Kirkus Review: A Higher Standard

Kirkus Reviews

A Boston businessman and the operator of a horse rescue farm in North Carolina clash and connect in Dodd’s romance novel.

In Mimosa, North Carolina, Boston real estate developer Gideon West hangs on for dear life as a “marauding mustang,” which his local contacts suggested he ride to inspect some land, bucks wildly out of control. A mocking red-haired woman appears, saves him by grabbing the reins, and leaves without revealing her name. Gideon soon learns that she is Everest Kennedy, the daughter of Mimosa’s mayor, who operates Second Chance Farms, which takes in neglected and abused horses.Everest is looking to expand her operations, and Gideon’s interest in the area is particularly worrying to her. Visiting her father to learn more about the situation, Everest runs into Gideon again, kicking off a series of interactions that progress from wary banter (particularly on Everest’s part) to full-blown mutual attraction. Everest agrees to a short-term dating relationship, initially to keep abreast of Gideon’s plans and to fend off her friends’ urging that she get a life outside of work. The couple’s relationship moves to the next level when Gideon whisks Everest off to Boston and his amazing condo. She then faces a new crisis; Everest could never leave Mimosa, and she can’t imagine Gideon giving up his luxurious city lifestyle. Gideon becomes obsessed with an ill-fated grand gesture intended to prove his love before his business partners propose a wonderful solution.

The author unspools this tale in fast-moving short chapters that alternate between Gideon’s and Everest’s perspectives, yielding often amusing results; Everest, intoxicated by Gideon’s cologne when socializing with him in a bar, notes to herself, “I needed either to switch seats or learn how to breathe through my skin like a frog.” Gideon, used to swaggering about in tuxedos at Boston social events, wonders how “I had become the guy who, in a span of less than twelve hours, had been thoroughly emasculated by a runaway horse, shot beer out of his nose in public, and was now covered from the knees down in a different horse’s nose vomit.” The rescue and care of horses are key narrative elements, beautifully rendered in several touching and dramatic scenes that also become occasions for Everest and Gideon to further bond with and appreciate each other. The progression to love made by these very different people is presented believably, with each character’s epiphanies about their true feelings teased out in part by commentary from the colorful cohort of insightful secondary characters, including Everest’s best friend, Cammie Givens; her father, Mayor Jackson Kennedy; and Leroy, her second-in-command at the farm.Gideon’s transformation from a rather cocky eligible bachelor to gesture-making supplicant is a particularly sweet and engaging aspect of this story; even his partners, introduced as frat-boy types, reveal themselves to be surprisingly wise and loving as they help him to find happiness. Dodd also has fun with romance conventions (Gideon’s grand gesture being the chief example), which the story both follows and regards with a wink.

A charming romance of seemingly mismatched partners rendered with wit and heart.