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Heart of the West (1995)

by Penelope Williamson

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2295113,252 (4.05)2
Heart of the West is a romantic western saga, centering around the pioneering spirit of Clementine Kennicutt, a New England maiden completely unprepared for the harsh realities of life on a Montana ranch.
  1. 00
    Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell (theshadowknows)
    theshadowknows: These books share a similar epic, sweeping feel in bringing to life a lost and fading ideal (the American frontier in Heart of the West and the old, genteel south in Gone with the Wind.)
  2. 00
    The Outsider by Penelope Williamson (theshadowknows)

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Showing 4 of 4
Heart of the West is historical fiction much in the mode of Colleen McCullough's The Thorn Birds. Rather than Australia, it takes place in Montana in the late 19th century.
Clementine Kennicutt is a proper Bostonian lady until she's swept off her feet, literally, by cowboy Gus McQueen. She agrees to marry him and live on his cattle ranch near the town of Rainbow Springs. She meets his brother, Zach Rafferty, and the two fall in love while fighting their attraction. While the love triangle is part of the story, the book really focuses on living in the West with Indians, harsh winters, drought, saloons, and all the rest that makes up Western legends and stories. It's hard for a woman in this environment, but Clementine has grit and staying power. Along the way, she makes friends with saloon keeper and ex-prostitute Hannah Yorke and Chinese woman Erlan. Both of these women are looked down upon by the good Christians of the town, but Clementine views them as friends who help each other through times good and bad.
This is a long book but excellent with lots of details about Montana, the countryside, and pioneer living. I'm in awe of the research the author must have done from washing clothes to skinning wolves. It's a lovely read if you like history with excellently drawn characters and settings. ( )
  N.W.Moors | May 11, 2022 |
Here are my thoughts on Heart of the West . The first part of this book is a solid "5". The writing is fantastic and descriptive. Somewhere in the middle though, the pace changes, and it's more of a struggle to read. Perhaps it's because of all the different characters being introduced. Then it picks up again as some of the characters find their happy endings and finally the main characters. It leaves the reader(at least this one) a bit unsatisfied, as all the description is gone-the couples in the story meet back up and that's it. You have to assume the rest. I want to know what happens to them into the future(at least a little peek). I want to know what happened to the mine. I want to know if the heroine and the hero have children together. What about blind Jere and Lily? How do they go on? A great read still and one you keep thinking about after it's finished. ( )
  mary23nm | Feb 27, 2019 |
Sixteen year old Clementine Kennicutt, Boston born and raised in an authoritarian and pious household yearns for something more, and thinks she's found it when Montana Cowboy Gus McQueen runs her down on his bicycle. They marry and they're off to Gus's Montana ranch, although Clem, who is used to servants performing menial tasks, is in for a shock as things are more rustic than she had anticipated, let alone learning to deal with the mud, rains, wind, wolves, Indians and severe winters. Gus turns out to be a bit more rigid than she expected and despite their feelings for each other, Clem always yearns for something more -- which she soon finds in Gus's devil may care younger brother Zach. At first Zach hates Clementine and her Boston blue-blood ways and doesn't think she'll last until winter without running for home, but Clem has a stubborn streak and eventually Zach's resentment turns to attraction and sparks start to fly between the two.

Well, that all sounds promising enough and I has all hyped to get myself into this book but I was a bit disappointed in how the story was executed. The author spent too much time on storylines for the secondary characters, and those characters were all cardboard cut-out stereo typical of every TV western I've ever seen. The saloon owner/former prostitute with the heart of gold, the grizzled hard drinking prospectors, the evil mine owning sneaky father-in-law and worst of all was Lily the mail order bride from China. Now don't misunderstand me, but I swear I kept expecting Hop Sing to drop by for a visit from the Ponderosa - Lily and Sam were just way over the top, especially with her "golden lilies". As much as I love a big fat epic story this one could have used some serious paring down by losing a few secondary people and sticking to the main focus of Zach and Clem - although there again I felt the author could have been more creative in how she built the tension up between the two - the references to lightening flashes sparking in the air between them got a bit old, as did everyone noticed the denied passion between the two except for Gus. OK.....

Be warned, the book covers a twelve year span in Clem's life and the author takes way too long for the big payola after all that angst - run out of steam perhaps and finish it off too quickly? It's just too serious for a romance and not serious enough for readers of historicals. I think it might have worked better if the author had kept her feet firmly planted in her cheek, especially with the lesser characters, every once and a while she'd cut lose and I'd think now we're taking off and then she dropped me again. All in all an average read, not great but not bad either. The author does have another book set in Montana called The Outsider that I've got out from the library so I'll give her one more whirl before calling it quits. ( )
  Misfit | May 10, 2009 |
Epic in scope, lyric in tone, this book lives up to its title. Williamson plumbs the depths of the heart of the west, laying bare the trials and triumphs with which the rugged, untamed land of Montana challenges and inspires the women and men who try to eke out a living there. I'm not really one for westerns - this is actually my first - but this book completely ensnared me. The first half alone tells the most beautiful, exhilarating, tortured beginnings of a love story that I have ever read. After part one, the scope expands to span many years and many lives, skillfully intertwining the diverse characters and stories that converge in the small town of River Dance Springs - a young Boston girl who follows her dreams of cowboys and adventures into the wide unknown, two brothers who hurt and love each other and the same woman, a former prostitute who owns half the town, a mail order bride from China sold into slavery by her father, another pair of brothers from Cornwall who work the mines... all this and more. I loved this story - it kept me up all night and filled my mind with visions of Montana that are searing in their beauty. Penelope Williamson certainly has a way with words. She captures a feeling of America as a land of promise and possibility, frontiers that are already being encroached upon and changed by "civilization." Though about a different time and place, it reminded me a lot of Gone With the Wind in this way. And Williamson seems to be a sucker for those gut wrenching, tortured love triangles that are enough to break your heart. This is the third such romance I've come across of that nature, and so far this is where it's been done the best. I probably sound like a broken record now - but Williamson is so good at creating real characters, real people. No twirling mustachioed villains or tarts with hearts of gold here. Love in all its forms shapes the lives of these characters, friends, mothers, sons, daughters, brothers, and fathers, husbands and wives, pulling them apart, breaking them, and putting them back together.

I'm left feeling a little sad at the end of this book - partly because it's over, partly because the story told is a sad one amidst the concluding happily ever afters. You don't forget all that's happened to get the various couples to the point where they are able to love and live in peace. I wouldn't say bitter sweet is the tone, because Heart of the West is bigger and grander than that (and not just in terms of length!) I guess the word is tragic. It’s a book that tells of tragedies more than anything else, tragedies rimmed with the silver lining of love stories that persevere through the passage of time, deaths and disasters (natural and otherwise). An amazing book, everyone should read it. ( )
  theshadowknows | Dec 6, 2008 |
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Heart of the West is a romantic western saga, centering around the pioneering spirit of Clementine Kennicutt, a New England maiden completely unprepared for the harsh realities of life on a Montana ranch.

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