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19th century

REVIEW:  The Lawyer’s Luck by Piper Huguley

REVIEW: The Lawyer’s Luck by Piper Huguley

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“Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. 6 In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.” Proverbs 3:5-6

Oberlin, Ohio – 1844

Lawrence Stewart is a rare man. Raised with his grandmother’s Miami Indian tribe, as a Negro he has consistently walked between two worlds most of his life. He devotes his time and study to becoming a lawyer, fully intending to obtain justice for the ousted Miami Indians. No Negro man has accomplished these things before, but he is not daunted. He studies for his exams as he rides circuit through the backwoods of Ohio, handing out justice to people who cannot easily reach a courthouse. His life is perfectly set until one June day….

Aurelia “Realie” Baxter made her way from enslavement in Georgia to the free land Lake Huron in Ohio. Far from happy as a slave doing the bidding of a woman cooped up in a house all day, Realie is a bona fide tomboy with a special gift with horses. Now, she is so close to freedom in Canada, she can smell it, but her plans are interrupted when Lawrence shoots her…by mistake….

Lawrence cannot study encumbered with the care of an enslaved woman, but he’s responsible for her injury…

Realie wants to get to Canada, but Lawrence won’t let her get away in trying to help her…

One chance meeting can change your life from what you thought you wanted….to what you really need.

Dear Ms. Huguley,

Your recent post to our Open Thread for Authors brought your historical series to my attention and when Sunita mentioned she was looking into the full length novel, I decided to try the novella.

I was slightly put off by some awkwardness in the first chapter – Lawrence seems to be intensely searching for his horse but initially only staying on the tavern porch while doing so and then frets about the time it will take him to chase it down and thus risk making him late for his next circuit justice appearance. He’d certainly be much later if he has to walk, right? But Realie’s take-no-nonsense attitude towards this “fancy man” made me want to persevere to see more of her. Thankfully once the story really gets going, I didn’t notice much more of this.

Lawrence and Realie are from two different worlds yet not. Though Lawrence has never known slavery, as a mixed race, brown skinned man he’s had an uphill climb in getting people to accept him as a lawyer. Realie’s blunt truths about life as a slave make him realize how little he truly knows about the sort of life she’s endured and what drove her to run. Although she can irritate him with her attitudes and assumptions, he slowly comes to admire her determination and fierce will to be free.

Realie can’t understand how Lawrence might be able to help her legally and finds his notions and genteel mannerisms bizarre in contrast to what she’s experienced at the hands of men up until then. She trusts no one and only reluctantly stays with Lawrence, or Lawyer as she calls him, while giving everyone else the side-eye. Even the people who help shelter her still speak in front of her as if she’s not there and it’s only through their loan to Lawrence that she can be bought to freedom.

I thought the initial clash between the two – she’s trying to steal his horse to make the last push to Canada and he accidentally shoots her in the arm – and their subsequent misunderstandings were realistic. Realie can’t afford to let down her guard and Lawrence bristles at what he sees as her stubbornness and views of him as a man who must be paid back in kind for helping her. Though they had started moving towards an understanding and appreciation of each other, they were separated shortly after at a point where, from how I saw it, their feelings were still forming. Then suddenly when they’re back together, they’re in love. That part felt too rushed to me.

Realie’s experience as a slave is not sugar coated and the very matter of fact way it’s described made all the more impact. Subtle touches drove home her reality – she gets mad at Lawrence for not caring enough to know the horse’s name, just as her master never could keep his slaves names straight and she always has to weigh and judge everyone’s actions because words and promises are cheap and often not kept for slaves. Just walking down a street in Ohio where and when she wants to go is new and wonderful experience for her.

I was confused by Lawrence’s white mentor and Realie’s former owner. The Ohio abolitionist still thinks Realie might steal the silver and only reluctantly loans Lawrence the money to free her while Mr. Milford seems almost happy that Realie will be free and has found love. Perhaps it’s just that neither is quite what I expected.

Lawrence and Realie both believe in God though Realie feels she’s seen little evidence of God caring much for her. Lawrence on the other hand is a deeply religious man who prays with meaning and is determined to not enter any physical relationship with Realie before a Christian marriage.

To be honest, I had to keep reading past the first scene as the way the characters act and – I’m not sure what the proper writing term is – move through the scene is a touch awkward. The ending felt a bit rushed and I didn’t truly feel I’d seen these two fall in love. Respect yes but the love was too fast. Still I enjoyed Realie’s grit and Lawrence’s core decency, the historical details and this opportunity to see persons of color as the main characters of the story. B-

~Jayne

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REVIEW:  The Vacant Chair by Kaylea Cross

REVIEW: The Vacant Chair by Kaylea Cross

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The Civil War has torn Brianna Taylor’s family apart and made her a widow. Determined to ease the suffering of the wounded crowding the Union hospitals and honor the memory of the man she loved, she embarks on a career as a nurse. But then he arrives—a patient who makes her feel alive again in spite of her resolve to stay detached.
Captain Justin Thompson understands the cost of war all too well, yet he felt compelled to fight for the Union his father died defending. Wounded at Cold Harbor and left to die at a military hospital, he owes his life to Brianna, who seems determined to guard her professional boundaries despite his best efforts to breach them. Just as he’s winning the battle for her heart, he’s forced to return to the front of a cruel war that could very well separate them forever.

Dear Ms. Cross,

I can’t recall where I first heard of your historical book, “The Vacant Chair,” but what got me interested in trying it is the fact that both lead characters are Union sympathizers. Usually it’s Union x Confederate, and I’ll admit that I’ve read my fair share of those books, but I thought it would be nice to see what could be done with both hero and heroine pulling and working for the same side.

One thing I definitely like about the book is that it uses some battles not generally seen in most Civil War books I’ve read. Yeah, Sherman in Georgia gets a mention and at the end Justin worries about General Johnston still on the loose in North Carolina but though most of the fighting is done in Virginia it’s the Battle of the Wilderness, Cold Harbor, Cedar Creek and the siege of Richmond that take center place.

Since parts of the book actually take place during battle,s and don’t just mention afterwards that characters were there, I wasn’t surprised that descriptions were blunt as to the level of violence occurring. The action that Justin and his men take part in to hunt down Mosby’s men in Virginia is equally chilling when they finally capture and execute them. War is awful and you portray both the emotional as well as the physically damaging effects. I was surprised when one secondary character dies but given the number of people the characters know who are in arms, it would probably have been unrealistic for them all to make it through.

Brianna is a nurse and Justin is an officer and I was glad to see both of them at work. Brianna doesn’t merely wipe fevered brows, give men sips of water and write letters home – she actually does nursing work and hard, dirty, exhausting and heartbreaking work it is. Like all good nurses I know, she cares passionately for her patients, toils tirelessly at her job and tries to learn all she can to be even better at it tomorrow. Justin is not only admired by the men he leads into combat but is just as determined to lead them all out again. He’s steady under fire and obeys orders to either hold his ground or charge straight at the Rebs. He’s also sickened by war and the wasted lives it’s left behind.

I appreciate that both Brianna and Justin have suffered during the war both in what they’ve seen and dealt with and from the loss of those they love. Nightmares, haunted eyes and alcohol all come into play and thank you for not having love conquer all PTSD. The book also shows how horribly the war losses resonated on the home front and one of the debilitating ways 19th women coped via laudanum. There were also two points in the book where I braced myself for some good, old fashioned yet despised romance tropes which thankfully didn’t occur. My sigh of relief when expected paths were not trodden down was enormous.

I did wonder at how easily Brianna seems to traipse back and forth across Union and Confederate lines as she’s going into and out of Richmond. Some of the language seemed too modern to me as Brianna talks about giving Justin “space” to grieve and how she thinks being around his desolate mother is “toxic” for him. It’s not so much that the rest of the dialog or writing is especially period so perhaps you were going for use of understandable modern vernacular.

Since Justin and Brianna admit their mutual admiration followed by love fairly early in the book, the tension is generally maintained by their separation and fear for each other – Brianna for Justin at the front lines and he for her in Richmond surrounded by Union troops and lacking food and medicine. While the war was raging, there was enough drama that my attention was caught and held. But I’ll be honest and say that at the unfortunate post-war posting for the 5th Michigan, my interest began to lag.

I appreciate all that you did include about the more unpleasant and difficult aspects of war and separation. Your research appears to be thorough and period feel good. I just wish the final bits of the story had maintained the dramatic intensity the book started with. B-

~Jayne

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