A Bargain Struck by Liz Harris
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I have to be honest - when I read the blurb for this new Choc-lit title by Liz Harris - author of the outstanding romance The Road Back I hummed and ahhed, wondering why, when choc-lit's romances are usually so innovative and inventive, they'd bring out a book in the UK on a theme which could be described as done to death (and often quite badly by the often slightly tacky American romance houses) but I worried needlessly, from the first few pages it becomes obvious that the talent of this author and the quirkiness of this particular story lift it acres above the mass paperback market this kind of story is often aimed at.
OK I'd better tell you a bit about it hadn't I? Set in the American West in the late 19th century when women had few options apart from staying with and caring for families, often treated little better than a slave, or marriage, also frequently not a bed of roses. Take a woman, Ellen, recently widowed and not considering herself in a position to be in any way picky, with no caring family and no home or even a job to fall back on and those limited choices become almost non existent, so when she reads an advert from a widowed homesteader, writes to him and gets accepted by him as a potential bride, we can forgive her for being somewhat reticent to reveal in advance her shortcomings.
Stepping off the train in Wyoming she is relieved that her "mail order" husband Connor, is prepared to overlook her flaws and go ahead with this unconventional pairing and even seems kindly and easy on the eye. Thus she finds herself quickly Mrs Maguire, wife in name and in bed to a man keen to father a son and in need of a hard working woman to keep house and care for his truculent and reluctant 8 year old daughter Bridget who finds it impossible to accept this newcomer, seemingly intent on replacing her late mother whom she still misses so much its turned her into a bitter and angry young woman..
Ellen throws herself into her new life, grateful for his willingness to marry her and provide her with a home.
We are drawn into the life on a homestead and in a small Wyoming town, keen to see whether their bargain will last and if they will manage to weather the inevitable storms. Ellen faces feelings of envy towards the fashionable and beautiful Oonagh whom she believes Connor should have married, and when Oonagh extends a hand of friendship to Ellen she is happy to comply, not having many friends she can talk to. When Connors estranged brother arrives on the scene this causes further friction in the household.
I felt as though I was living there with them as a fly on the wall, its so very descriptive and it really brought home how limited choices were, especially for women and how prejudice was rife and if you were the brunt of peoples scorn or criticism it was just easier to put up with it rather than fight back and risk an already tenuous position.
My only criticism is that I found it a little hard to accept the young Bridgets appalling behaviour towards her new step mum would be tolerated for so long but otherwise its an absorbing and enjoyable historical romance which will carry you away to an unfamiliar place and time whilst entertaining you and keeping you wanting to know what happens to Ellen, Connor and Bridget.
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