(Image from Barnes & Noble)
After her father dies, it's up to 21-year-old Jennie Jones to keep the family ranch running. But, as her savings dwindle and rival ranchers continue to steal her cattle, she's growing desperate. So desperate that she comes up with a money-making scheme that's as repugnant as it is successful. With the help of a greedy rogue, Jennie waits for a profitable stage coach robbery, then steals the bounty from the hapless thieves. She gives the calculating Nathan Baird his cut and uses the rest of the funds to keep her ranch going. It's not like she's the one committing a crime. Right? Even though Jennie knows it's wrong, she also knows that if she loses the ranch, she, her grandmother and her younger brother will be homeless, with no other family to take them in.
As Caleb Johnson, a former bounty hunter with secrets of his own, wanders Utah Territory looking for work, he happens upon the fiery Jennie. He's intrigued by her courage, her passion and her determination to save her family's ranch. Still grieving the loss of his fiancee, Caleb's looking for somewhere to lick his wounds while earning the rest of the money he needs to start his own freight business. When Jennie offers him a job as a ranch hand, he takes it, despite the fact that the pay is low and he can't rope a calf to save his life.
The longer the two work together, the closer Jennie and Caleb become. As their friendship deepens into something more, Jennie knows she has to come clean about her secret Robin Hood-ing. But she can't. Not until she scrapes up enough cash to stave off foreclosure. She can't lose the ranch, not after she's sold her soul to the devil in order to keep it. And yet, she can't stand to keep things from the kind, trusting Caleb. If Jennie tells him the truth, though, she knows she'll lose him forever. Caught between the love of her land and the growing feelings she has for Caleb, Jennie must make an impossible choice: give up her thieving ways, and thus her ranch, or lose the only man she's ever loved.
Fun premise, right? I think so, too. Lady Outlaw, a debut novel by Stacy Henrie, sounds like a lively story, just brimming with adventure and charm. And it is. Kind of. The problem for me exists in the build-up—Henrie launches right into Jennie's problem without giving the reader a lot of background. We don't really understand what kind of person our heroine is or how much her land means to her before she goes about stealing other people's money to save herself. Thus, I think Jennie comes off as not just immoral, but also prideful and unsympathetic. Personally, I just didn't care for her all that much. So, there was that. Plus, the story's far-fetched, the plot contrived and the writing only so-so. Again, I think the premise has a lot of promise—it's the execution that's the problem. Overall, Lady Outlaw tells a fun, entertaining adventure story. But, it's got issues. So, for me, the novel ended up being just okay.
(Readalikes: Hm, I can't think of anything. Can you?)
If this were a movie, it would be rated: PG for violence and scenes of peril
To the FTC, with love: I bought an e-copy of Lady Outlaw from Amazon with a portion of the millions I make from my lucrative career as a book blogger. Ha ha.