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Wendy the Super Librarian‘s review of The Unlikely Wife by Debra Ullrick
Inspirational historical romance published by Love Inspired Historical 03 Jan 12

One of the reasons I like historical western romances is that I love heroines with a harder edge to them.  Granted, there were many civilized parts of the world that were unforgiving to women, but you had to be a tough cookie to survive in the American frontier. Being stupid wasn’t really conducive towards….oh, survival. Debra Ullrick’s latest inspirational romance features my kind of heroine, but sadly it fumbles on the execution.

Michael Bowen is a prosperous rancher in Idaho Territory and is ready to get married.  So he places an ad, and begins corresponding with Selina Bowen.  Her letters are magical, and she thinks pretty highly of him as well!  Before you can say Big Misunderstanding Ahoy these two get hitched, sight unseen, by proxy. Naturally Michael about swallows his tongue when his wife gets off the train looking like an outlaw – wearing trousers, a beat-up hat, and carrying a rifle(!) – instead of the genteel lady who wrote those letters.

Turns out that Selina cannot read or write, so her BFF wrote the letters for her. Selina told her what to say, but it turns out the BFF fudged with the truth just a wee bit.  Loathe to go back on the oath he took before God and his local preacher, Michael takes Selina home.  However, he’s torn by the fact that the woman he fell in love with doesn’t seem to exist.

Many a historical western has been written about a mail-order bride arrangement gone awry, and Ullrick’s spin on it is actually quite believable. Unfortunately, the bulk of the conflict for a very good portion of the early going seems to sit squarely on the fact that Selina wears…..pants! Seriously, the hero practically has a raging case of the vapors over it.  I get that a chick wearing pants would be rather unconventional, but the guy is living in Idaho Territory. You’re telling me there ain’t one unconventional chick within spitting distance of him? It’s also hard to be tolerant of his dislike for her wardrobe especially when his entire blessed family seems to love the girl, on sight. So exactly what is the problem? She’s resourceful and his family adores her.  Ooooooh, but she wears pants!  ::eyeroll::

Selina is a straight shooter, is shaped by a life lived in poverty, and is pretty unbending about changing herself for a man considering the types of relationships she witnessed back home.  The main issue here is dialect.  Yep, the author writes all of Selina’s dialogue in the vernacular.  I swear the word “iffen” is going to haunt me in my dreams.  There is a way to convey Selina’s background (poverty, lack of education) without having the reader slog through hillbilly dialogue that even the writers of Hee Haw would have axed from a script.

This book is marketed as an inspirational, and the God Stuff here is pretty heavy.  If you’re a reader who reads inspirationals because you want a Christian message?  Yeah, you’ll probably be right at home.  However, if you read inspirationals more because they are “clean” than any overt religious elements?  Be prepared for things like:

“The Lord wants His children to depend on Him, Michael.  You may not be able to love Selina on your own, but God can do it through Christ as you submit to Him.  Ask God to give you a deep, lasting love for your wife, Michael, and He will.”

Just what every girl wants to hear, I love you because I asked God to make me love you.  Who said romance was dead?

Despite my varied issues with this story, I still managed to inhale it in one day. It’s also hard to outright hate on a book when the main message of it (it’s OK to be different) is so genuine.  In other words, the story’s heart was in the right place.

Wendy TSLGrade: C


The arrival of Michael Bowen’s bride, married sight unseen by proxy, sends the rancher reeling. With her trousers, cowboy hat and rifle, she looks like a female outlaw—not the genteel lady he corresponded with for months. He’s been hoodwinked into marriage with the wrong woman!

Selina Farleigh Bowen loved Michael’s letters, even if she couldn’t read them herself. A friend read them to her, and wrote her replies—but apparently that “friend” left things out, like Michael’s dream of a wife who was nothing like her. Selina won’t change who she is, not even for the man she loves. Yet time might show Michael the true value of his unlikely wife.

Read an excerpt.

Other books in this series: