I have been a fan of Sharon Ihle since I was in college. Her Western historicals often feature just the right amount of humor to give them a fun, folksy feel, while her characters are mostly likable and their adventures make me smile. I’ve long thought Ihle deserved a larger audience. Sadly, her first book in six years does not seem to be one that will garner that for her.
As the book opens, Lucy Preston has just arrived in Emancipation, Wyoming to marry her fiance, the owner of Charlie’s Bakery. However, upon arrival at the bakery, she learns that Charlie threw her over for his business partner. Poor Lucy finds herself destitute and trapped in a strange town. Luckily for her, rescue appears in the form of local saloon owner Sebastian Cole. Lucy soon finds a place working at the saloon, as well as a part-time position setting type for a local paper where, unbeknownst to the rest of Emancipation, she authors an advice column.
As time goes on and Lucy starts to settle into her new life, Sebastian finds himself drawn to her. She lacks almost any indication of common sense and must be the worst hostess in the history of bartending, but somehow Sebastian finds that trainwreck endearing. As for me, though, Lucy does write a good advice column, but she seems so bereft of sense in the rest of her life that I really found it hard to like her or to understand why anyone would feel the need to spend the rest of his life with her.
Indeed, Lucy Preston is probably one of the major reasons why I was unable to enjoy this book as much as I had hoped. There are some funny moments in the story and the wry tone of the Dear Penelope column is wonderful. However, Lucy just seems like such a dumb bunny that I found myself rolling my eyes at her antics rather than smiling in the way I’m sure the author intended. I do not need for all my heroines to be tough, butt-kicking power women, but TSTL twits who cannot function without a constant helping hand from the hero just do not do much for me. If silly slapstick works for you and you can handle an airhead heroine, this book has it in spades and you will likely find it more entertaining than I did.
The town of Emancipation is worth mentioning as well. It is a most unusual place. Historical purists likely would not enjoy it, but Ihle essentially starts with the historical fact of women being allowed the vote in Wyoming (which they got in 1869) and runs with it. In Emancipation, women basically run the town. They dominate town council, hold the sheriff’s office and run businesses. Though anachronistic, Ihle has a lot of fun with the idea and her town is colorful and interesting.
Dear Penelope could have been a very fun read if the heroine was funny without descending into complete silliness. It does have it’s cute and endearing moments, as well as a decent hero, but the heroine is a little too much. While this book is slightly better than the average, I still prefer many of the books on Ihle’s backlist.