Help A Bitch Out

HaBO: She Didn’t Get to Finish the Book

Help a Bitch Out! Vera is searching for book she first encountered on vacation many years ago: 

On to business. Sadly, I didn't read a lot of romance novels when I was a kid. I still don't, in fact; in my moments of weakness I find there's a lot of, erm, well-written fanfiction to see me through (holla, “Fitzwilliam Darcy, Gentleman” trilogy. I read ALL of you back when you were still archived at pemberley.com…). Anyway, this is a long way of saying I had absolutely no idea what I was up against when I came across a mystifying, mysterious, and ultimately deeply engrossing romance paperback in the ski village condo we'd rented for the week. The cover looked like a blend of Gone with the Wind the Eighties–but that is still true for quite a few novels today, so that may not be helpful.

The novel was something vaguely Western/Gold Rush. There may have been a long family history and a series of subsequent (or prior) books; certainly there was a pretty involved family tree at the front or back of it. The main character was this awesome, ass-kicking, so-independent-you-could-cut-bread-on-it femme of the old type. The kind of woman who went West as a mining boom prostitute and then ended up as a successful businesswoman, opening a dance hall that eventually became a respectable salon? And then, finally, in this weird but absurdly sexy compromise of interests (which = also succumbing finally to deep and abiding companionship), marrying her dark, silent business partner? I think they called him the Rector or something like that, because he always wore black… And then at the end of this book, there's this bit about how the two of them grow old together but then he dies, and eventually she has a spunky, toast of the town granddaughter who has NO CLUE how, erm, colorful her granny's history has been. And the final image is of this amazing matriarch, ruthless, mysterious, enigmatic to the end. I'm not sure it could be termed a bodice ripper proper, because there (at least to my inept searching) just wasn't THAT much bodice ripping going on. (I was comparing to, for instance, Anne McCaffrey-style dragon sex, which is pretty much ubiquitous in certain of her books.) But definitely hot, and, I guess, “billowy.” Yes, that's the word that comes to mind. “Billowy” actually makes a lot of sense, since the other thing I was reading a lot of at the time was Dickens, which is pretty much the anti-Billow.

Needless to say, I did not get to finish the book during my time there. (Reading is hard when you have to get up early in the morning to go drag yourself outdoors with your parents. Also when they have banned you from reading.) BUT I WANT TO NOW. It's been, oh, ten years? Eleven? Suddenly this has turned up again in my memory, inspired by a creeping suspicion I acquired during a historical-figure Wikipedia binge that highlighted Belinda Mulrooney, who reminded me tremendously of this character. I've spent hours tonight trying to figure it out on my own, to no avail… Please, please help? :)

Do you recognize this book? 

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  1. 1
    Liz Tea Bee says:

    I have no useful input but (like with most HaBo) now I want to read it!

  2. 2
    Beccah W. says:

    This made me think of a Catherine Anderson book. Not that I have a specific one in mind, but it sounds like her type of book: Western with very little bodice-ripping, and the whole growing old together thing. Perhaps a search into her library is in order?

  3. 3
    pisceschick says:

    At first, I was thinking Jude Deveraux’s “Mountain Laurel,” because the ass-kicking heroine goes west to sing opera at mining camps and is often likened to a prostitute for it.  Her dark and brooding hero was named Ring, and he offers to build her a place to sing in his hometown.  It’s part of the huge Montgomery family series, and definitely fits the family tree bit.  BUT, the bit with the granddaughter doesn’t mesh and it’s not a perfect fit story-wise.  So, hopefully that helps with narrowing down the possibilities?  Sounds interesting! 

  4. 4
    Cate says:

    I was thinking classic Deveraux too… But there’s no match with the Rector/Parson/Vicar bod . So,sorry …But I too want to read this :)

  5. 5
    Holly Gault says:

    This makes me think of Gwen Bristow’s Calico Palace (synopsis doesn’t talk about characters): This thrilling story of the California gold rush is not about the forty-niners, the prospectors who came rushing to the San Francisco area in 1849, but about the men and women who were there when it all began with the first discovery of gold in 1848, when San Francisco was a village of 900 people. These were the people who went up to the hills and came back staggering under the weight of the treasure they carried, and who began transforming San Francisco from a shantytown into one of the most brilliant cities in the world.

    This novel tells the unforgettable story of how these people walked into one of the most spectacular adventures in the world’s history. They saw the first samples of gold brought to the quartermaster, who said they were flakes of yellow mica. They were there when the first people who saw the gold were laughed at and called “crackbrains.” And they laid the foundation of the golden empire before the first forty-niners got there. Some of them could not meet the demands of this strange new world; others grew stronger and shared the greatness of the country they had helped build. Calico Palace is their story brought to vivid life.

    Or maybe Jubilee Trail: The history of California in the mid-19th century comes alive in this captivating historical novel. Garnet Cameron, a fashionable young lady of New York, is leading a neat, proper life, full of elegant parties and polite young men, yet the prospect of actually marrying any of them appalls her. Yearning for adventure, she instead marries Oliver Hale, a wild trader who is about to cross the mountains and deserts to an unheard-of land called California. During Garnet and Oliver’s honeymoon in New Orleans, she meets a dance-hall performer on the lam who calls herself Florinda Grove and is also traveling to California. Along the Jubilee Trail, Garnet and Florinda meet kinds of men never known to them before, and together they make their painstaking way over the harsh trail to Los Angeles, learning how to live without compromise and discover both true friendship and true love.

     

  6. 6
    Jody says:

    That book is Lily Cigar.  I read it last year and Lily is the best heroine ever!  There’s one (of many) fabulous scene where she seduces one of the villains and then shoots him.

    Sorry I can’t tell you the author, but I know he(!) only wrote three novels.  Lily is long out of print but you can probably score a copy on half.com pretty reasonably. 

  7. 7
    The Other Susan says:

    Oh! Oh! I want a dark, silent business partner!  Oh, uh, male I mean, of course.

  8. 8
    ridiculousspider says:

    I’m stuck on the parents banning their child from reading. 

    Sounds like a really interesting read.

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