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Maggie's Wish by Sharon Ihle
(Zebra, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-8217-6069-6
Though its glory days as the capital of Arizona Territory are over, modern Prescott, Arizona, is still a nice place to visit and a nice place to live. In Maggie's Wish, 1881 Prescott is as colorful and appealing. With Sharon Ihle's skillful writing, the town becomes as significant to the story as the quirky, funny characters she is known for creating. Maggie's Wish is a fun read populated with admirable main characters and an interesting supporting cast. My wish for you is that you can add this one additional book to your Christmas list.

After Maggie Hollister discovered skinny, smooth-talking outlaw, Rafe Hollister, hiding in her family's barn in Utah, she helped him survive a harsh winter. In the process, Rafe sweet-talked innocent Maggie into running away to escape her family's fire and brimstone existence. In Salt Lake City, Rafe abandoned a pregnant Maggie with vague promises of returning to her after finding his fortune in gold.

Maggie's Wish is the tale of the redemption of this unappealing character.

Maggie Hollister and her daughter, Holly, have lived with Maggie's aunt and uncle in Prescott for six years when Maggie hires former Texas Ranger, Matt Weston to track down this wandering philanderer and bring him home to Holly for Christmas. In her memory, Rafe has no redeeming physical qualities, other than a Texas drawl, ". . .he couldn't say two words without tossing in a y'all," and big, brown "calf eyes." Maggie's tale of abandonment reveals little in the way of any redeeming social qualities. Rafe makes his first appearance face-down at Matt's feet passed out on the dirt floor of an El Paso saloon. To Ihle's credit she creates this dirty, despicable drunk, then raises the possibility of Rafe's changing into someone Maggie might wish to give her daughter for Christmas.

Captain Matt Weston was forced into retirement by a gunshot wound and finds himself thinking about things he never considered before such as a wife and family whenever he is in Maggie's presence. Matt blithely assumes tracking down this Texas ne'er do well will be a no-brainer. His expectation ". . . that finding Rafe Hollister will be about the easiest job I ever had" begins the saga of the most unlikely combo to walk down an Arizona street heroic former Ranger, Captain Matt, and deadbeat dad, the El Paso Kid, a.k.a. Ranger El Paso.

Matt's attitude adjustment as the job and his feelings for Maggie whirl out of control is a great part of the charm of this book. Sharon Ihle tips her hat to classic stories of the West and its heroes by topping her Texas Ranger off with a trademark white hat. Maggie sits at her parlor window, and, with the aide of that white beacon, follows Matt's movements as he attempts to control Rafe's "camp follower," Penny. Matt finds himself working hard to turn Rafe into someone acceptable as a husband and father, while fighting an increasing desire for a life with Maggie and Holly.

Holly, who was born on was Christmas Day six years ago, is a bright, inquisitive little girl with a talent for farming, especially growing pumpkins and herding turkeys, and very bad eyesight, wearing glasses which are constantly askew. Holly's bouncing glasses and slightly abrasive, demanding character do not endear her to confirmed bachelor, Captain Matt. As their relationship grows, readers are treated to delightful changes in Holly's interest in Matt and his sensitivity to children.

The relationship between Rafe Hollister and his peg-legged sidekick, Penny, is so interwoven with the developing romance between Matt and Maggie that I hesitate to describe Rafe and Penny as secondary characters. In reality, such damaged individuals did survive and eventually add a positive flavor to the population of a western town such as Prescott during the last quarter of the nineteenth century.

With Maggie's Wish, Sharon Ihle has created an excellent and funny book, which will appeal to readers who enjoy oddball characters combined with a credible story in a realistic setting.

--Sue Klock

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