Monday, July 17, 2017

Hospital Trains

Today we have a guest post from novelist Sandra Hart. We love it when authors share the historical backdrop of their novels!

Civil War soldiers wounded on the battlefield were first treated at tent hospitals or in local buildings. With a combined total dead and wounded at Gettysburg for both armies over 40,000, wounded soldiers filled the courthouse, churches, homes, barns, and every available public building.

The overworked, exhausted surgeons could not keep up with the demand. As soon as the patient was able to survive a trip, he traveled by hospital train to a city hospital.

A typical Civil War era hospital train contained between 5 to 10 hospital cars and a passenger car for wounded soldiers able to sit. Additionally, there was a surgeon’s car for the medical staff, a kitchen car for the nourishing food provided to wounded, and a box car for supplies.

The outside car panels had “U.S. Hospital Train” painted in large letters. A yellow flag flew on the slow-moving engine. Three red lanterns hung under the engine headlight at night. Ten-car trains carried up to 200 patients.

Injured soldiers were carried on stretchers to a hospital car. Four India rubber rings hooked onto wooden posts to support the stretcher. There were 3 tiers of stretchers stacked in a 50-foot hospital car.

Early in the war, a surgeon noticed the agony that sick and wounded soldiers suffered from the locomotive jostling over tracks. He suggested the above design for hospital cars, greatly increasing patients’ comfort while traveling to the general hospitals in the cities.

Compiled by the editors of Combined Books. The Civil War Book of Lists, Da Capo Press, 1994.
“Hospital Trains,” Son of the South, 2017/06/20
Wilbur, M.D., C. Keith. Civil War Medicine 1861 - 1865, C. Keith Wilbur, 1998.

Sandra Merville Hart, Assistant Editor for, loves to find unusual or little-known facts in her historical research to use in her stories. Her debut Civil War romance, A Stranger On My Land, was an IRCA Finalist 2015. Her second Civil War romance novel, A Rebel in My House, is set during the Battle of Gettysburg. It released on July 15, 2017. Visit Sandra on her blog at

About Sandra Hart's New Novel

When the cannons roar beside Sarah Hubbard’s home outside of Gettysburg, she despairs of escaping the war that’s come to Pennsylvania. A wounded Confederate soldier on her doorstep leaves her with a heart-wrenching decision.
Separated from his unit and with a bullet in his back, Jesse Mitchell needs help. He seeks refuge at a house beside Willoughby Run. His future lies in the hands of a woman whose sympathies lay with the North.

Jesse has promised his sister-in-law he’d bring his brother home from the war. Sarah has promised her sister that she’d stay clear of the enemy. Can the two keep their promises amid a war bent on tearing their country apart?
A promise to her sister becomes impossible to keep …

Thursday, July 06, 2017

Review: Alex and Eliza

Melissa de la Cruz
Alex and Eliza
By Melissa de la Cruz
G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers, April 2017

About the Book

1777. Albany, New York.

As battle cries of the American Revolution echo in the distance, servants flutter about preparing for one of New York society’s biggest events: the Schuylers’ grand ball. Descended from two of the oldest and most distinguished bloodlines in New York, the Schuylers are proud to be one of their fledgling country’s founding families, and even prouder still of their three daughters—Angelica, with her razor-sharp wit; Peggy, with her dazzling looks; and Eliza, whose beauty and charm rival those of both her sisters, though she’d rather be aiding the colonists’ cause than dressing up for some silly ball.

Still, Eliza can barely contain her excitement when she hears of the arrival of one Alexander Hamilton, a mysterious, rakish young colonel and General George Washington’s right-hand man. Though Alex has arrived as the bearer of bad news for the Schuylers, he can’t believe his luck—as an orphan, and a bastard one at that—to be in such esteemed company. And when Alex and Eliza meet that fateful night, so begins an epic love story that would forever change the course of American history.

In the pages of Alex and Eliza, #1 New York Times bestselling author Melissa de la Cruz brings to life the romance of young Alexander Hamilton and Elizabeth Schuyler.

My Review

This historical romance is light on the history and heavy on the romance. But most readers—this reader included—won’t mind a bit since it draws inspiration from the Broadway musical Hamilton. Alex and Eliza is a fictionalized love story of Alexander Hamilton and Eliza Schuyler. The author writes that since there isn’t much known about their actual-actual love story—other than they were madly in love with each other—she has made one up. Expect drama and tension!

Is there a love triangle? No. Yes. No. Not really. Cruz introduces the character of Henry Livingston into the plot. Eliza’s parents arrange a marriage for her to this Mr. Livingston. He’s an obvious jerk, a big mistake; the engagement goes forward, however, since her parents supposedly don’t approve of Alexander Hamilton’s no-name status. There is lots of drama in “stopping the wedding” and saving Eliza from a dreadful future.

Peggy and Angelica are characters in the plot, but, it’s Eliza who is front and center. (Angelica is not in love with Alexander Hamilton by any stretch of the imagination.)

I really found this to be a quick, satisfying read. Usually I like a lot more history in my historical romance—that is, if it’s based on real people and real events. But it’s easy to make an exception for this one. Of the Hamilton-inspired books I’ve read so far, this one is definitely my favorite.

Becky’s Book Reviews
Operation Actually Read Bible

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Review: Return to the Secret Garden

Holly Webb
Return to the Secret Garden
By Holly Webb
Sourcebooks, November 2016

About the Book

As she turned it the door creaked a little and opened inwards…

The only friend Emmie Hatton has ever had at the Craven Home for Orphaned Children is Lucy, the little black kitten that visits her on the fire escape every day. But when the children of Craven Home are evacuated out of London because of the war, heartbroken Emmie is forced to leave sweet Lucy behind.

The children are sent to Misselthwaite Manor, a countryside mansion full of countless dusty rooms and a kind, if busy, staff. Emmie even finds a gruff gardener and an inquisitive little robin that just might become new friends. And soon, in the cold, candle-lit nights at Misselthwaite, Emmie starts discovering the secrets of the house: a boy crying at night, a diary written by a girl named Mary, and a very secret, special garden…

Return to the world of The Secret Garden with this enchanting new tale that will delight fans of the original story and new readers alike!

My Review

Emmie Hatton, our heroine, is an orphan. The book opens in London, 1939, with her orphanage being evacuated to the countryside. All are sent to Misselthwaite Manor. Emmie is upset. You might think naturally so. After all, the children are being sent to the countryside for their safety, in anticipation of London being bombed. It’s not just orphans facing this potentially traumatic move. But Emmie is upset by the fact that she can’t take “her” cat, Lucy, with her. She’s been told that animals are being put down—killed—because there isn’t enough food and resources. So to say that Emmie’s distraught at the idea of being separated from Lucy isn’t that much of a stretch.

Life at Misselthwaite Manor is nice enough. She soon finds a diary in her bedroom. It tells of a lonely, miserable girl named Mary. A girl who learned to jump rope. A girl who found a key. A girl who went in search of a door…in a wall. A girl who slowly but surely made friends and found her place to belong. Emmie wants that to be her story as well. So she sets off to find the door. She too finds the Secret Garden. She too makes friends with the gardener, the birds, the flowers. But will she find a family in her new “temporary” home?

Return to the Secret Garden is written for a much younger audience than the original The Secret Garden, in my opinion. The text is much simpler; the vocabulary much more accessible. Also there isn’t as much complexity and depth to the story or to the characters. It definitely is not action-driven. I’m not sure I’d call it theme-driven either. But it is very much about belonging and finding a place to call your own. It was nice to revisit some of the original characters. It may not have been the exact book I was hoping for. But it was a pleasant enough, quick enough read.

It would be interesting to see—perhaps as a young adult or adult book—a more direct sequel to the book that focuses on Mary, Colin, and Dickon before, during, and immediately after the Great War, the War to End All Wars. It might prove to be a devastating book—one that you’d have to put in the freezer. But it would be worth reading, at least in the hands of the right author.

Becky’s Book Reviews
Operation Actually Read Bible

Monday, June 26, 2017

It's Our Blog Birthday!

Eleven Years!

It's hard to believe but Novel PASTimes is 11 years old today! Back then we were known as Favorite PASTimes. Novelist and Editor Ann Tatlock was our first guest! Over the years we've changed the focus of the blog from author interviews to book reviews and articles on historical topics.

What's Up Next?

Honestly I don't know. I (Cindy Thomson) started the blog because of my love of reading and writing historical fiction. At times running his blog has been challenging. Volunteers have been generous with their time but frankly all novelists must give their own personal writing priority. So things have at times not gotten done. Not because we don't love the genre and appreciate our readers, but because we're human. Giveaways became difficult. Winners would fail to respond. Authors would fail to follow up...and it all took time. Time that many of the contributors to this blog were having trouble finding.

There were good times, though, and I like to think that we've introduced readers to some authors they might not have otherwise discovered.

We have some ideas for this blog. We'd like to try something creative by allowing the very characters from the stories speak here on Novel PASTimes. But we need new volunteers and probably a new blog platform, so if we do that, it may take a few months. Or, we might not do it at all. This blog might go away from lack of reader interest.

That would make me sad, but 11 years is a long life for a blog! I'm proud of all we've done here. I'm grateful to our many blog contributors. The current ones appear in the sidebar on the left hand side.

Kathy Rouser, one of our long time contributors to this blog, wrote this on our first blog birthday:

God’s Word, His story, records for us, from the account in
Genesis onward, real people whose passions and desires were like
our own. Though their dress and culture were vastly different
from ours, we can learn from their mistakes and their victories,
from the wise and foolish, alike.
This is the essence of great historical fiction. It gives us a chance to not only be entertained, but to identify with people not unlike ourselves, but for the passage of time, and learn from the effects of their choices or the character built from overcoming their obstacles. Perhaps some of today's historical fiction will become a unique legacy for generations to come, as our lives are still touched by the great literature of yesteryear. 

Don't Go Away Yet!

We do have some reviews and some articles coming up this summer, so be sure and stick around for those. After the summer? I'm still not sure.

Grab a historical novel or three and enjoy the summer! Comment below and let us know what you're reading!

The Other Einstein

By Michelle Ule

Image resultI picked up The Other Einstein because, like so many, I'd always had an affection for the quirky Albert Einstein

This historical novel has changed my opinion. As a biographer, I recognize it is not biography. I realize the author, Marie Benedict, has taken liberties with the known facts to craft a story. 

She did a fine job.

Atomic Physics

I don't understand atomic physics, but I'm married to and the mother of people who do.

 You don't need to know anything either to appreciate this well-written novel of pre-World War I life in Serbia, Switzerland and a few points in between.

 Benedict admitted the science daunted her at first, but after working on the project, she was able to explain just what Mileva "Mitza" Maric Einstein and Albert explored, seemingly together.

Some people believe she had nothing to do with the infamous EMC-squared theory of relativity.

 But even my nuclear engineer husband knew Albert was not a strong mathematician.

"Of course his wife helped." Mitza was known for her math skills at the time.

(She was the only woman, and one of only six students, in the upper level science courses where she met Albert.)

What's the deal, Albert?

Image result for albert einsteinAlbert Einstein himself is presented as an intense, frequently late, happy and brilliant scientist who pursued the Serbian national. 

Mitza fell in love as well, and as always, those chapters were the most enjoyable in the book. 

As their relationship took a deeper and therefore more intense turn, tension arose between the familiar story of a woman's desire for academic and career success and a similar man. 

It brought back many uncomfortable memories from not just my life, but from the lives of young women I know today. 

This one was just played out 100 years ago in a different and far more elevated setting.

I couldn't bear what happened in the end, but I'm hoping Benedict wrote truth within the setting of her novel. 

The pioneering female scientists of 100 years ago are worth reading about--think Marie Curie as well. 
I recommend this one as an intro to the world. 


Did Mrs. Albert Einstein help write the theory of relativity? Click to Tweet 

The Other Einstein exposes historical and scientific truth--or not? Click to Tweet

Michelle Ule is a bestselling novelist whose work has appeared in a number of Barbour Collections. 

She is writing nonfiction in 2017--and essay for Discovery House's Utmost Ongoing (August), and as the biographer of Mrs. Oswald Chambers (Baker, October). 

You can learn more about her at 

Thursday, June 01, 2017

Review: Deposed

David Barbaree
By David Barbaree
Zaffre Publishing, May 2017

About the Book

More gripping than Game of Thrones and more ruthless than House of Cards—this a stunning new thriller of power, treachery and revenge.

In a darkened cell, a brutally deposed dictator lies crippled—deprived of his power, his freedom—and his eyes. On the edge of utter despair, his only companion is the young boy who brings him his meagre rations, a mere child who fears his own shadow. But to one who has held and lost the highest power, one thing alone is crystal clear: Even emperors were mere children once.

Ten years later, the new ruler’s son watches uneasily over his father’s empire. Wherever he looks rebellion is festering, and those closest to him have turned traitor once before. To this city in crisis comes a hugely wealthy senator from the very edge of the empire, a young and angry ward at his heels. He is witty but inscrutable, generous with his time and money to a leader in desperate need of a friend—and he wears a bandage over his blinded eyes.

The fallen emperor’s name is Nero. But this isn’t his story.

My Review

I really enjoyed this book. I found the wit and innuendos used by the author added another layer of depth to the characterization of Nero and the story overall. It contained a lot of intrigue as well as historical facts. The time period skipped around so on occasion I had to flip back and check which decade I was reading about. But that didn’t take away from the story. It also alternated points of view depending on which character’s perspective you were in at the time. I appreciated the author making that clear at the beginning of each segment.

The style of writing was very readable, but not overly simple. The author has a way with words and with dialog that makes you forget at times that you are reading. I ended up kind of liking Nero’s character by the story’s end. That was not something I expected to happen. Nero changed a lot because of his humble circumstances and figured out that what is most important in life is the people you care about and the legacy you leave behind. His relationship with Marcus changed him into a softer-hearted man because over time he became a father figure to Marcus.

I liked how the characters were the same historical characters as in several other books I’ve read about ancient Rome (by Kate Quinn.) The details came back to me as I read, and it felt like I was spending time with old friends. The cultish part of the story (regarding the “dark arts” practiced by the Germanic people) was sick, yet fascinating. I have read about some of these barbaric practices in other books so I know the cult did exist. I can’t begin to imagine the horror of watching human sacrifices to the pagan god.

I read this book pretty quickly. Normally I don’t plow through a story like I did with this one, but I kept finding myself wanting to pick it up and find out what happens next. Deposed contained intrigue and brutality that were coupled with the politics of the time period. I loved how Nero managed to work his way back into the lives of some of the very people who sought to depose/kill him in the first place. The fact that he was a cripple due to blindness made him virtually unrecognizable to many.

For lovers of ancient Roman history, this book is for you. I just ignored some of the words that didn’t fit the time period (like some f-bombs) as they managed to pull me out of the setting. Other than that small criticism, this book exceeded my expectations. It doesn’t read like a debut novel. I would read another book by this author.

Michelle Szymanoski
Michelle Sutton author - Healing Hearts

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Review: Catching the Wind

Melanie Dobson
Catching the Wind 
By Melanie Dobson
Tyndale, May, 2017

About the Book

What happened to Brigitte Berthold?

That question has haunted Daniel Knight since he was thirteen, when he and eleven-year-old Brigitte escaped the Gestapo agents who arrested both their parents. They survived a harrowing journey from Germany to England, only to be separated upon their arrival. Daniel vowed to find Brigitte after the war, a promise he has fought to fulfill for more than seventy years.

Now a wealthy old man, Daniel’s final hope in finding Brigitte rests with Quenby Vaughn, an American journalist working in London. He believes Quenby’s tenacity to find missing people and her personal investment in a related WWII espionage story will help her succeed where previous investigators have failed. Though Quenby is wrestling her own demons—and wary at the idea of teaming up with Daniel’s lawyer, Lucas Hough--the lure of Brigitte’s story is too much to resist. Together, Quenby and Lucas delve deep into the past, following a trail of deception, sacrifice, and healing that could change all of their futures.

My Review

Lately it seems I rarely finish a book because I tend to get bored with the story. I finished this one, so that tells me something. I wasn’t bored. Nor was I on the edge of my seat. The author wasn’t trying to create anxiety, but it was more like a tender longing and a deep need to understand the past and find healing in it. She did a great job showing the fear of abandonment and the wariness when it came to trusting anyone. I was intrigued with the story. It gave me a warm feeling in my heart rather than an anxious one. While nothing scary happened, it captured my heart anyway.

There is just something about Melanie’s writing and characters that pulls me in. I have yet to come across a pathetic or annoying character in any of her books, and I have read plenty of them. Eleven so far (to be exact) and I have enjoyed them all. They are often quite different. It’s not so much the subject matter that captures me (though I love WWII era fiction) but the author’s voice that compels me to keep reading.  The first book I have ever read by Melanie was Together for Good and from that point forward I have been hooked. She never has tension in a story or a plot that feels contrived. Regardless of how far from my own experience the characters’ experience tends to be, they always manage to speak to me and make me think about my life and my decisions. And like the author, her books have a sweet and calming tone to them despite how deep the story goes. None of her novels are fluffy and fake. All of them will pull you in. At least for me, that’s how it is.

This book slips between the past and the present day. Both eras intrigued me and while a bit more was in the present day, at least a third of the book contained historical chapters. I tend to prefer the historical chapters but in this book I liked them the same. I felt some of the angst and fear that Brigitte had when she couldn’t find her friend and was taken in by a man and woman who didn’t like her and only used her for her knowledge of the German language. It was interesting how the twists and turns through her life caused her to develop a strong desire to help abandoned children feel loved. I also loved how the main character resisted feeling anything for the man in the story because she didn’t want to get close to anyone lest they hurt her again. Well done!

I give this story five stars because of its pull on me and my desire to finish it. I don’t want to give any spoilers, which is why some of this review is a bit vague. Discovering things is half the fun of reading a good book so it ruins it for me if someone tells me the plot in the review.

Michelle Szymanoski
Michelle Sutton author—Healing Hearts

Monday, May 22, 2017

Redeeming Grace and the Book of Ruth

By Michelle Ule 

I happened to pick up Jill Eileen Smith's Redeeming Grace: Ruth's Story, the same day I reached the book of Ruth in my Bible reading.

It made for an interesting companion as I examined the Scriptures and saw them written into dialogue in the historical novel!

Smith is an accomplished historian of ancient Biblical times and Redeeming Grace is an excellent example of how a novelist can bring insight into a well known tale.


While the book of Ruth is only four chapters long, Smith filled in the story with a plausible reason why Naomi and Elimelech traveled to Moab during a famine.

She presented a sad tale of Israelites who set aside their religious beliefs and married Moabite women and became part of the culture.

With scrupulous attention to research, Smith taught me a lot about the Moabites' religious beliefs. In so doing, she provided an explanation for the seeming hatred some felt for Ruth in the Biblical account.

As in any historical fiction, it's interesting to see the universal desires of the heart played out in a time long past.

I appreciated, too, her thoughts on Boaz and why he behaved the way he did.

Finally, I began to understand, too, elements of the Israelite worship at Shiloh, long before Jerusalem became the city of God.


As always with historical fiction, the reader must rely on the author's research.

I know Smith spends a lot of time reading anything she can get her hands on about the times and place she writes.

Redeeming Grace rang true to me.


Embroidering a plausible tale of the Bible's book of Ruth. Click to Tweet 

Backstory and insight into the book of Ruth: Redeeming Grace. Click to Tweet

Bestselling historical novelist Michelle Ule is the biographer of Mrs. Oswald Chambers, coming from Baker Books in October 2017.

For more about her and her writing--and to investigate the stories
behind the writing of the biography--visit her website at