Choices
by Pamela Nowak
(Five Star, $25.95, PG) ISBN 978-159414-810-1
****
Fort Randall, South Dakota in the 1870’s is the unique setting for this story. Choices gives us a realistic picture of life in an Army fort, showing that the signs of the times included prejudice against Native Americans but also the different classes that existed even in such an isolated place. I give it my recommendation.

Miriam Longstreet has recently been called back from her boarding school in Kansas to help take care of her younger sister and her mother. Franny is a cute young girl who has been through several governesses. Her mother, Harriet Longstreet, likes to lord it over the world since she is the Major’s wife and “head” of the society of Army wives, particularly those officers who are married. Harriet is a shrew and has become addicted to laudanum, making it hard to know when she might be nice and when she might be in an uproar. The Major, a decent gentleman who is beloved by his men, has decided to ignore his wife and in a way, his daughters.

Harriet is determined to marry Miriam off, helping her find a man who will take her far in the Army and build her reputation and power base. But Miriam has gained just enough independence and has read just enough about the suffragette movement that she is rebellious and has decided she wants her own life, even if she isn’t sure what that will be. Lt. Robert Woods is the choice Harriet is pushing. Robert is a nice enough guy, but he just doesn’t generate any sparks. Because we can see Robert for his true self, we root for Miriam’s rebellion. Robert is a man who is out for all he can get and he thinks that Miriam’s connections will take him far. He doesn’t really like her and is certain he can make her toe the line once they are married. Harriet and he become allies.

Meanwhile, Miriam has become friends with one of the wives of an enlisted man. Carrie Rupert is a laundress like most of the wives who travel with the Army. They have to have a job or they can’t stay on the post. Carrie is pregnant and excited about the possibilities of her life. Her brother is Private Jake Deakins. Jake has befriended Franny, often helping her sneak around the fort to play with some of the other children when her mother is not looking.  Jake and Miriam start off on the wrong foot when Jake mistakes Miriam for another governess that he doesn’t think is doing her job. When he discovers she is the daughter of his commanding officer and above him, he tries to distance himself. But the attraction between the two is strong and when Jake is assigned as the Longstreet’s cook, they have a chance to get to know each other and become friends. Their passion is slow to build but when it gets to a point neither can ignore, they have to confront their dilemmas. 

This tale moves slowly at times, but is generally a story that will keep your interest. Robert is the man who tries to break up the budding relationship between Jake and Miriam, and a spinster sister of one of the officers helps them see that they can’t miss out on this chance at love, even though the choices might appear too hard to make. The story explores the almost caste-like system of the military, even on a remote outpost during peacetime. Part of the dilemma these two face is trying to figure out how the Major can be convinced to break all the rules and let his daughter go out and court an enlisted man. The war and pride also play a role in their story when Jake is sent out on a dangerous assignment and is gravely injured.

Choices is listed as frontier romance and it is definitely a historical setting. In addition, it is also a story with a lot of depth, good characterizations and a strong romance. While the hardcover price seems a little steep, I enjoyed this and I think you will too, but you may want to pick it up at the library. 

--Shirley Lyons


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