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What's Waiting Along the Oregon Trail - an Editorial Review of "The Bootmaker's Wife"

Updated: Dec 21, 2023

Book Blurb:

The harsh and rugged Sand Hills of Nebraska in 1875 wasn’t the environment most young ladies brought up in a Victorian home in Illinois aspired to. But when Elizabeth Schultz receives a marriage proposal from Charles Horn, a bootmaker twenty years her senior, she readily accepts. A year later, she’s walking behind a covered wagon along the Oregon Trail as she makes her way to Nebraska to meet her fiancé and start a new life filled with, what she hopes will be, adventure and an opportunity to be her own person.

Elizabeth soon discovers, however, that life on the trail and in a sod house on the prairie is far more difficult than she imagined. Can she cope with the extreme weather, isolation, food insecurity, health challenges, and her husband’s dark side? Will her physical and emotional strength be enough to sustain her or will she give up and return to the comfortable life to which she’s accustomed?

Not only does Mershon Niesner give the reader the opportunity to spend fourteen months in the boots of a woman who has barely left girlhood behind, she immerses them in a startling vivid world where the heroine discovers the importance of caring about the environment, those who came before her, and friendship in a time and place where rugged individualism is revered.

The Bootmaker’s Wife is historical fiction based on the life of the author’s great grandparents.

The cover image was taken by the author in the Sand Hills of Nebraska in the vicinity where the Horn’s sod house once stood.

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Author Bio:

Mershon Niesner has a background as a Certified Life Coach, child welfare social worker, marketing/communications entrepreneur, freelance writer, and author. Between them, Mershon and her husband have six children, nineteen grandchildren, and eleven great-grands. In her first book, Mom’s Gone, Now What? Ten Steps to Help Daughters Move Forward After Mother Loss, Mershon writes about losing her mother at eight-years-old. In addition to her own experience, Mershon interviewed over fifty motherless daughters and uses their stories to illustrate the ten steps. Her mission is to help other women who have experienced loss move forward in a healthy way.

Growing up in Nebraska cemented the author’s love of the a 360 degree view of the horizon, the constant wind, the majestic sunsets, and the rolling hills of the northern prairie. Later, as a Florida transplant, she wanted to relive and share stories her father told of his grandparents forging a life in a sod house in the Sand Hills of Nebraska in 1875 so she wrote The Bootmaker’s Wife, a historical fiction incorporating some aspects of her great grandparent’s life.

The original manuscript for The Bootmaker’s Wife was written during Covid isolation. The following summer, the author was able to visit the Nebraska Sand Hills, stay at a farm house, a cattle ranch, step inside an authentic sod house, and tour Fort Hartsuff, a restored fort near where her story takes place.

Mom’s Gone, Now What?, was published on Mershon’s 75th birthday. The Bookmaker’s Wife was published 2-1/2 years later. Old dogs CAN learn new tricks! Watch for an upcoming sequel to The Bootmaker’s Wife entitled, The Bee Lady.

Editorial Review:

The vast and unforgiving landscapes of the American prairie have long served as a compelling backdrop for stories of love and hardship. In The Bootmaker's Wife by Mershon Niesner, readers are transported to the late 19th century, where they'll embark on a poignant journey alongside a very compelling and relatable heroine, Elizabeth Schultz. Niesner tells a story that is both emotionally charged and beautifully evocative, set in the immersive Iowa prairie scorched by relentless summer heat and dust devils.

The story begins with Elizabeth Schultz, a young woman as she walks the wagon trail, contemplating her impending marriage to her fiance Charles Horn after eleven long months of separation. Niesner skillfully paints a vivid picture of the Iowa prairie, its sweltering heat, and the relentless monotony of the journey. It's within this harsh and unforgiving environment that Elizabeth's character truly shines. Her determination and protective nature shine when she saves her friend Lucy from a potential accident, an early glimpse into the strength that will carry her through the challenges to come.

As the story continues, we witness Elizabeth's blossoming romance with Charles Horn, a bootmaker who becomes the love of her life. The juxtaposition of their courtship against the backdrop of the prairie is both tender and lovely. The author captures the subtleties of their affection with grace, making it easy for readers to become invested in their relationship. The eventual proposal is a beautiful moment that sets the stage for their enduring love story.

While The Bootmaker's Wife is undeniably a romance, it's also a story rich in depth and emotion. Neisner explores themes of grief and loss, as demonstrated by Elizabeth's encounter with the tragic death of her friend Gretchen's baby, Louise. The scene is handled with sensitivity and poignancy, adding a layer of realism and gravitas to the story.

What sets The Bootmaker's Wife apart from typical romance novels is its focus on character development and the harsh realities of life on the prairie. The author vividly describes the challenges faced by pioneers and settlers in the late 1800s, from the ever-present threat of prairie fires to the isolation of living in a sod house. Elizabeth's inner turmoil and her dreams of adventure add complexity and richness to her character, making her a relatable a very relatable protagonist.

One of the novel's strengths is its well-drawn supporting cast, from Lucy, Elizabeth's loyal friend, to the enigmatic Angie, known as the Bee Lady. Each character brings a unique dimension to the story, adding to the realism of prairie life.

Mershon Niesner's prose is both lyrical and evocative and a true highlight of the book, transporting readers to the heart of the prairie. Her attention to detail, whether describing the harsh landscape or the intimate moments between characters beautifully demonstrates her mastery of storytelling. There's a palpable sense of time and place that immerses readers in the world she has created.

The Bootmaker's Wife is not without its flaws; some readers might find the pacing a bit slow, and the narrative occasionally meanders through the prairie landscape. However, for those who appreciate character-driven storytelling and a deep exploration of the human experience, these aspects are more likely to be seen as features rather than drawbacks.

Niesner's connection to the story runs deep, as Charles and Elizabeth Horn, the two main characters, were her great-grandparents. Her desire to share their early life and incorporate family lore into a historical fiction narrative adds a layer of authenticity and personal resonance to the novel. Her obviously meticulous research and incorporation of the historical, cultural, and political backdrop of the times provide context to the story, making it more than just a romance. Niesner's personal experiences growing up in Nebraska, her visits to historical sites related to the story, and her connection to the landscape all contribute to the authenticity of the story. Her deep sense of belonging to Nebraska, despite living away for many years, infuses the novel with a genuine sense of place and nostalgia.

Ultimately, The Bootmaker's Wife is a beautiful tale of love and resilience set against the rugged backdrop of the American prairie. Mershon Niesner's ability to bring both characters and landscapes to life is nothing short of remarkable. If you're in search of a heartfelt and beautifully written historical romance with a strong sense of time and place, this novel is well worth your attention. Elizabeth Schultz's journey is one that will stay with you long after you've turned the final page. As the author herself expresses, may we all take the risk of moving into the unknown to pave the way for our futures and the generations to come, just as Elizabeth did in her own way on the Iowa prairie.


The Bootmaker's Wife” by Mershon Niesner receives 4.5 stars from The Historical Fiction Company


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