Coerced into marrying an unloving, abusive man, Francesca Sittoni must leave her home in northern Italy and relocate with her new husband to the small mining town of Hawk Point, Wyoming, in the 1920s. Life is lonely, barely tolerable, and made all the worse when her husband dies in a mine cave-in. Left with the choice of returning to her poverty-stricken family in Italy, becoming the mining director’s mistress, or making her own way, Francesca answers an advertisement for a housekeeper, omitting in her reply the facts that she is pregnant and has a 4-year-old daughter, Elena. Rancher Kent Reed is surprised when he meets his new employee and immediately plots the best way to terminate the agreement. Still, little Elena’s charm and her mother’s plight convince Kent to uphold the bargain with the understanding that Francesca will work for him for only one year. As the three of them settle into their new arrangement, close, rustic living conditions and Francesca’s and Kent’s pasts escalate misunderstandings.
Well-written in a casual, straight-forward tone, Willow Vale is a light read. I particularly enjoyed the author’s descriptions of the towns and countryside. Still, Francesca and Kent do a lot of thinking in the novel and, had the book been longer, this would have become tedious. I prefer less introspection and more action. Overall, Willow Vale is enjoyable but could have been bettered by showing more hardships of Wyoming ranch life and situations complicated by the developing relationship between Francesca and Kent.