Set in early 1880s Nebraska, UNBRIDLED DREAMS tells the story of a young woman's desire to be a trick rider in Buffalo Bill Cody's Wild West Show, instead of the prim and proper debutante of her mother's dreams.
Eighteen-year-old Irma Friedrich, whose family is close friends with the Codys, loves leaving her Nebraska home to spend summers at her cousin's nearby ranch. Unbeknownst to her socialite mother, she works hard at perfecting her trick riding skills while also learning all things horse. She has no interest in fancy dresses, cooking, sewing or attending her mother's parties, some of which are designed for matchmaking Irma with a suitable gentleman. By the time Wild West Show auditions begin, Irma is ready. It would seem, however, that God and her mother have other plans for the would-be cowgirl.
Prior to audition day, Irma accidentally encounters Shep Sterling, one of the Wild West Show's star attractions. Shortly after arriving at the audition site, Irma is standing with Shep when she is kicked unconscious by a wild bronc. The resulting injuries prevent her from showcasing her trick riding skills in front of Buffalo Bill. Still reeling from that disappointment, she discovers that her mother has enrolled her at a prominent finishing school for young women, which would take her away from her cousin's farm, her horses, the Wild West Show and Shep.
But Irma's misery does not go unnoticed by her father, whose friendship with Buffalo Bill leads to a new, unexpected life for her. Tossed into a world far different from the easy, moneyed environment in which she grew up, Irma learns life-changing lessons about God, love, humility and honor. But the lessons are not hers alone. Facing a crisis in their marriage, Irma's parents must also turn to God for guidance and strength.
I think UNBRIDLED DREAMS delivers exactly what a reader wants from a Christian historical romance. For starters, we get a personality-filled insight into the era when Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show was first making the circuit. Award-winning author Stephanie Grace Whitson obviously did her homework in researching this time period, then used rich imagery to paint the backdrop and finished the picture with believable dialogue and layered characters. To fill our desire for romance, she includes a marriage that has fallen on painfully hard times, two young adults discovering the joys and trials of first love, and some very likable secondary characters following that same age-old trail.
But UNBRIDLED DREAMS is nearly as much a story of spiritual growth and coming of age as it is a romance. Both mother and daughter learn, through interesting circumstances and their own mistakes, to forgive others, trust in God and let Him take the reins. These lessons are expertly woven throughout the story using occasional Bible passages, thoughts, prayers and small chunks of sermons from the Wild West Show's preacher, Sunday Joe.
Reviewed by Susan Miura on August 1, 2008