Reviewed by Vicki
TITLE: Sylvan (#1-4)
AUTHOR: Jan Irving
PUBLISHER: Dreamspinner Press
LENGTH: 256 pages
RELEASE DATE: August 24th, 2016
Return to small-town Sylvan in Jan Irving’s bestselling series—reimagined and re-edited with an all-new bonus novella.
The small Western town of Sylvan is a place for new beginnings for those who won’t settle for anything less than true love. These sweet tales of slow-simmering romance and the old-fashioned values of commitment and pulling together when times get tough prove that sometimes the best matches are also the most unexpected.
With the help of a storm, a washed-up Olympic swimmer and a carpenter cracking under the strain of caring for his Alzheimer’s-affected father learn opposites sometimes really do attract.
A likable cowboy called Happy Nate is determined to help a mute boy speak again—and to help his father move beyond the repression of the Mennonite community to find the love he deserves.
When a hard-partying cowboy is suddenly saddled with a surprise baby, he’s at his wit’s end. Luckily the local doctor is available to help, and if the two men can find the courage to accept themselves and step into a new life, they might just make a real family. They’ll need to lend each other strength when an unspeakable tragedy strikes—and when it’s time to pick up the pieces.
As you can see from the blurb, this is a newly edited book containing previously released short stories written by Jan Irving. I read the first three years ago, now there is a new short story added to this collection. Here are my reviews for each of the stories:
We start with Sylvan, the story of Mal, the washed up swimmer with failed Olympic dreams as he returns to his grandmothers home in Sylvan. Mal is lost and alone, no family, no job, no swimming, no goals. Nothing but his grandmothers falling down cabin. He meets Leif, a local carpenter, once on the road and again in the water. The two begin a tentative friendship, that eventually turns in to a romance and love. Mal is a bit of a slut, or at least he was before he lost his place on the swimming team and heads to the only safe place he knows. Leif is the total opposite. A quiet, calm man, waiting patiently for the love of his life. Unfortunately this will be a hard thing for him to find, he lives in a small town and is caring for his sick father. He is certainly attracted to Mal, but reluctant to start a relationship with him. Of course the two do, and it is slow and lovely to watch. I loved the two men, their story relationship, their interaction with Leif’s dad, and their finally coming together. The development and healing of Mal was particularly satisfying to watch.
The second story is about Luke, who makes a very brief appearance in the first story along with his baby, as he struggles to find hope and a safe place to settle. Luke has recently taken on the care of his three month old daughter, who was abandoned by her party girl mother. Luke met a girl in a bar and had a one night stand, and Jessica is the result. Luke is a cowboy, barely making a living and caring for himself, now finds himself burdened with a baby he is completely unprepared to care for. He has a moment of crisis in a small church in the town of Sylvan, and is rescued by Morgan, the local doctor. Morgan offers not only care for baby Jessie, but a job to Luke, and a safe place for the two to live. This is also a sweet and gentle romance, as Morgan lures the lover hidden in Luke out in to the open. The two are wonderful together, and the baby adds to the story without detracting from the main romance. The two are assisted in their relationship by Morgan’s housekeeper, and oddly, by Luke’s baby mama. I loved this one too!
Then we have the story of Nate and Happy. A more mismatched pair I have rarely seen! Nate has left his Mennonite community to find help for his son, who has stopped speaking and is fading away, after witnessing his mothers death. Nate isn’t able to find help in their community, and ends up as the cook on a ranch in Sylvan. He’s another lonely man, just living with his son, gardening and feeding the hands at the ranch. Nothing is helping Samuel, who is getting bullied at school. Nate has no idea what to do. In comes Happy, one of the ranch hands. Happy is confident, open in his love of men, likes to dance in the dirt, he’s just a simple happy man. He sees the pain in both Nate and Samuel, and can’t resist helping. And maybe opening Nate up to a whole new world. Another winner, I loved the sweetness of Happy, and the blossoming hope in Nate and Samuel.
Finally we have Luke’s Baby. This story takes place eight years after Luke and Morgan’s story, and is about the kidnapping and injury of Jessica, the baby that brought Luke and Morgan together. Morgan has come in to a fortune, and a very bad man kidnaps Jessie with the plan of marrying her and getting Morgan’s money. A good portion of this story takes place in the hospital where Jessie is recovering, then a bit after she gets home. We see the kidnapping through flashbacks. I have to say I did NOT like this story at all. It felt totally out of character from the story of Luke and Morgan. The whole thing about the money didn’t work for me, and the kidnapping and injury of Jessie was just awful. It didn’t even seem like Luke and Morgan to me, and the hints and what Luke may have done if there was a different ending were also awful. I’m not sure what the point of the whole story was to be honest, and it brought the collection down for me.
So I enjoyed the first three stories very much, and I’m going to try really hard to forget about the fourth one! In fact I’m not even going to talk about it anymore, other than to say again, that I didn’t like it one bit! The first three were just wonderful, sweet and gentle stories, slow to build, each with a fantastic ending. They do intersect slightly, the men from one story have brief appearances in the other stories, but they are pretty self contained. I liked that each has different types of characters, we have a swimmer and a carpenter, a doctor and a cowboy, and a cook and a ranch hand. Each has a little drama and heartbreak, but ends with a satisfying ending. The love and sex take time to come, but are just perfect when it all happens. I loved each of the six men, their stories were compelling, their connections strong, their sex good, and they all lived happily ever after.
I have always liked Jan Irving’s writing, she’s not a prolific writer, but when she does release a book I find it very enjoyable. She’s written several cowboy stories and does those particularly well. Her writing style works for the slow nature of the cowboy life. Even with my strong dislike of the fourth story, I would recommend reading this one, the first three stories make up for the last one! If you haven’t read any of her books, start with this one and move on to some others….