I truly enjoy historical novels where I’m not only entertained by a well-written story, but I also learn about a part of history of which I had no prior knowledge. So I really appreciated seeing a bibliography at the end of three of the stories in this anthology – a welcome first, because I’m interested in following up on the history behind them.
In the Morning Sun
– by Lena Hart
Grade : B+ Sensuality : Warm
Madeline Asher has finally come to terms with the loss of her beloved Jimmy. He has been declared dead in the Civil War where he fought so assiduously for the freedom of her Southern brethren. Her sister packs her off to New York to a school to teach, but Madeline runs away from it to briefly return home to Philadelphia to let her sister know where her heart lies. She wants to Nebraska to educate and enlist the freedmen to vote.
It is on this brief visit home that a tragedy is visited upon her by a white man who exacts a price from her for his soldiering on behalf of the African Americans. How do you deal with this when your own side brutalizes you? But Madeline is made of sterner stuff and determined principles. She follows through on her plan to move to Nebraska by joining a missionary group.
In the meantime, James Blakemore has recovered from his physical and mental injuries from the war and is making his way home to Canada. He has spent recent months in building homes for veterans in different states as well as seeking medical help for them. A chance sighting of a letter in a Nebraskan post office in Madeline’s hand and in her maiden name ignites the long-suppressed longing for her deep in his heart. And he begins his search for her in earnest. Will they be able to rekindle their love? Will the state of Nebraska allow their mixed relationship? I enjoyed discovering the answers to these questions.
The Washerwomen’s War
– by Piper Huguley
Grade : C+ Sensuality : Kisses
Mary “Mamie” Frances Harper, the young daughter of the famous poet and suffragette Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, is invited to take a month off from being a student at Milford College to teach adult women at the Atlanta Female Baptist Seminary. Despite the racial difference between the founders of the school and herself, Mamie believes in their sincerity and their goals and moves to Atlanta for a month to teach Mathematics to washerwomen.
There, she comes face-to-face with Gabriel Harmon, a minster she’d met during her Milford College Choir days and never quite forgotten. She was quite determined then, as now, not to become a minister’s wife. However, Gabriel with his patience, kindness, and good looks grows on her.
Quite a bit of the story is devoted to the fates and lives of the washerwomen, which, sadly, felt heavy-handed, and at times, like an info-dump. It’s fascinating history, make no mistake (read the Author’s Note), however, it needed a more nuanced handling within the confines of a short story. The uneven storyline along with the plot taking precedence over character and romance meant that I could not give this a higher grade.
A Radiant Soul
– by Kianna Alexander
Grade : D Sensuality : Kisses
Sarah Webster is a dedicated pastry chef at a hotel in Wyoming Territory. When she returns home to Fayetteville, NC for her mother’s milestone birthday, she’s introduced to Owen Markham, the carpenter who’s building a special gazebo for Mrs. Webster. Mr. Webster is playing cupid and hoping Owen and Sarah will make a match of it.
I never understood why a well-to-do, well-respected man would approve of a carpenter who owns a shack for a home, and want him to be the husband of one of his daughters. There is nothing to recommend Owen other than his being a good craftsman.
Wyoming allowed women to vote in 1881, whereas eastern states and Washington DC did not. Sarah enjoys having voted in the recent election and is passionate about women’s suffrage. She and Owen clash over it when he disparages women who want to be able to vote and also because he feels that they’re obstructing black men from being able to vote. I would’ve liked to have seen them work through these issues more satisfactorily.
The desire to show sexual innocence to the point of rank ignorance and lack of imagination in the woman is so prevalent in historical romance that Sarah seems like two different people. On one hand, there’s Sarah who’s a clear-thinking, independent, suffragist-cum-pastry chef living across the country. Then there’s the woman back in the bosom of her family, asking the man approved by her dad why she feels the way she’s feeling about him and what it all means. The ingénue and the independent thinker cannot coexist the way they’re depicted as doing in the story.
Overwriting overshadows the entire novella. There’s too much choreography, too much detail for the smallest things. Not every movement needs to be specified; the reader can imagine for themselves how a character moves in the space they inhabit.
There are also numerous copyediting errors and other serious errors where the author seems to have forgotten plot points set up in the previous chapter, which happens more than once. This story has good bones but needs work to become an acceptable finished product.
Let Us Dream
– by Alyssa Cole
Grade : B+ Sensuality : Warm
Bertha Hines owns a successful cabaret in Harlem. In her spare time, she teaches classes on the rights of citizens, civics, and politics for the marginalized African American women of New York City, for she’s a suffragette who believes in coaxing men to give women the vote and for women to be prepared to exercise that right once it’s been granted to them.
Enter Amir Chowdhury, an illegal Muslim immigrant from Bengal, India, who jumped a British ship to settle in America. Little did he realize that he’d be treated like an alien and have to hide from immigration officials. Amir is a chef, but in Bertha’s kitchen all he can get is a job as a dishwasher.
Attraction builds up between them in a sinuous glide, while the power dynamic of boss and employee, respected business woman and lowly peon shifts constantly. Amir never tries to usurp Bertha’s power and Bertha never treats Amir like dirt; they respect each other from the start.
I really liked that neither of their past sexual lives gets thrown in each other’s faces. There is no conversation about it, and there are certainly no recriminations. Each is aware that there is a past, perhaps even a past that that person is ashamed of, but what matters to both of them is what is between them now. They’re focused on the present and their future.
I would have liked to have seen translations of all the Bengali words and phrases used in this story. While I enjoyed seeing Amir’s personality come alive through the language of his birth, I would have understood him better if I’d been able to read all that he thought and said.
This anthology stands unique in the tales it tells of black suffragettes. I enjoyed reading it, and, in spite of the uneven quality of the stories, suggest it might make an interesting and informative addition to your library.
Recent Comments …
On my TBR!
I so agree!
I have asked for that for Christmas!
If you’re a fan of Singh’s writing, you’ll love it!
I will definitely check this book out. I had my US History students read Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s A Midwife’s Tale–based…
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