Monday, April 27, 2009

Spotlight Review: TEXAS HOLD HIM by Lisa Cooke

ISBN: 978-0-8439-6254-3
May 2009
Historical Romance, American

New Orleans, Louisiana, and up the Mississippi; 1870

The Mason family lost nearly everything in the War Between the States. Harold Mason, the head of the family, hasn't been well since he was accused of murder, though no evidence was offered. His daughter Charlotte, affectionately called Lottie, and his sister Dorothy, now care for him as best they can in a small house far less grand their former manor on the plantation. But now Lottie has one more worry to contend with...a really, really big one. A man whose face she's never seen wants $15,000 or he will testify that he saw her father commit the murder. Where will she come up with that amount of money? Now, Lottie is not stupid, but she led a sheltered life before the war, so perhaps it's understandable that once she hears from a neighbor about the fortunes changing hands aboard the riverboat, presently docked in New Orleans, she comes to believe she has a chance to win the blackmail money by gambling. She tells her family she's taking a trip to visit friends, gets a job serving food and drinks aboard the Magnolia Belle, and looks for the right man to teach her how to play cards so she can win the $25,000 prize in the tournament to be held in St. Louis in four weeks.

Obadiah "Dyer" Straights reluctantly leaves the arms of his lush companion to answer the door only to find some crazy lady wanting him to teach her something. He tells her he's busy; she'll have to wait her turn. Little does he know that Lottie Mace (as she renamed herself) is not one to be put off by rudeness, not when it means her father's life. Eventually she wears away at Dyer until he strikes a bargain with her, a bargain he hopes will scare her off.

The relationship between Lottie and Dyer sparkles with personality. Lottie is innocent and naive, but also pert, plucky, and determined. While she annoys and amuses Dyer, she manages to get under his skin. But TEXAS HOLD HIM isn't just fluff. Lottie discovers much about the world and about men and women. As for Dyer, perhaps one reason he is so good at gambling -- besides his native intelligence -- is that he doesn't really care if he wins or not. For Dyer lost something in the war also, and he wants revenge on the person who took it from him.

As the Magnolia Belle travels upriver with stops along the way, Dyer keeps searching. Does he find trouble, or does it find him? And what about Lottie and the blackmailer? The novel is a well-crafted balance between amusing banter, suspenseful plot, and sexual and romantic tension. Minor characters, friendly and not, add interest to the whole. With this debut as a sample of her talent, Lisa Cooke is on the way to success, so take a cruise up the Mighty Mississippi with Lottie, Dyer, and the rest. You'll have a fine time.

Jane Bowers

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