Lacy Williams as one of my go-to authors in the inspirational market. While taking place in the same universe as her debut, Marrying Miss Marshal, The Homesteader's Sweetheart couldn't be more different. Different sort of hero, different sort of heroine, and there are a whole passel of kidlets running around in this story. The one thing that has stayed the same? Her light touch with the religious elements of the genre, and her seamless weaving of them into the story.
Penny Castlerock is a young lady raised to appreciate the finer things in life. Her father is the town banker, her mother a proper society maven. Penny was even sent away to finishing school in Philadelphia, and when she came back home to Wyoming, her father was a little put-out that she didn't bring a husband with her. No matter, he has plans to marry her off to his business partner - a man Penny cannot abide. First, he's positively old and second, there's just something "off" about him. But her father just won't listen to reason, and Penny figures time away might cool her would-be suitor's ardor. When she learns that her grandfather, who lives outside of town on a horse farm, isn't feeling well and needs some help? She packs up her younger brother, Sam, who is in need of some discipline, and they hit the road.
She hitches a ride to Grandfather's place with Jonas White, a man she first "knew" in Philadelphia. See, back east, Jonas was a brick layer's apprentice and was working on a residence next door to Penny's finishing school. Penny knew he existed mostly because the other girls twittered behind their hands about him. Then there was a scandal involving one of the girl's at the school, and Penny hadn't thought another moment about him until he shows up at a dinner party her father is hosting hoping to conduct some business.
Jonas went to that dinner party hoping to secure a loan. His younger daughter suffers from epileptic seizures and the doctor he found in Cheyenne wants payment in full, up front. He's hoping the letter in his pocket from his neighbor, coincidentally Penny's grandfather, will pave the way - but no such luck. Now he's got Penny Castlerock, the girl he's had a crush on since his Philadelphia days, sitting in his wagon with him. But that's all it can ever be - a crush. All he's ever wanted is a family, and he has one with his daughter and 7 (yes, 7!) adopted sons. But Penny? Yeah, way too good for the likes of him and a girl who certainly was not raised to be a homesteader's wife.
This is the sort of story that one can poke holes in all day long if you're so inclined. First, there's the huge coincidence that after leaving Philadelphia with a cloud over his head that Jonas just happens to settle in the same area of Wyoming as the Castlerock's. The villain here is strictly of the one-dimensional variety. You
can practically see him twirling his mustache and hear him chuckling
menacingly. Penny's grandfather also has to be the simplest man alive. He knows the kind of man his daughter married. He knows how Penny was raised. So exactly what makes him think she's capable of cooking? Naturally she practically burns down his kitchen.
Readers also need to be willing to roll with the single man adopting that many kids aspect of this story. I'll admit it, it's pretty syrupy at times. Luckily though, while Jonas is classic Beta hero all the way - he never treads into dreaded "Gary Stu" territory. Plus, the author does sell his back-story well enough for me to "buy in" to the blended family aspect of the conflict.
However it's hard to hate on this story, well at all, because the author has a way of sucking me in. I'll be honest - I like these people. They're nice people. And you really feel for Jonas, a man who desperately wants a family, goes about getting himself one, but is pretty inept when it comes to women. Part of it is his shyness, the other part of it is that he just doesn't know anything about courting or woo'ing. The guy is, like, hopeless on that score. And what does he do? Falls for the one woman in town that he positively has absolutely no shot in heck with.
Penny has a nice way with the kids, and I liked that she doesn't have immediate success when it comes to dealing with them. She doesn't want to marry to secure her father's business alliances, she wants a marriage like her grandparents had - one based on love. And while she thinks she's falling for Jonas White and his family, could she be happy living on a homestead? Away from town and the pretty things she's come to enjoy?
This story certainly won't be for everybody, but if you're a fan of gentler westerns and like a family vibe to your romances? This is a good one. The "God Stuff" is painted with a very light brush - mostly consisting of the characters attending church and, at one point, Penny reading her grandmother's Bible. Honestly, it's no more "preachy" than a huge chunk of the secular westerns I've read. Even with me nit-picking the whole affair half to death (because, that's how I roll), I still enjoyed this story immensely and inhaled it in one day. I liked Jonas. I liked Penny. And I loved that this family got their happy ending.
Final Grade = B-