Saturday, February 8, 2014

Review: Taming Jenna by Charlene Raddon

Click here to buy the book on Amazon

What makes this book stand out for me is Raddon's depiction of the West during the Gold Rush and her decision to tell that story plainly, without any adornments or romanticism. She's frank about the harsh conditions and the lawlessness, but also tells the success story of the men and women who have persevered and triumphed. It is a beautiful country but also one that is brutal and unforgiving.

"Branch watched his mother and sister die of a fever because they couldn't afford medical treatment. Later his father died a protracted death of black lung disease; an all too common need for coal miners, I'm afraid. When you grow up in a world where life is that cheap and violence is an everyday occurrence, you either become so inured to it that you barely notice it or you grow to hate it with every fiber of your being."
- loc 2555 to 2570

This is the background of Branch and Jenna's story, as they travel through the West searching for Black Jack Mendoza, a man Jenna needs to capture if she is to claim the bounty that will ensure Jenna's future. But Branch also wants to exact his revenge on Mendoza, whom he believes murdered his brother. Same goal, different reasons -- this becomes a recurring theme in our hero and heroine's love story: always just a little bit at odds with each other. I hesitate to call them polar opposites because they are alike in many ways.

The title suggests that Jenna needs taming. She struck me as free-spirited and independent, but that's because she had to basically raise herself -- an admirable aspect of her story. She's gotten by on her wits and abilities and has never needed help from anyone ever. She's a bit feisty and stands up to Branch, but I did not see that as a trait that needed to be corrected or controlled -- and I loved how brave she was. She impressed me with the very clever way she was able to track Black Jack Mendoza and with her skill with guns.

"Lord, if I had half a brain in my head, I'd paddle your behind and --"

She drew the Starr from her skirt pocket and laid it on the table. "Try it, McCauley. Just try it."
- loc 5079

Branch seemed more perplexed by Jenna than threatened -- and it's such an honest response from a man who hadn't really lived around women for a long time. Their first meeting both fascinates and embarrasses him because this young person was able to get the upper hand on him -- and when he discovers that said person was actually a young lady adds to her mystique. He fights off his attraction to Jenna, knowing that someone as broken as him could not possibly be worthy of someone as pure and innocent as Jenna. Add to his frustration that he isn't supposed to fall in love with his "enemy" -- a person vying for the same thing he is.

... How could he ask Jenna to give him her heart when he wasn't ready to give his? There was no room in Branch McCauley's life for a woman. He desired Jenna, but that was all there was to it. Lust, pure and simple. Nothing more. It had simply been too long since he'd been with a woman ...
- loc 2928

This story reminded me of an iceberg -- the case of mistaken identity and the chase for Black Jack Mendoza is only a small part of the story. In fact, it surprised me a bit when Jenna was able to capture Black Jack Mendoza so quickly early in the story, only to have him escape as quickly. At that point, I have to admit being worried that this would happen through the rest of the story -- but Raddon slowly reveals that she has more up her sleeve.

There are plot twists and surprises as the story progresses -- of a conspiracy that runs far deeper and longer than what Branch and Jenna are aware of. (The idea of law and lawlessness that existed during that time is, once again, part of the very vivid world that Raddon has created.) There were times when I had to put the book down, a bit overwhelmed by the length and breadth of the story -- but, I found myself picking it up again because I wanted to find out the answers to all the questions that the author poses throughout the story:
- Black Jack Mendoza
- Jenna's missing father
- the murder of Branch's brother

But Raddon shows that she has planned and paced the story as she wanted and, in the end, the readers will get what they wanted as well: a satisfactory resolution.

Taming Jenna was originally published in 1994 and was recently re-released in digital format. To find out more about Charlene Raddon and her books, click below:

Disclosure: I received this review copy from the author. Thank you to Charlene Raddon for the opportunity. Yes, this is an honest review.


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