Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Retro Review: The Courting of Widow Shaw

This review of The Courting of Widow Shaw by Charlene Sands was first posted at The Romance Reader in 2004.  At that time, I rated it 4-Hearts (B grade) with a sensuality rating of PG-13.


After a shaky start, Sands’ latest effort for Harlequin propels itself into four-heart territory with a sweet romance and charming Beta hero.

Steven Harding has always admired Gloria Mae “Glory” Shaw from afar, and due to circumstances feels indebted to her as well. So when he spies her home engulfed in flames, her no-good husband stabbed to death, and a physically battered and unconscious Glory holding a bloodied knife, he spirits the young woman away. While it appears he had it coming to him, Steven knows that Glory will surely be arrested for the murder of her husband – which he cannot let happen. The problem is there is only one suitable place to hide her – a place no one would think of looking for her.

That place is Rainbow House – the brothel that his mother owns and that Glory has been trying to shut down. The town preacher, Glory’s father, was shot and killed during an altercation outside his church between a dissatisfied customer and Steven’s mother, Lorene. Glory naturally blames the existence of the whorehouse on her beloved father’s death, and while her efforts have proved fruitless thus far, she hasn’t given up her crusade.

Glory awakens having no memory of that fateful night, and more than a little disconcerted that Lorene Harding’s son is her rescuer. She’s also not terribly pleased to be convalescing at Rainbow House, and “the girls” that are employed there don’t exactly give her a warm welcome. With a crisis of faith looming, the long arm of the law lurking, and her brother-in-law telling anyone who will listen that she’s a murderer – Glory has no choice but to trust Steven Harding, even if she does see Lorene as her enemy.

Things get off to a shaky start entirely due to Glory. I could understand how a preacher’s daughter would be horrified to discover she was recouping in a whorehouse. I could also understand Glory’s strong opposition to prostitution. What I couldn’t understand was her reaction to her circumstances. Our girl immediately likens her room at the whorehouse to a “prison” and begins lamenting on how bored and useless she feels. Call me crazy, but I found it a little bizarre that our heroine felt “bored” when she should have been worried, scared out of her mind, frustrated by her memory loss, or all of the above.

However, things do get better – including Glory. What is interesting is how the author handles her transformation. While the hookers here all have the requisite hearts of gold, Glory is fairly unyielding in distaining their profession – that is until she gets to know the girls. As she begins to see them as real people who made choices, she too looks at the choices she’s made in her own life – including marrying a man who was entirely unworthy.

Steven is my favorite kind of hero – a sweet Beta guy who has always admired Glory but felt as a madam’s son he was unworthy of her. He rescues her, protects her, and with his caring nature ultimately woos her. While he does feel indebted to her for her father saving his mother’s life, he’s also not about to make excuses for his mother’s profession. Lorene made her choices, just as he made his by rescuing Glory.

While Glory’s behavior didn’t instill much hope in the beginning, by the end of the novel she really is a changed person. She’s better for her stay at Rainbow House, and even makes peace with events of the past. Steven endears himself with his what-you-see-is-what-you-get attitude, his steadfast vow to protect Glory, and his gentle wooing of her, even if he doesn’t think he’s wooing her at all. While the love scenes have some punch to them, they are sweet all the same – making The Courting of Widow Shaw one of the more tender romances I’ve read this year.


Wendy Looks Back: This obviously worked for me back in 2004, but I'm curious if it would hold up for me on a reread.  That may take a while though.  Even though it was published by Harlequin Historical, it's currently not available in digital or listed on the author's web site.  My guess?  Rights reverted back and the author just hasn't done anything with them yet.  Sands is one of those authors who sometimes works for me and sometimes doesn't.  She's been concentrating on contemporaries in recent years - publishing with both Harlequin Desire and Tule.

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