Whippoorwill by Sharon Sala is the strangest western I’ve ever read. I love westerns and western romance, as well as those with some raunchy comedy, so I really wanted to love this. Which is why I kept reading, hoping it would smooth out and meet my preferences.
Why was this book in Dorine’s TBR? I’m not sure if this was a freebie, or a sale book, but I purchased the digital trilogy together. I love shorter stories to try new-to-me authors. Whippoorwill, the first book in the trilogy, is category length, which I didn’t know when I started it. Either way, it was the Western theme, and the unusual storyline about a fallen woman surviving in the west, that called to me.
Whether it was sweet or sexy, or even a romance, I wasn’t sure, but I really didn’t have a preference. I am open to western fiction as much as a romance, even if the romance is carried out over three stories. With no expectations other than it sounded like a fun and unusual story, I picked Whippoorwill to meet this month’s Romance TBR Challenge of Sugar or Spice. I didn’t mind if it strayed a bit out of that category, as long as I got another book off my TBR!
The story had potential, but there are too many irksome bits that annoyed me too much to enjoy it fully. I kept trying because I did like the characters, even though what came out of their mouths sometimes irritated me.
At first, the odd situations and bawdy language made me believe it wanted to be a comedy. I love funny westerns, but the humor just didn’t work for me. “Crass” is the only word that kept coming to my brain as I read this. The characters called body parts by names that irritated me. Granted, they discussed the male parts just as much as the women’s. The word “poke” was used so many times to describe the sexual act with Letty, a word I find offensive, that I would have smacked this book around if I was reading a paperback. I get it. It’s the wild west and that’s what they called it, but it just seemed redundant and disgusting because of everyone’s disrespect for Letty.
In short, everyone thought about sex so much that I wondered how they survived such a rough territory. There didn’t seem to be time to do anything but drink and be merry.
Three-quarters through the book, I felt the story was outrageously silly, and I did laugh. Outrageous describes most of the characters. It’s like they were all caricatures of western characters we know from previous stories either written or in film. I was still on the fence as to whether I liked it or not, but it was so crazy that I had to know the end.
By that time, the reader knows several romances are blooming, but poor Letty hasn’t found her man. As the only whore left in town, she is tired of her lifestyle. She wants a new life, but can’t figure out how to get it.
There’s also a traveling minister who consistently gets involved with women, causing issue after issue. The reason he’s in the West in the first place is because he couldn’t behave elsewhere. He knows he’s a sinner, but he just can’t help himself. Letty and the minister collide, which pushes the plot into the last part of the book.
I kept thinking as I was reading that this book felt like it was written more for a male audience than female. It lacked the feminine softness that insinuates love, or caring. Western fiction is more hardcore than this book, but there are some situations that are pretty gross, including violence against women insinuated.
Since most of the stories within this first novel in the trilogy are about sinners, it would seem strange in a rough and tumble town with a bawdy house, not to have language raw and insinuating. I get that. But there weren’t many strong cuss words or language you’d see in erotic romance. Mostly, it’s a huge batch of sexual references and innuendos that are sometimes stupid and funny that fill these characters’ thoughts, which seemed to waylay the plot in a way to make me feel like skipping ahead. I got bored with the nonsense and just wanted to know what happens to Letty.
Whippoorwill is book one of the Whippoorwill trilogy that includes The Amen Trail and The Hen House, which I did not read. Whippoorwill’s Epilogue ends this first book well enough, but without the romance I had been seeking. I’m guessing we’ll get that in book two or three. There are several romances tied up in this book, but they’re all secondary characters.
The excerpted passage at the end of the Epilogue drives the reader to the next book. I have to admit that I read a bit further into The Amen Trail to see what happened in that scene. Even with that, I’m not sure I’ll continue. I’m still curious, but the uncouth ways the characters think and talk to each other about sex wore on me. I get why it’s like that, it just made me cringe every time the men talk about Letty as if she’s a thing for only one purpose. This first book lacks the softness and finesse I’ve come to expect in women’s fiction.
I guess that’s because I began to care about Letty, even though she’s a sinful mess of hopelessness. She has spunk, and started to believe she deserved more, which is absolutely correct. She isn’t a bad person, but a person of circumstances who had been left alone too young to fend for herself in a wild place.
Overall, the writing and characters were entertaining, but many of the scenes and circumstances weren’t told in a style I prefer. It jumped around a lot from character to character. This is one of the hardest reviews I’ve had to write. It goes against my feminist tendencies to have women disrespected, which they consistently are in this time and place. I know much of the language and thoughts might have been true for the times, but I don’t want such a stark reality in my pleasure reading.
All in all, Sharon Sala has a wild imagination that takes the reader on a crazy journey that leads to the next story. I will try other books by her in the future to see how they differ, but I need someone to convince me with reasons why I should finish this trilogy. Someone tell me it’s worth it!
Review by Dorine, courtesy of TheZestQuest.com. Digital copy purchased discounted or obtained for free in an Amazon promotion. Thanks in advance for following links and sharing this review on social media.
Whippoorwill by Sharon Sala
Series: Whippoorwill, Book 1
Category: Western Fiction with Romance Elements
Publisher: Loveland Pr (February 1, 2003 – original – several reissues, I read the 2018 version)
Rated 3 out of 5