Desert Isle Keeper
A Thousand Roses
I’m a firm believer that a book’s length is not a sign of its quality, and that a talented writer can do wonders with just a few words. A Thousand Roses is a prime example. It’s only 187 pages, about as short as they come. It’s a traditional short Harlequin Romance to boot. Yet with expert characterizations, snappy dialogue, humorous scenes and poignant moments, Bethany Campbell wrings the most out of that limited number of pages.
Perdita (Perdy) Nordstrand grew up an outsider. Her father was a professional wrestler, and she was raised in part by a couple of dwarves who traveled with them as part of their makeshift family. Always the new kid wherever they went, she dreamed of a home, pinning her hopes on Cloverdale, Indiana. She’s only ever been there once, when they passed through when she was sixteen, but the white picket fences and nice houses made it seem like the perfect hometown for someone who never had one.
Perdy is finally on the verge of making that dream of a hometown come true. Esmerelda, the female dwarf who was like a mother to her, left Perdy a house in New Hampshire when she died. Perdy plans to sell the house and use the money to buy a fabric shop in Cloverdale. It’s a complicated deal that seems all set, until the buyer’s attorney finds a cloud on the title of the property. Suddenly the buyer refuses to close the deal until she clears up the property issues, the seller in Indiana may sell the fabric shop to someone else, and Perdy is stuck with an empty house, with all her belongings already on their way to the Midwest.
If that’s not enough, she finds herself with a roommate in the form of the aptly named Ebenezer Squires. Part of the deal involved him renting the house prior to the sale, and since he insists the sale will proceed just as soon as she clears up the legal issues, he moves into her house with her still there. Ben isn’t the old man she expected him to be, but he’s just as crotchety. The wealthy Bostonian is arrogant and patronizing. Perdy, who was always taught to stick up for herself, isn’t about to put up with his attitude. They have nothing in common, and before long, naturally the sparks begin to fly.
The story is less traditional than most of today’s Harlequin Romances. It is traditional in the sense that there’s no sex, but as the summary should show, it’s quirkier and has more unusual characters. This little book really does manage to contain everything I’m looking for in a great read. It started out by making me laugh before moving me in its later stages. It gets off to a zippy start with its fiery heroine, whose attitude is reflected in Campbell’s wry tone (“Perdy decided she was having more trouble with Yankees than anybody since Scarlett O’Hara.”) Perdy has her wounds, but she’s not about to be steamrolled by Ben and his attorney, who’ve put her in an impossible situation. The exchanges between her and Ben’s lawyer, and then Ben himself, crackle with choice lines and good banter. There are plenty of funny moments, some of them laugh out loud, some of them understated and sly. I started out marking all the bits I enjoyed, but soon found it hard to decide on the best.
Part of what makes the book a cut above is Campbell’s keen sense of character and place. I appreciated her sense of the locale, and the culture clash between the more easygoing locals and the urbane (or persnickety) Bostonians. Here’s how she defines what a Yankee really is:
“Perdy had always thought of Yankees simply as the Northerners in the War Between the States. But now she was in the bastion of the true Yankees, the original Yankees, the only people who still called themselves Yankees and were as proud as punch of it. They glowed over such phrases as ‘Yankee ingenuity’ and ‘Yankee wit.’ Everywhere she went she saw this pride of heritage, and sometimes Perdy felt as if she were alone in a foreign country, one in which she would always be an outsider.”
Indeed, Perdy doesn’t quite fit in, which matches the way she’s always been. She dresses in outlandish clothes. She’s hot-tempered. She’s the complete opposite of Ben. Anyone who doesn’t like an arrogant hero should steer clear of this one, because Ben practically oozes superiority. Befitting his background, he’s rude, he’s haughty and many times he comes dangerously close to outright meanness. But the clash between them only raises the emotional stakes. For instance, there’s a scene that I always remembered that still hit me just as hard when I reread the book as it did the first time. Ben finds Perdy’s pictures of the people she grew up with: her father, whose scarred face from the fire that killed her mother forced him to wrestle under the name “The Ugliest Man in the World;” the dwarves who helped raise her; and all the other misfits who were her friends and family. He reacts with shock that comes across as disdain toward the people she loved, and I felt her rage and hurt as if it were my own.
The characters’ distinctiveness and very particular backgrounds really help the reader get to know them well. None of the book is told from Ben’s perspective, something I didn’t even notice until afterward. It wasn’t necessary. Eventually, Ben’s own hurts and scars come out, and we see the cost his family’s emphasis on appearance has taken on him. They slowly bond, and Ben comes to see how wrong his misconceptions of Perdy were. Is it believable that two people who’ve known each other for such a short time, who’ve shared only a few kisses, could find a truly lasting love in the end? All I know is, by the time Ben made his big romantic Christmas Day gesture at the end, I couldn’t have cared less.
A Thousand Roses is a book I remembered fondly and decided to track down after reviewing another of Bethany Campbell’s books. It was well worth the effort. I loved it just as much as I did the first time I read it, if not more. It may be a short book, but I got to know the characters as intimately as I would expect to in a story of any length. It made me laugh, and it deeply moved me. I can’t ask for more than that.