REVIEW: Red’s Hot Honky-Tonk Bar by Pamela Morsi
Dear Ms. Morsi,
You’re a favorite author of mine from way back. Once I’d tried a few of your historicals, I went on a backlist hunting expedition and managed to track down most of them. When you moved in the direction of women’s fiction, I was reluctant to follow and this is, in fact, the first of these books I’ve read. I’m not sure if I’ll go back and check out the books I’ve missed but I did have a good time with this one.
“Red” Cullen is a forty-something owner of a San Antonio honky-tonk bar. It’s not much but it’s hers and is something she’s proud of. From literally living on the streets after she was kicked out by her own mother at the age of sixteen, Red has raised a daughter and started this business.
I like how we get to see Red in this world she’s created. She’s good at what she does, genuinely enjoys her work and both the regular patrons who she knows by name and the newcomers just discovering the place. She cares for her employees and they care for her. Right now, she’s got a thing going with the fiddler from one of the bands who regularly play at the bar. Red has no sexual hang ups despite her past but has never looked for nor wanted a long term romantic relationship. Campbell Early is fifteen years younger than Red so she’s fine with enjoying him while he lasts but not looking for much more.
This attitude of hers makes sense given the fact that she hasn’t been able to count on many men in her life since her father died when Red was a teenager. She then fell into a bad relationship, got pregnant and got kicked out. She had to do things she wasn’t proud of to survive and provide for herself and her daughter. Thank you for not turning Red into an intentional martyr about all this. She doesn’t wail that she’s unworthy of love, even if, unconsciously, she might end relationships so she won’t be hurt.
A phone call from her Army daughter serving overseas twists Red’s world around. Bridge needs her mother to look after her own two children, Olivia age 9 and Daniel age 6, since their paternal grandmother has suffered a stroke. Sputtering and flustered at the thought, Red tries to work out any other arrangement. She owns a bar, works until late in the evening and doesn’t know these children at all. But the facts remain that she’s the only one who can step in on a moments notice so she reluctantly becomes a grandmother in truth.
With a mother in the Army and a dad in the Air Force, and both of them overseas, Olivia has had to grow up a bit faster than most girls her age. She easily spots that Red has no clue what to do with them despite having raised a daughter. Red freely admits that Bridge pretty much raised herself but I still found her total lack of almost a single clue about what to do with Olivia and Daniel hard to swallow.
And the fact that they all live in the same city and Red appears to never have interacted with the children up til this point, despite what she later tells Cam about seeing them once or twice a year, is strange. Red and Bridge are not estranged so the whole setup makes little sense and is something that just has to be accepted.
At this point, Red is certain that her boy toy will quickly hit the road. What 31 year old footloose bachelor wants to suddenly take on a couple of kids? Plus there’s the fact that up until now, he had no idea Red even had any grandchildren. But despite the revelation and in the face of Red’s efforts to alienate him enough to get the break over quickly, Cam proves to be a natural with children.
And despite the fact that I generally don’t care for children in romance books, I care for Olivia and Daniel. They strike just the right note for me. Olivia is not too worldly wise and has her moments of whiny behavior, impatience, and, in the emails to her mother, ALL CAPS and !!!!!. Daniel’s retreat into Spanish – the language of their father’s mother – and worry about starting school seem like something a six year old would do. His trust in Red is a long time coming but it’s lovely to watch these two slowly move towards a relationship. Olivia takes even longer to care for Red which, as the older child, also makes sense to me.
I can also see why the children get along with Cam. They have no predetermined feelings about him nor he for them. Plus he’s the type of person who naturally gets along with children while Red is more awkward which fits with the personal history you’ve given her. Her own mother displayed few parenting skills so I can see that Red would be almost afraid of messing up Bridge and reluctant to interact with her grandchildren. But Red did make sure that Bridge learned from the mistakes Red had made.
The book moves along at a leisurely pace. When The Issues from Cam’s past appear, they fit together and show how he’s evolved into the person he is now. With what he tells Red about his mother, I wonder if Red truly knows what she’s signing on for. It’s just a niggle on my part from knowing something about the disease. However, I do like that Cam doesn’t suddenly pull an angst bunny move.
By the end, I felt that perhaps some of the issues were too easily wrapped up. Money wonderfully appears just when it’s needed, Red and Bridge skim over Red’s past with barely a ripple, and it looks like the children will stay in their school due to Cam’s talent as a landlord. The future of Red’s bar is dealt with in more detail than just about anything else. The book finishes with a feel good ending that isn’t all bad but I do wish Red had kept a little more of her tartness. B-