Prickly Pear by Ronda Thompson
(Leisure, $4.99, PG) ISBN 0-8439-4624-5
I had a difficult time raising the appropriate level of enthusiasm to force myself to sit down and write a review for this book. It is the holiday season and distractions abound, but that's really just an excuse. There's nothing overwhelmingly bad about Prickly Pear (except perhaps the title), but neither is there anything outstanding about this book.

The setting is a small town on the Texas panhandle in 1883. Wade Langtry has just arrived in town and stops into the local saloon/whorehouse for a drink. He breaks up a fight instigated by a young man who has been caught cheating at cards. It doesn't take Wade long to discover the young man is really Camile Cordell, a beautiful tomboy with the nickname of Prickly Pear.

Camile often disguises herself as a boy so she can join the other hands from her father's ranch when they head into town to drink and gamble. She is determined to prove herself just one of the boys, that way she'll be immediately accepted once she becomes ranch foreman.

Unfortunately, Wade beats her to the punch by being hired on by her father as the new foreman. After Cam pitches a rip-roaring fit when she learns she's lost the position to this somewhat intriguing outsider, her father agrees to a competition between the two.

They each have one month to prove who is better qualified to run the ranch. If Cam wins, she'll become the new ranch foreman. But should she lose, she must remove the buckskins and wear a dress. Even worse, she must agree to find herself a husband. The scene is now set for numerous confrontations between the two.

I can't help thinking I've read similar plot lines a dozen times before and there is nothing exceptional in this one to make it stand out from the rest. The lead characters have both been traumatized by past experiences. Wade's horrendous childhood did tug at my heartstrings, but Cam's behavior was impossible to excuse. She is described as impetuous, but she really personified the “too stupid to live” heroine. Her rash behavior repeatedly lands her in dangerous situations, and Wade must ride in and save the day. Why Cam thinks she's capable of running an entire cattle ranch, when she can barely get out of her own way, was totally beyond me.

The story is somewhat redeemed by an action packed final quarter that did grab my attention and one scene had me laughing out loud (and that's no easy task). But it was a case of too little, too late. Prickly Pear, with its stereotypical plot and annoying heroine, is not a book I can unreservedly recommend.

--Karen Lynch

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