Book Review

Harper’s Bride by Alexis Harrington

B+

Title: Harper's Bride
Author: Alexis Harrington
Publication Info: Self Published 2010
ISBN: B0036B958S
Genre: Historical: Other

Book CoverI bought this book after reading an article in RT’s May issue about what some romance authors from back in the day are doing now. Their profile of one author, Alexis Harrington (whose name was vaguely familiar to me), mentioned that she’d recently published her backlist on Smashwords and Amazon Kindle. Clickity, click, I had a sample, and then a few clicks later I had to buy the whole book.

Harper’s Bride is a quiet, thoughtful romance. It’s a historical, so it takes place in the past, but something about the style, the way it was written and the language and prose also seemed historical, too. It was originally published in 1997, which isn’t that long ago, but as I read I kept thinking, “Wow, I haven’t read a book like this in a long time.”

Melissa Logan is standing behind her abusive waste of molecules husband Coy while Coy confronts the local shop keeper, Dylan Harper, about his debt. Seems Coy is over $1500 in the hole to Harper’s store, which in the days of the 1890’s Yukon gold rush was a whole lot of money. Coy comes up with a great solution: he’ll trade his wife and infant daughter, Jenny, in exchange for the bet.

Dylan has noticed that Melissa sports a bruise on her face and is unwilling to stand anywhere near her half-drunk, all-stupid husband, and so has his friend, Rafe, who is leaning on the store counter watching the whole scene. When Dylan agrees against his better judgment to trade the debt for Melissa, Rafe, a judge with a terribly consuming cough, takes them to the saloon next door and writes up an agreement exchanging Melissa and Jenny for the $1500-or-so debt. Melissa hasn’t said more than a few words at this point.

Once the deal is done and signed, Dylan informs Melissa that she doesn’t have to be his wife In That Way, but that cooking, cleaning, that type of thing, would be peachy. She’s pretty much terrified of her own shadow, and hauls ass up the stairs to the apartment above the store to start her new life.

Their first meals together, their first few days together, are awkward and quiet and painful. Melissa is not entirely convinced her change in fortune is anything better than the devil she knew, to say nothing of the blow to her sense of self importance that she could be sold as a means to pay off a debt. Slowly, particularly after she notices Dylan shaving with his shirt off a few days in a row, she comes to realize her own worth and her own strength, and begin to act on her intentions to provide a life for Jenny – a life where Jenny would never find herself in the same powerless position her mother had been in.

Melissa is a character I enjoyed reading about, and I rooted for her, though at times she was Snow White whistle-while-you-work perfect. Evil stepmother, team of mining dwarves, and man-dirty house in the woods are not going to keep Snow White down – and even though Melissa has genuine moments of terror and self-pity, she’s also so resilient and so perfect and so easily admired by just about every male in Dawson that she’s almost too perfect.

What saves her from unrealistic perfection is the imperfect awkward realism of her reaction to Dylan. He wasn’t expecting a wife. He doesn’t actually want to have one, but slowly, he realizes that he does want Melissa, and he has real and genuine feelings for baby Jenny as well. If the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, Melissa takes the express route by not only cooking meals for Dylan – who isn’t used to home cooking – but caring for his clothing and making his barren apartment into such a home and a haven that during the day he can’t stop himself from visiting, as if he’s not sure it’ll really be there the next time he goes up the back stairs.

Their attraction is slow and careful, blocked by their unfamiliarity with one another and by her actual marriage to Coy, who is still somewhere in Dawson City, drinking or sleeping in the mud. Their friendship is just as slow, and thus by the time they being to turn toward one another, it’s a natural development to the story and to the characters’ lives.

Plus, the setting was wonderful: Canada! During the gold rush! With miners and crazy people and a town experiencing a huge boom of building and an influx of people coming to find gold… it’s awesome. And the chaos and loud boisterousness of the town of Dawson City contrasts constantly with the quietness of Dylan’s apartment, the peacefulness Melissa craves and finally establishes for herself, and the calm waters of their slowly developing friendship.

The only thing that really bothered me, and this may be a sign of the time that the book was published, was how much they TALKED about everything. My gosh, even the ending was a discussion of the ending. For a taciturn man who didn’t want a wife and doesn’t want to want Melissa, he just opens up to bring their business to a close.  It wasn’t twee or saccharine but my gosh, they were pretty much telling each other the story at some parts.

That said, the marriage of convenience plot doesn’t always work for me, because all too often there’s that, “hey, we’re married, we might as well bow-chicka-bow-wow… hey, wait, that complicated things!” plot twist of tiresomeness. Harper’s Bride is a very inconvenient marriage for Dylan and Melissa – one that they don’t want, and one that ultimately they can’t really have. The small and careful obstacles to their happy ending were echoed by the quiet and careful building of their fragile friendship, and watching it deepen as those obstacles were cleared away made for marvelous, warm and fuzzy reading.


Harper’s Bride is available digitally at Smashwords (with a coupon for $1 off each book good until 14 May) and for the Amazon Kindle. You might be able to find used paper copies (this book is out of print) at Alibris or Amazon.com, or at AbeBooks in the UK.

Comments are Closed

  1. 1

    Slowly, particularly after she notices Dylan shaving with his shirt off a few days in a row, she comes to realize her own worth and her own strength,

    I just want to say this line made me grin out loud.  That is all.

  2. 2
    SB Sarah says:

    Nothing like hornypants to help a girl realize her own self worth and right to happiness and happy pants!

  3. 3
    Melissa says:

    Sounds good to me, thanks for the review Sarah! I am a fan of western romance and this one sounds interesting, so of course I bought it on Kindle.

  4. 4
    Bridget says:

    You’ve made a convert out of me too. I just went and bought it on Amazon (even with the international shipping charges!) after reading the free sample. I’ve never tried this author or time period before, so I’m very excited. And I have a bit of a book crush on Harper already.

  5. 5
    Stephanie says:

    Just bought this one off of Amazon.  Is it really true that this was a self-published book?  I thought that was for writers with an overblown perception of themselves.  And if it’s so successful, does she plan to put out a second edition?  What about her next books?  Has this woman beaten the publishers to the profits?

  6. 6
    Kristina says:

    Did you recommend this book just recently?  For some reason I already have a sample of it on my kindle.  And this isn’t in my normal vein of reading lately.  Hmmmm go figure. 

    This does sound like a very sweet book.  Every now and then all the blood, fighting, dirty sex and angst of my normal reading gets a bit trying.  This will be the perfect breather.

    Grazie.

  7. 7
    SB Sarah says:

    Stephanie:

    Alexis Harrington self-published her backlist of previously printed (now out-of-print) titles, because the rights had reverted back to her. So she released them digitally via Smashwords and Amazon Kindle. This book was originally published in 1997 by Topaz (do they still exist? I have no idea).

    Self-publishing older backlist titles digitally is a great way for an author to provide her books to a new audience. I never would have known about Harrington’s book otherwise.

    But self-publishing isn’t a venue for the desperate or those with overblown egos, either. It’s slowly becoming a viable option for publication, and I am betting you’ll see more options for self publishing sooner – it’s profitable for some folks and is a growing field.

  8. 8
    Bonnie Riley says:

    The only off-putting possibility here is that it would seem the real husband has to die for the HEA to be possible.  This is a pet peeve of mine:  love triangle resolved by death of spouse.  Are you listening, Julia Spencer-Fleming? William Kent Krueger? Lauren Willig?  Granted, having sold the wife and daughter I suppose the waste-of-space deserves a horribly painful death, but as a plot resolution it sucks, letting the parties off the hook for figuring out their own mess.  See much more realistic treatment in Cynthia Harrod-Eagles Bill Slider series.

  9. 9
    Beki says:

    It sounds good for the most part though I agree with Bonnie above that the love-triangle resolving through death of original spouse is a little off-putting to me.  Not that he doesn’t deserve it, but when the other characters are so perfect and good and then the “bad guy” dies, it’s almost too easy and seems ham-handed.  Is there really no other solution you can think of?

    Not saying that’s what the ending is here, though.  Just seconding the yuck of that trend. 

    And having been a woman who had to have herself AND her baby accepted and loved each for ourselves, I tend to like that line of story, and I canpick it apart like nobody’s business too.

  10. 10
    teshara says:

    I had family in Ca during the gold rush. While it wasn’t strange to sell off one’s family to pay debts, it also wasn’t strange for divorce to happen.
    When the judge drew up papers he probably wrote in a dissolution of responsibility that covered the husband’s butt so it wouldn’t be considered abandonment. It’s a step up from annulment and a step down from divorce. Ca still does it, I had it done 4 years ago, same as my great-grandmother had it done last century.

    @ stephanie, well that was a backhanded insulting comment. WTH?

  11. 11
    Karenmc says:

    I picked up this and another of her titles over the weekend (after seeing a mention on SBTB). I’ve started reading this one. So far, it’s smooth going. Nothing fancy, but very readable, and I’m liking the Alaska setting.

    Spam Captcha: problems49. My problem is that my TBR mountain has more than twice 49 books in it.

  12. 12
    MaryK says:

    Thanks to SB Sarah’s earlier post, I bought this one and another one (can’t remember the title, she’s a cook) from Smashwords.  I’ll have to read them fast before the coupon expires in case I want the rest of them.  :)

    I know what you’re talking about re the bad guy conveniently dying, but this guy goes around asking for it.  It’s really just a matter of time before he does something stupid and gets killed or somebody offs him.  (based on the Smashwords excerpt)

  13. 13
    Cathy says:

    Just downloaded this book yesterday, after reading the sample.  I’m looking forward to reading more, and exploring more of Harrington’s backlist.

  14. 14
    Ros says:

    I can’t be the only one who misread this author’s name as Alexis Carrington, can I?

  15. 15

    No, you’re not.  I keep saying Alexis Carrington in my head too. :)  I purchased Harper’s Bride today-love me some Gold Rush action.  Also, I found out on her Smashwords author page that she lives near me.  Always good to support the locals!

  16. 16

    Downloaded it and have been devouring it.  Really nice change of pace with the Canadian Gold Rush setting.  Thanks for the recommendation!

  17. 17
    SEO Writer says:

    I know the perfect person to give this book to as a gift.  I’m sure she’ll love it.

  18. 18
    Trai says:

    This sounds great; just bought it off of Smashwords. I’ve never tried an ebook before!

  19. 19
    Sarah says:

    Hi SB Sarah, just wanted to alert you that the last word in the third paragraph of your review is ‘bet’.  I’m pretty sure you meant to write ‘debt’?  Thanks as always for the thoughtful review.
    Sarah

  20. 20
    ~B says:

    Does the Kindle version have DRM?

  21. 21
    Val says:

    Anyone else having trouble setting up an account with Smashwords? I never got the account confirmation email (yes I checked the spam filter) and they aren’t replying to an online inquiry. Just wondering if I’m the only one. This book sounds so good and I’m anxious to read past the sample!

  22. 22
    Anna says:

    Does this mean that SBTB will be reviewing indie-published books in the future?

    There are some good indie titles showing up as ebooks (on Kindle Store), and a few are on the bestseller lists in romance. EG Parsons, Skip Crayton, Anna Murray, Ellen Fisher, Margaret Lake—all on romance bestseller lists on Kindle.

    I loved Skip Crayton’s book (The Letter Sweater), also Margaret Lake (Ariana’s Pride).

  23. 23
    Bill says:

    I had been searching for Harper’s Bride for a year before I discovered that Ms. Harrington had recently republished it as an ebook on Amazon. I first heard of this book on the Amazon Romance Forum. (Warning: If you are trying to limit the size of your TBR list, do not go anywhere near the Amazon book forums or Goodreads.) I enjoyed Harper’s Bride and I intend to get the rest of her backlist.

    A plus is that she lives near my home in Oregon and sets some of her other books in Portland and the Columbia River Gorge. I always enjoy reading books that are set in places I am familar with.

  24. 24
    Andrew says:

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