A Soldier's Heart
Grade : A-

Kathleen Korbel’s RITA-winning A Soldier’s Heart has long been considered a classic of the genre, and it continues to hold up as a most excellent read. A book that is perhaps even more timely and relevant today than when it was first published, it’s a moving exploration of war’s lingering effects, not only on those who fought, but the medical personnel responsible for their care who lived through just as much.

In Vietnam, Tony Riordan’s life was saved by a nurse who stubbornly refused to let him give up and die. In the years that followed, he returned to the States, fathered a daughter, and gradually came to terms with his memories of the war. He finally decides to track down that nurse who saved him to thank her at long last. In rural Virginia, Claire Henderson is now a widow who still works part time as a nurse while starting her own business and raising two teenagers. She seems perfectly in control, but Tony sees through her, recognizing all too well the ghosts that haunt her eyes.

For years, Claire suppressed her nightmares, refusing to face them. But a confluence of events drives her tortured psyche to its breaking point. The news is full of reports of troops being sent on peacekeeping missions in North Africa. Her son Johnny is on the verge of eighteen and determined to become a fighter pilot, much to her growing horror. Then Tony appears in her life, a living reminder of everything she’s tried to forget and never could. Just as she once saved his life, he’s now there for her, to come to terms with the past and heal her soul.

A Soldier’s Heart is a series book that does the format proud. It’s anything but a shallow, forgettable read. Instead it’s a good example of what a series romance can do so well – tell an intimate character story that keeps the focus tight on a small group of people. There are only a handful of characters, most notably Tony and Claire’s respective children, the protective ex-con who works as Claire’s pastry chef, and her son’s best friend, whose father is overseas in the military. The only subplots, such as the ongoing thread about Johnny’s desire to join the military, are all minor and woven into the main storyline, adding to it rather than distracting from it. A single-title would require more extraneous business; this story doesn’t need them.

This is very much Claire’s story, as Tony helps her face the memories that haven’t faded despite her attempts to ignore them. There’s not much external plot, allowing the focus to remain on their relationship and her pain. The author handles the issue of post-traumatic stress with assurance and sensitivity. I love a good tortured heroine, and Claire certainly qualifies. Her feelings are vividly portrayed and always believable, allowing the reader to empathize with what she’s going through. Given the subject matter it comes as no surprise that this is an emotional read, with a number of moving scenes. One of my favorite moments reveals one meaning for the book’s title, showing just how apt it is.

While the exploration of Claire’s emotional issues and lingering wounds from the war somewhat overshadows the actual love story, that wasn’t a problem for me, as the material was more than worth the attention. Readers who want the main focus to be on the emotions of the love story may feel differently. However, it is a good romance, and the final scene between the main characters is as exquisite and tear jerking as anything else in the book. All it took was a single look fraught with meaning before they even said anything to bring a lump to my throat.

A Soldier’s Heart is the kind of book Silhouette Intimate Moments used to offer and apparently no longer will. With the line’s shift to all-suspense-all-the-time, the publisher has decided there’s no room for books like this: powerful, character-driven stories of deep emotions. If it means depriving the genre of stories like this, that can only be considered a shame.

Reviewed by Leigh Thomas

Grade: A-

Sensuality: Warm

Review Date : December 4, 2005

Publication Date: 1994/11

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