A Cajun Dream by Cherie Claire
(Zebra, $4.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-8217-6252-4
Cherie Claire makes an interesting debut with her first historical romance, A Cajun Dream. Drawing on her own roots, she has crafted a novel set in the Louisiana bayou country with a genteel heroine and a rather dashing Cajun hero.

Amanda Rose Richardson is chafing at the restrictions set upon her by her repressive and overbearing father. At the age of 21 she is not only unwed and uncourted, she's never even been kissed. The highlight of her life is a series of not-so-chance daily encounters with Rene Comeaux, a handsome Cajun racetrack owner who is just as smitten with her. But her father has forbidden Amanda to associate with Rene, or any Cajun for that matter. Or any other man. No man is good enough for Amanda.

Amanda decides she's had enough. If she's doomed to die an old maid, she at least wants one slightly romantic encounter to remember, and to that end, she arranges a secret meeting with local ladies' man Henry Tanner, her father's overseer. Henry has other plans. His efforts to compromise Amanda and force her to marry him are thwarted when she escapes and Rene finds her. To protect her reputation (or so he tells himself), Rene proposes to Amanda, and to their mutual astonishment, she accepts. They are married that night.

But Judge Richardson won't let things rest. His hatred of all things French, borne out of a broken heart when Amanda's French mother left them, pushes him to try and drive the couple apart. Soon Amanda is wondering why Rene really married her, and Rene is wondering the same thing about Amanda. And Henry Tanner has a few more dastardly deeds up his sleeve.

Rene was a fine hero. His pride in his Acadian heritage and his large and loving family are evident in his self-confidence except when it comes to his marriage to Amanda, and then his vulnerability shows through. Amanda at first comes across as a bit of a patsy, and this reader wished she had found the gumption to stand up to her father sooner than she did, but eventually she came around.

The character of Judge Richardson was more problematic. He's initially one-dimensional, blustering and pounding his fist and generally acting like a tinpot dictator. When a secondary romance is introduced involving the Judge and his housekeeper, it's difficult to believe in because the reader has been shown no redeeming qualities. I had to wonder what on earth the woman saw in him.

The prose tended toward over-description at times, with too many adverbs. The word "passionately" cropped up more than necessary. Rene doesn't just kiss Amanda's hand, for example, he passionately kisses Amanda's hand, and stuff like that can cause the old eyeballs to start rolling in a hurry. In this case, less would have been more, and more effective, too. I sense that Ms Claire has the talent to make her point without an abundance of adverbs to describe it.

But if you're looking for a trip down south to the bayou country, A Cajun Dream is a very acceptable medium for travel, and a solid first effort to boot.

--Cathy Sova

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