Top critical review
Promising, But Could Be Stronger
Reviewed in the United States on February 27, 2021
Jody Hedlund's new Western series opener showed plenty of promise, and I found a lot to like about it. The Colorado setting, for instance, came off as perfectly rugged yet beautiful, such that everything from dry grass to snow-capped peaks felt real and gave me instant three-dimensional visuals. I also applaud Jody for delving into ranching and making A Cowboy for Keeps a true cowboy story as far as her characters and their actions went, rather than just plopping a few characters down and saying, "They live on a ranch, so they're Western characters."
Wyatt and Greta definitely have chemistry, and I enjoyed both. Wyatt in particular is authentic to his setting and the kind of character he is. He pulls off a great mix of manly and compassionate, intelligent yet down to earth. I don't think I've ever seen a character, especially a male, use improper grammar and colloquialisms as much as Wyatt does, yet still come off as authentic and not just some guy "playing up" cowboy status. Furthermore, I wholeheartedly believed in Wyatt's ability to love and protect Greta and Astrid from minute one.
Speaking of Astrid, I loved her. She is probably one of the best kid characters I've seen in a while. Kudos to Jody for making Astrid sick, but not pathetic or cheesy. This little girl is stubborn, fiery, rambunctious, and determined. She's also not one of these, "Oh, bless her heart, her sickness doesn't stop her" kids. Yes, it does, as it should sometimes. But Astrid never loses her personality, independence, or agency. I wish more authors wrote sick or disabled characters like her.
With all that said, A Cowboy for Keeps could be a lot stronger. Despite the fact that I enjoyed the characters, most of them, especially Greta, were usually two-dimensional. I knew, for instance, that Greta was protective of Astrid and a good baker and cook--but what else? I knew that Wyatt struck a deal with Steele and felt like a failure at everything--partially because he says so over and over--but what else? I knew Roper Brawley was a threat, but he kind of pops in and out of the story at almost random intervals, so even when he tries to ruin Wyatt, it's hard to get behind him as a credible villain.
Because of the two-dimensional characters, the romance and overall plot doesn't work as well as it should. For instance, I don't mind a passionate romance. But if Greta and Wyatt never kissed or, let's just say it, made out, I wouldn't know how or why they developed feelings for each other. They exchange basic dialogue, they pull apart for two minutes and come back--and that's it. There is little depth to anything that happens to them or that they share with each other, even when there should be. Wyatt's childhood and adolescence with Rusty, plus his plan to bring over his mom and siblings, are great examples, in that these could've held deep plot threads. Yet, even while things are happening...nothing really happens.
Some of the plot threads also feel out of place, because they're dropped or not resolved well. The biggest issue for me happened when everyone assumed Greta was pregnant--and nobody ever bothered to correct the assumption. But at the same time, Greta and Wyatt don't try to solve the problem. What if Greta actually got pregnant? What if her lack of pregnancy cost Wyatt the ranch or his herd? What if Roper Brawley was somehow mixed up in this? Nope, nothing. The same is true for other threads, like the stagecoach robbery. Jody seems to drop it back in about 70% through the book, but then nothing comes of it. The same is even true when Astrid goes missing--with tuberculosis, in the frigid mountains, for two days! You would think the pace and plot would wake up a little, but...again, zilch.
Overall then, I wouldn't call A Cowboy for Keeps a bad book, but I would call it disappointing. Jody Hedlund can do much, much better and I hope she does with other books. Maybe next time she can take the elements that worked here and probe them a lot more.