Lone Star Café
by Lisa Wingate, contemporary (2004)
Onyx, $6.99, ISBN 0-451-41144-7

I checked through this author's backlist - she seems to have what seems like three books out every two or three months and these books all deal with the same premise: some city gal crashes and burns, rejected by the city, only to find love and acceptance in some small town where the old ladies are pushy and kooky. No, no, silly, the heroine doesn't find love with the old ladies - what will the church reading group say, for heaven's sake! Anyway, I don't think Lisa Wingate is a very versatile author, plot-wise. Lone Star Café is another one of her many crash-and-burn stories, only this one is more heavy-handed than I remember her previous books ever being.

Narrated in first person, this story has Laura Draper being sent by her big Texan publishing company to run the small Texan newspaper that it has recently acquired. But all sorts of perils and pitfalls hit Laura the moment she steps foot in Austin, from huge publication setbacks to getting dumped to having to take care of the obligatory crippled-in-some-way parent (this time around it is a grief-stricken daddy). The only relief she finds is when she steps into Crossroads Café where the two dotty but wise innkeeper ladies offer her free advice as well as coffee. Laura even locates in the Bible, "Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls". Wow, what is the name of that café again? I wish God is as this clear in real life, I tell you.

This story isn't a story as much as it is Ms Wingate driving home plenty of hackneyed anvils about crossroads and destiny and peace the Smalltown way. Secondary characters in this book function more like didactic mouthpieces for the author to preach her brand of apple sauce philosophy, where big cities are portrayed as empty and mercenery while life in a smalltown is all about contemplative self-absorbed women walking around the place looking for a clue. Laura also finds love but her new boyfriend is as poorly developed as the other mouthpieces of the author's soapbox in this story.

If heavy-handed preachings aren't fabulous enough, the author also amps up the sentimentalism towards the end, complete with an obvious deus ex machina coming in to save the day. Ms Wingate can write, as she has a gentle sense of humor that she shows only occasionally in her stories. I don't know why she chooses to downplay her strengths in favor of some contrived heavy-handed fluff prose. There are some good things about this book - mostly the descriptions of the scenery, really - but since I'm not enamored of sugary and heavy-handed overromanticization of small towns as some mythical perfect Utopia, I find myself wishing that this book has some depths, well-drawn characters, and meaty plot to go along with the feel-good fluffy propaganda it dishes out liberally. Heh, I said "liberally".

Rating: 68

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