Note: this 'review' contains spoilers.
I'm not the world's best reviewer by any means. I ramble, I get sidetracked and I have pet peeves that can taint my response to a book. Plot? Well...kind of. I'm a character-based reader; if the characters hold my interest (in other words, if I can identify with them) then I happily give the author(s) a lot of leeway when it comes to plot. TBH I prefer a story that is solely based on the characters, no pesky suspense plots with a serial killer entering stage right with frequent abandon to distract me from what's truly important - the characters. And that's one of the (many) things I loved about Rolf & Ranger's Falls Chance Ranch. It was all about the characters. At its heart, it was Dale's story, Dale's...journey. I would say Dale's journey back to himself, except he had never really learnt who he was. Dale was...in his own words...a fake. A perfectionist obsessed with trying to stave off the discovery that he was always one step away from failure. And being obsessed with always presenting a competent front, he internalized his emotions...because emotions meant a loss of control. But you can't bottle up your emotions indefinitely. Something has to give...as it did for Dale. Which led his employer to taking extreme measures...sending Dale to Falls Chance Ranch...and to Flynn, Jasper, Paul and Riley.
This book is unusual for a number of reasons:
1) It's written by two authors, something I'm not completely familiar with (the Cut & Run series being a recent exception).
2) It doesn't have the aforementioned suspense plot - it's a character-based book.
3) If you want a fast read, this book isn't for you. It's pacing is...slow and steady, not to mention it is approximately 205,000 words long. The pace works perfectly in that it matches not only Dale's journey (no easy fixes), but the pace of life on the ranch, which follows the seasons.
4) It is available online. Yes there are editing issues and occasionally the POV was confusing, but I was so engrossed that while I noted them in passing I just moved on - the characters and story had me so gripped. Yes, I know, shocking for me! I honestly can't understand why this book isn't published - I would more than happily pay for it!
5) It encompasses domestic discipline. How I ended up reading this subgenre is definitely a topic for another day. I know the discipline aspect won't be for some, but the wonderful thing about this book is how seamlessly the authors have integrated it into the story. It doesn't feel...out of place, or heavy handed (sorry, I couldn't resist), but instead something that works within the context of the book. The reader experiences Dale's initial reaction to the discipline and his gradual and growing understanding of his...instinctive and unconditional surrender to it. The boundaries imposed on Dale by Flynn, Jasper and Paul, initially with respect to his role as their client and then, as the relationships between all five characters develop, as a member of their unusual family, don't chafe, but instead provide Dale with a sense of calm...of belonging and of safety. And the authors express that so well.
6) And that brings me to the character of Dale. While I...need to be able to relate to a character (or characters) in a book to be touched on a emotional level, it is really hard to read a book when you can see so much of yourself in a character. Meeting Dale felt like looking in a mirror. His obsessive perfectionism, his fear of failure, his hypervigilance, his bouts of dissociation, his avoidance of touch and his...lack of understanding at the easy affection the other characters shared...with each other and him. So I loved that there was no quick fix for Dale. So many books have lost me with their miraculous fixes in the dying pages. But given the way the authors had obviously researched perfectionism, I had faith that they wouldn't fix Dale. And they didn't. Because there is no quick fix. Dale still has such a long journey. But he has Flynn, Jasper, Paul and Riley with him on that journey. Which brings me to:
7) This book hints at a polyamorous relationship between the characters. I say hints because there is no sex in this book. And not really a HEA...because the relationships the characters have with each other are not fixed entities. But it all works within the context of the book. Which is incredibly unhelpful, but the truth from where I sit :)
As is always the way, finishing a book that has touched me so much on so many levels fills me with despondency. Which is why I was so thrilled to find that there is four books in this series (and I believe some short stories). If you'd like to try the first chapter, you can find it here.