by Shannon Stacey, historical (2007)
Samhain Publishing, $4.50, ISBN 1-59998-508-X
First off, allow me to say that Shannon Stacey's dedication to her mother in this book is such a sweet and heartwarming read.
When Eliza Jane Carter stepped down from the stagecoach, every man, woman and child on the street stopped to stare.
It wasn’t only her incredible height of almost six feet that drew their attention. It wasn’t only the combination of coal-black hair, ice blue eyes and a fine porcelain complexion. It wasn’t even her lush figure, clad in a long, black skirt and severe, unadorned white blouse.
It was all of those things combined with a piercing, go-to-hell look that seemed to bore into the very soul of the town. With her back ramrod straight and her chin held high, she looked around the main street of Gardiner, Texas, just one more dingy cow town like the dozens she had visited before.
Eliza Jane is a suffragist. She is more fortunate than most women in that she is educated and has access to a trust fund so she makes it her mission to travel to small towns like Gardiner to organize grassroot movements to help women understand that they are entitled to rights too. Eliza Jane has her personal demons too that stemmed from a bitter divorce and the fact that her access to her trust fund is controlled by a lawyer (male, of course) who deliberately tries to undermine her for petty reasons.
Naturally, those men in Gardiner who know of Eliza Jane's reputation are in fear the moment she shows up. Fortunately, only the sheriff Adam Caldwell seems to be aware of her reputation. Because he is not the most diplomatic person around, he decides that his best buddy Dr Will Martinson will be the best person to talk to Eliza Jane and get her to stay out of trouble during her stay in Gardiner.
Will starts out such a sweetheart. He is the kind of person who wants to save the world and sighs when he can't to the point that it's all I can do not to wish that he's real so that I can give him a big hug because he's such a gentleman that way. Because he is concerned about a prostitute at the local whorehouse who is with child (she came to him for a medical check-up, which was how he knew of her condition), he asks Eliza Jane to give Sadie a visit and maybe talk to Sadie about possible things Sadie could do with her life instead of resuming her current profession. He realizes four days later his mistake when Eliza Jane gets all the ladies in the Chicken Coop fired up about wanting to follow a more respectable career... like knitting woolens.
However, I have to revoke the sweetheart card for Will when he begins interacting with Eliza Jane with earnest because this man seems to treat everyone else but her with respect. It's not that Eliza Jane is completely without fault - she ends up being one of those suffragists who rarely has a clue as to what she is actually doing, which is a disappointment given how there are so few intelligent and genuinely sexually liberated suffragist heroines in the romance genre. However, when Eliza Jane is in trouble, Will and Adam pretty much laugh off her problems and instead act like they can't wait to witness her comeuppance.
I suspect that other readers may find this story more enjoyable. Personally I am discomfited by the way Ms Stacey ultimately puts Eliza Jane through a series of "comical" episodes of bumbling ineptitude. I would prefer a story where a common ground of sorts could be reached between his way of seeing the world and hers, but Ms Stacey ends up tipping the hand of victory to Will by making Eliza Jane so, so wrong in the end. At the end of the day, I really wish that the author hasn't made Eliza Jane a suffragist.
Taming Eliza Jane could have been a fun story filled with plenty of moments of laughter and sexual tension, but I'm afraid this book ultimately just doesn't sit well with me.
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