This book was a lifesaver for me. I have been staying up way too late every night of our three-week Christmas break because it’s impossible to go to sleep before finishing my book of the day. (Once you pop, you can’t stop, if you know what I mean…) But this book is actually three books, a collection of three novellas all set in the 19th century. Disconnected novellas. Novellas that can be read separately. I thoroughly enjoyed each one over the course of three days and was able to go to sleep by ten o’clock instead of staying up to midnight and beyond.
The first story, The Gentleman Smuggler’s Lady, is set in Cornwall, a few decades after the renowned series Poldark begins. Helen is a governess, traveling to visit her dying father who is a well-loved vicar in a coastal village. As she disembarks, the ship is set upon by smugglers, one of whom whisks her out of the way, keeping her safe from a horde of drunk sailors. Later, when Helen meets Isaac Seaton, the young lord of the manor, she realizes that she’s seen him before and must make the difficult decision whether to keep his secret.
The second story, The Doctor’s Woman, is set during the American Civil War out on the frontier. After the death of her father, Emmy is supposed to go back east. But when the new doctor at the fort demands that she stay at the fort and assist him as a nurse, she finds that James Clark is a hard man to resist. Under the doctor’s protection, she ministers to sufferers of measles and smallpox, assisting the Sioux Indians when others would consign them to their fate.
The third story, A House of Secrets, is set at the end of the 19th century in St. Paul, Minnesota. Amanda is engaged to a city attorney known for trying to close down brothels. But when she tries to enlist his help in converting an old haunted house into an orphanage, her fiance proves singularly unhelpful. What secret is he hiding and why won’t he confide in her?
My favorite story of the bunch was The Doctor’s Woman. It is difficult to create a lush setting and fully rounded characters in the format of a short story or a novella, and for me, this one succeeded the best in this task. Michelle Griep is at home in describing the American frontier. (I greatly enjoyed her book released last summer, The Captured Bride, which was set during the French and Indian War.) In The Doctor’s Woman, James Clark jumped from the page as a determined physician, manly protector, and romantic protagonist. Emmy was just as appealing, making the decision to forgive the wrongs done to her by the native tribes and treat them as humans made in God’s image.
My second favorite in the collection was The Gentleman Smuggler’s Lady. I loved the premise of this story! A gentleman forced to resort to smuggling to provide for his starving tenants…how noble! It didn’t feel fully fleshed out, however, and I think it would benefit from being expanded into a full-length novel.
All in all, this is a wonderful collection–excellent for when you need a quick bite of historical fiction instead of the full meal deal.
Disclosure: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. All opinions expressed in this review are my own.