REVIEW: To the Farthest Shores by Elizabeth Camden
It has been six years since army nurse Jenny Bennett’s heart was broken by a dashing naval officer. Now Lieutenant Ryan Gallagher has abruptly reappeared in her life at the Presidio army base but refuses to discuss the inexplicable behavior that destroyed their happiness.
Ryan is in an impossible situation. One of the few men in the world qualified to carry out a daring assignment, he accepted a government mission overseas that caused his reputation to be destroyed and broke the heart of the only woman he ever loved. Honor bound never to reveal where he had been during those six years, he can’t tell Jenny the truth or it will endanger an ongoing mission and put thousands of lives at risk.
Although Ryan thinks he may have finally found a solution, he can’t pull it off on his own. Loyalty to her country compels Jenny to help, but she never could have imagined the intrigue she and Ryan will have to face or the lengths to which they will have to go to succeed.
Dear Ms. Camden,
With your last few books set on the US East Coast, I sat up and took notice of the fact that this one shifts out west. What is a Naval officer doing at the Presidio and how was he going to win his heroine back? In the end, it was the tantalizing mystery of where had the hero been and what was important enough to him to risk the love of his life that was the clincher.
Jenny is a hard worker. Raised through childhood in the rough parts of San Francisco, a chance meeting with someone who believed in her gave her a new life which she’s never taken for granted. Ryan Gallagher won through her defenses and got her to dream of a golden future complete with a family and home. His abrupt departure with no warning or explanation stuns her. His letter a year later which broke their engagement wounded her to the core. Yet she still can’t stop herself from checking the casualty lists for his name nor quite overcome the feelings she still has for him.
That is until one day she sees him back at the Presidio along with proof of at least some of what he was doing for the past six years. Ryan still won’t answer her questions about what caused him to leave and Jenny overhears Army personnel she’s nursing muttering accusations of cowardice and even treason against him. Ryan’s about as far down her shit list as he can get. She also smells a rat in the man with whom Ryan spends his days. In her nursing, she’s worked with men who have become addicted to opium due to their war wounds and her experience tells her Finn Breckenridge indulges which she can see infuriates Ryan. But why?
Ryan fell in love with Jenny from the moment he saw her and only his love of country and sense of duty were enough to pull him away and then keep him apart from her. A moment of despair has lead to the person in whom Jenny sees the embodiment of Ryan’s betrayal of their relationship. Jenny is hurt enough that she initially has trouble being around his four year old daughter Lily. Where had he been and what had Ryan been doing all that time? To her face he denies things he’d once told her; that is when he can even meet her eyes. Emotionally wounded, she takes pleasure in informing him that she pawned his father’s gold watch – Ryan’s only remaining memento from his dead father – but she’s still confused about why Ryan doesn’t react to the catcalls which impugn his character nor worry about the charges being made against him.
Ryan’s mysterious past and his confusing present are finally explained when he seeks not only Jenny’s nursing expertise but also that of her foster father – the man who had saved her from the streets. Simon and Ryan have always shared a love of pearls and there’s something afoot which will change the industry forever. After getting their promises of secrecy, Ryan reveals his past six years and why he needs Jenny’s help with Finn. What Ryan requires will necessitate them moving temporarily down the coast with him, Lily and Finn and will throw Ryan and Jenny back together. Does he have a chance to win Jenny back? And even if she still loves him, can she forgive what happened? Or is their relationship built on a foundation of sand instead of rock?
This book has a wonderful use of period events far beyond plot needs. Conflicts are intricately layered and interwoven with character backgrounds and motivations. It all makes sense. All too often in historicals, things get twisty and out of control trying to get the denouement where it needs to go and I end up thinking, “Yeah, right.” Not here. Except for one thing: beyond needing to get Jenny and Ryan back together, why would the Powers That Be have Ryan training in public and exposed to the rumor mill of the Presidio? Since everything else clicked together like an intricate puzzle box, I went with it.
Jenny might be seem like a do-gooder in some things but she’s also tough as nails due to her childhood. She won’t stand by and allow herself to be taken advantage of and drives a hard bargain to get what she wants in terms of increased pay and better work shifts. Her decision to continue to help Ryan is because she wants to and not because she’s a martyr. She’s loyal to those who have earned it and to those she loves – and continues to love. She isn’t a saint either and struggles with her faith and jealousies at times. She’s also got her own dark secret which she fears Ryan learning.
Ryan is the product of his missionary upbringing in a world that values conformity over making waves. He was also raised by his parents to love a country he’d never seen until he arrived and entered the Naval Academy. Everything instilled in him a sense of meticulous duty but he also wants to believe the best in others. Still when he needs to make use of his hard won expertise in foreign relations and diplomacy, he can back an enemy to the wall using their own conventions to do so.
Yet while the external conflict might be dealt with, Ryan and Jenny’s HEA is no smooth sailing. Ryan’s childhood and military training have taught him to smooth things over and hide his emotions which it takes him a while to learn won’t work with Jenny who, because of her tough childhood, needs to trust that someone is telling her the whole truth. His secret mission, an ongoing one which is vital to US security, won’t allow him to respond to her anguished questions until he’s sure he won’t have to leave her again.
Brava that these aren’t “five minute conversation” conflicts and that the foundation for them is laid and carefully constructed on the background information built all through the story. Just having Jenny and Ryan acknowledge that they’re still in love doesn’t solve things either. They have to believe in a future and in each other for that. Watching them work for that, painful as it was at times, was all worth it in the end. I finished this book with a satisfied smile and a hope that some of the fascinating secondary characters will show up in future books. A-