The Heart of Texas


Title: The Heart of Texas
Author: RJ Scott
Publisher: Love Lane Books
Buy Link: Amazon.com (Second Edition)
Genre: M/M Contemporary Western
Length: Novel (approx 85000 words/405 pdf pages)
Rating: 4 stars out of 5

A Guest Review by Cole

Review Summary: A sprawling soap opera encompassing 20+ years of the family machinations of the Campbells’ and the Hayes’, which has seemed to garner passionate responses among readers in both directions.

**This review contains spoilers**

BLURB

Riley Hayes, the playboy of the Hayes family, is a young man who seems to have it all: money, a career he loves, and his pick of beautiful women. His father, CEO of HayesOil, passes control of the corporation to his two sons; but a stipulation is attached to Riley’s portion. Concerned about Riley’s lack of maturity, his father requires that Riley marry and stay married for one year to someone he loves. Angered by the requirement, Riley seeks a means of vengeance on his family: blackmailing Jack Campbell into marrying him “for love” suits Riley’s purpose. There is no mention in his father’s documents that the marriage had to be with a woman. And Jack Campbell is the son of Riley Senior’s arch rival.

Riley marries Jack. Abruptly, his entire world is turned inside out. Riley hadn’t counted on the fact that Jack Campbell, quiet and unassuming rancher, is a force of nature in his own right. This is a story of the struggle for power, murder and deceit, lust and love, the sprawling life of a rancher and the whirlwind existence of a playboy. But under and through it all, as Riley learns over the months, this is a tale about family and everything that that word means.

Texas Series

REVIEW

The Heart of Texas is the tale of two families: their sordid history, professionally and personally, a study in how two families that could have been so similar are so different, due to their choices, and the two men that reconnect them after over twenty years of simmering hate, greed, and secrets. Riley Hayes, the second son of Gerald Hayes, the spearhead of HayesOil, opens the book in a rage over the meeting he just attended with his father and his older brother Jeff, who has just been left the multitude of shares in his father’s company. Riley had expected them both to get equal shares. Jeff helps run the day to day operations along with Gerald as well as securing contracts and other operational duties (though Riley has wondered at times just how nefarious his brother and father have become to be so successful in their dealings), and Riley has taken charge of the research and development portion of the company. He maps, finds oil prospects and draws up the information for his father and brother to acquire new assets for the company. He has put his life and soul into his work, and when his father tells him why he won’t share equal holdings in the company — that he’s irresponsible, a playboy, and doesn’t have a wife and stable family, and loosely refers to his bisexual best friend Steve — Riley assumes that the real reason is his father knows that he has preferred both sexes himself, though, admittedly, he seems to prefer women. To placate him, his father tells him that he will change the contract to split the company evenly between the brothers if Riley marries for love for at least a year’s time. Hurt and angry, Riley thinks of the one way he can contractually adhere to his father’s wishes, yet still shove the contract in his face. He will marry a man, and he has the perfect man in mind, Jack Campbell, the son of his father’s arch rival and former business partner.

Riley knows that the only way he will get Jack to agree to the marriage is to blackmail him. After the breakup of the company 20 years previously and the falling out between both families, the Campbell family has fallen into financial ruin due to Jack’s father’s gambling addiction, debts to their ranch, and Jack’s baby sister’s heart problem, which has gutted the families bank accounts. Knowing that the Campbell’s stand to lose everything and that he holds a secret that Jack doesn’t yet know, he offers his contract of marriage to Jack for one year. Jack refuses to accept, assured that he can find a way to keep their ranch and his pride at the same time, until Riley tells him that his sister is pregnant, and she might not live to term due to her weak heart. Cursing the name Hayes, Jack feels that he has no choice but to accept, in order to afford the healthcare that could save his sister’s life.

The following months deal with a whole slew of family members that hold a whole slew of secrets, and despite their hate for one another, Jack and Riley find that they are leaning on one another throughout the messes of scandals that pile around them and that they will need one another to make it through this year of marriage with their sanity intact.

This is quite a long book, though don’t be discouraged from the page count. This is a good example of Wave’s post yesterday about the lack of coherent guidelines between formatting, word count, and page count. The pdf file is over 400 pages long, but the margins are wide and the spacing large. So, I did my own independent word count, when I couldn’t find one online, and came up with a rough estimate of 85000 words. A long novel for sure, but maybe not as long as many would expect. That said, because of this and due to the hostile relationship between Jack and Riley for the first 175 pages or so, I had a very difficult time getting into this book. I suspect that this is mostly a personal problem, so I took no account of it into my rating, but the tone of the book was very harsh and depressing and it took me a long time to even think about warming up to the characters, all of whom at that point I hated. Again, I’m often very sensitive to these things and I don’t particularly like sprawling soap opera drama (more on this later), as it tends to be over the top, and not in a funny, campy way. I often had to stop reading because I found myself getting cranky. I am glad, though, that I stuck with the story. In the end, though it may not have been one of my favorite books as it seems to be for so many other readers, I did enjoy it.

At the center of the story are Riley and Jack, who for the first half of the book, loathe one another. Obviously, Jack hates Riley, not only for the family he comes from, but for blackmailing him (which he soon finds out about). At the same time, I still feel a bit puzzled at why Riley held animosity toward Jack and the Campbell family, although for the most part it seemed to be tinged with pity at their poor state. I suppose that he envied them, having grown up in a cold home with only his little sister Eden as a true friend. It is easy to hate Riley until you understand his motivations, or at least why he felt like he needed to act the way he has done for most of his life, trying to beat his family at their own game, even while destroying lives in the process. Jack, on the other hand, is presented as a bit of a martyr. He sacrifices of himself daily for his family and his pride. Yet, I found that I had a difficult time coming to like him as well. I never felt like he was a pushover, in fact I felt like he more strength than Riley and he was often the one calling the shots in their sham marriage, but I didn’t understand his decision to immediately capitulate to Riley’s contracted marriage when faced with his sister’s pregnancy. He doesn’t seem to tender any other possibilities of providing for his family and sister. I wondered, then, if this was maybe just a setup for the story to get underway. It felt disingenuous to his character and I wondered why he would even consider such an offer except at the last resort.

The only two characters that I didn’t feel were totally fleshed out were the villains of the story, Gerald and Jeff. I felt like I understood Gerald until the very end, when his character seems to shift, and he is remorseful. Is it just that he finally sees the consequences of his greed? I wanted to understand more, but I ended up assuming that this was why. I wouldn’t mind that normally, not knowing for sure, but this story shifts POV between several of the characters of the family, and to shift into Gerald’s POV once or twice throughout the story is inviting his thoughts to the reader, without fully explaining them. On the other hand, Jeff himself was an enigma to me. The point, it seemed to me, was to present him as the embodiment of evil, without giving any real evidence as to why he is the way he is, except for the fact that he was raised in a cold-hearted family (even though the other children didn’t turn out that way). In wanted to know more about Jeff, how he came to be the evil man that he is, and what exactly his motivations are, other than a sick sense of megalomania. I don’t think that it justifies the crime by understanding how the criminal came to commit it and why. So, I didn’t understand why he was portrayed the way he was.

Though the soap opera style of this story might not have been to my taste, I think that it was done rather well. The characters become more interesting the further you read and the scope of this novel is very large for RJ Scott to attempt. The whole story is a giant web, the characters interconnecting with each other, always with a secret to be revealed and a new emotional bomb about to be dropped into the middle of the families, just waiting for them to scurry about trying to put the pieces back together. It is an intricate plot line and I thought that the various pieces were juggled well. I liked that, while Riley could have been made out as GFY, he wasn’t. He had a prior inclination to men, even having experimented some. Also, I thought the setting was portrayed very well, having grown up only a few hours away from this area all of my life, I really felt the Texas countryside, as well as the feeling of Dallas within the pages and I applaud RJ for her representation of a place so far from where she lives, geographically and culturally. The only character than I really loved was Donna, Jack’s mother. She was a real spit-fire woman who refused to bow down to the pressure she’d felt her whole life, to don the hat of a Dallas debutante, and to curl up and surrender under the weight of all she had to face in her life. I only wish that we could have seen more of her.

It has been mentioned in other reviews that this book is mislabeled — that it is not in fact a romance, but a soap opera featuring two men. I won’t speak to whether it is a romance or not, because despite the “rules,” everyone has a different idea of what constitutes one. I do, however, agree with him about the labeling on the novel. I doubt this has anything to do with the author, but I probably would not have requested this novel for review if I had known the type of story this was. I feel like the blurb itself is a bit misleading, as it only portrays the story to be about the two men and not the families that surround them, which make up a very large portion of the story. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the story itself, other than the few problems that I had with it, it just isn’t my cup of tea and I would have liked to get a better handle on what the story was about before deciding on it. If I hadn’t needed to finish the book for review, I admit I probably would have abandoned it.

In the end, I think that this book will appeal to many readers, and certainly has so far. It seems to be drawing a lot of passionate responses from readers and reviewers alike, both in high praise and in disappointment. If it sounds like something you’d like, with lots of drama and angst, villains and secrets, secret pregnancies and more, then by all means, read The Heart of Texas and find out which side of the fence you come out on. Recommended. I welcome your comments, but please, don’t hurt me 😉

Author

26, male, gay, baker, knitter, sometimes writer, and voracious reader of all things | contact me: cole.riann[at]gmail.com

57 comments

  • I just finished this book and have to say, after difficulties getting into it, I enjoyed reading it! Yes it was over the top, but it’s fiction and for that quite entertaining. Thanks again, Cole, for putting the muddle in my head into a thorough review!

    Reply
    • Thanks Anke!

      I must admit that this one was a bit daunting to review. So many threads to pull together in my mind, so many things that I thought should be brought up. I enjoyed reading it as well, after the first half of the book. I just felt a bit more at ease once they had removed themselves from the “Hayes Mausoleum” and started being a bit nicer to each other 🙂

      Thanks for letting me know what you thought Anke, hopefully Catalyst will be a good one, yeah? 🙂

      Reply
  • I liked this story but it seemed to me that the plot was borrowed from one of those M/F books with Billionaire, Tycoon, Sheik in the title.

    The transition from enemies to lovers was too easy and hurried, lost among many other POV.

    And that Beth… :maul:

    Reply
    • Alina,

      Lol, yes I think you’re right. Except, there actually were a Billionare and Tycoon in this novel. I wonder where the Sheik was?

      The transition from enemies to lovers was too easy and hurried, lost among many other POV.

      Yes, you’re right. A lot of the transition seemed to be told rather than shown, probably because of time constraints when you have so many characters. Still, that part of the book was lost to me as well, and it is a really important part. It all sortof happens with the barn-fire, and then they never really talk it out.

      See, Beth didn’t bother me that much. I suppose I took pity on her because of what happened to her.

      Reply
  • Um. Sounds like one of those hit-or-miss kinda books. Think I’m going to pass on it for now.

    I do Love a gay soap opera (Dante’s Cove, anyone? :P) but this sounds far too convoluted for me.

    Of course, my opinion may change at some point. If so, I’ll get it and let you know what I think. *hee*

    ~Tis

    Reply
    • Tis, I have wanted to see Dante’s Cove for so long! Charlie David has it all, he’s drool-worthy and one of the most amazing writers. So talented, *sigh*. I’m crushing here 🙂

      If you ever read this book, though, I’d love to hear what you think. I think the only soap operas that I like are ones that make fun of themselves, because those are hilarious!

      Reply
  • I actually enjoyed this one quite a bit. Definitely over the top at times but then again that’s how a good soap opera should be. 😀

    Reply
    • Hey Lily,

      I think that is what makes or breaks this book for most people, whether they really like the whole soap opera plotline or not. I really don’t, so I couldn’t discount the problems within the book because I liked it enough to overlook them. It seems like everyone who enjoys the soap opery-ness, really ends up liking the book, even if they have a few problems with it.

      Reply
  • Cole,
    Great review. I read this ebook last week and enjoyed it. The times during reading when I had flashbacks to “Dallas”, I had to laugh. Im not a fan of toxic families either and Riley’s family was off the hook.
    The green balls are something else. They look like hyped granny smith apples.

    Reply
    • Lol! I hate that one that always shows up with the giant eyes, it freaks me out!

      I’m glad you liked the book Hannah, although how you could stand that toxicity I don’t know! Maybe it was just too over the top and I am taking it to seriously, IDK.

      Reply
  • Woa Cole! That was quite the extensive and indepth review! Go you! The book is wide and has many aspects and it’s one of those books that you’ll either like or hate despite the subject.

    I liked it, though I agree with the points you made!

    Reply
    • Thanks Larissa!

      I saw that you liked it on GR last week. In fact, I was surprised at how many people rated it 5 stars on GR, though that is just because I felt differently, I’m sure. It is definitely a love/hate book, that’s for sure!

      Reply
      • Hahaha yup, I know what you mean. That’s what I sometimes feel like with other books. Like “how on earth could you give that 5 stars? It stucked”

        But that’s where different tastes come in, but also what people find important about a book. And a lot of people have diffent rating systems!

        Reply
        • That’s true. A lot of what other reviewers would have counted off on I didn’t because I felt like they were personal rather than a problem with the story itself. Plus, I always tend to give characters the benefit of the doubt and countless chances to make me like them. I don’t even think I usually notice it, unless the character is uber-TSTL. I suppose it seems like I rated the book pretty high for all of the problems I seemed to have with it, but that is why. But yes, you’re completely right. You just have to learn each reviewers different system 😉

          Reply
    • Hi Jaime!

      Oh yes. There were so many other things to talk about that I forgot all about the sex! Shame on me!

      I thought the sex was really quite hot and explosive in the book, although I was surprised that there is little about Riley’s introduction to gay lovin’. He did seem a bit nervous, but for the most part he was begging for it. Definitely no inner qualms about “am I gay for wanting to be with a guy” stuff. At times I felt like there was a bit of a BDSM element starting, but that was never explored (not in scenes, games, or toys, but in power play and minor D/s).

      Overall, I thought the sex was hot and had a good frequency (for me), though the sex didn’t start until the second half.

      Reply
      • Thanks Cole! hmmm, now I don’t know if I’m going to read it or not, I was going to pass but now that you say the sex is hot :hot: I may reconsider.

        Reply
        • Jaime,

          I wouldn’t decide to get it just based on the sex. Yes, the sex is hot, but there isn’t a whole lot of it, and almost all of the story is devoted to the evil machinations and teeth-grinding plots of the two families 🙂

          Reply
  • I ended up liking this book even though your review was on target. Too many POV & crazy sub plots. It was a nice change of pace though, to see a story line other than coming out of the closet issues & actually having the couple interacting with other people instead of living in their little bubble of gay love( i don’t mind those stories either.) And I thought there was enough romance in the story, to satisfy me at least.

    The plot alone told me it was a soap opera so I wasn’t surprised by it. Arranged marriage between a gay couple that’s accepted as legally binding in a state that hasn’t made gay marriage legal–what else could it be but a soap. And like with all soaps, they’re many people TSTL who eventually get their comeuppance or redemption.

    It’s a bit of a muddle like you say but I still liked it.

    Reply
    • Hi Sarah,

      Yes, I understand what you mean. I was happy that this book didn’t take the familiar GFY route and I also like books with a large cast of characters, especially big families. I just don’t particularly like reading about families that are so toxic.

      I guess I understand your comment about it being a soap opera. I wavered throughout about what the intention was, and I could never really tell. Was it suppose to be making fun of itself and the soap opera? If so, it sounded to earnest to me. If it is supposed to be earnest, then I have a heart time connecting to those characters that are TSTL, because they aren’t funny anymore.

      I’m happy that you liked it. This certainly hasn’t turned me off of RJ’s books at all, I love her writing and I’m looking forward to her two upcoming releases.

      Reply
  • I liked the book but I agree that Gerald and Jeff weren’t fleshed out. I could have used more “book”.

    Reply
    • Hi Reece,

      Yes, I could have used more as well. That sounds strange considering I keep saying that the book wasn’t really for me, but I think I wouldn’t have minded more of the interaction between Jake and Riley after they started getting along, that was the nicest part of the story. 🙂

      Reply
      • I would agree with you. I think it was a bit Reader’s Digest in some areas; things being glossed over and truncated when they could have been fleshed out.

        Jeff’s descent into the bad guy and then Gerald’s turn at the end came too quickly. I would have liked to have seen Jack and Riley develop their relationship instead of the “mystery” of Jeff’s shooting.

        It was a good book…I enjoyed it but there was too many threads.

        Reply
  • Wow Cole… OMG WOW!
    Sounds like you need some TLC! I mean between finishing the book,writing a ” very in depth review and thoughtful review”, and coming up with comments for a book your conflicted over…oh my.

    I thinks Wave needs to send the hot tub AND the guys to your place for the weekend!!! 8)

     

    Reply
      • You’re a lifesaver Wave. Don’t worry, I’m so tired I’ll probably fall asleep and not even remember when Billy takes advantage of me. I probably wouldn’t mind anyway 😉

        Reply
    • Reggie! What a cute kitty! Is he yours? What’s his name?

      Whew. I know, I’m worn out. I had to push myself to finish this book, though it wasn’t too difficult to keep going after the halfway mark. Then, this review took me twice as long as mine usually do, just because there’s so much there and it is difficult to sort out.

      So thank you! Thank you for suggesting Wave send the men with the happy hands my way 🙂

      Reply

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