Thursday, November 17, 2016

REVIEW | Sawbones by Melissa Lenhardt

Sawbones by Melissa Lenhardt
Publication Year: 2016 (March)
Genre: Historical Fiction, Western
Series: Laura Elliston #1
Awards: None
Format: E-book 
Narrator: NA

WHY?:  So many reasons, it will be hard to be succinct.  First Mogsy at The Bibliosanctum recommended it and it is a truth of life that you should always trust Mogsy.  Second, I love westerns/stories set in frontier era U.S.A.  Thirdly, I love the trope in westerns of fancy-east-coast-lady-heads-west.  Fourthly, I love stories about women pioneering and not just on the frontier but pushing the bounds of what society thinks is acceptable. Fifthly, I love strong character development and a strong plot with a good romance B plot.  I'll stop there:0).  

SYNOPSIS: Catherine Bennett is a rare female physician in New York during the late 1800s when one of her patient's wives accuses her of killing her husband.  Catherine has done no such thing but she has engaged in some legally sketchy activity and she has no way of defending herself.  Her only choice is to flee west under an assumed name, Laura Elliston, and hope she'll be forgotten about.  She finds herself at a military outpost trying to convince the men of the fort that she can be their doctor, ignore the hatred of the wives and other respectable females at the camp and hide that she is a fugitive wanted for murder even while the murder she is accused of is making a splash in the headlines.  So, you know, easy peasy.  

You know those books that you stumble upon, that by blurb or recommendation, seem like they should be your new bestest book friend?  These are the books that are the scariest to jump into because what if...what IF... it is not all you imagined it could be?  The crushing disappointment ain't pretty.  So, I am so relieved and glad to say that this book did not do me wrong.  It delighted and horrified and gave me characters I dream about.  

So there are a couple things that need to be mentioned up front to prepare any readers.  First, this is the beginning of a series of indeterminate length (though on the author's page it appears it will be a trilogy with both books 2 and 3 coming out in 2017).  Full resolution will not be had at the end of the book.  Second, this book is not for the faint of heart.  Really terrible things happen.  This book manages to pull off two very different tones - one romantic, funny, inspiring and almost light-hearted and the other so so dark.  It is clear why it aims for this dichotomy as it is Lenhardt's stated homage to Larry McMurtry's Lonesome Dove.  It is not done with the virtuosity of McMurtry but it is not done shabbily and this is what elevates the book for me above just a pleasant read.  But BEWARE while it does not linger too long and is not the most explicit I've read, if violence, especially against women, is a trigger for you, you will want to avoid the book.

Sawbones does have one thing which puts it above Lonesome Dove - its protagonist is a woman and it features a number of other well developed and interesting female characters and not just for the men they are associated with.  The protagonist Dr. Laura Elliston (aka Catherine Bennett) feels like a completely real person and not necessarily one that would be easy to like or get along with.  She's admirable, interesting, smart, compassionate towards the sick and injured but she's also a little thoughtlessly reckless, judgmental, prickly, arrogant and argumentative.  I adored her more and more as the book went on.  Lenhardt did a fantastic job fleshing out her character with little things, like the way she glances frequently at her love interest to see how he responds to things she says in company, the way she responds to the bad things that happen to her - she is a believably strong woman who is dealing with a horrific trauma. 

I also love how we are given a diversity of women as well, each interesting in their own way - Harriet MacKenzie proper, priggish, a little bitter but also fair minded and strong, Mrs. Strong not conventionally pretty but with a handsome husband through an arranged marriage, she fades into the background but she is not unaware of things and is very keen and makes herself useful.

Oh yeah and there is a nice and funny beta hero as well:).  The romance in the book is slowly developed and really lovely.

The story as a whole is also well paced and Lenhardt does a great job keeping the tension up.  Laura has so many obstacles in her way - the trauma of the terrible thing that happens to her, hiding from authorities, having feelings for a man she can't stay with, constantly fighting to gain people's respect.  I found it always engaging  even when there wasn't much happening (which isn't often) and it surprised me more than once.

FINAL VERDICT:  A new Western with amazing female characters, and a well-paced plot that will swing you between delight and horror.  I loved it!  4 out of 5 Stars.

Other Opinions are Available:  The Bibliosanctum | Cover2CoverMom | The Misadventures of Super-Librarian

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