by Bonnie Dee, historical (2009)
Liquid Silver Books, $6.10, ISBN 978-1-59578-582-4
If you like Western romances featuring a down-on-his-luck beta hero who is not a cowboy or a sheriff and the caring heroine who looks past his rough exterior to fall for him, Bonnie Dee's A Hearing Heart may just be what you are looking for. This one is a slow burn of a romance that manages to be a most satisfying and tender romantic read.
Catherine Johnson moves from New York to Nebraska after the death of her fiancé because our schoolteacher heroine wants to get away from her unhappy memories. Her new life in the town of Broughton isn't bad at all, but it is about to get wee more interesting when she rescues the local stable hand from some drunks. Jim Kinney is completely deaf. He'd like to believe that he gets along okay, taking on two jobs to make ends meet and paying the local prostitute for an occasional pleasurable break from the constant toil. And barring the occasional bullying from the local never-do-well types, he'd say that he's doing fine.
Each has seen the other around town, but it is only when she helps the doctor tend to his wounds that they actually notice each other. When she begins teaching him how to read and write, that's when the temperature begins to rise. Since she is a schoolteacher, however, and he is considered by most as nothing more than white trash, their relationship is not going to be smooth sailing all the way. People are bound to disapprove and since Catherine's living is dependent on the goodwill of the people of Broughton, her relationship with Jim is going to come under considerable fire. Not only that, a local landowner and his band of ruffians - the same ones that nearly killed Jim early in the story - are instituting some ruthless practices to get what they want, and our lovebirds are going to be caught right in the middle of all that drama.
I just adore that scene where Jim tries to write his first letter to Catherine, asking her to see him - it's a simple scene, but it warms my heart nonetheless. This book has enough of such simple yet romantic scenes to make A Hearing Heart a sweet, sweet story that hurts just a little bit in how tender such scenes are. Jim had a pretty desolate childhood, but I love the fact that he doesn't allow his past or his deafness to cripple him. He works tenaciously to survive and he works just as hard to win Catherine, and I can only applaud him for that. Catherine is an intelligent heroine who, fortunately for me, doesn't come off as too good to be real here. While Jim is a larger-than-life hero who is hurt enough inside to make me go "Awww!", Catherine comes off as a smart and nice heroine who is nonetheless restricted by her own prejudices now and then - a heroine with enough flaws to prevent her from being too much of a saint, in other words. Their romance is very sweet, so much so that I feel as if my heart is both hurting and melting as a result.
The only thing that prevents this book from getting a higher score is the presence of some sex scenes late in the story. These sex scenes come off as pretty gratuitous, inserted for the sake of upping the heat quotient of the story, and I find myself wincing as I try to read about all that pumping and thrusting and groaning. Come to think of it, those sex scenes go some distance in cheapening the story, making the whole thing end on a rather tawdry note.
Nonetheless, A Hearing Heart is a most entertaining and heartwarming romance on the whole. Seriously, if you have never read anything by Bonnie Dee before, I'd suggest that you start with this one.
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