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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-


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REVIEW: Her Rebel Heart by Shannon Farrington

REVIEW: Her Rebel Heart by Shannon Farrington

“There was a time when Julia Stanton’s fondest wish was to be Samuel Ward’s wife. But that was before the war. As pro-Confederacy sentiments clash with the Union troops occupying Baltimore, fear and suspicion turn friends to foes. Julia chooses the Confederacy…Samuel does not. And his decision is one she’s sure she’ll never forgive.

Samuel would gladly give his life for Julia. Still, he cannot go against the certainty he feels that slavery is wrong—even after his beliefs cost him Julia’s love. Yet as they work to comfort a city in turmoil, Samuel prays God’s guidance will lead them to common ground. For where there is courage and faith, two divided hearts may come together once more….”

Dear Ms. Farrington,

Her Rebel Heart byShannon FarringtonSince this is the beginning of the sesquicentennial of the US Civil War, I’ve been meaning to read more books which use it as a theme. Yours caught my attention since it’s set at the very start of the conflict and shows a side of the War that I’ve not read about in romance novels yet – that of neutral Maryland which was caught between North and South with Washington, DC on her border. It also shows people forced to decide on their convictions in the conflict as it came home to everyone – not just those in the deep South and slave holders. Even people who didn’t think they had a dog in the race found out that they had to choose on whether they supported ALL states rights or not. At this early point in the war, it’s strange to see Federal troops still enforcing laws about slaves held in Baltimore. I also liked the glimpse of how little the Union troops wanted to be there and that they weren’t the monsters which Julia and the other Baltimore citizens expected.

Most people in Baltimore were more concerned that their city was being invaded and taken over and threatened by Union troops than about slavery. They felt city was under siege. Sam is right in protesting the actions of men in city to tear up railroad lines and impede the travel of troops to the South as the North would never have permitted it. I’d heard of the suspension of habeas corpus but this is a great depiction of how shocked people were when the reality of the suspension was experienced. Life in wartime came to roost here long before many other places.

The book has a good period feel what with the heat they endure and Julia’s bonnets and hooped dresses. The descriptions of Fort McHenry make me want to check out some photos and learn more about it. And I’m so glad I don’t have to worry about chopping wood – though that’s a nice way to show the “guy” way Sam deals with his concern for Julia – he does something for her which he knows needs doing – like a modern hero changing his heroine’s snow tires. The men are so protective of their women though it doesn’t feel as if it’s a smothering concern or condescending one. Since Sam and Julia are already in love, you center the conflict between them on what was going on in their city and throughout the country.

Kudoes for Sam accepting Julia’s initial decision to break off their engagement and for him not to try and strong arm her back into it. He respects her, her opinion and knows that she must make up her own mind. Of course he’s not above using some powerful persuasion in the form of Frederick Douglass’s book and her own experiences with the two young slave boys they encounter, or the plight of the runaway young woman. These are worth years of trying to persuade her on his own. Though they might start out by not liking Federal troops in Baltimore or arbitrary justice, after Sally and Julia read the book their eyes are finally opened to the fact that slavery is wrong and can’t be allowed to continue.

I’d say the story is a 7/10 on the religion scale but that’s to be expected for that day and age when religion and church going were more a part of daily life, there was a war looming and the fact that Federal soldiers were in Baltimore and young men had chosen to join sides in the conflict – religious people would turn more to prayer.

You scattered a few other unresolved relationships throughout the book so I hope that you’ll return to this setting to finish those up. I enjoyed my time with Sam and Julia and of this glimpse of a different angle on the beginning of a war that altered the US forever and for the better. B+


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