Having recently joined the Christian Fiction Devourers group on Goodreads, I was excited to discover that one of their choices for the Book of the Month Read Along was a Tamera Alexander novel. I’d had her on my list of new-to-me authors I want to try for a while, so I Googled the book title and discovered this book trailer:
After a trailer like that, how could I NOT read the book? So of course, I added it to my “Currently Reading” shelf, picked up a (FREE!) copy through Kindle Unlimited and started reading.
“Elizabeth Garrett Westbrook stepped closer to the cliff’s edge, not the least intimidated by the chasm’s vast plunge.”
The very first paragraph tells us so much about the main character: her name, age, dreams, determination, courage… and that her time is limited. In the first chapter, we learn that Elizabeth is a strong woman facing a life-threatening illness, yet she doesn’t let that stop her or even slow her down. She dreams of becoming the first female staff photographer and journalist at the Washington Daily Chronicle, and she won’t let illness, the treacherous Rocky Mountains, or her father’s disapproval get in her way. However, we also see that her determination is balanced with heart in the way she treats the “Negro” man she has hired to assist her and in how she views the wildlife around her.
When we first meet Daniel Ranslett in Chapter Three, we learn that he is a patient tracker, a skilled hunter with a conscience, and a man of his word. We also learn that he is haunted by his past and still wrestles with the guilt of old choices. He prefers to keep to himself, but his reluctance is no match for Elizabeth’s determination once she learns he has the experience she needs to accomplish part of her goals.
In addition to Elizabeth and Daniel, Tamera introduces us to a variety of well-developed characters including:
- Josiah – a former slave, kind & competent employee, and loyal friend;
- Sheriff James McPherson – whose current friendship with Daniel has been complicated and strained by past events;
- Rachel Boyd – sister to the sheriff, mother, and recent widow;
- The Tucker family – struggling to provide for their large brood, including a young son with a severe illness;
- Drayton Turner the local newspaper man;
- Carnes the coroner;
- Mr. Zachary manager of the local land and title office;
- and too many more to list.
Despite the size of the cast in this story, Tamera has managed to give each character such a unique depth, and introduced them so skillfully, that there was never a moment where I lost track of who was who. Each character is as real and rich as the next.
Emotional Engagement & Pacing of the Story:
This is not an edge of your seat, flip the pages as fast as you can, style of story. However, Tamera has created just enough tension that you are always reluctant to set this book down. As I’ve already said, the characters are so real and their emotions so deeply felt by the reader that you cannot help but be pulled into their world and their struggles. You want to know what will happen next and whether or not each character will achieve their goals.
Elements I especially liked/disliked:
Something that sets this novel apart is its handling of the racial issues present in 1875 Colorado Territory. I appreciated how Tamera managed to portray this in a way that felt real, yet not garish. It was neither overdone for the sake of drama nor underplayed for the sake of current (2016) political views. I think it’s important to remember the shameful parts of our history as well as the moments of which we are proud. It’s how we learn and a reminder never to go back.
The primary themes are accepting forgiveness and learning to adjust when your dreams don’t turn out to be what you imagined they were.
I found the ending of this book mostly satisfying. I felt the romance was resolved a bit too subtly for my taste, but this is a nitpicky personal opinion. In regard to length, I would, perhaps, have liked just another page or two more to enjoy the afterglow of resolution, but this is more a sign of having enjoyed the book than a complaint against it. There is no hint of a cliffhanger. The romance plot and all the side plots are nicely concluded.
4.5 out of 5 stars