Prairie Bride by Julianne Maclean
(Harl. Historical #526, $4.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-373-29126-4
****
I've always liked the "Little House on the Prairie" books, (not the TV show). They paint a picture of life that was both harsh and beautiful. First-time author, Julianne Maclean's Prairie Bride is set in the same time period and evokes some of the same images. A mail-order bride with a secret travels to Kansas to marry a farmer who was deeply hurt by the betrayal of a former fiancée.

Arthur "Briggs" Brigman places an add for a mail-order bride after his fiancée deserts him for a fast-talking gambler. Briggs decides that he is through with love but he needs a companion who will be willing to work along side of him and create a family. He is through with pretty women. When Sarah MacFarland steps off the train, she is far too pretty and doesn't look like she is used to hard work.

Sarah is dismayed by the stern-looking man who is to be her husband, but she decides to go through with it when he lets through some of his kindness. She really wants to make her marriage work, but there is a secret in her past that could ruin her chance for happiness. She also fears that the secret could put her new husband in danger if he discovers it.

Briggs doesn't trust Sarah as some inconsistencies in her story start to come out. He makes things particularly difficult for her as she struggles to learn how to become a competent prairie wife. When she rises to his unspoken challenge, he begins to admire her and care for her, something her had not planned to do this time around because he senses she could betray him.

I don't want to give too much away about Sarah's secret. It is not a run-of-the-mill secret and her reasons for not telling Briggs are understandable. The author skillfully drops hints and slowly reveals it. The hints feed Briggs distrust for his pretty wife and a man from her past does his best to push Briggs' distrust over the edge. While Sarah's actions concerning her problem would seem improbable in a contemporary setting, in an historical setting, it works.

The chemistry between Briggs and Sarah develops slowly, but realistically. Despite his harshness to her, he does let some care and concern for her start to show through. She sees in him a strength of character that makes her feel secure. She is also quite strong and does not cower to his harshness. The two of them working side by side begin to build their relationship.

The descriptions of the prairie and the joys and sorrows of that life are deftly described. I could see the interior of the dugout house as Sarah first sees it. The grasshopper invasion is vivid enough that my skin crawled. It made me thankful for modern conveniences.

The one weakness of the story was Briggs's quick acceptance of a stranger's lies about Sarah. Even though she had given him some cause for distrusting her, his actions seems a bit overboard.

Prairie Bride is a strong beginning for Ms. Maclean. She is an author to watch.

--B. Kathy Leitle


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