Saturday, October 16, 2010

Review: The Miner's Daughter by Alice Duncan

Many years ago I read another Alice Duncan romance and I enjoyed it quite a bit. She seems to focus on period and place settings that don't saturate the book market. Having had a happy experience with that past book, I immediately searched out as many of her backlist as I could. And then they sat in Tupperware bins unread for months and then years. But I was recently inspired to dig one out and see what I thought about it now. Unfortunately I found this one far less enjoyable than the one from years ago. I don't know if my tastes have changed or if I was always destined to feel distinctly disgruntled reading this one but it was definitely a disappointment.

Mari is a young woman who is desperately trying to hold onto the mine her recently deceased father so loved. As a matter of fact, he might have loved the Marigold Mine more than he loved Mari, naming her after it rather than vice versa. But she's obstinate about her less than ideal relationship with her father and she's not about to give up on his dream and the last tangible connection she has to him. Unfortunately the mine is not producing and she's deeply in debt. Salvation comes in the form of a fledgling Hollywood movie company. They think they've located an abandoned mine to use in their silent movie but in fact it is Mari's mine. The offer of enough money to pay of her debts and continue to live on for some time is very appealing although slightly less so when director Martin Tafft insists Mari herself play the leading actress. And the offer becomes downright fraught with danger when Tony Ewing, whose sketchily-moralled father is a major financial backer of the studio, arrives on the scene, immediately clashing with Mari. As Mari and Tony bicker and strike sparks off of each other, dodgy and strange things start to happen on the set, leading to suspicions of sabotage. Mari has to trust that this buttoned up Easterner is not out to get her and Tony must understand Mari's Western pluck and determination before they can even think about the deeper meaning of their feelings for one another.

Hollywood during its infancy, silent movies and the early years of the twentieth century are certainly under-represented in historical fiction, even historical romance which by rights should recognize easily the fertile ground therein. And Duncan does indeed offer interesting tidbits about the history of the film industry and the mechanics of early movies throughout the novel. But the characters inhabiting this time are silly and stereotypical. Their dialogue is stilted and sometimes even cringe-inducing. Thankfully, Mari's dog Tiny steals the storyline with his antics whenever he is on the page. His presence helps to distract the reader from the lack of real attraction between Mari and Tony. Just having the characters muse to themselves that they are attracted to the other is not enough to convince the reader and frankly, I thought that what they really felt for each other was an irritation rather than an attraction. Now I realize that I seem to be the only person who felt this way as the amazon reviews are all glowing so perhaps romance readers should read it and draw their own conclusions. But for my money, there are other romances out there with characters who are equal in appeal to the time and place in which the story is set and that's sadly just not the case here.

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