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Cheryl Reavis

REVIEW:  The Soldier’s Wife by Cheryl Reavis

REVIEW: The Soldier’s Wife by Cheryl Reavis

“Promise Me You’ll Help Her.”

Former Union soldier Jeremiah “Jack” Murphy should never have given his word to a dying man, especially a Rebel. But now he feels honor-bound to carry the message to the man’s young bride. Besides, with false charges following him, Jack needs somewhere to turn. After he fulfills his promise, perhaps the North Carolina mountains can give this weary soldier some shelter. Yet when he meets beautiful widow Sayer Garth, leaving is the last thing on Jack’s mind. Sayer, and her young sisters-in-law, need help that Jack is more than willing to provide. If only he could be certain that his presence–and his secrets–won’t put them all at risk….

Dear Ms. Reavis,

I’m a long time fan of your books – both contemporaries and historicals – so I was tickled to see you have a new one out now. Calm, practical people fill your books. These are characters who simply put their heads down and keep going through the bad times. They don’t wallow in angst, rather they’re generally the strong silent types and as such they resonate with me: often not demonstrative in large ways but always in small ones. In that respect, I love this book. I can see and hear these characters, struggling to make their ways and survive the aftermath of war in the beautiful but harsh mountain life of North Carolina. As a romance though, I’m afraid it falls a little short.

soldiers-wifeThe book kicks off with a powerful start. Two men meet by chance in the aftermath of one of the last battles of the Civil War. Jeremiah “Jack” Murphy responds to the entreaties of an unknown, dying man who begs Jack to carry his belongings and final thoughts home to his wife. Thomas Henry Garth extracts a promise from Jeremiah to tell Sayer that he died well and bravely and that his last thoughts were of her. Jeremiah also hears the man’s worried mutterings about troubles facing Sayer and her young sisters-in-law. But after Garth dies and Jeremiah returns to his own lines, word spreads that Lee has surrendered and the war is over. Jeremiah also discovers, via a letter to another man in his unit, that the woman who’d promised to marry him has broken her word and married a wealthy man in their hometown of Lexington, Kentucky.

Thinking of nothing but his pride, Jeremiah heads home as soon as he can only to discover his first love is not only faithless but a liar as well. Fleeing from the wrath of her powerful husband, he decides to head in a different direction – that of the family to whom he is supposed to deliver Garth’s belongings. The battlefield scenes are moving and poignant with the news of surrender hitting the Union men with “if only” regrets. Jeremiah’s a stubborn man, stubborn long past when all his friends and the priest who runs the orphanage where Jeremiah grew up tell him to get out of town. I wish there had been more time to spend on his journey to NC but the story moves quickly on.

Trying to find the Garth land, Jeremiah runs into one of the best characters in the story. Rorrie Conley is an old widder woman who doesn’t suffer fools gladly. She’s also handy with a gun and doesn’t like being lied to – though she’ll let Jeremiah keep a few of his secrets when she sees he means the Garths no harm. I love Rorrie. She’s a spitfire who can put the fear of God into grown men, who speaks her mind and who doesn’t waste any words. If she thinks someone needs a verbal push to stop acting foolish, she gives them a strong one. She’s a mountain woman through and through and as hard headed as her mule but her intentions are always for the best and seldom wrong.

When Jeremiah arrives and discovers the difficulties the soldier’s wife and sisters are enduring, he sticks around. The mountains are beautiful but demanding. The people are just as strong and when they discover why he’s traveled there, they quietly welcome him as a comrade of Thomas Henry – a man they obviously loved and thought highly of. The memorial service they hold for Garth is dignified and heartfelt. The love and care they take of Sayer and her young charges Amity and Beatrice is touching. But they also notice that this young man has clearly been through the fires of war and is still suffering.

I get a bit lost in the relationship between Thomas Henry and Sayer that sets up the plot. Thomas Henry just falls in love with her when they’re both children then comes to her rescue as an adult who can finally get her away from relatives who don’t love her. I never quite got the reason why he fell so hard and permanently for Sayer. She just seemed like a large eyed, scared waif. She also seems to drift, and cry, through a lot of this book. If not for Rorrie goosing her into action quite a few times, I think she would have faded into the background for me. She’s nice enough, cares for her sisters-in-law, wants to hold onto the Garth land for them but other than this is rather colorless. She does eventually stand up and act bravely when the villains arrive but her initiative was a bit lacking for a large part of the book.

The villains are twofold and end working in tandem before being taken down. Vance seems far too obsessed with Jeremiah for the little amount of history they have. I can see some pursuit on his part to teach someone who’d dared to see the wife he likes to control but the lengths to which he goes in this day and age of slow travel and slower communication almost beggar belief. Thomas Henry’s vile uncle who covets the family land makes more sense as the central cause of external conflict. He’s there and he has a concrete reason to harass Sayer and the rest of the family. I do understand that the threat of Vance needed to be removed from Jeremiah’s life but am the way it’s done just seems OTT.

I understand Jeremiah’s reasons for falling in love with Sayer – she’s pretty, she’s loyal, she’s a haven for him after the war and the betrayal of his first love. The haven part comes through the most. He finds peace here and people who accept him. But Sayer just seems to drift into love with him just as she did with Thomas Henry almost as if he’s a substitute for her now dead husband. I usually like your quiet heroines but Sayer is perhaps just a bit too wrapped tight and undemonstrative. I’m left with the feeling that she might have fallen for any man who stuck around and helped out at the farm.

The religious aspects of the book are strong yet not overwhelming. These are people raised in religion who have just lost many to the war so it makes sense that they turn to God and their faith to see them through and give them strength. Characters wrestle with their beliefs in a personal way that never feels preachy or overwrought.

The setting you used here, post Civil War America, is one I enjoyed. The people of Ashe County are rock solid, hard working, and there to help their neighbors when it’s needed. I had a great time reading about them. Rorrie is a delight, Jeremiah is tough and vulnerable at the same time but Sayer needed a little more oomph for me to get behind her. B-

~Jayne

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REVIEW: The Long Way Home by Cheryl Reavis

REVIEW: The Long Way Home by Cheryl Reavis

Dear Ms. Reavis,

I’m so glad that by the time I’d heard of these books, the second one was already out and the third one wasn’t too much of a wait. In Little Darlin’ you make me actually like a secret baby book and toss in a marriage of convenience just for fun. In this follow up book, you take a woman who pretty much showed her ass by her actions in that book – and who showed her ta-tas for a living in the strip clubs on Bragg Boulevard – and make her into a character I wanted to stand up and cheer for as she finally gets her knight in shining armor – though his armor is slightly dented and she as much rides to his rescue as he does to hers.

The Long Way Home Cheryl ReavisRita Warren grew up without much and that included people who cared about her. After running from her mother’s latest grabby boyfriend before she’d finished school, she found that dancing – the only thing she’d ever truly been good at – was the only thing she knew how to do that could make her any money. Her dream was Las Vegas but when she found herself without rent money, locked out of her apartment and unable to provide for her hungry young daughter, she did what she knew she had to – even if she didn’t want to – and handed Olivia over to her, up to that point unknowing, father SSgt Matt Beltran.

With Olivia settled (in Little Darlin’), Rita followed her dream to Vegas and actually made it. But she discovered that she wants more from life and that includes being a bigger part of Olivia’s life. So she heads back to Fayetteville, NC and Fort Bragg but this time she’s got money, the intention to get her GED and plans to turn her life around. After a less than happy meeting with Matt Beltran, Rita learns that an old friend, Spec 4 Calvin “Bugs” Doyle, is in (Womack Army) hospital following a Black Hawk crash that killed almost everyone on board. The other survivor is Lt. “Mac” McGraw who is in a room across from Bugs and who is buried under self recrimination and determined to make life hell for those around him.

Mac might have most of the nursing staff running scared but Rita is less than impressed as she proves when she hurls back at him the magazine he throws at her. Rita isn’t Army and feels free to give Mac any number of set downs. It’s this lack of pity – and the fact that he thinks she’s drop dead gorgeous – that piques Mac’s interest in her though “guy like” he shows it by acting bratty at times. Not that this has any affect on Rita who brazenly asks for his help with her GED algebra class. Slowly the two begin to spend time together though neither is looking at the other as relationship material. With their unsettled personal lives needing to be sorted can these two damaged souls find something special in each other?

Rita and Mac both begin the book as difficult characters. As the villainess of Little Darlin,’ Rita has some serious shit to make up for before she can move into the heroine role. Meanwhile Mac is non-heroically struggling with the physical and emotional aftermath of his crash along with a wandering fiancee

Rita’s still in “two steps forward and one step back” mode. She has a plan but she still suffers mental set backs and has things to fix about herself before she’s ready to move on: personal growth issues, new ways to cope with roadblocks – ie not running as a way to fix the problems in her life. She has to learn to stand her ground and work things out rather than just fleeing from them since she’s discovering that even though she thought it worked in the past, it only prolongs the issues and solves nothing. But she does face up to this, admits it to herself and works on it.

I like how she advances in her interactions with Olivia, Corey and Matt. That situation isn’t going anywhere either and Rita demonstrates that she’s getting her act together and learning new normals as she faces up to what she did and how she acted. She also doesn’t take any gruff from Mac’s mother even though she’s quaking inside. She looks the woman straight in the eye, tells her what she can do with her insinuations and leaves with her head held high.

Rita has a past, a major one that lots of people know about – the stripping – and a private one that fewer people know about – Olivia. These will be with her for life and are things that she makes sure Mac knows about when they’re working out their HEA. Here’s another thing that would have been better had she confronted it and told Mac to begin with but as she says, she didn’t count on a relationship with him, didn’t plan on it and why should she tell him all this when she first meets him? But when the rubber meets the relationship road, she does insist that he figure this into their future and be ready for it. This is the point when I knew she’d finally reached her goal and could advance into a forever HEA.

Mac is doing the wounded warrior thing. As an officer, he blames himself for what happened to his men and for surviving when most of them didn’t. Up until this point in his life, he’s had it pretty easy. From a moneyed background, he’s used to privilege and the belief that things will go smoothly to whatever he wants. He has broken slightly from the family mold by going into the Army but still caved to family pressure in the choice of his “perfect” fiancee. Now he’s faced with the reality that life can suck and at first he reacts badly. He’s certainly far from perfect and noble and I like that you let him be that way.

Rita doesn’t try and make that easy for him, doesn’t pat him on the hand and try to sweep it under the rug. She tells him she understands, she gives him time to process, she supports him when he needs it and she doesn’t let him wallow. She also makes him stand on his own two feet – literally – and face the fact that his body is going to be slightly dinged from now on. One thing I really like is that Mac knows full well – thanks to his mother – what Rita’s past is before he goes and proposes to her. He knows the good, the bad and the ugly and still wants a future with her.

I enjoyed watching these two snipe and snap at each other over the course of the book – they definitely have the “for better or for worse” part of the vows already worked out. They are both strong willed individuals and clashes are inevitable but they learn to give and take, they complement each other and they are both better for being with each other. The epilogue is also one of the few that I truly enjoyed as it shows them dealing with both the ups and the downs that come with marriage and life in the military. I like that these are two real people dealing with real issues and solving them giving me the feeling that whatever else life throws their way, they’ll be able to deal with it together. B+

~Jayne

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