Snowbound Bride by Cathy Gillen Thacker
(Harlequin American #713, $3.99, PG) ISBN 0-373-16713-X
It's been said that any book that stirs a real emotional response in a reader can't be bad. Well, if that's true, then Snowbound Bride will have to go into my collection of Great Books, because it certainly stirred an emotion in me. Unfortunately, that emotion was anger.

I was angry at the hero for being such a self-righteous, interfering jerk. I was angry at the heroine for meekly accepting his infuriating actions. And I was angry at Harlequin for charging $3.99 for this book.

A little plot summary is in order. Nora Hart-Kingsley has run away from her wedding. Moments before the vows were supposed to be spoken, she saw her father and her fiancé signing a secret prenuptial agreement that amounted to a dowry. Betrayed by the actions of her fiancé – who obviously only wants her for her money – and infuriated by the meddling of her father – who obviously thinks she can't land a man on her own, she's called off the wedding and dropped out of sight. Her plan is to get as far from Pittsburgh as possible until she can figure out how to straighten out her life.

Unfortunately, she gets caught in the "blizzard of the century" and ends up stranded in the quaint little town of Clover Creek, West Virginia. Since her wealthy father has private detectives and various law enforcement agencies hot on her trail, probably the stupidest thing Nora could do is get involved with Clover Creek's sheriff, Sam Whittaker. But get involved she does.

Sam makes a habit of poking his official nose into everybody's business. He doesn't have a single qualm about interfering in other people's lives; after all, it's his duty to keep the peace, and besides, other people rarely know what's best for them. Sam knows. Sam is never wrong.

I didn't like this book much to begin with. The writing was stunningly trite, the dialogue was clunky, and the plot was full of improbable coincidences. Furthermore, the narration had a way of distancing me from the characters, by telling me what they were feeling rather than showing me. But still, I might have written a more positive review had the actions of the main characters not had me snorting, rolling my eyes, and seething at every turn of the page.

Let's make this clear: Nora is running away from her father because she can't stand his interference in her life. Sam makes interfering a business. In my mind, the only way Sam can be the man for her is if he changes his ways, learns his lesson, lets Nora make her own decisions. Does he? Not for a moment. Instead, he does everything in his power to "fix" Nora's life – for her own good, of course. Behind her back, he does infuriating things – things Nora specifically asks him not to do, all because he knows best.

My favorite moment in this book was when Nora found out about his interference and blew up at him, intending to walk right out of his life like she'd run away from her father. I was chanting "Run, Nora, run," glad that she was showing a little gumption for once, but then Sam spoiled the whole thing by telling her she was being childish and taking overbearing control of everything again.

This is a man who thinks Nora is cute when she's angry. I swear to you, page 48 says "He grinned at her display of temper." As far as I'm concerned, he might as well have said, "Awww... isn't she a precious, empty-headed, cute little thing. I can't wait to make her weak-kneed with my kisses."

And Nora, damn her, does get weak-kneed. I wanted her knees somewhere else. Like slamming into Sam's privates. Try as she might, Thacker couldn't build any sexual tension between these two to make me sympathize with Nora's overwhelming attraction to this jerk. Oh, there are electric tingles and tightening nipples and fluttering tummies enough to choke a horse, but I just didn't buy it.

Maybe I wouldn't have found Sam so distasteful if he'd been a straight-up alpha hero. Overbearing, arrogant heroes have an appeal for some readers, I accept that. But he's not really alpha, because we're supposed to swallow the notion that he's the Best Guy Around. The Strong Protector, Father Knows Best type. We're supposed to like him for manipulating poor, silly Nora.

So, if an evening of having your teeth set on edge sounds pleasant to you, pick up a copy of Snowbound Bride. If, on the other hand, you enjoy books with likable characters, do your best to avoid this one.

-- Ellen Hestand

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