Erryn reviews ‘Robby Riverton’ by Eli Easton This book was released by the author on April 24, 2018, and is 294 pgs long. The audiobook version of this story was narrated by Matthew Shaw and produced by Pinkerton Road. It was released on August 2, 2018, and is 7 hrs and 34 mins long. A copy was provided for an honest review.
Why I read this book: I loved the synopsis and wanted to see where this was going to go.
Being a fugitive in the Old West shouldn’t be this much fun. The year is 1860. Robby Riverton is a rising star on the New York stage. But he witnesses a murder by a famous crime boss and is forced to go on the run – all the way to Santa Fe.
When he still can’t seem to ditch his pursuers, he disguises himself as a mail-order bride he meets on the wagon train. Caught between gangsters who want to kill him and the crazy, uncouth family of his “intended”, Robby’s only ally is a lazy sheriff who sees exactly who Robby is – and can’t resist him.
Trace Crabtree took the job as sheriff of Flat Bottom because there was never a thing going on. And then Robby Riverton showed up disguised as a woman and betrothed to Trace’s brother. If that wasn’t complicated enough, Trace finds the man as appealing as blueberry pie. He urges Robby to stay undercover until the danger has passed.
But a few weeks of having Robby-Rowena at the ranch and the Crabtree family will never be the same again.
Cover Design: Dar Albert @ Wicked Smart Design
I love when an author takes a trope, turns it on its head, and does something completely different. Many mail-order bride books have been written over the years. The romances are usually historical, but some creative authors have come up with modern twists. There are far fewer mail-order grooms since poor (low income) men are rarely heroes. But a man masquerading as a bride? Yeah, this is a new one. Especially when the man is gay.
The set-up is clear – obviously he’s not going to marry the straight man he’s ‘engaged’ to, but his life depends on maintaining the charade.
And then there’s the groom’s brother…
Trace Crabtree left home at 16, destined to be a hero in the war. At 26, he’s home, and after recovering from a war wound, he’s settled into life as the sheriff of Flatbottom, New Mexico. In 1860, I’m sure that was an interesting job. I mean, chasing after cattle rustlers and herding drunks home after a night at the bar would be fascinating, right?
Living close to the family ranch and being sheriff of a small town does not lend itself to a healthy sex life because Trace is gay. He goes to Santa Fe periodically to ‘slake his lust’ and has a reliable bed partner or two, but no one he has ever cared about. No one has ever been more than a warm body.
It is on one of those ‘slaking’ trips that he rescues a lovely woman being harassed by several men who are from ‘back east’. When the woman claims she is the mail-order bride of Clovis Crabtree, Trace is able to quickly fill in the blanks and realize Miss Rowena Fairchild is his brother’s betrothed – even though poor Clovis has no idea. Trace, of course, comes to Rowena’s defense, only to realize very quickly that Rowena is not who ‘she’ is presenting herself as.
Robby Riverton was an up-and-coming actor in New York who has been working his way up to lead actor in the theatres. His role as McDuff’s son in Macbeth had been going well until he stumbled upon a crime and needed to leave the city immediately. Headed west on a wagon train, he encounters the real Rowena Fairchild. He’d had no notion of taking her identity until the circumstances necessitated it.
Again, women dressing as men, often to get where women weren’t allowed to go – ships, battles and, during Shakespeare’s era, the stage – is not a new idea. I remember a number of pirate romances written in the early 1990s all the way up to an anthology about Hamilton’s Battalion that came out last year, where women dressed as men.
But men dressing up as women? It’s been done, of course. But not nearly as often and not with such a deft touch. Usually the men are campy – ala Tootsie, or in drag – ala Priscilla Queen of the Desert. ‘Robby Riverton’ has a nice mix of seriousness, sensuality, and feel-good amusing antics.
Robby’s talents on the stage – including having played Ophelia (critics and fans loved his “tender insanity”), allow him to slip into Rowena’s abandoned gowns and pull off being a woman. I liked that Robby was femme but not weak. It made me love him (and the book) all the more.
I truly enjoyed this story. Trace sees Robby’s ‘angelic countenance’ while the rest of the members of the Crabtree household benefit from Robby’s machinations. Robby sees a family in need of guidance and naturally steps into that role.
At first I had some huge qualms about PawPaw Crabtree and how he ran his homestead. As is often the case in a good book, all is not as it first appeared. I trusted that Trace was being honest with Robby about what did NOT go on in the house, but I was very curious about what DID actually go on. Have to say, I hadn’t seen that coming.
I am always fascinated by how people lived one or two or even five hundred years ago. For instance, there is no effective birth control – as proven by the real Rowena Fairchild’s ever-expanding belly. Need lube? Not sold at the local feed store. Never let it be said that gay men aren’t creative, no matter what the century. But there are still issues. Trace asks, “you want to live with a man?” Robby clarifies, “why not? They do it in New York.”
Of course, Trace was born and raised in the territory of New Mexico, so he knows two men will never be able to live together in Flatbottom. Heck, 100 years later, things weren’t much better. And the 21st century? Well, thank God we’ve made some progress.
The effect of Robby on the Crabtree family cannot be understated. He is tactful but wants the family to be more aware and considerate of each other. Sometime it takes an outsider holding up a mirror for people to see their true selves. Sometime it is just takes an analogy about a fencepost.
Robby’s position as a fugitive being hunted by the Bowery Boys puts, he believes, the Crabtrees at risk. The family, though, have their own views on what will happen when someone goes after their own. The final showdown was exciting and the final result satisfying. Of course I couldn’t see how the men could possibly find a happily ever after being together.
Like I said, gay men in any century can find creative solutions.
Matthew Shaw is a new narrator for me and let me promise you, I will be searching him out again. His performance was stellar and solid, creating believable and realistic voices for the men, PawPaw, the women, and the children. He’s a perfect choice for this book and I look forward to more stories narrated by Matthew.
9/10 Pots of Gold (100% Recommended) – Compares to 4.5/5 Stars
Having been, at various times and under different names, a minister’s daughter, a computer programmer, a game designer, the author of paranormal mysteries, a fan fiction writer, and organic farmer, Eli has been a m/m romance author since 2013. She has over 30 books published.
Eli has loved romance since her teens and she particular admires writers who can combine literary merit, genuine humor, melting hotness, and eye-dabbing sweetness into one story. She promises to strive to achieve most of that most of the time. She currently lives on a farm in Pennsylvania with her husband, bulldogs, cows, a cat, and lots of groundhogs.
In romance, Eli is best known for her Christmas stories because she’s a total Christmas sap. These include “Blame it on the Mistletoe”, “Unwrapping Hank” and “Merry Christmas, Mr. Miggles”. Her “Howl at the Moon” series of paranormal romances featuring the town of Mad Creek and its dog shifters has been popular with readers. And her series of Amish-themed romances, Men of Lancaster County, has won genre awards.
In 2018 Eli hopes to do more of the same, assuming they reschedule the apocalypse.
You can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org