Review for A Man to Call My Own, by Johanna Lindsey:
All the key elements, save one, are present in A Man to Call My Own. It's a good-twin/bad-twin story, about 2 young women in the late 1800s who lose their father and are sent to live with their aunt in Texas. Though Marian and Amanda are of age, their father has stipulated in his will that their aunt must be their guardian and approve of their choice of husbands before they can receive their inheritances. Marian, who uglifies herself and has alienated all the men in their New England town because she fears her sister's jealousy, is game. But super-bitch Amanda whines during the whole cross-country trek. When they are picked up by their aunt's friend Chad, he is too blinded by Amanda's beauty to notice her personality. Marian, strongly attracted to Chad, nevertheless shuns him because she knows her sister would get jealous if he showed interest in her (or vice versa). Slowly, as Marian gets used to ranch life and gets to know Chad better, they are unable to resist each other. Their relationship is complicated by a crazy series of surprises that keeps them apart.
Both Marian Laton and Chad Kinkaid are great characters, and they're really very similar. Both are brave, kindhearted, adventurous, and, at least when Amanda isn't around, both very polite. They're not complex figures at all, though Chad certainly finds the alternately spinsterish/sexy Marian very mysterious. But when both are allowed to be themselves, they are a simple and happy couple.
Which actually is part of the book's problem--there's no chemistry between the two. Half the time they are hooking up, Chad thinks she's Amanda, so I couldn't see what was special about their connection. I wasn't really sure why Chad fell for Marian in the first place, though they do work well together. But their sex scenes are boring and uninspired, and though I liked them as a couple, that necessary romance novel passion was missing.
Otherwise, the book was pretty good. The secondary characters are all interesting, especially Amanda, whose story I loved. Unfortunately, near the end of the book Lindsey tosses in some kidnapping schemes, some inheritance-stealing plots, and so on, which are all very far-fetched and irrelevant. The Big Misunderstanding between Marian and Chad was also problematic. I liked how the characters handled it, and I enjoyed reading all the angst, but other readers might be annoyed by its flimsy premise.
I do recommend this book, despite my criticisms. As I said, most of the elements are there, and I had a hard time putting it down. Lindsey is clearly a skilled writer (despite the excessive grammatical errors), and she made the Old West come alive for me. I'm now looking forward to reading more books by her, as well as more romances in that setting. I would like to give the book a B, but I've given other books with fewer flaws that grade, so I'll have to stick her with a B-. Nevertheless, I expect to be reading some Lindsey novels again soon.