November 2014, Frontier/Western Hist Romance (1880 Wyoming)
Sweetwater Books, $8.99, 288 pages, Amazon ASIN 1462113958
Grade B+, Sensuality: Subtle
Even if I do not always come away from a Carla Kelly book thinking it is one of the best books I have ever read, I always come away satisfied with a good story. I also have to watch myself in grading because I have read so many books by Ms. Kelly that Iexpect her books to be good and if they fall short in any way from some of her previous novels, I do not want to judge the book more harshly than it deserves. I hope I do this book justice. So with that bend said, Softly Falling is another great story by Carla Kelly and her fans will want to pick this book up.
Lily Carteret is the product of an English aristocrat father and a biracial slave mother. When her mother dies, her father sends her from her home in Jamaica to live with his brother Niles in England. He does his duty by her, but little else. He provides for her food, clothing, shelter and education, but she never feels like she has a home or fits in. When her uncle decides to marry the daughter of a baronet, her uncle doesn't know how to explain his biracial niece, so he arranges for her to go live with her father who has a ranch in Wyoming. After traveling halfway around the world, Lily is not met at the train station by her father, but by the man who won her father's ranch in a card game - Jack Sinclair.
Jack Sinclair is a man who scrabbled for everything in his life. A former soldier in the Rebel army during the Civil War, he joined for a place to sleep and food to eat. His life before joining up was a poverty that was almost on par with the slaves of the south. One gift he does have is a way with animals and when the book opens, he is the foreman for the Cheyenne Land and Cattle Company (a British ranch consortium). When he first sees Lily get off the train, he is taken by her beauty, her British accent and worried about how she will feel once she understands that her father no longer owns the Bar Dot ranch. But Lily is used to disappointment and she takes the knowledge in stride without blaming Jack, even when she discovers her father is a raging alcoholic and the butt of jokes from the ranch hands. Jack does feel guilty though and contrives to find a way for Lily to support herself in the harsh Wyoming world. Mr. Buxton is the managing partner for the Cheyenne Land Company. He and his wife have a daughter and Jack convinces them that she would benefit from having a school to attend. So a place is made for Lily as the teacher of this school.
Lily and Jack are immediately drawn to one another, but neither feels they are good enough for the other. Lily because of her biracial heritage and Jack because of his illiteracy. But Jack is a kind and patient man and helps Lily even though he thinks he can never have her. Lily is embarrassed for her father and thinks she is once again in a situation where she does not belong. Through Jack's patient prodding and a group of children who need her, she begins to gain some confidence and a sense of belonging. Both characters are extremely well drawn by Ms. Kelly and this reader ached for both of them.
The harsh conditions of 19th century Wyoming and the great blizzard of 1886 become almost another character in this story. The lives of everyone and everything are impacted by this devastating weather event. The author makes the reader feel as if they were in the story with her vivid imagery. If I were to compare this book to a fable, it would be The Tortoise and the Harewith Jack as the slow moving but ultimately victorious tortoise. He anticipates the event, though no one in power will take him seriously. Instead of getting frustrated, he calmly and quietly prepares for the onslaught. Survival would have been impossible without the heroics of Jack Sinclair and after what everyone goes through, wondering whether one is good enough for another person becomes a moot point. Life and death situations have a way of altering perspectives.
This is a very moving and emotional book. The only thing that kept this book from becoming a DIK for me was the romance. It was there. It was sweet, but I would have liked to see just a little more oomph in the Lily and Jack story. Still, this is a wonderful book and Carla Kelly fans will not be disappointed.