Author: Lori Austin
Series: Book #2 in the Once Upon a Time in the West series
Release Date: 4 June 2013
Number of pages: 317 pages
Formats available: review copy provided by the author
Purchasing Info: Goodreads, Author's Website, , , Barnes and Noble, Book Depository UK, Book Depository US, Read an excerpt
Grade: 4 stars
Goodreads appetizer: In a time of war, love has its own rewards…
Saving soldiers’ lives at the Confederate army hospital Chimborazo, Annabeth Phelan is no ordinary Southern belle. She’s never known work more exhausting or rewarding. And she’s never known a man like Dr. Ethan Walsh, with his disarming gray eyes and peculiar ways. But now the Confederacy is charging her with another service: find the Union spy at Chimborazo.
Ethan’s one passion is saving lives, and if he can do that by helping to end the war, he will—even if it means spying for the North. He’s gotten used to fooling Confederates, but he can’t bear lying to Annabeth. And together, they are about to discover a new passion—one that could even transcend the chaos of war.
My Thoughts: You might remember all the praise and gushing that went on after I read Beauty and the Bounty Hunter, the first book in Lori Austin's wonderfully unique Once Upon a Time in the West historical romance series. I'm just mentioning that because An Outlaw in Wonderland had a very hard job not to disapppoint after the success of its predecessor (which became one of my favourite reads of 2013), and although Beauty and the Bounty Hunter still remains my favourite, I am happy to say that An Outlaw in Wonderland came close.
An Outlaw in Wonderland is Dr. Ethan Walsh's story, the doctor who saved Cat's life and was hostile towards Alexi in Beauty and the Bounty Hunter, but don't worry the two books can be read as complete standalones. Ethan worked as a physician during the war and being subjected to so much death and suffering he gave in when someone recruited his help to end the war early and became a spy. He met Annabeth, a Southern young woman in whom he saw the talent and possibility and requested her as his personal aid and taught her how to become a nurse. Of course the attraction between these two was present right from the start, and I loved that Ethan was a gentler, more sensitive hero who tried to be gentlemanly and respectful towards Annabeth, and who was slowly but strongly falling in love with a girl he knew so little about.
“You were everything. The only bright light in so much darkness.”
Her tongue touched his. How could she help it? His had somehow made its way into her mouth, and she tasted of dawn. Of new days and hope. Of sunshine pushing through darkness. Of life. And Ethan thought . . . If he found himself married to her tomorrow, perhaps that wouldn’t be so bad.
He kissed her. Hard. She thought she might fall. She pressed both hands to his chest, wound her fingers into the softness, scratched her nails across his skin, and held on. Her mouth opened; her tongue brushed his lips and slid, seeking, within. He tasted of heat and despair; she wanted to heal him as he had healed so many others, and this was the only way that she knew.
What Ethan doesn't know is that in hopes of finding her lost brother Annabeth was also recruited to spy for the other side. And so ensues Ethan and Annabeth's story which is full of love, heartache, heartbreak, loss, anger and grief. Not only do they have to survive the horrors of war, they also have to accept and forgive all the secrets and lies that piled up between them, and then there are the personal drama and demons that try to break them.
“What on earth possessed you, Ethan?”
“Despair,” he said simply, and she released a sigh so full of the same, his chest ached. She turned the bottle in her hand, and the firelight played across the glass.
“You feel like you’re drowning,” she said. “You can’t breathe. It hurts.”
“What?” he whispered.
“Yes.” Sometimes he swore his blood hurt, his skin, his hair. Not to mention what was left of his soul.
“You want to die.” She paused, swallowed, closed her eyes, and her fingers clenched on the bottle. “Like he did.” She had put his feelings into words. His pain was her pain. She understood. She was the only one who ever could.
Her eyes shone in the soft dusky light, and she reached for him. Ethan took her hand, and his chest, which had contained a tight, hard ball of pain for years, suddenly loosened. He could breathe deeply for the first time since his son died. They should have talked back then, shared their fears, their feelings. But they were both too young, too angry, too damn stupid to try.
Although Beauty and the Bounty Hunter also had plenty of heartache I think it was a bit lighter than An Outlaw in Wonderland, since due to Alexi it had some humour to lighten up all the angst, whereas here the war and its horrors, but maybe what were even more pronounced were Annabeth and Ethan's own personal drama and losses that marked the story. My heart ached for all the suffering they both went through and how events and they each damaged the other. These characters went through so much that they are irrevocably changed and scarred.
The woman who trailed behind him along with the horse might look and sound like Annabeth; however, he knew a hallucination when he saw one. He’d been seeing them for a long time. He should climb on that horse and leave her behind. Although perhaps the animal was as much a delusion as the wife. There’d be no getting rid of her. Not when he slept, not when he woke, not when he drank another bottle dry. She was there—always—unto the end of his life. And that was all right. That was what he had craved all along. If he hadn’t wanted to see his missing, possibly dead wife, he wouldn’t have bothered with the cursed blue bottles. Not only did they take away the pain, but they brought back her.
Verdict: I just love Lori Austin's Once Upon a Time in the West series even though they are not the fluff, feel-good kind of romance: the characters suffer and scar, but the world and characters Lori Austin creates are engrossing! You will sigh and cry with these characters and you'll feel your heart ache and break for them/with them Lori Austin's writing will involve you that intensely in the story. A must read series!
Ending: 6/10 - It was rushed and happened too quickly and conveniently with Moze's confession, so after all the build-up I found it diappointing.
Cover: 7/10 It is a beautiful cover, but even though I know that Annabeth wore jeans to me it just looks too modern for a historical Western.
Review originally posted at Book Lovers Inc.
Order of the series:
Book #1 - Beauty and the Bounty Hunter
Book #2 - An Outlaw in Wonderland
Book #3 - Lone Warrior - to be released in January 2014