This must be Thursday. I never could get the hang of Thursdays.–Douglas Adams
This week my guest is Linda Gilman, author of the humorous western romance, The Courtship of Utopia Miner**
(**For a chance at this week’s prize, a copy of the courtship of Utopia Miner, please play Lie-dar by leaving a comment with your guess about which is her truth)
When I’m reviewing a book—especially one outside my usual genre—I look first for compelling characters, then a can’t-put-it-down plot. After that, it’s up to the writing to hook me into that combination of satisfaction at the conclusion and hunger for more. Linda Gilman’s humorous western, The Courtship of Utopia Miner, does all of that with the added bonus of humor and wit.
Utopia Miner has a problem. All her life she’s dreamed of becoming a saloon girl like the mother she never knew. But raised by three confirmed bachelor miners on their isolated claim outside an 1870s Colorado mining town, Utopia knows she lacks basic saloon-girl skills: she doesn’t know how to dance, she can’t remember the words of the one song she ever heard, and she’s pretty sure she doesn’t want to get poked, let alone pollinated. Worst of all, she worries that her approaching twentieth birthday puts her ‘past prime saloon girl hiring age’. Her three anxious fathers also have a problem. How are they going to make sure their daughter is respectably married, preferably before she’s either poked or pollinated? And ex-lawman turned rookie reporter Lancelot Jones has the biggest problem of all—they all think he’s the solution to their problems, while he’s having trouble avoiding thoughts of poking—let alone pollinating—where Utopia is concerned. Somehow, he finds himself refereeing a bride contest with Utopia as the prize, fending off both her suitors and her fathers’ shotguns, monitoring a collection of shady characters, meeting Utopia’s requests that he teach her kissing skills (stage one and stage two) to improve her saloon girl qualifications, and trying to transform his lawman past into the responsible newspaper owner he’s trying to become. Lance is the perfect hero material—scarred by decisions when wearing that badge, he wants to do the right thing now, if Utopia and her fathers’ would just give him a minute to figure out what that should be. Utopia and her fathers aren’t just one step ahead of poor Lance, they’ve lapped him and are heading for the finish line before he even knows he’s in the race.
I’d give The Courtship of Utopia Miner a solid four stars. Author Linda Gilman combines Utopia’s energy, native intelligence, and naivete with a voice that’s hilarious and dead-on perfect. Gilman’s command of dialect is delightfully educational. Honeyfuggler? Sockdoligger? Who knew? Add to that a plot that races faster than Utopia can talk, delightfully three-dimensional supporting characters, and clear fluid writing, and the result is a genre-busting, laugh out loud good time. My only complaint, and it’s minor, is that the frothy plot doesn’t allow the characters as much room to develop and grow as they deserve. I can’t wait to read more from Linda Gilman, but for now if you want to see how gold miners, moonshine, true love, tree houses, and kisses (stage one and stage two) combine, The Courtship of Utopia Miner is your winning choice for sure.
Please take a look at the excerpts below for a sense of what Linda Gilman brings to The Courtship of Utopia Miner
Utopia wants to be a saloon girl more than a hound dog wants a ribeye. But when Lance Jones shows up to report on the ridiculous marriage contest her three fathers have cooked up, will she finally give up her dreams of face paint and fancy, low-cut gowns for love?
Bound to Be Lucky Mining Camp
Rocky Mountains of Colorado, 1875
Lancelot Jones adjusted the brown felt derby on his head. He inhaled a deep breath and gave the door of the rustic cabin three solid knocks. The door opened, and in the next instant, a deluge of water flooded him from head to toe. “For the love of…” He swiped soap suds off his face and pulled together a civil response for the person who’d tossed the unexpected shower.
A lady with dripping red hair and wearing damp long johns stood before him. Her wash bucket dropped to the porch with a loud clank. She gasped. “Oh, my stars! I wasn’t expecting a body would be standing in the way of me tossing out my wash water.”
“That’s all right, Miss.” He tipped his head downward. Water poured off his hat brim in a long stream, drenching the tips of his boots. “I’d been pondering a good cooling off after riding most of the morning. I’d say that you’ve quickly dispatched a cure for such thoughts.”
Her emerald green eyes squinted at him.
“You’re one of them long-winded sorts, aren’t you?”
“I beg your pardon?”
“What’s your business in these parts, mister?”
“Well I…” Lance rubbed his fists at the burn of lye soap in his eyes. When the sting dissipated enough to see, a second unexpected event confronted him. The lady’s breasts were displayed in fine, round proportions through her soaked garment. “Well I… I…”
Any red-blooded male would naturally be tongue-tied and stunned by such a sight. He couldn’t help that his gaze hovered in the wrong place far too long as the gal twisted water from her lengthy hair. Suddenly, she noticed where his interest lingered.
Another gasp escaped her heart-shaped mouth. “Oh, sakes alive!”
Lance watched as her tawny, freckled complexion turned a shy pink. Her arms folded over her upper torso, and she scuttled backward into the cabin and slammed the door.
“If you’re one of them medicine peddlers, you best move on. We don’t need any,” she yelled through the closed barrier.
He leaned toward the door. “I can assure you, miss—I’m not a peddler.”
Lance had to admit this newspaper assignment was off to a unique start. He removed his doused frock coat and draped it over his arm. Could the indecently clad redhead be the bride-to-be offered in the courtship contest he was to report on? Based on what he’d seen so far, she was certainly worth further investigation.
He cautiously knocked a second time.
The latch raised, and the door opened a crack. The barrel of a shotgun slipped out.
“Are you certain you’re not selling something?”
Lance plopped his derby back on his head and quickly raised his hands. He retreated a step back from the weapon. “No, ma’am. I’m not selling anything.”
The shotgun disappeared. The gal peeked through the small gap of the doorway. Her untamed hair hung like a crinkled curtain across her face. She parted her veiled locks and smiled. “Don’t you run off, you hear. I’ll be out directly.”
Before he could voice a reply, the lass slammed the door a second time.
Lance retrieved a small notebook from his vest pocket and flipped through several damp pages of notes. “Miss… I’m looking for a Jargus Knudsen. Is he around?”
She hollered back in a distracted voice, “Who wants to know?”
“I’m Lancelot Jones. I’m a repor—” He halted midsentence.
Mr. Knudsen, the father, had instructed the editor of the Rocky Mountain Gazette newspaper, Barris Baines, that the contest details should not be discussed with the daughter. If this girl was the young lady in question, then her father gave specific instructions to use the secret code to gain admittance to the mining camp.
“Miss, this Mr. Knudsen will want to see me. I’m here about some—” He checked his reporter notes for the code word. “Whiskey.”
Several tin cups clanked against the interior walls before the cabin fell silent.
“Miss, is everything all right in there? Oh, miss?”
Lance put his ear to the door. He thought about using his shoulder to gain entry into the cabin when he heard a scraping noise. What on earth was she doing in there?
“I’ll be out in a minute,” she yelled. “Where in blazes are those dang ribbons?”
“Did you say something, miss?” He continued to press his ear to the door, when he heard a tapping on glass. Shifting his body toward the sound, he glanced at the window to the right of the door. There she was, grinning and vigorously rubbing a towel on her damp hair.
“I’m hurrying fast as I can. I’ll be out directly.” The lass flashed him a pretty smile before she vanished behind a gingham curtain hanging across the window.
This gal’s a most strange creature. Never in his short journalism career, which spanned only a month, had he encountered such an intriguing girl. In fact, the visual of her damply clad chest wouldn’t clear from his mind. If he’d known covering the news was so surprisingly interesting, he would have considered giving up his marshal’s badge much sooner.
Lance turned his back on the cabin and walked to the edge of the porch to size up the rest of the mining camp.
Sixty yards of sparse grass separated this young woman’s cabin from the other structures. Three similar shacks and a false-fronted building, all in varied stages of decay, dotted the area. In truth, the entire place appeared on the verge of being a ghost town.
Toward the north, the snowy Rockies walled off the blue skyline. Aspen trees dotted the hillsides like a soft, green canvas. The rushing water of a spring thaw could be heard in a creek behind the gal’s cabin.
His attention drew back to the latch as it lifted. Out she stepped. The lass now wore buckskin pants, mid-calf muck boots, and a threadbare, snug-fitting shirt. She busily tied a ribbon on the end of her braid.
The ribbon now tied, her hands busily tucked her shirttail into the back of her pants. She smiled. “Sorry for your wait. I needed a minute to get myself together. I hope you don’t hold hard feelings against me for getting you all wet.”
“No. Not at all.”
Her hand jutted out for a handshake. “Howdy. I’m Utopia Miner.”
Lance returned her greeting. Her grip was strong, and she cranked his arm up and down as if she worked a pump handle. It was a chore getting his fingers out of her calloused hold. A quick glance gave him notice of the dirt under her short nails. The girl must do a fair amount of hard work. He’d make a note of that. It could be a fact relevant to the event he was to cover.
He recognized her name from the contest information printed in the newspaper. If he were to guess Miss Utopia’s age based on her mannerisms, sixteen suited her. But then again, such splendid curves belonged to a more mature woman. His assessment was revised, aging her more toward nineteen.
“So—you mentioned you want to talk with my Pa Jargus?”
The gal’s face took on an expression of what seemed to be acute worry as her fingers blindly fumbled down her shirt placard, checking that each button was secured. She gave a relieved sigh.
He could barely compile his answer with such a distraction. “Uhh…yes, ma’am. I need to speak with Mr. Knudsen. It’s very important.”
“We’ll have to go looking for him. Follow me.” She headed down the stairs but on the last step turned back to him. Her eyebrows arched in queried concern. “You say you only want to talk with Pa Jargus but not my other fathers?”
“I’m sorry. I don’t believe I heard you correctly.” Could the gal have him any more confused? He needed to have these strange facts straight if he was to write his article properly. “How many…I mean…let me rephrase my question. Mr. Knudsen is your father, isn’t he?”
Her green eyes squinted in the morning sunlight. She shielded her stare with her hand. “I don’t rightly know how you come by that information, mister, but yes, Jargus Knudsen is my pa. But I also have two others. That’s three fathers in all. How many you got?”
He smirked at her odd question. “Oh, I have the usual number. One.”
“How about that—I guess I’m right lucky to have so many.” Utopia spun around, and with an elongated stride, she left the last porch step. Her arm waved at him. “Are you coming or not?”
Lance followed her with a million questions circling in his brain, mostly regarding the possibility of someone—anyone—claiming to have three fathers.
Although Linda Gilman’s characters have a variety of unexpected talents, she has a few herself. If she had to show off one as a Miss America contestant, which of the following would we see? Enter your guess in comments below for a chance to win this week’s prize.
- Like her hero Lance, Linda would give a shooting demonstration of her expert marksmanship.
- Linda would do her stand up comic routine.
- Linda would demonstrate her prize-winning blueberry rhubarb pie recipe.
Please add your guess to your comment below, and you will be entered to win a digital (eBook) copy of Linda Gilman’s western romance, The Courtship of Utopia Miner. Winner will be announced next Thursday, June 5.
Winner of last week’s Lie-dar is Amanda Capper. Elaina Roberts confesses, “I got lost in the gardens of Versailles and circled the same fountain four times before I found the path back to the palace. I just barely caught the bus to the hotel. (truth – I’m horrible with mazes and get lost very easily lol) ” Congratulations, Amanda and hope you enjoy your copy of The Fox’s Mate.
For a chance at this week’s prize, a copy of Linda Gilman’s The Courtship of Utopia Miner, don’t forget to leave your guess about which is her truth!
***Would you like to be a guest on Thursday Lie-dar? I’d love to feature you and your work here! (interview, contest, book review, guest post) For information, send email to firstname.lastname@example.org***