Lucky Stars by Patricia Roy
(Warner, $5.99, PG) ISBN 0-446-60504-2
****
I like marriage of convenience stories. I like westerns that offer a look at what life was really like on the frontier. I like gentle humor. I like feisty heroines. I love heroes who call their heroines "darlin." So there was a lot for me to like in Patricia Roy's first novel. Hence, I am recommending it but with the warning that it has a few of the faults that one might expect from a novice author. But I think such a promising debut deserves encouragement.

First, the problems. There is nothing major, but I did feel that Roy did too much "telling" rather than "showing." There are too many lengthy descriptive paragraphs that slow down the narrative. The ending seems a bit contrived, as if the author asked, "Now, how will I tie up all these loose ends?" And Roy's villain doesn't quite come off the way she wanted him to. But frankly, these are relatively minor matters that did not detract much from my enjoyment of Lucky Stars.

Lucky Stars begins with a prologue where we see the hero, Leon McCoy, standing outside his father's house, watching his father, stepmother and her children share the holiday spirit. Leon has never felt he belonged, as a series of "stepmothers" came and went in his home. (BTW, the numbers of "stepmothers" seemed a bit excessive and improbable; this little bit of Leon's personal history seemed overdone.)

Fourteen years later, in 1869, Leon rides into Hope Springs, Colorado, angry because a promised job has fallen through. He enters the local saloon for a drink and if possible, a night of "loving." There he sees a most improbable saloon girl. But, looking beyond the modest black dress, Leon sees an attractive figure of a woman. And when she smiles at him and invites him to dinner, he thinks that his luck has changed.

Marjorie Bascom has come to the Lucky Lady saloon in search of a husband. She wants to homestead 160 acres of land and has been told that a single woman can't file a claim. So Marjorie needs a husband, preferably one who will drift quickly out of her life. And she needs one fast, before someone else takes possession of the land that she wants.

After some nicely humorous confusion, Leon finally realizes what Marjorie wants. He's not having any, but needs must, and Marjorie finds a way to force him into wedding her. Before he knows what's happened, Leon finds himself married, on his way to Denver, and a homesteader. He also discovers that Marjorie wants him out of her life as soon as possible and wants to do nothing at all about the strong, sensual attraction between them.

But when suspicion of a murder falls on Leon, he can't leave town and so the two find themselves thrown together. And the marriage of convenience threatens to become something else.

The barriers that prevent each from trusting and loving each other are fully explained. Leon's childhood and experiences with another woman plus his fondness for a roaming life make him a poor candidate for settling down. Marjorie watched her beloved mother suffer from her feckless father's unsettled ways. Her sister's husband abandoned his wife in pursuit of some foolish dream. And her aunt has likewise followed her husband from pillar to post.

As far as Marjorie is concerned, men are unreliable at best and she believes she will be far happier depending solely on herself. Both Leon and Marjorie must come to recognize that finding true love is worth taking a chance on trusting each other.

The strength of Lucky Stars is the characters. Roy shows a real talent for creating believable and likable men, women and children. Their hopes, fears and dreams were what kept me reading the book and why I am recommending it to others who like character-driven stories. This is not a book without flaws, but it is a most promising beginning to what I believe will be a long and rewarding writing career for Patricia Roy.

--Jean Mason


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