Beneath A Silver Moon
by Deborah Schneider, historical (2002)
Leisure, $5.99, ISBN 0-8439-5105-2


Here's a rare gem: a Leisure Western where the heroine isn't stupid, shrill, playing outlaw most ineptly, or just plain lunatic. Sinclair Readford isn't stupid, she's just sheltered, and exposed to the new world that is Montana, 1883, she learns very fast and is soon kicking up the dust with the best of them.

Sinclair is fed up with her academic daddy hieing off to exciting places while treating her like a third-rate no-brainer daughter, so she decides to sneak off and visit her aunt Tilly in the Blue Willow Hotel for Young Ladies here in Montana. She stumbled upon and read Tilly's letters while rumaging through the attic, so here she is, determined to find his father's sister whom the man refuses to acknowledge. Imagine her horror when she learns too late that the Blue Willow Hotel is a whorehouse. She tries to sneak away from the nasty pimp, and falls right into the clutches of rancher Jefferson McCloud, who needs a nanny for his sister Madison.

Okay, the plot is ridiculous, but things settle down fine once Sinclair settles down in Jefferson's ranch and becomes Montana's Maria of the Sound of Music.

This is what I love most about this story - Sinclair and Jefferson really have lots of chemistry, and their arguments, while many, are the kind of arguments made by two smitten people who clearly enjoy the argument and the making up that follows. These two really seem to like each other a lot, and the fact that Sinclair does not need protection for the most part of this story only adds to the charm. Jefferson is bewildered, charmed, and besotted with this woman who challenges everything he believes in. The whole sunny cheeriness of these two fun twosome's good nature is infectious. Jefferson has baggages, but the best part is Sinclair gently and sometimes not so gently making him snap out of any self-pity blues he indulges in.

"I won't give you excuses, Sinclair. Except to say that I was out of line down there, and you were right... I acted like an ass. You've got a way of making me see red sometimes, and I figure I just let my temper get away from me. But, I want you to know, I'm sorry about grabbing you like that."

"Let me get this straight, you're not sorry for blaming Madison for your stepmother's death, or for ignoring her and letting her be treated like an orphan. You're also not sorry for accusing me of being a liar and a lewd woman. You're only sorry for accosting me. If I were to accept that apology I'd be letting you off pretty easy, wouldn't I, McCloud?"

Except for two or three acts of stupidity that is way out of character for her (all in the name of plot, I guess), Sinclair is... I don't know how to describe her. She won the Denver Chapter of the RWA's Unsinkable Molly Brown award, and I can see why. Nothing - nothing short of staring at death in the eyes - fazes her. While I like Sinclair, she is also the weakest element of this story: she is SuperSinclair, she can do anything and everything and she probably wouldn't even have to do those things Martha Stewart did. 21st century psychology and parenting theories and applications must be founded by this woman, because Sinclair is... well, very contemporary in that respect. Perky, determined, wise, indomitable, and spunky, she has me wanting to strangle her by the late third of this book. I'm glad she's not dumb, but at the same time, her smiley-sunshine la-la-la perkiness soon gets on my nerves.

But for a debut, this book works pretty well in the romance department. Jefferson and Sinclair display wonderful chemistry, their flirtatious banters bring a smile to my head, and when they bicker, it's still good because it's two people who are fond of each other bickering to clear the airs - they'll have fun making up afterwards, I'm sure.

Beneath A Silver Moon is rather rough around the edges, plotwise, and really, someone ask Sinclair to dial that Perky Pert Sunshine act down a little! Nonetheless, for the most part, I have a fine time smiling and chuckling away at the cute little moments of these two characters. Whatever its faults are, this book has enough bounce and cheer to boost itself to the finishing line while tempting me to overlook its flaws and love it unreservedly. And yes, dang it, I'm really, really, really tempted to. Dang.

Rating: 85


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