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Lost Acres Bride by Lynna Banning
(Harl. Historical, $4.99, PG) ISBN 0-373-29037-3
Lost Acres Bride is a western historical romance about a determined woman who inherits a thousand acres in Oregon and decides to turn it into a cattle ranch. The fact that she's from Ohio and knows diddly-squat about ranches or cattle or even Oregon, for that matter, is not an impediment. Neither to our heroine nor to this story. And that's a shame, because I liked the original idea. A lot.

A fifteen-year-old might find this story wildly romantic, but a grown woman is likely to snort in derision at the antics of Serena Hull. When Serena arrives in Oregon (alone, on horseback) to claim her land, she runs into widower Carleton Kearney, owner of the adjoining property. Carl quickly sums up Serena as the rankest of greenhorns, which she is, and he vows not to give up the land. Not permanently. Sooner or later, this pretty thing will find out that she can't cut it and will go back East.

Of course, that wouldn't make for much of a romance, so readers must first observe Serena trying to prove that she can make a go of it. She fixes up a hay barn to use as a house. She buys thirty head of cattle from Carl, forgetting in her naivete that she'll need a bull if she wants this herd to increase. She learns to throw a rope, courtesy of Thad, Carl's nephew, but can't bring herself to cut a calf away from its mother. Instead, in one of the silliest scenes I have read in a good long time, Serena goes and puts her arms around the poor little calf and hugs it, sobbing, while the cowhands look on in disbelief and Carleton grits his teeth.

You might wonder, after all this, how they could possibly fall in love. Ain't easy. Carl is one of the "my wife died and I'll never love again" types, and Serena is sure that no man will want her because of her half-Indian heritage and the two sisters she left behind in Ohio. When they embark on a cattle drive, Carl is fighting his interest in Serena so hard that he uses it as a test to make her finally see how unsuited she is to live in the West.

I find it hard to believe that Oregon, or any frontier state, could have possible been settled by such improbable characters. Not so much Carl, though his self-sacrificing martyrdom wore thin pretty quickly. But Serena is implausible from the get-go, and what makes it worse, she hasn't a clue how na´ve she is. If she had just once said to Carl, "Look, I know I'm as green as grass, but I don't have a whole lot of options left in life and I'm going to make this work no matter how many mistakes I make," then I'd have at least had some respect for her. As it was, she lifts her chin determinedly and sparks shoot from her eyes and such, but basically she's a twit. Any growth in her character came too late in the story for me.

Here's hoping the author will follow up with a heroine as strong as her plot premise next time. Here's hoping editors will quit insisting this is the kind of heroine we want to read about. And here's hoping that you have a more positive reaction to Lost Acres Bride than I did.

--Cathy Sova

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