by Liz Ireland, historical (2003)
Harlequin Historical, $5.25, ISBN 0-373-29261-9
What Blissful, Texas has is plenty of sparkling banters and sexual tension. Unfortunately, it only dips very shallowly into the issues it brings up in the story, with the end result being a story that substitutes sexual attraction for genuine emotional bonding. Blissful, Texas isn't as satisfying as it should be.
Veteran readers of the Western historical subgenre would be familiar with the story. Nineteen-year old Lacy Calhoun leaves the nunnery where she is schooled since she was a child to return to her mother Flossie's side. But when she reaches Blissful, Texas, she realizes to her dismay that her selective memories of her childhood are inaccurate. Flossie doesn't run a boardinghouse, she runs a brothel called the Satin Slipper! But no matter - armed with zeal and piety, Lacy bosses her mother into turning the Slipper into a boardinghouse, using her tears to get her way where her bossing around fails.
The men of Blissful are dismayed, not only because their sole source of entertainment is gone, but also because they believe that Blissful's, er, tourist trade will now dry up and the town will be in trouble. They are counting on Lucas Burns, the owner of the saloon the Golden Rooster, to take down the enemy. Lucas and his son move into the new boardinghouse for subterfuge, but Lucas and Lacy are attracted to each other, thus complicating matters.
There's plenty of laughs in this book, from Lacy's temperance group whose name only becomes longer and more ambitious (from the Blissful Temperance Society to the Society for Decency, Temperance, and the Beautification of Blissful) as Lacy encounters more problems in Blissful that she thinks she has to fix, the hilarious secondary characters, to these secondary characters' problems and quirks that add color to the story.
Unfortunately, I get more frustrated with every chapter when it becomes apparent that the author is interested only in "fixing" Lacy's character. Lacy starts out a sanctimonious killjoy, but she isn't the only one that needs some mellowing in her character. Lucas needs some too, because this is a man who refuses to accept criticisms of him raising his son in a saloon, views prostitution as nothing more than some harmless business, and thinks nothing of seducing and ruining a naive young woman ten years her junior to get his way. Ms Ireland doesn't make him grovel or even undergo any convincing epiphany - all I get from this story is that Lucas finally changes his mind because he has the hots for Lacy, not because he actually learns anything. Needless to say, the romance isn't convincing. Also not helping matters is the author turning Lacy into an airhead once she experiences sexual attraction to Lucas. Just once I'd like to see a convent-raised young lady who actually can hold on to her religious convictions after her first brush with sexual attraction, but Lacy is just naive, alas.
The romantic developments in this story are also disappointingly predictable, with both characters playing silly games to the point that a nice Other Man is dragged into the mess. Lucas comes off the worst here - he's older, supposedly more mature, and more experienced than Lacy, after all, but his tedious commitment baggages make him come off like a spoiled brat with a case of self-entitlement.
Because the characters never actually undergo any growth - in short, they never grow up - the romance fails to ring true to me. I can see the sexual attraction between those two, but true love? Not likely, not when their actions remind me of silly antics of infatuated teenagers.
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