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REVIEW: Her Hesitant Heart by Carla Kelly

On the frontier of a new life…

Tired and hungry after two days of traveling, Susanna Hopkins is just about at the end of her tether when her train finally arrives in Cheyenne. She’s bound for a new life in a Western garrison town. Then she discovers she doesn’t even have enough money to pay for the stagecoach! Luckily for her, the compassionate Major Joseph Randolph is heading in the same direction.

As a military surgeon, Joe is used to keeping his professional distance. But, despite Susanna’s understated beauty, he’s drawn to this woman who carries loss and pain equal to his own and has a heart that is just as hesitant and wary….

Dear Ms. Kelly,

When I saw this book listed at eHarlequin, I didn’t even bother to read the blurb. It’s a western – which I know you enjoy writing the most – and it’s by Carla Kelly = sold. Is it probably going to be a similar “feel” to your other books? My gut instinct told me it would and my gut didn’t lie to me but there are times in my life when I don’t mind being run through a wringer enough to emotionally wear me out and times when I don’t want to be wrung out like a wet dishrag when a book is over. Your books always work for me in those second instances and “Her Hesitant Heart” is no exception.

Her Hesitant Heart by Carla KellyThe Fort Laramie details are precise, picturesque and pertinent to the story. They add so much color and feel for the place and the people having to live, work and survive there. This is an interesting period in time for changing medical practices and discoveries and I’m glad to read that Joe is keeping up with some of these new fangled ideas without making him appear to be a medical man too far ahead of his times. The descriptions of the injuries and illnesses he faces are just enough to sketch a good idea of frontier medicine without reaching the “yetch!” stage. I was struck by the “death walk” he has to take to inform a new widow of her status and how little the terror and dread these women show as they wait to see which of them will start mourning seems to have changed.

Susanna and Joseph are – as with so many of your main characters – pure gold both to each other and to basically everyone else. Their character arcs are no so much about them improving and getting better, as they’re already so damn good to begin with. Instead the character journeys they take are in coming to terms with their pasts, moving forward and in being there for each other.

Susanna will be familiar to anyone who has read your books before. She’s sweet, down trodden, almost but not quite to her breaking point due to the nastiness of a relative, and misunderstood by nearly everyone except the hero. Joe is another of your standard issue heroes who has his own haunting past issues, refuses to buckle under to the smirky condescension ladled on Suzie – as he comes to call her – by the holier-than-thou set who are determined to put her in her place, who quietly rouses the (literal) troops in her defense and ends up landing himself a heroine who will turn his tired, gray existence into rainbows. A shared sense of mischievous humor comes in handy too.

Despite the similarity Suzie and Joe have to many of your previous couples, they still work for me because I can clearly understand what they see in each other and what draws them together. There’s no “oh, he’s so hot that I’ll over look some assholic behavior just to fondle his dangly bits” or “she’s such a babe that I’ll ignore her idiocy because I get such a hard-on when I’m near her” that leads to “I lust you, I hate you, wait no, I love you with only 2 pages left in the book.” Rather I get to watch as Suzie and Joe slowly begin to sound out each other and then their relationship. Some trials and tribulations reveal the core values and decency both Suzie and Joe possess, showing them they have enough similarities on which to build a life. Soon they are fighting each others’ battles and delighting the other with the little kindnesses that go such a long way along life’s path.

Other characters do grow and increase in understanding and forgiveness – mainly in terms of how they relate to Suzie. At first the “Civil War widow” white lie Emily tells may seem trivial but Joe calls it correctly when he says that when the truth comes out, the Army men won’t easily forgive the untruth of her losing a husband in the war. Society and social norms were such that a divorce was shocking and scandalous and grounds to question a person’s morality and fitness to teach children. Sexist? Yes. The way it was? Unfortunately so. Joe also doesn’t lie when he tells Suzie that as a Southerner siding with the North during the war, he’s lived as an suspected outsider so if there is anyone with the knowledge and compassion to get Suzie through the ordeal of Fort ostracism, it’s Joe.

The book goes a bit beyond the HEA for Joe and Suzie and as the plot of the novel has been laid out, it makes sense and gives closure to Suzie’s past. It’s not just the people of the Fort discovering the truth of the horror that lead her to flee her marriage and reversing her fall from grace. It’s Suzie being reunited with the one person from her past she pines for. I found it fairly obvious how this would be engineered yet the reality was still daunting as Suzie and Joe discover when it’s over. The book ends with a few loose threads leaving the reader to mentally tie them up – or not – in various ways. I still found it a satisfying way to wrap things up.

I’ve read variations on these characters and this theme countless times from you before but when I want something soothing, when I want a solid couple who won’t irritate me by being douchbags just because the plot requires it, when I want sweetness and light and nothing that’s going to push my buttons or needlessly upset me – you’re the one I turn to. B+



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Another long time reader who read romance novels in her teens, then took a long break before started back again about 15 years ago. She enjoys historical romance/fiction best, likes contemporaries, action- adventure and mysteries, will read suspense if there's no TSTL characters and is currently reading very few paranormals.


  1. Sally W.
    Apr 30, 2013 @ 08:34:09

    I have only seen stellar reviews for this book. Jayne, after reading your review, I promptly bought the book.

  2. Jayne
    Apr 30, 2013 @ 08:48:56

    @Sally W.: I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. It’s one of those books I inhaled in gulps.

  3. Christine
    Apr 30, 2013 @ 10:36:06

    I will buy pretty much anything from Carla Kelly and while I enjoy some of her books more than others, I have yet to be disappointed. I’m really looking forward to reading this one when I can carve out some quiet time. I don’t think anyone writes “men” better than Carla Kelly. By that I mean intelligent, strong, emotionally mature adults who are thoughtful and caring, not spoiled frat boys. I cannot think of another author who does quiet, realistic strength better than her and makes it incredibly romantic at the same time.

  4. Karenmc
    Apr 30, 2013 @ 10:37:40

    Jayne, I believe you’ve just pointed out an end to my Reading Slump. Thanks.

  5. Kate Hewitt
    Apr 30, 2013 @ 11:52:49

    I’ve just read my first two books by Carla Kelly, both Regencies, and I’m amazed at how they keep me glued to the pages, considering how little emotional conflict there is between the hero and heroine. That’s not a criticism, but rather a praise. No over-the-top angst and arguing, just two people working towards their HEA and it’s so riveting!

  6. Jennifer Lohmann
    Apr 30, 2013 @ 13:04:43


    I always have trouble describing what makes Carla Kelly books so satisfying and this “A shared sense of mischievous humor comes in handy too” hits the nail on the head for me (with The Surgeon’s Lady having the most mischievous hero and being my favorite). Her characters, especially her men, have such a wonderful inner life and thoughts. Christine’s description of “quiet, realistic strength” is also apt.

    This one wasn’t my favorite, mostly because I found the resolution of her son odd. But I love her books and they are my most relied upon rereads.

  7. Laura Florand
    Apr 30, 2013 @ 14:00:54

    @Christine: Yes. This. I like this so much about Carla Kelly’s work.

  8. Praxidike
    Apr 30, 2013 @ 14:13:55

    I’ve never read this author before, but I am tempted. If it’s not too gauche to ask – how are the loves scenes? In other words, are they barely there, graphic/erotic, romantic, or something else? I’m not embarrassed to admit that I do read romance/erotica for the love scenes and while I’m willing to read it without those scenes… well… I can read literary fiction if I want to read stuff without them!

  9. Jennifer Lohmann
    Apr 30, 2013 @ 14:56:22


    She does have sex scenes, so her books aren’t sweet. Her sex scenes are romantic and tender; there’s nothing really graphic and they are fairly short. A little more than barely there, but not much.

  10. Jayne
    Apr 30, 2013 @ 18:10:27

    @Praxidike: Jennifer described the sex scenes perfectly. Sweet rather than hot. One thing to remember about Carla Kelly’s books is that many of her earlier Regencies have no sex in them at all.

  11. Jayne
    Apr 30, 2013 @ 18:21:12

    @Christine: I do love her heroes, too. Of all the books of hers I’ve read, and I have some of her Regencies tucked away for a rainy day/reading slump, I think the men in “Libby’s London Merchant” and “Miss Chartley’s Guided Tour” have the most cracks in their facades and spend the most time healing and redeeming themselves.

  12. JessP
    Apr 30, 2013 @ 19:32:07

    Carla Kelly is an autobuy for me, and has been for years. Apparently, I purchased this back in February, so it’s undoubtedly on the Kindle, or will be tonight. I definitely look forward to reading it. Thanks so much for the review.

  13. Lil
    Apr 30, 2013 @ 19:51:04

    I am grateful to Carla Kelly for her decent and honorable heroes and heroines. No matter how much she makes them suffer, they always end up making me feel hopeful. I’m looking forward to this new one.

  14. cecilia
    May 01, 2013 @ 07:18:19

    I was under the impression that Carla Kelly had pretty much decided to quit writing for Harlequin, and that she was only going to write for the religious publisher she’s been working with. Was that just a false rumour, or did something change?

  15. Christine
    May 01, 2013 @ 09:47:20

    @cecilia: @cecilia:

    She is doing both. Carla Kelly has said how much she enjoys writing the LDS novels and working with that publisher but she is also continuing writing for Harlequin. She had been wanting to write novels set outside of Regency England more and it seems Harlequin is amenable to it as this latest book is set in the American West.

  16. Sally
    May 02, 2013 @ 00:07:45

    She wrote on her blog that she was going to quit writing for Harlequin, but then her kitchen remodeling came up.

  17. Laura
    May 07, 2013 @ 01:56:08

    My preorder for this arrived this week and I’m looking forward to reading it. Carla Kelly is probably in my top five favourite authors. And I’m ranking her with Georgette Heyer and Jane Austen among others, so my standards are high. :) I agree, nobody else writes quite such decent, genuinely human and three-dimensional heroes. I’m actually really pleased that she’s going to keep going with the LDS novels too, which I have to admit I was a bit wary of, but they’ve turned out to be among my favourite titles of hers. I would *love* to see a follow up to “My Loving Vigil Keeping”. And I’m not sure I’ve ever rooted for two characters as much as I did couples like Polly and Hugh from “Marrying the Royal Marine” and Nell and Jesse from “The Wedding Journey”. I’ve spent way too much money buying up her backlist, but I’ve enjoyed almost all of them.

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