by Lori Wilde, contemporary (2012)
Avon, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-06-204775-5
Lori Wilde's The Cowboy Takes A Bride seems like a familiar story at the surface. Failed city girl, penniless and jobless, goes to a small town and falls in love with the hunky resident cowboy while discovering new friends and other stuff they make Beanie Babies and porcelain figures out of.
Mariah Callahan, a former assistant to one of Chicago's hottest wedding planners lost her job and found herself blacklisted with other potential employers, so when she learns that her deadbeat father - whom she hadn't seen in more than a decade - had died and left her his ranch. So off she goes to Jubilee, where everyone is crazy about cutting horses, and falls in love with widower Joe Daniels. Unfortunately, Joe is not willing to move on from his late wife, and he's putting up a tough fight. What is a woman to do?
The story itself isn't too surprising, as it is full of tropes common in small town romances. But what is surprising is the sheer intensity of the emotions that rages beneath the deceptively tranquil façade of the main characters. Joe's grief and the slow but often painful healing process of his heart both feel pretty painful to read - his pain gets to me, and it is not easy to follow him. He's a first class ticket to some solid catharsis. Where some of his behavior falls into stereotypical "lashing out at her to protect his big whiny baby heart" territory, in the context of this story, it fits his grieving process nicely.
Mariah is, in many ways, Joe's polar opposite. While she's down on her luck and she has her moments of self-pity, she has a plucky never-say-die attitude that I find very appealing. She's also someone with a good sense of awareness of what she's getting in Joe. Let's just say that she has no illusions where he is concerned. Mariah picks herself up without depending entirely on Joe, another thing I really like about this story. It's her motivations, her ambitions, and her plans. I heartily approve.
Unfortunately, while Mariah may seem like an anachronistic heroine who is allowed to show more "progressive" behavior than the typical romance heroine in a small town - having her own ambitions, how shocking - this story is also loaded with plenty of unfortunate implications that make Mariah more like an anomaly. For example, Joe's late wife is depicted as someone who would not have died if she would just be content being Joe's stay-at-home wife. Okay, that's a minor thing, although it still stops me cold in my tracks because this attitude of the author towards Joe's late wife is so starkly different from that towards Mariah.
What's more troubling is Joe falling in love with Mariah. If it had been allowed to happen naturally, I may have a better time accepting it, but here, various stereotypical secondary characters practically beat Joe in the head that Mariah is the one. Worse, they insist that he needs to move on - by falling in love with Mariah, whom they shouldn't be throwing at Joe considering that they barely know her. This is the author forcing her main characters into a clinch using her secondary characters as her hand puppets, but the unfortunate implication that arises is that Joe moves on from Becca by replacing her with Mariah. This is the worst reason to fall in love, if you ask me, as he's basically finding an emotional substitute in Mariah. Mariah is, at the end of day, the not-Becca. It's not fair to Mariah.
The secondary story, involving the woman has had a crush on Joe for so long, is far more interesting than the romance between Joe and Mariah, I feel, because the whole thing feels more natural and less forced upon by secondary characters and happenstance.
The individuals in this story, when taken separately, are amazingly drawn characters. But when Ms Wilde forces them to be in a romance, well, the fireworks don't exactly happen. Therefore, as powerful as the emotions are in The Cowboy Takes A Bride, the romance falls short of the target. It's a good attempt, though. It's not like every day that a romance novel can affect me in such a visceral manner. For that alone, I'm going to soften my stance and give this book a score that is a bit higher than it actually deserves. Hey, it's my review and, therefore, it's my right.
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