And now for something COMPLETELY different. Yes, this book is out of character for me, but I like Lori Handeland, and since I received a free copy I felt obligated to read it and write a review. I’m keeping the fact that it is a western romance in mind, and judging it accordingly.
I don’t know from western tropes, but I do know the standard romance tropes, and Handeland hits them all. Mary is a spinster schoolmarm who is considered too plain and too outspoken to ever be attractive to any man — in fact, another character (a real jerk) says so. It’s her character, more than her looks, that is the problem, according to the jerk.
But the hero, Reese, finds her beautiful in her innocence, her ignorance of her effect on him, and especially in the fact that she’s as stubborn as he is. The fact that they have to butt heads is an important romance trope, as I understand these things.
Mary believes she isn’t the kind of woman any man would want, and Reese believes he isn’t good enough for Mary, so they hold back from revealing their feelings to each other, providing the main conflict in their relationship.
There’s a plot that goes beyond Mary and Reese, obviously, explaining why the town of Rock Creek needed to hire Reese and his little troop of gunmen in the first place. That larger plot sets up the entire Rock Creek Gang series. I found nothing to laud or complain about in the main plot. It’s probably a standard acceptable western, to be honest, and it doesn’t read so differently than any other sort of adventure story. It worked to set things up, but obviously wasn’t the main focus of the book. The energy is in the romance.
I think perhaps romance fans read books like this because they’re comfortably predictable, like an old friend wearing new clothes. In any case, Handeland has written a sweet little love story that I didn’t mind reading. I could see her hand in the details, and while I would have preferred reading more of one of her paranormal series, she did a nice job with this book. Fans of western romances will probably enjoy it.