Title: Brazos Bride [Men of Stone Mountain 1]
Author: Caroline Clemmons
Genre: Historical, Romance, Suspense
Rating: 4 Stars (rounded up from a 3.7)
Description/Synopsis: Hope Montoya knows someone is poisoning her, but who? She suspects her mother was also poisoned and knows her father was murdered. Who wants her family eliminated? She vows to fight! She realizes she won’t last the eight months until she turns twenty-five and her uncle no longer controls her or her estate. Never will she be dominated by a man as she was by her father, as she has seen her mother and grandmothers dominated. If she marries, she gains control now, but only if she weds a man she can trust. Only one man meets her requirements. Can she trust him to protect her and capture the killer...but then to leave?
Micah Stone has been in love with Hope since the first time he saw her. But he was accused of her father’s murder and surely would have hung if not for his two brothers’ aid. Most in the community still believe him guilty. But the drought has him too worried about water for his dying cattle to care about his neighbors’ opinions. When Hope proposes a paper marriage in exchange for land on the Brazos River and much-needed cash, her offer rubs his pride raw. His name may be Stone, but he’s not made of it. He can’t refuse her for long, and so their adventure begins.
WARNING - SPOILERS MAY ENSUE BEYOND THIS POINT - REVIEW BELOW
I was lucky enough to get a chance to read three books of this series all in a row, and I have to say that out of the group, this one was my favorite. The story is a romantic, western, suspense story about Hope Montoya, a woman who's been poisoned, and fears for her life. In an attempt to escape the person who's trying to murder her, and may have already murdered her mother and father, she propositions a neighboring rancher (Micah Stone) into marrying her. Marriage signs over the entirety of her family's estate to herself - and is the only way she can think of to gain control of a situation that is quickly spiraling downward.
Now, I'm a huge romance fan and a mediocre suspense fan. It's not that I don't like mysteries, thrillers, or suspense novels, they just aren't my favorite genre's. However, I actually preferred the suspense portion of this book to the romance. It was fun trying to guess who was really poisoning Hope, and right up until the very end, I really didn't have a clue. It was a nice change of pace to go into a story where I couldn't guess the outcome. On the other side of the coin though, the romance was rather lack-luster. The kindest way to describe Micah Stone is "lost puppy syndrome". He was completely smitten by Hope, and had been for years when the story started- but that was all about her beauty. He wasn't in love with her for her personality, he hardly even knew her. I can understand someone being in lust with a beautiful woman... but to really truly love her without really knowing her? I found it hard to believe, and it made him come across as a bit of a weak character.
Hope, sadly, was also a weak character. She was literally too weak to take care of herself when the story started, which was understandable considering she'd been poisoned for months, but on top of that, her personality didn't balance out the weakness like I'd expected. She was your typical historical heroine that was doe-eyed and naive. Frankly, as a couple, Hope and Micah were meant for each other, in a sappy, almost too sweet to stand it sort of way.
So why did I give it four stars? Because other than the romantic bits, the writing was good. I felt engaged with the story. It read through quickly, and I didn't feel the need to skim or re-read passages. That's not to say that the writing didn't have its faults (I'll get to that), but it was clear and interesting, and those are qualities that I always look for in good books. The plot itself was also well done. I liked the mystery and murder, and I liked the concept of the two main characters joining in a marriage of convenience. These sorts of romances are usually highly entertaining - mostly because the characters usually don't want to be married, and this creates all kind of tension and conflict. At the core, this was a good book. I enjoyed reading it.
Unfortunately, for being categorized as a Romance above all else, the Romance fell flat. It was odd, but every time a romantic scene came up, the dialog suddenly became very forced and unnatural--it was almost comical. It felt as if the author was almost embarrassed to write the romantic bits. The story would go from strong, clear narrative to stiff and unnatural the moment the main characters started getting romantic. Here's an example for you:
"Are you sure? I want what we shared once before. I won't be able to hold you and not ask for more."
"I want more, too." She extinguished the lamp and slid her arms around his waist.
"I've needed you more than you can imagine. I can't rein in my desire much longer." He wrapped her in his embrace.
"Whatever control I had, it is gone." Hope pressed her face against his bare chest.
It doesn't sound natural. He says something, she mimics him. He says something else, she mimics him again. It's not romantic, and it's not convincing. This is the main reason I marked this down from 5 stars. Overall, I liked the story. I was entertained, and I enjoyed the characters as individuals. I'd recommend it to anyone looking for a light afternoon read and enjoys murder mysteries. I just don't know that I'd recommend it for the romance.