Quiet, unassuming, and responsible Bessie Randall has always lived in the shadow of her vivaciously beautiful younger sister Lenore. When she discovers that Lenore has been corresponding with a soldier out west under Bessie's name-- and has even married him by proxy-- Bessie chooses to protect her sister from forgery charges by traveling to Wyoming to meet her legal husband.
Expecting the lovely and adventurous Lenore, Jasper Mendenhall is shocked and visibly disappointed when he discovers he has technically married Bessie instead. When the army moves up Jasper's orders to move to Fort Bowie, he has no choice to take Bessie along and sort out the legal mess when they arrive in Arizona. In that time, can Bessie prove her worth and convince Jasper to allow her to stay and build a family instead of sending her back to Boston in disgrace?
In To Love a Stranger, Colleen Coble tells a story of true love that grows out of respect and sees beyond outward appearances. While intriguing, Bessie and Jasper's situation requires the reader to suspend reality. Why would a level-headed young woman go traipsing across the country to live with a complete stranger just because her sister has acted irresponsibly? Coble hints that perhaps believes this is her last chance for marriage, but this paints her as awfully desperate for the daughter of a wealthy Boston family. In that vein, why do her parents-- who Coble often describes as elitist-- allow their daughter to marry a poor soldier?
Similarly, Coble never truly delves into Bessie and Lenore's relationship to sufficiently explain why Bessie would go to such lengths to protect such a terrible sister. The reader never gets a clear picture of Lenore herself either-- is she a spoiled, selfish, conniving debutante? Or just a beloved, but naive friend? She seems to be an unsatisfying blend of both.
That said, Coble's descriptions of army life and westward travels are vivid and entertaining. Full of action and adventure, the story is fast-paced and progresses quickly. While readers recognize that in a romance novel the main characters will not live happily ever after until the very end, Jasper and Bessie's happy ending could have come much earlier had they bothered to communicate with one another. This does not seem to be asking too much of two reasonable, thoughtful, and Christ-seeking people. The basic plot outline and interesting backdrop had potential, but unfortunately the execution fell flat.
I received this book for free from NetGalley for free in exchange for an honest review.