When reading inspirational romances I often find myself facing a dilemma. On one hand, there are elements of the story that aren’t working for me, maybe getting on my nerves. On the other hand, there is such a good “message” behind the story that I feel like a total lumbering jackass for hating on it. Such is the case with Lacy Williams’ third release for Love Inspired Historical. Yeah, I had issues – but how can I hate on the theme behind the story?
Jesse Baker is fresh out of prison and wearing cowboy-style clothes that were left behind with a laundress in Boston. Even though Boston holds zero good memories, he came back because of a jail-cell death-bed promise to his cellmate. He finds himself needing to get to Chicago, but has no money to do it, which means that while this want-to-be-reformed confidence man wants to travel an honest path? Yeah, he’s broke, which means finding a rube.
Fate intervenes in the form of Erin O’Grady. Pampered daughter of a wealthy man, she’s so upset with her father that she borrowed a dress from a servant and is boarding the train to visit her brother in Wyoming. However, the dress is ill-fitting and she comes very close to missing her train – which she most certainly would have done had Jesse not intervened. Once on the train, a street urchin, Pete, insinuates himself into their group, and grateful for their aid, Erin buys their tickets. What follows is the band of misfits traveling together and Erin having no idea she’s fallen in with a ex-con and a pickpocket.
The author gives readers a hero with a very colorful past and in need of redemption. He’s a man who wants to do right, who wants to reform, but it’s hard to travel that path with no money, no resources, and your only skill-set being that of swindling folks away from their cash. Pickpocket Pete adds another layer, a young boy who grew up on the street and is looking for an angle the moment he gets on the train. It’s up to Jesse to keep an eye on him and hope the too-wise kid doesn’t blow his cover – especially since he’s really growing to like Erin.
Erin is, sadly, where the story stumbles for me. She’s so goody-goody! She’s one of those heroines who never has an unkind thought, who is perfect beyond measure, and makes the rest of us feel like shit-heels for being less than. She runs away from home because her father is manipulating her to keep her from visiting a hospital for sick children! I mean, how precious can you get? There are really no layers to her. She’s all good-good-good, which gets bothersome and boring after a while. Certainly once she learns the truth about Jesse and Pete her feelings do get bruised, but she never really quite loses her temper – which is disappointing.
However, there is such a great message behind the story that it’s hard to find too much fault with goody-goody Erin. That, as good Christians, it is valuable and more productive to live your life as an example. Jesse had a born-again cellmate in prison, a man who preached at him incessantly. This got old really quick, but when the man dies saving Jesse’s life, Jesse finds himself guilt-ridden and confused. In contrast, Erin is a faithful, devout person who doesn’t preach or badger. She simply lives her life. She “pays it forward” as it were. In a time in our world (especially in the US) where “devout” individuals espouse their beliefs while railroading over anything or anyone who doesn’t conform to their world-view? Yeah, someone like Erin living her life the way she does is a powerful message.
In the end I think if you are a fan of inspirational romances because you like the message, this is a really good read. As someone who may read inspirationals simply because of the “gentleness” of the stories and not so much for that message? This one is more problematic than Williams’ other stories, namely because Erin lacks dimension. Still, the story’s heart is in the right place, even if I do have to deduct points because of execution.
From the moment Jesse Baker collides with Erin O’Grady on a Boston train platform, he faces a dilemma. For once, Jesse doesn’t want to lie about who and what he is. Yet if she learns he’s a con artist, not a cowboy—and the urchin with him is certainly not his brother—she’ll never give him a chance.
Erin suspects there’s more to the enigmatic cowboy than meets the eye. But the sheltered socialite is certain his deep compassion is real. On the long Christmastime train ride to Wyoming, hearts and courage are tested and true motives revealed. And the journey that began in a charade may end with redemption—and a very real love.
Other books in this series: