Sunday, January 29, 2006

When Bad Covers Happen To Great Books

Seriously, look at that book cover. Now I know this is Dorchester's Leisure imprint and I really should be used to them slapping crappy covers on westerns - but this one really gets to me. Why? Because it's a really good book.

Does this cover say, "Hey baby, I'm a really good book" to you? No it doesn't. What it does say is "cheestastic." Worse still, it leads the casual browser to believe that it's a cheestastic Indian romance. The kind most romance readers stopped reading back in 1986. Hello? The hero is an Army major! Why the hell is he wearing buckskins? The heroine is a scarred former Kiowa captive! She does not go around wearing half of her clothing!

And honestly, the cover model's boobs are bigger than hers. She's not wearing a bra because he probably stole it from her.

Anyway - on with the book, which is Kate Lyon's second and really damn good. Yes Sybil - go out and buy it. You won't be sorry.

Caroline Whitley was a Kiowa captive. This was a very unpleasant experience complete with rape, torture, beatings - you know, all the fun stuff. Then one day she is rescued when a Cheyenne cheif named Little Wolf buys her. He takes her back to his people, she lives in his tipi, and his two wives nurse her back to health. For Caroline's protection he lets it be known that she is his third wife. Then the Cheyenne are rounded up and forced onto a reservation in Oklahoma. Little Wolf sends Caroline back to her people in Dodge City, Kansas.

Except Caroline's "people" treat her worse than a prostitute. She's Little Wolf's "squaw." She's lower than dirt. She was just asking for all that rape and torture. Then word gets out that the Cheyenne are dying by the hundreds on that squalid reservation. Little Wolf takes a band of his followers and makes a run for it - straight to their hunting grounds in Montana.

Zach McCallister is an Army major who returns home to discover his wife has run off with a drifter. She took his son, Luke, with her. Then Zach learns that Patricia and her lover are murdered by Indians and Luke is presumably taken captive. Evidence makes him believe it was the Cheyenne who did it, and now he's looking for a way to infiltrate Little Wolf's band in order to find Luke. Like manna from heaven, here comes Caroline, looking for a man who can help her take a wagon full of supplies (blankets, medicine, food) to the fleeing Cheyenne.

Zach and Caroline obviously have a lot to hide from each other, which is tough since they're sharing close quarters and the tension between them in sizzling. Zach has orders, plus he's looking for his son. He cannot let it be known that he's "the enemy" - a soldier. Caroline isn't really Little Wolf's wife, but making people believe that fiction does offer her a very slim amount of protection. Naturally her experiences have taught her to be very wary around men, and how to use a knife with efficiency.

What I loved so much about this story is that Lyon doesn't take the easy way out with the conflict. This is no "Indian Good, White Man Bad" clap trap. No, both sides have their flaws. It's all about actions and consequences. The Cheyenne do things they feel they must, which leads the US Army to do what they feel they must. There are no clear cut set of villains here, rather a large shade of gray. Much like real life.

Also, the history is really very good. Readers fed up with half-assed wallpaper stories won't find any of that here. Lyon likely threw herself into the research aspect. Little Wolf was a real Cheyenne cheif. No foolin'. Also, George Custer's own illegitmate Cheyenne son plays a healthy secondary role.

The romance is also very good. Zach is extremely attracted to Caroline, and it's easy to see why. She bares some horrible scars from her captivity, but she's got courage, strength and survivial instincts to spare. She's a remarkable woman to have survived it all, but she's also unsure of herself. She learned about sex as a violent act (repeatedly) and Zach must proceed with caution. By the time it's all said and done, these two can't help but fall in love.

For what it's worth, I highly recommend Hope's Captive. Two wounded characters caught up in history, and between two different worlds, makes this a great read. I just hope the god-ass awful cover doesn't leave this great story out in the cold. Don't miss it.


Kristie (J) said...

I just bought this one on the weekend after I read the review at AAR. It's good to see you really liked it too.
It is a nasty thing that new authors sometimes have a double fight - first they are new and second really bad covers.

sybil said...

OK, that is it. I shall buy this if I have to break down and pay full price. hey there is still some bday money aka book money.

I so am going to go look today. Thanks!

sybil said...

oh and how can you tell what imprint it is? From the book itself or the website? I couldn't tell from the site.

Wendy said...

As far as books go, this one is cheap. The list price is only $5.99. And the imprint is typically right on the spine of the book. Over the years though I've just come to expect that Dorchester publishs most of their westerns under the Leisure banner.

Bookseller Chick said...

Wendy, you're right. That is one ugly cover. Yesterday I was staring at it trying to decide whether to strip or not to strip it to make room for new books. I ended up leaving one copy on the shelf and overstocking the rest. Hopefully word of mouth will be able to overcome that truly awful cover.

sybil said...

oh that is low.... Well than after the phone call from hell tomorrow I am going to B&N too look for Bad Boys Ahoy! and shall pick up a copy.

It will be mine. Oh yes it will...

Kate said...

Sybil and Kristie, as the author of Hope's Captive, I'm very happy to hear that you're taking a chance on my book. Bookseller Chick, thanks for keeping one on your shelf!
Wendy, I can't thank you enough for taking on the cover issue in your review. Some of my other reviewers skirted it, but no one hit the nail on the head like you!
I forwarded the link to the review to my editor who laughed and said, "Gee, somebody else hated that cover as much as you." She did say they'd try to do better next time. Won't be difficult. This cover left them lots of leeway.
Thanks again, Wendy, for the review and the blog!

Kate Lyon