The Outlaw and the Lady opens with Angela Bainbridge, a heroine who manages to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. She walks right into notorious bank robber Lee Raven just as he's leaving the scene of his latest crime. He kidnaps her and takes her with him, because no one else has ever seen his face. Too late, he realizes she hasn't seen his face either; she's blind. As Lee outruns two different posses, he keeps Angela with him. Soon she comes to realize that he is no ordinary bank robber, and he realizes that she may be just what he needs to turn his life around.
Blythe: Well, Linda, I've been a Heath fan for several years, ever since someone on the old Prodigy boards told everyone to go buy Always to Remember ASAP. I bought it, loved it, and have read her books ever since. So far, there hasn't been one that I haven't liked. The Outlaw and the Lady isn't my favorite of hers, but I did enjoy it. I liked the heroine, and I loved the hero and his family. I had some quibbles with parts of the plot, but in the end my liking for the characters made it a book that I could really sink my teeth into. What did you think?
Linda: I read the first two books in the Englishmen in Texas series and was glad to see she was continuing the series into the next generation. I absolutely loved Angela - what a valiant woman, what a shining character! My only problem was that I could see the hero's true identity coming a mile away; in fact, I knew it from the first clue. This was the same problem I had with the first book in the series - I knew that the heroine's hubby wasn't really dead from the get-go. I'm never sure whether to blame the author for telegraphing plot points or if it's my innate intelligence that figures out these plot points so quickly <g>.
Blythe: Well, I'm with you there. I would be surprised if anyone failed to guess exactly who Lee Raven really was. But then it was almost so obvious that I wondered if Heath had really intended for it to be a secret for the readers (as opposed to just the characters themselves). If she did intend to surprise readers, she might want to lay off the heavy-handed foreshadowing next time. What I did admire, however, was Heath's ability to pull off a kidnapping plot without making the heroine a wimp or a whiner, and without making the hero an abusive jerk. It's a tough line to walk, I think. But Angela is never a pushover, and her love for Lee grows gradually. When she starts to trust him, you can believe it.
Linda: Yes, they made a believable and likable couple. When he risked his life to stay behind unseen to protect her from the bounty hunter I knew that my suspicions that Lee was a good guy were accurate. Any crime he committed had to be for a very good reason. I also loved his relationship with his brothers. Best of all was his sensitivity and caring for his sister, Juanita. You may be right about Lee's identity being meant for us to know, yet a surprise for the characters. This book has made me get the third one out of the ole TBR pile.
Blythe: I think you can tell right away that Lee isn't an ordinary outlaw. I've read many books where the hero kidnaps the heroine and acts like a complete jerk. Lee was very long-suffering and tolerant. It always drives me crazy when the hero kidnaps the heroine and then takes it as a personal insult when she tries to escape. Lee understands why Angela's not thrilled to be his captive, and he even takes responsibility for his grim reputation as an outlaw. I liked this about him. When we find out the precise nature of his crimes (and how young he was when they occurred), his unwillingness to trust law enforcement officials make sense.
However, I have to mention my biggest quibble with the book. Angela meets Lee as he's robbing a bank, taking a specific amount that belongs to a specific person. It's later explained that he has been doing this in several banks, and the guy has really been taking a hit financially. This makes no sense. It's not like the bank has a person's actual money just sitting there with their name on it. If I walked into your bank and left a note that said, "I am stealing a thousand dollars from Linda Hurst's account," the bank wouldn't hold you responsible for the lost money!
Linda: Yes, this was a flaw but it was prior to federal insurance of funds in banks, so perhaps if the thief stated he was taking your deposit, the bank would deduct it from his account rather then take the loss themselves. But, like you I did think it was a little bit of a stretch. This is a relatively minor quibble for me. This book, although filled with action, is really a character-driven romance with a terrific couple. In fact, I liked this couple so much I would love to see them again down the road.
Blythe: I can't imagine a bank letting a robber decide whose money he was stealing, even prior to FDIC. Now if he'd stolen his cattle or his valuables that would have made sense.
My other quibble is that I honestly didn't believe the heroine could hold down a job as a seamstress. I could imagine her being capable of making tiny, straight stitches...but how would she know where to make seams, especially curved ones, without seeing a pattern? Does her boss stand over her shoulder? I also thought she wandered around a little too freely for a blind person, especially outside. Like you, though, I was able to look past these stumbling blocks. Heath has a way of giving her characters very real feelings. I've found all of her books very touching, and this was no exception. Lee's relationship with his siblings was another nice touch that I have to mention. I wonder if some of Lee's brothers will get their own stories?
Linda: Interesting thought, Kit's daughter Mercy with one of Lee's younger brothers perhaps?
Heath has created a wonderful cast of characters in the Englishmen in Texas series and since each of the original second sons has several children, it looks like there is potential for several more stories. This is the type of series I really enjoy, one where you truly look forward to glimpses of favorite couples from previous books. I loved seeing Angela's parents, Jesse and Harrison from Never Love a Cowboy, appear in TOATL. It was great to see Jesse still wearing pants and riding like a man. I was glad to see that Heath didn't minimize the problems that Harrison had from his injuries and also the fact that he was not always quite straight - still a bit of a rogue and yet a wonderful husband and father.
Blythe: I haven't read the first two (see below for list of previous books) books in the series - I came in mid-stream with the third, Never Marry a Cowboy. But when I read that one, and again when I finished this newest one, I liked what I saw of the other characters. What's nice is that they are there, but Heath doesn't beat you over the head with their presence. Sometimes the appearance of past couples can really seem contrived, like they are coming on stage for an obvious token bow. In The Outlaw and the Lady, they're there when the plot demands their presence, but they don't overstay their welcome.
Linda: Yes, this is the best type of appearance for me, when the old characters have a natural and useful function in the plot. Harrison and Jesse's actions were integral to the plot, as was Kit's. I thought the appearance of Kit's wife, Ashton, particularly well done. The other thing about this series is that each book stands well alone. It makes them even better if you've read the previous ones, but it isn't necessary to have read them to enjoy the new books. This is important to me as I seem to be forever picking up books in the middle of a series and it's frustrating if characters are coming and going and you haven't a clue who they are. It has to be a tough job to put in enough explanation to clue in new readers and yet not so much as to bore those who have read the previous books. Heath puts in just about the right amount and uses the characters very effectively.
I think she deserves to be a bigger star in the genre then she is, do you think the fact that she writes Westerns hurts her in reaching as wide as possible audience?
Blythe: Probably. I think most AAR regulars (and net-savvy readers in general) would know who she was, but outside of that I doubt she's as well known as she deserves to be. There are a lot of poorly written Westerns out there, and I think it could be easy to dismiss the whole genre if you'd read a couple of duds. Heath and Maggie Osborne are my two favorite western authors. Both of them created great characters that rise above the sub-genre clichés of shoot-outs and cattle rustling. To sum up, TOATL isn't my favorite Heath, but like all of her books I would recommend it for the fine characterization and emotional appeal. My favorites would be Always to Remember (I actually cried when I read the first chapter something I'd never done before, and haven't done since) and Texas Destiny, another beautiful story, and a DIK for me.
Linda: Yes, I would certainly recommend The Cowboy and the Lady and would tell those who normally don't read Westerns to give Heath's books a go, all of the books have been so character driven that their setting becomes irrelevant. I read all different sub-genres in romance; I just look for good stories with couples I can root for and Heath certainly delivered for me.
What are we reading next month, Blythe?
Blythe: Well, we'll be reading a completely different sub-genre - SF/Romance. And this will be the first time that we have looked at an author's work for a second time. Next month is Susan Grant'sThe Star Prince, sequel to last year's The Star King.
Linda: I am very excited about The Star Prince for more than the fact I loved The Star King. Looking forward to next month, happy reading.
Blythe: I'm looking forward to it too. See you next time.
--Blythe Barnhill and Linda Hurst, for
-- Pandora's Box
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