Harlequin Historical, $6.50, ISBN 978-0-373-29856-3
Historical Romance, 2015
It took me this long to give Lynna Banning’s Smoke River Family a try, all due to timing. Prior to the publication of this book about a year ago, I already read two stories of a heroine taking the place of her deceased sister in the marriage bed with the dead sister’s husband. Of course, this is always because love, apparently, blossoms when this heroine sweeps into the man’s life to take care of his kid and generally sweep, clean, cook, and put out while the man spends his time flailing with the bottle and all the moaning-minnie drama one can buy. If you want to be cynical, you’d probably think that the man is just in for the long haul because he’s getting an unpaid maid, nanny, and bedmate in one selfless, uncomplaining package delivered at his doorstep.
I put this book aside also because the whole musical bed thing with the sister creeps me out a bit, to be honest, and I was hoping that this whole “keep in the family” thing won’t be a trend outside of the already creepy Love Inspired line.
Anyway, today. It’s that time when Christmas is around the corner, and I always find myself in the mood for some sentimental drama. So, here’s me, giving the book a try. As it turns out, it’s not bad. It’s not good either, but still, there won’t be any painful side effects to reading this one.
Winifred Von Dannen’s sister Celeste eloped with Dr Zane Dougherty a while back, and now Cissie’s dead. Winifred, who wants to become a successful pianist, puts her plans on hold when she learns of her sister’s passing, and heads out to Smoke River, where Cissie started a home with Zane, to visit her sister’s grave and to take a look at Cissie’s daughter. Blah blah blah, she will soon fall for Zane.
Winifred arrives at Zane’s doorstep one month or so after Cissie’s death, but to give the author some credit, she allows some time to pass before the clothes fly off, so this one isn’t that creepy. Unfortunately, this story is written in such a rushed, abbreviated way that the passing the time here, oddly enough, does not allow the author much chance to develop more fully two main characters’ developing feelings for one another. The author is more intent on packing external drama like brushes with illnesses and what not to fill the story, making me wonder whether this is a short story hastily stuffed like a Christmas turkey to be sold as a longer story come Christmas.
The two main characters are alright, if on the forgettable stock archetype side, and the writing is clean and readable, hence the three oogie score. But the underwritten state of the story ends up delivering an unintentional take home message that Dr Zane Dougherty is the luckiest man alive. Not one month after the wife croaked, he has plenty of time to flail around and let the Chinese manservant take care of the brat, before the sister-in-law shows up to take over. Winifred even gives up her dream in the end to be the perfect mom and wife. What does he do to deserve all this? By being a romance hero, apparently.
By virtue of its rather underbaked state, Smoke River Family never has a chance to be the emotional, poignant holiday romantic drama it sets out to be. It’s an okay read, but it doesn’t inspire the eek-eek-eek from me, even at my vulnerable state around this time of the year.