Summer Moon is the first book I’ve read by Jill Marie Landis, but it won’t be the last. While the average 400-page book often seems to drag, I couldn’t believe how quickly I turned the pages of this one, which marks the author’s hardcover debut. The characters were strong and likable, and the writing flowed so smoothly that the chapters slipped by, and I was finished almost before I realized it.
Kate Whittington is the daughter of a prostitute, abandoned on the steps of an orphanage at the age of nine – just old enough to remember the nights spent with her face turned toward the wall while her mother entertained men in the same one-room shack. Now a twenty-nine year old spinster, she’s forced to leave her home at Saint Perpetua Orphanage after teaching there for eleven years (and having been a student for nine years before that) she has nowhere to go. No one respectable will offer her so much as a room to rent. They all remember what kind of woman her mother was. So when she finds an ad for a mail-order wife in the newspaper, she knows its her only chance to start anew. She begins to correspond with the wonderful gentleman, a man named Reed Benton of Lone Star Ranch in Texas. Soon they are married by proxy, and she is on her way from Maine to meet him.
Reed Benton’s life basically sucks. His wife betrayed him numerous times before killing herself during a Comanche attack, saving herself, but leaving their infant son alone and defenseless. Now, several years later, he’s a Texas Ranger, dedicated to hunting down Comanche tribes and freeing white slaves. And he has found his son, Daniel, now called Fast Pony, a son who doesn’t know him, or understand a word he says. He returns home with his own son a prisoner – and himself wounded and feverish – to find his father dead, and a woman he’s never heard of claiming to be his wife.
Summer Moon features good characters, a unique plot, and excellent writing. The hero and heroine both have very real problems, and they are each very human. At first, Reed seemed to be quite self-centered, but that turned out to be his own self-protective shell, which gradually falls away despite his best efforts, thanks to the reappearance of his son, and this new wife he seems to have acquired.
While this story perhaps doesn’t delve quite as deeply as it could into the characters’ thoughts and issues, it does quite well on its own level, letting us see for ourselves why characters act as they do, and allowing us to draw our own conclusions. Refreshingly, there are no villains here – except perhaps for Reed’s deceased wife – and the secondary characters are as human and enjoyable as the three main characters (Reed, Kate, and Daniel/Fast Pony). There is even a nice secondary romance between a friend of Reed’s and a saloon girl who comes to live at Lone Star. All in all, a well-rounded book.
As a whole, Summer Moon was one of the nicest and easiest reads I’ve had in some time. It’s not the greatest book, losing points with that pesky evil first wife and the lacks in depth I mentioned earlier, but I would recommend it to anyone looking for a good way to pass some time. Some may grumble about the hardcover price, but at least the author hasn’t deserted her readers; this is a romance through and through and I look forward to reading more of Ms. Landis’ work.