REVIEW: Trailblazer by Anna Schmidt
MEET THE HARVEY GIRLS: These real-life pioneering women were symbols of elegance in the wild frontier: taming rough manners, falling in love, and changing the face of the West forever.
Grace Rogers is ready for the adventure of a lifetime. With her family’s farm falling on hard times, she accepts a position with the prestigious Fred Harvey Company and heads for Juniper, New Mexico. There she meets a handsome cowboy who quickly turns her head. Too bad the Harvey Girls are forbidden to marry…
Nick Hopkins has a plan: buy a little land, marry, and raise a family—in that order. But after meeting Grace, he can’t keep away. Their only choice is to marry in secret…but Nick isn’t the only man entranced by Grace’s charms, and this unexpected rival doesn’t plan on taking no for an answer. He will have her, no matter the cost: to Grace, to Juniper, or to the happily ever after Grace and Nick fought so hard to make their own.
Dear Ms. Schmidt,
This is the start of a new Western series and moreover one that is set near to the turn of the century. This could bring up all kinds of transitional plotlines as the US shifts from the Old West to the 20th century.
Grace Rogers might look like a sweet, young thing but growing up on a poor Missouri farm has made her tough and her parents have made her a bit stubborn and independent. When she spots the ad in the newspaper for Harvey Girls and sees how much money she could earn and send back to her struggling family, she’s determined to go in spite of her parents’ reluctance. Go she does and after a month of intense training, she’s on her way to New Mexico.
Nick Hopkins is also traveling towards New Mexico but in his case he’s headed back home after finishing some business for his boss. The pretty woman sitting across from him might not want to talk to him but he won’t let her be leered at by another passenger. At a stop along the way for a meal, Grace refuses Nick’s invitation to sit with him and thus meets two other Harvey Girls also headed to N.M. Emma and Lily are more experienced and thus begin working in the dining room while Grace starts at the lunch counter. But the rules for Harvey House establishments are strict and on her first day, regular Nick’s whispered directions help her find her feet.
Harvey Girls aren’t allowed to flirt and must always behave properly whether in uniform or out. Nick’s attentions to Grace risk bringing unwanted supervisory pressure on her which could get Grace fired. Desperate to keep her job and the chance to send money home, Grace does her best to avoid Nick. But their attraction only grows and soon they’re sneaking out and planning for a future.
But when Grace catches the eye of a powerful local, will she be able to keep the man from hurting her and Nick?
I liked the attention to detail here. I knew a bit about the Harvey Houses and the women who were hired to serve by the strict instructions the establishments were known for. Grace’s early, rushed meal on her way to N.M. contrasted with how the Harvey House worked and showed why it became so successful.
The relationship between Nick and Grace has to grow slowly given the restrictions on her and Nick’s reluctance to see her job at risk. Emma and Lily have their own past heartaches and potential local beaus which I believe will feature in future books. What brings on the final conflict and climax to the story is something which featured in 2018 – unwanted sexual advances by a powerful man. The story then shifted to what would he do and how would Grace counter it.
The explosive denouement highlighted the major problem I had overall with the book. There are lots of small conflicts and issues but after introducing them and building them, they are mostly anticlimactically resolved or left hanging. Will Grace get caught meeting Nick? Is the money she’s sending home getting there? Will she become proficient in her new job? How will a potential rival for Nick’s affections affect things? What will happen when one of her friends becomes heartbroken when a beau leaves for the Rough Riders? Will these issues show up in future books? There are few if any hints.
With the most important event – Grace has more to face than just a sexual predator – a big question remains unanswered at the end. I’m not sure if it will be revisited in the next book or if it was just left as in this book it’s handled off stage – so to speak. There’s also a situation with Grace’s parents that is begun but left unfinished. I liked the story and the characters but can’t help wishing that there had been more – more tension, more risk, more to keep me on the edge of my seat. C+