Wednesday, July 19, 2017

#TBRChallenge Review: A Reason To Sin
The Book: A Reason to Sin by Maureen McKade

The Particulars: Historical western romance, 2008, originally published by Berkley, out of print, self-published digital edition available, third book in trilogy

Why Was It In Wendy's TBR?: Besides the fact that it's a historical western (which is usually enough of a reason), the first book in this series, A Reason to Live, is one of my all-time favorites.  Seriously, drop your life and read it now.  I also liked the second book in the series, A Reason to Believe - which in hindsight I probably should have graded a B+.  So why has it taken me almost 10 years to read A Reason to Sin?  Well, after this one came out I saw some not-so-great reviews, and my friend Rosie (who doesn't blog anymore because she doesn't love me) was really underwhelmed by it.  So yeah.  It languished.

The Review: This is an instance where waiting nearly 10 years to read the final book in a trilogy was probably a good thing.  I think I'm going to be kinder to this book now than I would have had I read it so soon on the heels of the first two books in the series.  That said, even with all the time that has elapsed, this one still has major issues.  Had I read this one 9 years ago I likely would have set the book down disgusted.  Now though?  It's more of a "Meh, this should have been a lot better" reaction.

Rebecca Colfax is a gently born lady who has fallen far from grace.  After her parents died, this St. Louis Miss wed her husband, who gambled away all her money before he left town.  Adding insult to injury?  He left her before she realized she was pregnant.  With no other option, she leaves their son Daniel in an orphanage and hits the road to find Benjamin.  She's hoping that once he learns he's a father he'll do right by his family (ha ha ha ha ha!).  She somehow ends up in Oaktree, Kansas (this isn't really explained - did she just go there to find work or did she think Benjamin was there?) and quickly discovers that respectable employment is hard to come by.  She ends up at the Scarlet Garter saloon where she becomes a hurdy-gurdy girl, dancing with the clientele and singing a couple nights a week.  And, you know, if she wants to make extra money upstairs, the owner will look the other way.  But no.  Rebecca isn't that far gone just yet.

Slater Forrester is a faro and poker dealer at the Scarlet Garter, rescued as a boy when he tried to pick the owner's pocket.  Andrew instead taught Slater to gamble, and he parlayed that skill working for the Pinkertons as a Union spy during the War.  Naturally bad stuff happened (Andersonville) and now Slater no longer works for the Pinkertons and has a heaping helping of PTSD.  Rebecca is a complication he doesn't need or want, but they're both (naturally) attracted to each other and they're both keeping secrets.

The hallmark of this trilogy is definitely the complicated heroines.  Rebecca isn't always easy to like, but McKade makes you understand her character.  This is a young woman who months earlier would have crossed to the other side of the street had she seen a "fallen woman," and now she has to resort to working in a saloon - a saloon that also boasts a freed slave piano player and a dwarf bartender.  She has certain ideas (yes, prejudice and racist ones) given her upbringing - although quickly realizes the error of her ways once she, you know, gets to know the other employees at the saloon.  The owner is a fair, honest bloke and to be perfectly frank this "community" aspect to the story was the highlight for me.  Think of it like a small town romance except set in a saloon.

Original cover
The problem here is that the conflict doesn't hang together well, and that makes the romance less than ideal.  For someone who has had to leave her infant at an orphanage, Rebecca doesn't spend a whole lot of time fretting over it.  The kid is mostly an afterthought until the final few chapters of the story.  Likewise, she's not working all that hard to find her ne'er-do-well husband.  She asked the Scarlet Garter owner about him, but when she learns that Slater has spent extensive time in St. Louis - does she ask him?  Of course not.  Never mind that Slater is a gambler and Benjamin is a gambler.  I'm sure St. Louis had a ton of gambling establishments in the day, but odds would have been more than decent that they might have possibly oh....I don't know....RUN INTO EACH OTHER!


Slater's PTSD, the fact that he has no clue what happened to his two brothers (this is the series baggage), Rebecca being married to a swindler and with a kid stashed in an orphanage - this seems like enough conflict, right?  Well, apparently not.  Because the author chose to shoehorn in some external conflict involving villains shaking down the area saloons as part of a protection racket.  Slater then uses his Pinkerton "skills" to ask questions - but needless to say he's not terribly sneaky about it. Frankly I quickly realized how he got nabbed during the War and thrown into Andersonville.

I was in the mood for a western, so even with my various and sundry issues, I was happily tearing through this - until the protection racket conflict heats up.  Then the whole thing starts to sag in the middle, Rebecca and Slater start sleeping together, and I started to skim.  Also, because I know some readers feel strongly about this - be advised that Rebecca is married (even though her husband is no-good) when her and Slater finally succumb - and yes, Slater is aware of her marital status.  I was OK with this, given that her husband's actions don't exactly warrant any consideration as far as I'm concerned - but for some readers adultery (no matter the circumstances) is a hard and fast no.

Capping off my final disappointment is the epilogue, when the three brothers are finally reunited.  This is the overarching conflict that the trilogy hangs on, and it's kind of a "big deal" in the first two books (less so in this one).  So to have the whole reunion wrapped up in, like, 4 pages?  It's unsatisfying to the point where I'm really, really glad I didn't read this trilogy back-to-back-to-back.  I think I'd feel a lot more enraged about it if I had.

So, yeah.  Seriously.  The first book is amazing and the second book is really groundbreaking, challenging and interesting in a lot of ways.  This one?  Not so much.  But hey, now I can say I've read the whole series and this book is no longer starring back at me from my TBR shelves.  That's something, right?

Final Grade = C-


Dorine said...

Great review! I'm also drawn to westerns so I'm putting the first two on my wishlist and see what happens from there. Even a "meh" western makes me happy. :)

Jill said...

Aw, man, I couldn't catch up in time. Wendy, you always make Westerns sound so appealing (at least the ones you love) and they're not my usual favorite. I'm more into European history than American. So well done on keeping the genre alive.

Lynn Balabanos said...

It's always nice to finish a series, even if the last book was meh. I did write down your recommendation, however. If A Reason to Live is one of your all time favorites, then it's worth hunting down!

Wendy said...

Seriously, A Reason to Live is SO good. And the author had the rights revert back to her, so it's now available self-published at a reasonable price. I didn't love the second book as much as the first - but in hindsight it's really interesting in a lot of ways. McKade takes her heroines to places we don't always see in romance. This final book was a let-down, but I'm happy I finally read it and can now say I've completed the series.