Wednesday, April 21, 2021

#TBRChallenge 2021: A Place Called Home

The Book: A Place Called Home by Elizabeth Grayson

The Particulars: Historical western romance, Avon, 1995, out of print, available in self-published eBook edition (99 cents at time of this review posting!). Grayson's backlist is now being "marketed" as The Women's West Series - but trust me, this one is a stand-alone.

Why Was It In Wendy's TBR?: It's a historical western so why wouldn't it be in Wendy's TBR?!  Seriously, no clue now - that's how long I've owned a print copy of this book.  I picked it up in a used bookstore (remember those?) over 15 years ago.  Fun fact: my used print copy has a handwritten notation from Beverly who wrote "11-95 Keep! Terrific!"  And yet I bought it in a used bookstore....

Major Spoilers Ahead! Content Warnings: lots of death (secondary characters), raiding Indian warriors, a dead dog (family pet).

The Review: They don't write 'em like this anymore. In fact, if this book were published today it would not be labelled romance.  It would be marketed as historical fiction. Or possibly as a historical saga.  Not a romance.  But more on that in a bit.

It's 1782 and as part of his service in the Colonial Army, Livi Talbot's husband David secures land in the wilds of Kentucky. Against her wishes, they leave behind Lynchburg, Virginia to chase her husband's dream of a better life for him, Livi and their two young children (12-year-old Tad and 4-year-old Cissy). Tragedy in the form of Indian raiders strike as they're leaving Virginia though and David ends up dead.  Livi is now alone in the wilderness with two children and a family she cannot go to for help.  She essentially eloped with David, marrying well-below her class.  She's on her own and she presses on to Kentucky.

Waiting for them in Kentucky is Reid Campbell, part Creek Indian (by way of his paternal grandmother), and David's best friend who never approved of Livi.  He pegged her as pampered, spoiled, and not the sort of wife his friend "needs."  There's a lot of animosity between these two - essentially boiling down to rivalry and jealousy. David was Reid's "found family," the only one who ever, purely, accepted him. Livi loved David and she saw Reid as a threat to that love, he was always filling David's heads with dreams and nonsense, always trying to undermine Livi.  And you know what?  Livi ain't wrong.  Now David is dead, both Livi and Reid feel guilt over that for various reasons, and they're in the untamed Kentucky frontier.  The British are still making trouble and Indian raiding parties are the norm.

This book would never be published as a romance today mainly because Reid and Livi aren't on page together until the 40% mark plus there's a couple of flashback chapters for David's and Livi's courtship and newlywed years. David dies in chapter one, and it takes 40% for Livi and the kids to get to the homestead in Kentucky. It's all vital set-up though because it kicks Livi's growth arc into high gear. Our heroine goes through A LOT on the trail and by the time she's face to face with Reid you can feel her anger radiating off her in waves. She breaks the news of David's death in a callous way, but damn, you totally get where she's coming from.

The mistrust and dislike for each other is, of course, hiding a simmering attraction and naturally given this animosity neither is forthcoming about, well, much of anything. Reid about his past. Livi about her journey and experiences just getting to Kentucky.

Original Cover 1995

I got sucked in. I love historical westerns that are essentially survival stories, plus I love westerns set in this era - when the "untamed frontier" was Kentucky.  I was up until 2AM reading this book.  Once started I could not put it down.  But it's not without problems and if you have a low tolerance for Old School, there are things in this book that will likely grate on you.  The Indians featured in this story (the Shawnee and Creek) are conflict for the story, raiding and killing settlers. Then there's the Black couple that arrives on the scene towards the end of Livi's journey to Kentucky.  Eustace and Violet are a couple, slaves whose master was killed by Indians.  They come into Livi's camp to scrounge for supplies because they've been lost in the woods for days.  She strikes a bargain with them - come with her to Kentucky, help her plant and bring in the first harvest, and she'll pay them with their own plot of land from David's claim - which they jump on.  Their dialogue has an unfortunate habit of being written in dialect (we get "Miz" and "Marse" for example) and Livi (who grew up on a plantation) is smacked with the reality while speaking with Eustace that the slaves her parents owned may not have been all that pleased with being property, stripped of free will (imagine that!).  This occurs after Livi saves them from slave catchers (only by sheer luck since the catchers are illiterate!) and she tells Eustace that in order to protect them she needs to forge ownership papers.  Eustace is, understandably, not keen on the idea.

It's not great, but I've also read much worse in romances from this era - although it's not the most problematic element of this storyline to say the least.  Violet ends up murdered by raiding Indians, as the result of Livi thinking danger had past and putting the group back into harm's way.  I haven't been this heartbroken over a character's death in a long while and then I got angry.  That decision to kill the one Black woman was, well it was something.  Eustace lives, but his love is gone and well, now I'm angry all over again just typing out this massive spoiler.

This leaves me with a very conflicted feeling over my final grade for this story.  Given that I'm a sucker for a big, sweeping saga, that Livi's growth arc is dynamite and I started and finished this book in one day (at 2AM no less!) I'm sticking with the highest grade I can give a book.  But oh man, it's got problems.  I will never forgive Grayson for Violet's end, oh and Indians killing Tad's dog.  For all those reasons, this book will be an automatic nope for some readers - but for those who like to dip their toes into Old School Frontier Romancelandia?  This was a riveting read.

Final Grade = A

7 comments:

Jen Twimom said...

Great review, Wendy. I didn't read much back in that era, other than sci-fi and fantasy, so I can only image the problematic issues (I cringe often when watching movies from the 80's and 90's.) I'm glad you ended up enjoying it, even with the issues.

eurohackie said...

I don't know that the principals not meeting until the 40% mark would preclude it from being marketed as a romance these days, especially if its of the enemies-to-lovers variety. I enjoy a good Western romance, but this one sounds like all kinds of nope for me - the tropes are the ones I tend to avoid.

However, even with my favorite tropes, a book can be a total miss. My choice this month was Roses for Harriet, an old Signet regency romance based on my favorite trope, marriage of convenience. The characters were awful and the book's tone was...uneven, to say the least. Another disappointment, but at least it (and the other books by this author) have been shifted to my PBS pile from Mount TBR!

azteclady said...

DAMMIT

I was all set to push that one-click buy button, but after that last spoiler...DAMN

Wendy said...

Jen: I go into older reads with a different mindset and set of expectations for this reason exactly. Different time, different era and the genre has evolved as time has marched on.

Eurohackie: I should have added that not only are they not together on page, he's not really on page at all until 40%. He shows up in a couple of flashback scenes - and that's it. These days readers want the hero on page immediately (IMHO). Sorry to hear your book didn't work out so well but hey - at least it's out of the TBR, right?

AL: Hence the spoiler. It was shocking. It was so incredibly terrible. It's a wonder I didn't start sobbing when I got to that scene sometime after midnight. Then, of course, I got very very VERY angry.

Jill said...

Ah,older media can be such an interesting grab bag, can't it? Sorry everything took such a dark, enraging turn.

I'm chiming in so late that I'll keep my recap short. I read A SENSIBLE WIFE by Jessica Hart, originally published in 93. It was not one of her best (a lot of telling the reader the characters were in love rather than showing), but it was short and had enough of that Jessica Hart sparkle that I still read it in one sitting on my hammock in the sunshine. Fair warning of things not aging well, the book is set in Indonesia and while I didn't see anything actively disrespectful of Indonesian people or culture, it was very focused on white Europeans and Indonesian people barely appear. So I could see that in itself could be a turn-off.
That's not even getting into the fact that the Europeans are there for a big civil engineering project that will change the countryside and affect the people who live there and how the local people feel about it is not touched on at all . . . Not a dealbreaker for me, but like Wendy I go into older books with different expectations. Other people may feel differently.

Whiskeyinthejar said...

Sometimes I enjoy the way older books explored the characters more before they put them together, it gives depth to them and I think improves the developing romance. I also like how the longer page counts give room for more history to be explored. But oh yeah, the problematic elements make some better regulated to the trash bin. I'm a crazy dog lady so I don't want to do this one but glad you enjoyed.
I did a bodice ripper from the '70s and like you, go in with a different mind set and gird my loins but yeah, trash bin.

Wendy said...

Jill: I love Jessica Hart so I probably have that book somewhere in the depths of my TBR. What I've read of her early work falls in line with what you found with A Sensible Wife. You can see some of the sparkle but it's not at full wattage yet.

Whiskey: That depth of character exploration (especially for the heroine) is what make this book such a memorable read for me. I positively wallowed in her character. And yeah, I know enough about readers to know the dead dog HAD to be spoiled. That's an automatic nope for a lot of people!