Lost Acres Bride
At heart, Lost Acres Bride is not a bad book. The characters are engaging, and the story is fairly original. However, there are distracting inconsistencies and annoyances that appear throughout, keeping the reader from really enjoying the story.
Serena Hull, half white and half Modoc Indian, arrives in Oregon to claim Lost Acres Ranch. Years ago her father was deeded the land, but the family has been living in Ohio. After both of her parents are killed, she decides to claim the ranch for herself and her two sisters, still back in Ohio. Carleton Kearny has been ranching on the land, which adjoins his own. He is sure a woman rancher can never succeed, and he gives up the land reluctantly. Others help Serena build her home, mend her fences, and brand her cattle.
Most of the story takes place on a cattle drive, as Serena accompanies other ranchers and hands to take the cattle to market in Nevada. As Serena and Carleton begin to spend more time together, their attraction grows. There are some problems with another man who vies for Serena’s affection because he covets her land, but by the end of the drive Serena and Carleton are basically together.
Serena and Carleton are characters you can care about. Having the heroine be half Indian instead of the hero adds novelty to the story. Both characters have troubled pasts as well. Serena was assaulted as an adolescent and panics around large groups of men. Carleton lost his first wife in childbirth. But neither character wallows in misery; they are both trying to get past it. Their willingness to rise above disappointments as they grow together make Serena and Carleton the best part of the story.
But little annoyances just kept getting in the way. The first pops up right in the beginning when Serena announces that she has come to Oregon with a wagon train. In 1887? With no luggage? Why didn’t she save herself a lot of time and money by taking the train and stagecoach? This incongruity becomes even more obvious when Serena’s sister joins her later in the book, and comes on the train.
Lost Acres Bride also has an overabundance of “local color”. Practically every cowboy on the drive has a folksy nickname – Snap, Thorny, Hog, Hadit. People are always exclaiming things like “Land O’Goshen!” and “Jehosaphat!” Then there are the overcomplicated similes, which are everywhere. All of this makes the secondary characters seem like walking stereotypes.
Also disturbing is Carleton’s habit of calling Serena “Sis”. Although Carleton’s age is never mentioned specifically, it is clear that he is a good fifteen years older than Serena. With this kind of age disparity, you really have to be careful. Every time Carleton called Serena “Sis”, he seemed like a dirty old man…possibly even a relative. Yuck.
But the most serious problem is with the pacing of the novel, which is very uneven. When Serena first arrives in Oregon, time zips by quickly, and the author provides few details of daily life. It almost feels like a short story. Then we get to the cattle drive, and suddenly we are hearing about every single day. Then the drive is over, and time starts jerking by unevenly again. It was clear that Ms. Banning thought the cattle drive was the important part of the story. It might have helped if she had cut out all those excess months where nothing is really happening, and just started the story with the cattle drive.
Serena and Carleton are promising characters. They need stronger, less cartoonish secondary characters to match their promise. With some fine-tuning, their story would have been more effective.