After suffering abuse at the hands of both her uncle and the man she thought she loved, Brooke Baker finds herself sold as a mail-order bride. She's nervous about this new chapter in her life, but resolved that if she could endure her past abuse, she can handle whatever life throws at her next. As fate would have it, her new husband is kinder and gentler than any man she's ever known, but although she finds herself caring for him more than she expected, she's vowed never to give her heart to anyone again.
When Skylar Jordan hears that his good-for-nothing cousin, Jason, has sent for a mail-order bride, he tries to tell himself it's none of his business. But as he contemplates the situation, he realizes that no woman should have to be tied to Jason, so he intervenes, offering his cousin all the money he has saved to give this woman he's never met a second chance. Although not part of his original plan, when no other viable options present themselves, Sky decides to marry her himself. Soon after, he intuits that Brooke has had a rough life before coming to his neck of the woods, and it quickly becomes apparent that it will take time and patience to heal her wounded heart.
As they're trying to figure things out between them, Sky and Brooke become embroiled in a mystery when a local merchant who was a friend of Sky's turns up murdered. As a former lawman, Sky throws himself into the investigation, soon discovering that Brooke witnessed the man who may have committed the crime near the scene. However, little does he know that although she harbors information that could clear other innocent men, she's lying to protect Sky himself. But when Brooke is kidnapped by the culprit, Sky will move heaven and earth to bring her back safely.
Rocky Mountain Oasis is the first book in Lynnette Bonner's The Shepherd's Heart series. It follows Brooke, a young woman who was abused by her uncle and sold as a mail-order bride to a man in Idaho with whom she'd never even corresponded. She arrives resolved to her fate, but trepidatious about the future. The man who's there to meet her when she gets off the stagecoach is not the man she was expecting. When Skylar finds out that his ne'er-do-well cousin has sent for a mail-order bride, he doesn't want to leave the poor woman to her fate, so he intervenes and marries Brooke himself. Sky ends up being far more kind and gentle than any man she's ever met, but because of her checkered past, she doesn't feel worthy of him once she begins to fall for him. Then there's a murder in town and Brooke witnesses a man she recognizes from the stagecoach outside the store where the man was killed. But after the villain makes threats, she keeps her mouth shut, fearing for both her and Sky's lives, even when other men are put on trial. However, just as she's about to tell the truth, the villain kidnaps her as bait to lure out Sky so that he can eliminate all those who could potentially identify him as the culprit. I had high hopes going into reading this book, and I did like the hero and heroine. But in the end, the story fell rather flat for me for a number of reasons that I'll discuss as I go along.
Brooke lost her entire family in a tragic accident and ended up living with an uncle who abused her. Later she fell for a guy who she thought would take her away from the abuse and went to live with him, something that was a bit eyebrow raising for me, given the time in which the story is set. I realize that some people may have "lived in sin" during that time, but it was probably pretty rare. I also felt the reasoning for doing so was weak for an otherwise respectable girl and only a convenient plot device to give her something to atone for. In any case, he ended up being just as bad as her uncle, but by the time she figured that out, she was pregnant with his child, a baby that she lost. Then she went back to her uncle who sold her as a mail-order bride. When she arrives in Pierce City, Idaho, she doesn't expect much from her betrothed, never having experienced any kindness from the men in her life before, so Sky completely exceeds her expectations. In fact, he's such a good man that she feels unworthy of him because of her past, so when she starts to develop feelings for him, she keeps him at arm's length. A large part of the reason I was drawn to this book was because I'm a sucker for the damsel in distress being rescued by her knight in shining armor trope. This is especially true if said damsel has been abused in the past. I just love seeing a woman find strength to overcome past trauma with a good man by her side, but here I felt the author basically brushed what the men in Brooke's life did to her under the rug in favor of making her the "sinner" instead. Much is made of the things she did and the choices she made, but very little time is spent on her surmounting the horrible things that others did to her. In fact, we only learn about these things through her own introspection. She never relates any of this to Sky until the very end and only a couple of lines are spent on it which I felt did a great disservice to women who've suffered abuse like this.
Skylar grew up in Oregon in a loving family. He moved to Idaho with his cousin Jason, hoping to help keep him out of trouble. When he finds out that Jason has bought a mail-order bride, Sky tells himself that it's none of his business, but soon he finds his conscience won't allow an innocent woman to be married to the likes of his cousin, who while he isn't portrayed in a very favorable light, was never depicted as a complete ogre either. Because Jason's bad side isn't brought out very well, I kind of struggled a bit with the reasons for Sky's decision, but suffice it to say that he gave Jason his entire life savings for Brooke. Since there weren't any other feasible options without ruining the lady, he chose to marry her himself. Almost from the start, he senses that she's had a rough past and treats her with kindness and respect. Sky worked in the past as a lawman, so when the murder takes place, he ends up right in the thick of things, investigating and trying to keep the peace. He's far more fair-minded that most other men in the area, and he risks everything to save Brooke when she's kidnapped by the villain. Sky is a likable hero who's sweet and gentle, basically a beta. However, sometime I felt like he wasn't being proactive enough in getting Brooke to open up to him. He mostly just kind of sits back and waits for God to act to bring Brooke around, when I prefer a man to be a little more action-oriented on the romance front.
While I generally liked both Brooke and Sky as characters, I felt like their relationship could have been more romantic. It got off to a very good start with Sky being tender and not expecting anything from Brooke until she was ready. However, months go by and they don't even so much as kiss until about eight pages from the end. I've come to expect that the vast majority of inspirational romances are going to be pretty squeaky clean, but this was a little extreme even for this genre. I also felt like their romance was overshadowed by both the faith message and the mystery/suspense portion of the plot, which had its own issues that I'll get to in a minute. The faith aspect of the story was a bit too preachy for my taste. It's become tiringly common for one half of the couple in inspriationals to be in need of Jesus in their life, but here it's not only Brooke, but also Jason and other secondary characters as well. I felt like there were times that not much was happening besides people of faith trying to convert the non-believers, which kind of left me feeling like I was being beat over the head with this part of the story. Then there was a rather distressing thread involving a Chinese woman in town who was being mistreated by her husband, and it's implied that she stays with him because she feels it's what God wants her to do. I was beyond disappointed in this, because it sends an extremely dangerous message to women who are being brutalized by their husbands in real life.
According to the author's note at the end, the mystery/suspense portion of the plot was based on a real-life murder that occurred in Pierce City during that time. After reading her note, I realized that it felt like she took that case and built the rest of her story around it, which wasn't necessarily a good thing as the latter half or so of the book was more about the mystery and less about the romance. There were also a number of plot holes that bugged me. Here's where I may be giving away some spoilers, so if you don't like those, you may not want to read the rest of this paragraph. *************Spoiler Alert*********** The real villain of the story is a known outlaw who hasn't hesitated to kill others in the past. He has a personal vendetta against the victim, yet rather than simply killing the man himself, he hires out the work to a Chinese man who is basically the Old West equivalent of a drug dealer/organized crime boss. Unfortunately their partnership never made much sense to me. The mob boss then hires four underlings to actually commit the crime, one of whom later confesses. A posse comes to town to investigate and take these five Chinese men to the next town over to stand trial. However, the villain stops them, brandishing a gun. The men escorting the Chinese men simply leave. Now admittedly many of the men in the posse were blatant racists (they utter derogatory terms for Chinese people several times), but these six were allegedly trustworthy and had been handpicked by the lead investigator who seemed like a decent fellow, yet not a single one of them would stand up to one lone gunman? Then the villain proceeded to lynch all of the Chinese men by himself, which really stretched the bounds of credibility. Not to mention, the act itself was incredibly distressing for its racist overtones. I just didn't really see a need to do this other than the author wanting to stick to the real-life story, even though she admits that the real Chinese men were convicted on the flimsiest of evidence. She could have exercised creative license and chosen to give that story a different ending by letting them stand trial instead of engaging in an extrajudicial killing or perhaps even clearing their names. Not to mention, when the townsfolk can't explain exactly how the mysterious lynching happened or who did it, they blame it on the Native Americans in the area, which was also racially insensitive. *************End Spoiler Alert***********
As I mentioned, Rocky Mountain Oasis got off to a very good start that showed a great deal of promise. I enjoyed the first few chapters and thought that the book had the potential to earn keeper status from me. But as the story progressed, the book rating meter in my head slowly started dropping because of all the various problems I've already cited. By the time I got to the end, I just wasn't all that impressed anymore. Sky and Brooke were very likable characters, but I couldn't help feeling like both their characterizations and their relationship could have gone much deeper if the author had chosen to focus more on them and less on the overdone faith aspects and the shaky mystery/suspense part of the plot. I would have loved to see these two gradually come together and for Brooke to share her past with Sky and find genuine healing for the abuse she suffered. But instead it all magically went away when she accepted Jesus, which in my experience is not how real life works. The same was true for Jason, who becomes the hero of the next book, which at this point I'm not terribly excited about picking up. Although he wasn't a completely horrible person like other characters in the story, he didn't really seem like hero material either. The writing itself was reasonably sound, but it could have used better editing. The author repeatedly used "further" when it should have been "farther," and the entire book was in desperate need of more contractions in dialogue. As written, much of the speech was far too formal and stilted for cowboys in the Old West. I badly wanted to love Rocky Mountain Oasis, but in the end it was just OK. That said, though, I've read far more frustrating stories, which is why I still gave it 3.5 stars, but I'm sorry to say that it hasn't left me with any strong yearning to continue the series.
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