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

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


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


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REVIEW:  Any Duchess Will Do by Tessa Dare

REVIEW: Any Duchess Will Do by Tessa Dare

Dear Ms. Dare:

It’s fairly well known that I am suffering a historical romance malaise so I admit that my grade and response to this book may be disproportional to others.  I was engaged and charmed from the first chapter to the last and didn’t hesitate to put the book down once. I’d be hard pressed to say that about most books these days, let alone a historical.

Any Duchess Will Do by Tessa DareGriffin York, the Duke of Halford, is kidnapped by his mother and taken to “Spinster Cove” where he is ordered to find a woman to wed.  Judith York, the current Duchess of Halford is tired of being the matriarch and wants Griffin to do his duty.  She literally drugs him, stuffs him in a carriage and takes him to Spinster Cove where she boasts that she can turn any woman into a duchess.  Griffin chooses Pauline Simms, the waitress at the Bull and Blossom tavern.

Pauline eyed Griffin as he walked in and pegged him as some other girl’s prince. She admired his fine form and his obvious wealth but all that turned sour when he decided to play some game with her.  At first I was worried this was “make fun of the poor girl” but it wasn’t because Pauline wouldn’t allow herself to be the butt of any joke.  She pushes back, forcing both Griffin and his mother’s hands.

Whatever stubborn, unfeeling game this duke and his mother were playing, they were gaining a third player in Pauline.

What’s more, Pauline was going to win.

Turning her gaze to the duke, she gave him a bold, unashamed inspection. No chore there. The man truly was a fine specimen of masculinity, from broad shoulders to sculpted thighs. If he could ogle her, why couldn’t she look right back?

“Cor.” She unleashed her broadest country accent as she tipped her head to admire the lower curve of his tight, aristocratic arse. “I’ll have great fun with you on the wedding night.”

When Griff is taken to Pauline’s home, his conscience begins to poke at him.  Not only can he see that Pauline is smart (both of wit and mouth) but she has her own pride.  Further, he sees that her father doesn’t value her much.  He offers Pauline a bargain she really can’t turn down. He’ll pay her an amazing sum of money to travel to London with him and his mother and play the role of protege to his mother’s maestro for one week.  Pauline can use that money to buy herself a small cottage and provide for her and his sister.

But once in London, Pauline is presented with a challenge. More than once she’s presented with the response that something wasn’t for her. Whether it was a book or merely looking good in a magnificent frock.  Pauline’s response is always the same.  She moves toward the challenge and not away which was exactly consistent with the manner in which she acted when Griff and Judith York first encountered her.

In this fairytale, we want Pauline to get the prince because we love Pauline. She’s not just a decent person who has tried to provide for her sister, save some money for herself, and simply try to enjoy the lot she’s been given but she’s smart and refuses to be the victim of anyone, including Griff and his mother. So is Griff good enough for Pauline?

Yes.  Griff is quick witted, often making wry comments in the face of possible embarrassment.

Just follow my lead. It’s the only way to make a quick escape.”

They waltzed their way around the ballroom. Because of the way his sleeve was caught on her gown, Griff had to hold his arm jutting out like a chicken wing. Without his hand on her back, he couldn’t lead her properly. Pauline was left to chase him across the dance floor in tiny, tiptoeing steps.

At last they reached the doors to the garden.

“I’ve never seen that waltz before,” an elderly matron remarked.

“A Hungarian variation, madam.” He held open the door for Pauline. “All the rage in Vienna.”

The best part of this writing is that I’m not told that Pauline is resourceful or that Griffin is witty.  It’s shown to me in each interaction.

It’s not all funny jokes about poor dancing because Griff’s reason for not marrying stems out of a real grief, one that brings him and his mother closer together but drives him apart from Pauline.

Possibly the downside of this book is two fold.  First, some might find Pauline a bit too perfect. Not only is she pretty and self possessed, but she has only a few qualms in entering society.  Her language and speech, for a barmaid, is not at all presented as an impediment. She makes friends with the servants and is able to play Handel on goblets filled with water. In her own way, Pauline is a bit of a paragon but she was a delight to me and I thought Griffin was a perfect match for her. B+

Best regards,



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