REVIEW: Softly Falling by Carla Kelly
Lily looked at the vastness of the plains, full of cattle, and then up at the sky without a cloud in sight.
“What’s going to happen, Mr. Sinclair?” she asked. “What do you know?”
Fresh off the train from New York City, Lily Carteret arrives in picturesque Wyoming only to discover that her wayward father has lost his cattle ranch to a lowly cowboy in a card game!
Determined not to let her father’s folly ruin her life, Lily becomes a teacher on the ranch. There she learns that the handsome cowboy, Jack Sinclair, has some wild predictions about the upcoming winter—that it will be unlike anything Wyoming has ever seen. Lily must either cast off her skepticism to work with Jack or risk losing everything she holds dear.
Dear Ms. Kelly,
I’d never heard of Remittance Men until a few years ago when I read the delightful book ‘Proving Herself.” I can’t recall seeing one since then so when I realized this book features one – even in a secondary role – and is one of your frontier westerns, I decided to give it a go.
The story has the usual suspects featured in your books – wounded souls who find each other, buck each other up and rescue each other from slings and arrows of life. It’s definitely an ensemble piece which is nice from the standpoint of lots of secondary characters to care about but the romance gets pushed more to the background until the second half when the snow starts falling and the wind begins howling.
Jack’s main focus is earning his keep as the foreman of a consortium ranch owned by greedy nincompoops who don’t have the intelligence to know one end of a cow from the other. His plan – and you always need a plan – is to breed his Hereford bull to his two tough cows on his tiny 2,000 acre ranch which he won from Lily’s father in a poker game. He’s been down and out, he’s sharecropped on a dirt poor Georgia farm, he’s survived the War of Northern Aggression, he’s started over in Wyoming knowing nothing of cattle ranching but he’s got a plan and no amount of laughter from other ranchers will change it. Jack is caring, intelligent and determined to shepherd his charges – human and bovine – through the tough winter he knows is coming.
Lily is a woman of color who has been taken care of in her Uncle’s house and schooled well but not loved since the death of her mother in Barbados and her father’s exile first to India and then Canada before finally landing in Wyoming. Her Uncle’s pretentious marriage and social aspirations make her continued presence awkward and so, hoping against hope, she sets out for what has been reported as her father’s prosperous ranch. Reality hits her hard but is not unexpected and following Jack’s advice she formulates a plan.
Will both of them survive the winter that arrives even worse than Jack’s pessimistic fears? Can Lily’s father pull himself out of the alcoholism that has wasted his life? And what will be left alive once the snow finally melts in spring?
The obvious highlight of the book will be the terrible winter of 1886/87 yet that doesn’t appear for half the book. Lily’s arrival and introduction to Wyoming and Jack and his bull, then her forays into teaching fill the first part. But for all that – it actually feels like a fairly thin plot when push comes to shove with what seemed like a lot of padding. The pacing is very slow and deliberate. Almost too slow.
One of those slow subplots was about a packrat. I read more than enough about the packrat. No, really .. enough. I’m all for cute animals in books, I love cute animals in books but one more word about this rat was about to send me over the edge.
For all the mentions of Lily’s mixed ethnicity, there were few negative instances where Lily’s background is shown in real time. She mentions the pain and isolation of her heritage during her school days in England and of course that is also the reason her Uncle wanted her to emigrate. One event in the present is more matter of fact while the other is intentionally more venomous but Jack sees off each man during his strong defense of Lily. I had wondered since Jack is a former Confederate if that would be the real stumbling block in the book but he’s poor white trash instead of a plantation owner. I ended up feeling that this aspect of the book was a build up that fizzled out.
Thankfully things picked up once the blizzards slammed into the plains. I’ve read a few other romances set during the winter of 1886/87 and my God what can be said about this? The restrained description of the horror is ghastly and sickening. I can only imagine the full extent of what happened that wasn’t included here. It would undoubtedly give nightmares to anyone who lived through it. It did bring to mind the Maureen O’Hara movie “The Rare Breed.”
The second half of the book was definitely stronger. Danger loomed, death could strike at any moment and the small, ragtag band of people Jack and Lily take charge of have to pull together to survive what Mother Nature hurls at them. Two final plot points are taken care of one of which gives Jack an inventive excuse to propose to this lovely woman whose accent he falls in love with as she reads him “Ivanhoe.” I adore a couple who fall in love over books. I was glad that you didn’t pull any punches with the reality of that horrible winter but wish that the issues raised by Lily’s heritage had been explored more. B-