At first glance, this book might give off Cinderella vibes, where a down on her luck heroine meets her Prince Charming, captivates him, runs from him, and then eventually reunites before they find their HEA. But it’s so much more than that. The second book in Rebekah Weatherspoon’s Cowboys of California series places the focus on the youngest of the Pleasant brothers, Sam. The book opens right on the heels of him winning an Academy Award for acting and celebrating his big win with a night of hot sex with Amanda McQueen, the stranger he meets at an Oscars after-party. And while she knows exactly who Sam is, he has no idea that she’s assistant to rising television star, Dru Anastasia.
One of the things this book does really well is creating the different and somewhat disparate worlds these two characters inhabit from their respective stations within the Hollywood hierarchy to the huge ranch Sam’s wealthy family owns, the backdrop that ties this series together. There are a lot of recognizable faces from book one who reappear in this book and while book one was sort of meant as an introduction to these characters and the ranch they run, book two is delightful because by now, they’re all familiar and reading this book feels like settling in for a comfy visit with old friends and catching up with their lives.
Sam and Amanda are well-drawn characters, each with their own hopes and dreams and fears. I especially liked the nuance of Sam winning an Oscar for playing a historical figure in a movie that feels more about white savior storytelling as opposed to making it about the Black character he portrays. It’s a pointed reference to our cultural habit of failing to center Black people in their own stories. I also appreciated Amanda’s storyline - her struggle to find her own footing in Hollywood as a woman of color is very much rooted in reality and her relationship with Dru Anastacia, the Black actress she works for is full of unpleasantness and negativity.
Dru, as a villain, is fascinating on her own and I really loved that the author didn’t make her into some caricature as villains sometimes tend to be. There is obviously a meanness to her but, as Amanda is quick to point out, Dru also has her own baggage and issues to deal with. This also leads to one of my other favorite aspects of this book - the supporting characters. Oftentimes, supporting characters are forgettable, usually there to serve the plot or the main characters. The supporting characters in this book are all very well-written, fully formed in their own right and engaging enough that I ended the book wishing they could all have their own books.
Overall, I really enjoyed this book and loved catching up with the characters from book one while also following along as Sam and Amanda traveled their sometimes rocky path to true love. I adored the tight knit family, the life they built on the ranch, and I loved seeing how they welcomed Amanda into their fold. I would happily revisit this world as often as possible and I’m thrilled that there is at least one more book planned for this series, featuring Jesse, the eldest Pleasant brother.
Content Warnings: Fat shaming, reference to eating disorder for a supporting character (off-page), verbally abusive relationship between heroine and employer, dysfunctional mother/daughter relationship between supporting character and her mother
FTC Disclaimer: I received an arc from the publisher via Netgalley.