Friday, October 5, 2012

"Westward Hearts" Review

Since the death of her husband several years ago, Elizabeth Martin has been doing what she can to keep her family’s small farm running. Her children, Jamie and Ruth, also keep her busy, but Elizabeth still feels unsettled. It had always been her husband’s dream to travel from their home in Kentucky along the Oregon Trail to the West.

When her parents and brother surprise her with their interest in also going West, things start falling into place to make the trek to Oregon and a new life.

The Dawson/Martin clan has heard the horror stories of life on the Oregon Trail, but they have also heard about the triumphs. The time is right for them to go, and they can’t wait to get started on the adventure of a lifetime.

This novel is the first in a new series by Melody Carlson, “Homeward on the Oregon Trail.”

I have said before that I really enjoy books about the Oregon Trail. One reason for this is probably because there is a nice progression to the story from one event and stop on the trail to another. (I tend to be someone who likes order to things!) I also like them because of the substantial growth that always takes place in the lives of those who are traveling on the Oregon Trail. The harsh conditions and the uncertainty of things push the characters to their limits, and it usually makes them stronger and even more dependent on God.

These things were all true about Westward Hearts, and it helped to contribute to my ongoing love of Oregon Trail tales.

In this novel, the reader is given plenty of time to get to know Elizabeth, her children, her parents, and her brother. This was a very good thing, since when they join up with the wagon train, there are many, many more characters introduced. Normally when there are that many characters to keep straight, my head starts spinning, but, for the most part, I was able to keep these characters straight throughout the book.
Overall I would say that this novel is pretty lightweight, but that is actually how I like my historical fiction. I thought Westward Hearts told a story of the very difficult trip to the West in the 1850s in a way that was realistic but not too gritty or without hope. It was fairly predictable, but I guess that is somewhat expected since this storyline has been done many times before.
This novel is told completely from the point-of-view of Elizabeth, but it is not written in first person. As I was reading, I almost felt as if I was seeing the whole story play out from a distance rather than feeling immersed in the events that were taking place. I think this is something that contributed to the ‘lightweight’ feeling of the novel. I enjoyed the story and the characters and the events, but I never felt as if I was right there with them.
I thought that the spiritual aspect of the story was mostly done well. Elizabeth and her family seemed to have a steady faith that sustained them through the hardships that they endured. They consistently prayed to God and looked to the Bible for direction, and these actions were woven into the story seamlessly. However, I was a little leery about the subject of dreams in this novel. Elizabeth’s mother ultimately decided to go to Oregon based on a dream she had. I know that fiction novels should never replace the Bible as our source of truth. But they can encourage readers to think about what is going on in their own spiritual lives, and I would definitely caution people about using feeling-oriented things such as dreams to make decisions.

I was not aware when I began reading that the journey would not necessarily end in this particular novel. I knew it was a series, but I had not investigated it closely enough to realize that the trek to Oregon would be spread across at least two books. As I got farther along I became aware that they were not moving quickly enough to get us to Oregon in this novel! So, this one does have an ending of sorts, but there are still things that are left up in the air, the most important being that they are still out on the prairie.

Westward Hearts is a nice, easy read about one of my favorite historical fiction subjects. The story and the many lively characters will definitely have me looking forward to the next novel in the series.
I will give Westward Hearts ... 3½ BookWorms.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Harvest House Publishers. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this is accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

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