Ninja Recommended Sneaky Reads

Rhyll Reviews: Three Weeks With A Bull Rider by Cat Johnson

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I had mixed feelings about this book.

Let’s start with the good stuff: There were no talking heads in this book, hooray!

I can’t count the number of books I’ve stopped reading lately, despite impressive reviews, because of talking heads. When I say ‘talking heads’ I’m referring to big chunks of text, sometimes spanning several pages, where all you see is dialogue, dialogue, dialogue. Now, I like dialogue, and good dialogue is to die for, but I don’t like to see great whacks of it floating about without being anchored in the physical world. Give me an eyebrow lift. A smile. Even a smirk will do. And let there occasionally be some introspection, physical setting and action in between all the snappy lines and comebacks. Otherwise it becomes less like dialogue and more like the author trying to impress me with their clever authorial underpants.

Elmore Leonard was a big fan of the talking head, and while I believe his books make great script fodder for television and movies, I was never a fan of his novels because the non-stop ‘talking heads’ drove me crazy.

Now…back to the book, because it had good stuff.

I liked the writer’s writing style; it was unobtrusive and read well, no jarring sentences pulling me up and offending my reader sensibilities. And, for the most part, the story flowed along at a good pace.

I also loved the writer’s wit and thoroughly enjoyed the jokes about lucky bull riding undies and wifely (ahem) bedroom techniques. And once the bedroom action starts happening in this book, it takes off like…well, like a bull out of a gate.

Now for the not so good.

I must be a simple person. When I see a title that says ‘Three weeks with a bull rider’ I think ‘Yeah! This is going to be chock-full of hot, saucy, manly bull riding action, with a hero whose balls are bigger than some orbiting moons in our solar system’. And I was so disappointed not to find that in the first eight chapters this book.

Instead I got a lot of talk about bull riding and how daaaaangerous it was. An early scene even took place at a bull riding event and yet man on bull action was conspicuously absent. And so it continued until chapter nine. I’m not a patient reader so I would have liked to see the first proper bull-riding scene a lot earlier. 

The waiting was especially painful because the book opened with a very promising scene full of earthy, earthy cowboy talk between two bull-riding brothers which promised much testosterone-laden fun to come and then I had to wait and wait for it to happen. Having said that, when it did arrive, the first proper bull-riding scene was awesome. The bull ridden by the hero was even called Apocalypse, which I adored.

My other big problem with the first eight chapters of the book was the heroine. In those chapters she comes across as selfish, immature, petulant and demanding—she even gives her brother a serve for daring to bonk his wife in his own house (while the heroine is staying there). He, quite rightly, tells her to get stuffed.

Also, the way she referred to another female character as having ‘stolen her man’ only made her seem more unsympathetic. Annoyingly, she also seemed to treat it as her god-given due that someone give her a ride after the POS car she bought broke down. When nagging her brother fails, the hero steps in to offer her a ride (for the three weeks in the title) because he has to run away from his stalkerish ex.

That’s right, our big ballsy bull-rider is on the run from his former bonk buddy. Now, I get it that a guy can’t just physically threaten a women to keep her off his back because that wouldn’t be very chivalrous, but surely a grown man can handle the mind games of a peeved ex? Or, if she’s a total bunny boiler, I question his judgment in getting involved with her in the first place. And to have our rough, tough bull-rider’s tiny man balls gripped so firmly by a psychotic ex greatly diminished his manly appeal for me.

Our hero and heroine also spend a fair amount of time bickering in the first eight chapters, and bickering over nothing very important. Most published writers understand that ‘conflict’ in a story is not the same as bickering so the bickering was, I think, intended to be cute, but I simply found it annoying. I actually wondered if the overly long set up (of four chapters) before hero and heroine get on the road together contributed to this problem. I get that the author felt there needed to be good reasons for these two characters to travel together given their initial dislike for one another, but I felt the reasons were a bit contrived and I wasn’t interested in seeing the fight between the hero ad his ex, or the heroine’s car breaking down. ‘Just get me to the bull-riding part’ I wanted to shout. Or the part where the heroine rides the hero like a bull. 

Luckily I hung in there until chapter nine, whereupon everything improved. There’s a hum-dinger of a first kiss, the heroine becomes less petulant and more fun, and the ensuing ‘friends with benefits’ scenes are both hilarious and sexy. 

One other minor point, the term buckle bunny was over-repeated (to the point I wanted to pull my hair). I’m not sure why this wasn’t picked up during editing.

So, overall, while this book had high concept (bull riders, yum!), some great lines and was well-written in terms of mechanics and style, the aforementioned weaknesses of plot and character reduced my enjoyment of the story for at least a third of the book. Normally, I would have stopped after two chapters, and I only kept going because this book was provided for review purposes.

Out of five throwing stars, I’d give it a three and a half, one and a half stars being taken off for messing around too much for the first eight chapters and the heroine being so annoying for at least a third of the book. However, having said that, I like this writer’s voice and style and she delivered the goods in every way from chapter eight onwards, so I intend to read the rest of the series—while hoping she doesn’t make me wait eight chapters to warm to her other books.

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Disclaimer: Kensington Books provided a copy of this book through Net Galley for review purposes.

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