The Book: Wild Oats by Pamela Morsi
The Particulars: Berkley Jove, Historical Americana Romance (early 20th century), 1993, Book One In Series (pretty sure), Out Of Print, Easy To Find Used (lots o' cheap copies for sale on Amazon, and looks like PBS has copies).
Why Was It In The Bat Cave TBR?: I have two other books (Simple Jess and Courting Miss Hattie) by Ms. Morsi in the Bat Cave Keeper Stash. Needless to say, I seriously glommed her backlist. Also, this one has a virgin hero - and I'm a total sucker for a virgin hero. Deviant woman that I am.
The Review: I totally "get" and understand the fantasy appeal in romance. Who doesn't want a dashing Duke or Greek tycoon to show up at their front door and "take them away from it all?" But for my money, nothing flips my switch more than romance novels that feature "normal" people. Some may say that's boring, and some may say they need the "escapist" factor, but for me there is nothing more romantic than the idea that anybody, anywhere, is capable of falling in love and finding their happily ever after. Sentimental old goat that I am. Nobody, and I mean nobody, does this better than Pamela Morsi and it's why so many of us adore her historical romances.
Jedwin Sparrow is the mortician of Dead Dog, Oklahoma and a grown man of 24. It is only through his strong character that he hasn't turned into a hopeless mama's boy thanks to his controlling, sour mother, Amelia. Like most young men of 24, he's getting an itch he desperately wants to scratch, but he doesn't want to get married....yet. So he gets the idea to make an indecent proposal to Mrs. Cora Briggs, the most scandalous woman in town.
Cora is ::gasp:: divorced, which means in the minds of the townspeople she's a whore. When young Jedwin shows up on her doorstep and clumsily makes his proposition, she's appalled. The town may think she's a trollop, but she's nothing of the sort! However, she doesn't turn Jedwin out. Frankly, it was his mother Amelia that led the campaign to smear her reputation and wouldn't it take the woman down several notches if her precious baby boy was having an affair with that no-account, trashy, slutty Cora Briggs? So she tells Jedwin she'll consider his proposition, but as a lady she wants to be romanced. Imagine her surprise when he takes to the idea and a full-fledged courtship begins.
Morsi's historical romances were about salt-of-the-Earth people. Unless your blood runs purely blue, shake your family tree and ancestors that could populate a Morsi historical romance could come tumbling out. Jedwin is so blessedly clumsy and clueless that you would actually feel sorry for the guy if his proposition to Cora wasn't so insulting. But bless his heart, he quickly catches on - and his romancing of her is sweet, tender, and easily brought a smile to my lips. He's not fancy, he's not debonair, he's not a macho Alpha dog marking his territory. Jedwin Sparrow is a nice guy who wants his own life. Not the life his mother wants him to have, but the one he wants. And when he realizes he wants Cora Briggs for more than a clandestine affair, he puts on the full court press of convincing her that he really loves her. Not just the sex (hey, which is nice) but her.
Leaving Dead Dog after her divorce wasn't much of an option for Cora, who has no family whatsoever to rely on. She's a good, hardworking woman, who understands how society works and her place in it. She initially humors Jedwin to tweak his mother's nose, but as she develops feelings for the sweet, hardworking man, she knows she must send him away. He just doesn't understand the "rules." Rules that state that nice guys like Jedwin Sparrow cannot be with women like Mrs. Cora Briggs without there being damaging consequences.
What I really liked about this story is that the author gives all her characters a nice dimension. Even her villains have some depth. It would have been so easy to paint Jedwin's mother as a vile, evil shrew of the woman - but instead Morsi gives her a multi-faceted personality, allowing the reader to understand her, even if we don't agree with her. At that end, there is some redemption towards the final chapters that I'm not sure I completely buy - although the author sells it really well, and it's easy to overlook quibbles when my sappy romantic heart was practically bursting out of my chest. This is really a tender, lovely story, and another example of what made Morsi's historicals so fantastic. I'm certainly very happy that I have the follow-up book, Runabout, sitting in my TBR.
Final Grade = A-