Lumberjack Joe Denton was given his land under a grant for married men, so unless he can either prove that his wife died before joining him in the Territory or find himself another wife, he'll lose half of everything he's worked so hard for, and values so much. With his wife's death certificate lost in a fire, his best option is to pay for a Mercer girl, one of the women brought out to Seattle to be married to the bachelors who had settled there, and thus create a 'proper' society. Mercer brings Joe back the lively Anna Ivey, but there's only one problem: the contract Anna signed said she'll be his cook, but the one Joe signed said she'll be his wife. Joe needs to marry soon if he's to keep his land, but Anna's sworn that she'll never marry, and she's not budging.
The slow-burn romance between Anna and Joe worked well, and I found Joe to be a sweet hero. There were moments where he was a bit sexist, but it fitted the setting, and was always contrasted with Anna's independence and determination to go her own way. Perhaps because Anna did have such strength in all other respects, I did become annoyed at her reasoning for not marrying Joe, which persisted unchallenged for most of the book. I can understand why that might be the case, but she was a bit of a stuck record about the whole thing and it diminished my connection to her character, because she exhibited no development of any kind. She just had a static position for the majority of the book, and then a come-to-Jesus moment (literally). But I also feel like a character having a revelation is a more common plot device in inspirational romance, for obvious reasons, and I'm just not used to it.
I'm a sucker for an atmospheric setting, and Gist certainly fronted up with the goods. She's clearly done her research, and the seamless way that information about lumberjacking and the early Washington Territory is integrated into the story really made A Bride in the Bargain something special. Extra points for the informative Author's Note that helped me to distinguish fact from fiction, not being the greatest expert on Northwest American history (or any American history).
Overall, A Bride in the Bargain was well-written and richly detailed and I'm looking forward to reading more of Gist's work, because it seems as though she has many more books with equally intriguing plots, characters and settings.