|Pretty cover, but doesn't fit story|
The Particulars: Historical western romance, Harper, 1997, Out of print, Available digitally (self-published)
Why Was It In Wendy's TBR?: It's a western and the beta hero is a virgin. So yes, of course it's in Wendy's TBR (how could it not be?!), where it has been for more years than I care to admit. Also, for the purposes of this month's Challenge theme (Recommended Read) - it's a KristieJ favorite.
The Review: OMG, this book! It's no secret that I've been in a reading slump that's dated back to last year. This slump has mostly been related to my general lack of focus and attention when it comes to reading. Good books have been slog to get through. But this book, which clocks in at 447 pages? I didn't read it so much as devour it. Which goes to show that when Wendy finds the right book and her reading mood aligns (I really wanted to read a western when I picked this up!), she laughs in the face of The Slump!
Eliza Beaudry is desperate to get the heck out of Richmond, Texas. Away from people who look down on her because her Daddy is a poor sharecropper and her Mama is half-Comanche. And how exactly do pretty young girls get out of Dodge in 1876? Yep, a man. Eliza has already been pretty free with her kisses, but when Cole Wallace, a smooth-talkin' gambler strolls into town she just knows he's the one who will make all her dreams of leaving Richmond behind come true.
We know where this is going right? Eliza ends up pregnant. Cole, naturally, shows his true colors and Eliza's in a real sorry state now. Poor, penniless, with not even a sliver of decent reputation left - she takes the only thing Cole does offer her. She can marry his younger brother, Aaron.
Aaron is nothing like Cole. He's working the family farm, taking care of their disagreeable invalid father (bedridden from a stroke), and he's painfully, awkwardly shy. Eliza is so pretty she makes his eyes hurt, he's half in love with her before he can even stutter out a hello and she scares him so much he can barely spit. She's also pregnant with his brother's baby and Aaron knows he cannot compete - but he marries her all the same.
You can tell this book was published 20 years ago because there isn't an editor alive who would publish it as is today. First, it's 447 pages long. Second, it opens with Eliza meeting Cole. Third, we get a sex scene between Eliza and Cole (who is NOT the hero), and finally? Eliza and Aaron (remember, the hero) don't even meet until after page 150. We also get to spend more time with Cole after he leaves Eliza on Aaron's doorstep. There are several reasons Cole dumps Eliza off on his brother, the biggest one being that Cole has bigger fish to fry.
The writing flows and the characters are so richly drawn. Eliza is the kind of heroine you want to smack early (and often) because she's so young and so naive in the beginning. You see disaster looming the moment she's introduced. However it's how she grows as a character after she marries Aaron that's most intriguing. Other reviews I've since read have expressed dissatisfaction over her lack of denying feelings for Cole - but by the end of this story I was convinced without the author resorting to Eliza's grandstanding or denouncing Cole in some Big Ol' Grand Gesture. How she falls in love with Aaron is done gradually, over time and I believed every moment of it.
|Original cover (much better!)|
If this book had been published today it would be 200 pages shorter and we'd start the story with Cole dumping Eliza into his brother's lap. And the story would be much the poorer for it. As it's written, Chance has done something remarkable. None of these are bad people. Cole, Daddy Wallace, these aren't cookie cutter villains. There are times they are not nice men, but they're not caricatures - and it adds a richness to the story's conflict.
This started out as a strong B+ for me and got pushed into A territory when I had to fight back tears while reading the final chapters on my lunch break at work (only slightly embarrassing). When Eliza realizes she loves Aaron and that he's not ashamed of her and she goes to him? O.M.G. I'm a mess just thinking about it. It's wonderful. It's amazing. Read it now.
Final Grade = A