If youíve seen Doris Day in the movie Calamity Jane, then you will recognize the dare-taking, curse-slinging, over-the-top heroine of The Gentle Season as the same type of character.
Alewine (Aly) Jones owns her own freight company, wears buckskin menís clothing and never backs down. Nick Turner is a gambler who is her best friend. He has recently noticed that she is also a beautiful woman, but knows that Aly would never believe him if he told her.
Nick receives a letter from an old girl friend and learns that she is dying and that they have a six-year-old daughter together. Madelaine tells Nick that she wants him to raise Jezlynn, but he has to spend six months in his hometown of Prickly Bend, Arizona, and prove that he can be a good father or she will leave the child to her sister who runs a strict girlsí boarding school. He has also heard threats being made against Alyís business and would like to get her out of harmís way before she hears about them and bulls her way into trouble.
He challenges Aly to a poker game that would require her to do anything he asks if he wins. She agrees and when he wins, he asks her to marry him. After they get out of the public eye and she quits throwing things at him, he explains that it will be a marriage for looks only until he can convince the mother of his child that he can be a good father. She agrees to help him. She has also begun to have feelings for him, but doesnít think she is the kind of woman that he would ever love.
They go to Prickly Bend and discover that his child is a wild little thing who reminds Aly a great deal of herself. Madelaine seems to ignore Jez a great deal, but still has eyes for Nick. Aly is determined to keep Madelaine from Nick and to help Jez.
Aly starts out so over-the-top that she becomes irritating very quickly. As the book continues, she calms a bit and her strong qualities of loyalty and honesty come shining through. Nick is a wonderful hero. He likes Aly just the way she is and knows her well enough to channel her outrageousness toward a positive end. He also knows when to have fun. His daughter, Jez, is accurately portrayed as a kid who needs attention.
The biggest problem with The Gentle Season is its choppiness. Expected scenes are not there and the action jumps past that time with little explanation. For example, Aly and Nick have not slept together and because of traveling and a new town. When they finally order a bed for the house, Aly worries how they will handle sleeping in one bed. From this scene, the book jumps to the next morning and they are in bed together cuddling. They only slept in the bed, but how they worked out the arrangement is not shown nor really explained.
Another problem is the lack of realism with some of the characters. Madelaine is supposed to be dying, but she greets the stage, gives dinner parties, and only once in a while feels faint, usually when it gets her some attention. No one seems to question that she is dying, but there is no explanation as to what is making her ill. The villain is also odd and the explanation for the threats to Aly are so convoluted that they donít make much sense.
Itís too bad that a hero as nice as Nick and a great kid like Jez donít have a story that lives up to their good qualities. With a little more fleshing out of the details, The Gentle Season would have been a much better book.
--B. Kathy Leitle