A Patchwork Family by Charlotte Hubbard
(Leisure, $6.99, G) ISBN 0-8439-5551-1
***
Mercedes “Mercy” Monroe is married to Judd and together they raise horses, crops and run a way station for stagecoaches traveling west. Life on the Kansas prairie is hard compared to her privileged Philadelphia girlhood, but there is nowhere else she would rather be than working beside Judd, building their piece of the American dream.

However, the good Lord has not seen to bless them with children, and having been married five years now it’s a sore spot for Mercy. This is upsetting for her, but she’s too busy to wallow in disappointment – what with chores to do, hungry passengers to feed, and now raising two orphans.

The Bristol children lost their mother in the war. She wasn’t killed, rather her spirit died when outlaws murdered her husband and kidnapped one of her sons. While young Billy and Christine are using the privy at a stagecoach stop, their mother gets in a carriage with a dandy looking fellow and drives off. She leaves instructions that she’ll meet them further along their route, but it soon becomes painfully obvious that she abandoned her children.

Billy takes to frontier life immediately. He’s a natural with horses and so hungry for a family that he latches right on to Mercy and Judd. Christine is another story entirely. She fights Mercy at every turn, treats her brother with little regard, and basically needs smacked throughout the story. Add this to the general hardships of prairie life and the Monroe clan faces their fair share of triumphs and hardships.

The first book in Hubbard’s ambition new series is not a romance, even if Leisure has marked the spine “Inspirational Romance.” A more apt description would be Inspirational Western Saga. A Patchwork Family very much reminded me of the multigenerational sagas and family dramas that were popular in decades past. This first book acts as a set-up, laying the groundwork for Mercy, the mother hen to the various characters that will be featured in the later books.

Hubbard does a very good job weaving an inspirational message in among western prairie life. Instead of preaching to the reader, the characters merely have a strong sense of faith. To get through seasons with failing crops, cranky travelers and threat of Indian attack, faith certainly comes in handy. It’s also a great comfort to the characters as life continues to throw them curve balls.

While this book is really Mercy’s story, young Billy also accounts for a lot of the narration. Many chapters are told from his perspective, which makes him quite an endearing young man. Less successful is Christine, who is such a shrew that I questioned why Mercy and Judd didn’t beat the snot out of her on more than one occasion. Judd does have a way of putting the girl in her place, but Mercy takes her abuse in good stride. While Mercy has her own way of dealing with the girl, she never gives the girl a good verbal thrashing – which is what she deserves.

If this story has one flaw it is that the pacing is a bit off. Things move along rather leisurely, allowing the author an opportunity to explore and develop her characters. However, tragedy strikes within the last 100 pages, and Hubbard tries to cram in more conflict and resolve it in too few pages. It is such a tragedy that a mere 100 pages felt too fast for the characters to cope, move on and start a new chapter. It also felt too fast given that Mercy finds a whole lot added to her plate.

All in all though, A Patchwork Family is a nice, pleasant read. It’s the kind of book one can share with their daughter or grandmother. It’s a good, homespun family drama filled with the trials, hardships and joys that many pioneering families must have endured. If you miss the wholesome sagas of yesteryear, Hubbard’s new Angels Of Mercy series is very likely what you’ve been looking for. This reviewer is hard pressed to think of another series like this one that has been published in recent memory. If you’re a historical reader disenchanted with the current market, Hubbard is certainly aiming for something different. For selfish reasons alone I hope she and Leisure meet with success.

--Wendy Crutcher


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