by Jodi Thomas, Patricia Potter, Emily Carmichael, and Maureen McKade; historical (2004)
Jove, $6.99, ISBN 0-515-13771-5
Four authors revisit their Western roots, although in the case of Maureen McKade, she's also hoping that people who pick up this anthology will care for her contribution enough to help her build her post-Avon career. Since her novella is the best of the four, she probably shouldn't have anything to worry about. I know, I know, and life is fair too and you are all invited to my wedding party with Hugh Jackman next week (it will rain hundred dollar bills from the sky on that momentous occasion), but let us all be a little optimistic for once, shall we? Sssh, don't mention "Lorraine Heath" and spoil the mood, please.
Jodi Thomas kicks off the show with Easy On The Heart and it's something I have come to expect from her: a reclusive hero and the good-hearted woman who loves him. Cooper Adams just wants to be left alone in his ranch to privately nurse his War Between The States demons, but his sisters just won't let him be. In fact, they are descending on his place to throw a party and invite all the eligible ladies in town for his perusal. Cooper doesn't mind a wife in his life but he should be allowed to choose his wife on his own terms and time, right?
He gets his wish when he falls for Mary Woodburn, the sister of Miles the shopkeeper. Miles, in turn, falls for Winnie, Cooper's plain and shy sister. The Woodburns are from the North, so they opening a store in the heart of Confederate Bitterness is like a Pakistani setting up shop selling Pakistan Pride mementos right in the heart of Mumbai. Still, love will save the day, the usual.
This is a pretty straightforward feel-good novella with likeable main characters embarking on a sweet romance. The thing is, the novella format is too short for the many things the author tries to cram into the story and things get rushed towards the end.
Patricia Potter's Coming Home is a standard Western story: the misunderstood wounded hero stepping in to save the damsel-in-distress and the ranch from a villainous fiend.
Seth Sinclair is released from prison to discover that his family crossed the fiend Major Delaney, which resulted in his father's death and his twin brother's going missing. His ranch has been bought over by the Maguires. It is Elizabeth Maguire who has been taking care of Seth's sister Marilee all this while. Seth decides to avenge his family and settle the score with Major Delaney, but Delaney isn't waiting for Seth to strike first. Delaney hates the Maguires because they won't sell the ranch to him. Also, Elizabeth doesn't want to play with him and Major Delaney can't have that, oh no.
Utterly faithful to the formulae right down to the hero's "I'm not worthy" attitude to the heroine's selfless caregiver personality, Coming Home will make an average full-length novel. As a novella, it is a very rushed kind of average.
Tombstone Tess is Emily Carmichael's contribution and it's the worst of the four. It's also riddled with clichés, but unfortunately, these clichés are the silliest types of clichés.
Tess McCade is the tomboy hellion stereotype and like all these stereotypes, brains and batteries are not included. She wants nothing more than to run the ranch, but her father's will states that the ranch will go to her brother unless Tess gets married within six months first.
Tess decides that the best way to get a disposable husband is to follow some ladybird's suggestion, walk into a bar, and marry the first drunkard she sees. I will never know what these heroines will do if the man decides that he'd rather have the ranch than the paltry paycheck the heroines offer them and refuse to grant them the annulment they want. What will these heroines do then, huh? Maybe they will all line up before a buffalo stampede.
Joshua Ransom is drunk because he has lost his ranch. So here comes a missy with a ranch, but he's noble enough to just want the paycheck Tess offers him. What a silly fool. Tess spends the whole book treating him like dirt while he keeps insisting that he's in love with her. His spine must be taken away from him along with his ranch. When Tess' brother shows up, Josh and Tess have to pretend that the marriage is real, with predictable results. This is after Josh cleans up, shaves, et cetera, and turns out to be a major hottie.
This is one annoying novella that sticks too much to a formulaic storyline filed under "Stupid, Stupid, Stupid Plot Devices Made Acceptable Only Because Too Many Authors Shove Them Down Readers' Throats So Often That People Stop Questioning The Stupidity Of These Plot Devices".
Finally, Maureen McKade closes the show with Finding Home. This story is filled with clichés too, but somehow everything here works better than the previous two novellas. Caitlin Brice, towboy cowboy heroine, and Winston Taylor, halfbreed horse dude, had an affair when they were teenagers but he predictably disappeared after the grand event, using his halfbreed heritage as an excuse to play that "I'm not worthy" card.
How lovely indeed that the realization only hit him after he's done the deed with the heroine. Does this excuse work with the IRS? "No, sir, I disappeared because I wasn't worthy of paying taxes to the country! Why am I not worthy? You should see how I got all those money in the first place. I am an unworthy person and I am so ashamed, boo-hoo-hoo!" And gals, if you're reading this and your prom date decides to use this excuse on you the morning after, don't live out your own romance novel. Get over to his house and cut holes in all his underwear.
Years later she needs to tame a horse (that she hates because it killed her father) to save her ranch from closure and I'm sure that you can guess the identity of the person who has to step in to help her. Win has carried his love for her despite ten years have passed since the day he abandoned the woman he claimed to love without a bye-bye note and it's obvious that the attraction is still there. Poor Cait is confused so to why Win keeps pushing her away.
The plot is done many times before, but what I love about this otherwise formulaic story is the way the author actually manages to introduce some effective poignant moments in her story. I still think Win is a silly clod who deserves a ear-twist or two, but somehow he manages to come off as so noble and sweet (if so misguided) that I can't hold on to my dislike of him for long. As for Cait, she's a typical understanding damsel in distress, but her relationship with Win has a genuine ring to it. This is one relationship that has its foundation in a hundred clichés but Ms McKade makes her characters come off as two-dimensional complicated people to transcend the unfortunate beginning of these characters.
Would I wish that the premise of the story is a little less clichéd? Maybe, but when I'm done with Finding Home, I am so pleased that Cait and Win have found love a second time around that I will have to work a little harder at remembering what bothered me about the story. Oh, and welcome back, Ms McKade. It's been awhile.
How To Lasso A Cowboy doesn't have any real duds except for Emily Carmichael's contribution. It's one of the better anthologies I've come across.
This book at Amazon.com
This book at Amazon UK
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