ole country boy, who's very outgoing and takes a liking to Misty the minute he meets her. While Trey didn't do anything to totally rub me the wrong way, I did feel that he came on a bit too strong right out of the gate. He starts acting pretty possessive toward Misty mere minutes after they've met when his cousin starts flirting with her. A part of me wanted to say, "Dude, calm down and give her some space." While I don't think he ever quite eased up on his overt interest and desire, perhaps I became more tolerant of it as the story progressed. In the end, all I can say is that Trey was a nice enough guy, but he simply didn't have enough depth to be a stand-out hero to me.
IMHO, the romantic relationship between Misty and Trey needed a lot more work. For starters, I felt like I was immediately being hit over the head with how hot both characters are and their attraction to one another. Expressing it the first couple of times was more than enough. I didn't need them thinking about these things on every other page. In my estimation, subtlety would have been a much more powerful tool to convey these feelings. In part, because the characters are pretty one-dimensional, their relationship is as well. I had a hard time connecting with both Misty and Trey, and consequently I also couldn't really feel much of an emotional connection between them either. It was abundantly obvious that they were lusting after one another, but why, when, or how they fell in love was a mystery to me. Not to mention, falling in love and wanting to make a lifetime commitment after less than a week together was really stretching the bounds of credibility for me. Sometimes, even when the romance isn't perfect, I can console myself with a few hot love scenes, but those fell flat for me, too. There just wasn't any emotion behind them and they were over almost before they started.
What really drove me bonkers about the book, though, was the passive storytelling. I could tell that I was in for a bumpy ride when the first several pages of the book were little more than a huge info dump. It starts with Misty driving down a country road, when a sexy, shirtless guy suddenly runs out into the middle of the highway, flagging her down. I immediately wanted to know who he was and why he needed help, but it took three whole pages of Misty's internal narration about why she shouldn't trust the guy before I got an answer. I can't say that it really improved much from there either. There were a number of occasions, where the author had a tendency to bring the story to a screeching halt to give the reader several pages of narration on a particular subject before continuing. However, one of the biggest issues I had was that there were waaaay too many "She/he felt, heard, saw..." types of sentences, which is an extreme form of "telling not showing." (Felt was a particularly overused word, as was set, as in setting things down.) I experimented with rewriting these sentences in active voice, and discovered that it would have been soooo much better that way. Also there was a lack of variety in sentence structure. The author relies far too much on the "She did X. She did Y. She did Z." format. (eg. She climbed in the car. She fastened her seatbelt. She started the car and drove away.) Sometimes, entire paragraphs were written in this way, which is pretty boring and also rather passive. The story just really needed a huge overhaul with regards to the editing. I also thought there were a few too many folksy Texas colloquialisms that I'd never heard of before and had no idea what they meant. I'm pretty well-read and have a fairly broad knowledge base, so if I'm unfamiliar with them, I'd hazard a guess that most anyone who isn't from Texas or at least from the South probably won't have a clue either. And as an aside, what was up with all the cats in town? I love cats - and animals in general - but virtually everyone in town owning a cat with no dogs or other pets being mentioned was a bit much to believe.
I know that I've had quite a few critical things to say about A Cowboy Firefighter for Christmas, and while there were several frustrating things about the story, it wasn't all bad. Like I said, I found Trey and Misty to be likable for as well as I got to know them. The mystery of who was setting the fires and committing sabotage was somewhat interesting. Even though I could see the culprits from a mile away, I didn't really know what their motive was until the reveal. That was probably one of the more engaging aspect, along with the action of the characters fighting the fires, and the rescue of a kitten from one of the fires. I liked the Christmas celebration, too. Several of Trey's relatives are introduced who get stories later in the Smokin' Hot Cowboys series. However, I'm not sure that I'm invested enough to continue. A Cowboy Firefighter for Christmas may have had some good points in an otherwise OK story, but I think the frustrating parts may have sufficiently outweighed the good to make me leery of reading more from this author.
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