by Sandra Chastain, historical (2002)
Bantam, $5.99, ISBN 0-553-58050-7
Actually, the title of this book is misleading. Melissa Grayson doesn't exactly send an envelope full of money to some city boy looking to come to the wild Western frontiers to marry her. The very concept of a heroine having enough money to order a husband violates the very foremost fundamental law of romance novel universal karma, I'm sure Sandra Chastain doesn't want to trigger an inadvertent apocalypse by suggesting something so radical.
Actually, I must confess to be very bewildered by everything about The Mail Order Groom. The plot doesn't make sense to me, but I'll explain it so that maybe you can.
It's 1888 in a Colorado small town named Silver Wind, and our heroine Melissa is in trouble. At 20, she is so beautiful that all the horny men in town cause fights whenever they want to attract her attention. One particular ruckus between her overly earnest 14-year old student defending her from the nasty Black Bart results in her accidentally shooting the boy in the arm. This causes the mayor (the boy's father) and the sheriff to be so angry that they place an ultimatum on her: marry before the week is out or they will close down her school and has the parents withdraw their kids from the school.
Melissa, ever the intrepid one, asks her pen pal, the sickly James Harold Pickney IV whom she has never met to come on down and do a marriage of convenience with her. Along the way, our hero, Lucky Lawrence, a gambler who is also looking for missing sister, is escaping from a baddie named Cerqueda (a hambrained Mexican baddie caricature), and he gets mistaken as James Pickney. Oops. What happens now?
Firstly, I don't understand what Melissa is thinking. If there is a mean, bad man wanting to have you at all cost, you don't ask the sickest man you can find to be your buffer. And all this because she wants to keep the school (in memory of a useless, sorry, dearest daddy, naturally)? Why not just sell, move somewhere, and open another school? This stupid and rigid "status quo to the bitter end" behavior of romance heroines like Melissa always baffles me no end. Remember all those stupid heroines who refuse to leave a burning house because they must save the grandfather clock that is the beloved of their dead daddy in all those stupid old movies? Meet Melissa. Unfortunately, there's no fire in this book where they find her burned to a crisp, hugging what remains of a grandfather clock.
Secondly, does she really expect to pull this off and live in the same town with all the people who will be keeping eye on her 24/7? It is bad enough that she is marrying for a silly school in a town that treats her with contempt, she isn't even thinking long-term, that stupid girl.
Throughout this whole story, Melissa seems to be acting solely on impulses - must keep her promise to Daddy, must make dead Daddy happy, must keep dead Daddy content, even if they pull her fingernails out one by one, because she made a promise to Daddy, et cetera. Oh give me a break, really. When she's not doing that, she is lusting after Lucky like a besotted teenage girl - not very helpful if the author wants me to see Melissa as a mature adult.
Lucky is the stereotypical hero. Expect him to leave her for her own good after she has completely gone goo-goo ga-ga over him. He's the quissential drifter hero, cheap and easy with endearments like "baby", "darlin'", and "beauty" that makes me grit my teeth, nothing much else really.
But what saves the day is the real James Pickney IV, a very sickly man who travels West for one last grand adventure before he croaks. How he finds love and even the respect of the town is a much more interesting story. Unlike Melissa and Lucky, James and Ellen are more interesting characters - the earnest but sickly man in a relationship that actually seems romantic rather than seriously codependent. But since we romance readers care apparently only for perfectly physiqued main characters, well, bye James, we hardly knew ye, you genetic reject, give us more of dull perfectly formed beauties acting stoopid, yeah baby!
In the end, dingbat Melissa keeps her school (Daddy must be so happy in heaven now!) and she and her perfect husband go off to live off the blissful sex that is the copulation of their magnificently physiqued bodies, and I, as a reader, am expected to be dazzled by the sheer glory of the mashing of two gloriously proportioned groins, because apparently this is an extension of my frustrated sexual fantasies and I am too ashamed to do the DIY route.
But seriously? I wish this story is about James. Why oh why can't just Melissa and her dull Lucky get on a wagon and we have a meteor crash onto the wagon, leaving James free to carry the story? In trying to humor the beautiful but dim-witted characters of hers as opposed to the more interesting character she has created, Miss Chastain has missed an opportunity to tell a good story.
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