Ransom Canyon was my pick for a cowboy/western romance for the Unapologetic Romance Readers' 2017 reading challenge. It was on some lists of best western romances; lists have been the source of many of my picks for this challenge since I'm not knowledgeable about many of the categories. This was also a different pick for me because I favor historical romance, even in other categories, and this was a contemporary western read.
This is categorized as a romance--it says it right on the cover--but honestly, it doesn't read as one. There are several romantic relationships blossoming throughout the course of the book. There's cowboy/ranch owner Staten, who's been sleeping with his dead wife's best friend for a few years and is now growing closer to her, while Quinn has loved him the whole time. There's Lucas and Laura, two high school students from very different backgrounds. And then there's Yancy, an ex-con who arrived in Ransom Canyon with the goal of stealing but found himself quickly adjusting to life as a handyman, and attracted to nurse Ellie. But here's the thing: despite all this love in the air, none of the characters have any chemistry with each other. This book doesn't steam. It doesn't sizzle. It doesn't even make you go, "Aw, how sweet." It just...is. At least in the romance department.
Where this book does excel is in establishing a sense of place. Thomas builds up the town of Crossroads, which is near Ransom Canyon, which I guess has more of a ring to it than Crossroads does. But with the establishment of the quirky retirement community full of ex-teachers, the quaint little diner, and even the varying ranches with their different dynamics, and the creepy so-called Gypsy House...well, it all comes together to create a great atmosphere, a feeling of a small town with its small town troubles but also small town sense of community that's missing in so many books. The last book I read featuring a small town was Hannah Coulter and it was downright boring; I think Thomas does a much better job here. Just because a place is small and relies on a traditional economy--in HC, farming, and in RC, ranching--doesn't mean that it has to be snooze-worthy. In fact, RC manages to excel in a lot of areas that HC failed in, which made it a somewhat refreshing read following so closely on the more boring book's heels.
Ultimately, I did like this book, but it's not a good romance. I think the sense of place and the drama were good, and the retirees were so funny...but if it's being billed as a romance, I expect to feel a little attraction between the members of at least one of the romantic couples in the book, and here there were three couples and not an ounce of chemistry to be found.
With those things in balance, I think this will be 2.5 stars out of 5.