4 out of 5 StarsAlthea Winslow is a widow living in the Ozarcks around the turn of the 20th century. Her extended family doesn’t agree with her refusal to remarry. Althea decides to hire Jesse, the mentally retarded, yet sweet man to help her prepare for winter. While the various big families put their best young men forward to woe Althea (and her land), she begins to realize that she and everyone else has underestimated Jesse – and he may be the perfect man after all.I’ve always been looking out for the definitive historical romance that makes me fall in love with the genre, much like Jennifer Crusie’s Welcome to Temptation sold me on contemporaries and Meljean Brook’s The Iron Duke on paranormals. Simple Jess now probably comes the closest to a historical I unabashedly love. However, there is a pretty big hiccup that ruined what could have been 5 star rating.Althea was a great heroine. Having spent most of her life being talked down to and controlled by the whims of her family and then her in-laws, with her husband’s death, Althea is granted the power and freedom to do as she wants. She stands up to the town trying to run her life and demanding she marry and even when trapped managed to make her own demands. She’s an intelligent and assertive woman, but can also be stubborn and headstrong. Jesse…sigh. I guess I love the sweet big lug with a heart of gold, eh? Jesse is mentally handicapped and most people treat him as a child and talk down to him, even though he’s a good farmhand and an excellent hunter. Jesse understands his limits and while others may use him or make fun of him, he isn’t ashamed of who he is. He’s refreshing compared to all the tortured uber alpha males that permeate romance. Their romance was slow, but satisfying, especially as Althea begins to realize that Jesse is more than just a simple child, but a man in his own right. Jesse finds his way into Althea’s heart by not demanding anything from her. While the rest of the town demands she live by their rules and judgement, Jesse silently stands by her, giving her courage and support. He loves her kid and is very pleasant with him. However, I did feel to prove Jesse’s competence, Althea’s was compromised.Baby Paisley, Althea’s young son, is probably one of the best written children in romance I’ve ever read. Usually kids in romance are either a) perfect little angels of perfection b) “cutely” mischeivious. Both are annoying as all get out. Baby Paisley reads like an actual child. He makes mistakes and does bad things (that aren’t romanticized with ‘Isn’t that cute?’). I usually hate children in romance novels, but Paisley was an actual character, not a caricature.The characters and their actions seemed to be how people of that time period would act. The book was filled with fascinating details of daily life in the Ozarcks. Even minor townsfolk were well-drawn characters with their own personalities and faults. However, a bit too much time, especially in the later half of the novel, is spent on subplots surrounding Althea’s two main suitors, Oather and Eben, interfering and taking away from Jesse and Althea’s story (in fact the last few pages of the novel aren’t even about them). Oather, the closeted homosexual son of the general store owner, is well-written sympathetic character. He’s always been considered a little different and nobody in the small town, especially his over-bearing father, understands him. His journey to accepting himself and finding his own way has you rooting for him, especially because at one point, homosexual = evil villain in romance. However, Eben and Mavis’s (Oather’s sister) subplot represented everything I hate about Old Skool romance novels – the arrogant asshole hero, the passive doormat heroine, and the martyr plot. Eben constantly belittles and humiliates Mavis and her feminine goodness wouldn’t let her slap him and put him in his place. His treatment of Mavis exascerbates to the point that Mavis will let him use her if he’ll let Oather marry Althea. Eben violently uses and rapes her, only to melt into a puddle of tears over hurting her. Mavis, all feminine goodness and perfection, pats him on the head and forgives him because he has man-hurt. What the ever loving fuck? I might not have minded their subplot so much if Mavis had grown a backbone and told Eben to fuck-off , but the rape was a huge deal breaker for me. Compared to Althea and Jesse’s sweet love story, the tone of this subplot was completely jarring.I really really loved Jesse and Althea’s story, but too much time spent on other characters and a rapey subplot brought down what was an excellent read. I highly recommend, but just know what you’re getting with the subplot. Simple Jesse is different than any other historical romance, sadly it has its downfalls too.The formatting on the ebook is absolutely atrocious. Only the fact was that this was such a good story made me buy this. If formatting is a big issue, you’ve been warned.