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Kentucky Bride
by Hannah Howell
(Zebra, $6.99, PG-13)  ISBN 978-1-4201-0465-9
Kentucky Bride takes readers to 1794 Pennsylvania, where Clover Sherwood has her hands full. Her father has committed suicide, leaving the family virtually penniless. Clover, her mother, and her two young twin brothers will be evicted from their home in two weeks. And now her fiancé, Thomas Dillingworth, has cried off their engagement since Clover has no dowry to bring to the marriage.

Desperate, Clover proposes marriage to a man she’s just met: Ballard MacGregor, a Scottish backwoodsman from Kentucky. Ballard had come to Pennsylvania with his younger brothers to trade goods and to court a local woman who is now stepping out with Thomas. Ballard, raised in poverty, has hopes of bettering his station in life. An educated wife is just the ticket, and Clover fits the bill. Plus, she’s pretty. He accepts.

In a very unlikely scene, Thomas shows up at Clover’s home, drags her away from Ballard, tries to make Clover his mistress, and calls her a whore when she refuses (am I supposed to believe that a well-bred man would act this way in 1794?), whereupon Ballard beats the hell out of him and throws him out of the house. Clover, however, won’t tell Ballard what Thomas wanted, which felt like a contrived bit of stupidity on her part to set up later events. Readers will immediately figure out that Thomas is the villain and will show up later in the story to threaten Clover. Anyway, Ballard and Clover are married and soon the whole entourage is on its way to Kentucky.

And it’s a big entourage. Besides the lead couple, there is a new housekeeper looking to make a fresh start, Ballard’s two brothers, Clover’s two brothers, and her mother. The hamlet in Kentucky is a far cry from Pennsylvania, and the story revolves around Clover trying to make a go of it on the frontier. Meanwhile, she and Ballard are falling in love.

There’s little to set this story apart from other frontier-set romances, and a lot to exasperate the reader. The villain is a cardboard nasty and his actions are telegraphed early in the story. Ballard’s dialogue is Scot-heavy, as in “Weel, wee Clover, dinna fash yersel” and it’s a chore to read after a while. All of the cliché’s are here: several scheming women who want to capture Ballard for themselves; brothers who appear to be there just to set up their own stories; a Big Misunderstanding to separate the lovers, etc. We’re told that Clover and Ballard are falling in love, but there is little chemistry between them.

I’d have given this book one heart were it not for Clover. She’s spunky and intelligent, and tries to make the best of a bad situation. Her character felt true to the time, and I enjoyed her journey.  Ballard is a standard romance hero in most respects. He’s honorable and treats Clover well, but I got tired of the “wee Clover” bit – she’s four-foot-eleven – and the love scenes were pretty perfunctory. This wasn’t a romance I believed in at the end of the book.

All in all, Kentucky Bride was a disappointment. I’ve enjoyed some of Hannah Howell’s books in the past and would try her again, but I don’t recommend this one. 

--Cathy Sova

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