It's the third Wednesday of May, so that means TBR Wednesday, if you're following the TBR Challenge from Keishon over at Avid Book Reader. This month's challenge was to pick one with the theme of unrequited love, or friends-to-lovers. It was daunting for me to even find a book featuring this despite the many lists and websites there are featuring titles, because, well, I had to FIND the book in my TBR once I picked. Fortunately, COURTING MISS HATTIE was almost right here at hand in the office, and it's one that I've had when I first worked at a hospital up in WV after graduating college. Yes, 3,000 years ago...
COURTING MISS HATTIE - Pamela Morsi
Release Date: 1991
For almost too many years to count, Reed Tyler has worked on Miss Hattie Colfax's farm, first as a plowboy, and now as a sharecropper. One day he plans on buying her farm from her, lock, stock, and barrel, but first he must prove himself as not just the young man she's always looked upon as a younger brother, but as a successful farmer who's not afraid to try new things. Four years may separate them in age, but those years have melted away as he and Hattie have gotten older, working side by side on the farm and becoming the best of friends. Once Reed buys the farm - an agreement to which Hattie is most agreeable - he'll finally be stable enough to marry his young lady, Miss Bessie Jane Turpin, the sweetheart of the county.
Hattie Colfax is one of the most successful farmers in this county of Arkansas, and she's not above the pride she feels after all of her hard work. While she may not be the most prettiest girl in town, she sure is one of the hardest working. As a young girl, she'd been victim to the children's taunts and cruel title of "Horseface Hattie", but those days are over. Pretty is as pretty does, and if strength and loyalty were aesthetic qualities, then Hattie is beautiful to the core. Despite this, Hattie has never had a gentleman caller, let alone one interested in wooing her. So it's with extreme giddiness that she receives word of a local farmer who's interested in getting to know her a little better, perhaps do a bit of courting.
What Reed isn't prepared for is the jealousy he experiences when he realizes that Ancil Drayton, Hattie's gentleman caller, is intent on making her his wife. Sure, Reed and Hattie are the dearest of friends, but he can't help but want to shield her from any hurt or disappointment in a man who is not her equal. Ancil's farming techniques leave little to be desired, and if his work is sloppy then there's no telling how he'd treat a woman. Hattie, on the other hand, is slowly learning the ways of a courtship, but it's not Ancil's face she imagines when she shares an illicit kiss or two with her beau. It didn't help that she'd had to learn the find art of kissing by Reed, but it sure was a lesson to be remembered.
I was surprised by this book that was released back in 1991, only a year after I'd graduated high school. Now, I don't like to think that that's too long ago, but I was prepared for a letdown in thinking it too dated. I LIKED that! Pamela Morsi has gone on to do many things now, I think she's writing women's fiction with some contemporaries thrown in for good measure, but you can see the raw talent shine through in this book, long before she'd became a staple in the romance industry. COURTING MISS HATTIE features an entire ensemble of characters that could've stepped out from Little House on the Prairie (a childhood fave TV show), and I couldn't help but keep turning the pages to see what would happens next. I railed right beside her when Ancil's tarnish begins to show, and smiled at Reed's less-than-attractive hay allergy to which Hattie nurses him through. The romance is sweet with hints of sensuality enhanced by Hattie's innocence and wonderment at things like her first kiss. I adored Reed Tyler, plain and simple. He's a man who excels in learning new techniques and experimenting in different routes of farming -- just reading of his exploits in making rice one of their new crops is a testament to the author's obvious research and detail.
So -- I've learned something this week. I actually do enjoy a romance that's not set in London and doesn't feature a bloodbath! I'm a hardcore fan of anything Regency, as well as romantic suspense, but COURTING MISS HATTIE is neither. It's romance at its best, where the author didn't just tell a story, she showed it to me. And I'm afraid to say that I won't be giving this one up -- it's definitely a keeper for me.