Come along on a romantic journey jam-packed with all the angst of marriages founded upon practical choices as well as coercion. Meet nine couples who barely know each other before they find themselves suddenly married to please family, to stem the tide of gossip, to save the land and joined for life. But can love grow when duty comes before romance?
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Writing a fleshed-out love story in a novella's word count limit is hard. All these ladies have done a fine job. These assessments will hopefully be helpful to readers and also to the authors in their future works. Great job, ladies! Keep up the good work!
1-The Substitute Bride by Angela Bell
I wouldn't want to appear picky, but I was a bit disappointed to find the first novella is a proper British story set in an English lord’s house when the collection is titled Lassoed by Marriage. There were no cowboys, lassos, or anything of that nature. The story had merit, but would have been much better showcased in a British forced-marriage collection. The characters, though interesting, came across a bit stuffy. Those characters’ fresh occupations carried the story for me in the end, she being a bookbinder and he a tinker in automata. However, this novella didn’t seem as much a romance as a tale of two prejudiced strangers becoming friends under the framework of a name-only marriage. The relationship’s conflict might have been resolved with an honest conversation, but the characters never were frank with one another. Even in the end their conflict was resolved with a conversation steeped in vague subtext. A British custom, perhaps? There are a few refreshing nods to classic literature as the heroine repairs books in the hero’s library, treating works such as, Jane Eyre, Silas Marner, and Austen’s novels as old friends. A book lover will enjoy this tale as will novelists, since the main plot centers around a love of bookish things. This is a new author for me, but her love of the classics tempts me to read more of her writings.
2-Bridal Whispers by Angela Briedenbach
This story set around a general store and a farm wasn’t exactly a boots & spurs type story either, but the theme of love by choice proved poignant and touching. With the tough road of a widower hero coming to care for his dead wife’s cousin and the cousin-heroine’s struggle to be loved for who she is, this tale took on a real-life feel as the characters battled their own natures and others’ perceptions head-on to find a way for love. This is more than your average strawberries and whipped-cream romance fluff--kudos to the author for that. The relationship portrayed finds its foundation in self-sacrifice and determination to make a better marriage. I look forward to reading more work by Ms. Briedenbach, also a new-to-me author.
3-Mule Dazed by Lisa Carter
Confession: as I read through this collection, I wrote each novella’s review into a document while the story was bright in my mind. Now my document seems to have erased the review for this one. :( Grr. But I’ll rewrite one just to say I loved so many aspects about this story. A new sheriff looking to prove himself is bested at every turn by an annoying woman who hero-worships him. And another problem? Mischief clings to her like ticks on a…well, a mule for instance. The continuity in this novella was as satisfying as a fresh-baked biscuit. The comedy was hilarious, especially toward the end where the hero starts singing “Bringing In the Sheaves”—I laughed out loud. The romance was sweet and the characters down-to-earth. To be honest, I thought the hero’s “cornpone and grits” type dialogue a little too countrified during the first few paragraphs (and I’m from the South!), but his accent and colloquialisms soon mellowed out into honest-to-goodness country boy talk you couldn’t help but fall in love with. I’ve known the name Lisa Carter from her career as a suspense novelist, but I hope to read many more stories like this from her.
4-The Sweetwater Bride by Mary Connealy
Mary once again takes us on a romping romantic comedy with a delightful web of our favorite characters. Like visiting old friends again. This wasn’t exactly a forced marriage story, since the characters fell in love before the wedding, but the story was full of laughs as well as sweet moments and explorations of human nature. Like most of Mary’s novels, this little story is deeper than it lets on. Well done.
5-A Highbrow Hoodwink by Rebecca Jepson
This novella ranges from upper crust society to life in the shadowy dens of 1880s Denver. Not exactly a cowboy story, but sort of a rags to riches tale. I liked the premise and the way the author included an adorable small child. The main characters were interesting and well constructed. Some of the timeline was unclear, however. Apparently the story spans two years or so. Much of the romantic conflict could’ve been solved by an honest conversation, and the hero seemed a godless profligate until the very end when he quoted scripture as if devout. Though I prefer comedy to drama, this story still held my interest until the end.
6-Not So Pretty Penny by Amy Lillard
This novella is so fresh and different. I loved the journey. A post Civil War homestead is the setting where unique characters, a strong, unrefined woman and a prisoner set to hang, strike a match that will send sparks flying to kingdom come. One offense the heroine holds against the hero seemed a bit cliche, but overall this is a fun, sweet story and makes me want to read more from this author.
7-All's Fair by Gina Welborn
I’ve never read a novella quite like this one. Set near the river in the town of Wathena, Kansas, this early 1900s twist on the Hatfields & McCoys/Romeo & Juliet plots is delightfully fresh and unpredictable. The characters bond with the reader so you wish there was a full-length novel chronicling their journey. This is the second work of fiction I’ve read from Gina Welborn. The novella pulled me into the character’s actions and feelings from the start. I plan to read more from this author. She has a special gift for storytelling.
8-The Colorado Coincidence by Kathleen Y'Barbo
English nobility meets the Colorado ranching class in this sweet story about a desperate widow and a no-account gambler. Evil plots behind the scenes and greedy, murderous neighbors, as well as the question, “Will this marriage survive?” make this novella a page-turner. A few glitches include one Irish character later being described as Scottish, author “filter words.” An enjoyable story from one of my favorite authors through the years.
9-Railroaded into Love by Rose Ross Zediker
The sweet romance of a preacher and his best friend-turned-outlaw’s sister. To protect her from her evil brother and rescue her from captivity of singing songs in a bawdy house, Noah marries Molly in name only. A little boy adds depth to the story and brings the hero and heroine closer together. I might have enjoyed more action and less introspection. I didn’t understand the hero’s not responding immediately when he discovered his wife loved him and wanted to run away to save him her troubles. But in the end it all worked out. Also, the heroine put her fists on her hips a bit too often, but the setting was fresh and the plot as well.
Overall a fun, romantic trip into historical times. I would recommend to anyone who loves a good, sweet love story.
I received an e-copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.