Molly's Hero by Susan Amarillas
(Harl. Hist. #, $4.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-373-29118-3
As a reader, it is difficult if not impossible to warm up to a heroine who could give prickly lessons to a cactus. It's downright unfathomable to think that any sane man, let alone a hero penned like Ethan Wilder, would hang around long enough to fall in love with her. From thanklessness for his help to getting his face slapped, Ethan Wilder endured enough at Molly Murphy's hands to qualify him for sainthood.

Desperately wanting a home of her own, Molly Murphy left the gold mine camps of the West that she'd been raised in, married a man she didn't love, and in 1871 she and her orphaned niece moved into her husband Jack's cabin in War Bonnet, Wyoming. Jack is out of the picture before the book even begins, having gone back to the gold mines in hopes of striking it rich. Molly and her niece Katie are left behind on the modest ranch to fend for themselves.

Ethan Wilder is a man with a dream. He wants to bring the railroad to War Bonnet, Wyoming. The only thing standing in between Ethan and the realization of his goal is the run-down Murphy house that just so happens to be situated smack dab in the middle of where the tracks must be laid. After his business partner unsuccessfully attempts to buy the needed plot of land from the Murphys, Ethan sets out for Molly's ranch to try to negotiate with her. Molly, however, isn't budging. She has wanted a home of her own for as long as she can remember and her ramshackle cabin is as close to a home as she's ever had.

Unfortunately, the task of picking apart everything that is wrong with Molly's Hero is a daunting one. First of all, the heroine is difficult to relate to because she behaves completely out of character from how most rational women in the same situation would behave. For instance, the first time she meets the hero she's so sick that she can barely stand up, let alone climb up into her wagon for the trip to town she insists upon making. Instead of thanking Ethan for assisting her, she yells at him, proclaiming that she doesn't need his help. This scene is only one of many. Practically every time the hero does anything nice for Molly, she rewards him with sharp words, indifference, or a slap to the face.

Another strike against Molly's Hero is the repetitiveness of the language that was used throughout the book. The author has an apparent proclivity toward the words "yes," "yeah," and any variation thereof (i.e. "yup"). For example:

"The child disappeared around the side of the cabin and Ethan smiled...Yup, quite a kid." And then a page later, "All he wanted was his land, yeah, his land, and he was outta here." And then a few pages later, "It was a look filled with questions and longing. Oh, yes, longing." And: "He paused to look at Molly...remembering, wishing, and regretting, oh, yes, regretting."

But the proverbial nail in the coffin for Molly's Hero stems solely from the fact that the book is dull. The first 250 pages of this 296 page novel could have been condensed to approximately 50 or so pages. Scene after scene is agonizingly drawn out, in which everything from frying bacon to putting a new wheel on the wagon is described in endless detail.

The irony of Molly's Hero is that it has a spectacular ending. Indeed, the last 40 or so pages of the book are everything a romance novel should be. Molly turns nice (for the most part), the lack of action picks up to an acceptable level, and Ms. Amarillis definitely proves that she can write a love scene with the best of them. Nevertheless, forty pages of quality can hardly make up for the 250+ pages it takes to get there.

--Tina Engler

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