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REVIEW: Wyoming Bride by Joan Johnston

Dear Ms. Johnston:

Two things converged at once to induce me to buy and read this book. First, there was an emailed recommendation from someone I knew who said that this was the best Johnston book in a long time. I confess I can’t remember reading a Johnston book but I’m all for ‘Best in a long time” recommendations. Then Ridley suggested she would like to see more Western historical reviews. I felt like the world was calling for me to read this book even though I had to buy it at $7.99. After weeks of buying books at sub $5, buying a book at $7.99 that ends up being terrible makes you all sorts of cranky. Bear that in mind as you read this review. As an aside, I did think of returning the book but figured that we did have a dearth of Western historical romances on the blog.

Wyoming Bride by Joan JohnstonThe story opens with Hannah, an orphan, contemplating whether she made the right choice in marrying stranger Mr. McMurtry. He wasn’t the gorgeous man in the white hat that she had dreamed of and she dreaded the marriage bed.  However, Mr. McMurtry was a kind man and willing to take in Hannah’s two siblings.

Despite this, Hannah thinks unkind thoughts about Mr. McMurtry, particularly that his skinny physical form isn’t pleasing, and I chide myself to be patient. Not everyone can play the role of pragmatic heroine. There is room in the genre for others. I swallow and move on. Mr. McMurtry is a really decent man and I was almost excited to think I was going to read a romance about this kind mercantile owner who was going to become the man of Hannah’s dreams. Alas, no that is not the book.

Instead, Mr. McMurtry dies from cholera he contracted from the sickbeds of infected people he had tried to comfort. McMurtry and Hannah and the two girls were kicked off the wagon train after Hannah’s twin pits two men against each other in hopes of winning the affections of one. The two men end up killing each other in a fight. These girls really are a prize.

Hannah and her sisters are separated after their lone wagon gets attacked by a band of horsemen described as “clearly not white men.” Oh, yes, the sole appearance of Native Americans as marauders of innocent white women. Later in the book, they are referred to as “savages”.

“He thought Ashley Patton might be responsible. That he gave guns to the Indians so they could attack the smaller spreads.”

“It makes a crazy sort of sense. Patton’s enough of a greenhorn to think he can control a bunch of savages.”

It’s not like the marauders being Native American were integral to the plot. They could have been a band of white outlaws and the story wouldn’t have changed at all.  Back in the 1980s, this was de riguer but in 2013 one would have thought we could discard that tired and racist trope.  I guess not.

The book shifts to the Creed brothers, Flint and Ransom, who play the heroes roles in this book. Flint is in love with his brother’s soon to be wife, Emaline. He felt like he was better than his brother and that he had saved his brother multiple times only to lose the woman of his dreams to his brother. He leaves their engagement party and vows to marry the first woman he sees which would be the heroine who is lying in a ditch somewhere after the wagon train attack (which she can’t remember). He asks her to marry him and she, being orphaned, widowed, pregnant, says “we’ll see. Depends on whether you are a good man or not.” (This is my summary of several lines of dialogue)

But secretly she is a bit thrilled because he is so hot and her previous husband was not. (I haven’t forgotten that Mr. McMurtry was a saint but apparently Hannah has). Hannah also doesn’t reveal that she is pregnant.  Hannah and Flint’s romance is not sufficient for this book.  Instead, we also get the romance of Ransom and Emaline.  Emaline reveals that she does not expect them to have intercourse because she is afraid of childbirth.  Ransom is shocked and dismayed.  However, Emaline proposes that they spend a month living together at his two room ranch house where he lives with Flint and that they sleep together and she’ll show him how wonderful sex free life can be.

The four of them will live in a house together while Ransom and Flint try to woo their wives. Ransom and Emaline will sleep together and Flint and Hannah will as well (because the sofa is too hard for Flint).  The characters’ ages in this book are young.  Hannah, for example, is seventeen, but I expected the way that they acted to be more mature. Instead, I felt like I was reading a high school version of the Old West.  At one point, Flint goes horseback riding and tells his horse how fine Hannah’s pink nipples are.

The set ups are obvious and so are the resolutions. Helena comes to figure out that Flint is in love with Emaline and he doesn’t appreciate having another man’s babe foisted upon him.  He looks longingly in Emaline’s direction but also is constantly comparing her disfavorably with Helena.  Emaline finds it harder to resist Ransom in bed than she originally thought.  There is danger presented to both couples in the form of a local rancher who believes that one of the two women would be better suited as his bride.

There is a distinct disconnect between what the text tells us and then what the characters want the readers to believe.  For instance, Flint is confronted with his two women – the one he has asked to marry him and the one he believes he loves.

Flint did a quick comparison of the two of them. One was immaculately turned out, her shiny brown hair tucked neatly into a bun, her dress buttoned to her throat and her wrists, falling all the way to the tips of her black, high-button shoes without a wrinkle.

The other wore scuffed brown shoes that had likely walked a thousand miles, a pair of Ransom’s Levi’s with ragged ends where she’d trimmed the legs to fit her, and one of his own plaid wool shirts that hung nearly to her knees. She’d gathered her blond curls into a single braid that hung down her back, but wisps had escaped to frame her face in a golden halo.

Flint felt the pulse throb in his neck and realized it wasn’t Emaline who was causing the frantic beat of his heart. It was the waif he’d rescued.

Maybe that was it. Maybe it was the fact that he’d found Hannah, like a lost penny, that made her so attractive to him. Maybe it was the mystery surrounding her during the days before her memory had returned. Maybe it was the desperation he’d felt to find a woman— any woman— so he wouldn’t be alone in the house when Emaline and Ransom returned to live here as a married couple.

Of course, none of those reasons explained why he was still attracted to Hannah when Emaline was standing in the same room with her. Standing right beside her, in fact, where the two women couldn’t have been more different than a wolf and a dog.

One was feral, one domesticated. What did it say about him that he preferred the wild one?

The “wolf” was the one clothed in the high button dress with her hair done up in a bun and the “dog” was the one wearing the jeans and men’s clothing. Pardon me for being totally baffled by this entire passage but it’s this type of writing throughout the book.

I felt these characters had the maturity of teenagers, not those who lived in a harsh land eking out survival and their own empire. Hannah is throwing herself at Flint one minute and then sobbing the next. His touches and caresses are arousing because he is young and virile whereas Mr. McMurtry was skinny and unattractive.

A woman’s fear of pregnancy and death could be very real, but it came off as so obvious and heavy handed in this book. There was so much telling and “as you know bob’s” throughout, that the entire narrative felt fake and forced.  There was no nuance in this book. Every time there was a conflict, I felt like a hand was being reached out from the book and slapping me across the face.  “Are you paying attention? She’s afraid of child birth. Slap slap slap.”

This book, like the cover, represents old school romance. If you enjoyed the westerns of the 1980s, then this might appeal. D

Best regards,

Jane

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Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

22 Comments

  1. Donna Thorland
    Jan 10, 2013 @ 08:58:56

    “This book, like the cover, represents old school romance. If you enjoyed the westerns of the 1980s, then this might appeal.”

    When I was a teenager, I used to spend a couple of weeks every summer with my brother and his wife, who lived near the beach and an amusement park. They were grown ups with disposable incomes and bought hundreds of books in a year, and I was a voracious reader, so at night I binged on his sci fi paperbacks and her western romances. I had to bend a page in the westerns when I finished them, though, or I wouldn’t be able to tell which ones I had already read–they were that similar. I’ve been longing for someone to write one now that is so old school it is new school–something meta and self aware with some irony that would be the Unforgiven of western romances. Still waiting…

  2. Lauren
    Jan 10, 2013 @ 09:17:23

    I think that this is my problem. I did like the 1980′s and 90′s romance westerns. I cut my teeth on Johanna Lindsay, Carol Finch, Jude Deveraux and, yes, Cassie Edwards. *bows head in shame*. I read any Zebra romance or Avon that came to my tiny town.

    That was also twenty to thirty years ago. My tastes have changed and I don’t know what I am looking for anymore. I want good stories. Ones that make me laugh. Get engrossed in the story and want to devour the pages, again and again. I hate that I have become a skimmer – even of books that I wait to come out. I just finished The Lady Most Willing, by Eloisa James, Julia Quinn and Connie Brockway. And by finished I mean put down before the end, not totally read. I hate that I scowl at love at first sight stories. Things that are neatly wrapped gift bags. I want to rip at the paper.

    I keep devouring the reviews for something. ( I have Code Name Verity on my TBR list because of a thread from yesterday.)

  3. bam
    Jan 10, 2013 @ 09:24:33

    question: is the heroine’s name Hannah or Helena?

  4. Jane
    Jan 10, 2013 @ 09:25:27

    @bam: Hannah

  5. bam
    Jan 10, 2013 @ 09:34:52

    @Jane just being servicey ;)

  6. Jane
    Jan 10, 2013 @ 09:35:43

    Oh, I appreciate it. LOL.

  7. cleo
    Jan 10, 2013 @ 09:37:20

    I’ve not had a lot of luck with Joan Johnston. The first book I read by her was good – Sweetwater Seduction – and every book since then (maybe just 3) were awful. The kind of awful that you describe in your review, where I’m flipping to the copyright date to see when this thing was written and getting outraged about pretty much everything and DNFing. I’ve tried her historicals and contemporaries and more recently published and older books, and so far it seems like Sweetwater Seduction was an exception – and even if it isn’t, I don’t see trying another Joan Johnston, because life is too short.

    But I really did enjoy Sweetwater Seduction – granted, I found it at my library, so it was free, and I didn’t have high expectations so I had that wonderful sense of discovery of finding a good book by an author I’d never heard of. Uptight school marm organizes the local women to withhold sex to stop a feud between the ranchers and farmers, and she ends up falling for / being seduced by the hired gun brought in by either the ranchers or farmers. It sounds wtf but it works (at least it did – I bought the e-book but haven’t re-read it to see if it holds up).

  8. farmwifetwo
    Jan 10, 2013 @ 09:46:30

    @Lauren:

    Change it from Western’s to Regencies and I did the same and I admit I skim a lot of books b/c they are the same over and over again. Now anything historical feels extremely juvenile when I read it. There was Sweet Valley High or nothing when I was in highschool and an entire wall of romances when I worked at the library. You could even pick them out of the h/c’s b/c their covers were plain.

    I’ve gotten terribly fussy over the years. I too simply want fun, interesting, mature characters full of flaws, not whiney, but human. The only romances I have finished lately are Kristen Ashley’s. Even at their most “over the top” they are still….. different and fun.

  9. cbackson
    Jan 10, 2013 @ 10:22:53

    The bit about poor Mr. McMurtry reminds me of my deep hope to someday read a paranormal romance in which the heroine is totally uninterested in the hot alpha werewolf who wants to claim her as his lifemate because she’s fallen in love with her next-door neighbor, an accountant named Steve who may not be seven feet tall and four feet wide at the shoulder, but is normal-guy cute and always helps her carry in her heavy groceries.

    Although as a single woman, perhaps I’m too heavily weighting the grocery assistance, because MAN, do I miss that about being married.

  10. cleo
    Jan 10, 2013 @ 10:51:21

    @cbackson: Exactly. That’s one thing that’s changed with age for me. I used to hate (*hate*) it when guys tried to carry things for me – because I wanted to prove my independence and I kind of took it as an insult (like cute little me couldn’t handle a heavy bag). And now, perhaps because I’m more secure in my independence (and more aware of my interdependence), I like a little help with the groceries (and when my husband does the shopping, he practically melts when I come down and help him carry it all in).

    I love many of Shannon Stacey’s and Sarah Mayberry’s heroes because they’re nice, normal guys. They don’t take over, but they’re helpful – they fix things and they carry things (and the heroines do the same for them) and that really is sexy. I would love to see that dynamic in a paranormal.

  11. Ridley
    Jan 10, 2013 @ 11:28:00

    I think Jean Johnston is like Diana Palmer in that she’s a sub-genre unto herself, and an acquired taste.

    If you want a cheap Western read that I thought was pretty good, Delynn Royer’s Broken Vows was only $2.99. It’s a revised version of an OOP book. While she didn’t scrub away all of the casual racism – “half-breed” is used where “mixed-race” or “Latino” should go – there are no murderous “savages” and the villain is a white guy. I really liked the difficult heroine, the banter between the couple and the sexual tension.

  12. Ellen
    Jan 10, 2013 @ 12:12:06

    Joan Johnston turned me off westerns in the ’80s. Diana Palmer turned me off Diana Palmer in the ’80s.

    I, too, am desperately seeking a new, smart contemporary author. I read the Susan Mallery series, but they are like placeholders. The Lucky Harbir series, another place holder. They are filling time until I can find someone to immerse myself in. I thought for a while that might be R.L. Mathewson. But I was wrong. I won’t start the crack that is KA because even the gushing reviews make me mad enough to throw my iPad.

    I really enjoyed Christie Bos Walker’s books, but I haven’t seen anything new from her lately.

    I am thinking a genre change may be my solution.

  13. Cindy
    Jan 10, 2013 @ 12:21:24

    The savage tag has always bothered me and I started avoiding the historicals with the Native Americans in them because of it. I can’t read Diana Palmer (the last one, I was like 1/3 of the way through and so much had beaten down the heroine that I was waiting for her to kill herself), and the only book of Joan Johnston’s that I liked was Outcast. I had this in my hand at Wal-Mart yesterday and quickly talked myself out of it. And while I understand the fear of childbirth, that line in the review about telling the fiancee she wouldn’t have sex because of it made my eyebrow arch.

  14. Isobel Carr
    Jan 10, 2013 @ 12:27:20

    @cbackson:

    That’s sort of what happens in the Kitty Norville series (werewolves). She eventually goes for the sweet, beta lawyer not his uber dom friend (or cousin, I can’t remember) or any other alpha weres she encounters.

  15. Courtney
    Jan 10, 2013 @ 13:31:44

    I haven’t read this book yet, although Johnston used to be an auto-buy for me. I haven’t bought this one, because I read the first in the series (Montana Bride? maybe) last year and my reaction to that book was that writing was fairly juvenile and it felt to me as though it had been written in the 80s. I’ve found Johnston’s books in the last eight years or so to be very uneven. Some, I’ve loved and some I’ve really not connected with. I always wonder two if she’s switching publishers which means switching editors and how much that changes the final quality of the product. I think given the “D” review and my distaste for the first installment in the series, I’ll pass.

  16. Jayne
    Jan 10, 2013 @ 13:32:55

    @Lauren:

    I hate that I have become a skimmer – even of books that I wait to come out. I just finished The Lady Most Willing, by Eloisa James, Julia Quinn and Connie Brockway. And by finished I mean put down before the end, not totally read.

    That was me and this book. I made it to the part where the newly introduced Duke and young miss began sucking face like the plane was going down – in chapter 2, I think?

  17. Courtney
    Jan 10, 2013 @ 13:34:42

    @Ellen: Have you read Molly O’Keefe? On Jane’s recommendation, I read and LOVED her “Can’t Buy Me Love.” (It was one of Jane’s Best Of books). I read the second installment, “Can’t Hurry Love,” and really enjoyed it. She reminds me of Susan Elizabeth Phillips a lot – funny, emotional, and sexy with flawed characters you ultimately root for.

  18. Jayne
    Jan 10, 2013 @ 13:36:19

    At one point, Flint goes horseback riding and tells his horse how fine Hannah’s pink nipples are.

    What does the horse say about all this?

  19. pamelia
    Jan 10, 2013 @ 13:50:46

    @ Ellen — although I am a diehard KA fan I completely understand a desire for a more polished finished product from a contemporary author or perhaps for less alpha-hole heroes.
    That being said I would recommend Ruthie Knox, Kelly Hunter or Alice Clayton.
    (One caveat on Alice Clayton, her book “Wallbanger” which I enjoyed a lot is, I have learned, Twilight fanfiction although I am really at a loss as to how on earth they are even close to being similar!)

  20. cleo
    Jan 10, 2013 @ 14:40:37

    @cbackson: I’ve thought of one for you, sort of – Claiming Her Geeks by Eve Langlais. It’s completely ridiculous, but fun (if you like light and sexy shape shifter menage, with a little spanking thrown in, just because). The heroine is the alpha of her pack and is wooed by another alpha, but she goes for not one, but two, skinny geeky werewolves – who turn out to be her fated mates. No grocery carrying, but they make a good case for why she needs smart men at her back instead of some brawny alpha at her side, trying to take over. They have to talk her into actually claiming them as her mates (and by talk, I mean have a lot of sex – they dominate her in bed but not anywhere else). It’s a short story – there’s not a lot of character development, and there is a semi-offensive sub plot involving the overbearing male alpha and hill-billy timber wolves – but it’s fun and kind of refreshing.

  21. cbackson
    Jan 10, 2013 @ 17:05:33

    @cleo: Alas, I have serious hate on for the fated-mate trope. Which is a bummer because apart from that, I have a soft spot for the geek-y fellows, so I’d probably like that, otherwise!

  22. JessP
    Jan 10, 2013 @ 22:47:56

    I seem to remember thinking Lorraine Heath’s western romances were good. It’s been awhile since I’ve read one of her older books, though. I hope I’m not mistaken on that.

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