Much Ado About Grubstake -- Jean Ferris

Much ado about grubstake1888. Sixteen-year-old Arley Pickett runs a small boardinghouse in the down-on-its-luck mining town Grubstake, Colorado. Though she has a real affection for Grubstake and its people*, she longs for the adventure and romance (and happy endings) that she finds in her beloved Penny Dreadfuls:

The last exciting thing to happen in Grubstake had been the one that had put her in this predicament. Two years before, Arley's own father, never much good with dynamite, blew himself out of his mine and into Kingdom Come—with a few swell loop-the-loops as he went.

Since her mother had died when she was born, Arley was suddenly on her own in a big way. So by the age of fourteen, she'd already figured out there weren't any happy endings in real life. Or any endings at all, except for that final one. Life just kept bumping along, up sometimes, down others, until it didn't anymore. But Penny Dreadfuls always had happy endings, in spite of the dastardly villains, the earthquakes, the shootings, and the betrayals along the way. 

When a slick (read: pomaded hair, plaid suit, lots of money) stranger comes into town on the monthly train offering to pay top dollar for all of Grubstake—including the dried-up mines—Arley is suspicious. Before long, she is knee-deep in a real-life Penny Dreadful, complete with a sinister, scarred man who only wears black, a business tycoon known for his lack of scruples, the hoity-toity Lacey Bernaise, four unruly dogs**, a couple of romances and the possibility of hitting pay dirt in a big, big way. 

Love Among the Walnuts is still my ultra-fave Jean Ferris book, but Much Ado About Grubstake is a fun read. Kids who are ready to step up from Sid Fleishman's comic westerns will enjoy it.


*Including the saloon's owner, Everdene, who has been known to run men out of town for giving her puppy-dog-eyes and the Chinese baker, Wing Lee, who is always doling out wise advice and donuts. There's a possibility that some people might get a tad riled about the non-PC-ness of Wing Lee—he could easily be described as inscrutable—but he's a character straight out of an old Penny Dreadful or an old western, so there's that.

**And none of them die! Awesome.