In 1852, Maggie has a young daughter who’s been abused and an abusive husband who will kill her if he can find her, so she signs up to join a wagon train to California with 43 other women eager to find husbands. Maggie doesn’t care about the husband part; she just wants to keep her daughter safe. She’s not even sure her own husband is alive—if he’s not, she’s sure to be accused of his murder.
She soon learns she’s not the only woman in the group with secrets: Mary, whose family treated her like a slave, just wants freedom, and on the trail her large size is good thing. One of the women used to be a prostitute. One is also running from an abusive man. One is hiding a secret in plain sight. Throughout the journey the women—and the two minsters accompanying them—must learn how to fend for themselves and become more than who they were.
I loved the premise of Westering Women. I was a bit disappointed in the execution, though. The women’s stories are amazing, but their presence on the page was scattered and fuzzy at best. Even Maggie, supposedly the main character, seemed more like a bit player most of the time. Some of the transitions were very abrupt and came out of nowhere, too (when the men one of the girls was running from showed up randomly). A great historical jaunt, but the writing didn’t do it justice. Judging from other reviews I’ve seen, this is clearly a case of the book just not being a good fit for me.
Sandra Dallas is a New York Times-bestselling author. Westering Women is her newest novel.
(Galley courtesy of St. Martin’s Press in exchange for an honest review.)
With the English King Richard II dead, Rhys ap Tudor and his brother Gwilym are free to return home after three years’ service to the king. Home to North Wales, where their younger brother has been taking care of their family and lands in their absence. But the new king, Henry IV, is demanding more taxes from people already beset by poverty, and the land is ripe for rebellion.
Lady Catrin Buckley is daughter of an English lord and a Welsh mother. Catrin misses her mother so much, it’s hard for her to embrace her mother’s heritage, but when she is betrothed to a man she’s never met, a man intent on erasing every bit of the Welsh from Catrin herself, she is drawn to the Welsh people—and Rhys ap Tudor—at the heart of the rebellion against English rule.
I enjoyed The Heart of the Rebellion. It’s set against the backdrop of a larger conflict, but the close involvement with a handful of characters makes the struggle personal. Catrin’s growth from a girl occupied by her own sorrows to a woman immersed in the lives and cares of those around her is wonderful to read, and I enjoyed every page.
Sian Ann Bessey was born in England, grew up in Wales, and attended college in the U.S. The Heart of the Rebellion is her newest novel.
(Galley courtesy of Covenant Communications via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.)
Just a few short years after the Civil War, Atlanta is set to host the Atlanta Exposition, which will draw visitors to the city from far and wide. Eighteen-year-old Laurel, the youngest of seven, is expected by her siblings to stay home and take care of their mother. But Laurel dreams of a family of her own and hopes that operating a silk loom at the Exposition will give her the opportunity to meet a man wealthy enough to care for her mother as well.
Brendan Rochester, only son of a very wealthy family, wants to continue his drinking and carousing, but his father has given him an ultimatum: settle down and get married or lose everything. Brendan doesn’t want that. He likes Laurel well enough and her beauty would complement his reputation, so he chooses to pursue her and decides nothing will stand in the way of getting what he wants.
Willie Sharp is poor and caring for his ailing father, so he takes a job as security guard at the Exposition. Willie’s friendship with his best friend—a black man—is normal to him, but results in hatred from others, and when a break-in at the Women’s Building at the Exposition happens, Willie is chosen to be guard there, to keep him away from the others. As he and Laurel become friends, his feelings for her change—but he has nothing to offer her.
I really enjoyed this novel. Although it dealt with subjects that I don’t like—racism, sexism—I think it’s probably an accurate portrayal of life in the late 1800s. I loved how all the characters seemed to learn and grow during the course of the novel, and I found the scenes from the Exposition and the Silk Room to be fascinating. If you’re looking for a sweet, clean read, this one is an excellent choice.
Kim Vogel Sawyer has published over fifty books. A Silken Thread is her newest novel.
(Galley courtesy of WaterBrook via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.)
In 1917, Arlene Favier’s home burns to the ground one night. Her father dies in the fire, leaving Arlene to care for her mother and brother and try to rebuild the family’s horse-breeding business. Arlene is determined, but jobs are scarce, especially for women. Until she gets the opportunity to join the American Women’s Hospital as an ambulance driver.
Soon Arlene is part of a trailblazing all-women team of doctors, nurses, and drivers headed to war-torn France. Arlene must work day and night dodging bombs and shells to help civilians and soldiers escape the horrors of war. Somehow, she has caught the attention of Felix Brohammer, a captain who charms everyone he meets—except Arlene, who sees darkness in the man’s eyes.
Arlene also finds Jimmy, a childhood friend who makes her feel things she never imagined. But she’ll have to risk everything—and everyone she loves—to find out the truth about Felix.
I thoroughly enjoyed this historical tale. The courage and bravery of this team of women stuns me. I cannot imagine how much strength it would take to not only work on the front lines of war, but to do so while fighting centuries of tradition and rules preventing women from doing so. Arlene’ strength and determination shine through on every page, and her love for those around her motivates everything she does. Definitely worth reading.
Ann Howard Creel is an award-winning author. Mercy Road is her newest novel.
(Galley courtesy of Lake Union Publishing via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.)
Izella and her sister Ola do everything just as their mother, a very religious woman, tells them. Cooking, cleaning, serving…and most of all, staying out of trouble and not getting pregnant. Except Ola didn’t listen to that last one, and now Izella must get her out of trouble somehow.
Their neighbor, Missippi, is also pregnant, through no fault of her own—and she’s too young to understand what the ramifications are. When her father sends her to Chicago to a woman who will take care of her until she has the babies, she meets Sue, also pregnant and the daughter of a pro-life senator.
Four different girls. Four different stories. All facing the same issue.
This book was not what I thought it would be. It’s rougher than I would like not, not fully polished, and while it’s about an emotional topic, I never felt an emotional connection with any of the characters. I found Izella and Ola basically unlikable, although I did like Missippi and Sue. The sisters’ choices show their ignorance of reality—perhaps due to their almost-cloistered upbringing—while Missippi is a character I felt sorry for, making the best of a horrible situation. Sue, on the other hand, is full of great motives, but zero follow-through. She talks a good game, but her rebellion vanishes in the face of opposition.
Randi Pink lives in Birmingham, Alabama. Girls Like Us is her newest novel.
(Galley courtesy of Feiwel & Friends via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.)
In 1875, Alva Webster has spent three years developing a tough hide and learning how to ignore the whispers and gossip going around about her. When she left her abusive husband, he crucified her in the press, and the sordid tales followed her from London back home to New York, where she longs for a fresh start. She bought Liefdehuis, an abandoned mansion, in the hopes of repairing it and her hopes for the future.
But rumors of ghosts haunting the mansion make her task impossible, until eccentric professor Samuel Moore turns up, eager to study the phenomena. Sam’s family is famous for its love of science, and Sam himself is beloved by the press—and women—all over, so Alva wants no part of him, no matter how charming and caring he is. But Sam is her only hope of solving the mystery of the ghost in Liefdehuis—and unlocking the secrets in Alva’s heart.
I feel like Sam—and his family—are the stars of this book, although Alva is pretty incredible herself. But Sam…he’s like Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory, except caring, considerate, and funny. I loved him from his first introduction and am quite impressed that Alva resisted for as long as she did. There’s a lot of humor in this novel, a little bit of fright, and it all adds up to an entrancing read.
Diana Biller loves ballet and hiking. The Widow of Rose House is her newest novel.
(Galley courtesy of St. Martin’s Press via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.)
Larkin Bennett doesn’t know what to do with herself now: she’s out of the military, trying to heal, and cannot forget what happened in Afghanistan. She knows she must live with the consequences of the choices she made that day, but she’s not sure she has the strength. Until she finds a treasure: the diary of Emily Wilson, who disguised herself as a man to fight for the Union army during the Civil War.
In 1861 Indiana, Emily is happy with farm life with her family. Until her father and one brother leave for the war—and don’t come home. Longing for change, Emily disguises herself as a man—knowing in this case, her own comrades are just as dangerous to her safety as the enemy soldiers. But pretending she’s someone else allows Emily to get to know herself, and her reasons for fighting, even better.
I loved this book! And I don’t generally choose to read or like military books (or movies, for that matter). I loved seeing the journeys of these two women, Larkin and Emily, and the obstacles they faced. Both are strong, believable characters, and I never knew there were so many well-known cases of disguised women soldiers in the past! Now I’m completely intrigued by the subject. An excellent read!
Kelli Estes grew up in Washington state and used to work for an airplane manufacturer, allowing her to travel. Today We Go Home is her newest novel.
(Galley courtesy of Sourcebooks Landmark via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.)
Dr. Penelope Bryne has been shunned and ridiculed by the scientific community for her theories about Atlantis. Until a woman is sacrificed in Venice, and an ancient script is found at the murder site and the police need Penelope’s help.
Alexis Donato has spent the last few years trying to destroy Penelope’s career from afar, so she doesn’t discover the truth about Atlantis: it did exist, and seven of its magicians escaped its destruction.
With Carnivale erupting around them, Penelope and Alexis will have to work together to keep dark magic from pulling Venice into the sea—just like Atlantis.
I love the tales of Atlantis and I love archeology, so this book sounded exactly suited for me. However…this felt more like a rough draft than a polished novel. Some of the relationships (like Penelope’s friendship with the detective) escalated too quickly to be believable, and there were a few too many instances of things conveniently/coincidentally working out for me to be fully invested in and believing the story. At this point, I wasn’t satisfied enough with the writing to want to read more of the series, as fascinating as the premise was.
Amy Kuivalainen likes to combine fantasy, mythology, and magic in her writing. The Immortal City is her newest novel.
(Galley courtesy of BHC Press via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.)
In the 1990s, Zodwa is a 17-year-old girl living in a squatter’s camp on the outskirts of Johannesburg with her mother. The constant threat of civil war and the disappearance of her brother years ago haunts their every step. Overwhelming poverty casts its shadow over their lives—as does the growing AIDS epidemic. And Zodwa, once the hope of her mother, is pregnant.
Ruth might be wealthy, but she’s far from happy. She knows her husband wants a divorce, and when her drinking leads her places she never intended, she ends up living on the empty family farm outside Johannesburg…where the sister she hasn’t seen for decades arrives unannounced. Delilah is a disgraced former nun haunted by a past she’s never spoken of, a past her sister knows nothing about. When they find an abandoned baby on their porch, they are confronted with their own beliefs about motherhood, race, and the secrets of the past.
If You Want to Make God Laugh is not a book meant for light reading. There are some very heavy topics here, and these three women have experienced truly terrible things. They might be broken, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t strong. Poverty and violence shadow their lives and the life of their community. The setting, on the cusp of Nelson Mandela’s presidency in South Africa, is torn by conflict, war, and disease. However, this is a wonderful, wonderful read.
Bianca Marais is from South Africa but now lives in Toronto. If You Want to Make God Laugh is her newest novel.
(Galley courtesy of G.P. Putnam’s Sons via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.)
In the 1960s, Frank and Joanna have moved their two children to Bethlehem, where his mother and grandmother live alone in a grand mansion. Frank works all the time, and Joanna struggles to scratch out a place for herself with a husband who’s always away. Her working-class background leaves her unprepared for Frank’s wealthy home, but she finds a friend in cemetery caretaker Doe, an old friend of Joanna’s mother-in-law—and her enigmatic grandson.
In the 1920s steel town of Bethlehem, the Parrish and Collier families have grown up together. Susannah, a budding flapper on the verge of adulthood, has always known the families expected her to marry Ellis, but then she falls hard for someone she never imagined. When unthinkable tragedy tears her world apart, she’s left holding secrets that can destroy both families.
This book was a slow, smooth ride into story. The two timelines were twisted together so well that they formed one incredibly detailed tapestry. I enjoyed every single page of this book and was so invested in the characters I cried! A must-read!
Karen Kelly has a B.A. in English from Vanderbilt. Bethlehem is her newest novel.
(Galley courtesy of St. Martin’s Press via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.)