Ride the Wind

Tykota's Woman

Heart of Texas
by Constance O’Banyon
(Leisure, $6.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-8439-5365-9
One thought kept running through my mind as I was reading this latest western by O’Banyon – old fashioned. While that’s not necessarily a bad thing, it gets to be a real issue towards the latter half of the book.

Casey Hamilton is between a rock and a hard place. The Civil War robbed them of their livelihood in Virginia, so her father decides to move the family to Texas. Casey’s deceased uncle bequeathed his ranch to the family, and it’s the only promise of a home they now have. But then her father dies on the trail, leaving 18-year-old Casey to raise her younger brother and sister. Seeing no other option, she makes the decision to continue on to Texas.

What awaits her is more hardship. Her uncle’s ranch has been vacant for close to 2 years, and along with the chickens living in the house, the place is a mess. There’s also the neighboring rancher, an evil man who will stop at nothing to claim her family’s land for himself.

A brief ray of hope arrives in the form of a mysterious stranger, a man simply called Gabe. He agrees to work for Casey and help her thwart the evil doings of her dastardly neighbor. But our hero has a Big Secret of his own, and what will happen when the woman he has grown to love finds out who he really is?

While the plot reads like a paint-by-numbers western, O’Banyon really outdoes herself with Casey. While she is young, this is a girl with grit. Sure she may be shaking in her shoes, but she’s got enough backbone to stand up to anyone who threatens the promise of a new life for her family. Her younger brother, Sam, is also a well-drawn character – a young 13-year-old boy who is now the man of the house.

Unfortunately it all starts to slide downhill around the halfway mark. Casey’s character morphs into a too-stupid-to-live damsel in distress, which is a slap in the reader’s face given the fact that she was strong and self-reliant in the beginning. For instance, after being threatened by bad guys twice, Gabe hires a ranch hand to protect her. So what does this self-reliant woman decide to do? Slip past her protector and go horseback riding! Why? No good reason – she just missed riding!

Our heroine continues to morph into someone unrecognizable when she learns Gabe’s Big Secret. She immediately jumps to conclusions, and conveniently forgets a veiled conversation she shared with him about a tragic incident. It’s really flippin’ obvious that Gabe is talking about himself, but Casey can’t decipher what is right in front of her face.

Then there are the love scenes which are a smidge above laughable. O’Banyon seems fond of dialogue during these scenes, which is fine, but the stuff coming out her characters’ mouths is worthy of eye rolling. Gabe starts spouting flowery statements that I’m convinced no man (anywhere) would ever say.

When it comes right down to it, Heart of Texas reads like a 1980s western romance without all of the offensive chest-thumping and bodice-ripping. Sweet, innocent virgin who wants to protect her family – check. Strong, silent, wounded hero hiding a Big Secret – check. Evil, evil, evil villain who will stop at nothing to get heroine’s land – check. A thwarted rape attempt of the heroine – check. Good, good, good, Indians protecting the heroine because of their connection to the hero – check. Flowery love scenes that sprout up at inappropriate times – check.

However, all of this is faint criticism as I plowed through this book in less than 24 hours (something I do not do). While Heart of Texas will certainly not win any prizes for being innovative or terribly exciting, I found it’s paint-by-numbers plot largely enjoyable and very readable. O’Banyon’s writing style is clean and fast, and for the most part I enjoyed her characters, despite their clichés. It’s just unfortunate that the strong, self-reliant heroine in the beginning 185 pages turns into a total nitwit.

--Wendy Crutcher

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