I reviewed Lynna Banning’s debut romance, Western Rose, last year. I enjoyed it and found the author was able to interest me in a sub-genre that generally is not my forte, the Western. I also enjoyed the social issues that Ms. Banning was able to weave throughout that book without seeming at all preachy.
Ms. Banning has done it again, with a Western Romance that delves into the aftermath of the Civil War, Indian-U.S. relations, the role of women on the range. This is a quick read, and while not as emotionally draining as I found Western Rose, this book definitely has its diverting moments.
Wildwood tells the tale of Jessamyn Whittaker, a newspaper woman from Boston who has come west at the request of her father, whom she hasn’t seen in years, to help him edit the local paper. Unfortunately, she arrives to discover that he has been murdered.
The local sheriff, Ben Kearney, thinks this frail young creature better high-tail it back to Boston where she and her fripperies belong. But Jessamyn is cut of stronger stuff, and has always dreamed of running a newspaper – she’s got newsprint in her blood and thinks this arrogant sheriff should be spending his time searching for the killer, not trying to scare her out of town.
This is the basic premise for Wildwood, and while it sounds cliched, this story is not. In actuality, this is not a love/hate kind of romance; it’s really a road romance where these two wounded individuals are trying to solve a couple of crimes, including the murder of Jessamyn’s dad.
And how are Jessie and Ben wounded? Jessie was raised by her mother after her father took off west years before, and considers herself old and spinsterish at the age of 26. All she can see in her future is her newspaper. As for Ben, he’d returned from the war to discover the woman he’d loved had married a Carpetbagger. He’d spent the last several years as a negotiator for the government and dealt with the Indians before becoming sheriff of the small Oregon town. His only close relationship has been with his childhood friend Jeremiah, who had nursed him back to health in a prisoner of war camp, and who was now his trusted deputy.
This story is at its best when it is on the road, when Jessie and Ben have to face danger and hardship, when both discover each other and, in themselves, some of what they never knew. Ben and Jessie travel to a hidden Indian village to discover a link between cattle rustling, illegal gun sales, and the murder of Jessie’s father.
The portrayal of the Indians is not of the “Me-Tonto-You Kimosabe” sort so often found in romances. The wily Indian chief is clever, inscrutable, and earthy. There is a remarkable scene where Jessie overhears the love-making between the chief and his young wife and finds herself surprisingly thrilled by it. You can bet Ben is surprised as well.
What this reviewer appreciated was that Jessie and Ben behaved (mostly) as adults in this story, and didn’t engage in the childish antics many romance lovers do. While there is much good to say about this book, I must add that I figured out who one of the key “bad guys” was too early on. I believe the author meant to give only a hint; instead she practically hit me over the head with it. To her credit, however, this “bad guy” wasn’t a one-note character; in fact, it was because he was well-rounded that the author’s hint was in fact a cudgel.
From that point on, my interest in the story lessened considerably, although the ending was certainly delightful, in a wry and low-key sort of way.
The growing feelings between Jessie and Ben on the road are the real reasons to read this story, but readers of Ms. Woolston’s previous book will be surprised that there is much less of a sensual pay-off on this book. One criticism I had of Western Rose was that there was too much sexual teasing going on. The author seems to have taken that criticism to heart, but gone overboard the other way. Perhaps in her next book, she can find her way to a satisfactory mid-point, because she can write lovely love scenes.
I think this is an author to watch; it says something when I can read a western in just one sitting considering its one of my least favorite sub-genres. I’ve now done that twice with her, and look forward to a third.
|Reviewer:||Laurie Likes Books|
|Review Date:||June 1, 1997|
|Book Type:||American Historical Romance | Frontier/Western Hist Romance|
|Review Tags:||Frontier Romance | Frontier/Western Historical Romance | journalist | Western romance|