Review: Bound for Eden by Tess LeSue

May Contain Spoilers

This title caught my eye for two reasons. It has a cross-dressing heroine, and it’s set on the Oregon Trail. I can’t imagine traveling across the country in a rickety wagon, helpless against the weather, disease, and in this story, the vicious Grady brothers. Parts of this worked well for me, and parts fell flat. This is a new to me author, and while Bound for Eden wasn’t a total success, I am interested in following the series further.

Alex, while getting back at the awful neighbors that have made life unbearable for her and siblings, helps make her own misery. Stealing gold from the Gradys, Alex sends Adam, her autistic brother, and Victoria, her pretty sister, fleeing from their destroyed home in Mississippi. Traveling by river boat to Independence to join a wagon train so they can join their older brother in Oregon, Alex disguises herself as a boy. A filthy, dirty boy. Most of her disguise consists of slathering layers of dirt and mud on herself, and all I could think was – are you washing your hands before you eat?? With all of the potential diseases she could contract, hand washing is a valuable safeguard again infection. But, no, I don’t think she did and that freaked me out.

Luke is a horseman from Oregon, in Independence for a auction. He intends to buy a stellar Arabian and take the stallion back to his ranch for stud. A horse of that quality will set him up for his breeding business, and he’s eager to get his hands on that horse. He’s also whiling away time at the cathouse, where he has all of the girls wrapped around his little finger. This will be his final journey east – after he gets back home with the stud, he’s going to ask the prettiest girl in Utopia to marry him (again) and settle down with a dozen kids.

Luke got on my nerves. Him having unprotected sex with all of the whores every time he came to town was just gross. It’s a wonder he didn’t catch something and have his package fall off. Ick. The biggest irritant with him, though, was how he blamed Amelia, the girl he intended to marry, for the girls at the cathouse falling for him, and begging him to marry them and take them away from their lives in dusty Independence. Because Amelia had rejected his proposal twice, it was her fault he was in Independence, being a sweetheart to the whores, giving them ideas that they didn’t need to have. Um. No. Number one – what a conceited jerk. Number two – Rejecting him was probably the only smart thing Amelia had ever done.

Alex is jealous when Luke shows some interest in Victoria. Dismissing Alex as a grubby runt, he turns on the charm for Victoria. In a moment of ill-conceived vanity, Alex cleans up, dons a knock out dress, and attends a dance, mesmerizing Luke. To the dismay of Victoria, who is completely smitten with him. Pretending to be Beatrice, a relative of the cathouse’s owner, Alex and Luke share a moment, just before Alex’s past races to catch up with her.

I didn’t really become engaged in the story until the wagon train, led by Luke, hit the trail. That was about halfway through. I enjoyed the setting and the challenges the hardy travelers faced, which included the murderous Grady brothers. While their villainy got to be over the top, they did add some much needed suspense to the story.

I don’t understand how Luke, and everyone else in the wagon train, didn’t see through Alex’s dirt encrusted disguise.  Surely, with all of those months on the trail west, someone would have seen through her overly large clothes. These people were living in close quarters – what about when she had to relieve herself. Or when it was her time of the month? The continued pulling the wool over the eyes of everyone on the wagon train did not work for me.

Despite some issues with the story, I thought this was a fun read. I’m curious to learn more about the other Slater boys, but I’m even more interested in learning more about Nathaniel.

Grade: 3.25 stars

Review copy provided by publisher

About the book:

The first novel in a new western historical romance series that will take readers for the ride of their lives on the Oregon Trail.
Alexandra Barratt has found the perfect man—it’s a shame he thinks she’s a boy…
Fleeing from the murderous Grady brothers, Alexandra disguises herself as a boy and joins a frontier party heading West, with her brother and sister in tow. The wagon train is captained by the irresistible Luke Slater, who’s never met a woman he couldn’t charm.
At first, Alex can’t believe the way every woman in town falls at Luke’s feet, including her suddenly flirtatious sister. But when she sees him naked in the bathtub, she finds herself swooning over him too. If only she could wash the muck of her face and show him who she really is. Unfortunately she has more pressing concerns…
The Gradys aren’t about to let Alex, nor the small fortune she stole from them, slip through their fingers. Only by maintaining her ruse does she have a chance of protecting her family. But fate, it seems, is conspiring against her.