3 out of 5 stars
An introduction to the novel:
Reagan Burnsfield has no interest in finding himself a wife. But that’s exactly what he must do when a lumber contract falls through and threatens the family business. Marrying the beautiful debutante Amanda Bruester for her dowry will solve his short term need as well as give him the wife of his dreams.
His courtship is hindered until they are arrested after stumbling upon bounty hunters hotly pursuing runaway slaves. In the ensuing scandal, Amanda chooses marriage over betraying her Aunt Gabriella’s illegal activities in the Underground Railroad.
Expecting resentment for the forced marriage, Amanda’s fears of a loveless union are laid to rest when Reagan’s passions seem tempered with apparent affection and tender regard. Yet, despite being properly wed, another suitor, Derrick Banning, is determined to break apart their hasty marriage. He fancies it is he, not “that arrogant lumberman,” who should be enjoying Amanda’s wealth.
While snowed in at his lumber camp, Amanda discovers papers that imply Reagan’s offer of marriage wasn’t the sacrifice she thought it to be. Despite his assurances that he acted to protect her, Amanda begins to doubt everything about him.
To complicate matters, mysterious scratches on Reagan’s back seem to point to infidelity, further proving he’s the untrustworthy knave Derrick claims him to be. When a prostitute’s body is found in his office and Reagan is arrested for murder, Amanda flees to her aunt’s house until the mystery can be solved.
From what I read of the description for this novel and its reviews, I was excited to start reading it. What was there not to be hopeful about? An historic romance set in the early days of the Civil War complete with a dashing and successful businessman, a beautiful and wealthy debutant, her parents that dislike the young man, and the promise of a myriad of problems inhibiting to their romance. It sounded like Pride and Prejudice meets Gone with the Wind. I was prepared to be riveted.
But I wasn’t. I never deeply connected with any of the characters, not the dashing young man nor the femme fatale. They were the cause of their problems, and not in that oh-so-cruel twist-of-fate way, but more in the “you can’t be serious, no one would do that” mien. The romance wasn’t really there unless you count lust. Some of the stereotypical dialect left me uncomfortable. I was also taken back by some of the expenses/prices tossed about from a hush money payment to the price of a slave woman and child ($1200 where I found with some research that $200 to $500 was average).
The book is fairly well edited with only minor errors of dropped quotations and an odd capitol ‘M’ that showed up in the middle of words throughout the novel (making me think I was missing a cypher hidden in the novel). The first few chapters are written in third person limited POV, but this quickly changes to an omniscient third person POV for the rest of the novel, sometimes containing the thoughts of two characters in one paragraph. An early switch from someone pondering the potential for civil war to a different character spreading a blanket under a tree for a picnic jarred me. I never really found my flow in the novel after that.
I’m an author as well. I know what a task and amazing feat it is to write a novel. Maybe other people will (and have from the reviews) connect with this story better. For me, it reminds me of some of my early writing: things which I wish had stayed in the slow cooker a little longer until the depth and flavor developed more.