Wednesday, March 16, 2016

#TBRChallenge 2016: The Way Home
Pretty cover, but doesn't fit story

The Book: The Way Home by Megan Chance

The Particulars: Historical western romance, Harper, 1997, Out of print, Available digitally (self-published)

Why Was It In Wendy's TBR?:  It's a western and the beta hero is a virgin.  So yes, of course it's in Wendy's TBR (how could it not be?!), where it has been for more years than I care to admit.  Also, for the purposes of this month's Challenge theme (Recommended Read) - it's a KristieJ favorite.

The Review: OMG, this book! It's no secret that I've been in a reading slump that's dated back to last year.  This slump has mostly been related to my general lack of focus and attention when it comes to reading.  Good books have been slog to get through.  But this book, which clocks in at 447 pages?  I didn't read it so much as devour it.  Which goes to show that when Wendy finds the right book and her reading mood aligns (I really wanted to read a western when I picked this up!), she laughs in the face of The Slump!

Eliza Beaudry is desperate to get the heck out of Richmond, Texas.  Away from people who look down on her because her Daddy is a poor sharecropper and her Mama is half-Comanche.  And how exactly do pretty young girls get out of Dodge in 1876?  Yep, a man.  Eliza has already been pretty free with her kisses, but when Cole Wallace, a smooth-talkin' gambler strolls into town she just knows he's the one who will make all her dreams of leaving Richmond behind come true.

We know where this is going right?  Eliza ends up pregnant.  Cole, naturally, shows his true colors and Eliza's in a real sorry state now.  Poor, penniless, with not even a sliver of decent reputation left - she takes the only thing Cole does offer her.  She can marry his younger brother, Aaron.

Aaron is nothing like Cole.  He's working the family farm, taking care of their disagreeable invalid father (bedridden from a stroke), and he's painfully, awkwardly shy.  Eliza is so pretty she makes his eyes hurt, he's half in love with her before he can even stutter out a hello and she scares him so much he can barely spit.  She's also pregnant with his brother's baby and Aaron knows he cannot compete - but he marries her all the same.

You can tell this book was published 20 years ago because there isn't an editor alive who would publish it as is today.  First, it's 447 pages long.  Second, it opens with Eliza meeting Cole.  Third, we get a sex scene between Eliza and Cole (who is NOT the hero), and finally?  Eliza and Aaron (remember, the hero) don't even meet until after page 150.  We also get to spend more time with Cole after he leaves Eliza on Aaron's doorstep.  There are several reasons Cole dumps Eliza off on his brother, the biggest one being that Cole has bigger fish to fry.

The writing flows and the characters are so richly drawn.  Eliza is the kind of heroine you want to smack early (and often) because she's so young and so naive in the beginning.  You see disaster looming the moment she's introduced.  However it's how she grows as a character after she marries Aaron that's most intriguing.  Other reviews I've since read have expressed dissatisfaction over her lack of denying feelings for Cole - but by the end of this story I was convinced without the author resorting to Eliza's grandstanding or denouncing Cole in some Big Ol' Grand Gesture.  How she falls in love with Aaron is done gradually, over time and I believed every moment of it.

Original cover (much better!)
Misunderstandings and lack of communication do abound here.  Aaron is so painfully shy, belittled by his father (for Reasons), dismissed by Cole (because, well, Cole is kind of a jackass), and shunned in town (again, for Reasons).  Eliza is really hung up on the fact that she's Poor White Trash and not "a lady."  She thinks that's a big deal for Aaron (which, it's not) and Aaron thinks that she's in love with Cole and he's a bumbling idiot that she could never be attracted to.

If this book had been published today it would be 200 pages shorter and we'd start the story with Cole dumping Eliza into his brother's lap.  And the story would be much the poorer for it.  As it's written, Chance has done something remarkable.  None of these are bad people.  Cole, Daddy Wallace, these aren't cookie cutter villains.  There are times they are not nice men, but they're not caricatures - and it adds a richness to the story's conflict.

This started out as a strong B+ for me and got pushed into A territory when I had to fight back tears while reading the final chapters on my lunch break at work (only slightly embarrassing).  When Eliza realizes she loves Aaron and that he's not ashamed of her and she goes to him?  O.M.G.  I'm a mess just thinking about it.  It's wonderful.  It's amazing.  Read it now.

Final Grade = A


Lynn Spencer said...

Oh, that book sounds so awesome! I'm surprised I haven't read it yet. Chance writes more historical fiction now, but I used to love her romances back when I was in college. They had great settings, and the stories were always different that pretty much anything else out there.

azteclady said...

See? See?????

Now I'm adding another book to the TBR mountain range.

Miz Wendy, you are such a bad influence on me.


Lynn Balabanos said...

And...I'm a goner. I add another one to my TBR pile and it sways dramatically, nearly toppling over. :)

Sometimes the older romances are the best and I love a well written historical romance.

Leslie said...

Yeah! It's already on my TBR pile. It's actually in my read soon TBR pile. Which means it's unpacked and on one of my bookcases. :)

Thanks for the great review Wendy!

Wendy said...

Lynn: I thought of you as I was reading it because I figured you MUST have read it already :) It's a good one - I really think you'll like it.

AL: I've had it in my TBR for SO long - I'm sure it got there after I found a list (probably on AAR!) of romances with virgin heroes. A totally different style from today's romances, but so satisfying.

Lynn B.: When it comes to older romances that "hold up" I seem to have the best luck with historicals, for obvious reasons (they're already "dated" when they were first published so....).

Leslie: I had a used print copy and who can remember now where the heck I picked it up. It's been in my TBR for at least a decade (seriously, I have a major problem). Sometimes books that languish in the TBR would have benefited if I had read them sooner, in my still dewey-eyed, newbie romance reader days - but this one held up amazingly well. I hope you enjoy it!

chickssweet said...

I posted my commentary, here it is

Wendy said...

Thanks Rawan! I came across it in my feed reader and also tweeted out a link on Twitter :)

Dorine said...

Your TBR sounds like mine, Wendy! What a great find in there. I love a good western and this one sounds awesome. Putting it on my wishlist to find. I think I have an avalanche coming soon to my TBR Mountain Range. LOL

SonomaLass said...

I want to read this now! Thanks!

Wendy said...

Dorine and SonomaLass: I hope you both enjoy it!

Alyssa said...

I love this book--it's amazing. Glad you enjoyed it too.

StlScrib said...

Way back in 1997, Leslie McLain of The Romance Reader gave this 4 hearts. Even then I think she was surprised the book was published. I remember reviewing several of Chance's other books for TRR. They were never easy reads but they were always memorable.

Bona Caballero said...

I knew nothing about this book. In my virtual list of books to read sometime there're several Megan Chance's novels, but not this one. Anyway, as you've graded it with an A, it's an autobuy for me. Done. Now, I hope it will not be on my TBR pile as long as it was in yours. ;-)

Wendy said...

::waving wildly:: to Alyssa!!!!!!

Susan: The set-up is really different! I'm one of those readers who wants hero and heroine on page together quickly, so I was surprised how well this story worked for me. Also that I plowed through 450 pages in a day and a half. My currently slump is of the scatter-brained variety, so getting invested in this book was just what the doctor ordered.

Bona: It's embarrassing how long it was in my TBR! I try to use the Challenge to dig out books that I've had lying around for years - but that does not always work out. This month it did, and I'm so glad. I really enjoyed this book a lot.