Sensuality rating: Steamy
The Challenge: Read a book by a “New To Me” author.
To find a book for this challenge, I checked out my print TBR, sorted by oldest received. It was an eye-opening experience. Book after book — more than 50 — by authors whom I’ve glommed, many I’d consider favorites. And I’ve owned these books for years.
It helped me get tough when I finally got to the NTM authors. Was this someone I wanted to spend time on, time I could be spending on unread Jo Goodman or Laura Kinsale books? I almost always go through a few culls before settling on my final TBR challenge book, but this time, I got rid of 7 books first. My most effective TBR challenge month so far!
Painted by the Sun managed to catch my restless attention with an unusual premise: the heroine is searching for her missing child, who was sent away on an “orphan train” ten years previously. I’ve read many children’s books about the orphan trains, but I think this is the first time I’ve encountered them in a romance. The premise is also interesting because Shea is working as a traveling photographer, a complex profession in 1875. The title comes from a quote by Ambrose Bierce: “Photography is a picture painted by the sun.”
While trying to take a picture of a hanging, Shea fall afoul of Judge Cameron Gallimore, a man who’s pretty sick of having to sentence people to death. He puts her camera — and her — into temporary custody. At first Shea is heartsick over the missed financial opportunity, but then comes around to the judge’s point of view: “she didn’t want to be able to make hundreds of copies of what she had seen, or relive what happened every time she did. She didn’t want to implant that image in anyone else’s mind…. She was a photographer, a business woman, not a mercenary. She was proud of what she did, and she would never have been able to be proud of this.”
Shea and Cameron next meet under even more fraught circumstances, when she saves him from men trying to take revenge for their friend’s death, and is badly wounded in the process. After Cam takes her home to be nursed by his housebound sister Lily, Shea comes to care for the whole family and deeply envies their close bonds — especially with Cam’s ten year old son, Rand.
I can’t talk much more about the plot without spoilers, but I will say it’s very heavy in coincidences; by the middle of the book, the implausibility of it all was getting exasperating. By the end however, the threads had all been woven together with surprising delicacy, and I was once again charmed as I was at the beginning.
There’s a lot of heavy stuff going on in this story; every character has at least one source of major angst in their life, much of it centered around the Civil War. It’s a surprisingly easy, flowing read, but I think that’s partially because many of the angsty plot points get shortchanged. The slow-growing romance is very tender and supportive, and the various child characters tugged effectively at my heartstrings, but overall I don’t think it quite reached its potential. I’m giving it 3 1/2 stars; it’s out of print but available through paperbackswap.com or you can buy it used here.
Published by Bantam Books. Review copy owned by me for so long, I don’t remember how I got it.