5 “ugly and wonderful” stars
This book… this book!
Once again I wrote, rewrote this review and rewrote it once more! I never know how to craft my reviews to convey all the feelings that I get while reading Amy’s stories.
What will I tell you first as I have so many emotions battling inside?
That I was shedding tears on the train, again? Tears of sadness and tears of gratitude.
That Naomi and John were an evidence? Will I talk how they just made sense together?
Or will I tell you that this story is about finding his place in the world when you are from mixed origin? That this heritage will make you extra cautious when you love someone and think really hard, as you know that people will judge?
Maybe I’ll choose to talk about these pioneers, their courage, their hard life and about the brilliant job Amy did making them feel real?
The truth simply is that this historical fiction is brilliant!
Written with Amy’s beautiful prose it’s also slightly different from her other stories with some true but gritty parts. I respect that Amy did not shy away from some very harsh realities of that time. There is one scene that could be a trigger for some but it’s been written such as to spare us the graphic details. Kind of fade to black if you want but present nonetheless.
I bet all you want that Amy fretted over writing that scene or avoiding it, but I am glad she went all the way as this adds an added layer of authenticity to the story.
Authenticity is a key word.
I could feel that Amy did once more a fantastic job of researching many historical facts. How pioneer’s life was around 1850. What it felt being between two races, Indian and “white”. What motivated people to go on these dangerous adventures. What their hope and dreams were.
“Regardless of their possessions or their position, it seems everyone has the same dream. They all want something different than what they have now. Land. Luck. Life. Even love. Everyone chatters about what we’re going to find when we get there. I’m no different, I suppose, though I’m more worried about what we’re going to find along the way.”
The story takes place in 1853 following a caravan of pioneers departing from Missouri and headed to California. We’ll read about mules and horses, jacks and oxen. How people crossed rivers once, twice sometimes more, often in the same day, carrying their belongings, coaxing their mules.
We’ll learn that these pioneers lost weight while traveling as between forts the food could grow scarce. Pregnant women gave birth without any help from a nurse or doctor and were expected to resume their duties quite soon after. If you wanted to wash, you did it either in the pouring rain with your bar of soap, cleaning your family’s clothes, either in the cold river. No hot bath on the way.
Encounters with Indians could go peacefully or become ugly. And when you committed a crime you rarely had a fair trial. Justice was swift and death punishment not uncommon.
This is the wild west Amy wrote about! And she did it splendidly!
But above all else, this is a romance! A love story! And a family story too. It would not be Amy otherwise.
Naomi May is twenty and already widowed.
She is following her parents and her brothers all the way to California. Their wagon train will be guided by Abbott, an experienced guide and accompanied part of the way by his nephew John Lowry.
John is half Pawnee by his mother half white by his father.
He’s been raised by his father’s wife Jennie and I would like to take a moment to praise that woman.
She welcomed John amidst her family. If she was not the kissing and smothering type, she raised John right and showed her acceptance and tenderness through small actions.
John is stuck between two world and does not feel like fitting in any.
“My mother’s people called me Two Feet. One white foot, one Pawnee foot, I am not split down the middle, straddling two worlds. I am simply a stranger in both.”
When John meets Naomi, it will be instant pull between these two unique characters.
Naomi is strong and knows her mind. John thinks …a lot. Too much would tell Naomi.
“Thinking takes time. Feeling . . . not so much. Feeling is instant. It’s reaction. But thinking? Thinking is hard work. Feeling doesn’t take any work at all. I’m not saying it’s wrong. Not saying it’s right either. It just is. How I feel . . . I can’t trust that, not right away, because how I feel today may not be how I feel tomorrow. Most people don’t want to think through things. It’s a whole lot easier not to. But time in the saddle gives a man lots of time to think.”
Naomi is fire. I loved her banter and sharp tongue. Never mean but always funny and somewhat irreverent. Naomi loves drawing. That’s her way to see the world, to express her feelings and to collect memories. Dutiful daughter, I loved the relationship she had with her mother.
Both were strong women. Naomi knows her mind. Knows what she wants. She has been raised by an open-minded mother and John’s mixed blood has no importance whatsoever to her. She sees John, the man, his worth, his strength, his honor, his loyalty and his protectiveness. Naomi is determined to woo John, even if she knows the dance won’t be easy and she is not afraid to tell him her mind.
“That is not the way I want to be kissed,” she says. “No?” “No, I want you to kiss me like you’ve been thinking about it from the moment we met.”
John’s heritage has made him into someone cautious but also very aware that he’ll always feel different from others. He is a simple, considerate and smart man. John is hard working and loves his mules and horses. He keeps to himself as he knows others distrust him. I loved how patient he was with Naomi’s brothers even if Webb was always talking his ears off! I loved how he helped everyone in the caravan, how he tried to avoid confrontation when possible and choose the peaceful road. I loved how protective of Naomi and her family he became.
“John does not flirt. He doesn’t say pretty, empty things. He listens, soaking everything in. John’s a doer. An observer. And his thoughts, when he shares them, are like little shoots of green grass on a dry prairie. The flowers on the prickly pears that grow among the rocks.”
As the synopsis said, a tragedy will strike them and they’ll go through fire in the hope of having a future together.
Told in Amy’s graceful and powerful writing, this love story engulfed me and propelled me into Naomi and John’s hard, uncompromising yet beautiful world. I smiled, I swooned, I cried, I feared, I hurt and I hoped.
A big thank you to the Lake Union Publishing for my copy as I had the privilege and enormous joy to read this story way ahead! As usual, it does not influence my review in the least and this is willingly posted (dang I would boss everyone to read it anyway 😊 ).
Have you read Amy Harmon’s books?
Thanks for reading!