So this month’s TBR Challenge is ‘series catchup.’
Which is usually embarrassing, because these days there are very few, if any, series I follow, so it’s not easy to be behind on any.
Or it wouldn’t be, if it weren’t for the awful, terrible, no-good, apotheosis of a reading slump of 2015.
Which, looking for the silver lining here, means that this year I did have at least one title in a series languishing in the (digital) TBR pile.
So, yay! (and very much so, because I loved this one!)
(Edited to add: a trigger warning for suicide of a secondary character, on the page.)
“Tempted,” by Molly O’Keefe.
This is the second (and hopefully not the last) in Ms O’Keefe’s Into the Wild series, about sisters Melody and Anne, and their lives in Colorado in the late 1860s. Here, have a blurb:
Annie Denoe has fought hard for her independence. She has a new life and new freedom as the assistant to a doctor, and though she risks both propriety and her safety, she is determined to be happy in a life on her own.
Steven Baywood is trying to rebuild his shattered life, even though the ghosts of his harrowing stay in Andersonville prison still haunt him. He craves Annie and her quiet strength, but he can’t give her the love she deserves. When a tragedy changes everything for Annie, can Steven find peace with his past in order to give Annie a future?
I bought “Tempted” pretty much the moment it was released, because I really liked “Seduced” and the gritty way the author presented the West in the years after the Civil War. I confess that, after trying to read one of Ms O’Keefe’s contemporaries and giving up,² I felt a bit of anxiety about returning to this world and finding it wanting.
I should have known better–I was sucked into the story within a page. And oh, how I love when that happens!
As “Seduced” ended, Anne had already made the decision to make a life for herself–whether Melody shared it or not. By the time “Tempted” starts, Anne has made her life in Denver. It is not all that she would like it to be, but it’s still so much better than what she has had before!
And yet, she cannot help wanting more, wishing for more, hoping for it.
In a world of stark contradictions, where a woman’s reputation is paramount, yet so many are forced to fend for themselves, after the war and its aftermath tore their lives asunder, Anne struggles between her vocation for healing and her need for security; between her yearning for a man damaged by the war, and the offer of respectability offered by another, also damaged, man.
And mostly, Anne struggles between who she is, and what life, society, and–more than anyone else–her own mother, have led Anne to see in herself: someone who doesn’t belong, someone who is outside the norm, not good enough. Different.
As for Steven…Oh my good lord, Steven! Talk about your tortured hero–the things he survived, and what he did to survive, haunt him, every second of every hour of every day. He keeps himself busy, always moving, planning, doing, in order to quiet the voice of his memories.
But–and this is key–he does not become an asshole in order to ‘protect himself’ or any such tired trope. He is a good man, wracked with guilt, and always suppressing his feelings and emotions, keeping himself apart, lest he erupts, as so many other survivors of war have done all around him.
The world where Anne and Steven live is a harsh and unforgiving one, and I like very much that Ms O’Keefe doesn’t hesitate to show the reader all of its dark corners. Instead, she populates Denver with well drawn people, with their own pain and their own stories. The miner’s wife, struggling to survive and care for her baby. The bartender with ambition. The brilliant doctor with a chloroform addiction. The prostitutes in the whorehouse. The painfully young veterans, still trying to find a place in a world after the horror of battle, and death, and survival.
I was so moved by Steve’s struggle to overcome his issues, to try and become what Anne actually needs. And Anne is so strong in her vulnerability… I just loved them both to pieces. I am amazed at how much emotion was packed in this relatively short story (amazon tells me it’s about 160 pages long).
Finally, I loved, loved, loved that Ms O’Keefe did not fall into the “loving sex is magic sex that solves all the problems, and they lived happily ever after.”
“Tempted” is even better than “Seduced,” and I’m very happy that I can look forward to more stories about some of the other characters in this gritty world. 8.25 out of 10.
~ * ~
¹ White Rabbit, Disney’s Alice in Wonderland
² Which is much less a commentary on the writing than it is on the awfulness of the reading slump, as pretty much everything I tried reading for month and months was abandoned after a page or three.