Review of “A Gilded Lady” (Hope and Glory #2) by Elizabeth Camden

Camden, Elizabeth. A Gilded Lady. Bloomington, MN: Bethany House, 2020. 

ISBN-13: 978-0764232121 | $15.99 USD | 352 pages | Christian Fiction/Historical Romance

Blurb

Caroline Delacroix is at the pinnacle of Washington high society in her role as secretary to the first lady of the United States. But beneath the facade of her beauty, glamorous wardrobe, and dazzling personality, she’s hiding a terrible secret. If she cannot untangle a web of foreign espionage, her brother will face execution for treason.

Nathaniel Trask is the newly appointed head of the president’s Secret Service team. He is immediately suspicious of Caroline despite his overwhelming attraction to her quick wit and undeniable charm. Desperate to keep the president protected, Nathaniel must battle to keep his focus fully on his job as the threat to the president rises.

Amid the glamorous pageantry of Gilded Age Washington, DC, Caroline and Nathaniel will face adventure, danger, and heartbreak in a race against time that will span the continent and the depth of human emotion.

In the series 

#1 The Spice King 

Review 

5 stars

I received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. 

It’s been awhile since I picked up an Elizabeth Camden book, and A Gilded Lady is a great reminder of what U like about her work. While I did not read book one, I feel for the most part it does function as a stand-alone, although I do think it would have made the appearances of the recurring characters feel a bit more relevant. 

I love a story that writes about historical politics in an intimate way, and exploring the lives of President and Mrs. McKinley through the eyes of a Secret Service agent and the First Lady’s secretary was fascinating. And given that McKinley is one of the four presidents who was assassinated throughout US history (and the assassination is a plot point in the book), I like how this book explores the poltical tensions both at home and abroad, especially with mentions of other similar tragedies that were occurring at the time, as well as Camden’s note at the end about how the asdassination itself impacted Secret Service procedures going forward. 

Caroline is a compelling character. While I got the impression, both from other reviewers who read book one and the depiction of tension later in the book between her and Annabelle (heroine of book one), I felt that, beneath the charming facade, she had a good heart, especially with her focus on saving her brother. And her relationship with the moody Ida McKinley is a sweet one, with Caroline calming her in times of trouble. 

Her stubborn, yet charming nature makes for great interactions with Nathaniel, who is set in his ways and very by-the-book. Seeing them grow past their differences and learn from each other is incredibly rewarding. 

I very much enjoyed this book, and look forward both to catching up with book one and continuing with book three. If you love sweet/inspirational historical romance, I recommend this one highly. 

Author Bio 

Elizabeth Camden is a research librarian at a small college in central Florida. Her novels have won the coveted RITA and Christy Awards. She has published several articles for academic publications and is the author of four nonfiction history books. Her ongoing fascination with history and love of literature have led her to write inspirational fiction. Elizabeth lives with her husband near Orlando, Florida.

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Review of “Storing Up Trouble” (American Heiresses #3) by Jen Turano

Turano, Jen. Storing Up Trouble. Bloomington, MN: Bethany House, 2020.

ISBN-13: 978-0764231698 (paperback)/978-1493425082 (eBook) | $15.99 USD (paperback)/$10.99 USD (ebook) | 352 pages | Historical Romance/Christian Fiction

Blurb

When Miss Beatrix Waterbury’s Chicago-bound train ride is interrupted by a heist, Mr. Norman Nesbit, a man of science who believes his research was the target of the heist, comes to her aid. Despite the fact that they immediately butt heads, they join forces to make a quick escape.

Upon her arrival in Chicago, Beatrix is surprised to discover her supposedly querulous Aunt Gladys shares her own suffragette passions. Encouraged by Gladys to leave her sheltered world, Beatrix begins working as a salesclerk at the Marshall Field and Company department store. When she again encounters Norman on a shopping expedition, he is quickly swept up in the havoc she always seems to attract.

But when another attempt is made to part Norman from his research papers, and it becomes clear Beatrix’s safety is also at risk, they soon discover the curious way feelings can grow between two very different people in the midst of chaos.

In the series

#1 Flights of Fancy

#2 Diamond in the Rough

Review

4 stars

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

While this is not my first Jen Turano book, this is the first in the American Heiresses series I’ve read. However, it stands perfectly well as a stand alone, and feel like you could start here, although I am intrigued to read the previous two books in the series now.

Turano has a few different elements at play: a whimsical, often humorous, writing style, great attention to detail, and a dash of mystery, and all of it comes together, without anything really feeling out of place.

The characters are definitely the best part. Beatrix is a daring heroine, not afraid to take risks due to her suffragist views, and I admired how she was so unconcerned with what society thought. 

Norman is also interesting due to his scientific pursuits, and I liked the banter between them as their relationship evolved. 

There are some other memorable characters, and my absolute favorite is the silly Aunt Gladys. Her antics with her friends are the best part of the book.

This is a fun, light read, and while it’s not a particularly memorable read, it’s pure fun with a helping of history, which I think can be great once in a while. I recommend this to anyone looking for a good solid historical rom-com.

Author Bio

Named One of the Funniest Voices in Inspirational Romance by Booklist, Jen Turano is a USA Today Best-Selling Author, known for penning quirky historical romances set in the Gilded Age. Her books have earned Publisher Weekly and Booklist starred reviews, top picks from Romantic Times, and praise from Library Journal. She’s been a finalist twice for the RT Reviewers’ Choice Awards and had two of her books listed in the top 100 romances of the past decade from Booklist. When she’s not writing, she spends her time outside of Denver, CO. Readers may find her at www.jenturano.comor https://www.facebook.com/jenturanoauthor/or on Twitter at JenTurano @JenTurano.

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Review of “The Glass Magician” by Caroline Stevermer

Stevermer, Caroline. The Glass Magician. New York: Tor, 2020.

ISBN-13: 978-0765335043 ( hardcover)/978-146820838 (ebook) | $26.99 USD ($13.99 eBook) | 288 pages | Historical Fantasy

Blurb

Reminiscent of The Golem and the JinniThe Glass Magician by Caroline Stevermer is a magical and romantic tale set in New York’s Gilded Age.

New York 1905—The Vanderbilts. The Astors. The Morgans. They are the cream of society—and they own the nation on the cusp of a new century.

Thalia Cutler doesn’t have any of those family connections. What she does know is stage magic and she dazzles audiences with an act that takes your breath away.

That is, until one night when a trick goes horribly awry. In surviving she discovers that she can shapeshift, and has the potential to take her place among the rich and powerful.

But first, she’ll have to learn to control that power…before the real monsters descend to feast.

Review

2.5 stars

The Glass Magician is a lot of fun, as I expected it to be. I loved the integration of the magic system of the Traders and the Solitaires into class-conscious Gilded Age New York, and how effortlessly the two work together.

This is depicted through the trajectory of Thalia’s position throughout the book, beginning with a disaster caused by her powers. I enjoyed seeing her discover more about herself, the extent of her abilities, and secrets from her past. I was intrigued as elements concerning the latter unfolded, as that’s a key part of the central mystery plot.

However, the book also felt a little half-baked in some areas. The story progressed nicely, only to end too soon and on an anticlimactic note. And while there is a hint of a romance, this is another case of an SFF book that failed to develop the romance to a point where I was remotely interested.

This is a fun book, and I do think, based on what I’ve heard about the author’s previous books (particularly the series she worked on with Patricia C. Wrede) that she is a good author, and this one is merely a subpar execution of an otherwise brilliant premise, or perhaps it has the possibility to become a series and it just hasn’t been confirmed yet. I think, if you like historical fantasy, especially if you’re familiar with Stevermer’s other work, you might like this.

Author Bio

Caroline Stevermer grew up miles from anywhere on a dairy farm in southeastern Minnesota. She has a sister and two brothers. After high school, she attended Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania, where she earned a B.A. degree in the history of art. She knew she wanted to be a writer when she was eight years old. She began by writing stories in her school notebooks. (They were not good. Many were not even finished. She persisted.)

By the time she graduated from college, she knew she would need to earn money in other ways, but she kept on writing. Her first professional sale was published by Ace in 1980. In the years since, she has had a variety of jobs and kept on writing. She likes libraries and museums. Her favorite painter is Nicholas Hilliard. Her favorite writer is Mark Twain. She lives in Minnesota.

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Review of “The Engineer’s Wife” by Tracey Enerson Wood

Wood, Tracey Enerson. The Engineer’s Wife. Naperville, IL: Sourcebooks Landmark, 2020.

eBook | $12.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1492698142 | 355 pages | Historical Romance

Blurb

She Built A Monument For All Time. Then She Was Lost In Its Shadows.

Emily Warren Roebling refuses to live conventionally–she knows who she is and what she wants, and she’s determined to make change. But then her husband, Wash, asks the unthinkable: to give up her dreams to make his possible.

Emily’s fight for women’s suffrage is put on hold and her life transformed when Wash, the chief engineer of the Brooklyn Bridge, is injured on the job. Untrained for the task, but under his guidance, she assumes his role, despite stern resistance and overwhelming obstacles. Lines blur as Wash’s vision becomes her own and when he is unable to return to the job, Emily is consumed by it. But as the project takes shape under Emily’s direction, she wonders whose legacy she is building–hers or her husband’s. As the monument rises, Emily’s marriage, principles, and identity threaten to collapse. When the bridge finally stands finished, will she recognize the woman who built it?

Based on the true story of the Brooklyn Bridge, The Engineer’s Wife delivers an emotional portrait of a woman transformed by a project of unfathomable scale, which takes her into the bowels of the East River, suffragette riots, the halls of Manhattan’s elite, and the heady. freewheeling temptations of P.T. Barnum. It’s the story of husband and wife determined to build something that lasts–even at the risk of losing each other.

Review

4 stars

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

I know nothing about the Brooklyn Bridge or New York (I’ve sadly never been there, but I want to), but I’m a sucker for stories about places I’ve never been for that vicarious experience, especially if there are aspects about them forgotten to history, such as is the case with The Engineer’s Wife and its depiction of Emily Warren Roebling’s contribution to the Bridge’s construction.

Emily is a fascinating woman, and it’s a shame not many know about her. She has some recognizable traits of the women of the latter half of the nineteenth century, in particularly her support for women’s suffrage, a cause she had to put aside to support her husband. And I could empathize with the increasing strain in her marriage, due to her having this grand vision for the Brooklyn Bridge, but also having the realization that her invalid husband would receive the notoriety for her work.

Some of the technical aspects were a new and a bit confusing to me such as caissons, but I did enjoy learning about the trade in general. And sometimes the pacing did feel a bit slower and less engaging, but for the most part, I found the story enjoyable, particularly as it charted the contradictions in the progress on the Bridge and the cracks in the Roebling marriage.

This is a great novel about an uncelebrated historical heroine, and I hope this book helps t finally give her her time to shine. If you love historical fiction about little-known historical women involved in major world events, then I think you’ll enjoy this.

Author Bio

Tracey Enerson Wood has always had a writing bug. While working as a Registered Nurse, starting her own Interior Design company, raising two children, and bouncing around the world as a military wife, she indulged in her passion as a playwright, screenwriter and novelist. She has authored magazine columns and other non-fiction, written and directed plays of all lengths, including Grits, Fleas and Carrots, Rocks and Other Hard Places, Alone, and Fog.

Her screenplays include Strike Three and Roebling’s Bridge.

Other passions include food and cooking, and honoring military heroes. Her co-authored anthology/cookbook Homefront Cooking: American Veterans share Recipes, Wit, and Wisdom, was released by Skyhorse Publishing in May, 2018, and all authors’ profits will be donated to organizations that support veterans.B

A New Jersey native, she now lives with her family in Florida and Germany.

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Review of “An Heiress to Remember” (The Gilded Age Girls Club #3) by Maya Rodale

Rodale, Maya. An Heiress to Remember. New York: Avon Books, 2020.

eBook | $6.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0062838858 | 368 pages | Historical Romance–Gilded Age

5 stars

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

The Gilded Age Girls Club is one of my favorite currently ongoing series, but An Heiress to Remember may just be my favorite for its way of combining elements I adore (a divorced duchess, a second chance at love!) with some elements that give me pause (revenge seeking hero) and leaving me absolutely stunned at the awesomness of how it all comes together.

Beatrice is another strong heroine out to change the world, and I adored seeing her succeed at doing it. When she met with resistance, whether it be a set-in-his-ways employee who thinks he knows better or an attractive rival store owner, she pushed back against them, and it was beautiful to watch that. And like with the others, I enjoyed seeing that being a “strong woman” doesn’t mean sacrificing feminity…in fact, instead, it can be the most radical thing, due to the way “women’s work” is dismissed.

Dalton is also a great, dynamic character. Throughout, there is always this question of his revenge and whether he might be only interested in her for that, just as he is suspected of being interested in her in the past for the store. But his growth to finding out that he wants her and making the shift to prioritize her wants and thinking about what he really wants to do for himself “after” attaining the goal of revenge against her and her family that he’d long fixated on, is wonderful. And while I did predict an element of his final choice, I still enjoyed seeing him get there and was in awe of the extent of his Grand Gesture.

And while Beatrice’s mother is a mostly a minor character, I did like when she opened up to Beatrice about the parallels she observed between Beatrice and Dalton and Beatrice’s father and herself, in regards to both she and her daughter sharing similar ambitions prior to marriage. Someone had previously mentioned the story felt very Persuasion-esque, and the revelations of her end informing her reticence about Dalton also shows that influence.

This book is awesome, and I can’t wait for everyone to be able to read it at the end of the month. If you’ve loved the previous installments in this series, or adore stories with lady boss heroines, I can’t recommend this highly enough.

Buy it here: https://amzn.to/2IM0mav

Review of “Kisses and Other Scandalous Pastimes: A Winter Historical Short Story Anthology from The Romance Cafe” by Thyra Dane, T.L. Clark, Lara Temple, Riana Everly, Rachel Ann Smith, Alexie Bolton, Catherine Stein, Chele McCabe, S.L. Hollister, and Miranda Jameson

Dane, Thyra, et. al. Kissing and Other Scandalous Pastimes: A Winter Historical Short Story Anthology from The Romance Cafe. [Place of publication not identified]: Romance Cafe Books, 2019.

eBook | $2.99 USD |ASIN: B07ZJNP681 | Historical Romance

4 stars

I received a copy of this book in exchange for a fair review. All opinions are my own.

Kissing and Other Scandalous Pastimes is The Romance Cafe’s first foray into historical romance, with all their previous anthologies being contemporary. As such, I had a bit more awareness, even if it was on a superficial level , about what at least a couple of the authors were writing about.

As a whole, I enjoyed the diversity of the collection, as while there are a few Regency stories, there are not only a couple unique takes on that subgenre, but a few subgenres that I either haven’t read, like medieval Viking romance, or periods that tend to be relegated to the realm of mainstream historical fiction, like World War II.

One of my favorites is, unsurprisingly, Catherine Stein’s magic-infused contribution, Mishaps and Mistletoe. It perfectly captured all the elements it was going for, from holiday cheer (the structuring is just delightful in setting that tone!) to the tension of whether longtime friends will admit their love, and also perfectly displaying Andrew’s heroics as he defends Mabel from harm.

An Unsuitable Match by Miranda Jameson is another standout, taking place after the end of World War II and dealing with the conflict of Indian independence and the partition of India and Pakistan. Both Felicity and Jai are such wonderful characters that I rooted for, in spite of the obstacles from both of their parents keeping them apart, tackling racism and class/caste division.

Riana Everly’s Sweets for My Sweet is also memorable for tackling similar issues, thing time with a Jewish MC. I rooted for Daniel and Estie to have their HEA, in spite of the pressures put on her to adhere to her family’s expectations to marry within their own traditions. And it’s all too rare to find holiday romances that don’t center around Christmas, much less Chanukah, so I enjoyed reading about those observances.

As an introduction to Viking romance, Thyra Dane’s The Challenge is excellent, particularly for its hero, Eivind. I love that the story shows him atoning for a past mistake against Borghild, and in spite of some of the elements of the blurb that troubled me, he’s actually incredibly sweet and not troubled by toxic masculinity, which has become a stereotype for many similar books in the subgenre. And he has a perfect match in Borghild, a strong woman whose inner beauty radiates outward.

If Only In My Dreams by S.L. Hollister is wonderful, in that it shows that World War II, in spite of all the tragic connotations, can be romantic. I admired Lydia’s commitment to being a nurse while Jeremy served in the military, and

A Haverton Christmas by TL Clark is perhaps the best paced of the bunch, working with a bit of mistaken identity, as the still-single Lady Caroline failed to find a husband. It was delightful to observe from her perspective her meeting a mysterious, yet seemingly unsuitable man and falling for him, and then progressing to the reveal of who he really is.

Lord Wrexham’s Winter Scandal is fun, if a little predictable, and not one that will stick with me a ton, in comparison to some of the others. I did enjoy seeing two reunited lovers come back together, and was stunned at the reasoning behind Thea’ guardian’s rejection of Lucas.

Married by Chele McCabe has a lovely concept, but while it’s great to have the characters in the real life Biltmore estate and the historical elements of Birdie and Jason’s respective positions in the story, I did find the story went on a bit long with the whole process of getting married.

One of the weak spots, in my opinion, is A Test of Love by Rachel Ann Smith. I am intrigued by her other work, and noted a tie-in almost immediately to the blurbs for one of her other novellas. However, the story felt predictable, because it features a hard-to-please alphahole duke, who has a massive list of requirements for duchess, then decides (with no real reasoning) that the unsuitble woman he loves is worth it after all. I wish it had been longer for her to give him a test of love, because, as usual, these noblemen seem to do the bare minimum to make things up to the women they previously considered beneath them, and still get the girl anyway.

I unfortunately DNFed one of the stories, Deceit and Desire by Alexie Bolton. The premise was intriguing, but it failed to keep me fully invested. I don’t think this is a mark against the story per se, it just didn’t work for me.

Like the more recent Romacne Cafe collection, it has its highs and lows, and it’s possible some may be different based on personal preference. Either way, this is perhaps one of the most unique historical anthologies I’ve read, with some true gems included. If you’re a fan of historical romance, there is likely going to be something that suits your tastes in this collection. And as always with Romance Cafe anthologies, you’re also supporting breast cancer research.

Buy it here.

Review of “Cartier’s Hope” by M.J. Rose

Rose, M.J. Cartier’s Hope. New York: Atria Books, 2020.

Hardcover | $27.00 USD | ISBN-13 : 978-1501173639 | 322 pages | Historical Fiction

4 stars

While I’ve read a few M.J. Rose books by now, I still didn’t know much about what to expect with Cartier’s Hope, other than the obvious name recognition. And that’s a good thing, because the book ended up being not only about a legendary and mysterious jewel — and its relationship to Cartier — but about the wider landscape of the early twentieth century as well.

Vera’s story both intrigued and moved me, especially as she continued to fight to be her own person in control of her own life, in spite of the opposition placed in her way by both family and society. At one point, she is placed in an unfortunate situation regarding her reproductive rights, and I admired not only her courage throughout the ordeal, but how she used this personal experience to further investigate the issue and the current services available in a time when abortion was still illegal.

And while I, like most people I imagine, know the name Cartier, I knew nothing about their history, including that it was a family business. I enjoyed getting some insight into Pierre Cartier and his business dealings, even if some of it was fictionalized for dramatic effect.

The mystery of the Hope Diamond is also compelling, as it was another topic I knew about purely by name. The jewel has such a rich and complex history, and seeing that play into the mystery element is super fun.

This is a delightful book that has a little bit of everything: history, mystery, romance. I recommend it to fans of historical fiction.

Buy it here: https://amzn.to/2UIYm9R

Review of “The Prince of Broadway” (Uptown Girls #2) by Joanna Shupe

Shupe, Joanna. The Prince of Broadway. New York: Avon Books, 2020.

Mass Market Paperback | $7.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0062906830 | 376 pages | Historical Romance–Gilded Age

4.5 stars

I had mixed feelings going into The Prince of Broadway. On the one hand, revenge plots have never worked out for me. But on the other hand, both the blutb and many people promoting it suggested it would turn out differently, so I gave it a chance, with full faith in Joanna Shupe to make the premise work.

And it does. While Clay does do a bit of lying by omission, he is for the most part fairly blunt about his intent to Florence from their first encounter, and he does his best not to involve her, even though, inevitably, it does, because, well, it is her family and it also impacts her own dreams. And I love how, in spite of his hatred for her father, he sees Florence as her own person, and even if it starts as him helping her to get on her father’s nerves, he encourages her in her dreams to run a casino.

And Florence is my favorite Shupe heroine to date. I love her determination to make her own living, in defiance of the traditional expectations of the time period, a topic that she discusses with both her father and grandmother. And the inclusion of the fact that she doesn’t want marriage (minor spoiler alert: she doesn’t get married) or children is wonderful, and reminds me a lot of the conversations going on recently, both with redefining what we think of as “historically accurate” and rethinking the idea that “HEA =/= ‘marriage and babies.'”

And the secondary characters…while I wasn’t sure what to make of the dad character in The Rogue of Fifth Avenue, I grew to like him more in this one, in part because it illustrates how proud he is of his daughters, even if he did go overboard to protect him, as well as the similarities he shares with Florence. And Florence’s grandmother is a gem for supporting her dream of opening a casino, as well as being incredible in this one scene between her and Clay. I hope they’ll both still be a part of the next book.

This is a delightful book that surprised me by turning a loathed trope on its head and made it work. I recommend this to historical romance lovers, especially those looking for more of the Gilded Age.

Review of “Where the Light Enters” (The Waverly Place Series #2) by Sara Donati

Donati, Sara. Where the Light Enters. New York: Berkley, 2019.

Hardcover | $27.00 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0425271827 | 652 pages | Historical Fiction

4 stars

Where the Light Enters does suffer from a bit of “second-book” syndrome, with the story not being as continually engaging as the first book, in part due to there being a lot going on once again, and it feeling not as cohesive at times, both setting up aspects for as-yet-unannounced future books (as implied in the note at the end) and attempting to build on all that had been established in The Gilded Hour.

But it’s still a pretty good book, in spite of being a bit scattered, in particular the way Donati continues to develop her characters. I love the relationship between Anna and Jack, and how there really are no secrets between them. And given the way things ended for Sophie in the previous book, I was saddened at the revelation of her husband, Cap’s, death, even though it was pretty much a certainty, and her navigating widowhood and all the complications that can come with it (like being propositioned by another physician to beghin an affair), along with the continued development of the cases she and Anna find themselves working with, and the political opposition they also face.

I found the mystery a bit less interesting in comparison to the domestic and political facets of the story, but it is, as with the prior book, intertwined with those aspects, showing the complicated uphill battle for women’s rights during the late nineteenth century.

This is a fairly solid book, and the developments in this one already have me anxious for news about future installments of the series. I would recommend it to fans of epic-length historical fiction.

Review of “The Downstairs Girl” by Stacey Lee

Lee, Stacey. The Downstairs Girl. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2019.

Hardcover | $17.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1524740955 | 374 pages | YA Historical Fiction

5 stars

I heard about The Downstairs Girl on BookTube, when one of the BookTubers I watch on occasion mentioned it being on her list of anticipated summer releases, followed by a reasonably positive review from her, and others online.,And the premise appealed to me immediately, promising to deal with racial issues and women’s suffrage in the late 19th century American South.

And I found it was both a reasonably entertaining read and one that further delved into aspects I knew a bit about, educating me about another perspective on them. I knew about the surge of Asian immigrants in the latter half of the nineteenth century, but I knew about it more from a localized perspective, with the lens of the Hawaii plantations with some insight of the West Coast Asian immigrant experience, including the broad implications of the Chinese Exclusion Act. But I knew little about immigration in this period to the South, and the startling, but suddenly very obvious, fact that they did this due to the abolition of slavery. As a a result, I found it fascinating how it delved into the issues of segregation, just as much as it did suffrage.

Jo has a strong voice, and I love how she is so forthright in her opinions. Her column in particular makes up the best part of the novel. I also loved the relationships throughout the book, like that with her adoptive father, Old Gin, and her friend, Noemi.

This is a wonderfully engrossing, leisurely paced historical fiction novel that will leave you with an understanding of racial issues, and is recommended for all lovers of historical fiction.