Publication Date: August 30, 2014
In The Paragraph Ranch by Kay Ellington and Barbara Brannon, Dee Kaufman’s mother is injured in a car accident and Dee must return to the tiny Texas town in which she was raised to help her recover. Working against a make or break literary deadline, Dee must care for her mother while struggling with the eternal question. Can you go home again?
The authors gave me a copy of this novel in exchange for my review.
I love the language in which this novel is written. The first line: “There wasn’t a soul in eleven hundred square miles of Caprock County, Texas willing or able to take care of Mary Alice Bennett, not for love or money.” Despite the expectation set, “Bless your heart” is never once uttered by a character in this 291-page work, and I must admit a bit of disappointment on that count. Still, this is a tale chock full of southernisms and stock southern female characters written with respect and round edges instead of cheap stereotypes.
There’s a great scene early on inThe Paragraph Ranch in which college professor Dee discovers that her relatives call her P.H. Dee behind her back. Of course, the moment is framed for optimal embarrassment and welcomes Dee back to the place she could not have left fast enough. Dee finds herself grappling with the question many of us do. We have strong parents who seem invincible and suddenly we’re in the driver’s seat of their life and not sure of what to do. Are they able to continue living alone? Will a full-time nurse do? The authors frame Mary-Alice as very much a force before her unfortunate accident so readers know that whatever is decided won’t go down easily. Nor should it. Mary Alice, we learn, has raised a daughter of similar spirit who in turn who has raised her own daughter, Abby, is the family tradition of iron women.
The Paragraph Ranch is a character-driven story. We are with Dee for this experience and, in a sense, her evolution as a woman and writer. It was interesting to watch her research and writing process. At its heart, The Paragraph Ranch is simple and direct but without any loss of the softness appropriate to a female-driven story. Dee’s flaws aren’t hidden and her awkwardness isn’t concealed. While The Paragraph Ranch is listed in the mystery genre, the mystery subplot is very light. Fans of the mystery genre may be disappointed in this work that could fall well into both southern fiction and chick lit.
The Paragraph Ranch is a work where readers have the sense that they’ve built a relationship with and invested in the characters. The novel was a delightful read but in no way perfect. The male characters weren’t developed. Max Miller, the potential love interest, is a polite southern gentleman who is good looking and a match for Dee as he’s the artsy type. Beyond having parts that will snap together, there was a lack of believability in their attraction. He’s a nice guy without depth.
What most surprised me about The Paragraph Ranch is how seamlessly it’s written. Had I read other works by either author a signature style may have been evident. As a first-time reader of both, I could not detect a duality of style in the work.
Overall, The Paragraph Ranch was a delightfully warm read. I really enjoyed the relationship between characters and the awkward fun of encountering people from years before. I enjoyed how Dee was roped into the book group and her relationship with her mother, a woman not afraid to say what she thinks. There was a kinship between Dee and me in that I saw my own relationship with my mother reflected. Sometimes the point of a novel is to develop a bond with the person reading under a warm blanket with a cup of tea in hand. This novel delivers that in spades.
The Paragraph Ranch is Kay Ellington’s first novel and Barbara Brannon’s fourth book.
Also, Volume 1 in the title tells us that these characters will be back in our lives and I hope that it’s soon. If you like a good story, read an excerpt and pick up The Paragraph Ranch by Kay Ellington and Barbara Brannon today on