Thursday, February 22, 2007

Review at The Romance Reader

Thank you to Maureen for point me to this:

The Romance Reader

The Lawman’s Bride
by Cheryl St. John
(Harl. Hist. #835, $5.50, PG-13) ISBN 0-373-29435-2

Sophie Hollis has only ever wanted her freedom and her independence. As a child, she saw her father and brothers killed when Sioux attacked their wagon heading west. She and her mother were taken captive, with her mother eventually dying in an epidemic. The chief, who doted on her, raised Sophie, but once he died the Sioux sold her to a white man, Tek Garrett. She was about 12 years old.
Garrett is a con man and teaches Sophie everything he knows. Together they cross the country swindling greedy men out of their money. Abused by Garrett, and yearning for an honest life, Sophie sees her opportunity and takes off. She lands in Newton, Kansas where she lies through her teeth and takes employment as a Harvey Girl. She’s making good money, making friends and for the first time is truly happy. However it all gets complicated when the Marshal, Clay Connor, takes a shine to her and her past comes calling.

Fearful that she might still be found out, she dodges Clay for a while. In fact, she dodges all men – having known only the worst that the gender has to offer. But circumstances and persistence on his part begin to wear her down. Plus, Clay is a genuinely nice man. Honest, hard working, the kind of man that Sophie has never known on a personal level. He intrigues her, and she him – for Sophie seems so different from the other girls at the Harvey House.

The plot in St. John’s latest western is fairly straightforward – girl running from a past that finally catches up to her once she finds herself falling in love with the hero. The question remains on how Clay will handle her deceptions. They are deceptions born out of necessity, out of shame and fear – but nonetheless this is a girl who has been lying to everyone and has spent her entire teenage and adult life breaking the law. Sure, she was under the thumb of the villain, but Clay is nothing but an honest and good lawman.

Sophie really carries this story. Without her, it doesn’t work. While the author gives her a violent and tragic past, Sophie is not a victim. She is not a beautiful martyr, cowering in a corner waiting for a man to rescue her. She is running away, but she’s using her wits to survive. This is a woman hungry to control her own destiny – away from Garrett, and away from anyone who threatens that dream. She has seen the worst, and knows that if she wants that dream she has to rely on herself.

Clay begins to crack her resolve however. So different and sweet from anyone she has ever known. He treats her with respect; a good man when she thought none existed. But by then she has lies to keep up, and when her past shows up in Newton, she finds herself backed into a corner once again. This time though, she’s not giving up her freedom without a fight.

St. John continues to write sweet, wonderful and emotional western romances in a time when publishing keeps telling readers that the sub genre is played out and dead. Fans know differently, and as long as talented authors continue to mine a western landscape filled with second chances and redemption, it gives readers hope that a sub genre that so exemplifies everything that’s good about romance novels will never truly die. St. John is one of the few entertaining and consistent western authors who hasn’t thrown in the towel, and for that romance readers everywhere should give thanks.

--Wendy Crutcher

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