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Between Heaven and Hell*

Female Scout on the Oregon Trail

While I adore historical romance, old west romances are not my typical ones to read. I tend to read more Regency and Victorian novels. For whatever reason, this week I have been drawn to reading old west romances. This one is the best I have read so far. The author pulls you in right away with this terrifying image of a young girl fleeing for her life as she watches her home burn and her parents murdered by white men. Alone now in the world, she figures her end is near when Osage warriors surround her. But an Indian woman emerges and takes her into her family. The story then fasts forward to 10 years later as this young woman, fleeing for her life again, seeks a position as a scout on a wagon train headed for the Oregon Trail. She has a hard time convincing the wagonmaster to hire her; he doesn’t believe a woman is fit for the job despite her display of good riding and shooting skills. After it becomes clear that she has been in danger and is perhaps in more danger after the skill competition between her and his previous scout, he agrees that she should come along.

Paden has quite a backstory himself, but I’ll let you discover that for yourself if you decide to read this fantastic novel. The book has a variety of secondary characters. Both the primary characters and secondary characters are well drawn and feel three dimensional. Hannah is it a challenging position as a white woman who was mostly raised by the Osage. At times, she has a hard time fitting in with the others on their journey to Oregon. Paden struggles with his conflicting feelings about this strong and resilient woman.

I loved this author’s ability to weave in words and phrases that are evocative of the old west but don’t feel stilted or out of place both in dialogue and in the narrative portions. That’s not an easy skill for an author of historical fiction to maintain. Her descriptions of the various settings as well are very visual, and I could imagine seeing them.

The author did an excellent job putting me in Hannah’s mind right from the start, feelings her terror as a child and understanding her desperation—even if I didn’t know the full reasons at the beginning–to get that job that she hopes will take her farther away from danger. The skill competition between her and the former scout is surprisingly a page-turner, compelling me to want to keep reading to see how it would turn out. The rest of the book is much the same. As an Oregonian myself, I enjoyed seeing the Oregon Trail as a backdrop for this. It is so hard to imagine what it was honestly like for people who use that harrowing trail to get to the West, but the author does a good job of making me feel like I’m right alongside the characters as they experience the beauty and hazards of it. It was actually a book I had a hard time putting down to do other things, which I wasn’t expecting when I opened it. As I said, I’m not usually a fan of old west romances, but something initially drew me to this story, and I am glad because it is an awesome read.

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