Book Review Friday – The Dolan Girls

DOLAN_GIRLS_largeOne of the first full-length books I ever read was a biography of Annie Oakley. I loved that sharpshooting sassy woman, and it started me on a lifelong love affair with reading. So it gave me pleasure to read S.R. Mallery’s latest work, The Dolan Girls and discover that my Annie Oakley played a role in this rollicking Wild West romance set in the years before, during, and after the Civil War.

I admire Ms. Mallery’s ability to delve into the past as she’s done in her short stories and her previous novel, Unexpected Gifts. But with the latest novel, she immerses the reader in the feel of what it must have been like during those days of high expectations for what the West held for those fleeing the East and the disappointments that lay waiting like a rattlesnake in the grass. It was called the “wild” west for a reason. It was a place where the law was written as needed, and often, the outlaws were writing those laws. From this world of lawlessness, came the inevitable services, such as houses where men could drink, relax, and enjoy the beauties of the night. Ms. Mallery sets her novel up in such a place, but Madam Ana’s is not a place of ill-repute as you might imagine. The Madam sets a tone of civility and gentility with all her girls and the patrons who frequent the place. She’s the Madam with a heart of gold, shown when she takes in two abandoned girls, Cora and Minnie, who eventually take over the running of the place.

There’s plenty of violence and heartbreak in this novel, but there’s also love between men and women and the love in families, such as the one that exists at Madam Ana’s. The Pinkerton detective who rides into town wearing a white hat disrupts the peace and fights to win the heart of Cora. Cora’s daughter Ellie, is caught up in a love affair with one of the horse trainers from Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. It is this show that brings dear Annie to town. And when the entire household at Madam Ana’s is treated to front row seats to watch the shenanigans, Ms. Mallery shines in her descriptions, transporting the reader back to the late 1800s Nebraska.

Ms. Mallery uses her fine paint brush to bring us a portrait of a time often romanticized, but not often personalized with such exquisitely drawn characters. Annie Oakley was exactly as I imagined her. And Buffalo Bill is a hoot. So is the sister Minne and her romp with a famous photographer.

But there are serious moments as well as Cora deals with her past and her present. I’m thrilled knowing that we’re not done with The Dolan Girls. Word out on the street and in the wild west says Ms. Mallery is hard at work on a sequel.

Lasso that bull, S.R.!

Click here to read Author Wednesday on The Dolan Girls.

Purchase The Dolan Girls.

Read an excerpt of The Dolan Girls.

1861: Young Kisses

Cora Dolan refused to talk about what had happened six years earlier, ten miles above town. Sealed up as tight as a snail in the cold she was, even to her sister Minnie, who was there with her the whole time; even with Thomas, who held her heart.

Cora Dolan refused to talk about what had happened six years earlier, ten miles above town. Sealed up as tight as a snail in the cold she was, even to her sister Minnie, who was there with her the whole time; even with Thomas, who held her heart.

Yet one star-flushed night, as the wind’s edges were chilling and the shortening days were trumpeting the around-the-corner autumn, the two sweethearts pressed against a neighbor’s barn door, and Cora opened her mouth to share her past, then paused.

“What is it, Cora?” Thomas whispered, his steady arm around her sixteen-year-old waist, his mouth brushed against her ear. “Tell me what gets you sad sometimes. Let me help you.”

She forced a smile. “I’m all right, truly I am,” she said, placing her right hand gently over her heart for a couple of seconds. With her arms then draped over his broad shoulders, she uplifted her face for a kiss.

“Oh, Cora,” he said softly, his lips heading toward hers, “I love it when you put your hand over your heart. It’s so sweet. So trusting.”

Suddenly, a horse’s sudden clop-clop broke their embrace, sending them scurrying off to Cora’s residence. Several blocks away, still running, laughing, holding hands, they slowed their pace down to a stroll as they passed the livery stable, the local blacksmith, the church shut tight for the night, the brand new post office, and the local saloon with its strong bouquet of whiskey and beer wafting into the air. Finally, they stopped in front of the red-curtained Madam Ana’s, South Benton’s second watering hole, the place for pleasuring most any man.

And home to the Dolan girls.

“I guess it’s good-night, then,” her young suitor murmured, angling for another kiss.

A male snicker rang out. “Well, well, well. What do we have here?”

Out from behind the southeast porch post stepped a slightly older young man, his black hat cocked forty-five degrees, his leather jacket opened, his six-shooter holstered just below his waist. He moved in close.

“Cora, sweet thing, why in the world do you waste your time with such a greenhorn, huh?” he sneered. “Be like the gals you live with and try a real man for once!”

Thomas stepped in front of Cora. “Wes, that’s no way to treat a lady. Let her be!”

The stepbrothers faced each other. “Don’t you threaten me!” Wes spat back, splaying his tall, wiry legs and fingering his new grown mustache as if to further prove his manhood.

“That’s rich––me threatening you. Now, leave us alone!”

As Wes half walked, half hitched away, chortling, Cora clutched her protector. “He’s always so scary,” she whispered…

“… I think you’re beautiful, Cora. In fact, you’re perfect.”

Concentrating on his piercing blue eyes, she leaned in for a kiss. All of a sudden, they heard Madam Ana inside, laughing with one of her customers while an out-of-tune piano clunked loudly in the parlor. Although the kiss ended up much shorter than he would have liked, he said nothing when Cora turned and swung the front door open to head toward the back of the house where she shared a bedroom with her sister Minnie.

Just inside, Cora walked into the parlor, with its red velvet wallpaper and red carpeting, stretching out onto the large, winding staircase that led upstairs. She continued on, past the central eye-catchers of the room:  a large maroon settee, piled high with plump, satin pillows, and a glittering chandelier hovering overhead that word had it, cost a small fortune. Nothing was too good for the ambitious Madam Ana Prozinski from Russia, she was always being told.

“Cora!” called out Becky, a voluptuous blonde squeezed into a purple, gusset-enhanced corset, high-heeled boots, and her famous black velvet choker. “While we’ve been workin’ here a month of Sundays, you get to make a night of it! For two cents, I’d love to know what you’ve been doin’!”

“Yup, I reckon she just got a lick and a promise!” added a red-petticoated Julie to a chorus of shrieks and laughter.

Amy, in a rose-colored shimmy and fishnet stockings, chimed in. “Look at her red face! Did you ever see anything so perty? It’s just like…”

“She’s always pretty!” Julie interrupted. “Talks fine, too. Must be all those speakin’ lessons from Pete she’s always taking.”

“Yeah,” Becky said, chuckling. “She talks like one of them refined ladies, but she’s also so pretty she could be one of us. I’ll bet she could bring in those cowboys by the wagonloads! She’s…”

Madam Ana strode into the room “Girls, enough!” You know I take no stock in dis kinda talk. Leave Cora be. Now go back to verk!” She looked around at her employees and clapped twice. “Now!” she barked.


24 responses to “Book Review Friday – The Dolan Girls”

  1. Wow, Pat. What a great review! Makes ME want to read the book….:) Thanks for writing this marvelous view of my work. With you being so modest, people wouldn’t know that it was your fine, insightful editing that helped make the book what is. Much, much thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

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