Why I read it: I really like Jo Goodman's books - I bought this one shortly after it came out but for some reason, it languished on my TBR until recently. Marry Me, Reidsville #2 is just out and it's winging its way to me as I write. I thought I'd better read book 1 first. The only other Jo Goodman books I've read have been mainly set in England and I haven't read a lot of historical Westerns so that's maybe why it took me so long.
What it's about: The book starts off with a mysterious prologue told from a mystery male's point of view, then flashes forward some 18 months to where Rachel Bailey is living alone in Reidsville, Colorado and working as a seamstress. She is beautiful and the town's gentlemen are quite taken with her but she keeps pretty much to herself, rarely inviting anyone into her house and not making much by way of small talk. The local sheriff is Wyatt Cooper. He signed a contract some years before agreeing to marry Rachel on the death of one Clinton Maddox, rich railway owner. (Clearly Clinton is someone from Rachel's past but just who he was to her isn't clear at the beginning.) Rachel of course doesn't know anything about this contract. Cue sparks. Rachel [reluctantly] agrees to marriage - but in name only - no funny stuff. Cue more sparks. Reidsville sits at the end of a rail spur and has a gold/silver mine which is very prosperous but the town keeps it fairly secret, managing the sale of bullion in small regular amounts so that no-one gets suspicious. Turns out, Clinton (and now , via a bequest, Rachel), Wyatt and the town are each 1/3 owners of the mine. The rail spur (which Rachel will inherit if she agrees to marry Wyatt) is the only way for goods (including bullion) in/out of Reidsville. If the evil Foster Maddox (grandson of Clinton) inherits the spur, he will probably close it down which will kill the town. If he finds out how prosperous the mine is, there is a risk to Rachel and her inheritance.
What worked for me: It's been quite a while since I've read a Jo Goodman book, but I have participated in various blog threads about her books. There seems to be a commonly held view that her books are serious, slow and character-driven. I've never found her books particularly slow (although I'm apparently in the minority). Certainly her villains are usually pretty dark and some of the topics covered are very serious. She is also certainly a writer who is heavily character-driven. That's good. I like. It may be that I'm mis-remembering but I think this book had more "lightness" to it than others. There seemed to me to be more snappy banter and humour in the book than I remember being in others (but truthfully, it might just be that I've been influenced by semi-recent blog discussions and have forgotten the actual content and what I thought of it at the time). In any event, this one does have a delightful humour to it. The inhabitants of Reidsville are nicely drawn without becoming caricatures and well enough developed to give flavour to the story without overtaking it. I loved the story of how "that no account Beatty boy" got his name - what a hoot! But, it is the banter between Rachel and Wyatt in particular that I enjoyed. From the first they strike sparks off one another. However, Rachel is desperately trying to maintain her status quo and doesn't much appreciate Wyatt's intrusion into her life. I liked Wyatt - not only gorgeous, he is cheeky and sneaky (in the best possible way) and clever and witty and hard to offend - which is just as well because Rachel is defensive (for good reason), acerbic, secretive and prickly (he calls her a "hedgehog"). Wyatt has a lot of work to do to get under Rachel's defenses to the real, vulnerable and lovely woman underneath. What is especially nice is that he never doubts that she is there and what made me smile is that he never doubted he'd get to her.
The interplay between the two is funny, quick and clever and shows the reader very clearly the attraction and humour of the two characters. Like this where Rachel says to Wyatt:
"You shouldn't sneak up on people."
"I didn't know I was. I thought I heard you tell me to come in."
"Now, that's just a lie, plain and simple."
"Oh, he doesn't lie, Miss Bailey. He's the sheriff." [Molly, part time domestic]
Wyatt nodded once at Molly. "Thank you for that stout defense." He then regarded Rachel with a slip of a smile. "See? I don't lie. I'm the sheriff."
"I thought you were going to stab me with those shears" he said conversationally.
Rachel didn't look up from cutting. "I thought I was, too. What's the penalty for killing a lawman?"
"Hanging, most likely. Of course, if there're mitigating circumstances - "
"Oh, there are, since you sneaked up on me."
"A jury would have to decide that, but let's say they're sympathetic to the defense's explanation., then you might only have to spend the rest of your days in jail. Folks around here are partial to me, so I think you'd hang."
"I'll try to keep that in mind."
Much of the book is the two characters getting to know each other and gradually falling in love and that is the part of the book I enjoyed the best.
What didn't work for me: The suspense part of the plot - ie, evil Foster Maddox was the weakest part of the story for me. I thought it was a bit convoluted and unrealistic and stopped the book from being an A read.
What else? There is a cute secondary romance involving "that no account Beatty boy" and the local madam, Rose. I would have been happy for that aspect of the story to be expanded further.