Monday Book Review: Cowboy Down

Cowboy Down by Vanessa Gray Bartal



In typical rom-com fashion, the plot set up is far fetched but fun. Layla, a foster kid just leaving the system, witnesses a murder and is sent into witness protection at a ranch with four brothers (cousins of one of the police officers). She goes from Chicago to Montana and it’s an adjustment, but she loves housekeeping for the four cowboys. She falls for Cade, who has recently been paralyzed in an accident involving a bull. While Layla and Cade fluctuate between enjoying and misunderstanding each other, the murderer is busy tracking her down to eliminate her as a witness. The tone of the book is much lighter than one might expect from a plot involving murder.

The Good:

There’s a lot of good! This book took me completely by surprise. I didn’t expect to like it and I really did.

The chemistry between Layla and Cade is believable and strong. They are really adorable together and I particularly loved seeing them take care of each other when sick (although why didn’t anyone take a NyQuil? Weird).

The characters are both easy to fall in love with.

The plot was on the ridiculous side, but the light tone of the book made it work, in my opinion.

They have so many cute moments together. Here’s one where Cade is taking care of Layla when she’s ill…

He leaned closer and cinched his arms around her in order to pull her to a standing position. She overbalanced and they both fell backwards against his chair. She propped her arms against his chair and tried to push herself away.

“What’s your hurry?” he asked. They were very close together now, face to face.

“I’m grubby,” she said miserably. Why when he finally decided to make a move on her did she have to be sick and gross?

“I’m a cowboy. I’m used to grubby girls.”

“How used to grubby girls are you?” she asked.

He grinned wickedly. “Very.”

The Bad:

I’m surprised by the cover. It’s all gray tones and doesn’t really capture attention, despite the man on it being thrown from a horse. I really think this cover is holding back the book’s potential!

The brothers’ names are super confusing. There’s Cade, Cam, Coy, and Josh. Don’t know why Josh doesn’t fit into the “c” theme but thank goodness because I have trouble keeping track of which one is doing what.

It’s a tad hard to believe that Layla is a foster child who has gone through a tough life and doesn’t trust easily. She says that plenty, but her actions don’t back it up. Her character is very warm and generous. She’s enormously endearing and I don’t think she needs this big sob back story.

There seems to be an inconsistency over how much sensation Cade has. In places he talks about being able to feel but not move his legs, yet another place says that he couldn’t feel her hand resting on his leg. It’s also really unclear how long Layla has been in foster care. Sometimes she talks about it like it’s been nearly her whole life and she never got any love, but it seems that it was only four years.

Layla and Cade have this strange way of understanding each other way better than any two people (even people who are soul mates) ever would. She basically just reads his mind. Which often makes the tension not very strong in the story. Anytime they might be upset with one another, the whole thing is smoothed over within a page or two. So all the tension comes from knowing that a murderer is tracking Layla down (and my own personal hope that Cade will be the one to rescue her from a wheelchair! Okay, that’s really too much to hope for, I’m afraid.)

About half way through the author’s presence gets a bit too strong, explaining things to the reader that are quite starkly obvious. For example, we see the brothers discussing something, then Layla misunderstands something they do. She comes to her own conclusion, which we know is wrong because we just saw the brothers saying what the real explanation was. Yet the author still writes “not realizing that she had misconstrued the entire situation. The problem she was about to try and fix was imaginary, and her attempts were about to make things much worse.”

Well, duh. We know she misconstrued it. And the narrator doesn’t usually hint about the future like this. Only in a couple of places and it’s very distracting in those places where it does happen.

In other words, there’s a lot of erring onto the side of telling too much instead of showing.

Yummy Hero Factor:

Cade has a lot of annoying moments of woe-is-me, no one will ever love me, I’m such a broken person. When he isn’t doing that, though, he is charming and appealing. It’s odd that the author is quick to put in the narration how wrong a character is about an emotion or a motivation, yet she lets Cade’s ridiculous and incorrect ideas about what he can and can’t do from a wheelchair stay without commentary. However, the story itself tends to correct his assumptions as Layla does research to find technology to help him get back to his life.

In moments where he feels embarrassed, like when he falls from his chair at one point, Layla takes it in such a light and normal way that they both find the humor in the situations. He notes that she treats him falling from the wheelchair as though he had tripped and she just laughs at him. It’s very natural and a beautiful moment.

Great Line:

“He thought he wasn’t much of a man because his legs didn’t work. Now he knew the truth; it didn’t take physical strength to make a man, it took emotional stamina.”


Don’t let my criticisms hold you back from this book. It’s one of the best in the romance genre, in my opinion. I think it is definitely worth reading!


Buy Now:

If you’ve written a book or know of a book that features a character with a physical disability, send me an email with “review” in the subject line:



  1. The Red Angel
    Jun 26, 2012

    Hi Ruth! Just wanted to let you know I gave you a blog award. 🙂 You deserve it! Stop by whenever you have the time to claim it (if you’d like).

    This book sounds interesting. I appreciate that you provided us both the good and not-so-good aspects you found from reading it. I agree – the cover isn’t that tasteful, though of course here I must break out that decade-old saying, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” Anyway, I’ll check it out. 🙂

    ~Wendy Lu

    • RuthMadison
      Jun 27, 2012

      Thank you! I have to admit I definitely do judge books by their covers. I love a cover to really grab me. I don’t know why that is!

  2. L'Aussie
    Jun 27, 2012

    Hi Ruth. I like the way you’ve formatted your book review. I found lots to like about this book according to your comments, but my TBR list is overflowing ATM!


    • RuthMadison
      Jun 27, 2012

      Thank you! I really enjoy this format, an opportunity to talk about all the aspects of a book that caught my attention. I understand about the TBR list. I have the same problem! But it’s a pretty nice problem to have 🙂

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