MINI-REVIEW: Trish Milburn’s THE TEXAN’S COWGIRL BRIDE

Texan's_Cowgirl_BrideMiss Bates is always interested in a romance novel portraying an ill hero, or heroine (though it’s interesting that she has yet to read an ill hero). As Fitzgerald’s narrator, Nick Carraway, said in The Great Gatsby, ” … there was no difference between men, in intelligence or race, so profound as the difference between the sick and the well.” This has made for some great romance novels; in both cases, the heroine is ill, or recovering from a life-threatening illness: Donna Alward’s How A Cowboy Stole Her Heart and Karina Bliss’ Here Comes the Groom. Indeed, how a romance writer treats the topic (sorry for the pun) makes for compelling reading, especially the hero and heroine’s navigation of their relationship in mortality’s crosshairs. It’s the only reason Miss Bates made it through the sole J. R. Ward Blackdagger Brotherhood novel she ever read, Lover Eternal. (She quite liked it, but one was enough, thank you.) Trish Milburn’s The Texan’s Cowgirl Bride, a mouthful of a title, held that promise for Miss Bates. She really, really wanted to like the story of Savannah Baron, peach-pie-baker par excellence and store-owner, faced with a life-threatening illness, and soldier-turned-private-investigator, widowed hero, Travis Shepard. Milburn’s romance novel is set up with interesting premises: its problems lie in their execution.

Travis Shepard was in love with Savannah Baron when they were in high school: he, the skinny, unassuming guy in her top-student, barrel-running cow- and rich-girl universe. He married a woman he loved, joined the army, went to Afghanistan, but returned a widower after his wife was murdered when he was still in overseas. Savannah pursued a career in rodeo, but now runs a food-store, the Peach Pit, out of her family’s ranch. She’s not interested in joining the family oil business, Baron Energies, but wants to expand the store and her line of peach-and-pecan products. Her domineering father won’t recognize that she can make a go of it; his dominance, stubborn ways, and subsequent clashes with Savannah run throughout the novel.

When we meet Savannah, she’s with friend, Abby Morgan, for a week-end of barrel-racing fun at a rodeo. She encounters an all-grown-up muscular and beautiful Travis, watching his five-year-old niece compete. When she is injured, he takes her to the hospital like the gentleman he is, and takes care of her afterwards. They are both equally aware of a strong attraction and a whole lot of like. Milburn’s opening was fairly strong. But there are complications to their paradise: Savannah discovers that she might have a life-threatening illness. This brings on a desire to discover family history, specifically, the reasons behind her mother’s disappearance. She hires Travis to find her. Travis, on the other hand, feels the first stirrings of desire and interest in a woman in a long time and pursues Savannah on many fun dates. He too is doubt- and guilt-ridden because he feels he’s betraying his deceased wife. He also doesn’t want to be with a woman that he’ll have to risk losing … again. Readers join Savannah and Travis on many fairs and rodeos and eat a lot of rodeo-type food. In the meanwhile, Savannah is anxious … occasionally … when she’s not scarfing corn dogs, or making love with Travis.

Milburn’s The Texan’s Cowgirl Bride suffers in the execution. Travis and Savannah never felt like real people to Miss Bates. The cardboard cut-out motivations and reactions felt requisite to the category rather than natural and real to the characters. For example, Savannah’s life-threatening illness is, at first, the focus of the narrative, but Savannah’s reactions are somewhat flat. Then, focus veers away from the illness and centres on Travis’s search for her mother and Savannah’s reasons for looking for her. Then, the narrative goes on a date: there are cotton candy cones and Ferris wheels and kisses on a porch. Miss Bates had little frown lines on her forehead. Surely, when faced with Savannah’s potential illness, it should be an all-consuming anxiety for her? No wait, there’s more: Travis’s doubts about being able to love again, the resurgence of information about his wife’s murder. No, wait, Savannah has yet another confrontation with her father. No wait, her sister shows up. (When Travis finally comes through for Savannah in the end, it’s after doing such an unforgivable thing that Miss Bates had trouble believing in his love for her.) The reason behind a potentially viable, but in-the-end, boring narrative was simple: a whole lot of declarative sentences, a whole lot of telling and very very little to show for it. Miss Bates did appreciate the realistic and interesting conclusion to Savannah’s search for her mother, but it wasn’t enough to save the narrative.

Trish Milburn’s The Texan’s Cowgirl Bride contained “rubs and disappointments everywhere,” Mansfield Park.

The Texan’s Cowgirl Bride has been available since July 1st, in e and paper, at the usual vendors.

Miss Bates is grateful to Harlequin for an e-ARC, via Netgalley, in expectation of a review.

Have you read any titles where the hero (or heroine, but the hero in particular) is, or has been ill? And why is that, that the ill hero is such a rarity? Maybe Miss Bates hasn’t read enough romance to be able to say so definitively? But can romance sustain a physically weak, sickened, or sickening hero? And if not, why not?

 

18 thoughts on “MINI-REVIEW: Trish Milburn’s THE TEXAN’S COWGIRL BRIDE

  1. ??? Regencies are loaded with wounded or sick heroes. Heyer shot her guys in Devil’s Cub, Sprig Muslin, The Talisman Ring and I dunnamany more. Even Charlbury caught the measles. Or was it mumps? Anyway, perhaps because the regency was an era of returning wounded military, it’s pretty common there.

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    • Exactly, Miss Bates has noted the returning wounded and Balogh has quite a few, her latest series being based on this. Certainly, USA’s and Canada’s actions in the Middle East has resulted in many wounded heroes returning either mentally or physically affected in contemporary romance. But, take Serena Bell’s Hold On Tight: the hero has had his leg amputated “above the knee” as he says, but he’s physically fit and does a triathlon at the end. He’s healthy, robust, and sexy.

      P.S. Miss Bates loved the sequences of the shot Dominic in Devil’s Cub, especially when Mary makes him the delicious gruel with he disdains at first, but then gobbles up. Loved that.

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  2. It sounds like you made a valiant effort to give this a fair review Miss Bates! I have an abiding prejudice against novels that confuse a plot device with a title; this would include anything that starts with “The Billionaire’s Adjective Noun” or “His Secretary’s Adjective Baby’ or in this case “The Texan’s…” Nonetheless, your point that an ailing hero adds interest is a good one, as it introduces complexity and strains in the relationship that are based on an altogether different emotional plane than “conflict” as we usually think of its role in a novel. It can offer bigger opportunities to explore how the people and the relationship grow – unless of course the distractions of the state fair take precedence : -) But, I’d be interested in hearing some time about what Miss Bates thinks of a romance that handles this theme better!

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    • You are oh-so-right: Miss Bates will try to seek out a romance, thanks to all the great recs here and on Twitter, to read and review! The illness does tap into all kinds of questions and insecurities, but it also can serve to intensify the pleasures. After all, we’re all living memento mori.

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      • Hmm, I love the way you end this with the reference to momento mori. It makes me think of all those 16th and 17th tombstones, reminding you that you’ll be joining them soon, Victorian art and jewelry made from the hair of loved ones who had died, etc. The romantic and popular literature of those days didn’t ignore this aspect of life in the way that ours does today – I guess it was just inconceivable to them. Our cultural denial of death, and fantasies of perfect health (and market for selling diets, supplements, exercise plans, etc. to “guarantee” same) are reflected here as well. It’s tempting to try to draw further conclusions about our fears, and related cultural and spiritual landscape but best to stop here! I’m fascinated by the idea of that early Harlequin. Must check that out!

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        • Miss Bates too thought Barb’s mention of Second Sight makes everyone who reads her comment want to read the romance novel. It is so very true about our culture: aging, failing, and death … we have good health care and live long lives, or most of us do, and we are completed divorced and sanitized of what is fundamental to us, the fact that we will die. Not that we should wallow in this reality, but if we avoid it, we’re only all the more frightened.

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  3. The first one that comes to mind is Flowers From The Storm by Laura Kinsale. Christian suffers a stroke and is put in an asylum. I loved everything about it – Maddy, Christian, their struggles with the aftermath of his stroke. It’s pretty darn close to a perfect romance novel for me. At the least I can say it’s one of my most re-read books.

    Another one is One Perfect Rose by Mary Jo Putney. Sometimes her books don’t work so well for me, but this one is really good. Stephen is a Duke who has been diagnosed with a terminal illness, and he decides to chuck everything – all his ducal responsibilities – and experience life, or what’s left of it, without the filter of staff, friends, or family. He becomes involved with a traveling theater group and even agrees to play a part in their production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I really felt his illness was handled pretty well, it certainly made for a certain poignancy in his relationship with Rosalind and added a touch of melancholy to everything he experiences on his journey. For me, the way Stephen acknowledges his mortality and how he deals with being dealt this hand is where One Perfect Rose succeeds very well. I know it had me sobbing a few times. If you haven’t read it you might like to give it a try.

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    • You are oh-so-right about Flowers From the Storm and it is such a masterful portrayal of Christian. (Miss Bates’d forgotten that one.) First, because Christian is such an arrogant ass to begin with, the epitome of ducal, really. Then, he is brought down so low and yet, he’s still physically powerful and his eyes sparkle with his own brand of amorality. Loved that about the book: Christian’s ambiguity.

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  4. I’ve read some with PTSD, but I can’t think of any who are physically ill. I think deeply ill heroes or heroines put the question of how long an “ever after” can last.

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    • PTSD is something that comes up a lot in contemporaries, as both our countries have had so many return from Iraq and Afghanistan hurt in this way. Miss Bates liked Rachel Gibson’s treatment of PTSD in Rescue Me.

      Miss Bates thinks that “deeply ill heroes and heroines” are problematic for the loves scenes as well, and in particular, for heroes, it brings their power and potency into question.

      Kathleen Eagle’s The Last Good Man is pretty brutally honest and raw about a heroine in the aftermath of breast cancer and reconstructive surgery and what it entails. Miss Bates thought that aspect of the novel so well done.

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    • In turn, Miss Bates still remembers and loves the sequence in The Flame and the Flower where Heather falls in on board ship and Brandon has to play “ministering angel”: redeemed him a tad for her.

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  5. Yes, Regency romances are full of heroes wounded during the Napoleonic war. Mary Jo Putney has one where the heroine marries the hero >because< he is supposed to be dying. The meat of the story is what happens with the couple when he doesn't die!

    However, there is one older Harlequin American romance which has stuck in my memory for all these years–'Second Sight' by Rebecca Flanders. I doubt this book would be published today by a mainstream romance house. The hero has terminal cancer (no miracle cure !) and the heroine has epilepsy. The love story is of two wounded souls finding love. The ending is, of necessity, a HFN. I wept buckets!!

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    • Of course, Putney’s The Would-Be Widower, which was re-issued as The Bargain, Miss Bates read that ages ago. You’re so good! She really liked the first half, but like the more recent Putney she reviewed, one of the “Lost Lords,” she thought it all went to hell in a hand-basket in the second half.

      Miss Bates thinks the Harlequin you describe sounds amazing and it is so sad but even more true that this book wouldn’t be published today. (It is available quite cheaply, used, on Amazon.)

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