Historical Fiction, Romance, Series & Collections, Women's Fiction

Genre Spotlight: Romance

I wandered into the Romance genre recently. Here are some quick reviews. There are Victorian and Regency romances, some are parts of a series, a few have wounded veterans. Most are pretty clean, which I prefer.

The Lost Letter, by Mimi Matthews tells of Sylvia Stafford and the Earl of Radcliffe. She’s a governess and he’s brooding and distant, like Rochester from Jane Eyre. There is a series of misunderstandings and meddling servants. If only everyone communicated better, those misunderstandings would be resolved quicker. A pleasant, but often frustrating story. Very clean. 7/10

The Work of Art, by Mimi Matthews is a book I enjoyed very much. Phyllida Satterthwait is living with relatives she barely knows. Her unusual eyes (one blue, one green) bring her to the attention of a man known as “The Collector.” Meanwhile, she befriends Captain Arthur Heywood, a kind neighbor, recently wounded in battle. The relationship between Phyllida and Heywood is very sweet, with the overall theme of two people rescuing each other. 8.5/10

Heartsight and Heartfelt, by Kay Springsteen are quick reads. Trish is cleaning out her late grandmother’s North Carolina house. She’s recently divorced with daughter, Bella, who has Down’s Syndrome. Their neighbor is Dan Conrad, to whom Bella takes to very quickly. Dan is adjusting, not easily, to life out of the military. A friendship develops between the single mother and the veteran. Both books are fairly clean, maybe a mild PG rating.

Heartsight is the kind of book I could see adapted into a made-for-TV movie. Trish and Dan are great characters with excellent chemistry. There is some suspense and action, but it mostly focuses on these two getting to know each other. 8.5/10

Heartfelt is a mess. A very chaotic plot, frenzied pace, too many new characters, and Bella needed to be written better. It is disappointing. 5/10

See Me, by Autumn Macarthur is part of the Chapel Cove series. It reads like a Hallmark movie, but Jake and Bronte are so likable that I didn’t care. Both are entering new chapters in their lives and necessity brings them together. This is a Christian romance, so there are religious discussions. I found it very endearing. 8.5/10

Turn to Me, by Becky Wade will be available May 3, 2022. It is part of the Misty Rose Romance series and also a clean Christian romance. I wanted to like this one more. Luke and Finley are great characters, along with Finley’s coworkers and Luke’s family. He is an ex-con who promised Finley’s father he would protect her. She’s mourning her fiancee who was killed in a car accident. The main plot is great, but there is a lot of fluff–including a detracting side romance that I all but skipped. This could be a winner with better editing. 7/10

In Front of Me, by Dana LeCheminant is part of the Simple Love Story series. There are recurring characters in the series, but this one focuses on Lissa Montgomery, Brennan, and his roomate, Steve. There’s a bit of a love triangle, but not really. Like See Me, this is about two people who need each other. Most of it is from Lissa’s point of view and readers can easily identify with her. Fairly clean. 8/10

Isabelle and Alexander, by Rebecca Anderson is barely worth a mention. This book had so much potential, but poor pacing made it fall short. Clean romance. 6/10

Falling for the Guarded Duke, by Sally Forbes also could’ve been better. I liked the main characters, Olivia and Alexander, very much as well as the basic plot. Alexander’s younger brother is terrible, with motives that do not make much sense. There are some errors that should’ve been caught before the book went to print and the word “giggled” is used to excess. Clean romance. 7.5/10

The Arrangement and The Escape, by Mary Balogh are part of The Survivor’s Club series. It’s a unique premise. Six men and one woman have suffering a variety of injuries in the Napoleonic War. Some wounds are physical, some are emotional. After three years convalescing together, the friends reunite annually to update and support each other. The writing is actually very good. However, this series has some steamy scenes. (Think Titanic steamy–with description.) Personally, I found those scenes unnecessary and a bit “blush-worthy.” I would give 7.5/10 to The Arrangement and 8.5 to The Escape.

Thoughts: Like any genre, Romance can be done well or not. I prefer reading about the relationships and dialogue between characters more than private moments and torrid affairs. Mimi Matthews is an author whose books I’ll keep pursuing. Most others in the genre will be Advanced Reader Copies from NetGalley.

ARC (Advanced Reader Copy), Fiction, Historical Fiction

Where the Sky Begins, by Rhys Bowen

AVAILABLE August 2, 2022

Where the Sky Begins broke new ground for this book blogger. It is the first full-length WWII novel I’ve read by Rhys Bowen and, even more exciting, it is the first Advanced Readers Copy (ARC) I’ve downloaded from NetGalley.

When we think of great literary heroines we think of Jane Eyre, Elizabeth Bennett, and Scarlett O’Hara, to name a few. I’m going to add Josie Banks to that list. I loved this character.

A London East Ender (“the slums,” as she describes it,) Josie is stuck in a frustrating life, one that never felt like her own. She helped raise several younger siblings and her brash, Cockney husband, Stan, wants nothing more than a simple, passive little wife. But Josie is smart. Very smart. She made high marks in school and showed great potential. But potential for what?

It doesn’t matter now, because as World War II escalates, all plans are interrupted. Stan is called up and Josie finds herself shuffled off to the countryside, billeted in the dilapidated mansion of reclusive, elderly Miss Harcourt and her grumpy Irish housekeeper, Kathleen. Yes, Josie has a roof over her head and food to eat, but little else.

It’s situations like this that make or break a person. Josie refuses to be broken. Her intelligence, fortitude, dignity, and kind heart will be her greatest assets.

This is a book I could not put down. (Yesterday I had the tired eyes to prove it.) Following Josie on her journey was exhausting but rewarding. Her endurance is admirable and her story is epic. I was immersed in Rhys Bowen’s world. Not just the fleshed-out characters, but the sights and sounds of the time period. Air raid sirens, criss-crossing searchlights, neighbors crowded together in shelters, families being separated, scared young pilots–all of it springs to life in vivid detail with a plot that takes many unexpected turns. At the center of it all is Josie Banks, whose strength and compassion elevate everyone around her.

I highly recommend Where the Sky Begins. Thank you to NetGalley and Lake Union Publishing for this advanced copy.

9.5/10 Stars

Biography, Historical Fiction, Nonfiction

The Indigo Girl, by Natasha Boyd

I was different. Different from other women. The crushing paralysis that came from being stuck between a past I couldn’t return to and a future I couldn’t have was heightened by the realization there was nothing to be done about it. I couldn’t change the fact I was a woman.

It is the mid 1700’s, closer to the American Revolution than the American Civil War. Sixteen-year-old Eliza Lucas has been set a daunting task. While seeking to advance his military commission in Antigua, her father wants her to take charge of the business dealings of their three plantations in South Carolina. This will involve supervising planting, harvesting, selling, bartering with buyers, managing multiple accounts, sparring with violent overseers, and dealing with slaves and their internal dynamics and hierarchy. Her mother, on the other hand, has only one goal for Eliza–find a husband.

Colonel Lucas has every reason to feel confident in his daughter, but no one can predict the amount of obstacles Eliza will encounter, some of which her father creates. An unmarried teenage girl who cannot vote or own land holds little sway in the business world. Only the most intelligent, respectful, progressive individuals will see past her age, gender and marital status. They are few and far between.

With rice being the main cash crop of the region, Eliza sets a new goal. Indigo. It is a revolutionary idea, one that requires ideal conditions and knowledge of the plants and how to transform them into marketable dye cakes. Success eludes her again and again. But never tell a smart, determined woman that something cannot be accomplished. That will only kindle the fire within her.

This is a true story, which makes it even more remarkable, and perfect for March–Women’s History Month. The real Eliza left behind writings which were, aptly, passed from mother to daughter for generations. Details lost to time are woven in elegantly by the author. The story is inspiring and the writing is marvelous. Very highly recommended and a terrific read for book clubs.

~I found miracles every day and I clung to them…~

9.5/10 Stars

Fiction, Historical Fiction

The Book of Lost Names, by Kristin Harmel

Once again, a book with numerous accolades has lived up to my expectations. It is also one more example of the incredible stories, both true and fictional, that have been born out of the tragedies of World War II.

Present day. It is 2005, and widowed Eva Traub-Abrams is living in Florida. She sees a German scholar on the news, holding an old book with no owner, recovered from piles of artifacts looted by the Nazis. She recognizes the book and is determined to retrieve it. Suddenly, sixty years disappear and Eva is transported to her own experience during the war.

The majority of the story takes place during that time, beginning in 1942, when Eva was a young woman. Jewish, born in France to Polish parents, her life is about to change forever. Formerly a student at the Sorbonne, her artistic skills are noticed and used to help those who cannot help themselves.

Eva experiences love and loss over the next few years, intensified by the dark cloud of war and the threat of capture, but we are anchored to the knowledge that she survives into old age. The main idea that came to my mind while reading was how war blurs some lines and makes others more distinct. Family and religion are no longer about blood relations and baptism. They are about connections and faith. The definitions of right and wrong also take on new meaning when survival is everything. The caveat, of course, being that everyone thinks they are doing the right thing.

This is a unique plot that looks at a group of people I’ve never seen profiled in historical fiction. We are reminded that the will to live can change one’s belief system, and no one knows what they are truly capable of until they are forced out of their comfort zone and placed into seemingly impossible situations. We are also reminded that, one way or another, God makes all things right.

9.5/10 Stars

Fiction, Historical Fiction, Short Stories

What Child Is This, by Rhys Bowen

If you’re a reader in this digital age, you are probably bombarded with book and author suggestions from Amazon, Goodreads, etc. Rhys Bowen has popped up constantly for me and I decided to begin exploring her writing around Christmastime with What Child Is This.

She uses one of my favorite backdrops in books and film, World War II in England. A young couple struggles with a variety of losses during this harrowing time when civilians lost homes, family members, and their own lives. Despite the period, it is not an action story, but one with a degree of quiet. As so often happens in different challenges, spouses will take turns comforting each other and being the strong one.

It’s a lovely story. One that offers hope during the COVID-19 pandemic, where even now we’re all experiencing something we never expected, are being forced to make compromises, and have found our lives taking unplanned detours.

Rhys Bowen is a wonderful author and I’m currently on Book 4 of her 15-book series Her Royal Spyness, which I’m enjoying very much. So hooray for those Amazon suggestions. Sometimes they are right on target.

8.5/10 Stars

Fiction, Historical Fiction

The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek, by Kim Michele Richardson

Their hunger for books could teach them of a better life free of the hunger, but without food they’d never live long enough or have the strength to find it.

Where to start? I loved this book.

There are so many unique qualities to The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek, by Kim Michele Richardson, starting with the fact that it takes two fascinating pieces of history and merges them together into one character.

That character, the voice of our narrator, is Cussy Mary Carter, nicknamed “Bluet.” Piece of History #1: she is a Pack Horse librarian in the 1930’s, riding through the Appalachian Mountains weekly, delivering books to the poor but proud. Piece of History #2: she is a descendant of the Blue Fugates of Kentucky, a group of people with a rare genetic condition that turned their skin blue.

On one hand, you have Cussy Mary as the outcast because of her visible blue skin (she even qualified as “colored,” although she was not African American, and was subject to the same restrictions of the time.) On the other hand, you have Cussy Mary as the one who brings culture to the region’s isolated people. The school children look forward to seeing her. The illiterate (too proud to ever admit such a thing) depend on her to read to them. The elderly simply enjoy her pleasant company.

If there existed a scale of reactions people have towards Cussy Mary, from loving, sympathetic, and compassionate to repulsed, fearful, and murderous, she evokes them all. Yet, somehow, she maintains her composure, ever the book’s heroine from beginning to end. When a character is convinced they are unlovable, yet still manages to treat others with kindness and respect–as Cussy Mary does–you cannot help but admire them.

The themes of prejudice, segregation and ignorance are pervasive throughout the novel. But there is also forgiveness, redemption, and stoicism. My only small criticism is that the ending is almost “too tidy,” seemingly out of step with the rest of the novel. But that is purely my opinion.

Overall, The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek is an extremely engaging read, suitable for book clubs or the curious individual looking for a story unlike any other.

9.5/10 Stars

Fiction, Historical Fiction

All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr


“The total entropy of any system, said Dr. Hauptmann, will decrease only if the entropy of another system will increase. Nature demands symmetry.”

In All the Light We Cannot See, the Pulitzer Prize winning novel by Anthony Doerr, that symmetry is achieved by telling parallel stories of two main characters on opposite sides of World War II.

In Germany there is Werner Pfennig, an orphaned, tow-headed young man with a special gift for fixing and engineering radios at a time when communication is crucial. His only family is his younger sister, Jutta, who also acts as his conscience. Werner’s talent and Aryan looks get him noticed and he is recruited into a special school for the Hitler Youth.

In France there is Marie-Laure LeBlanc, a freckled, motherless blind girl. Her father, Daniel Le Blanc, is the locksmith at a local museum. His life is completely devoted to his daughter. He has built an elaborate model of the neighborhood so Marie-Laure can find her way. When they move in with his eccentric, agoraphobic Uncle Etienne, Daniel starts over and builds a model of the new location. He is determined that Marie-Laure be as independent as possible, a skill she will need later. Daniel has also been entrusted with a priceless item from the museum.

There are also a handful of important supporting characters: Frank von Rumpel, the determined German gemologist on an unstoppable quest; Madam Manec, Uncle Etienne’s servant who has become such a part of the family that the word servant hardly suffices; and Frederick, Werner’s first roommate at the new boys’ school, whose sensitive nature and morality chafes against the brutal methods being taught.

All throughout the book we, the reader, are ping-ponged back and forth between Werner’s and Marie-Laure’s lives, wondering when they will converge, as you know fate will orchestrate. Set aside all assumptions, however. All of my guesses were incorrect.

Time periods shift frequently. Sometimes they are clearly marked and other times not, the biggest complaint I’ve seen from other reviewers. I see no purpose in the added confusion, there are so many other details about which to keep track. My other complaint would be that the most intense climatic build ends in a very anti-climactic way. The proverbial balloon popping and hissing until empty.

But overall, All The Light We Cannot See is riveting. If you can picture in your mind an upside cone, that is how I felt as I read about Werner and Marie-Laure’s lives, waiting impatiently for them to intertwine. I flew through the 532 pages in about 3 days, staying up until after 1am last night to finish. As someone whose attention span has been greatly affected by the world’s goings-on, that was an achievement. The book was obviously meticulously researched. I’ve never read so much detail about the Hitler Youth. It made me cringe. War’s unfairness, loss, brutality, and waste is peppered throughout. Why some are allowed to live and others are not is a question that echoes into eternity.

9/10 Stars


Christian Fiction, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Series & Collections

Muddy: Where Faith and Polygamy Collide, River: Where Faith and Consecration Converge, by Dean Hughes


I’m going to combine the first two novels in Dean Hughes’ newest series:

MUDDY: Where Faith and Polygamy Collide

If you’ve ever wondered what it was like to be a polygamist family in the early days of the Utah pioneers, look no further. Muddy, and the books following it in the series, will give you a fly-on-the-wall view.

Morgan Davis, a faithful young man in his 20’s from Farmington, Utah, has been asked to marry and settle in Southern Utah. Over time, despite his great hesitancy to participate in polygamy, he is asked to marry again.

But there is more to the story–much, much more. There is the setting up in a new place, the adjustment to being a husband and father, and the challenges that accompany hard living while farming and having to provide everything for your family in a place with no resources or commerce.

When Morgan is asked to marry his second wife, Ruth–a quiet young widow–he and his first wife, Angeline, must navigate this new dynamic in their family. What are the logistics when there are two wives? We are privy to all of this, and it’s fascinating.


RIVER: Where Faith and Consecration Converge

Just when Morgan thinks his life is on track, he is thrown more curve balls. River begins with a grasshopper plague swarming into the community. Dean Hughes describes it in such detail, you feel yourself swatting the insects away.

But the biggest new challenge, aside from the grasshoppers, is that Morgan Davis is asked to move with his family to a new settlement and begin living the United Order’s Law of Consecration. If we thought the logistics of plural marriage were challenging, living this law is even more difficult. Many hands might make light work, but they also bring different viewpoints, personalities, and interpretations of rules.

Meanwhile, Washington DC is starting to pursue polygamist families. Morgan, his wives, and children must prepare and decide what to do should he be hauled away by the deputies.

River is a very “meaty” book, with a lot more intensity and personality clashes than its predecessor, Muddy. A terrific second book in the series.

My Observations

Dean Hughes is a very gifted writer. He has a way of showing us the thoughts and feelings of different characters that is both realistic and detailed. He explores an impressive array of human emotion. During the multiple talks to set up the Law of Consecration in the community, Hughes touches on nearly every kind of concern that people would have when asked to live such a lifestyle. It takes an enormous amount of faith and selflessness, things that are difficult for even the best of people.

But I think the thing that impresses me most about Hughes’ writing style is the way he writes women. He seems to know how women tick, their worries and fears, their jealousies and concerns. I am constantly amazed at how well the female characters’ innermost thoughts are described.

This is historical fiction at its best, with realistic fictional characters living and interacting with actual figures from history. I find myself often in moments of self-reflection wondering how I would react to the hardships these people faced and the things that were asked of them by their church leaders.

9.5/10 Stars

Children, Historical Fiction, Nonfiction, Series & Collections, Young Adult

Farmer Boy, by Laura Ingalls Wilder

Frmer Boy cover.jpg

As a child I was given the entire Little House on the Prairie book series. It was, after all, the late 70’s, and the TV show was a local favorite. I read a few of the books, some of them several times, but Farmer Boy always stayed in my blind spot. In some ways I’m glad it did. I’m a big believer that books come into our lives at the right time when we can fully appreciate them and, apparently, Farmer Boy needed to be appreciated in my late 40’s.

This is a stand-alone book from the rest of the Little House series, one that Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote about one significant year in the life of her beloved husband, Almanzo Wilder. Almanzo has just turned nine years old. He has an older brother and older sisters. Poor Almanzo feels what so many children feel when they’re the youngest, always left behind and never given the responsibilities that the older ones are given.

The book is both entertaining and poignant. The way the siblings handle their freedom when their parents leave them alone for a week is hilarious. But the majority of the book is from Almanzo’s point of view as he observes his father work around the farm and train horses, a particular talent his son greatly admires. And, like the Sarah, Plain and Tall series, the reader sees how children were put to work at a young age, never in an abuse manner, but given chores appropriate for their age. Everyone needed to pitch to keep a farm running and most children of farmers grew up to be farmers themselves.

There is a wonderful documentary on Amazon Prime Video called Almanzo Wilder: Life Before Laura. It was this documentary that prompted me to read the book, despite not being in the age group of its target audience. I recommend both the documentary and the book.

9.5/10 Stars

Fiction, Historical Fiction

Year of Wonders, by Geraldine Brooks

Year of Wonders cover

I had no idea when I listened to (75%) and read (25%) this book about the plague in the 17th century that, a few months later, we would be seeing the global panic we’re currently experiencing with the Coronavirus. The main differences are, of course, that the people then had greater cause to panic and medical technology was drastically inferior to what it is today.

Year of Wonders is about a young widow and mother named Anna. Like other books by Geraldine Brooks, the central female character possesses a quiet strength during a time when women were expected to be passive and mild. Anna does her best to support herself and her two young sons by working on her small farm, working at the parsonage, and bringing in a boarder now and then.

Over the course of the book Anna’s challenges and losses continue to increase, yet she never wavers, relying on her faith that she will see loved ones again, and her devotion to helping others in her social circle.

Geraldine Brooks has a talent for writing books in this Puritan setting, almost making them sound as if they were written in that time period. There was, sadly, a major misstep in the ending of Year of Wonders which led me to agree with other reviewers on Goodreads who stated that the ending felt like a completely different book. After investing so much time and energy into Anna’s story, hers is an odd and disjointed conclusion.

8/10 Stars

Fiction, Historical Fiction

Moonraker’s Bride, by Madeleine Brent


It is a joy to read a book that I know will make the “10 Star” list on my site. Moonraker’s Bride, by Madeleine Brent, is such a book.

In much the same way as the protagonist in The Blue Castle (another 10 star favorite,) main character Lucy Waring’s life begins in one place and situation before making a dramatic shift to another. Lucy is a 17 year old British orphan living in China, knowing no other life than the impoverished orphanage run by a well-meaning, but sickly, Miss Prothero. Miss Prothero’s ill health forces Lucy, as the orphanage’s oldest resident, to take on all of the daily responsibilities, including the most basic–finding the means to feed the children in her care. Despite the mounting obstacles, Lucy loves being needed and has learned to be a quick-thinking, courageous, resourceful young woman.

One day, when Lucy’s luck (seemingly) runs out, she meets political prisoner, Nick Sabine. Nick’s own future is grim, but this unlikely meeting changes Lucy’s life forever. Suddenly she is immersed in a myriad of adventures that include a puzzling riddle, a lost treasure, a family feud, and numerous other twists and turns.

The story, the writing style, and, especially, the character development in Moonraker’s Bride are glorious. The time period invites some suspension of reality, but it is forgivable. What makes the female-centric novel even more interesting is that author Madeleine Brent was actually a man named Peter O’Donnell (1920-2010) writing under a female pseudonym. I knew this going into the book, but was even more impressed while reading it. Lucy Waring’s sentiments and reactions “feel” female, without being insulting or stereotypical.

I highly recommend Moonraker’s Bride. This was a book I could not put down. It was also a book I immediately missed when I completed it. As an FYI, it is out of print, as are all of the books by Madeleine Brent (a tragedy,) but used copies are available on both Amazon and alibris.com.

10/10 Stars


Fiction, Historical Fiction

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows


Is it possible for a book written completely in an epistolary style and a movie adaptation that takes great liberties in plot to compliment each other perfectly? The answer is a resounding “yes.” I give you The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by the late Mary Ann Shaffer and her niece, Annie Barrows.

I will admit I began the book first and then abandoned it for several weeks. Reading a book that is all letters back and forth felt a bit tedious. (Although it may have been my own timing.) It was like opening a box of letters in someone’s attic and, while reading them, trying to create a timeline, a narrative, and full-bodied characters. My imagination at the time (or lack thereof) needed help. Shortly thereafter, a friend mentioned the movie’s release on Netflix and how much she loved it. Being a period piece, British, with four cast members from my beloved Downton Abbey was all I needed to know.

Soon I became engrossed in the lives and stories of London writer Juliet Ashton and her new pen pals and friends on the island of Guernsey. The movie’s casting, production quality, and acting more than made up for the changes it made to the book–changes I only realized later while reading. It gave faces, voices, and personalities to our darling, witty Juliet and Guernsey natives Dawsey, Isola, Eben, Amelia, Eli, and Kit, as well as the Society’s leader, Elizabeth McKenna, and Juliet’s publisher, Sydney Stark. All changes were immediately forgiven.

I know, this is sounding more like a movie critique than a book review…

Historically, the novel opens a window to a section of World War II that most of us have never known, the German occupation of the Island of Guernsey and the effect it had on the residents. The island was no more a refuge but a prison, with those living there completely cut off from news and communication with the rest of the world, including the United Kingdom, where the Guernsey children were sent. It is a life that we, who have never known war on the home-front, can scarcely imagine. There are a few scenes in the book that describe the horrors of the time that, gratefully, were omitted from the screen. Reading about them was enough for me.

That really is what the story is about–the power of the written word and the light it brings, especially when the world outside is so dark.

As a stand-alone novel, it is difficult for me to review it without including the film because they work in tandem so well. This is a rare occasion where watching the film first really worked for me when I read the book, and all I have to go on is my own experience. Still, that experience was a delightful one. I recommend them both whole-heartedly.

9/10 Stars