Review of “Lady of Secrets” (Ladies of the Civil War #1) by G.S. Carr

Carr, G.S. Lady of Secrets. Charlotte, NC: Brown Lady Publishing, 2020.

ASIN: B083N3L2KR | $4.99 USD | 310 pages | Historical Romance—Civil War

Blurb

Her secret mission. A country divided. His impossible love.

Henrietta Wright is a Free Colored woman who teaches reading and writing to anyone who enters her classroom. At least she was, until a drunken night with friends catapults her down a path of intrigue, coded messages, and intelligence operations. All in service of the Union Army. She can’t tell anyone what she’s doing, including the handsome Irishman she knows she shouldn’t want, but can’t seem to resist.

Since stepping onto American soil, Elijah Byrne’s only goal has been to survive another day. That is until Henrietta burst into his life and made him want more. She was never meant to be his – her fiancé can attest to that – but she makes him long for things men like him aren’t lucky enough to have. When she asks for his help, he can’t resist tumbling with her into a clandestine expedition that could cost them everything—including their lives.

Review 

4 stars 

I found out about G.S. Carr when she was a guest in a Facebook group, doing a reading from this very book, Lady of Secrets. Intrigued, I picked it up, and while this is my first from her, it definitely won’t be my last. 

I loved the two lead characters, Henrietta and Elijah. Their love is forbidden, and I enjoyed reading about them negotiating a way they could be together. And their relationship is such a sweet one, where he doesn’t want to see her getting into danger, even if they aren’t together, which becomes difficult when she decides to go on a mission for the Union Cause. 

The research developing the atmosphere is impeccable, providing insight into the lives of free Blacks during the Civil War, and the role some of them played in helping the Union. 

There are some minor flaws when it comes to pacing and a slight overabundance of subplots that aren’t fully resolved by the end, but it is possible that they will be addressed in a future book. 

In general, this is a great book by a rising star in indie romance publishing. If you loved either Alyssa Cole’s Loyal League or Beverly Jenkins’ many magnificent historicals, I think you’ll love this one too.

Author Bio

Raised in Charlotte NC, G.S. Carr has always enjoyed indulging in her imagination. At a very young age she had a thirst for reading and the many possibilities it helped come alive in her mind’s eye. She consumed books like they were the air she needed to survive. It seemed inevitable that her love of reading would transcend into a desire to create her own stories. She began writing poetry and stories at the age of 10. By the time she was thirteen she found her passion in the romance genre and has not looked back ever since.

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Review of “Mrs. Lincoln’s Sisters” by Jennifer Chiaverini

Chiaverini, Jennifer. Mrs. Lincoln’s Sisters. New York: William Morrow, 2020.

ISBN-13: 978-0062975973 | $28.99 USD | 352 pages | Historical Fiction 

Blurb

The New York Times bestselling author of Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker returns to her most famous heroine, Mary Todd Lincoln, in this compelling story of love, loss, and sisterhood rich with history and suspense.

In May 1875, Elizabeth Todd Edwards reels from news that her younger sister Mary, former First Lady and widow of President Abraham Lincoln, has attempted suicide. 

Mary’s shocking act followed legal proceedings arranged by her eldest and only surviving son that declared her legally insane. Although they have long been estranged, Elizabeth knows Mary’s tenuous mental health has deteriorated through decades of trauma and loss. Yet is her suicide attempt truly the impulse of a deranged mind, or the desperate act of a sane woman terrified to be committed to an asylum? And—if her sisters can put past grievances aside—is their love powerful enough to save her? 

Maternal Elizabeth, peacemaker Frances, envious Ann, and much adored Emilie had always turned to one another in times of joy and heartache, first as children, and later as young wives and mothers. But when Civil War erupted, the conflict that divided a nation shattered their family. The Todd sisters’s fates were bound to their husbands’ choices as some joined the Lincoln administration, others the Confederate Army.

Now, though discord and tragedy have strained their bonds, Elizabeth knows they must come together as sisters to help Mary in her most desperate hour. 

Review

3.5 stars 

I received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own. 

I had previous heard about how the many losses Mary Todd Lincoln had experienced had taken a toll on her mental health, leading to contention between her surviving son, Robert, and herself. But I knew nothing about her own family, much less how they felt while all this was going on. Mrs. Lincoln’s Sisters attempts to provide their perspectives, and I think it does a pretty good job. 

There are some great conflicts brought up, both in the 1870s arc surrounding the scandal concerning  Mary’s mental health and their growing concern of what to do, and the years leading up to it, highlighting their formative years, including glimpses of Mary’s marriage to Lincoln and road to the presidency. Differences in political beliefs also see the family divided on different sides of the war, which made the situation in the 1870s arc much more tense. 

However, given that the average reader is likely only getting to know Mary’s large family through this book (unless they’ve read extensively on the topic prior), and the fact that the sisters are less prominent in historical records, I found their perspectives all ran together, with it being easy to forget whose perspective it was meant to be. And even the facts at the end about their families and their own death dates meant little, because they are only important to most people in relation to Mary.

But I don’t think it’s entirely a failing of the book. Even thought we only get let into her head at the end, Mary is the central character of the story and the one driving things forward, as well as why most people would have picked up the book to begin with. And Chiaverini has written several other books about Mary that I’m eager to pick up as well. So, if you enjoyed those or just happen to be looking for a new story about Mary Todd Lincoln, I recommend this one. 

Author Bio

Jennifer Chiaverini is the New York Times bestselling author of several acclaimed historical novels and the beloved Elm Creek Quilts series, as well as six collections of quilt patterns inspired by her books. A graduate of the University of Notre Dame and the University of Chicago, she lives with her husband and two sons in Madison, Wisconsin. About her historical fiction, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel writes, “In addition to simply being fascinating stories, these novels go a long way in capturing the texture of life for women, rich and poor, black and white, in those perilous years.”

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Review of “An Unconditional Freedom” (Loyal League #3) by Alyssa Cole

Cole, Alyssa. An Unconditonal Freedom. New York: Kensington, 2019.

Paperback | $15.95 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1496707482 | 270 pages | Historical Romance

5 stars

Alyssa Cole concludes her Loyal Leagues series as strongly as she began it with An Unconditonal Freedom. And from a personal standpoint, I find this one to be my favorite of the series, due to the personal growth of both hero and heroine.

Daniel intrigued me from his initial appearance in book one, and I was moved by the exploration of his trauma of being sold into slavery and vengeance motivating his actions. Cole also demonstrates the poignant parallels between the dark experiences of slaves in this era and the modern day crimes against African Americans which she spoke about as influences in her author’s note.

As for Janeta, I applaud Cole for writing a heroine with such an interesting conflict. Amid a lot of the recent discourse about historical slave/master “relationships” (like that of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings), it’s fascinating to have a story that looks at the complex experience of a child of such a union, being brainwashed to believe that slavery for others is right and that she and her mother are the exception (while also experiencing a phenomenon of not truly belonging), then progressing through her experiences working with the Loyal League.

Cole’s historical research is on point as always, and I came away from this book intrigued at the role Europe played in the Civil War. It is usually talked about as purely a conflict that impacted the U.S., so it was cool to see it in context of the wider world as well.

This conclusion to the series is, in short, absolutely wonderful. I would recommend it to any fan of historical romances rich in both historical research and a message that resonates today.

Review of “A Hope Divided” (Loyal League #2) by Alyssa Cole

Cole, Alyssa. A Hope Divided. New York: Kensington, 2017.

Paperback | $15.00 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1496707468 | 266 pages | Historical Romance 

4.5 stars

A Hope Divided is another utterly delightful installment in the Loyal League series, and I’m now even more excited for the release of book three in just a few days. I love how Alyssa Cole is once again stripping back the layers of what we know about the Civil War, and focusing on the roles people played as spies for the Union.

Marlie and Ewan are such wonderful characters. I love how the precarious position of a free black woman during this time period was conveyed through Marlie, as well as Ewan’s compassion for those who are enslaved. I loved that, even though there were dangers to them being together, what bonded them was their shared love of science and philosophy, and their dedication to the Union Cause.

My one complaint that it was a bit too short, and I felt like the ending could have been fleshed out a bit more. I also just really wanted more story, because I was sad when it was over, because I basically devoured the book.

I would definitely recommend this to someone who wants something a little different in terms of historical romance. Rich in historical detail and with compelling, relatable characters, it is truly a great read.

Review of “We Hope for Better Things” by Erin Bartels

Bartels, Erin. We Hope for Better Things. Grand Rapids, MI: Revell, 2019.

Paperback | $15.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0800734916 | 393 pages | Historical Fiction

5 stars

I received an ARC of this book as part of the Revell Reads Blog Tour Program in exchange for a fair review. All opinions are my own.

I really didn’t know what to expect going into We Hope for Better Things, aside from knowing it was a multi-timeline book that dealt with the Civil War in the 1860s and the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s. However, despite some of the hard-hitting, statement-making books I’ve read in the past surrounding these events in the past, I found myself both unprepared and excited for a book that poignantly explored the dark side of race relations historically, with added contemporary context, and how, despite the progress that has been made, there is still a lot of work to be done to strive for equal rights.

All three storylines were wonderful, but I found myself most gripped by the 1860s storyline, following Mary Balsam, whose husband becomes a soldier in the Union Army, with the years bringing about tests to their marriage, with the exposure of his indiscretions with another woman and the deepening forbidden bond she develops with George, a former slave, and the hypocrisy with which each of the spouses’ infidelity is looked at by both each other and those around them. The 1960s storyline was just as beautiful, especially with its more immediate connection to the modern one, as Elizabeth unravels what happened to her aunt Nora’s husband, William. All in all, I love that this story highlights the beauty and tragedy of interracial love in dark times, and how each of the heroines truly “hope for better things.”

This is a wonderful book, and one I would recommend to people who love fiction that makes them think about prominent issues in the modern world, especially those with long, dark histories like this one.

Review of Christmas at Carnton (Carnton #0.5) by Tamera Alexander

Alexander, Tamera. Christmas at Carnton. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2017. ISBN-13: 978-0310293248. $12.99 USD. 

4 stars

In a wonderful introduction to her forthcoming Carnton series, Tamera Alexander once again poignantly weaves the fact and fiction to present a nuanced portrayal of the Civil War and what the South fought for, at great loss to themselves. And while the shorter length of the story does mean that the romance between Aletta and Jake feels a little bit rushed, especially given the losses Aletta endured so recently at the opening of the book. But it does not detract from the growth that they both go through.

Jake in particular really grew, going from someone who had one purpose in life that injury had now rendered impossible to pursue, to someone who was able to find purpose in other things. And through Aletta and the other women, you see an example of the fact that, despite the fact that women weren’t able to go off and fight in the war, they were, in the men’s absence, doing a lot of fighting of their own, which indicates their potential to be more than just homemakers.

Review of “An Extraordinary Union” (The Loyal League #1) by Alyssa Cole

Cole, Alyssa. The Extraordinary Union. New York: Kensington Books, 2017. ISBN-13: 978-1-4967-0744-4. Print List Price: $15.00.

5 stars

This was a book I never expected to love. I was always interested in stories beyond those of “Regency dukes and viscounts” (just as Cole expresses in her Author’s Note, 257), and in stories with more colorful casts, but as I have expressed numerous times, I have been reluctant to read many American romances, and my one attempt in reading Beverly Jenkins’ Forbidden ended with disinterest, due to the Old West setting. I did not expect this to be any different, as it was set in the South, and that is not one of my favorite settings either.

But the characters and the concept quickly won me over. I sympathized with Elle every step of the way, as she had to pretend she is mute, and take abuse from Susie in order to fulfill her mission. And Malcolm is a great hero as well, who has respect for Elle. I didn’t know how it would be possible for them to be together, given the time period, and I found the ending to be realistic, yet satisfying.

I also love that Cole did not shy away from depicting the racial issues of the time. We see how badly the slaves are treated, in a time when they were considered only partially human, and it’s fascinating to read this and reflect on how far we’ve come…but also how far we have to go to heal the wounds of the Civil War.