Wednesday, July 16, 2014

TBR Challenge 2014: Always To Remember

http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B003V1WVDY/themisaofsupe-20
Original Jove Cover - Blah
The Book: Always to Remember by Lorraine Heath

The Particulars: Historical romance, Jove, 1996, Out of Print, Available Digitally (reissued by Harpercollins)

Why Was It In Wendy's TBR?:  This used to be the Holy Grail for western historical romance fans and like all HG's, you had to cough up a kidney and/or sell an ovary to get your hands on a used copy.  I eventually did - I think scoring it via an online romance bud.  In 1997 this won the RITA for Best Short Historical.  My print copy clocks in at 323 pages while the Harpercollins digital edition claims to be only 100 pages (which makes no sense - but there you have it.)

The Review:  Hype is a dangerous thing.  The vast majority of the time when a book is hyped it's pretty much doomed to be a meh read for me.  But this book?  This book.  I just can't even people.  This is an instance where the hype sells the book short.  It's that good.  Drop everything, call in sick to work, tell the kids someone better be on fire before they bother you - this is squee'worthy awesome-sauce every day of the week and twice on Sunday.

Cedar Grove, Texas gave it's young men to the Confederacy.  The only men left in town are old and bitter or young and bitter (having been too young to join the war and fight for the Glorious Cause).  Meg Warner gave up more than most.  Three brothers and her husband.  Gone.  Killed at Gettysburg.  Buried in a mass grave.  As a constant reminder to all that she and the town has lost?  The coward Clayton Holland.  He grew up with their sons and husbands but instead of standing by them, of going off to war with them, he refused to pick up a rifle.  He refused to serve.  While their loved ones marched off to die Clayton Holland the coward was hauled off by Confederate soldiers, condemned to die, but somehow weaseled out of even doing that.  Now he's back in town, working his parents' farm with his three younger brothers.  Meg cannot abide this man.  Her hatred bleeds off the page and she wants Clay to suffer - to suffer more than she has and does.  His father used to cut stone, having done most of the tombstones in town.  Clay learned at his knee.  What better way to make him suffer than to have him carve a monument to all of the town's fallen heroes.  As he works on that monument, as he toils on it, the weight of his cowardliness will crush his very soul.  Revenge complete.

Except, of course, it doesn't work that way.  Meg may have grown up with Clay but that doesn't mean she knows him.  He readily agrees to create the monument, and to exact her revenge, to take joy in every ounce of his suffering, she spends most of her free time supervising his progress.  But as naturally happens in romance novels?  The more time she spends with him, the more she sees how amazingly wrong she and the rest of the town are about Clay.  Turns out they don't know the first thing about courage and what it means to be truly brave.

http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B003V1WVDY/themisaofsupe-20
Awesome book, two awful covers.
A large reason why I love historical westerns is that the sub genre plays nicely into universal themes that I find particularly compelling.  Heath explores the ideas of courage and bravery throughout this story.  Clay doesn't fight, but that makes him far from a coward.  Of course the town, swallowed by their grief, cannot see or understand that.  Clay is the quintessential western hero.  The man who stands up for what he believes in.  The man who does what is right, always.  It may not be popular.  It damn well could get him killed.  But he's not a man who will turn tail and run even when running would be the easiest thing in the world to do.

Meg is spiteful and hateful and you totally understand why.  She's young.  She's pretty.  And the war took everything from her.  She loved her husband.  She sent him off to war with tears in her eyes and fervent prayers for his return.  He never did, and neither did her three brothers.  The war nearly killed her spirit.  Her desire, her hatred, for Clay feeds her.  Slowly but surely that veil is lifted from her eyes, and then that's when the test of real courage comes into play.  Because she has fallen in love with a man whose reputation will surely drag her down like a sinking ship.  Does she have the courage, faith in both Clay and their love for each other to make a stand?

Heath has written some very good books.  Of her westerns in particular I've read books ranging from "It was OK" to "Keeper! Keeper! Keeper!"  But this book?  I know she's still writing.  I know she's probably got a lot of stories left in her.  But this book?  This book is a masterpiece.  It's a triumph.  I know authors who would start sacrificing virgins if the outcome was creating a story like this one.  It's that good.  I'm ordering all of you to read it right now.  Right.  Now.

Final Grade = A

21 comments:

Phyl said...

You couldn't have put it any better. This is one of those books that should be considered a classic of the genre. And mandatory reading.

Hilcia said...

Yes, yes, yes! I'm so glad you found it in time to read it! I agree with you and Phyl. That's the reason I reviewed it under the "classics" theme. It should be considered one.

Clay makes a fantastic western hero, but I thought that Heath's characterization of Meg was fabulous. Shoot, the whole book is just brilliantly executed.

azteclady said...

(Your blog doesn't like me anymore, Ms Wendy)


I was very lucky in finding a copy of this book, long before I first stumbled upon the online romance community, thanks to the good offices of my neighborhood used book store.

I treasure that copy. This is one of those books that stay with you for a very, very long time. The story is beautifully written, and the two main characters pull you in and just plain don't let go--ever. It's been at least fifteen, sixteen years since I first read it, and I still remember how deeply the story and the characters moved me--on that first read and on every re-read since.

One of which, come to think about it, is due just about now.

Miss Bates said...

This is a great review! I just had to "drop by" to say that Heath's AtR was choice #2 on my July TBR read, but, of course, I left it to the last minute and had to take the road more travelled by reading "short." Serves me right. ;-) Am looking forward to this even more now!

Jan @ Notes from a Readerholic said...

This book sounds great. I've read a few by Ms. Heath, but not this one. So glad it's finally out in digital!

Wendy said...

Phyl: I'm so glad it's available digitally now. It jumped to the top of my must read westerns conversion kit (don't like westerns? try this one)

Wendy said...

Hils: I had a ton of books I could have chosen for this month's theme - it came down to "what am I in the mood for?" Go glad I ended up picking this book - because I was dithering between three others.

Wendy said...

AL: My blog is just being difficult. Maybe it needs a time out?

I have a nicely worn paperback that I got from....someone. I used to swap books online pre-ebook days and I'm sure that's how I found this one. And naturally I let it sit in the TBR for far too long. I could just kick myself for that.

Wendy said...

Miss Bates: It is so good that I practically inhaled it. It easily would have been a one day read for me had I started it on a day off or a weekend. As it was I think it only took me two sittings.

Wendy said...

Jan: Harpercollins has reissued most of her older western titles digitally - which is a boon since they used to be pretty hard to find!

Rosario said...

I loved this book when I first read it (someone was kind enough to send me an old ARC). I had some issues with the ending, as I felt Clay forgave everyone a bit too easily, considering how horrid they'd been. But Clay was wonderful!

Kelly Campbell said...

I *think* I read this one a hundred years ago when I read far more historicals than I currently do. It sounds very familiar to me. This is why for the last 10 years I have kept track of the books I read.

Wendy said...

Rosario: He did stay true to his character though - so that's something. But I agree. Everybody was so horrid that it was hard to not feel blood-thirsty about them all.

Heath's older westerns and Laura Lee Guhrke's pre-Avon historicals were the hardest books for me to find when I started reading romance. I eventually landed them all - although I need to verify I actually own Parting Gifts by Heath. I *might* be missing that one, but at least you can get it digitally now....

Wendy said...

Kelly: Keep track AND back it all up. I started keeping track of my reading 2003, but lost several years worth of spreadsheets during a computer meltdown a few years back. ::sob:: Now it's cloud storage all the way!

Kristie (J) said...

Isn't it wonderful when a book knocks you over the head this much. If I were given one word to describe Ms. heaths books, it would be poignant. While this isn't my favourite by her, it sure is up there pretty high anyway

Wendy said...

Kristie: So Rosie and I might have gushed all over Heath (wait, that sounds pretty bad....) at RWA. Rosie is in the middle of rereading right now. She had it on her keeper shelf but had no recall on it. I may have been rereading over her shoulder on the airplane :)

Keishon said...

I remember reading this book in a store and being gripped by the prologue (the way you're supposed to write them!). Bought the book and finished it at home. I agree with you. This book is OMG SO GOOD. I went on to read a few of her other historicals but none that I read touched this book. I've met her, too. Terrific author.

Wendy said...

Keishon: Of her westerns I've still got Parting Gifts and Sweet Lullaby in the TBR. I loved the Texas trilogy, but this book? If I believed in A+ this is the book that would have gotten one.

Keishon said...

Testing.......sorry but my comments are disappearing.

Molly O'Keefe said...

I just finished this - having ignored my family for most of the day yesterday! I really loved this one too. Clay was so tender - so totally heroic and so tender. I'll be thinking about this for a long time...

Wendy said...

Molly: Yippee! I'm glad you liked it.