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Elizabeth Lane

REVIEW:  The Ballad of Emma O’Toole by Elizabeth Lane

REVIEW: The Ballad of Emma O’Toole by Elizabeth Lane

Ballad-Emma

Dear Ms. Lane,

I hadn’t read a western in a while so the blurb for this one caught my eye.

High stakes marriage

After shooting a man, the stakes for gambler Logan Devereaux have never been higher. On trial for his life, he’s offered a shocking alternate form of restitution…marriage to his victim’s pregnant sweetheart!

Beautiful Emma O’Toole has sworn vengeance against him—and when a newspaper man puts her tragic story to song, the whole nation waits to see what she’ll do. Their marriage is the riskiest gamble Logan’s ever taken. But he’ll put everything he’s got on the line for a chance at winning Emma’s heart.

This set up, plus my luck with several of your other books, got me to put this one in my TBR queue and to move it to the top fairly quickly. I enjoyed reading a western again but somehow this story just never quite took flight.

Forced marriage of convenience, sworn vengeance, enemies-to-lovers, blackmail, muckraking crusade for social justice – the book had several plotlines that could have been twisted together for a bang up story. But despite the potential, each one sort of drifted along, never quite reached a crescendo of emotion and then got resolved. Sort of like being taken down a swift river with some blind curves but no real plunging, waterfall payoff that got my heart racing.

Emma is faced with social ruination from an unwed pregnancy after her fiancé is killed but the quick marriage and her husband’s money smooths that over and soon the townsfolk seem to forget. Logan is jailed and tried for Billy John’s murder but a smart lawyer and a Mormon judge set on saving those he considers sinners get a lesser conviction and force the quick marriage after which no one seems to remember the crime Logan was found guilty of. Even Emma drifts along with the marriage for months before remembering she swore to avenge her dead lover.

Mining conditions take up a great deal of the next portion of the book. I learned a lot about the dangers of mining then as well as the difficulties of making mines profitable. It was all interesting but not what I’d call riveting and not what I wanted instead of romance. Emma thinks she has a way of getting Logan to pay for what he did but that doesn’t work out as she thought it would though it does bring them to a point in their marriage where they begin being more honest with each other. I’ll give the book points for that though soon it sinks into a bit of melodrama before quickly moving on past that as well.

The villain of the story remains the villain until the end with only a cursory explanation for his motives. Emma and Logan band together to see to his end and finally confess all to each other thus clearing the way for their future but the epilogue is required to neatly, almost too neatly, tie up all the loose ends and send the two lovers off into a rosy sunset. Perhaps there just isn’t enough word count space these days but I feel that this book could have, and in the past would have, been so much more. Now though it just felt superficial and too rushed as the points were more skimmed over than delved into. C

~Jayne

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REVIEW: The Widowed Bride by Elizabeth Lane

REVIEW: The Widowed Bride by Elizabeth Lane

Dear Ms. Lane,

Harlequin Historicals will still occasionally branch out beyond Regencies and I’ve come to look for your books to be among those branchees. I’d started reading in this series two years ago with “The Borrowed Bride,” but will be honest and say that I’d lost touch with it since then. Now, a few books later, the setting of the 1920s and bootlegging grabbed me and got me back on board with it.

The Widowed Bride by Elizabeth Lane

“Ruby Denby Rumford endured her monstrous husband’s abuse until death-’by self-defense-’did them part. Now she and her daughters seek a new beginning in Dutchman’s Creek, Colorado, but will her dark past stay buried?

With an obligation to uphold the laws of prohibition and an undercover persona in place, U.S. Deputy Marshal Ethan Beaudry comes to town ready to end a shady bootlegging ring. He doesn’t expect to find beautiful, mysterious Ruby involved-’or be forced to choose between duty to the law and this forbidden passion.”

Wow! A historical heroine who’s offed her husband isn’t something I see every day either. Ruby has faced down the worst in marriage – an abusive husband who threatened her, beat her and would probably have killed her if she hadn’t fought back and killed him first. Not knowing much about the law at this time, I will say I find it slightly amazing that she got off as easily as she did in this era. Ruby has desires and is willing for Ethan to awaken them and satisfy her – still she isn’t sure about marriage again. But she’s also not going to let any man boss her around or treat her badly. She’s got enough nerve to stand up for herself now and not take shit from any man.

They start a sexual relationship early but it felt right. Ruby is trying to overcome her past experiences and Ethan jump starts that process. However, this makes her discovery of the truth behind his presence in town all the more wounding. Was he enjoying what they did or just using her? You give Ruby a real reason to dislike Ethan instead of suddenly turning her missish or having her bewail whether or not he loves her and I liked that.

Both have good reasons for hiding their backgrounds from each other – she faces social stigma for what she did and he can’t let the bootleggers of the area know why he’s there. I found these to be much better reasons then some I’ve read in the past. Each feels guilt over the lies but Ruby is no fool and quickly realizes that Ethan hasn’t told her everything. He is sure she’s hiding something and while he doesn’t immediately think she’s in league with the villains, he’s not going to let her pretty face dissuade him from checking out her background. They discover the truth earlier in the book than I’d expected but I like that even while Ethan is gently coercing Ruby into helping him, he phrases it in a way that saves face for her – helping him will get him out of her hair all the sooner.

Ruby has enough common sense to eventually come around to Ethan’s viewpoint and appreciate that he’s trying to do his job and also protect her from vicious bootleggers. She also neatly turns the tables on the villainous mayor’s attempts to blackmail her. Go Ruby! Thaddeus Wilton truly is an evil character – you make him quite slimy and shudder inducing. Ruby also has enough presence of mind to save herself from Harper. She’s no shrinking violet and can use her head to think her way out of problems. I love to see this in a heroine. Or hero for that matter.

You included many period details that give a great sense of time and place. I especially liked the description of the General Store filled to the rafters will all kinds of neat things. Ethan’s cooking lessons – well needed for Ruby who was used to a house full of servants – were cool too. And thank you for working the details of Ethan’s job into the story, specifically his evidence kit – it ain’t rocket science or modern CSI but it’s moving towards modern forensics as known at the time.

The main problem I had with the story is Ethan’s reasoning for breaking off his growing relationship with Ruby. I can kind of understand it but since I’ve seen this “I’ll never love again or allow my heart to be broken again” kind of stuff in so many books, it mainly makes me roll my eyes now. But even though Ethan’s reason for breaking things off with Ruby sucks, he is honest with her and tells her quickly. Thankfully he soon discovers he’s an idiot and corrects himself. His idiotness is balanced by a nice realization of his feelings once the crisis is over.

Though this is part of a series, I think that readers could just jump in here with no problems. And I hope that they will because I think it’s a good book and I’m always trying to promote the different and unusual. Now I just need to go back and look into the two books I skipped. B

~Jayne

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