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REVIEW: Gnome on the Range by Jennifer Zane

Dear Ms. Zane:

I am trying to a) read more self published books in hopes of finding overlooked gems and b) respond positively to more of the authors who take the time to write us and ask for a review.  Part of the review query process requires requesting authors to send in an excerpt, usually around 1,000 words. I read all those excerpts because the title, blurb and cover can be awful but a book is about the story, the writing, and I’ll try to overlook the three things when I have the excerpt. Most of excerpts are pretty bad, but in this case, I found the excerpt cute and entertaining, enough so that I overcame my initial inclination to decline the review request based on the title (bad), coveer (bad), and blurb (bad and confusing).

Gnome on the Range by Jennifer ZaneUnfortunately, the excerpt was the best part of the entire book.  First, and most importantly, this book was boring.  Despite the hijinks, the evil DOM, and the hot fireman love interest, this took six days to read.  Second, the first person narrative of the story was in the voice of a woman I found silly and foolish, the definition of TSTL.  She’s the type to run into a haunted house at night, alone, when there are rumors of a mad serial killer on the lose.   Third, this book sets up a reader for fun sexy times but the sexual tension was thin and forced. There were moments of humor but not enough to overcome the foregoing flaws.

I felt like this was the Bozeman Montana version of Stephanie Plum with the plucky heroine always getting into trouble accidentally and ending up around exploding cars with her supposed love interest being frustrated by the heroine’s propensity for danger.

Jane West is a single mother and widow.  Her dead husband was a philanderer and so while Jane has been too busy raising her two boys alone, she feels much better off.  I understand that her dead husband was a cheat, but the callousness with which his memory was treated by not only Jane but her in-laws as well was amazing particularly since dead husband was the in-laws only child.  Nonetheless, this story isn’t ever going to be known for its subtlety and emotional depth.

Jane works with her mother in law, Goldie, at Goldie’s sex store in Bozeman Montana.  Jane’s father in law and Goldie’s husband is an OB and the joke is that Goldie gets the folks in bed and Paul delivers the results.  Jane’s life takes a turn for the worst after one of her sons buys a garden gnome at a garage sale.  The garden gnome contains something of worth and a robbery turns up at her house.  Instead of allowing the police to investigate, Jane decides to investigate this disturbance on her own.   This leads Jane to be in the vincinity  of a house the blows up, in danger of being run over by a derby car at the fair, and her trailer tampered with while camping with her sons.  Even after her children’s lives are placed in danger, Jane doesn’t stop investigating.  Yes, the children are sent away but I viewed this more as a convenience for Jane to be alone with her new neighbor Ty.  The item stolen is horse semen which Jane throws away.  Given that horse semen is mostly frozen and stored in special containers, I found it hard to believe that Jane would continue to be in danger even the semen is of no use.  Yet, she is.  Because how else will Jane have even the thinnest of excuses to wander around and investigate.

New neighbor Ty is a Bozeman fireman.  He makes the moves on Jane but says he only wants to have sex without strings but then later, without having shared more than a couple conversations with Jane tells her that “he can’t do this” (whatever this is) because Jane is always in danger.

The forced chemistry and then conflict with Ty typifies the problems with this book. There is no organic movement in the relationship (or in the plot itself). In order to evoke a certain emotion from the reader, characters suddenly appear to have feelings where none existed previously.  The machinations of the author were so obvious.  The first night that Jane sees Ty across the back lawn, she is wearing  tank top with no bra. She’s a 34D with two kids but apparently her girls defy gravity (she also has a tiny waist but alas no calves. Hello, Barbie?).  When she sees Ty, two houses away (her mother’s boyfriend lives between them), she can tell he is staring at her breasts (these must be tiny backyards) so she places her arms under her chest only this pushes her boobs up so high that her nipple pops out the top of the cotton tank and Ty’s eyes bug out like a cartoon animal.  Jane is mortified and I am thinking she acts like she’s never had these boobs before, like they were a new addition to her body house and she’s getting bruises on her knees from the knee furniture arrangement.  Dude, how low cut is that tank?

The danger in which Jane was in further exemplifies the feeling of contrivance.  Every time that Jane went out to investigate something, I became more frustrated with her.  She never once was told by the police that they weren’t going to look into it. In fact, Ty informed Jane that the police were investigating, a statement that Jane met with incredulity.  Police? She doesn’t need the police! Not after almost being a victim of robbery, almost being killed three times.  The police doing what they are paid by the citizens of Bozeman, Montana to do is ridiculous!  Only Jane West, manager of a sex store, could possible get to the bottom of this mystery.

Silly and improbably plot aside, the hijinks were interspersed with dozens of explanatory paragraphs about Bozeman (I felt like I was reading a travelogue complete with GPS directions); detailed explanations of what every person wore.  There were quite a few of secondary characters that I knew only by their clothes and their hair; and meandering monologues about the pasts of characters, streets, neighborhoods, businesses, and what not. In sum, mundane and tedious detail of unimportant things.

About the only thing funny (besides the opening) were the unintended malapropisms.  My favorite was “It was like living in demilitarized zone with all the weaponry around.”  Another was “Besides, Ty pushed me out of the way and saved my life.  He deserved a kiss for that. A mulligan.  That’s what it was. A mulligan kiss.”  A mulligan? That’s a “do over” in golf.

The editing:  “Any single woman would shoot me dead for not giving in to the obvious want I saw in his gorgeous, blue eyes.  I was a piece of meat and he wanted to eat me up.  That was the look on his face, not Dex’s, That was A-Ok with me.”

What does that even mean? or the term “Um. Hunh”  Was that supposed to be “Um. Huh” or “Um. Hmmh”? I tried to replicate the sound a few times (because I was friggin’ bored out of my mind).  There were other places that commas and periods seemed to be interchangeable. “I slid my hand gently up and down. Once, Twice.”

This took time away from books I could enjoy so while it was free to me, I regret the time spent. I appreciate that you sent it but it was not to my taste.  D

Best regards,


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Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She self publishes NA and contemporaries (and publishes with Berkley and Montlake) and spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com


  1. Jenny
    Jan 27, 2012 @ 12:37:12


    What’s the old saying about kissing a lot of frogs…?

    I admire your fortitude, both in continuing to slog through the self-publishing world, looking for princes, but also in enduring such toads.


  2. Darlynne
    Jan 27, 2012 @ 12:51:51

    I have to admit that the title made me smile, as did the cover, so that would have been enough to make me look closer. Unfortunately, one of my no-go zones as a life-long mystery reader is the amateur sleuth: these stories never work out well or realistically, as you found, and while I’m always willing to be convinced, it hasn’t happened yet. Thanks for reading, Jane.

  3. Lady M
    Jan 27, 2012 @ 13:00:03

    If you want gems then you need to read the book I just got done reading. The title almost fooled me but it literally wasn’t anything I expected and it getting great reviews. It was very engaging and the visuals were beautiful. A beautiful story and tradgedy well told. I loved it.

  4. karlynp
    Jan 27, 2012 @ 13:17:03

    Nice review Jane. I saw this on the freebie list recently but passed, glad I did. Like you I’ve been trying to read more Indy and self-pub books, and have been reading many of the recent freebies. Most end up as a DNF just a few pages in, and nearly all of the ones I finished were just OK. I did find a couple I really enjoyed so I haven’t lost faith in finding some new authors. My Lord Raven by Tamela Quijas (steamy contemp) was pretty good if you can overlook a few holes, and Winter Rose by Rachel A. Marks (a gritty Amer historical, kisses-only) was a surprisingly good novella. The writing voice gave me faith that there are some great Indy’s out there. I’m glad to see you branching out and trying new authors too. I look forward to reading more reviews (even if they are D’s!)

  5. Lynne Connolly
    Jan 27, 2012 @ 13:31:48

    I’ve just been sent a self-pubbed book to read that has a frankly scary cover, and it’s not meant to be a horror story. In fact, the cover gives you no idea what the book is about (I have an e-copy, so no back blurb).
    Sometimes a plain colour, with the title, the author’s name, and perhaps a little hint, like, oh I don’t know, “A Story of the Fae” might be handy.
    I’m already splitting self-pubs into two categories – previously released, now re-released by the author, but essentially already edited, and new work.

  6. LG
    Jan 27, 2012 @ 13:32:37

    The title makes this book sound kind of like it could have been written by Robert Aspirin, or maybe Piers Anthony. Then I got to “fireman love interest” and my response was “huh?”

    The bra bit you mention had me cringing – I hate it when a heroine is horribly humiliated for humor. Plus, I don’t know about other women, but I, personally, am well aware of which of my shirts are low cut enough that I might need to be careful what I do. Although, wow, that tank top sounds low cut enough that *breathing* could lead to a wardrobe malfunction.

    “Um. Hunh.” – “Hunh” shows up a LOT in Stephanie Plum books. Since this book, at least judging by your review, seems to be going for a “zany mystery with romantic elements, similar to a Stephanie Plum novel” feel, maybe that makes sense.

  7. SonomaLass
    Jan 27, 2012 @ 15:39:52

    @Lynne Connolly: I have a third category, new work by authors who have previously been published. In my experience, authors who have had editors, proofreaders, cover artists and so forth provided by a publisher are more likely to be aware of the importance of hiring someone to do those jobs for their self-published work.

    I’m developing another category for self-pubbed authors who demonstrate this knowledge. Examples so far include Moriah Jovan and L. K. Rigel, both of whose books are edited and formatted will.

  8. Lynne Connolly
    Jan 27, 2012 @ 15:49:01

    @sonomalass You have a point. I like that category, it’s certainly a useful one.

  9. Isobel Carr
    Jan 27, 2012 @ 16:13:37

    @Lynne Connolly: I don’t actually count reissues of OOP as “self-pub”. I’ve bought and enjoyed books by previously NY published authors (Courtney Milan, Bella Andre, Tessa Dare). I’ve only found two purely self-pub authors that I’d buy again (Tina Folsom and Sara Ramsey), but I’m sure I’ll find more.

  10. Gillian Archer
    Jan 27, 2012 @ 16:25:31

    @SonomaLass: That category wouldn’t have helped with the last F reviewed book here.

  11. Jane
    Jan 27, 2012 @ 16:28:34

    @LG: The heroine wasn’t constantly being humiliated for humor. Instead, I thought it was a weak attempt at sexual tension. Ooh, look my nipple is out accidentally on purpose!

  12. Anon
    Jan 27, 2012 @ 17:52:47

    Gah. I’m really trying to understand why there’re so many self-published reviews on here now. #1 nobody buys these things. #2 the books all seem to be terrible.
    I stopped buying self-published books because 99.99999% of them are a complete waste of time, and the others might be passable but all have plotting and editing issues.
    I used to love getting book ideas from here, but there are fewer and fewer worthwhile books being reviewed now, and I’m visiting the site far less often.

  13. Dani Alexander
    Jan 27, 2012 @ 18:39:34


    Gah. I’m really trying to understand why there’re so many self-published reviews on here now. #1 nobody buys these things. #2 the books all seem to be terrible.
    I stopped buying self-published books because 99.99999% of them are a complete waste of time, and the others might be passable but all have plotting and editing issues.
    I used to love getting book ideas from here, but there are fewer and fewer worthwhile books being reviewed now…

    Sweeping generalizations ftw. You know, I’ve never seen a sweeping generalization that smacks of truth, but this one is so patently false, it made me cough soda through my nose.

    90% of all sweeping statements are untrue. Kinda like 90% of statistics that people pull out their… nose =P.

    Sorry you didn’t like this one, Jane. I wonder how long excerpts are?

    Jane, forgive me if I seem dense for asking, but where is the malapropism in:

    “It was like living in demilitarized zone with all the weaponry around.”

    And, could she have meant that he deserved a “do over” kiss? (Until you told me, I didn’t know what a mulligan was. LOL I would have thought it was some sort of sweater or beer or Irish dish).

    I will never understand the TSTL heroine though. What is with that? I love strong women. Why can’t women writer stronger women? You can make them funny without making them gutless. =(

  14. Barbara
    Jan 27, 2012 @ 18:43:40

    @Anon: It really sucks when there’s such a diverse range of books being read and reviewed, huh? I hate being exposed to new things.

    I’ve been making some loose self/vanity pub categories too, mostly along the lines that you’ve all already mentioned. If I’m looking at things beyond that, I just have to trust friends’ recommendations or I look at GR reviews by familiar names.

    Of course for the sheer WTF-ery I also know where to go for some so-bad-they’re-almost-good books. :)

  15. Darlynne
    Jan 27, 2012 @ 18:46:31

    @Anon: Seriously?

    If you clicked on the “Self Published” tag at the bottom of Jane’s review, you’d definitely see reviews of some self-published disasters. But you would also see Angelfall by Susan Ee (B+), Larkstorm by Dawn Rae Miller (B-), From This Moment On by Bella Andre (C+), and so on.

    Many people are reading self-published work, both good and horrid, and the discussions here have been lively, entertaining or appalling, but certainly not dull. Personally, I’m grateful Jane, et al., take the time to kiss the frogs for us as Jenny commented above.

  16. joanne
    Jan 27, 2012 @ 19:26:38

    I’ve not kissed many frogs but I have purchased a great many self-published mysteries without much success. Ice Blue by Emma Jameson was a delightful surprise. It had everything I look for in a romantic mystery – including diverse characters and no gnomes – from Amazon Digital Services. Alas it seems no follow-up book is in the works.

  17. Jill Sorenson
    Jan 27, 2012 @ 19:33:55

    I really enjoyed a self-published book from an unknown author, Surviving Passion by Maia Underwood. The writing wasn’t perfect but I liked the story. Strong heroine, tough hero, interesting post-apocalyptic setting. Unfortunately, the sequel didn’t grip me. I’m kind of down on sequels. Feel like this is a self-pub problem–author falls in love with characters and won’t let the story go.

    Anyway, this book sounds awful. I have no interest in gnomes. Why is there a gnome? At least Player’s Ultimatum had a hot cover and good title.

  18. Jane
    Jan 27, 2012 @ 20:12:30

    @Dani Alexander A demilitarized zone is a zone that is free of military and would be free of weapons. The most famous demilitarized zone is the DMZ between North and South Korea. It is a space between South and North Korea border that is about 2.5 miles wide. It’s a pristine and untouched land where there are several rare species of animals that reside because of due to the lack of human interaction. The borders of the DMZ are heavily armed.

    The correct simile would have been “It was like living on the border of a demilitarized zone with all the weaponry around.”

  19. Jane
    Jan 27, 2012 @ 20:16:20

    @Anon Hi Anon. Thanks for your feedback. We try to review a mix of traditionally published, digital first published, and self published books.

  20. Dani Alexander
    Jan 27, 2012 @ 20:18:25

    @Jane: Aha. I did know about those demilitarized zones -vaguely (not about the animals, that was actually pretty fascinating). I wonder if what she meant was a zone where the military had evacuated. Which would be pretty funny if it was an additional malapropism.

    This is why I keep my similes to a minimum and why I don’t use words of which I don’t know the full definition.

  21. Jackie Barbosa
    Jan 27, 2012 @ 20:43:14

    @Isobel Carr: Tessa Dare has not, to my knowledge, self-published anything yet. She has two novellas with Samhain.

  22. Dhympna
    Jan 27, 2012 @ 21:11:18


    I second Jovan and Rigel.


    This is a general observation and in response to Anon and a trend I have been noticing with negative reviews for self published stuff: I just wanted to say that I get a little tired of the “this is why I don’t read self pub” refrain when a negative review appears, especially when NY pub books can often be just as bad. Look at the recent D review of a Tor book–no one said that this is why they no longer read books from Tor. Same thing with F reviews for a book that had a pub.

    I have read stories that have blown me away from both pubs and self publishers. I have also read some really horrible stuff from both.

  23. Susan
    Jan 28, 2012 @ 00:25:58

    Hi Jane, Good review. I’ve read this book and agree. Also what especially bugged me, the tank top episode was inconsistant with what she says at some point about being careful to buy tanks with more coverage due to her 34D size. Her bra size and curly hair we get to read about several times….. And, his being a Mid East war vet seemed like just another “required” element in romance novels these days.

    I felt bad because I wanted to like this book more.

  24. Lynne Connolly
    Jan 28, 2012 @ 07:03:39

    Well said, Dhympna

  25. becca
    Jan 28, 2012 @ 19:35:58

    Courtney Milan is self-pubbed, isn’t she? and my only regret about Courtney Milan is that I’ve read everything by her already… can’t wait til her next book comes out.

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