Of teary eyes and torn crinoline: an appropriately big Texas saga by homegrown romance maven Meacham (Tumbleweeds, 2012, etc.).
The sins of the fathers are visited upon the children. Or maybe the other way around, since this book covers the generations before the Warwicks and Tolivers donned Ralph Lauren, before their Dallas dust-ups in Roses (2010). Meacham’s steamy prequel opens in Tidewater country, where young Jessica is pitching a wobbly because—well, because the pressure is on to do right by the paterfamilias and marry well onto some rich plantation, the ethical niceties of human bondage notwithstanding. Quoth she, in language befitting a coarser but more modern version of Gone with the Wind, “I’d rather copulate with a mule than a slave owner.” It takes many pages before Miss Jessica bestirs herself for the westward movement and Manifest Destiny, for a vast landscape fussed and feuded over by stalwart Jeremy Warwick and Silas Toliver. Well, you can't settle a frontier or found an empire without breaking eggs, and Meacham's latest is littered with broken shells—most of them broken at just the right moment and not haphazardly, but always with the opportunity for bosoms to heave into view. Meacham writes skillfully, if never stretching the bounds of the historical romance genre; readers expecting a yarn of the Lonesome Dove school will find that they're in Barbara Cartland territory instead. (Miss Jessie, after all, belongs not to the local chapter of the Texas Rangers auxiliary but to a book club.) Still, Meacham writes competently, if without much flair, and her tale delivers what it sets out to do: Namely, it’s a historical oater with oodles of emotion, rent hearts, sundered friendships and fierce Comanches. And does Ms. Jessie ever get around to bedding down with an anti-abolitionist? There’s the question.
Meacham's fans—and she has many—will be glad for this prequel.