Matthew
by Emma Lang
(Brava, $14.00, PG-13) ISBN 978-0-7582-6904-1
***
Matthew is the first installment in Emma Lang's The Circle Eight series, and it's a good start.

In the Republic of Texas in 1836, Matthew Graham's parents are murdered and his youngest brother Benjamin has disappeared. Matthew and his six younger siblings had gone to town one March day, and returned to find their parents' bodies and five year old Ben missing.

Now, Matthew is saddled with the ranch, as well as the care of his younger siblings while they wonder about their parent murder and the whereabouts of their youngest brother.

Due to a convoluted series of events, Matthew must marry a woman named Hannah to secure more land for his family's farm. He goes into town one day and finds a plain spinster named Hannah who helps her Grandma run the local boardinghouse. He's impressed by her lovely voice, that she can cook well, and the zap of electricity that passes between them at the most casual touch. He immediately proposes, telling Hannah the truth about his need for the land.

Hannah's not so impressed by his marriage proposal, but for her own set of reasons she agrees to his proposal and marries him. She and her Grandma move to the Graham ranch.

With a loveless proposal, a house full of bickering children of various ages, and the shadow of a murder/kidnapping hanging over them, Hannah and Matt's marriage seems doomed from the start. Luckily, a seed of affection and trust begins to grow, until the past comes back to haunt them.

Matthew is a good read. Emma Lang paints a lovely portrait of farm life in 1836, vividly inviting the reader to immerse themselves in the time with the Graham family.

Our heroine Hannah is wonderfully believable as a yearning spinster just coming into her own. Sometimes, it's easy to be annoyed with her lack of confidence but as we watch her grow and become braver and stronger, it's just as easy to cheer her on. She's endearing in a way that makes you forget her faults.

Matthew is similarly portrayed, he has many good qualities: he's devoted, loving, strong, handsome. His bossiness and self containment at all costs do tend to wear on the reader, however. It's hard to imagine him abandoning himself to any one at any time but somehow he manages to become easier to like as the pages turn.

The Graham clan are great background characters, they have all personalities in their brood which keeps the tale moving, always.

I found the beginning of Matthew and Hannah's relationship implausible due to the ridiculous circumstances than Lang placed them in; if you can force yourself past that you will enjoy their married courtship and mutual discovery. The end of the story was chopped, obviously waiting for the next installment of the Circle Eight to be released. The solid middle of the story was great, easy to read and amusing.

If you can get through the beginning, love the middle and suspend disbelief at the end, you will enjoy Matthew.

--Amy Wroblewsky


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