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{Review} Cinders’ Bride by Kathleen Ball

Cinders' Bride (Mail Order Brides of Texas Book 1) - Kathleen Ball

Seeking to better her lot in life, Shannon responds to an advertisement for a mail order bride and soon finds herself on the train to Texas. Expecting to marry a rancher, she’s horrified to learn that her intended is a depraved brothel owner. Refusing his offer of marriage seems like the only safe option, but he doesn’t take her rejection well, pulling a knife and leaving her bleeding in the street. But before he can make good on his vile promises, a handsome cowboy steps in…

But... As much as I enjoyed the story, there were a few not so great things that jumped out at me. First, there’s that apostrophe issue in the title, though that’s probably the fault of middle school English teachers. I suppose it would be difficult to get students to understand punctuation that has become a permanent replacement for letters no longer used in our language, but they’re just perpetuating mistakes like this one. The thing that nearly ran me off, though, was the synopsis. Instead of piquing interest, it reads like the author (or whoever put it together) is trying to condense the whole story into a couple of paragraphs, much like my niece does when she’s rambling about a movie she saw. It doesn’t reflect the story quality at all, and you have no idea how badly I want to rewrite it. As for the story itself, it felt like there were some loose ends when all was said and done. Did Hardy ever face any consequences for his ongoing deceit? Did the townspeople ever truly get past their misconceptions? It felt like everything on the ranch was resolved, while things outside their property were left completely up in the air. But perhaps those ropes will be tied off in the coming books.

(E.T.A. - As it turns out, the author was following the advice of a style guide that discards certain punctuation requirements and suggests that they are a matter of personal preference, so middle school English teachers are off the hook. That style guide, however, should be burned.)

Judging Covers: It was actually the cover that drew me in. I’m a glutton for romances, especially anything with a cowboy/western theme, and huge bonus points if it’s historical. But most of my searches for new reads in this particular genre come up empty, primarily because so many of the covers are just awful. As much as I know it’s what’s on the pages that really counts, it’s hard to get me to take a closer look when what’s on front is a weird paste job with modern hairstyles and bad fonts. The cover for Cinders’ Bride is truly one of the best I’ve come across in a while — a great modern layout for a story from another time.

The Verdict: I think Cinders’ Bride has ruined me for a while. It’s been a long time since I found a historical western romance that I enjoyed this much, and as much as I want to tell everyone how great it is, I’m also itching to find more great reads in this genre now!

Shannon’s life has been one long struggle, but it wasn’t without its bright moments. Raised by parents who taught her the value of hard work, she’s been making her way on her own in the city, working in a factory since they passed away. But the big city is no place for a young woman on her own, so she responds to an advertisement by a man seeking a bride. But her dreams of making a family out West are dashed when she arrives in Texas to discover that her would-be husband is not the man he pretended to be. Faced with a saloon and brothel owner instead of the rancher she came to meet, she refuses marriage, only to be viciously attacked, with no way back home and no one to turn to for help.

Cinders never planned on marrying again, not after losing his first wife in childbirth. But when he sees a scared and bleeding woman in town, he feels compelled to step up and help her. Knowing that taking a single woman to stay at his ranch would incite cruel gossip and ruin her in the eyes of the town, he pays off her travel expenses, offers marriage, and soon returns to his ranch with his new, unexpected bride.

Their relationship starts out much like you’d expect. With a marriage in name only, Cinders goes about running his ranch as usual, and Shannon is determined to earn her keep and pay her debt. Cinders hardly seems affected by the change, save for having to share the one bed in the house. Shannon, however, feels like a burden, and her confidence is further lowered by the scar she’s sure to have once her stitches are healed. Any chance at a real marriage is complicated by Cinders’s fear of losing another wife and Shannon’s insecurity about her appearance and place in his life.

For all her meek ways, though, Shannon’s got a silently strong side. She demands nothing, is considerate of everyone around her, and soon wins over not just the hardened cook at the ranch but Cinders himself. She also knows what people think of her, that the man who falsely advertised for a bride has lied about her to everyone in town, and that even Cinders assumes her background includes work in a brothel. At first, I really wanted her to stand up for herself, to insist that everyone know the truth and see with clarity that she was decent and virtuous, but then it dawned on me that it wouldn’t have really fit her character. She’s more the type to prove her goodness through deeds than words.

As hoped, Cinders begins to have feelings for Shannon, though it pains him to think about putting his heart on the line again. And with the lack of any real communication between these two, forging ahead with a true marriage isn’t something easily done. But danger, judgement, and a cattle drive all lead to some chivalrous and romantic moments that combine their fates. It all adds up to an incredibly romantic story, pretty true to the time period, and perfect for readers who like to revisit times past.

Cinders’ Bride is everything I look for in a historical western romance, with classic characters who somehow defy cliches, a surprisingly complex plot, and a truly sweet love story. My only real disappointment is that I have to find something else to read until the next book in the series is released.


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