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Mail-Order Bride
by Maureen McKade
(Avon, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-380-80285-6
****
Skimming the storyline of Maureen McKadeís Mail-Order Bride, youíd be sure youíve read this book before. An upright but impoverished young mail-order bride travels to a strange town to face her destiny, only to find that her intended has passed on. Left without options, she settles in to earn some money by taking care of the children of a certain handsome, widowed man whoís not interested in marrying again. Love blossoms, enough said.

Hereís the part where you may expect me to say that Mail-Order Bride surprises the reader with daring originality that makes a worn-out plot new again. But it doesnít. In fact, the storyline is about as generic as the title, but -- hereís the surprise -- originality isnít everything. In the right hands, you begin to feel that maybe thereís a reason some plots are tried and true, and Ms. McKadeís hands certainly fit the bill.

Kathleen Murphy is the requisite mail-order bride, and Trev Trevelyan (Iíve got to assume the first name is a nickname from the second, but I never saw a ďrealĒ first name mentioned) is the aforementioned handsome widower. He has two children -- one an infant son, the other a four-year-old daughter rendered mute by her grief over her motherís death. Could Kate be the woman to win the heart of a man soured on love by a bad first marriage? Can she find a way to be a mother to little Brynn and coax Annabel Lee to speak again? Well, take a wild guess.

But as I said, originality isnít everything, and the author manages to make these characters come gently to life. She rarely strikes a wrong note in Kate, who is burdened by her memories of a terrible childhood, yet faces her life with strength and cheer. Itís easy to like Kate, and easy to root for her happy ending.

And Trev is a worthy match for her. Heís a gentle father and a good, caring man, yet still appropriately proud and manly, and he and Kate are clearly right for each other. Thereís plenty of light teasing and flirtation between them, as well as slow sexual tension, and it all flows from page to page with perfectly natural ease. The clear mutual respect between them doesnít hurt, either, or the fact that they both know how to act like rational adults.

Adding interest to the story is the subplot involving Trevís job as a mine supervisor. Thereís simmering conflict between the hard-working miners and the fat-cat rich mine owner, and Trevís stuck squarely in the middle, constantly weighing his conscience against the job he has to do to ensure security for his children. Kate finds herself torn as well, sympathizing with the plight of the miners yet increasingly convinced of Trevís fairness and good intentions.

The mining subplot brings fresh conflict to the love story, too. The more Kate learns about the dangers of a minerís life, the more she becomes convinced she could never marry a man with such a precarious occupation. But Trev is a miner born and bred, so hers becomes a battle of head versus heart.

All in all, Mail-Order Bride is a gentle, enjoyable love story with all the right elements. If youíre just sick to death of mail-order bride stories, this might not be the book for you, but I think most readers will find that Ms. McKade makes a tried-and-true story feel like a reliable old friend youíre happy to meet again.

-- Ellen Hestand


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