This is my first read from this author and it certainly will not be my last! I found out this book follows Marrying Stone after I was more than half way through. It did not matter at all, thankfully the author manages to keep out all the back-story of the previous book so Simple Jess can be read as a stand alone.
Althea is a young widow with a small son. Her mother-in-law and the "Granny" of the mountain community are pressuring her to re-marry. She has a farm that is envied and 4 of the best hunting dogs and they feel this is all going to waste. The MIL, wants her to marry within her family to keep the farm within her family. She did not have a happy marriage and was abandoned by her father when he remarried. She gets a lot of flack from everyone on how she should be raising her son. Althea just wants to be left alone to raise her son in her own way without a husband trying to control her.
I absolutely LOVED Jess! He is called Simple Jess by the Ozark mountain community where he lives, made up primarily of two families. Real mountain folks in every sense of the word. He is simple minded due to a birth defect caused by the cord being wrapped too tightly at birth. He is slow, but he is just sweet and wonderful! The community treats him as if he has no feelings at all, but he does, lots of feelings and thoughts. He just does not have a mean or spiteful bone in his body, he is honest to a fault. He finds out Althea is going to be selling her hunting dogs, and he wants one very badly. There are three goals he has 1. To own a hunting dog. 2. to own a gun. 3. to have a woman. They strike up a deal, he can have all of the dogs if he helps her to prepare for the winter. After getting to know both Jess and Althea, you really want to see them together. There is a first kiss, initiated by Jesse, and you just want to sigh and cry at the same time.
After a town get together, they force Althea by way of a Kangaroo court to choose a husband. Her choices are laid out to her, Eben Baxley and Oather Phillips. She has 3 weeks, until Christmas to make up her mind. Without being historied to death, we get to know quite a few characters in this story and even come to care for and understand the antagonists. This one is going in my re-read pile!!