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The Rec League: Sarah, Plain & Tall

The Rec League - heart shaped chocolate resting on the edge of a very old bookThis request comes from Grace. Thanks, Grace!

I have a weirdly specific rec request. I guess you could just call it mail order brides, but more specifically: Sarah Plain & Tall vibes?

I’ve been re-watching the Sarah Plain & Tall movies with my grandma lately. I’ve loved the book & movies all my life and they were VERY formative in becoming a romance addict, but being from the kids’ POV, we only see an outside view of the adults’ developing relationship.

I’ve always wished for a grown-up behind-the-scenes version of it, focusing more on the relationship building and feeling each other out, growing affection (and sexual tension), overcoming (emotional) obstacles, that you know must have been happening but don’t see.

So I’m looking for romances with similar vibes: mail-order brides, probably – precocious kids, trial period, and still-grieving widow(er) status optional – and more focused on the characters and emotional development than outside conflict. Don’t need too much action, danger, evil villains, etc – some is okay, but I mostly love character growth and gradual building of affection and intimacy, which is hard to find done well.

I’ve read and really liked several Beverly Jenkins books, but otherwise have NO idea where to start with westerns. Some are very action/adventure, older ones often don’t hold up well, and it seems half of the recent ones I look at turn out to also be in the Christian romance category, and it’s hard to tell if they just mean there’s no sex (not a dealbreaker) or overtly religious (not my thing).

I’d love some recs of books or authors that might satisfy my longtime itch for Sarah Plain & Tall vibes but more focused on the romance!

Sarah: Beverly Jenkins is a great choice, for sure. She does mail-order/marriage of convenience stories very well

With the caveat that it has been a long time since I’ve read some of these, so I’m not 100% sure if they fit the brief (please correct me if I’m wrong on any of these!)”

In Want of a Wife by Jo Goodman

The Admiral’s Penniless Bride by Cara Kelly ( A | K | G | AB )

Texas Destiny by Lorraine Heath

Duncan’s Bride by Linda Howard ( A | BN | K ) might work, but I recommend with caution because Howard’s books don’t usually work for me.

Julie Garwood has written a few arranged marriages, but her heroines are VERY plucky and usually not plain.

Kit McBride Gets a Wife by Amy Barry ( A | BN | K )

Also, way back in 2017, we did a Rec League for mail order historicals that weren’t overtly religious, so this list should pair very well as an update to that one!

Claudia: LaVyrle Spencer also has a few, in Morning Glory ( A | BN | K ) the female main character places an ad for a husband (and helper, she’s a widow with kids during WWII)

Kiki: I really liked Julianne MacLean’s Prairie Bride—( A | BN ) mail order bride from the city meets farmer who has lost all his family and been spurned before, very focused on them learning to work together. Also it has one of the coolest settings I’ve ever come across in a romance. They live in a sod house that’s dug partially into the ground!!

I’m seconding LaVyrle Spencer, with the note that her books are 30ish years old so maybe read her Westerns with care!

Also kind of Western adjacent (similar vibes to a western but they take place in Fredonia, NY which is west of some places but is certainly not The West) is Wendy Lindstrom’s Grayson Family series. I think they did gradual emotional development suuuuper well, especially the second and fourth ones: Shades of Honor and Lips That Touch Mine. ( A ) And of course I always love some Upstate/Western NY representation.

[note: they also have closed door versions with different titles which is a weird and annoying concept to me but whatever]

Amanda: Maybe Rebel Carter? I think someone read these?

Kiki: Yes! Rebel Carter always as a Western recommendation. Not all of those books have worked as well for me, I think sometimes they don’t take the time needed for the emotional development, but absolutely worth trying out!

Are there any mail-order bride romances that give Sarah, Plain & Tall vibes? Tell us in the comments!

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