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Lone Star Baby by Debbie Macomber
(Harlequin, $4.99, G) ISBN 0-373-83347-4
Debbie Macomber is one of the authors who led me to appreciate romantic fiction. She can take a well-worn plot device such as a down-on-his luck rancher summoning a mail-order bride, craft her characters carefully, having them grow and develop as her story unfolds, and leave readers with a sense of the goodness of strong values about which folks in this country are supposed to care. Sadly, her latest effort, Lone Star Baby, the sixth and final book in the Heart of Texas series, cannot compare with Macomber at her best.

Amy Thornton makes her first series' appearance in Lone Star Baby. She is escaping a lonely, miserable childhood with an addicted, abusive mother and an unfortunate affair with a married man. Aboard a Dallas-to-Austin bus pausing briefly in the small town of Promise, Texas, Amy looks out the bus window, decides it is an appealing place and, with no apparent forethought, opts to exit the bus. Other than Louise, the town gossip who appears off-again-on-again throughout this book, the only person who seems to find Amy's erratic, unexplained behavior irritating is the bus driver, who quickly drives away from Promise leaving only gas fumes and Amy. From here on, she charms and delights all in her path, except Louise, of course.

Alone, penniless, jobless and nearly six-months pregnant, Amy is befriended by first one then another resident of Promise. First, she acquires a home and some stand-in parents in the persons of Dovie Boyd and Sheriff Frank Hennessy. Another character from an earlier book in the series, Ellie Patterson, appears to give Amy a job at her feed store.

All of this good fortune befalls Amy within hours after an accidental meeting with Wade McMillen, the local minister. Unlike Amy, Wade has appeared in all the books in this series. In those earlier appearances, there were brief, superficial references to his internal conflict between shepherding the residents of Promise, all of whom seem to go to his church, and his very human desires to have a family of his own. Wade is attracted to Amy and finds himself fighting his interest in her. For someone who had sufficient wisdom to guide various couples to a resolution of some very real dilemmas, it seems preposterous that Wade would spend a large part of this book consumed by the struggle between his perceived need to remain unattached and his attraction to Amy.

After Wade comes to his senses, having seen Amy in her dance finery, Amy becomes the tormented character, unable to saddle the good minister with herself and her unborn child. All this in the face of an entire town which appears to be cheering them on, with the exception of Louise.

There is little character growth and development in Lone Star Baby. Some of the individuals, such as the local gossip, are drawn so superficially they are more like caricatures than characters with an ability to impact upon those around them. Events do occur, things do happen to people, sometimes even sweet or funny things, but these occurrences seem so far removed from any believable decisions or actions on the part of the main characters that it is difficult to care. Amy seems to meander through this story, having others' actions impact upon her. Others people's actions seem motivated by nothing more than Amy's being so lovable and needy.

Wade McMillen had more interesting moments in earlier books in this series even though he was not a main character. Other than describing him as looking like a rancher and giving him an opportunity to display his skills as a horseman, the author seems unsure of how to make a hero of the local pastor.

Lone Star Baby brings back all the once-single, now-married, heroes and heroines for a final bow in this book. Several paragraphs are devoted to each person's character or role in an earlier book. Rather than helping this book to stand on its own, the technique slows the pace of the story and underscores the absence of both plot and character development.

Unless you have read the first five books in this series and cannot do without ensuring that pastor Wade is married and a father, along with his rancher friends, find an older Debbie Macomber book, such as Morning Comes Softly and reread it.

--Sue Klock

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