by Yvonne Jocks, historical (2000)
Leisure, $5.50, ISBN 0-8439-4693-8
Minor spoilers about the nature of the heroine's Big Scandal are present in this review
Audra Garrison flees a Big Scandal (that made her mistrust all men) from her home in Wyoming to the small, homely town of Candon, Texas, where she intends to start life anew by becoming a schoolteacher. She lives with her really rigid aunt and several giggling ninny girls, and wishes she could let her hair down. But the Big Scandal has taught her that obeying her carnal urges is an act as sinful as eating the apple in Eden. Or something.
When gambler "Handy" Jack Harwood breezes into town, sparks are going to fly. Ho ho.
Okay, maybe not ho ho. I love Jack. Now that is a rogue who can show me his handiness anytime, I tell you. Nothing is more adorable than a rogue who finds himself making excuses to stay on in town to court the local schoolmarm when he should be heading off to greener and more lucrative pastures. Unrepentant scoundrel Jack is aghast at finding himself playing shopkeeper and acting like a good Samaritan just to woo Audra. And yucks, he's even starting to be a role model to kids!
If there's one thing Ms Jocks is good at, it's at creating deliciously rakish heroes.
But Audra is a complete twit. Actually, she and her female charges are complete twits. This book seems to confuse virtue with absolute cluelessness laced with a triple dose of barely restrained emotional hysteria. Audra spends all her time wringing her hands like a pigeon on locoweed, moaning that she is guilty of all little sins, mostly imagined. The fuss she creates when she accidentally died her hair - only harlots died their hair, you see - is intended to be funny but comes off as totally insipid. Likewise, Audra shrieks that all gamblers are evil, is aghast when she realizes that Jack has been consorting with soiled doves (she's also, predictably, jealous of them), and let's not start with her emotional mess of a state of mind.
Does she love him? Can she be loved? Should she talk to him? Can she talk to him? How about a kiss? Ohmigod, he kissed me! What does that mean? I'm so ashamed that I liked that kiss! I must be a harlot, shame on me. I'm so guilty of sin! And on and on and on she goes.
After all the nonsense she puts me through, she'd better get at least one mind-blowing orgasm, the sort that makes sparks shoot out of her nostrils, out of the whole Big Scandal thing in her past. But noooo, the Big Scandal, blown out of proportion in the first few chapters, is reduced to mere gossip that ruined our heroine's reputation. And it is for that that she beats herself up bloody with guilt?
This book flies across the room and hit the wall with a resounding thump. And I chase after it and whack it six times with my feather duster for good measure.
A ninny heroine is bad enough. But when the whole plot starts to morph into a didactic, amateurish grade school play about equality, liberty, and The Joys Of Virtue Confused With Frigidity, I start to get a headache.
Jack, poor Jack, what you are doing in such a trite, badly developed, half-baked plot I will never know. What a waste.
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