Cindy Vallar

Author, Editor, & Workshop Presenter
P. O. Box 425, Keller, TX  76244-0425

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Recommended Books to Read

There is no frigate like a book to take us lands away. Emily Dickinson

I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set,
I go into the other room and read a book. Groucho Marx

Three decades ago, I became a book reviewer for Appraisal: Science Books for Young People. Later, I also joined the staff of Library Media Connection, Ivy Quill Reviews, and Simply E-Books. Today I review books for Historical Novels Review and Pirates and Privateers. Below are some of the gems from amongst the books I've reviewed.

Historical Fiction

Arizona Moon by J. M. Graham
Vietnam - 20th Century

Assassination in Al Qahira by James Boschert
Egypt - Middle Ages

Assassins of Alamut
by James Boschert
Palestine, Persia - Time of the Crusades

Big Wheat by Richard A. Thompson
North Dakota - 20th Century

Blood Kin by Henry Chappell
 Texas - 19th Century

The Breach by Brian Kaufman
Texas - 19th Century

Brock's Agent
by Tom Taylor
Canada - War of 1812

Brock's Railroad by Tom Taylor
USA & Canada - War of 1812

Brock's Traitor by Tom Taylor
USA & Canada - War of 1812

Catfish Pearl by Ruth Francisco
Florida & Caribbean - 1600s

Charlie Mac
Ireland - 19th & 20th Centuries

Children of the Mist by Nigel Tranter
Scotland - 16th Century

Daughter of My People by James Kilgo
South Carolina - 20th Century

Dearest Rogue by Elizabeth Hoyt
England - 18th Century

Diamond Duo by Marcia Gruver
Texas - 19th Century

Divided Loyalties by Phyllis Hall Haislip
Virginia - 18th Century

Dubh-linn by James L. Nelson
The Norsemen Saga series
Ireland - 9th Century

Fin Gall by James L. Nelson
The Norsemen Saga series
Ireland - 9th Century

Gabriel's Story by David Anthony Durham
Kansas - 19th Century

Georges Bank
Massachusetts - 19th Century

Greek Fire by James Boschert
Constantinople - 12th Century

Harvey Girl by Shelia Wood Foard
New Mexico - 20th Century

Hurricane by Janice A. Thompson
Texas - 20th Century
Island of Wings by Karin Altenberg
Scotland - 19th Century

Knight Assassin by James Boschert
France -- Middle Ages

Liberty Boy by David Graughan

Ireland -- 19th Century

The Lockwoods of Clonakilty by Mark Bois
Ireland -- 19th century

Maid of Baikal by Preston Fleming
Russia - 29th Century

Midshipman Graham and the Battle of Abukir by James Boschert

Egypt -- 19th century

Moon Medicine by Mike Blakely
American West - 19th Century

The King's Scarlet by John M. Danielski
Spain - 19th Century

Open Sea by
María Gudín and translated by Cynthia Steele
England & Caribbean - 17th Century

The Pirate Queen by Alan Gold
Ireland - 16th Century

Pope Joan by Donna Woolfolk Cross
Europe - 9th Century

Prince Across the Water by Jane Yolen & Robert J. Harris
Scotland - 18th Century

The Race by Clive Cussler & Justin Scott
USA - 20th Century

Red Winter by Dan Smith
Russia - 20th Century

A Redoubtable Citadel by Lynn Bryant
Spain & Portugal - 19th Century

Road to Antietam by Tom E. Hicklin
USA - 19th Century

The Rogues by Jane Yolen & Robert J. Harris
Scotland - 19th Century

The Romanov Bride by Robert Alexander
Russia - 20th Century

The Shiloh Sisters by Michael Kilian
American Civil War - 19th Century

Soldier's Heart by Gary Paulsen
American Civil War - 19th Century

The Striker by Clive Cussler and Justin Scott
New York, Pennsylvania, West Virginia - 20th Century

The Stricklands by Edwin Lanham
Oklahoma - 20th Century

There Is a Wideness by Mark McAllister
Texas - 20th Century

Threads and Flames by Esther Friesner
New York City - 20th Century

Thompson Road by Scott Wyatt
Washington - 20th century

Till Morning is Nigh by Leisha Kelly
Christmas 1932

Traitor's Knot by Cryssa Bazos
England - 17th Century

The Unresolved by T. K. Welsh
New York City - 20th Century

The War Below by Masha Forchuk Skrypuch

Ukraine - 20th Century

The Wrath of Brotherhood by Ozgur K. Sahin
Caribbean - 17th Century


Allie's Moon by Alexis Harrington
Oregon - 19th century

Beauchamp Beseiged by Elaine Knighton
Wales - 13th Century

Beyond All Dreams by Elizabeth Camden
Washington, DC -- 19th Century

 Blue Moon Promise by Colleen Coble

Texas - 19th Century

Christmas at Carnton by Tamera Alexander
Tennessee - 19th Century

Edge of Town by Dorothy Garlock
Missouri - 20th Century

Gingham Mountain by Mary Connealy
Texas - 19th Century

 Haunting Warrior by Erin Quinn
Ireland - Time Travel

High on a Hill by Dorothy Garlock
Missouri - 20th Century

A Highlander Christmas by Dawn Halliday, Cindy Miles
& Sophie Renwick
Scotland - Story Collection

In the King's Service by Margaret Moore
England - 12th Century

A Lady in Disguise by Sandra Byrd
England - 19th century

Lawman Who Loved Her by Mallory Kane
New Orleans - Contemporary

A Memory of Love by Bertrice Small
Wales, Holy Land, England - 13th century

Now & Forever by Mary Connealy

Dakota Territory - 19th century

Over the Edge by Mary Connealy
Colorado - 19th Century

River Rising by Dorothy Garlock
Missouri - 20th Century

A River to Cross by Yvonne Harris
Texas - 19th Century

The Sun and the Moon by Patricia Ryan
England - 12th Century

Tamed by a Laird by Amanda Scott
Scotland - 14th Century

To Wager Her Heart by Tamera Alexander
Tennessee - 19th Century

True Highland Spirit by Amanda Forester
Scotland - 14th Century

A Texan's Coice by Shelley Gray
Texas - 19th Century

The Vigilante's Bride by Yvonne Harris
Montana - 19th Century

Wings of Morning by Kathleen Morgan
Scotland - 16th Century

Contemporary Fiction

New reviewThe Afrikaner by Arianna Dagnino
South Africa - Contemporary


Jacobites by Jacqueline Riding
Scotland, England, & France - 18th Century

Last Days of the Romanovs by Helen Rappaport
Russia - 20th Century

Revolutionary Mothers by Carol Berkin
America - 18th Century

The Devil's Cloth by Michael Pastourneau
Costume History

The White Cascade by Gary Krist
Washington - 20th Century

Who's Saying What in Jamestown, Thomas Savage by Jean Fritz
Virginia - 17th Century

Mystery & Suspense

The Blue and the Grey by M. J. Trow
Washington, DC and London - 19th Century

The Dark Enquiry
by Deanna Raybourn
Lady Julia Gray series
London - 19th Century

The Darkness Knows by Cheryl Honigford
US - 20th Century

Deadly Exchange by Sheryl Stafford

Deed of Murder by Cora Harrison
Ireland - 16th Century

Die I Will Not by S. K. Rizzolo
Regency London - 19th Century

A Gathering of Spies by John Altman
US, England, Germany - 20th Century

Homicide for the Holidays by Cheryl Honigford
Illinois - 20th Century

Last to Remember by Joyce & Jim Lavene
Sharyn Howard series
Missing Star by Don Westenhaver
US - 20th Century

Resurrection Men by T. K. Welsh

England - 19th Century

Trouble Brewing by Dolores Gordon-Smith
Jack Haldean series

Until Our Last Embrace by Joyce & Jim Lavene
Sharyn Howard series

For my reviews on pirate & maritime books, check out The Bookaneer.

by Arianna Dagnino
Guernica Editions, 2019, 978-1-77183-358-5

    Devastated at the senseless death of her lover, South African paleontologist Zoe Du Plessis flees Johannesburg for her childhood home on the Cape. She had risked her heart only to discover that the warnings of her female ancestors weren't absurd chimeras of previous firstborn daughters. To come to terms with both reality and her grief, she embarks on a journey of inner reflection that is intertwined with acceptance of the past, standing up for what she believes, and taking chances in spite of her own biasness in an ever-changing world in the aftermath of racial segregation.
    This rite of passage is hers alone to make, but each step intersects with others in unforeseen ways. Andrè, her younger brother, wants to replace the white director of the family winery with a black man. Koma, an old Bushman and shaman, emerges from the vast nothingness of the desert to renew their acquaintance. Whether the deep sadness in his eyes is his own or a mirror of hers, a "thief of stories" warns that their destinies are intertwined. From the grave, her aunt and great aunt share a dark secret of the distant past that impacted their lives, while Dario Oldani, her co-worker and lover, compels her to go beyond the comforts of her research lab to continue his hunt for the birthplace of humans in the Kalahari. But navigating the unknown doesn't come without risk.
    The Afrikaner is a story of self-reflection, of coming to terms with the past, present, and the future. Dagnino's poignant, compelling, you-are-there tale draws us so deep into Zoe's world that we experience each and every emotion. Her vivid depictions of time and place transport us to the turbulence of South Africa, before, during, and after apartheid until we share both Zoe's discomfort and her love for the land of her birth. It is a haunting portrayal of devastating grief and rational resurgence; once read, neither Zoe nor her experiences are easily forgotten.

(Originally reviewed for, September 2019)

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Alexis Harrington
St. Martin, 2000, 0312973071

    From age eight, Allie Ford has borne the guilt of causing her mother's suicide and depriving her younger sister of a mother's love. Three years have passed since her father's death in 1877, and the Oregon farm is in desperate need of repairs. Unable to do the work herself, she hires Jefferson Hicks, the former sheriff and town drunk. Jeff "died" soon after shooting a young boy, and he's just biding his time until death claims him. The he meets Allie, and his desire to live blossoms. Although the past imprisons both Jeff and Allie, their love offers them a chance to heal, but others have no intention of letting that happen.
    Although set in the American West, there is little history in this story. That said, though, it is a good depiction of a small town where everyone knows everyone else's business, and where the slightest scandal results in ostracism and ridicule. It also shows the psychological torment caused when innocent people make mistakes.
    An enduring read for historical or westsern romance fans in search of healing love and who don't mind if the history is more social than historical in nature.

(Originally reviewed for Historical Novels Review, November 2000)

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by Elaine Knighton
Harlequin Historicals, 2003, ISBN

    In 1200 Ceridwen ap Morgan's father arranges for her to wed her enemy, an English knight. She'd rather not, but there is no other way for the Welsh to survive. Sir Raymond de Beauchamp doesn't want to wed, either, but does want the land offered as her dowry. Even for their marriage in name only to work, Raymond and Ceridwen must first confront their different cultures and the past. Unless they learn to love each other and live in harmony, neither will survive the onslaught of Raymon's evil brother and overlord.
    The author quickly transports the reader back in time and weaves an intricate story of the conflict between the Welsh and the English with a struggle that pits brother against brother. A satisfying tale of full-developed characters that remain true to their assigned roles in history.

(Originally reviewed for  Historical Novels Review, February 2004)

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by Elizabeth Camden
Bethany House, 2015, ISBN 9780764211751

    An inaccuracy in the historical record compels librarian Anna O’Brien to question the navy’s investigation into the loss of her father’s ship. That jeopardizes not only her job, but those of the other female librarians, since no one made their temporary hiring at the Library of Congress permanent. Determined to learn the truth, she seeks help from a handsome, yet arrogant, congressman.
    After a failed attempt to prove congressional corruption, Luke Callahan needs another crusade to pursue and the quiet, sharp-witted librarian intrigues him enough to help her. But the deeper they delve, the more dangerous the truth becomes – not only for themselves, but also the nation.
    This inspirational romance opens in late 1897, when relations between the United States, Spain, and Cuba are tenuous. From the Capitol to the Library of Congress, Anna’s passion for her work shines through, transporting the reader into her world. Washington, DC, societal constraints, and ingenious inventions (think typewriter or flashlight) spring to life before the reader’s eyes. Camden tackles alcoholism and abuse with realism, while demonstrating how having faith, stepping outside of comfort zones, and trusting in others can overcome adversity to realize dreams. Highly recommended.

(EDITORS' CHOICE, Originally reviewed for  Historical Novels Review, May 2015)

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by Richard A. Thompson
Poisoned Pen, 2011, ISBN
    Charlie Kreuger doesn’t think twice about the mysterious stranger in the wheat field on a dark night in late August 1919. After Maybel breaks his heart and a bloody confrontation with his abusive father, Charlie leaves his North Dakota home. He works with traveling threshing crews and meets George Ravenwing, who convinces him to change his surname to Bacon and seek his future. That leads him to James Avery, who welcomes Charlie into the Ark, a traveling group of men and women skilled at doing various tasks.
    When Maybel’s body is discovered in the wheat field, everyone assumes Charlie murdered her. The mysterious stranger knows otherwise, for he killed Maybel, just as he’s killed others. His only regret is not killing Charlie that night, and he sets out to remedy this.
    Thompson crafts a gripping tale of a time past, when threshing operations were an annual highpoint in farming life. Although Big Wheat begins slowly, readers who persevere won’t be disappointed. Once the hunt for Charlie begins in earnest, the pace quickens, and readers are compelled to turn the page to discover who reaches him first and whether Charlie will find his place with the people of the Ark.

(Originally reviewed for  Historical Novels Review, August 2011)
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by Henry Chappell
Texas Tech University, 2004, ISBN 0-89672-530-8

     In early 1836 Isaac Webb joins a company of Texas rangers, hoping to meet up with the rest of Sam Houston’s rebel army before the final battle with General Santa Anna’s army. Along the way, Isaac encounters a pregnant widow named Catherine, who haunts his dreams. Although the war ends, peace doesn’t last long, for the Comanches raid western homesteads, killing the men and kidnapping the women and children. Isaac’s ranging company reforms to confront this new enemy, and in the process Isaac becomes a man. Circumstances bring Catherine and him together again, but opposing ideas on how to deal with the Comanches force them to make decisions neither wants.
     This haunting novel of early Texas portrays the good and bad in people with clarity and realism. Decisions have consequences, and the characters, especially Isaac, mature as they cope with those consequences. Chappelle depicts this period of turmoil fairly, allowing his characters to show the prejudices on all sides. Blood Kin is an absorbing, but realistic introduction to the early history of the Texas Republic.

(Originally reviewed for  Historical Novels Review, November 2004)

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by M. J. Trow, Crème de la Crime, 2014, ISBN 9781780290706

    After witnessing Lincoln’s assassination on April 14, 1865, Matthew Grand pursues John Wilkes Booth into the alley behind Ford’s Theatre, only to be thwarted by a mysterious Englishman. Undeterred, Grand continues to investigate until crossing paths with the head of the National Detective Police, who suspects that Grand may be one of the conspirators. The only way for him to prove his innocence is to go to London and track down the Englishman.
    The same evening the president is slain, James Batchelor meets a prostitute whose body he later stumbles upon in a nearby alley. Arrested as a suspect, he’s eventually released by Inspector Tanner of Scotland Yard who believes it’s advantageous having a journalist beholden to him. Tired of writing society-page stories, Batchelor sees the murder as his ticket to fame. Instead, his editor at the Telegraph fires him. Then two more women are garroted, a wealthy stranger is murdered on a ship bound for London, and Batchelor is hired to discover what Grand knows and why he’s in England. Grand refuses to discuss the night at Ford’s Theatre, but asks Batchelor to help him with his investigations. They soon realize there’s a connection between the Englishman in Washington, the murder on the ship, and the killer in London.
    The murders of this intricately woven whodunit keep the reader guessing, but the plethora of characters make it difficult to keep track of who’s who. This first book in a new Victorian mystery series vividly recreates the sense of loss and shock that permeated Washington after the assassination, while providing a vibrant glimpse into the seamier side of 19th-century London.

(Originally reviewed for Historical Novels Review, May 2015)

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by Colleen Coble
Thomas Nelson, 2012, ISBN 9781595549150

    After a man breaks into their house and she loses her job, Lucy Marsh weds a man she’s never met. It’s the only way to protect her siblings, Eileen and Jed, now that her father is dead and her stepmother left them to fend for themselves. On a wintry day in 1877 and with great trepidation, they board a train for Texas.
    Nate Stanton never expected his father to arrange a marriage by proxy for him, but his Christian upbringing and conscience prevent him from putting the trio back on the train. Getting to know each other presents comical and heart-stopping situations, least of which is the realization that Lucy’s uncle is Nate’s sworn enemy. When a stranger threatens Jed and a smarmy, handsome detective wheedles his way into the good graces of Nate’s father and Lucy’s cousin, they join together to discover the truth.
    Lucy, Nate, and his father are strong-willed people who prefer to maintain control to fix problems, rather than putting their trust in God. The obstacles and situations that arise emphasize this central theme. Several spoonfuls of an elaborate mystery add ample spice to make this a heartwarming Western romance.

(Originally reviewed for Historical Novels Review, May 2012)

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by Brian Kaufman
Last Knight, 2002, ISBN 972044205

    Although few Americans remember March 6, 1836, many know the event connected with that date – the day Santa Ana’s army breached the defenses of the Alamo and many brave Americans died. The Breach recounts the events before, during, and after the Alamo from the viewpoint of the Mexicans. General Castrillón, an officer in Santa Ana’s army, shares his thoughts, experiences, and opinions of his commander, the march to Texas, the siege, and the final confrontation between the two forces at the Battle of San Jacinto.
    Written as a translation of Castrillón’s journal, replete with footnotes explaining prior events or identifying people, The Breach is so well crafted that the reader believes the journal actually exists rather than being a figment of the author’s imagination. The recounting of how Mr. Kaufman acquired the journal adds further credence to this belief, yet in the end he acknowledges it is a work of fiction, even though Castrillón actually lived. Kaufman’s Mexicans rouse the reader’s sympathy and anger. His is a realistic portrayal of a historical event steeped in legend with a poignant account of Davy Crockett’s death. The inclusion of Castrillón’s last thoughts on the battle to come and a letter from an American chronicling that fateful encounter put the finishing touches on a moving novel.

(Originally reviewed for Historical Novels Review, November 2002)

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by Tom Taylor
Hancock and Dean, 2011,
ISBN 9780986896101
    In February 1813, Major General Isaac Brock must defend Upper Canada against American attack, but he lacks sufficient numbers to succeed in this endeavor. If the Indians rise up against the Americans, he might have a chance. A young man, recently returned from a fur trading expedition, knows Tecumseh and has lived with the Shawnee. Jonathan Westlake never thought to join the British army, but in attempting to save a young woman from her abusive stepfather, Jonathan almost kills the man. Brock agrees to protect Jonathan from prosecution if he undertakes a secret mission. His thoughts remain with Mary during his journey, but constant obstacles – captured as a spy after crossing the border, a brutal American sergeant, and a mysterious mercenary intent on killing Jonathan – delay his mission and his plans to return to Mary. After participating in the successful capture of Fort Mackinac, Jonathan discovers that Mary and her stepfather are also present and in the company of the mercenary, who’s killed a friend. When he goes to her rescue and to confront the murderer, the trio has disappeared. Rather than pursue them as he wishes, Jonathan must continue his secret mission or General Brock will face defeat.
    Told from several points of view and from both Canadian and American perspectives, readers experience the Battle of Tippecanoe through the taking of Fort Detroit during the early days of the War of 1812.This is a gripping tale of brutality, treachery, loyalty, and friendship. If any scene doesn’t quite ring true, it’s the scene involving Mary soon after her rape. Overall, however, Taylor spins a well-rounded and riveting tale of war, love of country, and friendship, a tale where the reader comes to understand some issues that caused the war and how those involved felt.

(Originally reviewed for  Historical Novels Review, November 2011)

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by Tom Taylor
Hancock and Dean, 2012, ISBN 9780986896118

Luther Johnson risks the treacherous Niagara Falls to escape slave catchers. Once in Canada, he joins the Company of Colored Men, ex-slaves who fight in His Majesty’s Army. But the new recruits can’t measure up to the old Rangers, those who fought during the Revolution. They need Alexander the Great, their former sergeant and Luther’s father. General Isaac Brock sends Ensign Jonathan Westlake, his friend Walt Parrish, and Ensign Robert Simpson to bring Alexander to Canada. They will travel out of uniform and, if caught, be shot as spies.

Brutally whipped for his son’s escape, Alexander wreaks vengeance on the master and his son, who has repeatedly raped Luther’s wife. Once they flee the Virginia plantation, the master sends a dozen slave catchers to hunt them down. Alexander crosses paths with Jonathan at a station on the Underground Railroad. Their return to Canada is fraught with peril, not only from the slave catchers but also Indians allied with the Americans, who patrol the river that separates the two countries. Reaching “glory land” fails to provide the safety they hoped for. Their pursuers, who will stop at nothing to recapture Alexander, Luther, and the other ex-slaves, join the American invasion that culminates in the Battle of Queenstown Heights in October 1812.

Told primarily from the perspective of the Canadians, Brock’s Railroad is also seen through the eyes of slaves, slave catchers, and Americans. Taylor neither sugarcoats the harsh realities of slavery and war, nor preaches about them. Rather he spins sometimes humorous, sometimes poignant individual stories into an intricate web to create a charismatic and powerful tale of freedom that tugs at readers’ hearts.

(Originally reviewed for  Historical Novels Review, May 2013)

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by Tom Taylor
Hancock and Dean, 2013, ISBN

    Exhausted after only three months of fighting and recovering from a wound suffered at Queenston Heights in October of 1812, Jonathan Westlake is stunned to receive a letter from General Isaac Brock, written shortly before his death. There’s a traitor in the British army, and Jonathan reluctantly agrees to uncover his identity. The search soon uncovers many disgruntled Canadians whose talk in taverns along the St. Lawrence borders on treason. But these are basically good men, not the traitor he’s after.
    American riflemen, led by Lieutenant Tasker, have been raiding Canadian towns and homesteads, kidnapping and imprisoning men believed to be members of the militia, including his uncle. In attempting to rescue him, Jonathan is almost captured, and later, his worst fears come to pass just as he discovers who the traitor is. Thought to be a spy, Jonathan finds himself a prisoner in Sacketts Harbor, where preparations are underway for an assault on York. But escaping in time to warn the British of the invasion and reveal the traitor’s identity become complicated. Tasker and his men have orders to shoot Jonathan on sight. When the traitor goes missing, Jonathan must uncover the ringleader of the spies, which may prove costlier and more shocking than he ever suspects.
    Taylor deftly weaves complicated threads into a compelling story of honor populated with characters as complex as real people. He ably demonstrates that nothing is black and white, especially in times of war, and sometimes choices made have outcomes no one can predict. The intensity of Brock’s Traitor captures readers from the start and never lets go until the last page is turned. Even then, the characters and story continue to haunt long after the reader finishes the book.

(Originally reviewed for  Historical Novels Review, August 2013)

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by Maria McDonald
Independently Published, 2018, ISBN 978-1980664291
    Charlie McDaniel dies in his home while sipping a cup of tea. His death is neither natural nor expected. The front door crashes open. Strangers shout "Fenian lover" and "Traitor" just before they shoot him. No one deserves such a brutal death, but living in Belfast in 1922 is dangerous for everyone, especially if you're Catholic. Charlie isn't, but his wife, Mary-Jane, and their children are, even though they live in a Protestant neighborhood. Thus it is that Mary-Jane reviews how she and her family arrived at this tragic point in their lives -- how they met, fell in love, and raised their family in a city divided by politics and religion, where even relatives can be bitterly divided.
    Woven throughout the McDaniels' story is the struggle for Home Rule in Northern Ireland and the role the Great War has on families and the conflict. It encompasses the years 1893 through 1922 and unfolds predominantly from Mary-Jane's perspective, but also includes viewpoints of Charlie and their four children, as well as Mary-Jane's best friend and neighbor, Alice, and her family. Misspellings and missing words and punctuation are found throughout the narrative; towards the end of the tale it becomes a bit repetitive. In spite of these failings, Charlie Mac is a poignant and compelling story, filled with both heartache and fortitude.

(Originally reviewed for  Historical Novels Review, August 2019)
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by Nigel Tranter
Hodder and Stoughton, 1993, ISBN 0-340-55898-9

   Condemned without trial. Executed with no questions asked. Women branded and children delivered into slavery. Their name banned from utterance for nearly 200 years. All acts committed in the name of justice and with the blessing of King James VI. Nigel Tranter weaves a poignant tale of the machinations that led to this royal condemnation of Clan MacGregor and the subsequent hunting with fire and sword in Children of the Mist.
    In 1589, Alastair MacGregor of Glenstrae becomes clan chief and faces the difficult task of controlling his people while maintaining peace with the powerful Campbell of Argyll and the vexatious Clan Colquhoun. The first hint of trouble arrives on Alastair’s doorstep with the arrival of Black Duncan of the Cowl whose father beheaded Alastair’s father in the name of justice and acquired the forfeited land nineteen years earlier. Uncertain of Duncan’s motives, Alastair decides to visit the king, who is Ard Righ, chief of all chiefs. Alastair befriends several influential men of the court and meets the king, but leaves without knowing whether James VI will aid him or not. Circumstances unfold that require him to seek out the Earl of Argyll, and while Alastair never trusts him, he must accept his assistance. It is an uneasy alliance that portends tragic results for Alastair and his clan.
    From the opening chapter Nigel Tranter transports the reader back in time to the wild and treacherous Highlands of Scotland. He elicits anger and frustration, hope and heartache while he unravels the intrigues brought about by an English queen without heirs, a Scottish king who covets her crown, and a cunning earl who manipulates and betrays a naïve and illiterate Alastair MacGregor to gain the power behind the throne.

(Originally reviewed for Word Weaving)

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by Tamera Alexander
Thomas Nelson, 2017, ISBN 9781492628644

   As Christmas 1863 approaches, recently-widowed Aletta Prescott loses her job and home. With one child and another on the way, possible employment for an upcoming auction seems heaven sent, but the position has been filled. Although the carpenter's job remains vacant, Carton's mistress is reluctant to hire a woman with such skills.
    Jake Winston's wound has healed, but not his eyesight -- a requirement for a Confederate sharpshooter. Rather than return to active duty, he's sent to Carnton to assist "a bunch of petticoats." He feels it would be better to just give money to Confederate troops, rather than waste time baking, sewing, and auctioning off the items. Aletta wonders why a man with no visible wounds isn't fighting. Hiding his affliction, he's amused when pride initially keeps her from asking for his help. After the walls between them crumble, unexpected news leaves one feeling guilty and the other yearning for the impossible.
    Set in Tennessee, this novella introduces a new series at a historic plantation. Alexander intertwines love, war's cruelties, disabilities, and perseverance in a way that captivates readers. Her well-developed characters and attention to historical detail sweep readers back to the American Civil War. Often novels of this period concern the battles and soldiers who fought them. Whiles this narrative touches on these, Alexander focuses on those left behind and the adversities they endured. Christmas at Carnton is a tale of emotional highs and lows that allow readers to experience the joy, sorrow, and hopes of women in a southern town surrounded by war, as well as witnessing the daily struggles of men who must come to grip with life-altering wounds..
(Originally reviewed for Historical Novels Review, November 2017)

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THE DARK ENQUIRY (Editors' Choice title)
by Deanna Raybourn
MIRA, 2011, 9780778312376

    After her eldest brother, Viscount Bellmont, secretly visits her husband, Lady Julia Brisbane ponders why since the two don’t particularly like each other. Her curiosity piqued, she follows Nicholas to the Spirit Club but then loses him. Determined to get to the bottom of things, she attends a séance given by Madame Séraphine. Since Nicholas is as skeptical as she is about spiritualism, Julia can’t see how the medium fits into his latest private enquiry investigation.
     After the séance ends but before Julia departs, Nicholas reveals his presence and the reason for being at the Spirit Club. They search Madame’s room, but before they find her brother’s letters, the medium’s return forces them into hiding. From this vantage point, they watch her die from poisoning. Although they make a hasty retreat before the police arrive, they continue the hunt for Bellmont’s letters, which can topple the present government should they fall into the wrong hands. In doing so, the Brisbanes soon find themselves the target of the murderer and others who search for the letters.
    International intrigue, arson, locked mausoleums, and secret identities abound in this spellbinding historical mystery, the fifth in the series. Raybourn’s characters are multifaceted, and she expertly weaves their back stories into this tale so readers unfamiliar with previous books are easily drawn into the current investigation. The intricate plot unravels with twists and turns that challenge us but keep us guessing until the end. Raybourn expertly spins a tale that transports us back to 1889 London, allowing us to observe Julia’s scientific experiments firsthand, to meet the members of her quirky family, or to enter the mysterious world of the gypsy. This riveting mystery will soon make readers fans who will eagerly await Lady Julia and Nicholas Brisbane’s next adventure.

(Originally reviewed for  Historical Novels Review, August 2011)

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by Cheryl Honigford
Sourcebooks, 2016, ISBN 978492628613

    Former secretary Vivian Witchell plays a gumshoe's sidekick on radio station WCHI's The Darkness Knows. She likes the attention the press pays her until after she trips over a dead body one late night in October 1938. Now reporters want interviews, the police ask questions, and a fan mentions her in a threatening letter. Of course, Vivian's not thoroughly convinced the murderer will really come after her; then someone tries to kill her at the annual Halloween party. She became an actress because she craved excitement, so she's not about to sit around and wait to be killed. Nor will she allow another actress to take over such a plum role. If that happens, she might as well bid her career goodbye.
    Private detective Charlie Haverman is the special consultant for The Darkness Knows. The station manager also hires him to protect Vivian, but that task proves challenging. She won't stay home, and she insists on poking her nose into his investigation into the murder. In fact, her presence vexes him almost as much as her dates with the debonair actor who plays Harvey Diamond, gumshoe extraordinaire on the radio drama.
    Murder with a hint of romance and scandal introduces readers to the Viv and Charlie Mystery series. Honigford vividly recreates Chicago during the Depression. The depth of her research and her realistic portrayal of old-time radio transport readers back to its golden age, when listeners gathered around their sets to hear The Shadow, Boston Blackie, or The Thin Man. This is a thrilling adventure laced with humor that keeps readers guessing whodunit until the end.

(Originally reviewed for Historical Novels Review, August 2016)

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by James Kilgo
Berkley, 2000, ISBN 0-425-17266-X

    In rural South Carolina in 1918, the social taboos in existence prior to the Civil War are still adhered to, but Hart Bonner has broken one. He’s fallen in love with Jennie Grant. He’s white and she’s a cousin of mixed race. When Jennie makes the mistake of being uppity, the entire county learns of their affair. Tison, Hart’s older brother, disapproves of such scandalous behavior, but he becomes fixated on Jennie. The mounting tension between the brothers propels them, Jennie, and the family down a path that has far-reaching and unforeseen consequences for everyone involved.
    Kilgo’s first novel compels the reader to turn the page, to savor each word that he’s written. He transports the reader back to a poverty-stricken south that still reels from the devastation of war. If you close your eyes, you can hear the clop of horses, the racket of the rare automobile, the insects chirping, or the yapping of the hounds. You sweat from the sweltering heat or shiver from the icy cold. This is the type of book that you curl up with on a rainy day, and when you finish reading, the characters and the setting will haunt you for many days to come.

(Originally reviewed for  Historical Novels Review, August 2000)

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by Sheryl Stafford
iUniverse, 2001, ISBN 0-595-15677-0

    Don't bother picking up this book unless you can devote the time to read it in one sitting. Ms. Stafford snares you with the first harrowing chase and doesn't release you until you close the back cover. The life experiences of the author and her husband make A Deadly Exchange seem real. Both have sailed around the Bahamas numerous times, and Commander Stafford was a pilot broken by the Viet Cong after his plane was shot down during the war. As you read this book you will find yourself aboard the Spencers' sailboat instead of being safe in your own home. Your heart will beat rapidly from fear and terror as Alex and Matt confront the head of the cartel and his men, none of whom have any redeeming qualities.

  (Originally written for Ivy Quill Reviews)

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by Elizabeth Hoyt
Vision, 2015, ISBN 9781455586356

    Lady Phoebe Batten wants to explore life, even if she falls, but her brother cages her like a bird because she's blind. Captain James Trevillion, an ex-dragoon, loves her in silence, protecting but never stifling her. He never expects footpads to kidnap her on London's reputable Bond Street in 1774, but despite his crippled leg, he rescues her. Perhaps because of her blindness, she sees past his lameness and wants to explore their relationship further. But when a second kidnapping attempt nearly succeeds, he blames his injury and resigns as her bodyguard.
    What nefarious plans does the kidnapper have for the sister of the most powerful duke in England? Trevillion hunts for the true mastermind, who lurks in the shadows, manipulating others to do his bidding, because he loves Phoebe even though they can't be together.
    Hoyt weaves an intricate tale that demonstrates how those of us with sight can still be blind. While the mystery fades in the middle and, at times, seems a bit forced, the skillfully-drawn protagonists come to life and allow readers to experience their heartwarming story as love blossoms.

(Originally reviewed for Historical Novels Review, August 2015)

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by Cora Harrison
House, 2011, ISBN

    The O’Halloran clan has grown flax and produced linen for years. It is their principal means of support, and Mara, Brehon of the Burren, doesn’t expect any change to the status quo. At the annual auction for the lease, however, a late arrival outbids Cathal O’Halloran. Later, at her infant son’s christening party, she discovers three of her students have disappeared. Eamon, charged with taking the lease to O’Brien of Arra, owner of the flax garden, for his signature, is found dead in the flax garden. Why he departs in the middle of the night is a mystery, as is the location of his body.
    Why did he take the long way back from O’Brien’s?  What happened to the lease he carried and was it signed? Was he killed to necessitate another auction, or was his death an accident? Did Fachnan, another of the missing students, confront Eamon in a jealous rage? If not, where is he? Mara wants to solve these conundrums, but her regal duties as wife of the Irish King Turlough prevent her from unraveling the mysteries confronting her. Then another body turns up. When she finally realizes what happened, will she be in time, or will someone dear to her also die?
     This latest in the Brehon of the Burren series set in early 16th-century Ireland unravels at a slower pace than usua, but punctuates Mara’s distractedness as she ponders her young son’s future while entertaining her guests. The author’s tendency to repeat information may annoy some readers, and the slow pace may dissuade others from reading the entire book, but those who persevere will be rewarded with an electrifying climax and a surprising solution to the crimes.

(Originally reviewed for  Historical Novels Review, November 2011)

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THE DEVIL'S CLOTH: A History of Stripes
by Michael Pastourneau
Washington Square, 2003, 074353263

    Stripes are part of our everyday lives, but depending on how or where we encounter them, they evoke certain impressions. This thought-provoking book examines the stripe's development in western fashion, from its scandalous entry during the Middle Ages to today. Readers are unlikely to ever again look at any stripe without interpreting it.

(Originally reviewed for  Historical Novels Review, November 2003)

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by Marcia Gruver
Barbour, 2008, 9781602602052

     Bertha Biddle loves Thaddeus Bloom, but doesn’t know how to capture him. When gorgeous and mysterious Annie Monroe steps off the train in Jefferson, Texas, in 1877, the men have eyes only for Annie. That’s when Bertha knows how to solve her problem. She’ll get Annie to teach her how to woo a man.
     Thaddeus, too, faces a dilemma, but he’s already in love. He doesn’t believe it’s fair to ask Bertha to wait until he finishes college. It’s not that he wants to continue his education, but how can he disappoint his father, who has sacrificed and dreamed of his oldest son being the first to earn a college degree?
     Although based on an unsolved murder, this isn’t a historical mystery. Rather it’s the story of people who lived in and around an east Texas town where steamboats bring strangers both good and bad. Gruver expertly captures what it’s like to live in Texas, yet the joys and sorrows, trials and troubles her characters face are ones with which readers everywhere will identify. Faith plays an important part in the story, but Gruver weaves it into the events that unfold so it never seems to intrude.

(Originally reviewed for  Historical Novels Review, November 2008)

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by S. K. Rizzolo
Poisoned Pen, 2014, ISBN

    The 1813 murder of a newspaper editor intrigues Penelope Wolfe, but the resulting scandal could involve her. The editor was about to reveal the identity of Collantinus, who's been writing letters attacking the Prince Regent. Twnety years ago, Penelope's father used that name to pen treasonous letters. Fearing arrest after the murder of a lady known only as N. D. and with ties to the Prince Regent and himself, he fled the country. Now someone uses his alias to seek revenge for N. D.'s murder. To protect her family, Penelope enlists the aid of two friends: barrister Edward Buckler, who's in love with her even though she's already married, and John Chase, a Bow Street Runner. Together they risk their lives and careers to unmask the villain and protect Penelope.
    The complicated mystery is neatly solved, while the personal relationships are intriguing. Readers unfamiliar with the previous books in the John Chase Mysteries may feel disoriented by the characters and period language, but as the story unfolds this fades away. From the rigid, prim-and-proper rules of society to the seamier sides of the city, Rizzolo vividly brings to life the world of Regency London.

(Originally reviewed for  Historical Novels Review, February 2015)

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Phyllis Hall Haislip
White Mane Kids, 2005, ISBN

    Eleven-year-old Teddy finds himself caught between two factions right in his own home in Williamsburg, Virginia. His father works for the Continental Congress and spends much of his time in Philadelphia, which leaves Teddy without a guiding hand at home. His pregnant mother, descended from an English lord, vows to live as a loyal British subject even in this revolutionary town. To further complicate the tense situation, Teddy must deal with a creepy tutor and the fact that his father disagrees with Teddy’s wish to become a cabinetmaker. While he can do nothing about the latter, Teddy plots to get rid of Mr. Grum instead. The attempt backfires, and as a result his father arranges for Teddy to become a fifer in the militia. He accidentally enlists in the wrong unit, and finds himself participating in the Battle of Camden in South Carolina in August 1780.
    Teddy is a typical boy with a sense of humor and a determination to succeed. His fear surfaces from time to time but never stands in the way of doing his duty. Although he doesn’t age much from the start of the book to the end, he matures in mind and spirit. A poignant and heartfelt depiction of the War for Independence, this coming-of-age novel highlights the hardships and struggles even the children of colonial America had to endure.

(Originally reviewed for  Historical Novels Review, August 2005)
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by James L. Nelson
Fore Topsail Press, 2013, ISBN 9781484878930

    Thorgrim Night Wolf wants to go home, but his family wants to stay in Dubh-Linn. Without a longship, he must participate in another Norse raid and trust in Arinbjorn White-tooth’s promise to take him back to Norway afterward. After Thorgrim sneaks inside Cloyne without permission and, with help from his son Harald, Starri Deathless and other berserkers, they successfully capture the Irish settlement, Arinbjorn’s jealousy turns murderous.
    Morrigan wants to rule Tara, but must first solidify her brother’s claim to the throne. One person stands in her way – Brigit, the daughter of the former king. She, too, has her own designs to rule, which is why she marries a lesser lord whom she can manipulate to do her bidding. To prevent this, Morrigan informs the bridegroom of Brigit’s pregnancy, even though they haven’t consummated their marriage. In the argument that ensues, Brigit slays her husband and then flees to Dubh-Linn where Harald, the father of her child, lives. With his help and that of other Vikings, she intends to regain the throne of Tara.
    Uneasy alliances between enemies make for strange bedfellows, and no one truly trusts anyone else. Morrigan suggests a devious, but ingenious, plan to help her brother defeat the Vikings. Arinbjorn sees the impending battle as the perfect opportunity to kill Thorgrim. Thorgrim’s distrust of all three throws a wrench into all their plans.
Reminiscent of a twisting serpent, this second tale of The Norsemen Saga is deceptively complex and slowly builds to a stunning climax. Nelson deftly intertwines the two story threads – Viking and Irish – until they become as intricate as the artistic designs of the Celts and the Norse. His true-to-life characters, especially Thorgrim and Starri, capture our imagination and transport us back in time.

(EDITORS' CHOICE, Originally published at Historical Novel Society, May 2015)

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by Dorothy Garlock
Warner Books, 2001, ISBN 0-446-52769-6

    Raising her brothers and sisters and doing daily farm chores don’t leave Julie Jones much time for a social life. She yearns for someone to court her, but she’s just a country girl, not one of those flappers who live in town. Her world, however, turns upside down when several new faces appear in Fertile, Missouri.
    Evan Johnson, a veteran of the Great War, returns to protect the family farm from his drunk and abusive father. Birdie Stuart is a widow looking for a new husband. Corbin Appleby, the new police chief, searches for a rapist and murderer. The manner in which their lives intersect with those of Julie and her family threaten to rip asunder the ties that bind Julie to her family and to Evan.
    The characters in The Edge of Town are ordinary people with all the foibles and traits that breathe life into them. The story transports readers back to the years just prior to the Great Depression in a Midwestern town where city dwellers and farmers intermingle but don’t always look at their community through the same eyes. Readers in search of a wonderful old-fashioned romance won’t be disappointed, and those looking for mystery will find more than enough to fill their plates.

(Originally published in Historical Novels Review, August 2001)

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by James L. Nelson
Fore Topsail Press, 2013, ISBN 9781481028691

    Finding a gold crown encrusted with jewels and amber should be cause to celebrate, but worries plague Thorgrim Night Wolf. His jarl and father-in-law helps him bury the treasure before they sail to Dubh-linn to sell the rest of their plunder. His foreboding only worsens once they arrive at the longphort. A Dane now rules instead of the Norse, and when he finds Danish treasure aboard the Norse longship, Thorgrim and his comrades are imprisoned. There they are tortured for information because the Dane plans to intercept the Crown of the Three Kingdoms before it reaches the high king of Tara.
    After the thrall Morrigan tends to their wounds, she helps Thorgim and his friends escape because her brother knows they intercepted the crown. But for some of these Vikings, they merely exchange one prison for another. Her brother seizes the wounded and gives Thorgrim an ultimatum: take Morrigan to the crown and help her return it to its rightful place, or the wounded Norsemen, including his son, will die. The task requires all of Thorgrim’s intelligence and skills, for others in Ireland seek the crown, including someone who believes the crown should be in another’s hands, rather than those of the high king of Tara.
    Like a true Irish seanchaí, Nelson spins an intricate web of the lore and culture of the Norse with the history of Ireland. His Vikings come alive as they travel the sea and traverse a strange land and, in doing so, destroy the stereotype history has provided readers. We find ourselves sitting on the edge of our seats, biting our nails or holding our breath as we enter a brutal world where hope survives even as Norse, Danes, and Irish intrigue and betray.

(Originally published at Historical Novel Society, May 2015)

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by David Anthony Durham
Doubleday, 2001, ISBN 0-385-49814-4

    I reckon we’re nowhere. This declaration comes from Gabriel Lynch at his first sight of 1870’s Kansas, a flat prairie with few trees and soddies, houses built from dirt cut from the earth. Raised in Baltimore, Gabriel is angry that his father died, his mother has remarried, and she has brought his brother and him West to farm. When reality fails to live up to his stepfather’s description of their property, Gabriel’s resentment grows and is fueled by the blatant prejudice he encounters because he is an African American. It takes glimpses of a lone Indian and cowboys attempting to turn stampeding cattle for him to believe that adventure was skirting the edges…offering occasional glimpses that tempted with promises more mythical than the thin tales of cheap novels.
    Mr. Durham captures the blandness that is Kansas with such clarity that Gabriel’s emotions seep into the reader as muddy rain seeps through a soddy. The old adage “Be careful what you wish for” permeates this coming-of-age story, for Gabriel tastes adventure, but not in the way he expects. This is not a “Hollywood” western, but a realistic portrayal of the hardships, rewards, and violence – made more vivid by what is left unsaid – inherent in living in a place where the forces of nature and man can wreak devastation in the blink of an eye.

(Originally reviewed for Historical Novels Review, May 2001)

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John Altman
Putnam, 2000, 0399146415

    In 1933, Katarina Heinrich murders a co-worker and assumes her identity and her job as a professor's housekeeper. By the time her employer is invited to work in Los Alamos, New Mexico, the pair have married. When Katarina obtains the top secret plans for the atomic bomb, she can finally return a hero to her homeland, Nazi Germany. Getting there poses problems, though.
    Ten years pass, and America has joined her allies in fighting Hitler. Meanwhile, in England, Andrew Taylor has recruited Harry Winterbotham to infiltrate the enemy as a double agent. With Katarina headed for England, Harry finds his impending mission put on hold. He assists in searching for this most dangerous of spies, but does so with his own agenda. His mission is paramount, for he means to secure the release of his Jewish wife, a prisoner of the Nazis, no matter what.
    The intriguing twists and turns in this debut novel capture the reader's attention offering no escape until the last page is turned. While none of the characters is likeable, Katarina and Harry evoke respect for their ingenuity and determination to achieve their goals. An excellen thriller.

(Originally reviewed for Historical Novels Review, November 2000)

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by Bradley Bagshaw
Clyde Hill, 2018, ISBN 9780692110713

    Gossip forces Maggie O'Grady to flee Ireland with her brother in 1859. She finds a job as a maid in Boston, where she falls in love. Her employer returns her affection until she becomes pregnant; his family will never permit him to wed a Catholic. A henchman uses her wayward brother as leverage to force Maggie to work as a maid in a Gloucester brothel. As time passes, she raises her son and takes on additional duties. It's not the life she ever imagined, but she accepts it in spite of the folks who look down on her and her son.
     His parents want a different life for their son, but Raymond Stevens just wants to be a fisherman. The night he first sees Maggie, tragedy strikes his family. After the boat's owner attempts to cheat his family, Maggie and her girls help him. Ray and Maggie fall in love, but getting his mother to accept her causes almost insurmountable problems. Then a decision involving Maggie's son opens old wounds and causes new ones both now and in the future.
    This story unfolds over a span of twenty-seven years. Bagshaw artfully weaves an intricate web of life in a fishing village where men risk their lives doing perilous work and women face the harsh realities of survival when their menfolk don't make it home. In a stunning climax that pits son against father, Bagshaw shows how little things have changed between then and now. His growing up in Gloucester, working in the maritime world, and being a maritime lawyer enrich this tale, transporting readers into the past until they become part of the fabric making up Maggie and Ray's world.

(Originally reviewed for Historical Novels Review, August 2019)

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Mary Connealy, Barbour, 2008, 9781602601413

    Sour Springs, Texas. Last stop for the orphan train. Last hope for two orphans nobody wants. Nobody but Grant, that is. Once an orphan himself, he provides them with shelter, food, and clothes, but the most important thing he gives is love.
    Hannah Cartwright assumes Grant is like other “fathers,” who just want children to work until they drop. When her attempt to keep Grant from adopting the children fails, she takes the job of schoolmarm to watch over the children. She has a knack for teaching, but not cooking or sewing, so Grant’s children concoct plans to help her and get her to like him. The only problem is Shirt Lady, another newcomer, has designs on Grant herself, even though she hates children.
    Set in 1870, this is a fast-paced, heartwarming story filled with humor and romance. There’s even a bit a mystery woven in, for Shirt Lady isn’t who or what she pretends to be. The only drawback is the occasional intrusion of characters from an earlier story in the “Lassoed in Texas” series, but Connealy eventually ties them into the main story. A delightful, entertaining book you’ll want to read again and again.

(Originally reviewed for Historical Novels Review, May 2009)

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Sheila Wood Foard
Texas Tech Univ., 2006, 0896725707

    Clara Massie's 14th birthday isn't the celebration she imagined. Farming in the Ozarks of 1919 is hard work, and her dad sees her book learning as "gettin' above your raisin'." Rather than face another whipping, Clara flees to St. Louis, Missouri, where cousin Opal is a waitress in a Frannk Harvey restaurant that serves good meals to railroad passengers. At first reticent to help Clara become a waitress because she's too young, Opal gives Clara hints on how to get the job. She trains as a Harvey girl in Belin, New Mexico, but a slip of the tongue eventually leads to trouble. While serving meals to the suffragettes in Las Vegas, the hotel's china bowl is stolen. In the ensuing investigation, Clara is fired and reluctantly returns home. She has no intention of remaining on the farm; she must find a way to get her sister, who suffers from tuberculosis, to New Mexico where she has a chance to survive.
    The 21st century ceases to exist once the reader opens the pages of this young adult novel. The author deftly recreates life on a poor farm, the trepidation of your first interview, and the excitement of starting your first job. Clara matures and grows, although at times her old self intrudes, just as in real life. Foard served as a docent at the Belin Harvey House museum and interviewed Harvey girls, research which adds immeasurably to the story. She takes a few liberties with her historical timeline, but the reader doesn't notice because she seamlessly interweaves history with fiction. Photogrpahs depicting Harvey Houses and their staff, and information about the real Harvey girls, are icing on the cake.

Learn more about the Harvey Houses

  (Originally reviewed for  Historical Novels Review, August 2006)

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Erin Quinn
Berkley, 2010, ISBN 9780425234143

    Bouncer Rory MacGrath rebels against his dead grandmother's summons to come home -- a place he's not visited since his banishment to America after his father's disappearance. Rory returns to Ireland and his family, where he follows the mysterious woman who haunts his dreams and bids him to hurry before it's too late.
    Able to see the dead, Saraid of the Favored Lands listens as the ghost of an old woman reveals that "A man will come to you in the guise of another. 'Tis the Book he wants . . . ." The latter is an evil thing that Cathán, her people's sworn enemy, believes Saraid possesses, and he has hunted them until only a few survive. Now he offers peace, a ruse Saraid doesn't trust, but her eldest brother must put their people's welfare before hers and she weds Cathán's brutal son, Rory the Bloodletter. Unexpected betrayal and trusting an enemy lead Saraid to the Book and her true fate.
    With the skill of the Irish seanchai, Quinn spings a tale of time travel woven into the mystical threads of ancient Ireland. Haunting Warrior is not only a love story, but also a search to conquer inner fears and combat evil and greed.

(Originally published in Historical Novels Review, May 2010)

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Dorothy Garlock
Warner Books, 2002, ISBN 0-446-52946-X

    Prohibition, bootleggers, moonshine, mobsters--these are volatile ingredients during the Roaring Twenties. When they intersect in a small Missouri town, Annabel Lee Donovan's life changes forever.
    Annabel, daughter of a bootlegger, yearns for the day her father retires. She's tired of moving, but fears Henderson is just another stopping-off place. Corbin Appleby, a former sheriff, arrives in town to locate a friend's brother and help a colleague. Falling in love with Annabel takes him by surprise, yet he's not the only one with eyes for Annabel. Marvin Carter wants her for himself, and he won't take no for an answer.
    The twists and turns in this romantic tale force the reader to turn the pages. For those who read Ms. Garlock's The Edge of Town, where she first introduced Corbin, reading High on a Hill is like meeting an old friend. The depth of the characters, the inclusion of a poignant secondary love story, and the immersion into a time that captures the imagination are like spice added to an apple pie.  Without them, this would be an ordinary tale. With them, this is a book to savor and enjoy.

(Originally published in Historical Novels Review, August 2001)

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Dawn Halliday, Cindy Miles, and Sophie Renwick
Signet Eclipse, 2009, isbn 978-0-451-22872-7

    I love Christmas anthologies and this one is no exception. The three stories in A Highlander Christmas center around MacDonald women, an heirloom pin, and the Scottish Highlands. Three romance sub-genres are represented: historical, fantasy, and paranormal.
    I first encountered Dawn Halliday’s Winter Heat in one of my Scottish workshops. The first chapter so intrigued me, I had to read the rest of the story. Following the failed Rising of 1715, Logan Douglas makes his way home to protect and provide for his dead brother’s family and their clan, of which he’s now the chief. Along the way, he discovers a sword-shaped pin, and nearby lies an unconscious woman half-covered in snow. Her eye is swollen and blood cakes her lips and neck. He quickly spirits her back to the shieling where he sought shelter the night before to care for her.
    Maggie MacDonald, a widow, escapes the clutches of Innes Munroe, a brute who intends to rape her and force her into a marriage she doesn’t want. When she awakens naked in the company of a stranger, she insists she can take care of herself, but she can’t. As the fiercesome winter storm keeps them trapped, she realizes she can trust the stranger to keep her safe. As the days pass, each fight the growing attraction between them, but fate has other plans for them. Before long there must be a reckoning between Logan and Innes, only which one will end being wedded to Maggie?
    Five days before Christmas 1869, Isobel MacDonald once again sees the beautiful, white stag that once saved her life in Sophie Renwick’s Yuletide Enchantment. Her brother wishes to slay the beast and mount the antlers above the hearth at MacDonald Hall. Not if Isobel has her way, but in the ensuing argument between the siblings, she learns of her impending marriage to wed their annoying neighbor, the Earl of St. Clair, and her brother’s arrow injures the White Hart.
    Later, she goes in search of the stag, but instead meets a mysterious and enigmatic Prince Daegan. He will rule the world of the sidhe with Cailleach, the supreme goddess, whom he doesn’t love. Isobel has captured his heart, and he intends to make her his, even though doing so will cause great upheaval in the Otherworld. When Isobel learns the truth about Prince Daegan, will she still love him? And what will they sacrifice to be united?
    Cindy Miles’ A Christmas Spirit takes place in the present when Paige MacDonald, a curator at the Smithsonian Institution who has had her fill of spending the holidays alone and at work, becomes lost while on a self-touring holiday. Just before her rental car dies and a blizzard begins, she comes upon a sign for the Gorloch Bed and Breakfast and turns down the gravel road. She soon discovers the place is a castle, but when she knocks on the door, a voice within tells her to go away. She stays put and eventually, Gabriel Munro allows her entry.
Gabriel is less than thrilled to have Paige in his home. After all, the Craigmires, the actual B&B’s owners, assured him no one would visit while they are in London for the holidays. Gabriel has long resided in the castle – since medieval times after being slain by a MacDonald. When he forgets to disguise himself in modern attire, Paige runs from the house, promptly trips, and breaks her nose. While he can’t carry her back to his home, he convinces her to stay. The ironic thing is Paige doesn’t mind he’s a ghost as much as she thought. After all, he is a gorgeous Scottish warrior, and she feels safe around him. For the first time in centuries, Gabriel likes being with another person, and before long the pair discover they are in love. But what can a 21st-century lady and a medieval ghost do about it? And what will happen when Gabriel learns Paige’s secret?
   Whether you prefer historical fiction, fantasy, or the paranormal, A Highlander Christmas offers a tale to delight everyone. Each story whisks you to the Scottish Highlands, if only in your dreams, and the heartwarming, breathtaking romances will gladden your heart and make you wish to spend Christmas with your own special love, especially if he dons a kilt.

(Originally reviewed in the Holidays 2009 issue of Thistles & Pirates Newsletter)

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Cheryl Honigford
Sourcebooks Landmark, 2017, ISBN 9781492628644

     Near Christmas 1938, Vivian Witchell discovers a long-missing key to her deceased father's desk. She finds money and a seven-year-old warning -- not to talk -- inside the locked drawer. Who threatened her father and why? The questions stir her curiosity, but the threat brings back memories of the murder she helped solve two months earlier at the Chicago radio station where she works. When the money vanishes, she knows someone else knows what she's found. Then she uncovers a second key, but to what? Private detective Charlie Haverman could help, but she hasn't seen him since the other mystery.
    Viv longs to renew their acquaintance, but he refuses to play second fiddle to Graham Yarborough, her co-star in The Darkness Knows. She doesn't love Graham, but the radio station insists that the public think they are an item. Refusal would mean losing her job. Once she tracks down Charlie, he agrees to help her purely as a business proposition. The more they learn, the more she realizes her father wasn't the man she thought he was. The closer she comes to the truth, the more determined someone is to keep her in the dark.
     Suspects abound in this second Viv and Charlie Mystery: a partner who drinks too much, a secretary with a green thumb, an assistant state's attorney, a secretive German companion, and a loyal housekeeper. The red herrings and diverse subplots will keep readers guessing, but the historical tie-in to her father's death is tenuous. The romance is less satisfying and the repartee between Vivi and Charlie is disappointingly absent in this sequel to The Darkness Knows; in fact, Charlie doesn't show up until chapter ten, and he's more of a supporting character than one might expect. Still, fans of Viv and Charlie will welcome their return.

(Originally published in Historical Novels Review, November 2017)
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Janice A. Thompson
RiverOak, 2004, ISBN 1589190293

     Six years after leaving Galveston, Brent Murphy finds himself on a train bound for the Texas island. He doesn't understand what draws him home, but he knows he cannot avoid a confrontation with his father, who considers his son a failure. While Brent delays this meeting, the hurricane of the century strikes Galveston on 8 September 1900, killing 6000 people and destroying most of the island. Brent faces his past, and in so doing, finds his life inextricably linked with the island and its people.
     Hurricane is also a story of courage and the will to survive in spite of overwhelming death and devastation. Intertwined with Brent's story are those of Sister Henrietta Mullins and the orphans in her care, Everett Maxwell and his yearning for a story that will sell newspapers, and Emma Sanders on her first day as a hospital nurse.
     On my first visit to Galveston in 2003, I saw a film entitled The Great Storm. The pictures of the devastation wrought were awesome and haunting, made even more so when interspersed with personal remembrances and historical details. Janice Thomson has taken the facts and recollections and woven them into a powerful inspirational novel. This montage of glimpses into characters' lives and thoughts, unveiled in a sequential timeline from four days before the hurricane to one year later, refuses to let the reader sit on the sidelines. Hurricane evokes tears, prayers, sorrow, and rejoicing as the reader endures the storm just as the islanders did more than a century ago.

Meet Janice A. Thompson
Learn more about the 1900 Storm

(Originally reviewed for  Historical Novels Review, May 2005)

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Margaret Moore
Harlequin Historicals, 2003, ISBN

    After marrying Eleanor of Aquitaine, King Henry II relies on French advisers rather than his own countrymen, which upsets some English nobles. He sends Sir Blaidd Morgan, a trusted knight and friend, to determine whether Lord Throckton plots treason. To camouflage his mission, Blaidd woos the Lady Laelia, the most beautiful woman ever seen. Her younger sister, Lady Becca, however, is far more intriguing with her sharp tongue and stinging wit, harp playing, training as a warrior, and caring heart. As love unfolds, Blaidd strives to learn the truth about her father. All appears innocent, but Throckton Castle holds secrets and some of its people hint that all isn’t as it appears. A good, fast read that’s the perfect escape on a rainy day.

(Originally reviewed for  Historical Novels Review, May 2005)
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Karin Altenberg
Penguin, 2011, ISBN 9780143120667
    In 1830, the Society for the Propagation of Christian Knowledge sends the Reverend Neil MacKenzie to St. Kilda, the remotest of the Scottish islands, where fulmars, gannets, and puffins outnumber residents by the thousands. The independent and stalwart villagers need his spiritual guidance, for how else can he bring them from the backward ways of their Gaelic ancestors into the 19th century? Doubts and guilt plague Neil, however, for the death of a close friend haunts him. Just when he believes he’s succeeded in his task, the old superstitions and rituals return and threaten all that he’s striven for.
    Lizzie, pregnant with their first child, has romantic ideas, which ill-prepare her for the realities of life among the St. Kildans. They speak Gaelic, a language only her husband knows, and her inability to communicate isolates her even more in this barren and strange world that is now her home. Not until two naturalists visit the island a year later does she comprehend the depth of her loneliness. With the help of a young girl, fluent in both languages, Lizzie slowly becomes involved in the islanders’ lives. But as she does, the rift between her and her husband widens. Mysterious sightings and strange occurrences eventually threaten to expand that rift into a chasm that can never be crossed.
    Altenberg spins her tale with such deftness and vividness that readers step with trepidation onto the island, hear the howling wind on a stormy night, feel repulsion while crawling into one of the filthy hovels, rejoice at the birth of newborns and the return of the birds, weep when death claims the children. Island of Wings is a poignant story of hope, sorrow, disbelief, faith, and maturity that indelibly engraves itself into your heart and mind.
(Originally reviewed for Historical Novels Review, February 2012)

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Jacqueline Riding, Bloomsbury, 2016 97 81608198016

    In August 1745, Charles Edward Stuart landed in the Scottish Highlands, intending to restore his exiled father, James, to the British throne. The Hanoverian army, under Prince William, Duke of Cumberland, had other plans. Some clan chiefs had pledged their support if Charles came with French military and financial support, but he came with only seven men. Still they raised the Jacobite standard at Glenfinnan and, for the next eight months, fought the last civil war on British soil. Rather than a conflict between Highlanders and Lowlanders, Catholics and Protestants, or the English and the Scots, both sides were comprised of all these and more, and this new chronological history places the rebellion in international, national, and local context. The rising began with unparalleled success, reached as far south as Derby, and ended with devastating consequences that are still remembered today.
    Using memoirs, letters, and other period documents, Riding provides a well-rounded history for lay readers that presents the last Jacobite rising from both perspectives and without a lot of technical jargon and military maps. The published version will include a color insert and an index, neither of which was available in the pre-publication galley.

(Originally reviewed for Historical Novels Review, August 2016)


Sandra Byrd, Howard, 2017, 9781476717937

    Bereft at the unexpected loss of her father in 1883, Gillian Young returns from his funeral to discover a London Metopolitan Police sergeant searching her house. Her father is under suspicion for associating with and profiting from criminals; he may have been murdered. Although afraid, Gillian is determined to prove his innocence. She discovers a photograph of a beautiful stranger and a letter from her deceased mother that reveals her intentions to donate Winton Park to the Cause, a Christian mission for the poor. Her father never mentioned the letter, and Gillian had assumed her grandfather's home was now hers. She just doesn't have sufficient funds to restore the house to its form splendor.
    Further investigation must wait when Gillian is asked to design and sew costumes for a new production of Cinderella at the Theatre Royal. The prestigious assignment will make her name known throughout London, but she needs additional seamstresses, an older woman and two young girls from the theater mission dear to her mother's heart.
    A handsome viscount and a police inspector's son begin to court her, but she questions their motives. Lord Lockwood shares her passion for the theater, but also wants to purchase Winton Park. A childhood friend, Francis Collingsworth may just be trying to find evidence to prove her father's guilt. The closer to the truth she gets, the greater the danger she encounters. She needs to trust someone, but whom?
    Byrd deftly intertwines research with love and murder in this final book in the Daughters of Hampshire trilogy. She transports us back to Victorian England to view the startling differences between the world of the ton and the seamier sections of London. Her tantalizing web keeps us enthralled until the truth about the perpetrator and the romance are finally revealed.

(Originally reviewed for Historical Novels Review, May 2017)

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Helen Rappaport, St. Martin’s, 2008, 9780312379766

    On 17 July 1918, in Ekaterinburg, Bolsheviks brutally murdered Tsar Nicholas II, his wife Alexandra, and their children: Olga, Tatiana, Maria, Anastasia, and Alexey. While this book focuses primarily on the events and players during the time the family lived at the “House of Special Purpose,” Rappoport explores the responses of various leaders – Woodrow Wilson, George V, Kaiser Wilhelm, and Vladimir Lenin. She captures the time, place, politics, and events through the use of Russian and English primary sources, many rarely consulted in previous works. Although there are no footnotes, this is an absorbing account from personal perspectives that puts the reader in the midst of it all, from the boredom of inactivity to the horror of what happened in the cellar of the Ipatiev House that night.

(Originally reviewed for Historical Novels Review, May 2009)

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THE LAST TO REMEMBER: A Sharyn Howard Mystery
Joyce and Jim Lavene
Thomas Bouregy & Co/Avalon Books, April 2001, ISBN 0-8034-9468-8

    The Lavenes have created a wonderful cast of characters that make for a most engaging murder mystery. The twists and turns spiced with a few red herrings will keep readers intrigued, compelling them to turn the page until the puzzle is solved. They will root for Sharyn even when she seems to face insurmountable odds, because despite her foibles, she is an old-fashioned, honorable sheriff. And her interactions with Nick and Lennie make a most amusing interplay of human emotions that promise more spice to come in future cases for Sharyn and the Diamond Spring Police Department to solve.  

(Originally reviewed for Ivy Quill Reviews)

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Mallory Kane
Harlequin Intrigue, 2001, ISBN 0-373-22620-9

    This contemporary romance is a spellbinder. Mallory Kane deftly weaves a tale of love and suspense where you will wish for a hero of your own like Cody while rooting for Dana to let go of the past and follow her heart. Gerard is a vicious yet intelligent villain that you will want to tear apart with your own hands. Unless you have the time to read this book in one sitting, don't pick it up. It's impossible to put down! 

(Originally reviewed for Ivy Quill Reviews)

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David Gaughran
CreateSpace, 2016, ISBN 9781536886382

    In the aftermath of the failed Rising of 1803, Jimmy O’Flaherty’s trading patch is usurped by the scaffold erected to hang the rebels. The purpose of such public executions is to force the remaining traitors into the open and entice neighbor to inform on neighbor. As far as Jimmy is concerned, rebellions are foolish and the hangings will just stir up support for a free Ireland – a fact the British never learn. He has one dream: to make enough money to leave with his mother and start life anew in America.
    Among those present at the hangings is 19-year-old Kitty Doyle. She’s pretty, which makes Jimmy tongue-tied, which is probably just as well since she seems to be mixed up with the rebels. She suspects he might be an informer, and it’s her job to help root out the spies who have infiltrated the United Irishmen. She watches his clumsy attempts to sell his mother’s salve for bruises and sore muscles; seeing a way to learn the truth about him, she demonstrates the best way to sell the bottles. As they work together, their attraction grows. But he’s not staying and she’s not going.
    The first book in the Liberty series, Liberty Boy is a riveting tale of an overlooked rebellion that’s told from the perspective of the streets. Its unfolding is seamless except for a minor error where the final victim of the hangman’s noose has his hands bound behind his back and yet he grasps the rope choking his neck. But this flaw is eclipsed by gifted dialogue that is more heard than read and the unexpected twists that leave you breathless from first page to last. Intertwined throughout is a compelling ray of hope amid the misery and death.

(Originally reviewed for Historical Novels Review, May 2017)

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Preston Fleming
PF Publishing, 2018, 9780999441831

    Captain Edmund du Pont arrives in Siberia in November 1918 to establish wireless stations as part of the American Expeditionary Force's aid to the White Russians fighting the spread of Bolshevism during the Russian civil war. As an intelligence agent, he seeks information that will help his president, the Siberian Army, and their allies. To that end he accompanies his Russian liaison officer to Lake Baikal, where he meets captivating eighteen-year-old Zhanna Dorokhina and a Russian priest with underground leanings.
    Zhanna hears saintly voices -- a definite sign of madness -- but her sincerity convinces Ned that she is just as sane as he is. She needs Ned's help to get to Omsk to deliver a message to Admiral Kolchak, the Commander in Chief of the Provisional Siberian Government. Although Ned initially refuses, the New Year brings them together again and this time, he complies. Time is of the essence if Zhanna is to save her country and people from Bolsheviks, but there are powerful men who believe a woman's place is in the home. Others, including the enemy, have no desire for Zhanna to fulfill the prophecy that a virgin from Baikal will save Russia.
    Fleming expertly weaves corruption, status quo, survival, and chaos with Russian history and culture to create an intricate thriller that vividly reimagines "what if" the White Russian Army had triumphed over the Red. To orient readers, he provides a character list, photographs, maps, and musical interludes that capture each chapter's mood. In this retelling of Joan of Arc's story, Fleming transports readers to the past with rich historical detail, intermingling bleakness with hope in a way that permits us to better understand Russia's complexities.

(Originally reviewed for Historical Novels Review, November 2018)

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Bertrice Small
Ballantine, 2000, 034543434X

    Born out of wedlock, Rhonwyn is raised as a boy by her Welsh father's warriors. Not until her impending marriage to an English prince does she learn to be a lady under the tutelage of her aunt, a prioress, and the other nuns at the abbey. Edward de Beaulieu is both captivated and dismayed by his bride. Rhonwyn is beautiful, but she is also freespirited. With Prince Edward of England, they embark on a crusade to the Holy Land. Captured by the infidels, she becomes the captive of the Emir of Cinnebar, who teaches her about passion. She eventually escapes the harem and returns to England -- where the battle for her heart and her freedom pit her against enemies she doesn't even know exist.
    An absorbing medieval tale, this romance will have readers turning the pages until they discover the identity of Rhonwyn's true love and how she rescues herself from the predicaments that threaten to destroy her.

(Originally reviewed for Historical Novels Review, November 2000)

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Don Westenhaver
First Edition Design Publishing, 2016, 9781506903668

    After graduation, Danny Parker ended his relationship with Joyce Villareal to become a priest. Now, having witnessed so much death and destruction in the Great War, he questions his faith and God's existence. Thoughts of Joyce and renewing their relationship sustain him, but meanwhile she has pursued her own dreams and is a rising Hollywood star.
    On his return to Long Beach, California, Danny finds work in the oil fields and visits Joyce's father, only to hear that Joyce has gone missing. Joyce's father pleads with Danny to investigate, and Danny enlists the help of his brother, a Long Beach police officer. When a high school friend's girl is kidnapped off the beach, Danny begins to wonder if the same might have happened to Joyce. But who took her and why?
    The coercion of someone close to the investigation is the weak thread in what is otherwise an intricately woven web of intrigue. The reason for the blackmail is plausible, but the resolution is a bit pat and the character's guilt isn't deeply explored. Even so, this historical mystery combines the inspirational themes of redemption and second chances with greed, corruption, jurisdicitonal disputes, and political clout in a way that vividly transports readers back to 1919. Glamour and glitz, as well as black gold, provide the camouflage that hides the seamier side of a Hollywood where exploiting innocence and pleasure take precedence over human decency.

(Originally reviewed for Historical Novels Review, November 2018)


by Mike Blakely
Forge, 2001, ISBN 0-312-86704-2

     Honore Greenwood, by his own admission a genius, fled France for America after slaying a man who raped the woman he loved. At ninety-nine, Honore looks back on his life and shares his adventures with the likes of Kit Carson, Charles and William Bent, and other frontiersmen who tamed the American West during the 1840s. He travels the Santa Fe Trail, becomes caught up in war with Mexico, fights the Apache while befriending the Comanche, and falls in love with Gabriela, who must wed another.
     This is a wonderful tale of the American frontier and the men who forged the trails so settlers could follow. Honore's blunt honesty grates at first, but as his character grows and matures, he becomes quite a likeable fellow. When he cheers and weeps, so does the reader. This mingling of adventure, romance, and confrontation brings to life a time of difficulty and danger, and does so in a realistic way that transports the reader back in time to stand with Honore as he lives what others only dream of. The characters he meets along the way, whether Mexican, American, Comanche, Apache, or of some other culture, are shades of gray with good and bad traits that make them living beings. I look forward to reading more of Honore's adventures in the sequel.

(Originally reviewed for  Historical Novels Review, December 2001)

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by Mary Connealy
Bethany House, 2015, ISBN 9780764211799

    Mountain man Matt Tucker, who lives in the Dakota Territory, should pay attention to the trail, but a woman distracts him. Which is how he tangles with a mama grizzly. She swats him off the mountain then chases after him. Which is how he encounters Shannon Wilde, his distracter. With nowhere left to run, they jump into the Slaughter River. Shannon’s Civil War survival and medical training kick in, and she snags a branch that leads her to a cave. Once she gets Matt out of the water and splints his broken leg, they explore the cave, hoping to find a way back to civilization.
    The rescue party, including a preacher-mountain man, insists the pair wed since they’ve spent the past five days alone. Matt likes the idea, but Shannon needs more convincing. Mountain man and sheep farmer aren’t compatible. But those problems seem small once someone begins trying to force Shannon off her property no matter who gets hurt.
    From first page to last, book two in the Wild at Heart series is a hoot! Connealy tackles the serious and the comical with equal aplomb, while her characters tug at heart strings. This great inspirational romance doesn’t disappoint.
(Originally reviewed for Historical Novels Review, November 2015)

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by María Gudín and translated by Cynthia Steele
AmazonCrossing, 2018, ISBN 9781503903173

    Captured by pirates, Catalina "Len" and her mother are taken to England, a move that forces her mother into prostitution when no ransom is paid. An English priest rescues Len and takes her to live with the Leighs, a family with secrets. Her life becomes deeply enmeshed in theirs, especially that of their younger son, Piers. Growing political and religious unrest endanger the Leighs, and Len makes a fatal mistake. When only she emerges from the unfathomable nightmare, guilt strikes her mute and despondent until a wounded Spaniard sends her the medallion she gave to Piers, whom she believes dead.
    Piers Leigh confides his deepest thoughts and dreams to Len and, even when afraid, she shares his adventures. His dream of becoming a sailor is destroyed when the Parliamentarians come to power, but their vindictiveness and a betrayal from within the family eventually allow him to join the Royalist navy. Parting from Len is bittersweet, but he vows to return to her one day. The war is not the grand adventure he expects, and his sins and news of Len's death spiral his life downward into piracy, from which there can be no redemption.
    This memorable tale pulls no punches. It occurs during the 1650s, with earlier years recounted in flashbacks.
Gudín artfully draws readers into Len's story until it is impossible to put down the book. After nearly 200 pages of first-person viewpoint, the sudden switch to Piers's story, also told in first person, is jarring and less compelling, although the need for events to unfold from his perspective is vital. The epilogue relates their final chapter but is revealed by a third character in first person. The translation is seamless and the tale rich in historical detail, vividly recreating 17th-century life in two very different worlds.

(Originally reviewed for Historical Novels Review, November 2018)

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by Mary Connealy
Bethany House, 2012, ISBN 9780764209130

    The horrors of the Civil War and a Confederate prison camp reawaken Seth Kincaid’s emotional scars from a childhood fire. He also suffers from gaps in his memory, which explains why he doesn’t recognize the woman who tries to shoot him. A decade after the war, Callie wonders if her husband is still alive. With her father dead, her brother gone, a son to raise, and nowhere to live, she heads for the Kincaid ranch in Colorado. If Seth’s alive, can she trust him not to disappear again?
    While a stagecoach robbery reunites them, an unexpected addition to the Kincaid family and Seth’s craziness threaten to tear asunder the few threads that still bind them. Then Callie is kidnapped and only he can save her, but that requires his return to the cave where the fire happened.
    Third in The Kincaid Brothers series, Over the Edge is fast-paced and humorous at times, poignant at others. Callie’s strength and rugged determination and Seth’s internal struggle with inner demons enrich the depth of these characters. The numerous subplots of the story may overwhelm newcomers to this inspirational series, but Connealy neatly weaves the threads to a satisfying and enjoyable conclusion.

(Originally reviewed for  Historical Novels Review, February 2013)

by Donna Woolfolk Cross
Three Rivers, 2009, ISBN 978-0-307-45236-8

    Gifted with a thirst for knowledge and the ability to reason, Joan soon learns these traits are of little use to a young girl of the ninth century. Even so, her father begrudingly allows a visiting religious scholar to tutor Joan with her brother. Before her teacher leaves, he promises to find a way for her to continue her studies. When the day arrives, her parents convince the messenger he wants John, her brother. Her mother's betrayal and the beatings her father inflicts drive Joan to run away. Reunited with John, they make their way to Dorstadt where the bishop permits Joan to study at the schola. Neither her teacher nor the boys approve of this departure from tradition. She endures unending teasing and abuse, but finds solace in Gerold, a soldier who welcomes her into his family and home.
    When Norsemen attack the town, Joan survives the slaughter and plundering. She finds her brother's body and assumes his identity. As John Anglicus, she enters a monastery and becomes a healer. Eventually, she makes her way to Rome, where her skill as a physician soon brings her to the pope's attention. The moment she enters the Patriarchium she follows a path that will eventually lead to her election as Pope John.
    Many ancient texts recount Pope Joan's story, and Cross intricately weaves a stunning and harrowing tale of life in the 800s from those accounts. She vividly portrays the places and times, and her characters come alive to communicate the story of the world's first and only woman pope, a person the Catholic Church didn't attempt to eradicate from the historical record until the seventeenth century. Equally informative is the author's note that answers the question "Was there a Pope Joan?" and explains the changes Cross made to the original edition of the book.

(Originally reviewed for  Historical Novels Review, November 2009)

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by Jane Yolen and Robert J. Harris
Philomel Books, 2004, ISBN 0-399-23897-2

    In August 1745, Bonnie Prince Charlie lands in Scotland to regain the British throne for his father. Parliament had ousted his grandfather, James II, in favor of the Protestant branch of the Stuarts. When the call to arms comes, Duncan MacDonald is eager to go, having listened to his grandfather’s war stories his entire life. His father, however, refuses Duncan’s request. He must stay behind to tend the cows and care for his mother and younger siblings. So does his cousin Ewan, a year older than Duncan, but neither lad intends to stay behind forever. Daily they practice with their swords, and when they learn of Ewan’s father’s death, they set out to join the Prince’s army at Culloden. As they line up on the field of battle, neither imagines the horrors and tragedies to come.
    The outcome of the Rising of 1745 had a profound impact on Scottish Highlanders and their way of life. This is a vivid and brutal, but realistic, retelling of the rising, the tragedy of Culloden, and its aftermath. Seeing it unfold through a fourteen-year-old’s eyes makes the telling all the more poignant. Duncan’s immaturity, loyalty, fear, and courage make him a teenager with whom readers will identify, for his struggles mirror our own as we grow to adulthood. In spite of two minor errors—the length of time it takes to traverse the Highlands and the MacDonalds of Keppoch arriving at Glenfinnan before the Camerons—this is an excellent and captiviating introduction to a period in history few people know about but should.

(Originally reviewed for  Historical Novels Review, February 2005)

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by Clive Cussler & Justin Scott
Putnam, 2011, ISBN 9780399157813

    Josephine Josephs Frost loves to fly, but when she witnesses her husband murder Marco Celere, she flees for her life. When she enters the Whiteway Atlantic-to-Pacific Cross-Country Air Race, newspaper magnate Preston Whiteway hires the Van Dorn Agency to protect her from her husband, who spent time in an insane asylum and has vowed to kill her. The agent in charge of the case is Isaac Bell, who soon learns to fly so he can accompany Josie in the air while Van Dorn agents protect her and the plane on the ground. Before the race begins, Isaac discovers that Celere’s body was never found and that the man was accused of stealing another plane designer’s inventions. Bell also learns that Harry Frost is even more dangerous than first thought. He stashed his wealth in banks across the country, very few know what he looks like, and he has friends in high and low places who will abet his murderous plans to repay favors. And if that’s not trouble enough, Whiteway falls in love with Josie, and a saboteur is determined to fix the race so she wins.
This fourth installment in the Isaac Bell series vividly recreates the thrill, fascination with, and excitement of the early days of flying. Although it lacks some of the investigative intensity of previous books, readers will find themselves soaring through a breathtaking adventure across America that is populated with memorable characters, extreme danger, and dogged determination to thwart evil wherever it pops up. The Race is a fast-paced tale that sweeps readers back to 1909, a time when technology is still in its infancy and communication is slow. To further enhance the ride, the authors use terminology of the period.
(Originally reviewed for  Historical Novels Review, November 2011)

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RED WINTER (Editors' Choice title)

Dan Smith

Pegasus Crime, 2014, ISBN 9781605986098

    What began as a revolution to overthrow the tsar has devolved into civil war and anyone deemed an enemy of the state is summarily executed. Koyla can no longer stomach such brutal and senseless killing. To survive he must go home, but desertion from the Red Army will make him a traitor. To thwart pursuit, he stages his death. The long trek home is fraught with danger, but thoughts of reuniting with his wife and sons drive him onward. When he arrives, though, the remote village is deserted.
    Have the Cheka, the Bolshevik secret police, taken his family? Are they dead? His search turns up only the tortured and massacred bodies of the men from his village. Then whispers reach him of a possible perpetrator of this mass killing – Koschei, The Deathless One; but he’s just a folk tale. Koyla has no answers, but is determined to unravel the mystery and find his wife and sons. Time, however, is running out. If the men tracking him catch Koyla, he will die.
    Told in the first person, Red Winter is a riveting tale of the Red Terror that swept through Russia after Lenin came to power. Smith recreates the horrible atrocities and constant danger so vividly you can’t help but glance over your shoulder. Each character and incident is memorable, so much so that the day may be sweltering as you read, but the wintry chills make you shiver. Smith transports you back in time to 1920 and rural Russia with the skill of a master storyteller. Once ensnared, he compels you to turn each page regardless of whether it’s to witness more despicable crimes or to grasp the lifeline of hope that compassion still exists and that Koyla will find his family. Highly recommended.

(Originally reviewed for  Historical Novels Review, August 2014)


Lynn Bryant
Amazon, 2017, No ISBN

    Colonel Paul van Daan of the 110th Infantry is a favorite of Lord Wellington. He is also unconventional, which makes him well loved by his men, but a black sheep among some fellow officers. Equally exceptional is his wife, Anne, who has recently given birth to their son. She travels with his brigade and works alongside the surgeons to tend the wounded, much to the doctors' chagrin. After storming the French-held Spanish border town of Cuidad Rodrigo in 1812 and mourning a friend's death, they travel to Lisbon to see Paul's family who has come to take their son to England.
    Summoned back to camp, Paul leaves Anne to wait for a supply convoy to return her to the British lines. An enemy patrol, hunting for Spanish guerillas, captures the wagons. Being an officer's wife, she should be safe, but the French commander blames Paul for his dishonor and Anne provides the perfect means for seeking his revenge.
    This being the fourth book in The Peninsular War Saga and not having read previous titles, I wondered whether I would follow the storyline. Bryant does a fabulous job orienting new readers while engaging returning ones, weaving tidbits of backstory into the tale at just the right moments. Her vividly drawn characters capture our attention from the first time we meet and the history is seamlessly interwoven. Bryant deftly portrays the brutality of war, the violence of rape, and its shattering impact on not only the victim but also those around her. In spite of the tale's dark side, hope remains a subtle constant throughout. Bryant ably shows differing societal reactions to provide us with a well-rounded glimpse of the world in which her characters reside. This is historical fiction at its best.

(Originally reviewed for Historical Novels Review, May 2007)


T. K. Welsh
Dutton, 2007, ISBN 9780525476993

    In the midst of a storm, a carriage careens along a mud-choked road. The coachman doesn’t see the lad until it’s too late. Against his employer’s wishes, he takes the injured boy to a nearby physician, whose ministrations bring to mind another boy whose story begins in 1830 Italy. Twelve-year-old Victor witnesses the brutal slaying of his parents by soldiers, who sell him to a ship owner. Life at sea is different, but Victor quickly learns the ropes. Danger threatens once again, and in trying to escape, he tumbles from a mast to the deck. No longer able to walk, the captain orders him thrown overboard.
    Victor washes ashore in England where a kind old shepherd nurses him back to health. Unable to support another mouth, the shepherd sells Victor to two men who transport him to London atop a corpse inside a coffin. Victor never forgets this harrowing experience, but it is the first of many lessons he must learn, for these men are body snatchers. The friends he makes as a street urchin and the doctor who treats him after a severe beating provide Victor with hope. His greatest trial comes when his friends mysteriously disappear, and he must overcome his fears to rescue them.
    Welsh doesn’t sugarcoat this Victorian world, and while the story may be unsavory and disgusting, he expertly weaves hope throughout the tale. He introduces the reader to the reality of living in the streets during a time when medical experimentation required bodies no matter what the cost. Resurrection Men demonstrates the cruelties of life and how children learn to cope, to adapt. It is not a tale for the faint of heart, but those who venture into its darkness will be richly rewarded for daring to do so.

(Originally reviewed for Historical Novels Review, May 2007)
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Carol Berkin
Knopf, 2005, ISBN 1400041635

Americans tend to think of the War for Independence as a revolution, but in reality it was a civil war. Many men participants are well known, but not so the women. Berkin rectifies this oversight by examining first the role women played in that period’s society, then showing how they protested English policies, what challenges they faced, why some became camp followers, what effect the generals’ wives had on the soldiers, what loyalist women endured, how the war impacted Indian and African-American women, and who fought for and against independence. This well-paced, even, and insightful examination of eighteenth-century women is a worthy resource for learning about ordinary women of the past in their own time period rather than today’s.

(Originally reviewed for Historical Novels Review, August 2005)
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by Dorothy Garlock
Warner, 2005, ISBN 0-440-69394-4

    With her car stuck in the mud on the outskirts of Fertile, Missouri, April Asbury slogs through pouring rain, scoots under a barbed-wire fence, and flees an angry bull to reach the safety of a small farmhouse. Meeting handsome Joe Jones, the bull’s owner, sets off April’s alarm bells, but his kindness and teasing tug at her heartstrings. Thus begins her new life as Doc Forbes’ nurse. But this charming town has secrets. With the unending rain, the river threatens to flood.  As the water rises, so do prejudices against those who live near the river. Yet nothing threatens Fertile as much as a bitter widow’s plan to destroy the legacy of her husband, and in doing so, she will ruin the lives of innocent residents.
    Once again, Ms. Garlock captivates readers with a tale involving this quaint town and the people who live there. Her three-dimensional characters, with all their strengths, frailties, laughter, and warped thinking, make this depression-era town a living place that readers will want to visit and remember for years to come.

(Originally reviewed for Historical Novels Review, November 2005)

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Yvonne Harris
Bethany House, 2011, ISBN 9780764208058
    Mexican soldiers abduct Elizabeth Evans and kill her brother, a newspaper editor who published information about General Manuel Diego’s design to overthrow his president. With the help of gypsies and several fellow Texas Rangers, Jake Nelson, a former army reconnaissance officer and now a Ranger captain, rescues Elizabeth from her captors and returns her to El Paso. Diego, refusing to allow anyone to thwart his plans, devises another scheme to kidnap this daughter of an important senator. Elizabeth’s attraction to Jake is instantaneous, but after her husband died, she vowed never to marry another military man. Although betrayed once before, Jake can’t deny what his heart wants. But will he prevent Diego from killing Elizabeth to spark another war between Mexico and the United States?
    Set in 1886, this border town springs to life within the pages of this historical romance. Harris’s three-dimensional characters step off the pages in a stirring adventure that keeps readers on the edge of their seats. The depth of her research is evident throughout yet never intrudes into the intricate, sometimes humorous, web she weaves in this vivid portrayal of Texas Rangers in the Old West.
(Originally reviewed for Historical Novels Review, February 2012)
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Tom E. Hicklin
Palmetto, 2018, ISBN 9781506903668

    The reality of war for Daniel and Christopher Galloway is mostly marching back and forth or digging ditches. The rebels stay one step ahead of them and are gone when they arrive. Daniel, the older brother, focuses on doing the right thing to be a hero so he'll finally get permission to court his girl . . . maybe. But Christopher tends to get into trouble, which shines a poor light on Daniel.
    Christopher just wants to be a good soldier but is easily frustrated. He also drinks and, while stationed in Virginia, goes with a friend to a makeshift drinking establishment. But the provosts are on their way and the friends get separated. Christopher is captured by bushwhackers, who take him to jail where he's imprisoned with a handful of others, one of whom is a violent bully. The torment Christopher suffers eventually drives him to do the unthinkable, an action that haunts him long after his release.
    This book encompasses April 1861 through September 1862. It follows the Galloways through boot camp to seeing the elephant and enduring the bloodiest single day of fighting during the war. Along the way we get a taste of camp life, cowardly leaders, and life as a POW in Libby Prison. Hicklin does a commendable job depicting the brutal reality of war. While occasional scenes -- such as Daniel's dream or the pastor who gives up his place in the prisoner exchange to Christopher -- evoke strong emotions in the reader, the author maintains a distance between the events being recounted and the reading experience. At least, the depiction of the Battle of Antietam provides a powerful and memorable ending.

(Originally reviewed for Historical Novels Review, May 2019)
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Jane Yolen and Robert J. Harris
Philomel Books, 2007, ISBN 9780399238987

    The Highlands of the 19th century, sometime after 1815, are no longer a safe place for regular folk to live, for the landowners have found something more valuable to them than people – sheep. The estate factor, William Rood, and his henchmen soon come to Roddy Macallan’s village to oust the tenants, burn their farms, and slaughter whatever livestock won’t bring a profit. Roddy and his family flee for their lives. They head for Glasgow in hopes of finding either work or a ship that will take them to America. But that requires precious coin, which they don’t have, until Roddy remembers The Blessing, a gift from Bonnie Prince Charlie.
    Roddy returns to his demolished family home to search for The Blessing. A sliver of moonlight reveals its location, but his joy is short lived. The laird confiscates The Blessing and orders his factor to silence Roddy. Allan Dunbar, also known as the Rogue, intervenes. He takes Roddy under his wing and soon the two outlaws formulate a plan to recover The Blessing with the help of the laird’s niece, who despises her uncle.
    From the Highlands to Glasgow to Cape Fear, this riveting adventure takes the reader back to the days of the Clearances. Shock, despair, anger, and hope are but a few of the emotions this tale evokes. Roddy goes from fun-loving child to mature adult who stops at nothing to be reunited with his family. Written for young adults, this heartrending tale will appeal to readers young and old.

(Originally reviewed for  Historical Novels Review, February 2008)

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THE ROMANOV BRIDE (Editors' Choice title)
Robert Alexander
Viking, 2008, 978-0-670-018819-9

    In the first two decades of the 20th century, two worlds collide in Russia. The fall of the Romanovs and the massacre of Tsar Nicholas and his family make headlines. The Romanov Bride, though, tells the story of another family member, Grand Duchess Elisavyeta (Ella), the older sister of Tsarina Alexandra. Raised to help those in need, Ella finds she must put aside her desires to follow the dictates of her husband. She loves him, but, scarred by the horrors of his father’s assassination, he is unable to return that love. When revolutionists murder Sergei, Ella reexamines her life and gives up her riches and power to become the abbess of a convent that caters to the needs of those less fortunate.
    After the tragic and needless death of his wife and child during a peaceful march to see the tsar, Pavel seeks only revenge. He becomes a revolutionary who aids the cause by killing Romanovs and those who work with them. When he agrees to assist in the slaying of Grand Duke Sergei, Pavel’s life becomes intertwined with Ella’s.
    What makes this account of the Romanov tragedy so compelling is that the reader lives the events from two opposing perspectives. Alexander brings to life the privileged world of the ruling family and the poverty they refused to see. How different Russia might have been “if only…” is vividly portrayed within these pages. The Romanov Bride is a poignant recounting of tragic and horrible events that will bring tears to your eyes. The ironic twist of fate at the end makes this a tale as haunting as the murders in the “House of Special Purpose” in Ekaterinburg in 1918.

(Originally reviewed for Historical Novels Review, May 2008)

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by Michael Kilian
Berkley Prime Crime, 2004, ISBN 0425194035

    One evening in 1862, the wife of an influential congressman visits General Ulysses S. Grant’s headquarters. She fears for her sister, the wife of a Confederate officer, and requests a pass to cross into enemy territory. Against his better judgment, Grant agrees. When the Confederate Army attacks the next day, the general must deal with more important matters than his concern for the woman’s safety. After the bloody Battle of Shiloh, both women are found murdered and embalmed on the Union side of the line.
    Having been sent west to thwart Confederate plans, Harrison Raines finds himself under suspicion of being an enemy spy. When Grant learns that Raines is actually a U.S. Secret Service agent, the general enlists Raines’ help to discover the murderer’s identity. The answer lies in Corinth, Mississippi, a town held by the Confederate Army and teeming with soldiers, gamblers, prisoners, and spies who want Raines dead.
    The fifth title in the Harrison Raines Civil War Mystery series, Shiloh Sisters provides an intimate and brutal look at war and evil. Kilian’s depiction of the Battle of Shiloh sets the stage for a curious puzzle that seems to have more twists and turns than a serpent. The inclusion of Louise Devereux, a returning character whose life is irretrievably entwined with Raines, keeps the reader guessing from beginning to end of a mystery deftly told.

(Originally reviewed for Historical Novels Review, May 2008)
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by Gary Paulsen
Delacorte Press, 1998, ISBN 0-385-32498-7

This compelling and realistic depiction of war is based on a true story. Paulsen's writing is crisp and fast-paced, and this soldier's story will haunt readers long after they finish reading the novel. Highly recommended.

(Originally reviewed for The Book Report)

Written for Young Adults, but adults will also enjoy this gritty story of the Civil War that deals with post traumatic stress disorder.

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by Clive Cussler and Justin Scott
G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 2013, ISBN 9780399161773

    Early in his career as a detective, Isaac Bell goes undercover to stop radical pro-union miners from sabotaging coal production. After a horrific accident kills several boys and nearly costs Isaac his life, Jim Higgins is arrested. He may be a union organizer, but Isaac believes a provocateur with other motivations caused the accident. When someone outside the jail incites the gathered miners into a mob bent on lynching Jim, Isaac’s suspicions are confirmed, and he helps Jim and his sister, Mary, to escape.
    Isaac returns to New York to pitch his theory to his boss, Mr. Van Dorn. Although not quite convinced, Van Dorn provides him with a few men to assist in the investigation. Then Mary hires the detective agency to protect her brother, who’s organizing the miners to strike in Pittsburgh, while she sets in motion a dangerous plan to force the owners to capitulate to the miners’ demands. Although Isaac slowly collects sufficient evidence to prove his theory, the provocateur is as slippery as an eel. But time is slowly running out for Isaac, Jim, and the miners. The provocateur, who seems to know ahead of time every move the Van Dorn agents make, has manipulated Mary to his own purposes, which could erupt into a deadlier conflagration than any of the previous labor strikes.
    From New York to West Virginia to Pittsburgh, The Striker is set during the turbulent first decade of the 20th century, when workers begin to strike and the industrialists use violence and scab workers to protect their investments. The authors vividly capture the time and the unrest, while crafting three-dimensional characters that consummately portray the various viewpoints on the issues. Whether careening down a mineshaft or aboard a churning, bomb-laden steamboat on the Monongahela, this thriller keeps readers enthralled from start to finish.

(Originally reviewed for Historical Novels Review, August 2013)

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by Edwin Lanham
University of Oklahoma Press, 2002 , ISBN 0-8061-3419-4

    Life during the Great Depression is hard, particularly for those living in Oklahoma. The Stricklands are one such family. Facing imminent loss of their land because of a WPA Works project, Jay and Pat take different paths to survive.  One brother turns to crime. The other becomes a union organizer intent on uniting the white, black, and Indian tenant farmers against those who exploit them.
    Originally published in 1939 shortly before Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, reviewers expected The Stricklands to win the Pulitzer. Fate decreed otherwise and this heart-wrenching story soon disappeared from bookshelves. Lawrence R. Rodgers, an Associate Professor of English at Kansas State University, pens an introduction outlining the historical, regional, and literary context for this compelling novel.
    Lanham, himself a native of Oklahoma, realistically portrays the people, place, and time affected by economic depression. His story transports the reader back in time and captures poor folks’ struggle to survive in a world that garners them little in spite of their hard work. Love, greed, power, betrayal, and prejudice collide within these pages without any sugarcoating. Yet in spite of adversity and tragedy, hope for a better life and world remains.
(Originally reviewed for  Historical Novels Review, February 2003)

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Patricia Ryan
Signet, 2000, ISBN 0451200322
    King Henry II of England suspects that his estranged wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine, conspires against him. To ferret out the truth, he enlists the aid of his trusted spy, Hugh of Wexford, and a learned but innocent scholar, Lady Phillipa de Paris. Posing as Hugh’s wife, Phillipa must use intelligence and feminine wiles to expose the traitorous secrets of the queen’s confidante and her unscrupulous brother.
    This is an engrossing depiction of medieval historical romance. I was a bit thrown by the incorporation of courtly love into the storyline since its depiction is often at odds with its true definition. Yet the story is an intriguing treatise on courtly love gone awry. Some readers may object to the explicitness of the sexual escapades, but for those who seek a riveting and entertaining adventure you will be richly rewarded.

(Originally reviewed for Historical Novels Review, August 2000)

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by Amanda Scott
Forever, 2009, ISBN 9780446541374

    Jenny Easdale awaits her fate -- marriage to a man who wishes to possess her lands and title. Not the future she desired, but her guardian insists this is best for her. She craves a last adventure and escapes her betrothal feast to join a band of traveling musicians. Never has she felt such freedom, but unease filters through her as she overhears whispered tidbits and is mistaken for someone else in the company.
Sir Hugh Douglas wants no part in hunting down his brother's wayward heiress, but agrees to prevent a scandal. A warrior adept at mimicking others, he assumes the identity of a troubadour to travel with the musicians. Accomplishing his task proves challenging, for Jenny has stumbled on a plot that might endanger the peace between Scotland and England, and she's determined to warn his liege lord herself.
    Slow to start, this story, set in the Border region of Scotland in 1374, captivates and charms once Jenny and Hugh join the musicians. Humor, love, and tension build to the climax, where secrets and truths are revealed. This is the first in a trilogy and more of a backstory to the next title, which may explain why the ending leaves the reader feeling a bit disappointed.

(Originally reviewed for Historical Novels Review, August 2009)

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by Shelley Gray
Abingdon Press, 2012, ISBN 9781426714658

    1874: Scout Proffitt, notorious gunslinger, arrives at the Bar C. He won the fifty-acre Texas ranch in a card game but never dreamed that his desire to start a new life would get him a spread built of broken dreams. Nor does he reckon on Rose, whom mother and sister abandon after they bury her father. When an old acquaintance offers Scout the chance to expunge his criminal past, Scout agrees to hunt down rustlers stealing his brother-in-law’s cattle.

    Blamed for the accidental death of her brother when she was eight, Rose has never belonged, never known love. She should be frightened of the black-clad  killer, but leaving the Bar C and striking out on her own would only terrify her more. She convinces Scout to allow her to stay for a short while to clean and cook, but the citizens of Broken Promise don’t look kindly on living in sin.

    The showdown with the rustlers fails to live up to the danger initially depicted and happens too swiftly. In spite of this, Gray weaves sadness and despair, spiced with humor and love, into an inspirational story of redemption that tugs at the reader’s heart.

(Originally reviewed for Historical Novels Review, November 2012)

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Mark McAllister
RiverOak, 2004, ISBN 158919010-6

     Depression came to East Texas long before the Stock Market crashed, but Luke Robertson supports his ailing mother and younger sister after his father dies. When oil is discovered, he takes a job in the oil fields.  Before his mother dies, he promises to take care of Marty. But that is before March 18, 1937. Shortly after three o’clock that afternoon over three hundred children and teachers die in an explosion at the high school in New London. Devastated, Luke leaves Texas forever.
     Ten years later something compels Luke to return to the cemetery where his sister is buried. There he meets Russ, the caretaker. To Russ, the words on the headstones are just names. In anger, Luke tells his long-buried story so Russ will know who each of the children were and how their loss impacted him and the entire town. Russ, however, has his own secrets, one of which ties directly into the deaths of Marty and her friends.
     There Is a Wideness is a powerful and inspirational retelling of the devastation wrought in 1937. The reader feels Luke’s agonizing despair, Russ’ frustration, and both men’s struggles to find peace and renewed hope. Mr. McAllister’s story evokes strong emotions, in part because his own mother stood outside the school the day it exploded. His book, which vividly transports the reader back to a Texas oil town of the thirties, dares the reader to put it down. 

(Originally reviewed for  Historical Novels Review, November 2004)

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Scott Wyatt
Booktrope, 2015, ISBN 9781620159552

            When fourteen-year-old Raleigh Starr rescues kittens from a burning barn on Thompson Road in 1937, he crosses paths with Mona Garrison, a feebleminded twelve year old. Later, he protects her from bullies. He doesn’t think much about her until he’s seventeen and head over heels in love with Sally Springs, who doesn’t notice him since she already has a boyfriend. He yearns to change that, but doesn’t know how until he spies Mona dancing. Her fluid grace spurs him to enter the 1941 dance contest at the Western Washington State Fair. Sally and her beau placed third last year, and if he and Mona win this time, Sally will have to notice him. First, though, Mona must teach him how to dance.
            For his plan to work, no one must know what they’re doing. Each week after Mona cleans his aunt’s house, Raleigh takes her to a bar where they practice. Without telling the Garrisons about the contest, he convinces them to let her accompany him to the fair as a reward for her hard work. They win, but Raleigh’s lies and betrayal of trust have a profound effect on their lives. He goes to war following the bombing of Pearl Harbor, while Mrs. Garrison, fearing her niece will adopt loose morals, has Mona institutionalized and a stranger appointed as her guardian.
            Spanning two decades, Thompson Road is a tale of how seemingly innocent actions have irreparable consequences and the struggles people endure because of the choices they make. It is set during a time when people with mental disabilities have no rights, and Wyatt provides a horrifying glimpse into what that means. This poignant story portrays the social aspects of life, and the emotions it evokes linger long after the last page is turned.

(Originally reviewed for  Historical Novels Review, November 2015)

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by Esther Friesner
Viking, 2010, ISBN 9780670012459

    After recovering from an illness in 1910, 13-year-old Raisa emigrates from Poland to New York. Instead of a happy reunion with her sister, Raisa learns that Henda believes she's dead, and has disappeared. Determined to find her sister and succeed in her new country, and with the unexpected charge of caring for a motherless child named Brina, Raisa struggles to locate a job and a place to live. Gavrel, who's studying to b ecome a rabbi, takes them home, and his parents offer the girls a place to stay. Raisa eventually finds work at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, but a horrible fire sweeps through the factory in 1911, trapping Raisa, Gavrel, and several friends. In the terrible aftermath, no one remains unscathed.
    Written for readers ten and older, Threads and Flames is a compelling account of an immigrant's experiences. Raisa copes with feelings of isolation -- being away from the village and those she's known all her life, the loss of her sister, the inability to communicate because she doesn't speak English -- while encountering prejudice and tenement life in a strange, new place. Readers experience all this, the fire, and its consequences through her eyes in this deftly woven and not-soon-forgotten tale of hardship, romance, and hope.

(Originally reviewed for Historical Novels Review, February 2011)

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by Leisha Kelly
Revell, 2007, 9780800718879

    December 1932. Money is scarce, the children are sick, and memories are raw. Christmas approaches, but so does the anniversary of the death of Mrs. Hammond. Her children must cope with that, as well as their father’s drinking and inability to cope with her loss. The children often spend their time with the Worthams, who have also taken in a waif whose mother abandoned her for a singing career. When Mr. Hammond disappears, the Hammonds fear he’s dead, too, until a mysterious “angel” intervenes.
    Kelly superbly recreates life during the Great Depression. This inspirational and compelling holiday story doesn’t tie everything up with a neat little bow, but it will warm your heart and bring to mind traditions of Christmases past. She includes several holiday recipes for readers to enjoy. What gave me pause was my uncertainty of the audience for this book, but the magic of Christmas makes this a tale to treasure.

(Originally reviewed for  Historical Novels Review, February 2008)

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Tamera Alexander
Zondervan, 2017, 9780310291084

    Unable to move past the train wreck that killed her fiancé, Alexandra Jamison faces the untenable choice of accepting her father's choice for a husband, a much older man, or remaining a spinster -- until voices raised in song offer her a new path one evening in 1871. Fisk University, a school dedicated to educating former slaves, needs teachers. When she joins their staff, Alexandra is turned out of her house with only the clothes on her back.
    Sylas Rutledge of Colorado is in Nashville to bid on the Belle Meade Railroad Station contract. His problem is twofold: he's still looking for investors and he's an uncouth outsider. He's also come to clear his father, a dedicated engineer who would never have caused the accident that killed so many people.
    In need of money, Alexandra agrees to teach Sylas about southern gentility, even though she thinks him more an outlaw than a gentleman. In turn, he agrees to share whatever he learns about the accident and when she is offered a chance to arrange a tour for the Jubilee Singers, he's the one who must help her conquer her fears.
    This final installment in the Belle Meade Novels is a heartwarming tale of following dreams, standing up for what's right, facing fears, and learning to trust where the heart leads. Rich in details of time and place, Alexander transports her readers back to a United States attempting to recover from the wounds of civil war, where bigotry and prejudices exist in both the North and the South. Her three-dimensional characters bring to life an era fraught with danger in the struggle to change attitudes -- a struggle still relevant today -- while the story provides a poignant recreation of technology's impact on their lives, which also rings true today.

(Originally reviewed for Historical Novels Review, February 2018)

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Cryssa Bazos
Endeavour, 2017, 9781521391556

    Elizabeth Seton is shunned as a traitor's daughter after her father's actions in the English Civil War, and her mother's death adds to her struggle to survive in 1650. Rather than live with her estranged sister, Elizabeth seeks shelter in Warwick with her aunt. Even before she arrives, her rash tongue singles her out as an ungodly woman, and her aunt doesn't hide her displeasure at the unwanted attention.
    James Hart, a Royalist officer in the war, still wages war on Roundheads even though they beheaded the king five years ago. To most he is an inn's ostler, but sometimes he dons the guise of a highwayman to rob stagecoaches carrying wealthy Parliamentarians. He disburses the ill-gotten gains to the needy and saves what remains for Prince Charles. On one such escapade, he meets an audacious woman who dares to call him a coward.
    Hired to hunt down the highwayman, Lieutenant Ezekiel Hammond singles out Elizabeth as the woman he will marry, much to her chagrin. The more fervently he strives to turn her toward a more righteous path and the more vigilant he becomes in his duty, the more she is drawn to James. When unexpected visitors arrive on her aunt's doorstep, she realizes James isn't the only one with a secret she must keep. The growing rancor between Hammond and James comes to a head after Prince Charles returns to reclaim the throne, and Elizabeth pays the price for loving one man over the other.
    The characters of this seamless interlacing of history with fiction vividly recreate the human struggles in the aftermath of the English Civil War. This exceptional historical novel is a gripping tale of love and jealousy rife with unexpected twists and poignant moments that whisks readers on an unforgettable journey into the past.

(Originally reviewed for Historical Novels Review, February 2018)

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Dolores Gordon-Smith
Severn House, 2012, 9780727881694

    On a friend’s recommendation, Harold Rushton Hunt, owner of Hunt Coffee, asks Jack Haldean to find out what happened to his great-nephew. No one has seen Mark Helston since he left his home in January, and Scotland Yard hasn’t turned up any clues. Has he been kidnapped? Is he dead? Did he kill someone and run away? To complicate matters, Hunt believes something’s wrong within the company, but is Mark responsible?
With the help of friends, Jack investigates the suspects: Hunt’s son who runs the business, Mark’s sister who gains a bigger inheritance with Mark dead, her second husband who’s on the brink of bankruptcy, or might it be someone else entirely? Once Jack discovers the first body, others soon follow, and each new clue adds another wrinkle in a puzzling case.
Set in the Twenties, this is the sixth Jack Haldean mystery. Readers will have no trouble diving in without having read the previous titles in the series. Solving the mystery, however, may be more challenging. This fast-paced page-turner has more twists than a serpent, yet it’s easy to follow and the ending may surprise even the most die-hard mystery fan. Great read!

(Originally reviewed for  Historical Novels Review, August 2012)

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Amanda Forester
Sourcebooks, 2012, ISBN 9781402253072
    A sealed missive orders Morrigan McNab’s brother to kill the bishop. In his absence, the task falls to her. If she fails, her impoverished clan will suffer. Although she longs to be a lady, her sins are many and no one wants to wed a woman who wears male attire and skillfully wields a crossbow or sword. Except perhaps the French minstrel she robbed then kissed. The same man who stops her from murdering the bishop.
    Jacques Dragonet isn’t really a minstrel, but a Hospitaller knight who seeks a priceless relic that the Templars brought to Scotland. Unbeknownst to him, Morrigan also seeks the treasure. As each follows a different path to gain it, their lives become intertwined. But two corrupt, powerful men also want the relic and they will stop at nothing to attain it.
    Forester’s characters draw you into the story, and her skillful storytelling anchors you in medieval Scotland. She deftly combines Edward III’s invasion with legends of Templar treasure and holy relics of great significance to spin an enchanting tale of greed, love, and redemption that will make you sigh and wish “if only.”
(Originally reviewed for Historical Novels Review, May 2012)
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by T. K. Welsh
Dutton, 2006, $16.99, ISBN 9780525477314

    Fire! This is the greatest fear of passengers and crews of ships, both now and in the past. On 15 June 1904, fear becomes reality for fifteen-year-old Mallory Meer of Little Germany on New York City’s Lower East Side. She is one of more than 1300 passengers aboard the General Slocum bound for Locust Grove when fire spreads rapidly through the steamship. Mallory and her baby sister are among the 1,021 who die amidst the panic and confusion as people try to escape while the crew attempts to extinguish the flames.
    Her unexpected death compels Mallory to recount what happened – her excitement of a secret tryst with Dustin Brauer, her disappointment when Bingham Goldstein’s bullying ruins her first kiss. With so many dead, everyone knows someone who died; sadness turns to anger after Bingham accuses Dustin of starting the fire. This injustice, the Slocum’s owners’ cover-up of oversights, and love for her grieving family spur Mallory to induce those who know the truth to speak.
    This spellbinding young adult novel, based on a true story, overwhelms the reader with the tragic loss of so many lives and the sudden end to the promising life of one young girl. She tells her story without looking through rose-colored glasses and confronts the truths even when they hurt. Mallory will haunt you just as she does those she leaves behind.

Visit T. K. Welsh

(Originally reviewed for  Historical Novels Review, November 2006)

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UNTIL OUR LAST EMBRACE: A Sharyn Howard Mystery
Joyce and Jim Lavene
Thomas Bouregy & Co/Avalon Books,December 2001, ISBN 0-8034-9508-0

    This fourth installment in the series is by far the best one yet. The dynamics between Sharyn and Nick heat up while those involving Winter promise that he will be a villain to despise when he and Sharyn finally have their showdown in a future installment. Unraveling the twists and turns of Darva's death will prevent readers from closing the book. Those who haven't read the previous books need not worry. Until Our Last Embrace contains enough information to allow anyone to enjoy this delectable mystery, and the sinister teaser at the end promises that readers will return for the next case Sharyn Howard tackles.  

(Originally reviewed for Ivy Quill Reviews)

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by Yvonne Harris
Bethany House, 2010, ISBN 9780764208041

    Emily McCarthy goes to Montana with great misgivings about marrying a wealthy stranger, who advertised for a wife. On Christmas Eve 1884, Luke Sullivan, a reluctant vigilante, hears about Bart Axel getting hitched. Luke's intent is merely to rob the stage carrying Axel's money, but his conscience prevents him from allowing feisty, but beautiful, Emily from wedding the nasty old man who swindled Luke's father out of their ranch. After he kidnaps her, he seeks a safe haven -- the orphanage where he grew up. Emily and Luke spar constantly, neither willing to admit what they feel toward one another. While out searching for missing cattle, Luke is ambushed and seriously injured. Later they discover Axel's been lying about the acreage the orphanage owns, but proving it gets complicated when a hired gun shows up and the nearby Crow become involved.
    Harris' depictions of Montana, late 19th-century life, and the independent people who settled the West captivate the reader to such an extent that the outside world disappears. Humor and love are intertwined with regret and rugged determination. The reader will long remember and savor the experience of reading this inspirational western romance.

(Originally reviewed for Historical Novels Review, May 2011)

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by Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch
Scholastic, 2018, ISBN 97813382330325

    Hidden among corpses, Luka Barukovich anxiously waits for the truck to drive through the gates. It is his only chance for life and freedom, yet escaping the slave labor camp means he must leave behind his closest friend, who urged him to flee. Someday, if he survives, he will find her, but now he embarks on the long journey home where he hopes to reunite with his father, whom the Soviets sent to Siberia. Getting to Kyiv is fraught with danger, especially for an eleven year old clad only in a hospital gown and with a thigh wound crudely stitched by a Nazi doctor after a bomb exploded at the metal-works factory.
    Luka takes refuge in a barn, where he uses the knowledge of natural remedies that his father and grandfather taught him to tend  his injury. In need of food and clothing to protect him from the wintry chill, he risks entering the farmhouse. The old couple living there catches him, but instead of turning him in, they share their food and home. After being so long deprived, their kindness seems a godsend, until they lock him in a bedroom with an SS officer's uniform in the closet.
    The War Below takes place during the last two years of World War II, and while written for children, even adults will find this a riveting novel. Skrypuch's chilling portrayal of escape vividly captures life on the run amidst the savagery of war. Her characters are skillfully drawn and deftly show that sometimes we must do the unthinkable to survive. She also introduces a lesser-known aspect of this conflict -- the Ukrainian Insurgent Army and their fight against the prejudices that drive others to enslave and kill. In spite of heart-wrenching sorrow, vicious slaughter, and unexpected trickery, hope remains eternal.

(Originally reviewed for Historical Novels Review, August 2018)

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Gary Krist
Henry Holt, 2007, ISBN

    In 1910, the Great Northern Railway crossed the Cascade Mountains in Washington State. Two trains loaded with passengers and mail headed west toward Seattle. A late winter storm began soon after, and no matter what James H. O’Neill and his men did to keep the tracks clear, the snow kept falling. Temperatures warmed then dropped repeatedly, creating dangerous conditions on the mountain above. Halted by snow drifts and slides, the trains halted at Wellington and sat on tracks above a precipice for almost a week. Some passengers, tired with waiting, trekked back to the previous town, but women and children, as well as invalid passengers and railroad workers, remained. Early on the morning of March 1st, an avalanche toppled both trains into a ravine.
    This riveting account details the events before, during, and after the avalanche killed 100 men, women, and children through the use of primary resources, including passengers’ letters and diaries, railroad archives, and court documents. Krist demonstrates how technology outpaced safety standards, just as they did two years later when the Titanic sank. He brings alive a time long past and captures the awesomeness and essence of railroads and nature.

(Originally reviewed for Historical Novels Review, February 2007)

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by Jean Fritz
Putnam, 2007,
ISBN 9780399246449

    At thirteen, Thomas Savage becomes a translator between the Jamestown colonists and the Indians. He lives with Powhatan, the chief, and Pocahontas teaches him her language and her people’s ways. Each presents challenges, but the hardest of Thomas’s job is remaining neutral. When 300 new colonists arrive, there isn’t enough room or food for them. A fire injures Captain John Smith, and false accusations force the Indians to break the peace. How will the English survive the Starving Time? Will there be war or a new truce? Can Thomas stay neutral amidst the hostilities of the settlers and the Indians? Will he achieve his dream of being a gentleman landowner with a family of his own?
    Many years ago, Jean Fritz introduced children to people behind the American Revolution—men like George Washington and Samuel Adams. Her books asked a question that made these legendary men real and included facts rarely found in traditional biographies. She continues this trend with this book, but the lack of primary documentation on Thomas required her to fill in the gaps with probable, but not provable, information. She does a commendable job bringing Thomas to life and demonstrating what it was like to live in Jamestown 400 years ago. She shows both sides of the story, rather than just the English point of view. The colorful illustrations allow young readers to visualize the historical events that shaped the early days of America.

(Originally reviewed for  Historical Novels Review, August 2007)

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by Kathleen Morgan
Revell, 2006, ISBN 0800759648

    Regan MacLaren loves her husband, but an argument on their wedding night results in his departure, and the next day she finds herself a widow. Her brother-in-law claims Iain Campbell shot Roddy in the back, and Walter convinces Regan they must right this wrong. Regan has second thoughts and sets off to stop Walter.
    The Scottish Highlands in 1566 are a dangerous place for a woman riding alone during a storm. When her horse spooks, she hits her head and is dragged far from home. On regaining consciousness, she finds herself under the care of Iain Campbell and his mother. But Regan doesn’t realize he’s her enemy; she doesn’t know who she is. As she struggles to remember, she falls in love with Iain. Intrigues and political struggles soon intrude into the Highlands, complicating and endangering Regan’s life.
    Morgan weaves a charming tale that seamlessly intertwines clan life with romance and the struggle to heed God’s wishes. History, however, plays a minor role, and as a result, the story could easily take place in another time without endangering the storyline. 

(Originally reviewed for  Historical Novels Review, May 2006)

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