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All Inspirational Romance Coverage

Karen Barnett takes readers on a vintage vacation in Ever Faithful. In 1933, Yellowstone park ranger’s daughter Elsie Brookes is saving money for her dream of attending college. The arrival of men from the newly established Civilian Conservation Corps—particularly Brooklyn–born Nate Webber—looks to spice up the coming months. While he might not think he’s good enough for Elsie, they are drawn together and soon hope a seasonal romance might extend into forever. There’s much to enjoy in Ever Faithful, from descriptions of the park’s beauties that provide a distinct sense of place to the lingo particular to the park service (pillow punchers, gear jammers and pearl divers). This kisses–only read includes a thread of danger but is most memorable for its charming picture of a bygone world.

Karen Barnett takes readers on a vintage vacation in Ever Faithful.

One Thing I Know is the first book by New Zealand author Kara Isaac I’ve read, and this sweet romance easily captured my heart. The wizard-behind-the-scenes premise is always a crowd-pleaser, and when done well (like this), it’s a winner.

Rachel Somers wrote the book on relationships, literally, as Dr. Donna Somerville—while her Aunt Donna serves as the face of the operation. But late-night radio star Lucas Grant is on the hunt for the truth about Dr. Donna, and he’s not above using his attraction to Rachel to get the story.

But truth is a funny, and often relative, thing. Of course the truth is important, but there’s no denying it occasionally benefits from being bent just a little bit. For Rachel, keeping up the ruse is necessary because the bestsellers pay for her father’s healthcare (and being in a coma for a decade is pricey). And if Lucas can get close to Rachel and unearth Dr. Donna’s secrets, he’ll get a contractual bonus. His family, like Rachel’s, also needs financial assistance. On the one hand, it’s a ruse for a ruse. But on the other, do the ends justify the means when two people so clearly love each other, yet let ego and self-righteousness keep them apart?

Isaac is a great storyteller with smooth pacing and believable character development. It’s easy to connect to Rachel, and the realness of her situation reaches through the page and grabs you by the heartstrings. Lucas is a little tougher because he is so driven by the anger he feels as a result of Rachel’s betrayal. It blinds him, and I kind of wanted Isaac to make him suffer just a little longer.

But One Thing I Know is, in the end, a lovely romance. Isaac is a real-life preacher’s wife, and she does a fine job of balancing the very human realities of emotion and love while developing a kisses-only romance that’s believable and intimate. Kudos to the Kiwi with the heart of gold!

One Thing I Know is the first book by New Zealand author Kara Isaac I’ve read, and this sweet romance easily captured my heart. The wizard-behind-the-scenes premise is always a crowd-pleaser, and when done well (like this), it’s a winner.

American author Sandra Byrd’s Lady of a Thousand Treasures is a finely detailed, slow burning Victorian romance with just the right amount of shivery gothic touches. Heroine Eleanor Sheffield is poised to take over her family’s art appraisal firm despite her gender, but her uncle’s failing memory and their precarious finances might destroy their business before she gets a chance. Painfully complicating matters is the dying bequest of Lord Lydney, who gave Eleanor complete control over his dazzling collection of art and antiques. She must decide whether to donate the pieces to a museum, or give them all to his son Harry, the man she once loved and who may or may not be trustworthy.

As Byrd follows her determined heroine through the muddle of her professional and personal lives, she paints a moving depiction of spiritual faith as well as an infuriating portrayal of the obstacles placed in front of competent, talented women.

What was your initial inspiration for Lady of a Thousand Treasures?
My husband and I are devoted fans of British television and film, and we are especially partial to the early seasons of “Jeeves and Wooster.” In one episode, the older men are after one another’s silver collections, stooping to all manner of shenanigans to acquire them. Wodehouse uses humor, as always (the lowly silver cow creamer!) to wryly remark on an upper-class habit, the collecting of things and envy of others’ possessions.

I do admire the many collections the British have amassed over the years, though. Some are in country houses, as in my book and the Wodehouse episode, but some are in tiny cabinets of the middle class, and others consist of large numbers of pieces that have been donated to museums. I have always loved the Victoria & Albert Museum just for its sheer size, and I loved learning a wee bit about its predecessor, the South Kensington, and how some collections came to partially populate museums.

I think that we are all collectors of sorts. I moved recently, and one of my friends noted how many baking pans I had collected—Bundt pans in 10-inch, 9-inch, 8-inch and 6-inch sizes, for example. Why? Baking is a way I provide affection to my family, and therefore it wasn’t so much about hoarding as what those pans meant to me. Jewelry, tea sets, artwork, even pennies and empty perfume bottles all carry an emotional value for those of us who treasure them.

This is a historical romance novel in addition to being a mystery with a lot of moving parts and suspicious side characters. What was the biggest challenge in terms of plot for you?
Keeping all those moving parts straight is the challenge, and I find I must plot in layers. I research extensively, and those learned bits get put on my outline. Dates and the mystery’s clues and outcome are layered on next, and then the various threads: romance, character arcs, spiritual aspects. When I have the house framed, as it were, then I feel free to let my creativity loose because—hopefully—I haven’t forgotten anything. I don’t think I could write historicals without setting a plot and a timeline ahead of time. It’s too much for me, personally, to keep in my head. Then once the math is done, so to speak, I relax and let my character command the pages.

I was impressed with the book’s realistic treatment of religious issues, such as going through a dry spell or a period of doubt in one’s faith. How do you approach writing something as internal and specific as an individual’s own spiritual experiences?
In my own faith life, I’ve had the benefit of a “long walk in the same direction,” to paraphrase the inimitable Eugene Peterson, and that walk has included breathtakingly beautiful experiences as well as plenty of skinned knees and dark nights of the soul (St. John of the Cross)—I draw insight from both. Friends and readers have shared their insights with me along the way, too, and their honesty bolsters me in my dry times, or even times of despair and God’s seeming silence. Fiction is not the place to teach or preach, but it’s an amazing format to explore the inner workings of an individual’s heart. God promises never to leave us or forsake us, and He reminds us that He’s a very present help in times of trouble. However, God is not a helicopter parent. He lets us work things out because He trusts us, and we are adults. I like exploring that in my novels.

How did you research Victorian appraising techniques? And what was your favorite thing that you learned?
When researching, I always use a mix of experts in the field, as well as books and articles. I visited several collections in the U.K.; my favorite is the Wallace Collection. I love it not only for its beautiful objects but also for its history. It has a few more than five thousand objects, and one of the conditions of the bequest was that the collection remains intact forever—no sales, no loans, nothing. That allowed me to see a whole collection and how the collector’s interests varied.

I spoke with curators and experts in the U.K. and right here at home. I have a friend who is a museum curator, and when I asked a few questions that stumped her, she gave me the contact of her go-to girl. That woman has been an evaluator and estate liquidator (and a collector in her own right) for nearly 30 years. She answered many of my questions—like how to see if a piece of glass is blown, because it has a putty mark on the underside, or how to tell if a statue has been broken and repaired or faked. She also shared her book research collection with me. We’ve grown to become friends; I call her my Friend of a Thousand Treasures!

My daughter’s mother-in-law knew the trick for testing pearls against your teeth; she also gifted me a lovely set of family pearls when our children married. I think my favorite learned fact was how gelatin from fish intestines could be used to falsely “age” contemporary treasures. Fish guts! Forgers are clever, if dishonest.

Eleanor is an excellent example of a heroine who is dynamic while still operating within the historical constraints of her era and class. How do you put yourself in the mindset of a character who has much fewer options in her life than we do as women today?
Victorian women had major constraints, and the heroines in my books cannot just solve their problems as you or I might—but I love them the more for that. They are forced to cleverly use the tools at hand. Truthfully, all of us, then and now, are constrained in some way from the full self-determination we would prefer, and perhaps that is one way we identify with them. And yet . . . the human spirit—a strong woman’s spirit—faces those challenges head-on, tries to think through what she wants and then plots a way toward it. When roadblocks occur, she finds a way over, around or through. That was true a thousand years ago, and it is still true now.

Also, we must all be risk-takers to gain what we want: love, respect, a meaningful life and personal fulfillment. Today’s readers certainly have that in common with yesterday’s women, my historical heroines.

Which of the treasures and artifacts in this book would you most like to own?
An adore ring. My husband and I looked for an authentic Victorian adore ring when we were last in London, but they were so, so tiny. I have the thicker fingers of a 21st-century woman who types for a living and washes up after dinner. These ladies had like, size four hands. I will keep looking, though. Or maybe my own hero will have one crafted for me one day.

There are a few real-life, fascinating historical figures that appear in this book—how did you decide which ones you wanted to include?
I work hard to ensure that my heroines are actually of the era, so I don’t allow one to take on a role for which I can’t find an actual Victorian woman to emulate in some capacity. I wanted Eleanor to be a curator and collector, to be an appraiser, to be good in her field. To ensure that she is not anachronistic, I first had to make sure there was such a woman in Victorian England. There was! Lady Charlotte Schreiber. Lady Charlotte was an amazing woman in her own right—she married the younger man she wanted the second time around, dyed her hair, pursued professional interests. As such, she made an excellent friend and mentor to my Ellie. You can see some of Lady Charlotte’s donations to the V&A and the British Museum online.

Dante Rossetti was well-known as both a man who enjoyed curiosities—a very Victorian pastime—and an artist in many mediums. He made a perfect addition to my book. I seek cameos, or even more substantive roles, by people who were not only of the time but organic to my book.

Your last series also took place in Victorian England, but your previous was set in the Tudor era. Why did you return to the Victorian period, and why do you think that era is such a popular setting?
The Tudors were my first English loves, and I adore them still. You can often find Tudor material in my pleasure reading. I only wanted to explore three women of that era: Anne Boleyn, Katherine Parr and Queen Elizabeth I. So when I was finished with Elizabeth’s book, I knew it was time to move forward. I mean, who can follow Queen Elizabeth I?

I skipped forward a few hundred years because I love the 19th century, too. A friend asked me why I hadn’t written Regencies, and I teasingly told her I wasn’t interested in picnics, to which she replied, unless they are set at midnight or in a cemetery. Exactly! That led me to the gothics of the Victorian Era.

I think the elements of a good Victorian—a mysterious hero of whom we are not quite sure till the end, a heroine without parental support so she must stand on her own, the commingling of dark and light—all make for a compelling read. It doesn’t hurt that it was such a long reign. Lots of decades’ worth of good material to discover.

What’s next for you?
Another Victorian, of course, the second book in the Victorian Ladies series. It will publish in spring 2020. I hope you’ll keep an eye out for it!

 

ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Read our review of Lady of a Thousand Treasures.

American author Sandra Byrd’s Lady of a Thousand Treasures is a finely detailed, slow burning Victorian romance with just the right amount of shivery gothic touches. Heroine Eleanor Sheffield is poised to take over her family’s art appraisal firm despite her gender, but her uncle’s failing memory and their precarious finances might destroy their business before she gets a chance.

Top Pick in Romance, October 2018

A most intriguing romance is found in the pages of Lady of a Thousand Treasures by Sandra Byrd. In Victorian England, Eleanor Sheffield continues the family business of appraising art and antiquities. But times are hard—her father has died, her uncle is ailing, an employee seems deceptive, and the man she thought she loved, Harry Lydney, has been in Italy far longer than expected. But Eleanor is determined to earn the trust of her clients and to repair her relationship with Harry when he finally returns from Europe. Told in first person, this standout romance is spiced with fascinating descriptions of treasures and the details of how such items are evaluated. Cameos by real historical characters add another layer of interest. Eleanor is a stalwart heroine who works through the steadily compounding tension as she wrestles with her Christian faith. Readers will root for Eleanor to overcome her difficulties and for Harry and her to find their ultimate reward in each other.

 

This article was originally published in the October 2018 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

 

A most intriguing romance is found in the pages of Lady of a Thousand Treasures by Sandra Byrd.

Susan Anne Mason begins her Canadian Crossings series with The Best of Intentions, an inspirational romance between two grief-stricken people following the end of World War I.

Grace Abernathy is journeying to Canada from England, hoping to reunite with her sister, Rose, and young nephew. She aims to bring them back home since Rose lost her husband in the war. Grace also believes that reuniting their family in England will be the key to turning their ailing mother’s health around. By the time she arrives in Toronto three weeks later, Grace is dismayed to learn that her sister has passed away from the Spanish flu and her nephew, Christian, has been given over to Rose’s in-laws, the very same people who disowned their son for marrying Rose.

Panic sets in at the thought of her nephew in the hands of the Eastons. She aims to claim guardianship over Christian, but she hopes to watch over them a bit first. She discovers the Eastons are in need of a nanny and, assuming an alias, she takes the job.

Andrew Easton’s world has been turned upside down with the presence of this adorable baby. Since his brother died during the war, he feels personally responsible for the child, especially after his parents decided to disown his older brother. It’s the only way he can try to make it up to his late brother. He’s understandably overcome with guilt at the rift in their relationship, especially now that there’s no way to fix things. But Andrew is all too familiar with his parents’ sense of duty and the sacrifices they expect from him to maintain their stature within the community. They believe that Andrew’s sole focus should be on wooing Cecilia, the very fine woman his brother previously jilted.

Mason sets up a very complex web of relationships between the Easton and Abernathy families, but they are seamlessly woven into the story. Each character is distinct and memorable as Andrew and Grace try to fight against their forbidden attraction. Andrew is promised to another, after all, while Grace isn’t who she says she is. That both protagonists are managing grief plays a large part in this romance and especially how they deal with its suddenness. What do you do with things left unsaid? How do you process the regrets you may have? But grief can also be something that brings people together, and Andrew and Grace learn that they don’t have to deal with their heartbreak alone. And Grace’s faith propels her to keep Rose’s memory alive through her quest to gain guardianship over Christian. It grounds her, and those who find peace in spiritual connection or scripture will find Grace to be a kindred spirit.

The Best of Intentions is a moving examination of the emotions of mourning, complicated family dynamics and the way love can be a powerful, healing force.

Susan Anne Mason begins her Canadian Crossings series with The Best of Intentions, an inspirational romance between two grief-stricken people following the end of World War I.

BookPage IcebreakerThis BookPage Icebreaker is sponsored by Thomas Nelson.


Rachel Hauck’s bestselling inspirational romances include The Wedding Dress and Once Upon a Prince. Her new novel, The Love Letter, shares the emotional and spiritual journeys of two women connected through the centuries by an heirloom letter.

The Love Letter offers sweeping historical romance along with an intriguing look behind the scenes of a modern day Hollywood set. Esther Kingsley is a strong-willed young aristocrat whose plans for marriage are upended by the American Revolution. In another storyline set in the present, actress Chloe Daschle has finally landed the perfect role to reverse her typecasting as “the girl who always dies.” It’s a screenplay about Esther’s star-crossed romance with her neighbor-turned-revolutionary Hamilton Lightfoot—written by Lightfoot’s descendant, the magnetic Jesse Gates.

Stephanie: Would you tell our readers a little bit about The Love Letter and how it came to be?

Rachel: It’s a split-time romance novel set in 1780 upcountry South Carolina and contemporary Hollywood and a little bit of contemporary South Carolina as well. It’s about a love letter that inspires a young screenwriter to complete the story of his great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather. The question that resonates throughout the book is what happens to unfinished love. I really wanted to explore two people who were descendants of another set of people who were in love but were never able to make it happen.

What did you find inspiring about the loyalist and rebel conflict in the American Revolutionary War? I thought the perspective of a family struggling with their financial and personal ties to the British monarchy and how that conflict affected relationships with their neighbors was super interesting.

I love the world of “Poldark.” It’s a BBC show on PBS about a guy who’s coming back from the Revolutionary War—of course he fought for the British. It’s in Cornwall, which is in southern England so the scenery is extraordinary. And I just loved this world. I was sharing with Debbie Macomber how much I wanted to write kind of an American “Poldark” and she goes, “You have to do the opposite of dark, so why don’t you do something with light?” So that’s how I got the name Lightfoot.

When I started looking at 1780, I knew I was going to deal with the Revolutionary War. I wanted to be in the South because most of my stories are in the South. Plus we don’t talk a lot about the Southern [Revolutionary War battles] and what that looked like. We always think of Lexington and Boston. But the Battle of Cowpens, which I used, was a pivotal battle in the war.

You just really had to know that whole families were divided. I would read testimonies where sisters wouldn’t see each other anymore because one was a loyalist and one for the American rebels. I can’t imagine not talking to my sister because she’s pro-Democrat and I’m pro-Republican or whatever. You know what I mean, like to be so divided that we would never talk to each other again?

What were some of the tools that you used in researching the period?

Most of it came from books. Also YouTube. I wanted to see what the field in the Battle of Cowpens looked like. I read up on colonial life. I read the letters of John Adams to Abigail Adams. That’s how I knew they were on a tea fast and they refused to drink tea. So they were complaining about having to drink coffee all the time.

It was a lot of reading to get the tone. I watched a lot of “Poldark” to get the cadence of the language.

That’s awesome!

So when I was writing Hamilton and Esther scenes, I would have “Poldark” in the background to get me into their mindset, because then I would have to flip to modern Hollywood or modern South Carolina.

Do you enjoy writing letters? Do you have a cherished letter that you've been holding on to?

I do enjoy writing letters, and I wish I would do more handwritten letters. But I have letters from my childhood. I have one from my dad where he wrote to me a college and told me, “Rachel, you’re a writer. Be a writer.” He just really always encouraged me to be a writer. So I love that letter, and I hang onto it. And it’s one of those, when you’re in your dark days going, “Do I know what I’m doing?” that echoes in the back of my mind.

That’s beautiful. And it’s echoed in the story, the idea that people’s thoughts and desires on paper can go on to influence people later.

Yeah, very much so.

How does your characters’ relationship with faith influence their thoughts as they search for love? I felt like that was really present, that you would get an internal monologue of faith as they go through the story.

You know, it’s always a challenge for us as Christian authors. . . . We come from a biblical worldview. I don’t ever try to draw conclusions for the reader. So [we] put those [beliefs] in characters that are seeking faith. Chloe—throughout her journey after [her embarrassing] video—comes to faith, and so she’s trying to reckon her faith with her life. I try to show that their faith is influencing their decisions. That either comes in dialogue or internal thought. Always in my mind is how I can make it organic to the thought process of the character. How do I invite God in without sounding like I’m sending the reader to a church meeting?

Chloe is from the modern period and Esther is from the past—they’re such different heroines. One thing I noticed is that Chloe seems to have so many fears. She’s afraid of being typecast or not finding her true love. But on the other hand, in the 18th century, Esther rarely wavers in her conviction. She seems very sure about the different choices that she makes. What is the relationship between those two women in your story?

Well, that was really cool insight. Actually, I love that about Esther. I wanted her to really be determined because I think our ancestors were. I don’t think we would have had this country if we hadn’t had strong women. And we tend to—in the lens of time and then through our own lens of how we live today—we look back and we think, oh, those women must have just been so oppressed. But I don’t think they were. I think a lot of them were very incredibly strong, and I wanted Esther to be really strong. She had to be to fight her father. She loved him so much, and he was her best friend. But yet: I have this love, and I’m willing to lay down everything for it. I think there were a lot of women who fell in love with men, and they went across the country never to see their families again.

I just felt that our ancestors are incredibly strong. And I got that from Abigail Adams’ letters to John Adams. She’s home with the farm and the kids by herself, and she’s making it happen, and she’s serving the community as well.

I think today we almost have so many choices and we have so many luxuries that we get trapped in, I don't know what to do with myself, I don’t know who I’m going to be, because we have so many choices. I think fear is something very prevalent in our society today. We’re afraid of a lot of things. And so I think Chloe is very real to a young woman today and to a young Christian woman.

What are you working on now?

I just finished The Memory House which comes out early 2019. It’s about two women, one from New York, one from West Texas, who find their home in this house on Memory Lane in Fernandina Beach Florida. It’s another split-time romance but a really fascinating story.

So lastly, your dad wrote you a letter in college saying, ‘You’re a writer, just be a writer.” How are you feeling about being a writer today?

I’m a writer for sure. I love it. I know this is what I was called to do. And that is something that you need to know on the hard days. Writing is a lot of work. I often tell people who want to be writers, “OK, go for it, but it is hard!” Put in 10 exclamation points [when you transcribe this]. It’s lonely. It’s what you do by yourself. Your writing community is out there across America. Facebook is my water cooler. While you’re sitting there plowing through the weeds of your novel, someone else is getting a lot of acclaim, and you think, oh, that’ll never be me. And then while you’re getting acclaim, someone else is going, why can’t I be like her? It’s a job that requires years to mature and find success. So stick with it.

And that was my dad—stick with it. Give everything you’ve got to what you want to be.

Rachel Hauck, author of The Love Letter, talks with Editor Stephanie Koehler.

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