Call of Duty

The Colonel's Daughter

The Harder They Fall

The Horse Soldier

Hot as Ice

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Return to Sender

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The Tiger's Bride

Undercover Groom

The Captainís Woman
by Merline Lovelace
(Mira, $6.50, PG-13) ISBN 1-55166-649-9
I just wish Merline Lovelace had made her heroine a year or two older. Had this been the case, I would not have had to ponder whether or not to recommend The Captainís Woman. But after much thought, I decided to go with the coveted four-heart rating. I did read the book through in more or less one sitting and this is my ultimate criteria for recommending a book.

The too-young heroine is Victoria Parker, the daughter of a newspaper publisher in Cheyenne, Wyoming. As the story begins, Victoria is a few months past her seventeenth birthday. Despite her youth, she is already an experienced newspaper writer, even if most of her stories have to do with the the social goings-on of her hometown. Victoria has set her heart on Captain Sam Garrett, late of the U.S. cavalry. Sam, a West Point graduate, had resigned his commission and returned to Cheyenne when his father suffered a serious accident.

Unaware of Victoriaís feelings, Sam sees her simply as his nieceís pretty friend until she manages to steal a kiss. His own surprising response to the embrace leaves him shaken; after all, he has long admired another woman, the widow of the doctor who had trained her in medicine. But Mary Two Feathers Pendergrast had apparently buried her heart with her husband. Hence, when circumstances force Sam and Victoria into a compromising position, Sam is quite happy to announce to the world that they are betrothed.

The romance of Victoria and Sam is played out against the growing antagonism between the United States and Spain. Indeed, the night of that first kiss is also the night that news of the sinking of the Maine becomes known. As the story progresses, we learn about the American reaction to this event, observe the growing war fever, watch the volunteers flock to the colors and discover how an unprepared country heads off to war.

Sam is torn as war approaches. He had resigned his commission to help his family but cannot help but feel that his country needs his services. His father, understanding Samís feelings, arranges for him to become regimental supply officer for the First Volunteer Cavalry regiment, soon to become renowned as the Rough Riders. So Victoria must watch her fiancť march off to war.

But Victoria is a determined young lady. She convinces her father to send her to Tampa to write about the troops as they prepare to embark for Cuba. She also talks her way onto the Red Cross ship that carries Clara Barton had her devoted nurses to the battlefield. And she wins her stripes as a journalist covering the war, but also the brave women who care for the wounded and sick American soldiers.

The romance between Victoria and Sam is enjoyable. Because of the circumstances that led to their engagement, they had never confessed how they felt about each other. Victoria loved Sam but she believes that he really doesnít love her. Sam knows he is attracted to his fiancťe, but she isnít exactly his idea of the perfect wife - too stubborn and strong-willed. So they have to work out their relationship against the backdrop of war.

What made this book so fascinating to me and kept me turning the pages was not the love story - however well done it may be. Rather, it was Lovelaceís marvelous depiction of the historical background to the romance. I have always enjoyed learning history painlessly. In the pages of The Captainís Woman I learned a great deal about the Spanish American War. I learned about the conditions that the American troops faced. I met Teddy Roosevelt and Clara Barton and got to know them better. I learned what it was really like when the Rough Riders charged up San Juan Hill. I met the journalists who covered the war. I came to appreciate the valor of the nurses who tended the troops at grave risk to their own health.

It takes an immensely talented and knowledgeable author to combine an enjoyable romance with fast paced action and an accurate recreation of the realities of war into a compelling tale. Lovelace does this as well or better than any other contemporary romance writer. Hence, I was able to forget the implausibility of an eighteen year old woman becoming a war correspondent in 1898 and simply immersed myself in the story.

Readers like me who want the history in historical romances to be more than mere wallpaper may well enjoy The Captainís Woman as much as I did.

--Jean Mason

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