Cindy Vallar

Author, Editor, & Pirate Chronicler
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



Over 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, Simply E-Books, and The Book Report. Today, I review books for Historical Novels Review, Pirates and Privateers, Discovering Diamonds, and Goodreads.com. This page provides links to my reviews of historical fiction. The other genre links below will take you to the pages where reviews of books that I enjoyed and recommend in those categories are found.

Historical Fiction            Romance            Contemporary Fiction            Mystery & Suspense            Nonfiction


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

HISTORICAL FICTION
Assassination in Al Qahira by James Boschert
Setting: Egypt
Time:
12th century


Assassins of Alamut
by James Boschert
Setting: Palestine & Persia
Time:
12th century


Assassins of Kantara by James Boschert
Setting: Oman, Jerusalem, & Mediterranean
Time:
12th century



Big Wheat by Richard A. Thompson
Setting: North Dakota
Time: 1919



Blood Kin by Henry Chappell

  Setting: Texas
Time:1836


The Breach by Brian Kaufman
Setting: Texas
Time: 1836



Brock's Agent
by Tom Taylor
Setting: Canada & United States
Time: War of 1812


Brock's Railroad by Tom Taylor
Setting: United States & Canada
Time: War of 1812


Brock's Traitor by Tom Taylor
Setting: United States & Canada
Time: War of 1812


Catfish Pearl by Ruth Francisco

Setting: Florida & West Indies
Time: 17th century


Charlie Mac by Maria McDonald
Setting: Ireland
Time: 19th & 20th centuries


Children of the Mist by Nigel Tranter
Setting: Scotland
Time: 16th century


Daughter of My People by James Kilgo
Setting: South Carolina

Time: 1918


Dearest Rogue by Elizabeth Hoyt
Setting: England
Time:
1774


Diamond Duo by Marcia Gruver
Setting: Texas
Time: 1877


Divided Loyalties by Phyllis Hall Haislip
Setting: Virginia & South Carolina
Time: American Revolution
 

The Flower Boat Girl by Larry Feign
Setting: Asia
Time: 1800s


Gabriel's Story by David Anthony Durham

Setting: Kansas
Time: 1870s


Georges Bank by Bradley Bagshaw
Setting: Massachusetts
Time: 19th century


Greek Fire by James Boschert
Setting: Constantinople
Time: 12th century


The Green Soldier by J. Edward Gore
Setting: United States
Time: American Civil War


Harvey Girl by Shelia Wood Foard

Setting: New Mexico
Time: 20th century



Helga Makes a Name for Herself
by Megan Maynor

Setting: Scandinavia
Time: Viking Era



Hurricane
by Janice A. Thompson
Setting: Texas
Time: 1900



Island of Wings by Karin Altenberg

Setting: Saint Kilda
Time: 19th century



The King's Scarlet by John M. Danielski
Setting: Spain
Time: Peninsular War



Knight Assassin by James Boschert

Setting: France
Time: 12th century



Liberty Boy by David Graughan

Setting: Ireland
Time: 19th century



The Lockwoods of Clonakilty by Mark Bois
Setting: Ireland
Time: 19th century



Maid of Baikal by Preston Fleming
Setting: Russia
Time: 20th century



Midshipman Graham and the Battle of Abukir
by James Boschert

Setting: Egypt
Time: 19th century



Moon Medicine by Mike Blakely

Setting: American West
Time: 1840s



New
                                    reviewThe Murderess Must Die by Marlie Parker Wasserman
Setting: New York
Time: 19th century


 
Open Sea by María Gudín
and translated by Cynthia Steele

Setting: England & West Indies
Time: 17th century



Pope Joan by Donna Woolfolk Cross
Setting: Europe
Time: 9th century



Prince Across the Water
by Jane Yolen & Robert J. Harris

Setting: Scotland
Time: Rising of 1745



The Race by Clive Cussler & Justin Scott
Setting: United States
Time: 20th Century



Rebellion by Philip Yorke
Setting: England
Time: English Civil War

Red Winter by Dan Smith
Setting: Russia
Time: 1920



New
                                      reviewRedemption by Philip Yorke
Setting: England
Time: 1644-1646


A Redoubtable Citadel by Lynn Bryant
Setting: Spain & Portugal
Time: Peninsular War


Road to Antietam by Tom E. Hicklin
Setting: United States
Time: American Civil War


The Rogues by Jane Yolen & Robert J. Harris
Setting: Scotland
Time: 19th Century


The Romanov Bride by Robert Alexander
Setting: Russia
Time: 20th century


The Striker by Clive Cussler and Justin Scott
Setting: United States
Time: 20th century


The Stricklands by Edwin Lanham
Setting: Oklahoma
Time: Great Depression


The Testament of Leofric the Black
by Edward Cartwright Beard
Setting: England
Time: 11th century


There Is a Wideness by Mark McAllister
Setting: Texas
Time: 20th Century


 
Thompson Road by Scott Wyatt
Setting: Washington
Time: 20th century


Threads and Flames by Esther Friesner
Setting: New York
Time: 1910s


Till Morning is Nigh by Leisha Kelly
Setting: Illinois
Time: Christmas 1932


Too Many Wolves in the Local Woods by Marina Osipova
Setting: Soviet Socialist Republic
Time: 1938-1945



Traitor's Knot by Cryssa Bazos
Setting: England
Time: 17th century


The Unresolved by T. K. Welsh
Setting: New York
Time: 1904



The War Below by Masha Forchuk Skrypuch

Setting: Ukraine
Time: World War II


Where the Lost Wander by Amy Harmon
Setting: United States
Time: 19th century



BIG WHEAT
Richard A. Thompson
Poisoned Pen, 2011
 

Cover Art: Big WheatCharlie 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 hearts 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 high point 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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BLOOD KIN

Henry Chappell
Texas Tech University, 2004


Cover
                      Art: Blood Kin
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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THE BREACH
Brian Kaufman

Last Knight, 2002

Cover Art: The BreachAlthough 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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BROCK’S AGENT
Tom Taylor
Hancock and Dean, 2011


Cover Art: Brock's AgentIn 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 cause the war and how those involved felt.


(Originally reviewed for  Historical Novels Review, November 2011)

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BROCK'S RAILROAD
Tom Taylor
Hancock and Dean, 2012


Cover Art: Brock's RailroadLuther 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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BROCK’S TRAITOR
Tom Taylor
Hancock and Dean, 2013


Cover Art: Brock's
                    TraitorExhausted 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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CHARLIE MAC
Maria McDonald
Independently Published, 2018

Cover Art: Charlie
                            MacCharlie 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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CHILDREN OF THE MIST
Nigel Tranter
Hodder and Stoughton, 1993


Cover Art: Children of the MistCondemned 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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DAUGHTER OF MY PEOPLE

James Kilgo
Berkley, 2000

Cover Art: Daughter of My PeopleIn 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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DEAREST ROGUE
Elizabeth Hoyt
Vision, 2015


Cover Art:
                            Dearest RogueLady 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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DIAMOND DUO
Marcia Gruver
Barbour, 2008, 9781602602052

Cover Art: Diamond duoBertha 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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DIVIDED LOYALTIES
Phyllis Hall Haislip
White Mane Kids, 2005


Cover Art:
                      Divided LoyaltiesEleven-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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THE FLOWER BOAT GIRL
Larry Feign
Top Floor Books, 2021

Cover Art: The
                        Flower Boat GirlSold into slavery as a child, Yang becomes a flower boat girl (a prostitute). She eventually earns her freedom, but prostitution keeps her alive as an adult. The villagers refuse her sanctuary in the temple when pirates attack. Taken captive, she has no one to pay her ransom. Rather than be sold back into bondage, she would rather die. Fate has other plans.

Her defiance causes Cheng Yat, the pirate captain, to claim her as his "wife," a beautiful possession to do with what he will. To survive, she must become more than a vessel for his children. Clever and observant, she chooses to master the cannons, powerful weapons that are not the domain of women. Killing an enemy to save her mentor's life makes her a pirate, but at what price to her soul? She also learns that money brings respect and power. She becomes determined to guide Cheng to make necessary changes without losing face, but her interference arouses mistrust and jealousy among the crew and in him.

History has forgotten her name, remembering this fascinating woman only as "wife of Cheng." Together, they organized the pirate clans of China into a formidable force that threatened the existence of the imperial navy in the early 1800s. Feign's visual imagery and melodic prose vividly recreates the world in which Yang lives. Readers may not always like her, but they will admire and respect her for all that she achieves in spite of her past and being a woman. Feign is as adept at creating distinct characters as he is at showing a different pirate world from the one most readers know. He supplies satisfying answers to the mysteries that surround this remarkable woman and her husband, while staying true to their known history.

(0riginally reviewed for Historical Novels Review, August 2021)


GABRIEL'S STORY
David Anthony Durham
Doubleday, 2001


Cover Art:
                      Gabriel's StoryI 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)


GEORGES BANK
Bradley Bagshaw
Clyde Hill, 2018


Cover Art:
                              Georges BankGossip 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.

(O
riginally reviewed for Historical Novels Review, August 2019)

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THE GREEN SOLDIER
J. Edward Gore
J. Edward Gore, 2019

Cover Art: The Green
                    SoldierTo fight for his country just as his ancestor did, John Gore joins the Union Army in 1861. He hopes to earn a medal or promotion and thus gain the respect of others, but as in civilian life, some soldiers ridicule him because he stutters. He finds solace in writing letters to his younger brother Jimmy and Annie Elzey, a girl he meets. He describes the daily grind of army life, the endless marching – a journey that takes him from Kentucky to Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, and Ohio – and the aftermath of battle both as a soldier detailed to bury the dead and as a nurse. One day his stutter results in a friend’s death; the consequences come later when he least expects them.

War is never just fought on the battlefield. It affects families left behind, as Jimmy’s and Annie’s letters reveal. Both experience the underbelly of soldiering, but in different ways. Jimmy refuses to be bullied by anyone, be it a boy from school or a Union sergeant. The incidents push him toward joining the Confederate Army, which means fighting against his brother. Annie has firsthand knowledge of just how brutal the rebels are. Understanding the danger John faces, she sends him a token to help keep him safe in hopes that one day he will return it to her.

This is a poignant tale, filled with deep emotions that sometimes bring smiles and other times tears. Woven into the letters are truths about slavery, coping with grief and disabilities, imprisonment, and death. As the story progresses, the characters mature and innocence is lost, while conviction and faith grow stronger. Gore portrays the realities of war with brutal honesty, leaving behind memories that readers won’t soon forget.

(Originally reviewed for Historical Novels Review, February 2020)

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HARVEY GIRL
Sheila Wood Foard
Texas Tech University, 2006

Cover Art: Harvey GirlClara 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 Frank 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. Photographs depicting Harvey Houses and their staff, and information about the real Harvey girls, are icing on the cake.


(Originally reviewed for  Historical Novels Review, August 2006)

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HELGA MAKES A NAME FOR HERSELF
Megan Maynor
illustrated by Eda Kaban
Clarion, 2020

Cover Art: Helga Makes a Name for
                            HerselfHelga may be young, but she has one ambition -- to be a warrior just like Ingrid the Axe. Although her parents downplay her dream, she refuses to abandon her goal. Every day she practices being a warrior, even while doing chores. One day, news arrives that her idol seeks new crew members. "Holy Valhalla!" Here's her chance. Before her parents can say no, Helga rushes to find Ingrid the Axe. Yet Helga isn't the only young Viking with dreams of raiding with this legendary warrior. Does Helga have what it takes to join Ingrid's crew? If so, what will her warrior name be?

Written for children aged 4 to 7, this picture book recounts a tale of perseverance, practice, and the passionate pursuit of a dream. The idea behind the story stems from recent archaeological findings of a female Viking warrior. Girls may enjoy this tale more than boys, but both will find it inspiring. It invites participation when read aloud, though parents may find youngsters become too riled up just before bedtime. Some dialogue and artwork have a modern feel, yet this book is a good introduction to Viking culture without preconceived notions about who can do what.

(Originally reviewed for Historical Novels Review, February 2021)

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HURRICANE
Janice A. Thompson
RiverOak, 2004

Cover Art:
                      HurricaneSix 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.


(Originally reviewed for Historical Novels Review, May 2005)

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ISLAND OF WINGS
Karin Altenberg
Penguin, 2011

Cover Art:
                          Island of WingsIn 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)



LIBERTY BOY
David Gaughran
CreateSpace, 2016

Cover Art:
                          Liberty BoyIn 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)


MAID OF BAIKAL
Preston Fleming
PF Publishing, 2018

Cover Art: Maid of
                            BaikalCaptain 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)


MOON MEDICINE
Mike Blakely
Forge, 2001

Cover Art: Moon
                          MedicineHonore 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 1
840s. 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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THE MURDERESS MUST DIE
Marlie Parker Wasserman
Historia, 2021

Cover Art: The
                          Murderess Must DieMartha "Mattie" Garretson raises herself from a dirt-poor farmer's daughter to the wife of an insurance adjuster. In between life with her abusive father and her current husband, she marries a grocery clerk and bears him a son, later adopted by another family after her husband abandons them. She keeps knowledge of her son a secret, but regrets giving him away. Now that she has a good home, she wants him to be part of her family, but her stepdaughter, Ida, doesn't want a brother. She has her father wrapped around her little finger, getting everything she wants while doing little things that help to drive a wedge between him and Mattie.

William Place, a widower with a young, teenage daughter, initially hires Mattie as a temporary housekeeper, but four years into their marriage realizes he made a mistake. The revelation of her son and the fact that she squirrels away house money to give to him -- a fact divulged by Ida -- aggravates the situation until Mattie's self-control snaps, and murder ensues.

This novel tells the story of the first woman executed at New York's Sing Sing prison in 1898 and the first woman in the world to die in the electric chair. It unfolds from 29 perspectives: Mattie, William, Ida, and various relatives and people who come in contact with Mattie, such as a minister, lawyers, police, and prison personnel. While this technique has good flow and makes a compelling narrative, readers never truly connect with Mattie, and some aspects of the murder become so cloudy it's difficult to discern what actually takes place. This is an intriguing examination of choices and consequences, as well as questionable investigative techniques. At the same time, Wasserman captures 19th-century life in a way that makes it easy to visualize.

(Originally reviewed for Historical Novels Review, November 2021)


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OPEN SEA

María Gudín and translated by Cynthia Steele
AmazonCrossing, 2018

Cover Art: Open
                            SeaCaptured 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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POPE JOAN
Donna Woolfolk Cross
Three Rivers, 2009

Cover Art:
                                Pope JoanGifted 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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PRINCE ACROSS THE WATER
Jane Yolen and Robert J. Harris
Philomel Books, 2004

Cover Art: Prince Across the
                                      WaterIn 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 captivating introduction to a period in history few people know about but should.


(Originally reviewed for Historical Novels Review, February 2005)

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THE RACE
Clive Cussler & Justin Scott
Putnam, 2011

Cover Art: The RaceJosephine 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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REBELLION
Philip Yorke
Mashiach Publishing, 2019

Cover Art: RebellionAt forty-two, too young to die, Francis Hacker knows what awaits him when Prince Charles returns to London. Vengefulness and treason exact high retribution. It matters not that he was just a soldier, following orders. His faith, his belief in the rights of the common man, and his friendship with Oliver Cromwell led him down a path that ends with the hangman's noose, while his beloved family must bear the stigma and hardships to come. From his prison in London in 1660, Hacker tells the story of how he lived and fought for his cause.

The narrative then returns to 1643, when ten months of civil war have torn asunder England, her people, even Hacker's own family. The Royalists -- including his two brothers -- win each engagement. New tactics are needed to boost morale. Parliamentarian leaders negotiate with the Scots, and Francis undertakes a secret mission not fully comprehending the perils it will bring to his family and friends. Then he learns of a spy in their midst, and two murders, most foul, occur. Francis must unravel the mysteries. But knowledge, like betrayal, comes at a high cost.

This first book in The Hacker Chronicles takes place early in the war. The first-person, present-tense account is a quiet, simple narrative rich with emotion. Little is known about the real Hacker, yet Yorke breathes life into him. Like us all, he has frailties, but dearly loves his family and God. The secret mission, spy, and murder episodes may seem like separate interludes in the book; in actuality, they are as intricately and artfully interwoven as a spider's web and no one is left untouched.

(Originally reviewed for Historical Novels Review, August 2020)

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RED WINTER (Editors' Choice title)
Dan Smith
Pegasus Crime, 2014

Cover Art: Red WinterWhat 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)

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REDEMPTION
Philip Yorke
Mashiach Publishing, 2021

Cover Art:
                                              RedemptionGuilt and vengeance prevent Captain Francis Hacker from finding solace from God after his daughters' murders. As the second year of civil war drags into a third, he struggles with the incongruity of faith and war. Despite his desire to lead a godly life, situations arise over which he has no control and cause him to stray far from that path.

Oliver Cromwell's intervention inadvertently sets him on a more righteous path. He wants Francis to ingratiate himself with the leader of the Midland Association forces. Gaining Lord Grey's trust is unlikely, but the Midlands is too valuable to allow the Royalists to gain control there. Yet discord between him and the leaders of Leicester make the city too enticing a target -- one that could spell doom for the Parliamentarians. Combined with dissension within the ranks of the Parliamentarians, rumors of a plot to kill Cromwell, sightings of the murderer, and the imprisonment of two people dear to him, Francis unveils webs of intrigue that are far more treacherous, duplicitous, and devious than he ever suspects.

This second book in the Hacker Chronicles opens in 1644 at the battle of Marston Moor and ends in 1646 after several crucial victories for Cromwell's New Model Army. Yorke ably demonstrates the irrevocable physical, mental, and spiritual wounds war inflicts on soldiers. The subtlety of a few clues may cause them to be missed, while repetitious reminders of the murders and Francis's torture may intrude, but readers who persist are rewarded with a tale as intricately interlaced as a jigsaw puzzle. When redemption comes, Yorke masterfully crafts a solution that prevents characters from violating who they are and what they believe. At story's end, readers will feel compelled to read Regicide, the next title in the series.

(Originally reviewed for Historical Novels Review, November 2021)


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A REDOUBTABLE CITADEL
Lynn Bryant
Amazon, 2017

Cover Art: The
                                            Redoubtable CitadelColonel 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)

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ROAD TO ANTIETAM

Tom E. Hicklin
Palmetto, 2018

Cover Art: Road to
                                            AntietamThe 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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THE ROGUES
Jane Yolen and Robert J. Harris
Philomel Books, 2007

Cover
                                          Art: The RoguesThe 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

Cover Art: The
                                              Romanov BrideIn 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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THE STRIKER
by Clive Cussler and Justin Scott
G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 2013

Cover Art: The
                                                StrikerEarly 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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THE STRICKLANDS
by Edwin Lanham
University of Oklahoma Press, 2002

Cover Art: The
                                                StricklandsLife 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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THE TESTAMENT OF LEOFRIC THE BLACK: Volume One, 1040-57
by Edward Cartwright Beard
Holt & Dean, 2019

Cover Art: The
                                                    Testament of Leofric
                                                    the BlackIt is 1071, and William the Bastard has taken the Isle of Elig after an 18-month siege. The betrayer is Leofric the Black, or so rumors say. Now on the run from Norman and Saxon alike, Leofric vows to find the real traitor. Should he die before he succeeds in proving his innocence, he begins writing a testament so all will know the truth about him and how he and other Saxons fought to free Englaland from Norman invaders.

His tale begins in 1040, when he has seen nine winters. Leofric wishes two things from life: to be a warrior and to gain his father’s respect. But life rarely grants such wishes, especially to a timid cripple. Others think him better suited to take holy orders and work as a monastery’s gifted illuminator. But the old gods and a sorceress foretell a different destiny, one closely tied to four different kings. Against the odds, Leofric overcomes his handicap. His penchant for helping underdogs, however, gains him enemies who thwart his desires and lead him on a path rife with treachery, murder, kidnapping, and death.

This first volume of the testament spans 1040 to 1057. Beard spins a poignant tale that tugs at the heart strings, eliciting a wide gamut of emotions with which readers will identify. He seductively weaves history with fiction to craft a gripping tale of intrigue, war, perfidy, and love. His vivid descriptions of characters and places make the latter days of the Dark Ages seem all too real, yet Leofric’s honest telling of events compels readers to return for the next book.


(Originally reviewed for Historical Novels Review, February 2020)

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THERE IS A WIDENESS
Mark McAllister
RiverOak, 2004

Cover Art:
                                                      There Is a
                                                      WidenessDepression 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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THOMPSON ROAD
Scott Wyatt
Booktrope, 2015

Cover Art:
                                                    Thompson RoadWhen 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.

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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THREADS AND FLAMES
Esther Friesner
Viking, 2010

Cover Art:
                                                        Threads and
                                                        FlamesAfter 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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TILL MORNING IS NIGH
Leisha Kelly
Revell, 2007

Cover Art: Till
                                                  Morning Is NighDecember 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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TOO MANY WOLVES IN THE LOCAL WOODS
Marina Osipova
Independently published, 2020

Cover Art: Too Many Wolves in the Local
                                                          WoodsBorn of a Russian mother and a German father, Ursula "Ulya" Franzevna Kriegshammer graduates from university, eager to begin her new job. Her father's arrest for treason slams the door on that dream. Instead, she is offered employment as a spy since her knowledge of Russian and German is invaluable. When the Nazis break the non-aggression treaty and invade her country, she secures a job as a translator for German intelligence. Ulya walks a tightrope between life and death. Eventually, the line between friend and enemy blurs and her actions forever alter her destiny.

Natasha Ivanova has the chance to evacuate when the Germans invade, but she can't leave her aunt alone and works for the Reich's railroad repair shop. When a man from her past shows up on her doorstep, she surmises that he works with the Resistance. She wants to help and, even as their love rekindles, she becomes a go-between. She pretends to be the girlfriend of a Nazi who is being blackmailed to provide vital information. The hangings of partisans and the hatred for collaborators are daily reminders of the dangerous work she does, especially when she becomes pregnant.

Subtitled "A Novel of Love and Fate," this book is also a story of atonement. Although it opens in 1971 in Moscow, the majority of the book takes place elsewhere in the Soviet Socialist Republic between 1938 and 1945. Loneliness is felt on many levels, but the emotional impact on readers could be stronger. The author vividly recreates life in Russia under Stalin and during the German occupation. This tale of the grim realities of war deftly demonstrates how cascading events intertwine and misinterpretation leads to sacrifice.
(Originally reviewed for Historical Novels Review, May 2021)

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TRAITOR'S KNOT
Cryssa Bazos
Endeavour, 2017

Cover
                                                          Art: Traitor's
                                                          KnotElizabeth 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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THE UNRESOLVED
T. K. Welsh
Dutton, 2006

Cover
                                                          Art:
                                                          UnresolvedFire! 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.


(Originally reviewed for Historical Novels Review, November 2006)

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THE WAR BELOW
Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch
Scholastic, 2018

Cover Art: The War BelowHidden 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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WHERE THE LOST WANDER
Amy Harmon
Lake Union, 2020

Cover
                                                          Art: Where the
                                                          Lost WanderA widow of twenty, Naomi May is bound for California with her family and her in-laws. She records the journey on paper, drawing the places and people she meets along the way. One man intrigues her, and she determinedly sets out to know him better as their wagon train heads west. Doing so draws the ire of her father-in-law; he has plans -- plans she wants nothing to do with -- and pairing up with a "half-breed" isn't one of them.

John Lowry, sometimes known as Two Feet, is a stranger no matter which world he inhabits -- that of his mother, a Pawnee, or that of his father, a white man who raises mules. The pretty woman who draws pictures piques his interest, even though she is nosy, stubborn, and unsettling. He intends to return home after delivering mules to the army, but the more he gets to know Naomi, the more he considers resettling in California and starting his own mule business.

Fate, however, intervenes. A change in plans temporarily separates John from Naomi, and when a wagon breaks down, the Mays are left behind to make repairs. A tragic accident leads to slaughter, and hostile warriors capture Naomi and her baby brother. John vows to find Naomi, no matter how far or how long it takes.

Harmon paints a vivid portrait of settlers crossing the country between 1853 and 1858 to begin a new life. Told from two perspectives -- Naomi's and John's -- Where the Lost Wander is as much a perilous story about heartache, prejudice, hatred, isolation, rape, and cultural differences, as it is an enduring tale of harmony, friendship, love, and hope. The characters are as real as you or I, and once met remain forever imprinted in the reader's psyche.

(Originally reviewed for Historical Novels Review, May 2020)

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