Loving Lana by Nancy J. Parra
(Avalon, $19.95, G) ISBN 0-834-9617-6
Loving Lana is a sweet little story – “little” being the operative word. At 183 pages and fairly large type size, this book could be more accurately described as an historical novella rather than a full-length novel. That means the character development has little depth and the plot is linear and relatively uncomplicated. The reader knows from the beginning that three characters are determined to win a $2000 reward, and it’s a pretty safe bet that this is going to result in conflict between them.

Lana Tate (even her name is short) has a operatic voice. She sings in a saloon in Wyoming to support herself and her drunken bum of a father. Her mother died six years ago when Lana was twelve, and ever since her father has allowed his life and Lana’s to go to rack and ruin. She learns that a $2000 reward is being offered for a particular wild stallion that’s been wily enough so far to avoid capture. Lana knows nothing about capturing horses but is determined to win the award so that she and her father can move to San Francisco where she can pursue a career singing opera and leave behind the poverty and desolation she’s known in Wyoming. She knows that marrying for love leads to misery.

Taggart Morgan is considered the best horseman in Wyoming. He also wants to capture the stallion. With the reward money, he can purchase a ranch of his own (he presently lives with one of his brothers), and the stallion will be the base of his herd. When Lana approaches him for instruction on how to capture horses, he turns her away with only the advice that horses like “sweet things and soft words.”

Sam Gooding is another cowboy with a plan to capture the stallion.

Tag is surprised to discover when he locates the stallion and his herd of mares that Lana has gotten there first. She has attracted the horses and eased their fears by singing to them. When both Lana’s and Tag’s plans to capture the horses are unsuccessful, they decide to combine their efforts. Being in close proximity soon leads to adventure as well as romance.

This is the third in the Morgan brothers series. The exact time setting of the story is never specified, but there’s a potential problem. The story seems to be set in the Old West which encompasses the 1860's to 1880's. It is mentioned several times, however, that Lana’s mother sang with the Metropolitan Opera before she fell in love and married Lana’s father. The Met was founded in 1883. This would require the time of the story to be no earlier than the beginning of the 20th century. There’s absolutely no mention of “modern contraptions” such as the telegraph, telephone, or automobiles so it has an older feel than that.

In addition to the ambiguous time period, the story relies heavily on the reader’s suspending disbelief. Lana’s success in locating and luring the stallion when so many others have failed doesn’t come across as very plausible. Tag, who has considerable experience with horses, doesn’t even track them down until Lana’s been on the scene for several days.

The story moves quickly. Sometimes too quickly. There are times when Lana and Tag, who are on horseback, seem to travel at warp speed from one location to another. There are no long leisurely rides just moseying along. On the positive side, the scenes involving the wild herd move with energy.

Lana and Tag are appealing characters. Lana isn’t content to bemoan her situation – she’s determined to do something about it. (She may be a bit optimistic in believing she can land a career in opera without any formal training.) Tag is touched by her spirit. He wants women to remain in their traditional roles, but he appreciates Lana’s indefatigable attitude. Even though neither one has plans for marriage, the reader knows this is a couple who are right for each other.

Avalon Books publishes hardbacks targeted at a G-rated library audience. With its plucky 18-year-old heroine and kisses-only romance, Loving Lana might be more suitable for a young adult collection rather than adult fiction. Since it has an adventure component, I can also envision it as a title that might be of interest for an adult literacy program.

Loving Lana is a short, easy read with nice characters and a thin plot. At the rather steep price of $19.95, I recommend checking your local library rather than purchasing it yourself.

--Lesley Dunlap

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