REVIEW: Last Chance Llama Ranch by Hilary Fields
When a close encounter with an eighty-foot spruce steals Merry Manning’s dreams of Olympic gold, the former ski champ finds herself falling into a career she never expected — the life of a travel writer. Picturing glamorous trips to exotic places, Merry is speechless when her boss assigns her to the blog, “Don’t Do What I Did,” and sends her to a middle-of-nowhere llama ranch with instructions to “fall on her fanny” as often as possible.
Soon she’s eyeball-deep in alpacas, llamas, goats, and all the mess that comes with them. But when the Last Chance Llama Ranch — and a certain gruff cowboy– start to grow on her, Merry finds that each life might actually be just what she’s been missing.
You know what they say: when life gives you llamas….
Dear Ms. Fields,
“Last Chance Llama Ranch” was featured in a new releases post a while ago and I couldn’t resist checking it out. That cover is adorable. Despite the enticing sample, the price tag made me put it on hold until a sale! (yippee) zipped my cursor over to the “one click” buy button.
Merry is given the standard Chick Lit baggage. She has a family who (mainly) don’t get her but have a stick and carrot to try and get her to kowtow, a puny job which doesn’t pay her astronomical debts and little love life due to her towering stature and livid scars from the downhill skiing tree-rap-around that ended her Olympic career. In other words, the usual to get our heroine into some situation of merriment and mirth.
Merry’s “barely paying the rent” job goes from bad to worse and she finds herself writing about her efforts to work on a llama ranch in New Mexico. The meeting between Merry and whom I assume will eventually be her hero does not go well. And it had nothing whatsoever to do with the llama who spit at Merry as her greeting to the ranch. No, Sam is surly all on his own.
For a long time, Sam remains the Mystery Man. Obviously the survivor of a Broken Romance – or something – and though he has mad survivor skills and is the man to be stuck with out in the wilderness when you only have a can opener and a pencil to keep you alive in the dead of winter, he’s not to be trusted with tender feelings. So say those who know him better than Merry.
Merry does have her physical issues what with having her leg basically sewn back on and her muscles not wanting to cooperate once they get stiffened up but she’s falling on Sam way too much already. Still what is with Sam’s attitude of injured flounce and anger? I was starting to really wonder at what bee was up his – er – bonnet. The truth about why Sam thinks he is annoyed with and avoiding Merry is pedestrian and not. The way Merry’s been portraying him in her column is enough for the llama tour bookings to skyrocket and – we all know it – his wounded soul has been battered in love before. I agree with Merry about his Bag End house – whoa and damn. I want one.
Almost everyone else though is wonderful. I adore Needlepoint Bob and hope he and Merry will eventually have their muse-off about nihilist philosophers. He is an artist with latte foam. And Jane, the holistic vet. Jane’s a keeper too. Wait and Dolly. I could easily sit a spell and shoot the shit with her while drinking coffee and looking at the NM landscape.
Merry finally realizes, on the top of a mountain, in the presence of an ornery llama named Severus, that she needs to finally deal with her loss, let go of her old life and move on. This will take her the rest of the book to actually achieve though.
Ah, now we get to the wounded Survivor Kids. So the survival trip with Sam’s kids teaches Merry not to whinge about her own life as much as she has. Yes, Merry some people do have it worse even if you were in a medically induced coma for 10 days and your body scars could rival Frankenstein. You have a job, you have a family – judgmental, smothering and controlling, yes – that worries about you even as Mummy tries to control you with the purse strings, and you have Cleese. It also shows Merry how good Sam is with kids, how deeply he cares about them and that even after he and she had got their intentions correct, he’s a decent guy. He is also an example to Merry of accepting yourself as you are which is something she’s never been able to do. Sam’s kids are a little too sweet and only slightly battered on the surface but then these aren’t toughs from the mean streets. They have just enough baggage to be endearing and teach Merry a lesson but not so much that we can’t believe their happy endings.
I am, though, getting tired of Sam immediately jumping the gun and thinking the worst of Merry in any situation he feels calls for it. Not only gun jumping but also public rudeness and crass belligerence. Sam could use a smackdown beyond even his aunt Dolly’s humdinger. Merry’s reluctance to face up to her family is wearing thin as well. Just do it Mer – like ripping off a band-aid. Git ‘er done.
The meeting of Merry and the Happy Hookers is filled with Colorful Characters galore. Can’t some people in a small town just be ordinary? Must everyone be Larger Than Life? But they do make me wistfully remember when I used to know how to crochet and knit. The less said about that the better. However, this is where Merry thinks she can really make a difference for them – in featuring their handicrafts and for Dolly, her alpaca yarn, on her column website. Merry might not be able to sling 40 lb bales of hay like she once might have done but this, she can do.
Or can she? Now Merry and Dolly, and all the eccentrics in Aguas Milagros are faced with zombie Walmart sterilized expansion which will kill the soul of the town. This just might be the chance for Merry to finally pull her head out of her ass, get over herself, and stop whining about her parents. Hallelujah. Or it might be another example of her moneyed privilege.
Yet even when Merry decides to bite the proverbial bullet and knuckle under to her mother for the moolah to save Dolly’s ranch, Dolly (verbally) kicks her in the rump and yanks a knot in Merry (wool pun intended here, this is a book about fluffies) to pull her out of her slough of despair. Merry still needs more confidence in her abilities and to remember that the world doesn’t always revolve around her. Merry has tons of people offering lots of good advice – this place is just full of wise thinkers and philosophers – but she needs to start taking some of it!
It takes a pregnant alpaca to – finally – bring Sam and Merry together. Wow, I always thought those “get naked to get warm” scenes were made up. Now the truth about Sam and how his past situation might apply to Merry comes out.
Sam and Merry aren’t the only ones not communicating well. Merry and her PUs have made a lifetime career of it. Seriously, for a woman who’s been trained in social graces since fetushood and a father in the diplomatic corps, Merry’s parents know nothing about communicating with their children. And while it’s lovely to see – and for them to see – how well loved Merry is in Aguas Milagros by one and all, it’s very pat. As is the textbook change of heart they announce in the hot springs. Feels good but feels manipulated just a tad.
So all’s well that ends well with the fluffies (gotta love the cover) and their people. Chick Lit humor, snark, wilderness survival and lots of alpacas plus a heroine who finds her (slightly shorter and a little blocky but who sees her for herself and not her scars) hero (who I also wish hadn’t flip-flopped in attitude quite so many times) where she least expected him and discovers her own self-worth. Not a bad trip or outcome even if the end is a little too neat and complete. B-