Tall, Dark, and Texan

Jodi Thomas
November 2008, Frontier/Western Hist Romance (Texas 1850s)
Jove, $7.99, 304 pages, Amazon ASIN 0515145432
Part of a series

Grade: B
Sensuality: Subtle

Tall, Dark, and Texan is the latest installment in Jodi Thomas' Whispering Pines series. I haven't read the previous books, but this worked as a stand-alone. Set in 1850s Texas, I found it a gripping, emotional read, and was left wondering why I haven't read more historical romances set in the American west.

Jessie Barton is desperate. Her husband has just died and his powerful family intends to take over his Chicago bookstore, kick Jessie out of her home, and take custody of her three young daughters. Orphaned and left homeless at 13, Jessie has no one in Chicago to help her. In her desperation, she forges a letter from her dead husband to a man named Teagen McMurray saying that he is leaving his wife and daughters in Teagen's care. Jessie leaves immediately for Texas with her daughters.

Teagen manages a ranch in Texas. The oldest of three children, he's been the head of the family since his parents died when he was 12 and he's spent his life working on and protecting the family ranch. As a young boy eager for knowledge, he ordered books from the Barton Bookstore in Chicago and gradually developed a friendship through his letters with the store's owner.

Unbeknownst to Teagan, it was Jessie he corresponded with all those years, not her husband. While Teagen thinks her husband was a wonderful man and his only friend, Jessie knows he was a drunk who alternately beat and ignored her.

Both Teagen and Jessie have lived unbelievably hard lives. Teagen doesn't talk a lot, but we learn about him through his thoughts. His two brothers have married and moved away and his sister frequently visits them, leaving him isolated with the exception of his housekeeper.

I enjoyed watching the relationship gradually develop between Jessie and Teagen. They have a lot in common, including a true love of reading. They have no real experience with love and both are filled with insecurities.

Jessie's daughters are featured prominently, and help bring her and Teagen together, as well as provide some light moments. If you don't enjoy children in romances, this is not the book for you. I enjoyed the girls, but felt that one a five-year old talked and acted much older than her age.

The author conveys a very real feel for the difficulties of life on the ranch, from grass fires to health issues, to threats from outlaws. I did feel that the major threat to the ranch from a group of bandits was resolved with a whimper, and mostly off-screen.

This is the first western-set historical romance I've read in years, but it won't be my last. Despite some minor quibbles, I found myself completely sucked into the lives of the characters. In fact, several times I found myself thinking about them late at night, rather than sleeping. While I wouldn't want to make a steady diet of them, I will look for others in the future.

-- LinnieGayl Kimmel

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