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This book was different.  On the surface, it seemed like one I would really like–your basic “traveling the Oregon trail” book.  But I wasn’t a big fan of Fisher’s writing style.  She had way too many descriptions that slowed down the book, and when the action did take place, she would only allude to it, so, for example, I would realize pages after it had actually happened, that someone had died.  Basically, I had to concentrate too hard on the reading part to be able to enjoy this book.

My other major criticism has to do with the content.  (Spoiler alert ahead.)  A major part of the book is devoted to an extramarital affair.  The main characters engage in this affair without thought to the consequences for all of the children involved, and with the overall feeling of “something so beautiful must be right.”  Even though in the end, the characters physically do the right thing, emotionally, the reader is left with the feeling that true love should have triumphed and that everyone settled for second best in remaining faithful to marriage.  I know that this worldview isn’t limited to this one book, and that it pervades society as a whole.  Still, had I realized that this was the path Fisher was going to take, I would have spent my time reading something else.

I’m kind of on an Oregon Trail kick right now.  This book is a fictional account of a real woman, Mary Rockwood Powers.  Powers wrote letters home to her family, describing their journey, and this book is based on those letters.  The title is certainly an accurate description of this family’s journey.  Mary’s husband scorned advice from experienced trail travelers and purchased beautiful horses to pull their wagon instead of oxen, left late in the spring, and began the journey alone without a wagon train or adequate provisions.   Once on the trail, her husband had a mental breakdown, and Mary was suddenly responsible for making life or death decisions for their family.  Step by step, Mary led her family to California, somehow managing to outlast the trail.

While I certainly admire Mary’s courage and determination, the book itself was somewhat exhausting to read.  The journey was long and harrowing, and there were few lighthearted moments to break the monotony of the struggle.  In that, O’Brien did an excellent job of portraying to the reader a small glimmer of what life on the trail must have been like.

This book had the potential to be really good.  It started out as a story about a boy, Daniel, going in search of his fur-trapper father.  Daniel joins a group of pioneers, and begins walking to Oregon, looking for his father, whom Daniel believes to be in trouble.  On the way, Daniel meets Rosalie and the two strike up an unlikely friendship.  But then the book veers off onto a lesson about the evils of the white man.  I have no problem with historical fiction dealing honestly with the violence that explorers and pioneers inflicted on native peoples.  But Daniel’s Walk treats the subject in such an abrupt and preachy way that it comes off as contrived and ruins the rest of the story.

Sandra Dallas is my new favorite author.  I have loved every book of hers that I’ve read (3 to be exact).  She combines so much of what I love in a book to create the perfect novel: historical, romantic, slightly suspenseful, a bit of action, and lots of drama.  Once I start reading one of Dallas’ books, I just can’t put it down.

The Diary of Mattie Spenser tells the story of Mattie and her husband Luke as they travel from Iowa to build a home on the Colorado plains.  Although the physical hardships are difficult, Mattie struggles more to come to grips with the many tragedies she encounters on the frontier, and with her growing suspicions that her husband doesn’t love her.  Watching Mattie grow from a proper, timid young girl to a strong, capable woman was an absolute pleasure, and I loved the way Dallas chose to end Mattie’s story.

Absolutely wonderful!   Hennie Comfort drew me in with her stories from the first page.  Hennie has lived in the Colorado mining town of Middle Swan for most of her adult life.  As she prepares to move on, she has some unfinished business to attend to, in the form of a young girl to provide for, and an old secret to deal with.  Hennie prepares for the future by telling stories about the past.

One note to moms who read this book:  There was one particular heartbreaking story about a baby early on in the book that will be hard to read.  In fact, I skimmed the entire passage once I figured out what was going to happen.  So be prepared.

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