2000, Frontier/Western Hist Romance (1850s Colorado)
Avon, $5.99, 374 pages, Amazon ASIN 0380802856 Part of a series
In Maureen McKade's Mail-Order Bride, Kate Murphy arrives in the rough mining town of Orion, Colorado, thinking she will be picked up by the fiancé she has never met. An insecure and lonely young woman, she decided to become a mail-order bride when her father's death left her with few choices. But she soon discovers that her intended husband just died in a tragic mine cave-in. Kate is penniless. It seems that her only choice is to marry one of the other miners, but Kate decides that it's time to take her destiny into her own hands.
"Trev" Trevelyan (he apparently has no first name) is the superintendent of the mine in which Kate's fiancé died. He is one of those embittered widowers who abound in romance fiction. He has two small children to raise by himself and the eldest of these, his daughter, was emotionally disturbed by her mother's death and will not speak. Trev needs someone to help raise these kids, but he has sworn never to marry again. He hires Kate as a baby-sitter.
The love story between these two people is sadly lukewarm. Ms. McKade does her best to make it seem sexy and compelling, but the protagonists never really become three-dimensional people. Kate is determined to leave Orion once she has enough money, because she wants to be independent - but if that's true, why did she become a mail-order bride in the first place? Trev is a complete cliché: the studly guy who needs the heroine, but whose deceased wife was all wrong for him, so he's determined never to marry again. Some romances do a good job of making these old stereotypes come alive in a fresh new way. I'm sorry to say that this not one of them.
Adding to this frustration were Trev's children, who are angels. These little darlings, at four years old and eighteen months, are precious, adorable, and perfectly behaved. All the time. Small children are lovable, and lovable children can add a lot to a plot, but couldn't these children have been human?
Rather more interesting than the love story between Trev and Kate is the secondary storyline, having to do with the situation at the mines. They aren't producing as much silver as they used to, so the owner wants to increase the miners' hours and cut their wages. Trev, as superintendent, is caught in the middle of a potentially explosive labor situation. He wants to do what's best for the workers, but he can't afford to lose his management job. As tensions rose, I was looking forward to the drama and danger of a strike. This never develops, and the miners' plotline is wrapped up a little too tidily.
This is not a bad book. There are some nice things here. The historical setting, a Rocky Mountain mining town, is a very interesting one. There are some entertaining secondary characters, especially a likable Irish miner, unfortunately named Laddie. And for the little while I thought that the mine subplot was going to explore the serious labor problems at those old western mining camps, I was fascinated. But none of these things make a great book unless the central romance is compelling. In this case, stereotypical characters in a well-worn situation sapped the excitement out of them. Mail-Order Bride remains, in spite of its promise, a strictly average read.
LLB:Mail-Order Bride was one of my favorite reads of 2004, the year I went on a Western glom. I liked the heroine's lankiness, and the sexual tension between the hero and heroine, which grows despite the fact that the hero doesn't initially see her as attractive. I'm also a sucker for both mail-order brides and nannies, so this fill the bill twice over. And when a book makes me cry when I'm not PMS'ing, I know it's good.
-- Jennifer Keirans
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