I requested an ARC of Alyssa Cole’s An Unconditional Freedom for the most superficial of reasons: I couldn’t resist the hunk on the cover. I’m a sucker for an open-necked shirt, soulful brown eyes, and the man is holding a scroll and lantern … can it get any better? As for the contents, I was open to them, but didn’t go in with any great expectations. What I found was, finally, FINALLY, someone who can put the history back in historical romance. You can’t historically “wallpaper” a history so unjust and ugly: how Cole managed to make me hold my breath with excitement, stop my heart with fear for her characters, and root for a slow-burn romance is testament to her mad writing skills.
At the end of the novel, a seasoned revolutionary in the war against slavery advising the heroine on when to hold’em and when to show’em in this righteous war says: ” ‘First thing you learn about being a Daughter — sometimes you gotta be subtle, and sometimes you gotta burn it all down.’ ” As a Daughter of Romance, Cole sure knows how to be subtle and how to burn it all down, navigating American Civil War history with sureness and skill, steering her characters’ inner worlds with insight and sensitivity and though there are moments when she burns it all down with action, she brings the ship to moor with a light touch of love, commitment, hope, and joy. Her narrative is serious, historically fascinating, and in places, even horrific, but it is never sombre, dark, or hopeless. Its movement is ever towards the light of possibility, even though the journey darkens and the way wavers. Continue reading
Linda Goodnight is probably best known for writing inspirational category romance fiction. The Memory House, first in the Honey Ridge, Tennessee series, isn’t inspirational, though it contains similar elements and themes, such as how the past bears on the present, memory and its hold on the psyche, prodigality and redemption, grief, loss, joy, and love. It’s also a deviation from Goodnight’s category norm in carrying two narrative threads, one contemporary and the other, historical. Goodnight orchestrates these various components with relative success, making the “memory house,” a restored antebellum mansion now a present-day B&B and its peach orchard the focus of the dual narratives/romances.
Eli Donovan, 36, ex-con, prodigal son and black sheep, hies to Honey Ridge, at the behest of his parole officer, to take custody of a six-year-old son he didn’t known about. With a dead mother and ailing, failing great-aunt as Alex’s guardian, the down-on-his-luck and broken Eli must find a job and learn to be a father overnight. He makes his plea to Peach Orchard Inn owner, Julia Presley, who needs her orchard cared for and carriage-house renovated to ensure the solvency of her business with more paying customers than what she sustains presently. The gentle, sad divorcée Julia carries as great grief and regret as Eli: her son, Mikey, would’ve been fourteen on the day Eli shows up at the inn, were it not that he’d disappeared/been abducted six years ago. Eli and Julia are kindred spirits: broken and saddened by life’s circumstances. But they find, in each other and the magical Peach Orchard Inn, serenity and comfort, friendship and a sense of belonging. Continue reading