Miss 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?