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This book (and author) came under my radar when a fellow blogger recommended it on Facebook. I can't remember anymore who it was (I've narrowed it down to two), but I want to say thank you to them -- because this book kept me company when my children were at home sick with a virus.
Texas Bride is the first book in Joan Johnston's Mail Order Bride series, a sub-series of her Bitter Creek stories, and focuses on the lives of the Wentworth Children.
I think the history of mail-order brides is very compelling -- there's something about risking it all, traveling half-way across the country in order to marry a man you've never met before. For the most part, it's women who dream of having a better life who answer these advertisements. Miranda Wentworth grew up in the lap of luxury -- the daughter of a famous Chicago banker, but their lives changed forever when the Great Chicago Fire destroyed her father's life work, and turned her and her siblings into orphans. Now that Miranda is 18, she needs to leave the orphanage, and her options are very limited: to wash dishes for minimum pay, or to be a mail-order bride. The first choice will allow her to live close to her siblings in Chicago, but Miranda takes the second choice -- hoping that her new husband would be able to help her get her siblings out of the orphanage and allow them to live with her in her new home in Texas.
There's such a practicality and pragmatism to the mail-order bride system -- one wonders if love is ever a factor when a man posts an advertisement or when a woman answers said advertisement -- and that's, I think, were romance novels fit in. We need to believe that it is possible for these men and women, who risk their happiness in order to find a helpmeet, to find love.
He didn't watch his future bride step down from the coach because he wanted the possibility of a fairy tale to last as long as possible.
- p. 35
Jacob Creed lost his wife to childbirth, and now he needs a new wife to take care of his daughter and father-in-law while he manages his small farm. Jacob needs an extra pair of hands to help him with the day-to-day running of his household and farm -- because of his fight with his father-in-law, who owns a large majority of Bitter Creek, it's been an uphill struggle for Jacob to make ends meet. It was, literally, a long shot when Jacob posts an ad in a Chicago newspaper hoping to find a wife, and, as luck would have it, he gets a lot of responses for it.
But it is Miranda's letter that intrigues Jacob, and so he arranges for her to travel to Texas.
There's a lot of deception between Jacob and Miranda: Jacob didn't mention his daughter in the letter, and Miranda never mentioned her siblings, or her two younger brothers whom she brought with her to Texas. It really isn't the best start to a marriage, but I appreciate that Joan Johnston decided to tell an unvarnished, no sugar-coating version of the life of mail-order brides. This is part of what drew me to the series -- Miranda isn't Mary Poppins, and things don't magically get better when she arrives. The house is still in dire need of repair. Jacob is still engaged in a feud with his father-in-law.
Joan Johnston writes a compelling family drama of one family being ripped apart by the greedy machinations of Alexander Blackthorne, and one family being patched together (Miranda's and Jacob's) -- there's such a heart to Johnston's characters and story, that draws you in.
Miranda is a wonderful heroine, who is way over her head, but she is really trying her best and doing her best to help Jacob. She's placed in a difficult situation when she needs to act as mediator between her brothers and her new husband. Jacob is gruff and keeps his feelings bottled up. He is still grieving for his late wife, whom he loved, and doesn't quite know what to do with his new wife. He had vowed to himself that he wouldn't bed her, but that was before he had met her -- and Miranda is beautiful. Miranda is beautiful inside and out, and it's an irresistible, incredibly attractive combination to Jacob.
There's not a lot of courting involved, since they're already married -- and it's difficult to nurture intimacy considering the amount of work they do every day -- but, in the midst of chores, of cows, of children, there's a wonderful dynamic that develops between our hero and heroine, as their odd family slowly mix together.
She felt protected. She felt cherished.
Of course, those feelings were an illusion. She wanted them to be real. She warned herself to be careful, to be cautious, not to let herself become vulnerable. She didn't want to lose her heart to a man who couldn't -- or wouldn't -- love her back. Better to remain friends. Better to remain safe than sorry.
- p. 180
The "villain" of the story is very curious: Alexander Blackthorne is an English lord who married Jacob's mother -- he has then proceeded to convert the town and own most of it. I'm not really certain why there is such enmity between Alexander and Jacob -- my impression is that it's really tough love at work, but it seems a bit extreme, and I couldn't imagine how difficult it is for Jacob's mother, who is caught in the crossfire.
Overall, this was an absorbing page-turner. I ended up reading the second book in the series right after I finished this one.
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