Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Feature Review: "Early Dawn," By Catherine Anderson

By Melanie Murray, RBTB Correspondent

Remember the opening of “Little House on the Prairie?” Laura, Mary and Carrie run carefree through fields of wheat, pigtails flying, brightly colored gingham swirling… This image always gave me a warm feeling inside. Then the show would start, and suddenly you were contending with life-threatening calamities:

Outlaws. Disease. Nellie Oleson.

Catherine Anderson’s “Early Dawn” is much in the vein of “Little House on the Prairie” in that it celebrates the resilience of those who lived in the untamed West. Anderson’s world has gunslingers and cowboys and damsels in distress, but she doesn’t glamorize it. The perils her two main characters face are very real and very deadly, and how they overcome their trials will inspire you and even give you a little burst of American pride.

Eden Paxton is on a train bound for No Name, Colorado, when she’s kidnapped by the ruthless Sebastian Gang. Intending to sell her across the border, they beat her during the day and force humiliations on her at night. After five torturous days her prayers for rescue are answered, but her savior is a mysterious stranger, a man who’s quiet and dirty and as disreputable looking as her previous captors.

Oregonian Matthew Coulter has been tracking the notorious Sebastian Gang since the day they murdered his wife. For three years he’s been alone on the trail, with only his horse and a mule named Herman for companionship. He’s sent one Sebastian brother to meet his Maker, but each time he gets close to the others circumstances get in the way. This time they come in a beautiful, red-haired, blue-eyed package, one who looks at him as if he were a criminal.

But it doesn’t take long before Eden learns how deep still waters can run. As they travel together trying to elude the Sebastians, Matthew’s caring manner and silent strength stir her desires. Though she wants more than friendship from Matthew, she can’t entirely trust a man’s touch so soon after her ordeal.

And while Eden’s spirit, beauty, and honesty begin to shake Matthew from his comfort with solitude, he has sworn to never marry again. He failed to protect his wife, and doesn’t feel worthy of another’s love.

Catherine Anderson creates a pair of characters as tough as the countryside she so lovingly describes. Matthew’s and Eden’s physical journey mirrors the emotional one they take toward each other. Anderson doesn’t whitewash the dangers they encounter, and it’s because of this that their happy ending seems so well-earned. You’ll root hard for good to triumph over evil when you --

Buy the Book.

What are your favorite Western love stories? And why do you think the setting becomes such a big part of these romances?


Katrina said...

I just read Pieces of Sky by Kaki Warner, which takes place in the New Mexico territory. It's so beautifully written I'm recommending it to everyone I know.

I think the setting is such an integral part to western romances because a large part of the conflict comes from the story of survival.

Just like the ton in Regency romances almost becomes a character in itself, so does the wild frontier. People are fighting to survive.

Melanie Murray said...

Good morning, Katrina. Well-said. I agree completely, some of the conflict does arise from what the characters must do to survive.

I'm reading Pieces of Sky now. A great month for Westerns!

Leigh Duncan said...

I'm not normally a huge fan of Western romances, but Early Dawn sounds so intriguing--and realistic--that I'll follow Michelle's advice and btb.

Michelle Buonfiglio said...

Buongiorno, Bellas and grazie mille, Melanie, for this really tantalizing piece on this new Catherine Anderson.

My bad for initially forgetting to id this piece as yours!!! It's all Melanie's, folks!

Now, my girlfriend turned me on to CA with an oldie of hers that has one of my fave closing scenes of all time. and the set up of the book is great to me, cause it's got a totally innocent heroine and a hero who's up to no good but trips over his bad intentions through the whole thing.

And I'm really wanting to read "Early Dawn" now, Melanie, because it seems from your take that there's a real authenticity to it, that it's not a contemporized historical. And i love the gritty, dirty hero who looks like an outlaw.

I'm w/Katrina on the Kaki Warner. It may end up on my Year's Best list. I wonder whether C Anderson inspired her work. She seems very down to earth. Maybe we can ask Kaki when she's at BN Romantic Reads. Is that this week?

Melanie Murray said...

Leigh, I have to say that while I enjoy westerns they're not the first books I gravitate to. I've said elsewhere that it's because I like the frilly comforts of English-set romances. But this is really well written, the setting is beautifully depicted and the characters are just very sympathetic.

The subject matter is also meaty; there are real issues the characters work through.

Melanie Murray said...

That's a great word for this book, Michelle: authentic. And I too love the dirty hero! In this case Matthew doesn't even realize how removed from society he's become. Well, he realizes it somewhat but doesn't necessarily care. It's wonderful!

Kaki will be at Romantic Reads next week, and that's a great question for her. I'm curious about her influences, too.

The Reading Frenzy said...

Good Morning,
Thanks Melanie for bringing to the forefront one of my all-time favorite authors both in historical and contemporary romance especially that prolific family the Coulters.
My favorite western love stories are of course Catherine's also Linda Lael Miller and Kathleen Eagle.
I think the setting makes a big part of the stories particularly the vastness of the plaines and the mountains, the homes that are usually ancestral, the barns and of course the animals that go along with a western romance and well just the view that the author puts in your mind. If it's a great author like the one's I've mentioned then you will definitely the the full effect of the setting.
Thanks Melanie for a great review and article. Early Dawn is on my TBR pile

Scorpio M. said...

Oh, I just loved Little House growing up. Such wholesomeness, I miss it.

My favorite Western romance is Lorraine Heath's, Texas Destiny. *super sigh*

I do enjoy a good Western, there's just something in the shared American experience that does it for me. This type of feeling just isn't evident when reading other settings. Perhaps it's the American history lessons ingrained in me, the knowledge that blood, sweat and tears were shed on THIS ground. It just makes the setting more real, honest and brutal and thereby making the H/H's HEA more gratifying. No 'lets snag the rakiest rake for all his inheritance' around these parts. Not that there is anything wrong with that...just different.

Cormac McCarthy, brilliant man that he is, writes some of the most horrific prose describing the Western landscape yet his awe of it comes through. I understand his sentiment.

amy kennedy said...

Melanie, what a lovely piece. I used to love a good western romance, and this one sounds beautiful and heartbreaking.

Michelle, you got me with the "authentic" description as well. Because, even though we want to be taken out of the "real" world, we still want to believe it could happen.

Sissa said...

I adore the Rouges in Texas Series by Lorraine Heath. I just loved the thought of three english gentleman suddenly getting planted in a foreign country and land and then having to make the best of it.

Becke Davis said...

Melanie, this book sounds absolutely wonderful. I already have a couple Catherine Anderson books in my TBR pile, looks like I'd better buy this one and then get reading!

Becke Davis said...

I've got the Kaki Warner book in my pile, too. I want to read it because my great-grandfather was an early settler in New Mexico, and I still have relatives there. But besides that, the book sounds really good, too.

Unknown said...

I love the western romances! Rachel and the Hired Gun by Elaine Levine was my favorite this past year. It was and awesome read and right now I am waiting on the next book in the series.

Melanie Murray said...

Debbie, I'm a huge Anderson fan, too. Star Bright from last year was a favorite of mine. Did I get that title right? My brain...

Melanie Murray said...

Scorpio, what beautiful thoughts on the power of the Western setting. I think you've struck on something true about why those HEA's seem all the more earned when the hero and heroine are also trying to carve out a little bit of survival. And Cormac McCarthy is one of those authors whose books you have to read with one eye closed, isn't he?

Amy, isn't that funny? We want to be transported when we read, but if something doesn't ring true it'll take us out of our escapism!

Jedisakora, I haven't read those, but they sound great. A fish-out-of-water story in the American West? Fantastic!

Melanie Murray said...

Becke, this has been a great month for Westerns. I don't think you can go wrong with either the Anderson or the Warner.

Virginia, that's a great call on the Levine. That book's worth a look for the title alone!

The Reading Frenzy said...

Melanie, you did get the title right and she also had some re-issues last year from her Comanche series that are GREAT Like Tony the tiger would say.
Comanche Moon and Comanche Heart

Gannon Carr said...

Melanie, after reading your glowing review, I will definitely be buying it! Matthew and Eden sound like a hero and heroine deserving of their HEA.

I used to read Kathleen Eagle, Linda Lael Miller and Maggie Osborne, but it's been quite awhile since I've picked one up.

Melanie Murray said...

Debbie, those reissues had beautiful covers, didn't they?

Gannon: I hope you like Early Dawn! Matthew and Eden do deserve their happy ending. They're put through the ringer.

Unknown said...

I just finished the Catherine Anderson book and I really enjoyed it. I love a good gritty Western historical. I'm also a big fan of the early Kathleen Eagle books.

pjpuppymom said...

Wonderful blog, Melanie. I haven't read a Catherine Anderson book in years. Seems like a good time to change that!

I'm a big fan of westerns. Always have been. I enjoy reading Linda Lael Miller, Jo Goodman, Maggie Osborne, Jodi Thomas, Stacey Kayne and many more. Some of my favorite early books from Johanna Lindsey are westerns.

Why is the setting such a big part of the story? I can't improve on what Katrina said: I think the setting is such an integral part to western romances because a large part of the conflict comes from the story of survival.

I've been hearing a lot of buzz about Kaki Warner and Pieces of Sky. One more book added to my tbb list!

Vanessa Kelly said...

This sounds like a wonderful, intense read, Melanie. Every once in a while I love taking a break from the Regency period for the Western. I think the appeal for me is that they're so stripped down to life's essentials. And they're usually the tale of ordinary folk instead of the earls and countesses I love to read (and write)about. Sometimes a change is as good as a vacation, right?

I think Jo Goodman is a fantastic writer, and I just finished LL Miller's The Bridegroom. I thoroughly enjoyed it.