The Last Woman Standing by Thelma Adams

Historical Era: Wild West (1880-1882)

Historical Rating: History Lite – inspired by the real life stories of Wyatt Earp and Josephine Marcus, who would become Earp’s common law wife.

Overall Rating: 3.5/5

Book Jacket Summary: “Two decades after the Civil War, Josephine Marcus, the teenage daughter of Jewish Immigrants, is lured west with the promise of marriage to Johnny Behan, one of Arizona’s famous lawmen. She leaves her San Francisco home to join Behan in Tombstone, Arizona, a magnet for miners (and outlaws) attracted by the silver boom. Though united by the glint of metal, Tombstone is plagued by divided loyalties: between Confederates and Unionists, Lincoln Republicans and Democrats.

But when the silver-tongued Behan proves unreliable, it is legendary frontiersman Wyatt Earp who emerges as Josephine’s match. As the couple’s romance sparks, Behan’s jealousy ignites a rivalry destined for the history books…

At once an epic account of an improbable romance and a retelling of an iconic American tale, The Last Woman Standing recalls the famed gunfight of O.K. Corral through the eyes of a spunky heroine who sought her happy ending in a lawless outpost – with a fierce will and an unflagging spirit.”

HFA Review: Josephine Marcus was a girl ready to break free from the social binds that wanted to keep her in San Fransisco near her family and would undoubtedly push her into a boring/loveless marriage where she’d be nothing more than a housewife. A housewife who would never see or do more than what she had already done in life, just add kids and a husband. Where this life may have been fine for most girls Josephine’s age, she wanted more.

The first chapter sets up the story as one of an old woman, the elder Josephine, looking back on her life in Tombstone. She has traveled back to Arizona after all these years to reminisce about her time there and how she grew and changed as a person. The meat of the story begins in the second chapter with a young Josephine waiting in San Francisco for the chaperone who has been sent to take her to Tombstone. Once there, she will marry the man she fell in love with, Johnny Behan. She met Johnny, we learn, when she temporarily ran away from home and joined a traveling theater troupe. It becomes immediately clear that Josephine may be naive, due to age and lack of experience, but she is not afraid to take a risk and open herself up to what life has to offer.

The strengths of this book lie in the characters and the romantic triangle between Josephine, Johnny, and Wyatt Earp. Also, seeing this well known American legend/tale of the shoot out in O.K. Corral through Josephine’s perspective does add an interesting twist and can give one pause to think of what it was like to be the townsfolk and/or the loved ones of the men involved. Thelma Adams does an excellent job setting up the unique environment that would have been Tombstone, Arizona during its heyday – outlaws, sheriffs, shoot-outs, gambling, prostitutes – the dirt and glamour of it all. From the cover, the reader is already aware Josephine is going to end up with Wyatt. Ms. Adams skillfully builds this part of the story quite well as Josephine goes from head over heels in love with Johnny to swearing her eternal love to Wyatt. The roller coaster ride Josephine finds herself on is page turning, heartbreaking, and yet sweet and sentimental. The rest of the town’s characters also add a layer of interest and fun, from the Jewish store keeper to Doc Holliday to the outlaws and Mollie, Josephine’s artistic and closet friend.

The biggest pitfall of this book rests in the fact the book relies on the commentary of the older Josephine looking back on her life and contextualizing/explaining her motives and actions. The reason this is pointed out is much of Josephine’s inner dialogue becomes repetitive and her growth as a character moves in leaps instead of a smooth flow from A to B. She relives many of the same or similar moments, from her bad relationship with her mother to disappointments with Johnny, so often that interest is lost when these reflections occur. A better choice may have been the first person, present tense, placing the reader inside Josephine’s head and hearing her thoughts and reactions as the events unfolded. This possibly could have resulted in her character having a smoother and more interesting character arc from start to finish. Finally, and this is a nit-picky criticism, the style of writing seemed to rely a little too much on similes. Authors use a wealth of descriptive tools when writing a story, using variety to keep the story interesting and not monotonous, and this tool was overused. Though, the overall writing style was easy to read and painted a very clear picture of the characters, setting, and actions taking place.

If you enjoy the wild west, Tombstone, stories involving the Earps, or just want a fun, relaxing read with some heavy romantic overtones then give this book a try. It wasn’t a difficult or boring read at all and I did enjoy the story, despite my criticisms.  To fully understand what a 3.5 rating means, please visit the Rating Information tab in the menu bar.

Historical Content:
The first clue this book falls under History Lite is by what is printed on the copyright page. It says: “This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, organizations, places, events and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.” Other books, falling more towards History Rich, will have statements such as: “This is a work of fiction based on actual events” or “_____ book is a work of historical fiction. Apart from the well-known actual people, events and locales that figure into the narrative, all names, characters, places and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.” Next, when completing some research on Josephine Marcus, the information out there states that Ms. Marcus (or Mrs. Earp as she called herself, though she and Wyatt never formally married) worked very hard during her lifetime to conceal much of the truth about her life, particularly her earlier days. She was definitely one who liked to rewrite her own story to her liking, facts be damned. Though, this book does use real people and some actual events, most of the story is made up or based on facts that may have been made up by Josephine Marcus. Despite the historical inaccuracies, this book still gives a good feel for the time period and the life in Tombstone when the Earps walked the streets and Ms. Marcus was finding her way in this world.

Publisher: Lake Union Publishing, 2016

Pages: 287

This book can be purchased through Amazon and Barnes and Nobles as well as other retailers.

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