Desert Isle Keeper
Set in Oklahoma Territory in 1907, on the brink of its statehood, Pamela Morsi’s Wild Oats makes for a lovely bushel. (Oats come in bushels, right?). Divorced and impecunious Cora Briggs is the town scandal, so when young undertaker Jedwin Sparrow feels ready to, well, sow some oats, she seems like the woman to discreetly approach. Cora has no intention of becoming his mistress, but she can’t pass up the chance to tweak the nose of Jedwin’s controlling mother Amelia, who spread most of the worst rumors about Cora. She agrees to spend time with Jedwin, but both of them are surprised by the deeper feelings which emerge.
Jedwin is about five years younger than Cora and reads authentically as a young man taking charge of his own life. I empathized with his inability to handle the family business (for all that I watch Ask A Mortician on YouTube, I most definitely could not be an embalmer myself). The author effectively shows that Jedwin is meant to be a farmer instead of an undertaker – and that his mother might have the calling he lacks. Cora’s insistence on staying in the town where she is so badly treated is a bit harder to parse. I speculate that her divorce would make her scandalous in a new town if she moved, and also that the stigma attached to her situation might have made it impossible for her to sell the home she owns for anything close to adequate value, but I wish that explanation had come from the author instead of me.
Morsi balances the serious aspects of this book with lightheartedness (for instance, Jedwin offers Cora romance via legitimately awful poetry, and the town preacher becomes swept up in an exercise craze). And that’s not the only authorial decision I cheered. Near the end of the book, Cora comes up with a scheme to ensure Jedwin doesn’t marry her, but Jedwin sees right through it. I giggled out loud. I hate a Big Mis, and it is always a joy when an author has the characters hash it out instead of fleeing and pouting.
There is a lovely secondary romance here between Jedwin’s mother Amelia and Haywood Puser, the man Jedwin hired to do the embalming that he can’t stomach. Amelia is too controlling of Jedwin and she’s the source of the worst rumors about Cora, which she spread in the hopes of gaining favor with Cora’s vitriolic mother-in-law, the town matriarch. But while she’s flawed, she’s salvageable, and Haywood is the person to salvage her. In fact, while I enjoyed Cora and Jedwin together, I liked Amelia and Haywood even more. I would have enjoyed seeing them as the lead couple.
If you’re interested in a small-town romance with ordinary characters, but not something saccharine and expected, Wild Oats is definitely worth harvesting.
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I'm a history geek and educator, and I've lived in five different countries in North America, Asia, and Europe. In addition to the usual subgenres, I'm partial to YA, Sci-fi/Fantasy, and graphic novels. I love to cook.