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Aug 8, 2012

Westward Hearts by Melody A. Carlson

Oregon or BUST!

Westward Hearts (Homeward on the Oregon Trail #1) by Melody A. Carlson
Harvest House Publishers (September 1, 2012)
Paperback: 304 pages
ISBN-13: 978-0736948715
Review copy downloaded from NetGalley
Burton Book Review Rating: 3.5 stars
Bestselling author Melody Carlson begins an inspiring new series of adventure and romance on the Oregon Trail.
Kentucky, 1854—Elizabeth Martin has mourned her husband’s death for three years, but now she feels ready to fulfill the dream they had shared—to take their two children west. The dream becomes reality when her middle-aged parents and bachelor brother surprise her with the news that they want to go as well.
After converting three of their best wagons to prairie schooners and thoroughly outfitting them, the little party travels from Kentucky to Kansas City, where they join a substantial wagon train. Elizabeth soon finds herself being drawn to the group’s handsome guide, Eli Kincade.
The long journey and deepening relationships challenge the travelers to their core, and Eli’s mysterious past leaves Elizabeth with more questions than answers. She knows there’s no turning back, but she wonders, What have I gotten myself into?

About This Series: The Homeward on the Oregon Trail series brings to life the challenges a young widow faces as she journeys west, settles her family in the Pacific Northwest, and helps create a new community among strong-willed and diverse pioneers.

The first half of the story is given away in the synopsis, as the plot line progresses around Elizabeth and her life as a widow and a mother. It isn't until nearly halfway through the book that the family embark on the adventure towards Oregon, and it is then that we meet the others who along on the wagon trail with Elizabeth's family.

Elizabeth Martin and her parents the Dawsons are good Christians who help others on the trail, even those of "ill repute" along the trail with them. Elizabeth ignores the gossipy and self-righteous woman Gertrude and both befriends and defends the riders who seem to have a seedy past. There are an interesting mix of characters on the trail, some missionaries who are all hellfire and brimstone, and Bostonians ill-prepared for the rugged trip. And of course there are a few handsome men to make things interesting for Elizabeth, who has finally after four years stowed away her widow's weeds.

Elizabeth's family are an admirable close-knit group whom I found myself rooting for along the way, through the myriads of problems from rivers, Indians, tornadoes and the other folks on the trail. The detail to life along the Oregon trail was impeccably displayed, with fun facts woven in such as needing to have beans soak overnight, only traveling half-days on the Sabbath day, and when and where to buy supplies for the trip. The trip itself was expected to take six months, however we don't know what happens past Fort Laramie as the book abruptly ended. At a family celebration, Elizabeth is happily dancing with a dashing fellow and there the story ends. I was not prepared for that, and it turns out there is going to be another book that follows the Dawson and the Martin family and perhaps by the end of that book they will actually settle somewhere close to Oregon.

I found the writing to be smooth, and the intriguing mix of characters to be entertaining. I felt like I learned a lot of the history against the backdrop of mid 1850's and the passion to go forth and follow in Lewis and Clark's footsteps. I am definitely eager to read the next in the Homeward on the Oregon Trail series to see how the love interest develops for Elizabeth after the romantic dance.