Storming Paradise by Mary McBride
(Harl. Historical #424, $4.99, PG) ISBN 0-373-29024-1
****
Let's talk plain here. I really liked this book because I had the hots for the hero. That fact surprised me. I thought, oh merde, if I have to read about one more sulky half-breed I'll just spit. Surprise! Half-breed, yes, sulky, no. This guy was just plain cool. Not "cool" as in "Hey it's the Fonz." But cool in the, "It's eleven o'clock," girls in the office, Diet Coke commercial. You remember that ad don't you? Lucky Vanos sweating on a construction site? Well, that's what the hero in this book did to me.

Let's face it. You read enough romances and somewhere along the way you realize that the heroes are all starting to blend into one another. It's that whole Alpha, Beta, Zeta, Gamma male thing. They're charming rakes, misunderstood loners, cynical scions or any combination thereof. Not that there is anything wrong with that. There's a definite cozy security that comes from being able to pick your hero and know exactly what to expect from him. But some authors stick so closely to those predefined pigeonholes that the hero (and this goes for the heroine as well) loses all sense of individuality. And it isn't until you start reading about someone who breaks from the mold that you realize what you've been missing.

Don't misunderstand me, Shadrach Jones (admittedly, an awful name), the hero in Mary McBride's entertaining new tale Storming Paradise isn't some sort of new western hero for the ages. He's just a satisfying combination of everything I've ever found attractive in my heroes. He's sexy, funny, intelligent, and a straight talker. The plot never gets away from him by that I mean that his mere presence in the proceedings keeps the story from becoming too unrealistic or unmanageable. Jump up and down and scream and yell because the heroine has pissed you off. Oh no. Shad would never do that. Form quick ridiculous opinions about people based on circumstantial evidence? Please! Not my Shad.

Oh, sorry. There are other people in this story.

Libby Kingsland and her incredibly self-centered sister Shula are about to be tossed out of their St. Louis home when they receive a summons from the father they haven't seen in fifteen years. "Dear Daughters, I'm dying. I want you to come to Texas." Shula sees dollar signs and a way to escape the bill collectors. Libby sees Paradise, the family ranch she never wanted to leave as the safest place to hide the abused little girl she's taken under her wing. The sisters get to Paradise and Papa promptly dies. In his will he decrees that the ranch and all of its holdings will go to his long time nemesis next door unless one of his daughters marries Shad Jones, the ranch foreman.

Right off the bat we know that Shad wouldn't go near Shula with a ten-foot pole. But that Miss Libby? Hhmm? A little mousy maybe, but a real lady. And that's the problem for Shad. A previous run in with a "lady" has left him with nothing but twenty years of nightmares and a firm desire to remove himself from their company. But if he has to choose between "the raspberry tart and the oatmeal cookie," then nature has a hand in the choosing. Because for all her insistence that she will never marry, Libby lights up like a firecracker whenever Shad is near. Indeed, Storming Paradise fairly crackles with the sexual tension that builds between Shad and the spinster.

Those magic moments, and there are plenty of them, make up for the book's one major misstep Shula. This chick is so brazenly bratty and self-centered that it nearly drove me to distraction. The fact that Libby acts the martyr and puts up with her nonsense made me want to climb into the pages and bang a couple of heads together. Written as an otherwise sensible woman, Libby's complacent acceptance of Shula's bad behavior simply doesn't make sense. But, happily, Shula's antics take a backseat to my hero Shad and his quiet but deadly eroticism. Yes, "my" Shad. Halfway through the book he dumped Miss Libby for me. I wish.

So Storming Paradise may not be the perfect romance. It doesn't rewrite the male hero for the millennium. It doesn't even give us a particularly memorable heroine. But it does entertain mightily, and that is something that many romances fail to do these days. They take themselves too seriously. But author Mary McBride has a style that easily moves between humor, passion, and private thoughts. Her story flows easily on the strength of realistic dialogue that never reads as forced, and an enviable talent for timing. And she sets a magical mood for love scenes that send tingles down the back.

As for Shad and me? Well we'll always have Paradise.

--Ann McGuire


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