has also reviewed:

The Outlaw's Wife

"Outlaw Hearts" Miniseries

 
Marriage, Outlaw Style
by Cindy Gerard
(Silh. Desire #1185, $3.75, PG-13) ISBN 0-373-76185-6
***
Marriage, Outlaw Style is the second in Cindy Gerard's "Outlaw Hearts" series, a trilogy that started with a bang with the excellent The Outlaw's Wife. The series focuses on the three James brothers, who are not so much outlaws as three guys with some fairly unorthodox methods of dealing with their problems.

The first book saw eldest brother Garrett kidnapping his estranged wife and taking her to the family's cabin in the mountains for a week of secluded marriage-mending. Garrett and his wife, Emma, figure into this book, as does the same mountain cabin. But this book focuses on the middle brother, Clay James.

Clay is quite a catch: handsome, intelligent, successful, charming, and – be still my heart – ready to commit! Even better, ready to settle down and start a family. At least, that's the way it seems. Although he's had a couple of serious girlfriends who would've been thrilled to have a certain question popped, Clay just can't seem to make the leap. Why? Well, to almost everyone in town, the answer is obvious: Clay is in love with Maddie Brannigan.

Unfortunately, the only person in town who's as completely oblivious to that fact as Clay is… well, Maddie herself. But you can't really blame her. The two have been bitter rivals since childhood, constantly engaged in competition over anything that's handy. They've spent so much of their lives one-upping and out-doing each other that they can't really imagine any other way of interacting. They argue, they bicker, they pull ever-escalating practical jokes and pranks. There's no rhyme or reason to it, that's just the way they are with each other.

Maddie, a successful artist and gallery owner, has had a few of her own longings for home and family lately. But Clay is the last person she'd ever consider. And the feeling seems to be mutual, until somehow, inexplicably, the two slowly become aware that they're actually attracted to each other. Since this strikes fear in both their hearts, the fights escalate. Garrett and Emma decide that something needs to be done before they commit physical violence.

They have good reason to worry. For roughly the first 80 pages, Maddie and Clay seem to be unable to behave as reasonable, mature adults when they're anywhere near each other. These first few chapters constitute the romping, farcical part of the book, where the reader sees Maddie dressed as a giant chicken and Clay dressed as the Chiquita Banana girl in chapters one and two. Within a few more pages, Clay's had champagne poured down his pants, and Maddie's been dumped rear-end-first into a wheelbarrow full of wet cement. Let's just say that by the end of chapter four, I was ready for a change. Luckily, so were Emma and Garrett.

They decide that since the secluded mountain cabin helped them to reconcile, it might have the same effect on Clay and Maddie. With a bit of finagling, they manage to leave the two stranded at the cabin for a week, unable to leave or contact the outside world or basically do anything but work out their problems. And so Maddie and Clay are forced to more or less confront their feelings for each other. It's not easy, and things only get more complicated as their mutual physical attraction skyrockets. And the end of the week does not signal the end of their problems – there's a pretty big surprise in store for these two.

My biggest problem with this book was that it was really difficult for me to have much respect for the hero and heroine. I accepted the long-time rivalry between them and the way that rivalry made them behave. I understood that there was a lot of pride at stake every time either one of them tried to express his or her feelings. But at a certain point, I just wanted to shake them both and tell them to grow up.

Again and again, they beat around the bush when they should be speaking honestly. Thus, they misunderstand each other and take offense or get their feelings hurt, which blocks all further efforts at communication. They're full of fear and pride, and neither is willing to take an emotional risk. If not for a certain surprise that shall remain nameless, I don't think these two would have ever gotten together. Now I grant you, that may be realistic, but it's just not much fun to read about.

Furthermore, this book gave me the feeling that it had been rather hastily sent to the presses. There are typos and small grammatical errors throughout. Maddie suffers from an affliction all too common in romance heroines – the variable hair color syndrome. She's blond on the cover (which as we all know means nothing, really), but many instances in the book refer to her "dusky brown curls." But then again on page 110, she's got "sand-gold curls." A thorough proofreading would have caught these problems. Worse to me was that Gerard's vivid writing seemed to suffer from a lack of polish, since phrases and words are often noticeably overused and repeated, sometimes within a single paragraph.

Marriage, Outlaw Style is not a total loss. It was fairly entertaining, and at least the plot and character motivations held together, which is more than I can say for a lot of books on the shelves. And readers who enjoy the farcical thing more than I do might like this book quite a lot. But in the end, I felt that I'd been offered a hurriedly-produced story of two less-than-admirable characters, and that's not exactly what I'm looking for in a good romance.

-- Ellen Hestand


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