Title: High Stakes Bride [Men of Stone Mountain 2]
Author: Caroline Clemmons
Genre: Historical, Western, Romance
Rating: 3 Stars
Description/Synopsis: Mary Alice Price is on the run from dangerous men. She had known that when her stepfather died, she would have to hurriedly escape her stepbrothers. Hadn’t she heard them promise her to the meanest man in Texas as payment for high stakes gambling losses?
One misfortune after another devils her until she links up with Zach Stone. He looks sturdy as his last name and invites her to his ranch where his two aunts will chaperone them. She figures life finally dealt her a winning hand.
Zach Stone has the sweetest ranch in all of Texas, at least he thinks he does. All he needs is a wife to build his family of boys and girls to carry on his ranch and name. He’s been jilted and vows he will never even speak to a woman again unless she's a relative.
Then he comes across Alice Price and comes up with a crazy plan. He’s figured everything out, and is sure nothing can go wrong with his plan.
But life holds many surprises for Alice and Zach...
WARNING - SPOILERS MAY ENSUE BEYOND THIS POINT - REVIEW BELOW
First off, let's start with the cover: It's not that the cover was bad--considering the multitude of really awful covers I've seen on self-published book this past year, this one was actually decent (other than the huge amount of text)... that is until I got to the back cover. Someone had the ingenious idea to copy and paste completely unrelated photos of a model and a little boy dressed up in a cowboy costume, and his little dog. I know that as a writer, we all need our little "headshots" of models to use as reference for our characters. I love the practice, but it'd be nice if those random photos weren't used in lieu of an actually planned cover. It came across as cheap and home-made. I would have preferred a blank back cover with only a synopsis to what amounted to clipart.
As for the story...it was a mixed bag--and don't get me wrong, this isn't a bad book. Like the previous of the series that I read, the writing was clear, fast-flowing, and engaging. Unfortunately, it was also convenient.
Things just seemed too easy for the characters, and it lacked a lot of the tension that I loved about the first book in the series. Here's this man who need a bride, and poof! There's one available (though the author did try to make it seem as if the main male lead wasn't ever going to consider her). He wants a family? Poof! There was a orphaned boy who needs a home and just happened to be living on his property.
Do you see where I'm going with this? The characters didn't seem to have to work hard to get to any of the main points of the story. Things just fell into place around them, and while that was cute and endearing at times, it lacked the active punch and draw of having struggled to get those things. Also, the use of the term "forever home" really irritated me. It's a very modern, fluffy way of saying "permanent home" that I'm 100% sure wasn't used in historical times. To hear the characters use it... well, it stuck out as sloppy. If you're going to write a historical story, I honestly believe the lingo of the day and age (however non-politically correct we find it now) should be used. It adds a level of depth to the storytelling that is sorely needed in this type of book and was absent in this one.
The romance, at least, was much better in this book, I felt than the previous book. There was a definite attraction to the main characters, and it was fun watching them struggle to fit together despite their circumstances. In the end, was it my favorite western historical romance? Not by a long shot, but it was a good one, and I'd still recommend it to anyone looking for a light afternoon read with loveable characters.