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Harlequin Love Inspired Historical

REVIEW:  An Unlikely Union by Shannon Farrington

REVIEW: An Unlikely Union by Shannon Farrington

The Doctor’s Wounded Heart

Union Army physician Evan Mackay runs his ward of the Baltimore military hospital with tremendous skill but no warmth. He will do his duty by the Confederate soldiers in his care, but sympathy and tenderness left him after the death of his brother, a Federal soldier. So why can’t he stop himself from warming to his beautiful, compassionate, unapologetically Southern nurse?

Two years of war have shown Emily Davis that the men on both sides of the war need all the comfort and care they can get. And that includes a stubborn, prickly Scottish doctor. As Evan opens his heart to Emily, she can only hope he’ll let her fill it with forgiveness…and love..

Dear Ms. Farrington,

Ever since reading the first book in this series “Her Rebel Heart” last year, I had kept you and the series in the back of my mind, hoping that it would be revisited. Several secondary characters were introduced and given unfinished backstories – something that tends to gnaw at me when I’ve enjoyed a world that an author has created. I was happy to see the next installment offered at Harlequin and hoped questions would be answered as their lives were explored.

An-Unlikely-UnionIt’s two years after the first book and the horrific battle of Gettysburg has flooded the city of Baltimore with the injured soldiers from both sides of the conflict. Emily Davis and her friends have worked at the military hospital for over a year, slowly earning the trust of the medical staff for their dedication to caring for whoever needs their help and for their growing skill as nurses. Only one doctor refuses to overlook the issue that none of the women signed the Oath of Allegiance without altering it. But then they’re Baltimore rebels as far as Evan Mackay is concerned and he doesn’t care that anyone knows it.

Evan lost his younger, soldier, brother to the conflict when the townspeople rioted against the Federal troops who were in the city in 1861 and then lost his wife to childbirth after he had volunteered to join the Army Medical Corps. He views his time in the city as being in prison with rebels, resents caring for the very men who have raised arms against their country – though his dedication to his profession ensures the care is the best he can offer – and loathes Baltimore and all its Belles.

Emily feels drawn to nurse those in need regardless of their allegiance though she’s honest in refusing to sign an Oath that would require her to potentially deny aid and succor to her childhood friends who fight for the South. Dr. Mackay might be the best surgeon at the hospital but his prickly bedside manner and coldness towards Southerners holds him back, in her opinion, from delivering the best care she knows he’s capable of. But she’s going to “soldier on” – forgive the pun – in killing him with kindness just to prove she can.

So we have another excellent conflict set-up that goes beyond any little misunderstandings. Evan views this city, its citizens and Southerners as the people who took his brother from him and are probably only a hair’s breath away from rebellion against their government. He’ll treat ‘em but he doesn’t have to be nice while doing it. Emily supports the US Constitution, abhors slavery but still resents the fact that Baltimore and Maryland are occupied and her people treated with suspicion.

I felt the issues were well laid out, pertinent, and compelling. But after a while, I got tired of being beaten over the head with Evan’s issues. He’d take a step forward and then a step back in resolving things. At the end of every scene, he’d still seethe with anger. At the slightest hint that his suspicions were correct, rage would continue to boil up inside him. Emily meanwhile made slow but steady forward progress. By increments she realized that she was viewing Evan unfairly, that God loves everyone even if we don’t, that her faith urged her to change in how she interacted with Evan – namely that she couldn’t just do lip service to praying for him, she needed to really mean it. I could see her gradual change while it took a “Saul on the road to Damascus” suddenness for Evan to change. I can understand and accept both speeds of change but having to watch Evan get mad, get (slightly) over it, get mad, rinse and repeat got repetitious.

The romance seemed to me to flow directly out of the change in the characters’ faith. As Emily tried to pray for Evan to be at peace, she began to see him as the man he was unencumbered by bitterness and grief. Her change in heart seemed a gradual shift over the course of the book while it took Evan a while to get beyond his viewpoint of her as a society Belle his grudging admiration for Emily’s nursing skills. Again, once he had, his change, acceptance and growing romantic feelings quickly blossomed.

I did enjoy seeing Sam and Julia again and the evidence of their happy life so far. Their inclusion here felt necessary to the main story at hand. A few other characters appeared and I hope that one couple in particular will feature in a future novel. The tension in occupied Baltimore still remains as well as the divided loyalties of this “neutral” state. I wish more of the story focused on the awful fact that the Emancipation Proclamation hadn’t freed the slaves of Maryland yet but perhaps that is for a future story. I’ll keep checking the offerings at Harlequin to find out. B-

~Jayne

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REVIEW:  An Unexpected Wife by Cheryl Reavis

REVIEW: An Unexpected Wife by Cheryl Reavis

“Her Deepest Secret

Giving up her out-of-wedlock son was the only right choice. Still, Kate Woodward aches that she isn’t part of his life. She can’t heal herself, but she can help former Confederate soldier Robert Markham rebuild his war-shattered life. But helping Robert is drawing them irresistibly close–even as Kate fears she can never be the one he deserves….

Battlefield loss and guilt rekindled Robert’s faith and brought him home to Salisbury. And Kate’s past only makes him more determined to show this steadfast, caring woman that she deserves happiness. Now, with her secrets revealed and her child in danger, Robert has only one chance to win her trust–and embark on the sweetest of new beginnings….”

Dear Ms. Reavis,

An-Unexpected-WifeEver since I read “The Prisoner” and “The Bride Fair,” I’ve been waiting for Kate Woodard to get her HEA. It’s so good to see these characters again. All are recognizable but all show signs of recognizable growth: Maria and Max as a family, the townspeople in regard to the Reconstruction, Kate in her maturity as the spinster of the family and Robert in coming home and atoning for the pain he caused. I will say that your choice of hero sparked a lot of questions in my mind as to how you’d pull off his story. I also wondered why the blurb said Rob’s hometown is Atlanta. Note that I’ve fixed that in my version of the description. ;)

Perhaps I just need to read more contemporary inspies but most of them haven’t worked as well for me. Since this is – obviously – a historical the inclusion of faith as a major factor in the lives of the characters feels more “dyed in the wool” for me. It’s personal growth in faith and not REPENT YOU SINNER! It seems to flow naturally from their lives and circumstances and not be there to try and save me, the reader. I appreciate this.

Kate and Robert grow more over the course of the book. Kate in her knowledge – she can lay a fire now – and in the realization of how her son’s life will proceed best. Robert had to make amends to his family and the people who loved and mourned him or who think he hurt them and their loved ones. I like that Kate doesn’t seek forgiveness for her sin – she feels she might have sinned but her son isn’t a sin – but rather peace and acceptance of the things she can’t change. She’s endured the situation and lived weighted down under family expectations for so long but now she can find the freedom of telling someone else about her struggle, of sharing the burden with someone who is there only for her.

Robert sank under the weight of his own feelings of guilt and remorse following the death of his younger brother at Gettysburg. When faced with the unbearable pain of his physical and mental wounds, he retreated away from those he felt he had let down. Initially I thought I wanted to see more of Robert’s POV especially his reunion with several people – among whom is the sister who has mourned him as dead for 7 years and the mother of the woman he loved who blames him for what her daughter became. And then that woman herself. I mean, Rob left a trail of grief in his wake and we see almost none of what must have been some impressive Southern “giving him what for” meetings.

Then upon rereading parts of the story I came to realize that what must have gone on during these meetings is displayed and told by Rob during his sermon for the town. Instead of slinking around and only abasing himself and allowing himself to be confronted in private by those he did wrong, he goes a step further and lays himself bare before everyone. Since this is an inspie, using a church sermon as a way to tell people how he thought he’d failed his promises, how low he’d sunk during those lost years and how he found his way back to religion and afterwards home is perfect.

Are Rob and Kate right for each other? Yes, I believe so. They compliment each other and have found The One who will accept their imperfections as human beings while still supporting them. Neither is trying to save the other with religion yet they both find their way back to it over the course of the story. Rob trusts plain speaking Kate to tell him what he needs to know after so long away from NC and Kate discovers a man to whom she can reveal her past, who doesn’t load her down with how he thinks she should act or behave.

Meeting up again with the various townspeople, Occupational Army and Woodard household members was a joy. Seeing how the love between Max and Maria has deepened, how well Jake and Joe are, how ever efficient Sergeant Major Perkins remains and how much Mrs. Kinnard still strikes fear into the Union Army brought back old times and books. I also enjoyed spending time with Mrs. Justice and Mrs. Russell and a few new characters.

The wait to return to Reconstruction Salisbury and for Kate to find her someone was long but worth it. The choice of Rob, complete with all his issues, was inspired. Making the book an inspirational is a good fit with what Kate and Rob have endured and triumphed over. Dare I hope more books will be set in this world? B

~Jayne

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