Boots Under Her Bed (Historical Anthology) (American West)
Anthologies are my least favorite books as far as romance for several reasons. I generally buy them because of one author and am then faced with a dilemma: keep it for the one story or donate to UBS and hope to get the one story I loved on Kindle at some point in the future. How many times have I thought that if Story X was just a little longer, then it would be perfect? So the length restrictions are bothersome. I've tried to skip those selections I'm not interested in and just read the one story that I really want to read, but I just can't. I've tried. Really. Even worse, if the story I want to read is last that means I have to wade through all the others first. I know. I know. Anal, huh? So anthologies are problematic for me, and I have steered away from them for the most part. But this one has a selection by Jo Goodman, who is one of my favorite historical authors. Read her Compass series, and you'll see those books are right up there with Judith Ivory, Meredith Duran, Loretta Chase, Carla Kelly, and Laura Kinsale. There was absolutely no way for me to resist this book. So here I am. All blurbs are from Amazon.
Crazy Callie by Jodi Thomas...Callie has done a lot of crazy things, but it’ll take one more to prove she isn’t nuts: find a husband, fast! Her only requirement: he has to be taller than she is and swear not to have her committed during their ruse of a marriage.
I've never read any books by Jodi Thomas so I wasn't sure what to expect. Crazy Callie was a very sweet romance even if it stretched the limits of my credibility at times. I laughed out loud at Callie's descriptions of previous potential bridegrooms - a middle-aged peddler and a pyromaniac to name a couple, but I liked her a lot despite the hook that she's looking for a husband who's "single, breathing, and taller" than she is. I did have a problem with the way the villain (her stepfather) was handled. First he seemed a little OTT with his evilness and so read more like a stereotypical villain. Here are just a few things he did to make Callie miserable:
- locked Callie in a cellar when she was 13 for days,
- hit her with a shovel causing her to fall from the hay loft,
- spread rumors that she was crazy, a witch, and that she tried to commit suicide,
- attempted to have her committed to an insane asylum,
- stole money and trashed her home out of spite, and
- tried to swindle her out of her family's ranch.
In the end the stepfather did not even see the inside of a jail cell so I wasn't happy with how that was resolved. I know, I know. I'm a little bloodthirsty. The other problem I had was with the hero, Luke Morgan. He was utterly devastated when the woman he corresponded with and traveled hundreds of miles to marry rejected him. He's devastated enough that he gets drunk for three days and gave an awful first impression of utter despondency and listlessness. He had scratched his way out of working in a West Virginia coal mine and obtained a law degree, but his life is over because some self-centered lying person rejects him? I don't think so. His reaction just felt out of proportion. Overall, Crazy Callie was funny and sweet marriage of convenience story. (3 stars)
Nat Church and the a Runaway Bride by Jo Goodman...Felicity Ravenwood was raised to be independent-minded, but when this runaway bride opposes her father’s choices, it is up to Nat Church to bring her around. But he doesn’t count on springing her from jail, holding her hostage, or falling head over boot-heels in love.
I really liked Nat Church and The Runaway Bride. Nat Church has featured in some of Ms. Goodman's American West historicals as the star of a series of dime novels so it was wonderful to see how he was fleshed out as a character with his own story. One of the things I admire about Jo Goodman's writing is the way she writes dialogue. It has a natural flow that's never stilted or artificial and usually reveals more about the characters than anything else. Like this section:
"Felicity took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. 'I hope you can appreciate that your name does not of its own accord inspire confidence. As for the sheriff or my sister companions endorsing you, it is not all that helpful. Truth be told, Mr. Church, I know them little better than I know you. I only arrived in Falls Hollow three days ago.'
'Imagine what you might have accomplished in four.'
Felicity's full lips thinned slightly. 'Do I amuse you?'
'After a fashion, yes.'
'How do you mean?'
Nat shrugged lightly. 'Have you ever seen the way a cat plays with a mouse before he pounces?'
'Yes, it's unpleasant.'
'I suppose that depends on your perspective. You amuse me like that.'" (108)
Well, I know exactly who the cat is with these two. Or maybe not. Felicity's suspicious nature (and she has reason to be suspicious of Nat) and Nat's laconic humor shine through in this passage. I loved the way the story unfolds gradually. Nat is enigmatic and mysterious, never really laying all his cards on the table until the end. Felicity, as the runaway bride, was a wonderfully strong and independent character. I loved the way she and Nat spar and banter along a very circuitous route to nowhere in the rail car. I do wish this story had been a little longer. The ending felt a little rushed, as they both wrangle with a future out from under the thumb of Felicity's father. Still, this is my favorite in this anthology. (4 1/2 stars)
The Scent of Roses by Kaki Warner...Two strangers on a train have more in common than they know—both have hidden purposes and ties to a Nebraska bank robbery. But when their schemes unravel, they find a bigger surprise awaiting them than either could have imagined.
Again, I've never read anything by Kaki Warner, but I enjoyed this story a lot. Rachel James and Richard Whitmeyer are attracted to each other but also suspect each other in a recent bank robbery. This push-pull really added some nice tension, and I enjoyed how their first conversation fairly sizzled with awareness of that attraction mixed with humor. Rachel zinged Richard when she calls him "dour." Of course, he silently objects that he's not old enough to be "dour", and he just can't let it go.
"Dour? He wasn't dour. Preoccupied, perhaps. Dour was for old men, not thirty-five year olds scarcely into their prime."
And a little later:
"How could she call him dour? He was distracted, that was all. To prove how wrong she was, he turned to her with what he hoped was a friendly smile. 'Are you traveling far?'
(...)'Now you wish to talk?'
'And yet you persist in doing it.'
'Only to correct you. You said I was dour. You're wrong.'
One dark brow rose. 'Indeed?'
'I'm not old enough. To be dour. I would have to be at least fifty years of age, which I'm not.'
Amusement warmed the cool blue gaze. 'Morose, then?'
He shook his head.
'Melancholic? Suffering dyspepsia? An earache?'
I loved this introduction, and they had many exchanges like this which helped make the story very engaging. I did wonder why Richard persisted in thinking Rachel was a madam at first. Maybe wishful thinking? Still, there could have been many reasons a well-dressed woman was traveling alone other than being the owner of a brothel.
I think where this fell down a little was in how easily Rachel gave in to a a traditional HEA despite her clearly stated reasons/beliefs of why marriage didn't work for her. Richard gave a lovely little speech about how important she was to him and how devastated he would be if she walked away from him, but Rachel seemed to change her mind much too quickly. Was it just because of his skills as a lover? Because that's what I came away with. It didn't appear to be because she knew marriage to him would never cost her her need for adventure or independence. Still, this was entertaining and I loved the humor sprinkled throughout. (4 stars)
The Hired Gun's Heiress by Alison Kent...When runaway New York socialite Maeve Daugherty joins her father’s bodyguard Zeb Crow on his personal mission of revenge, what was a slightly scandalous new life as a bookkeeper for an infamous San Antonio brothel becomes downright dangerous. But that’s not stopping Maeve from having the time of her life.
Again this is new-to-me author. Now this story is a good example of one that suffers from length restrictions. The blurb above is a little misleading to me and downplays how dark this story really is. The Hired Gun's Heiress lays out some heavy issues like social reform of the Five Points slums in Victorian New York, class differences, murder, and theft but is squeezed into 82 short pages. On top of that the hero, Zebulon Crow, has . . .issues. His backstory was interesting but had gaps that needed filling in. For example, I know that he was educated, that his father was a doctor, that his family was murdered, and that he worked in the fields of his family's tobacco plantation. But what did he do after the murders that put him into the slums of New York which leads to his employment as head of security for Maeve Daugherty's rich, banker father. He speaks in a refined way most of the time, but he slips into a more coarse manner of speech (using "ain't" , dropping g's of words ending with -ing, etc.) when upset. I wanted lots more page time with Zeb.
Maeve, too, was a bit of a conundrum. She wants to actively participate in reforming the abominable conditions of Mulberry Bend and Bone Alley, but not just by holding luncheons or teas or balls to raise money as her mother does with her favorite charities. This was admirable, but I didn't really understand how her desire to "fix what's broken" in Zeb transfers over to fixing the Five Points slums problems as she says in this conversation.
"'Okay. I'm cynical. But it's hard not to be when the very thing I want to accomplish is the very thing money has been raised for, and yet it's unavailable when I could be putting it to use.'
'Being a savior.'
'Fixing what's broken.' Didn't he understand? 'There's too much broken. So many rules that make no sense and don't work. So many lives being ruined because those who should be stepping up aren't.'
'Again. Why do you have to be the one to fix it?'
Because I don't know how to fix you." (285)
Somehow Maeve senses Zeb's hidden pain, wants to ease it, but doesn't know how. They were from "different worlds" and had "different lives", so "she'd turned to what she did know, helping those she could." A burning passion to right wrongs, to improve the lives of those who have nothing or next to nothing is admirable, but if Maeve is sublimating her desire to help Zeb into some kind of quasi-altruism to save the world, that diminishes any admiration I felt for her. Frankly, it just really confuses me. As far as I could tell, she hadn't really done anything other than read a book called "How The Other Half Lives" by Jacob Riis (a real book about NY slums BTW), get drunk on her father's brandy, and go seeking a grand adventure in the Wild West with her uncle. Her "save the world" strategy wasn't concrete, just a nebulous and wispy desire to do something.
It sounds like I didn't like this story, but actually I really did. It's a dark and angsty, a tortured hero with a mysterious past, and a heroine who was unusual and didn't whine or do stupid things. Maeve had an opportunity for a TSTL moment early on by running away from Zeb, but I was very glad she decided to face him instead. I just wish The Hired Gun's Heiress had been a full-length novel. (3 1/2 stars)