Open Country

Pieces of Sky

 
Chasing the Sun
by Kaki Warner
(Berkley, $15.00, PG-13) ISBN 978-0425238615
****
I haven’t read Kaki Warner’s first two books, a situation that I must remedy immediately. Chasing the Sun is a delightful western romance, well-written and full of life. No wonder Ms. Warner is garnering rave reviews for her work.

The story opens as Daisy Etheridge auditions for the manager of a musical theater in San Francisco. Her ambition is to sing professionally, and in a better place than a saloon. Daisy has Kate, her small daughter to support; her golden voice might be the ticket to a better life. Daisy is stunned when she is offered the opportunity of a lifetime – to train in Italy with a famous opera singer. But Kate can only come along if Daisy can afford to hire someone to look after her. A threat to little Kate’s life sends Daisy to Rosaroja, the Wilkins ranch in New Mexico Territory, looking for help from the family of the only man she’s ever loved - Jack Wilkins, Kate’s father.

Jack is the youngest Wilkins brother, and the daredevil adventurer of the family. Three years earlier, Jack accompanied his sweetheart Elena to San Francisco so she could have an operation on her damaged hip. The operation was only partially successful, and Elena decided to devote her life to God and enter a convent rather than marry Jack. Heartbroken, Jack embarked on a months-long drinking spree, during which he met Daisy. They carried on a passionate affair, but Jack left for Australia without knowing Daisy was pregnant. His memories blurred by the fog of alcohol, Jack barely remembers Daisy.

Fate brings all three of them together at the Wilkins ranch. Elena comes home for a visit before taking her final vows; a now-sober Jack returns from Australia to find his beloved Elena in residence; and Daisy arrives with little Kate, who has Jack’s eyes and is undeniably his daughter.

The stage is set for a grand love triangle. Jack wants Elena and is determined to get her back, but he can’t keep his mind off Daisy. Daisy wants enough money to care for Kate while she trains for the opera, but finds she’s just as attracted to Jack as before, and her feelings for him have not really died. Elena wants a life with God, but loves Jack in her own way.

Brady and Hank, Jack’s elder brothers, are in residence on the ranch with their families, and readers who enjoyed the first two books in this trilogy will have fun catching up with them. There is an external threat to the ranch that will force the brothers to finally confront each other as adults, rather than falling into their childhood roles. The interactions between the brothers was particularly well-done and perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the book. Anyone with siblings is going to recognize the struggle these men go through to abandon old roles and see each other in a new light.

The romance between Daisy and Jack is warm, not hot, and at times I had to wonder what was really drawing them together. Not their prior relationship; Daisy fell in love with Jack but now half-despises him, and he remembers little other than her generous breasts. They take rides, go on picnics, play with Kate… but that sense of attraction felt like it was missing. They simmer, but they don’t burn. However, this has the effect of being oddly realistic, given their prior history.

Daisy dreams of a life singing opera, and Jack doesn’t want to be tied to the ranch. The solution to this seems obvious to the reader, but takes a long time for the leads to figure out. But the journey to get there is so well-told that it’s a minor concern. Kaki Warner has a lovely storytelling style, and her characters are vivid and detailed in a way that makes them seem utterly real. I was completely engrossed in the ranch and its inhabitants.

Pieces of Sky is a fine addition to any bookshelf. This is western historical romance at its best, and readers who have yet to experience her writing are in for a wonderful treat.

--Cathy Sova


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