Wednesday, August 11, 2021

Penelope Williamson - Heart of the West

Clementine Kennicutt, a ladylike New Englander, aches to leave her home and her oppressive father. So when Gus McQueen, a cowboy with laughing eyes and big dreams, presses her to elope with him to his Montana ranch, she is ready. But nothing has prepared her for the harsh realities of frontier life, or for the unpredictable hankering of her heart--and least of all for the fact that almost from the first moment she sets eyes on Zach, Gus's dashing, ne'er do-well brother, she knows he's the one she was destined to love. Brought up to be a lady, Clementine determines not to let the frontier--or her marriage--defeat her. She devours life, befriending the town prostitute, defending Indians, and suppressing her heart's desire, until Zach forces her to face him and make her choice.

Comment: This one has been in the pile for years but I finally got to it. I'm glad I decided to read it because it turned out to be a captivating read.

In this historical we follow the life of Clementine, a young woman who felt trapped in a repetitive life in Boston and when cowboy Gus, who would be returning to a ranch in Montana asked her to marry him, she didn't think twice. However, life in a distant place, with more danger and less security could prove too hard, but Clementine vows to try and make things work. While adjusting to her new life, she needs to bear the presence of Gus' brother Rafferty, with whom she sometimes butts heads. She also decides to do what she feels is right, even if that means to befriend the woman everyone says is a prostitute and, later on, the Chinese mail order bride with an even more tragic life than hers. Will Clementine be able o be a modern woman in a man-ruling world?

I liked this story a lot. It's old fashioned in how it is written, in the kind of content included (some scenes would not be deemed acceptable to most sensibilities nowadays) and how the characters are portrayed, but I found it to be engrossing, captivating and even the parts I wasn't as interested, still made me eager to keep reading. For, one of those where time flew while I turned the pages.

This is labeled historical/western romance but the main focus isn't the romance, it's more about Clementine's experiences and those of the other women she befriends. This is a slow burn type of novel where the author takes time to develop the plot and even that is divided into four parts, with time jumps, so we actually follow the characters though several years as they deal with life and events that shape how they see things and how they react to them.

Clementine is the main character and often the POV is centered on her. This is third person but we still see things from her side of things. Throughout the novel, there are others whose POV we have, but hers is the most often used. Clementine is quite a heroine, she goes through that classic journey of learning from mishaps, of dealing with setbacks and as she goes through the obstacles, she grows up from naive and hopeful to practical and more certain of herself, a very obvious emotional and maturity evolution.

Of the secondary characters, we also have some focus on Gus and Rafferty, the siblings who had different lives growing up and no have different looks on life. There's also Hannah, the prostitute who many dismiss but with whom Clementine will have a real friendship. Later on, there's Erlan, the Chinese woman, as well as the Scully brothers who arrive to work at the local mine. All these characters are a product of their time, yes, but they embody all the kinds of things we would want to see in heroes and heroines living through the hardships and the joys of a saga. There's tragedy for them but also an expected road to redemption/reward of some kind, as any "hero" would in a romance novel.

The pace isn't too fluid for the book is divided into four parts and there is always some years between each part, where we just have to accept things changed in the meantime. I would say that, for me, the less positive aspect of the book - not enough to "ruin" the experience, though - is the fact some scenes are too long and to me, that wouldn't be necessary. Even though it's realistic, there is quite a huge level of drama and sometimes that was also unnecessary, but all together this was a satisfying novel.

The romance is a little predictable (especially if one has read many romance novels already) but I found that it didn't make me enjoy it any less. I liked the emotional journey which followed the romance sections, so the end was definitely earned and the HEA - for me - believable.

I think stories aren't told like this anymore...the 90s really allowed for several gems to exist and this is one of them. I know other readers might not see it like this, but for me this was a successful book, it fit the expectations I had and was a little more emotional than I anticipated and thinking about it as a whole, certainly goes into the top of my preferences in this reading year.
Grade: 9/10

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