Dear Ms. McKade,
As other reviews have stated, it’s hard to sell a Western romance today. Everyone wanted Regencies and now they want paranormals with vampires, werewolves and whatnot. I’ve always had a special love for Westerns and am glad to see such a nice addition to the genre.
The story of Laurel Covey and Creede Forrester is gently told but has a powerful impact. Set in post Civil War America, it’s about a broken country coming back together and two broken people who just might be able to help heal each other. Laurel, though born in Massachusetts, married a Southern man and was a nurse for the Confederacy. Creede used to be a hired gun before marriage settled him down. Then he learned of the death of his only son in the waning days of the conflict. After he journeyed from Texas to Virginia, a doctor told him that Laurel might be able to tell him more of his son’s death. So he sets off after her on her mission to relay messages to the families of men she nursed yet ultimately watched die.
Laurel is a wreck. The ghosts and nightmares which haunt her are slowly wearing her down and she’s afraid she won’t be able to deliver all the messages and mementos before insanity takes over. She’s accepted what will happen to her. After all, she saw it happen to dozens of men during the war. What she can’t really understand is why she, a nurse who didn’t take up arms, is subject to these horrifying memories. The doctors she’s talked to attribute it to her delicate feminine nature and stated that only a hysterectomy might save her from incarceration in a mental asylum. For now she rejects that possible “cure” and just hopes to finish her mission before it’s too late.
When Creede meets up with her, she accepts that his presence will help keep her safe in the chaotic South yet dreads the chance that he’ll see her increasing breakdowns. Creede doesn’t know why Laurel is so cool to his offer to accompany her but quickly realizes that not only is she a woman of uncommon strength, she just might also be a reason for him to keep from going back to what he used to be.
I like the fact that you focus on Laurel and Creede. There are no tacked on subplots to pad the page count and distract from the main story. I also appreciate how much effort it must have taken to convey the information about PTSD in a way that would have mirrored the 19th century understanding of it. Unfortunately, it would take another 100 years before military authorities and the general public would accept that not only men but also the women who nursed them could be subject to such terrible mental breakdowns. I remember reading in Vietnam nurse Lynda Van Devanter’s book “Home Before Morning” of the struggles she endured coping with the flashbacks and nightmares. And how few would believe that a noncombatant would have this happen to her. I think the fact that in the epilogue Laurel is still suffering from nightmares is realistic and I’m glad that you didn’t try to make “love heal all.”
Laurel and Creede’s growing relationship felt natural. There were moments when they were irritated with each other and grateful for each other. The romance didn’t feel forced nor were we subjected to inappropriate mental lusting. The issue of blacks in the South was handled in a non-preachy, tactful fashion. I like that you showed us the defeated South trying to recover after the War instead of just giving us a dry history lesson. Yet I did have to wonder why you included the truncated resolution of Creede’s backstory. Did it really add anything to the story? I don’t think so.
I also see that you plan stories about Creede’s two younger brothers. This raises a longstanding niggle of mine. Names in romance stories. Creede I can deal with but a younger brother named Rye? Would 19th century parents have named their children after grain?
Anyway, I enjoyed “A Reason to Live” and think it earns a strong B+ grade.