An Uncommon Protector, by Shelley Shepard Gray

Publisher’s Overview:

Overwhelmed by the responsibilities of running a ranch on her own, Laurel Tracey decides to hire a convict—a man who’s just scary enough to take care of squatters and just desperate enough to agree to a one year post.

The years following the war have been hard on Laurel Tracey. Both her brother and her father died in battle, and her mother passed away shortly after receiving word of their demise. Laurel has been trying to run her two hundred acre ranch as best she can.

When she discovers that squatters have settled in her north pasture and have no intention of leaving, Laurel decides to use the last of her money to free a prisoner from the local jail. If she agrees to offer him room and board for one year, he will have to work for her to pay off his debt.

Former soldier Thomas Baker knows he’s in trouble when he finds himself jailed because he couldn’t pay a few fines. Laurel’s offer might be his only ticket out. Though she’s everything he ever dreamed of in a woman—sweet and tender-hearted, yet strong—he’s determined to remain detached, work hard on her behalf, and count the days until he’s free again.

But when cattle start dying and Laurel’s life is threatened, Thomas realizes more than just his freedom is on the line. Laurel needs someone to believe in her and protect her property. And it isn’t long before Laurel realizes that Thomas Baker is far more than just a former soldier. He’s a trustworthy hero, and he needs more than just his freedom—he needs her love and care too.

First Thoughts:

This is the second of the Lone Star Hero Love Stories series by Shelley Shepard Gray. Since I didn’t immediately recognize Thomas Baker’s name, I wondered if any of the characters from The Loyal Heart would feature in it.

My Take:

Laurel Tracey is in a bind. She’s inherited her father’s ranch, but there’s no one to assist her other than her obnoxious step-siblings. They’ve long squandered their own inheritance and now want what doesn’t legally belong to them. Her persistent neighbor doesn’t believe she can manage the land, but hasn’t taken well her rejection of his courtship. So, she takes a leap of faith and hires Thomas who is determined to discover who’s threatening her. And he happens to have friends who can help.

An Uncommon Protector takes place shortly after the events in The Loyal Heart, the first book in the Lone Star Hero Love Stories series. As with that book, this novel opens with a scene on Johnson’s Island during the Civil War. There are also frequent flashbacks to Thomas’s time at the POW camp. I found it an easy read and worked out the villain’s identity almost immediately, although I did have a backup suspect in case I was wrong! Although the heroes ride away in the sunset at the end, there are hints of possible stories to come in the series and it looks like we only have to wait until October to learn what those stories are.

Thank you to Zondervan, BookLook Bloggers, and the Fiction Guild for my complimentary copy of An Uncommon Protector, which I received in exchange for my honest review.

Have you read An Uncommon Protector? Do you plan to read it? Let me know your thoughts.


Publisher: Zondervan (A division of HarperCollins Christian)

Publication Date: 07 February 2017

Page Count: 320

Read more on:   Shelley Shepard Gray’s Website   Zondervan’s Website

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Fates and Traitors, by Jennifer Chiaverini

book coverPublisher’s Overview:

John Wilkes Booth, the mercurial son of an acclaimed British stage actor and a Covent Garden flower girl, committed one of the most notorious acts in American history—the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln.

 The subject of more than a century of scholarship, speculation, and even obsession, Booth is often portrayed as a shadowy figure, a violent loner whose single murderous act made him the most hated man in America. Lost to history until now is the story of the four women whom he loved and who loved him in return: Mary Ann, the steadfast matriarch of the Booth family; Asia, his loyal sister and confidante; Lucy Lambert Hale, the senator’s daughter who adored Booth yet tragically misunderstood the intensity of his wrath; and Mary Surratt, the Confederate widow entrusted with the secrets of his vengeful plot.

 Fates and Traitors brings to life pivotal actors—some willing, others unwitting—who made an indelible mark on the history of our nation. Chiaverini portrays not just a soul in turmoil but a country at the precipice of immense change.

My Take:

There have been many books written about the events surrounding Lincoln’s assassination over the years, but have there been many novels that focused on the women in the life of the assassin? Jennifer Chiaverini continues her unofficial series about Civil War era characters with an excellently researched look at four very different women who knew John Wilkes Booth and how his actions impacted their lives.

Fates and Traitors is divided into six extremely long chapters, which each start with a Shakespearian quote. There’s a relatively short prologue set at the Garrett farm when Booth dies, and then the book goes back in time to when his parents met in London. The first two chapters read more like biographies than fiction. There’s so much information about the Booth family history that portions are left out, while what’s included isn’t written about in great detail. While I enjoy reading biographies, these chapters felt dull and monotonous. They did, however, make me feel strangely sympathetic towards Booth and his mother while his father was portrayed as a philandering drunkard. They also show how Booth possibly came to be the infamous killer we know. The next two chapters – about Mary Surratt and Lucy Hale – read more like a novel and I preferred those.

The title of the book, Fates and Traitors, comes from a line in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, which is highlighted in a conversation between Booth and his sister. Was Brutus a patriot or a traitor for his part in Julius Caesar’s assassination? Asia is horrified by her brother’s interpretation of the role, as he suggests that one person’s traitor can be another man’s patriot and that George Washington was probably considered to be a traitor by George III. This exchange also hints as to how Booth could have seen his killing of Lincoln a patriotic duty.

Those with interest in the Lincoln assassination will find no new information here. We know the fates of the main players and Chiaverini cites various sources, including some written by those included in the story or by their descendants. The angle here is that it’s a book about the women in Booth’s life, rather than focusing only on the man. Chiaverini has created realistic representations of these historic ladies; human enough that the reader can get to know them and form opinions accordingly. I experienced such a dislike of Mary Surratt early on in her narrative that I was indifferent to her ultimate fate. On the other hand, I felt bad for the Booth family after the assassination: the reputation their father had created was ruined and the equally famous brothers – Edwin and Junius – were briefly imprisoned under suspicion of conspiracy.

Thank you to Dutton for my complimentary electronic advance uncorrected proof of Fates and Traitors, which I downloaded from NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

Have you read Fates and Traitors? Do you plan to read it? Let me know your thoughts.

Publisher: Dutton (an imprint of Penguin Random House)

Publication Date: 13 September 2016

Page Count: 400

Read more on:   Jennifer Chiaverini’s Website   Dutton’s Website

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Mrs. Lee and Mrs. Gray, by Dorothy Love

Publisher’sbook cover Overview:

A general’s wife and a slave girl forge a friendship that transcends race, culture, and the crucible of Civil War.

Mary Anna Custis Lee is a great-granddaughter of Martha Washington, wife of Confederate General Robert E Lee, and heiress to Virginia’s storied Arlington house and General Washington’s personal belongings.

Born in bondage at Arlington, Selina Norris Gray learns to read and write in the schoolroom Mary and her mother keep for the slave children, and eventually becomes Mary’s housekeeper and confidante. As Mary’s health declines, Selina becomes her personal maid, strengthening a bond that lasts until death parts them.

Forced to flee Arlington at the start of the Civil War, Mary entrusts the keys to her beloved home to no one but Selina. When Union troops begin looting the house, it is Selina who confronts their commander and saves many of its historic treasures.

In a story spanning crude slave quarters, sunny schoolrooms, stately wedding parlors, and cramped birthing rooms, novelist Dorothy Love amplifies the astonishing true-life account of an extraordinary alliance and casts fresh light on the tumultuous years leading up to and through the wrenching battle for a nation’s soul.

My Take:

As someone with an interest in the American Civil War, I knew that Arlington National Cemetery was created in the grounds of Robert E. Lee’s plantation and that it was done so that the ‘traitor’ would never be able to return home. I also knew that General Lee was somehow connected to George Washington. I knew nothing of a slave being left in charge of Arlington during the war. Mrs. Lee and Mrs. Gray was a revelation in more than one aspect.

Because the book covers over 50 years it isn’t as detailed as some readers might like, and only the last quarter is set during the war. It focuses on Mary and Selina’s lives, dividing the chapters between their perspectives. While it’s known that the Custis and Lee families treated their slaves relatively well, Dorothy Love hasn’t shied away from descriptions of the way slaves were treated at other southern plantations. Nor does she ignore the instance when Lee demanded the physical punishment of three slaves who attempted to run away. While becoming an ardent supporter of the southern cause, George Washington’s great-granddaughter was conscious of his legacy and did her best to preserve it, a cause that became Selina’s after the Lee family was forced from their home.

Mrs. Lee and Mrs. Gray is based off extensive historical sources and quoted from various letters and documents. Among the select bibliography at the end are books written by General and Mrs. Lee’s children. General Lee’s original letter freeing his slaves is included in the narrative; their emancipation being a requirement of Mary’s father’s will. In an author’s note at the end, Love states that she has tried to “recount events mostly as they happened,” with only a couple of exceptions. Thanks to her extensive research, this biographical novel of a surprising relationship between a slave and a white woman can be appreciated by both Civil War history fans and the casual reader. It’s one of my favorite books of 2016 and will stick with me for some time to come.

Thank you to TNZFiction Fiction Guild for my complimentary copy of Mrs. Lee and Mrs. Gray, which I received in exchange for my honest review.

Have you read Mrs. Lee and Mrs. Gray? Do you plan to read it? Let me know your thoughts.


Publisher: Thomas Nelson (a division of HarperCollins Christian)

Publication Date: 14 June 2016

Page Count: 400

Read more on:   Dorothy Love’s Website   TNZFiction’s Website

Purchase on:   Amazon   Barnes & Noble   Books-a-million