This is the second series by writer Roseanna M. White that I have started. I thought about waiting until I had read all three to review them, but I just couldn’t wait to share my love for this book! The name of the series is called Shadows Over England, and just like the previous series I read by her (Ladies of the Manor), they are set in Edwardian England. These are late in the Edwardian period, with World War I starting with the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand in this first book.
In A Name Unknown, tensions are high all over Europe with alliances forming that will inevitably lead to what we know as WWI. In England specifically, there is widespread distrust and even hatred for anyone of German lineage, including the novel’s unlikely hero, Peter Holstein. Peter is a wealthy landowner, and handsome to boot, so why do I call him an unlikely hero? Because I have never read a romantic hero who stuttered. The dialogue is written to convey his stuttering problem, and I will be completely transparent, at first it was off-putting. This made me glaringly aware of my own prejudices. Like the people of Peter’s community, I had a difficult time in the beginning imagining him as charming or intelligent or attractive simply because of his stuttering. Peter isolates himself from all but his closest friends, causing his neighbors to distrust him even more.
The key to proving his allegiance to Britain is contained somewhere in the disaster of his family library. Enter Rosemary Gresham, who Peter thinks is a librarian seeking employment in organizing his library and helping him find important family documents. In actuality, Rosemary is a con artist, hired by a mysterious man to find evidence that Peter is a traitor. Rosemary is used to people making assumptions about her. A former street urchin with a found family of fellow thieves and cons, she’s used to being underestimated and having to lie, cheat, and scrape to survive. Her distrust of Peter has nothing to do with his stuttering and everything to do with his wealth. Gentlemen can’t be trusted, yet Peter seems different. The only question is, what does he type all day long in his office? What does he keep locked in that desk drawer? Everything in her says Peter Holstein is a good man, but can she learn to trust when all her life experience has told her not to?
As Rosemary slowly falls in love with Peter, the reader falls in love with him too, and like Rosemary, we stop thinking about his stuttering. I also could relate to Peter in so many ways. Like Peter, I’m an introvert, and like Peter, I’m better at expressing my feelings and thoughts when I write them down. I also tend to get lost in the fantasy world in my head like Peter. (The reason he does that is a spoiler, but you might be able to guess!)
It also made me think about what my husband went through as a child when he suffered from a stuttering problem. He, of course, had access to speech therapy that wasn’t available or understood in Edwardian times. It made me wonder how things would have been different for him if he still stuttered as an adult. My daughter has also struggled with speech issues, so this book really gave me greater empathy for both she and my husband. Some adults do, even today, have speech problems for various reasons, and this book made me more aware of my prejudices towards them.
The final thing I want to praise this book for is a scene in which a character accepts Jesus Christ as savior. I have mentioned in the past that I hate when a book comes to a screeching halt to do a scene like this. It can feel forced like a “we interrupt this story for a very important message” type of thing. That is NOT how White writes this scene, however! It felt so natural and flowed with the rest of the story. Some of my favorite lines in the entire book come from this scene. I cried as the character came to understand the grace of Jesus.
Some of my other favorite lines came from the many times Rosemary defends Peter. She despises anyone who judges him because of his stuttering. I love when characters rise to the defense of the person they love, especially when, like Rosemary, they are in denial about their feelings. I also love this line that Rosemary says: “I’ve scarcely noticed if he’s handsome or not.” Which was true. Perhaps he was—certainly he was, if one thought about it—but why would one? It highlights what makes Rosemary truly love Peter: his character. His looks are secondary.
The next two books in the series focus on other members of Rosemary’s “family” of con artists, both of whom are introduced in this first book. Has the war affected their “profession?” I refuse to give that one away!
I highly recommend this book filled with complex characters, intrigue, and plot twists. I’m looking forward to what’s to come in books two and three!
Haley, my nine year old, and Ian, my eight year old, are giggling as we read about Templeton the rat’s huge belly after he gorged himself at the fair. It isn’t the first time they’ve giggled while reading E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web, and every time they do, it’s bittersweet. I love the sound because it means they are enjoying a book that has meant so much to me since I first read it as a little girl. It’s bitter because, unlike them, I know the ending.
Reading this children’s classic with my kids is eye-opening in so many ways. I think most of us adults think of two things when someone mentions Charlotte’s Web: the fate of Wilbur the pig hanging in the balance, and Charlotte’s death at the end of the book. We seem to forget all of the life and humor found in the midst of those serious things: we forget about Fern pushing Wilbur around in a baby carriage, Fern’s mean big brother falling on a rotten egg Templeton has hidden away when he tries to knock Charlotte from the beams of the barn, Wilbur turning back flips to prove he is a terrific pig, the Arables concern when Fern tells them the animals can talk, and a dozen other delightful scenes. And isn’t that life? The bitter mixed with the sweet?
As a mother, I read many children’s books with different eyes, and Charlotte’s Web is no exception. As a child I would have said the theme of the book is friendship, and that’s true. As a mother, however, I see the theme of seasons coming and going. I see the bittersweet passing of time. Fern starts the book as a little girl who feeds her pet pig with a bottle and spends her afternoons listening to her friends - the animals - talk in the barn. By the book's end, she scarcely cares when Wilbur wins a special prize at the fair: she’s too busy asking for money so she can meet Henry Fussy at the ferris wheel. In short, she’s growing up. Mrs. Arable is relieved because it means Fern is not so obsessed with talking animals.
But it’s a little sad too, isn’t it? Any mother understands the tension. We want our kids to grow up and experience all the joys that each season of life will bring. At the same time, we can’t help the tears that well in our eyes when we see the doll carriage that is no longer played with. Fern no longer can hear the animals talk, and we mourn a little.
Charlotte’s death follows this thread of time moving on. Spiders don’t live for very long, she tells Wilbur. It’s fitting in a way that she dies quietly at the fair; the same place where Fern begins to grow up.
The book, however, isn’t just about endings. The passage of time means new things too, like the hatching of Charlotte’s babies. There’s also the beautiful theme of unconditional love and friendship - the kind of friendship that looks at the heart and not at the outward appearance. Charlotte is a gray spider. Wilbur is a pig. The last two animals in the world we would consider beautiful and cute, yet White writes them in a way that makes us see them that way. As they see the beauty in each other, we see it too, right along with the people flocking to see the words Charlotte writes in her web. Through Charlotte's eyes, Wilbur truly becomes terrific, radiant, and humble - some pig indeed!
As I read this book to my kids, I also couldn’t help being filled with hope that love and friendship can overcome differences. Can you think of a more unlikely pair? A spider and a pig? It speaks to the cry of our hearts: peace and love. Something only unconditional love can accomplish. The kind of love Christ brought to the earth.
It’s no wonder this book still moves people, no matter how old they are. It can make a child giggle, a mother’s heart break, and a grown up consider that maybe there’s hope after all. It also just happens to have what I believe are the best closing lines ever written:
“It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer. Charlotte was both.”
One of my favorite romance authors is Denise Hunter, and I’ve read almost everything of hers. For Valentine’s Day, I thought I would highlight who my absolute favorite couples are in her novels. These are all couples that I promise will make you swoon!
Yes, this was made into a Hallmark movie. However, they did not do this book justice at all. Mainly, they had Lucas pretend to be engaged to Kate instead of married to her. Actually, he doesn’t pretend to marry her, he actually does when Kate gets dumped on her wedding day. The pressures of sharing a life together and having to pretend to be married result in so many opportunities for sexual tension. And since they’re married, this one gets steamy (though it never crosses the line one expects for a faith-based romance). The situation also results in a lot of humor, so I laughed during much of this book. The dramatic conclusion is also one of the most romantic in Hunter’s books.
This is another one where there is a marriage of convenience, which means, yes, steamy scenes. (I promise, that’s not my only litmus test for these couples, though it helps!) In this one, Brady gets the shocking news that he’s not actually the biological father of his son, Sammy, and the parents of his deceased ex-wife are demanding custody. When a misunderstanding leads Brady’s lawyer to think his friend Hope is his fiance, Brady discovers that giving Sam a mother may be the key to winning the custody battle. To his shock, Hope agrees, and said marriage of convenience begins. One thing I love about this book is the way it flips the script. A woman who fears that all men leave because she was abandoned by her father is a pretty common romance trope. In this book, however, it’s Brady who feels women are always leaving him, starting with his drug addict mom. And though the couple are married, the burn in this is achingly, exquisitely slow as Brady and Hope go from friends, to a married couple, to lovers. Did I mention there’s also a swoon-worthy scene in the rain?
We now go from marriage of convenience to “we’re divorced, but we have to pretend to be married for the weekend.” Yeah, I know, I don’t think that’s a trope, but in this book it absolutely works! Ryan is still in love with his ex Abby, even going so far as to buy the house she had always dreamed of them sharing. So when he finds out that Abby’s parents don’t know about the divorce, he sees the opportunity he’s been waiting for. Abby agrees to pretend they’re still married for her parents' anniversary party. Guess what that means? Road trip! A road trip with your ex probably sounds like torture to some, but the way Hunter executes this, its instead equal parts comedy and sexual tension. You also slowly learn what happened to end their marriage over the course of the book. I won’t give any spoilers; just know that Hunter does a fantastic job executing this storyline in a believable way. Ryan also never manipulates Abby to win her back. For example, the dream house he bought? He never tells her he bought it or uses it in any way to lure her back. He just wanted to do what he felt he should have done when they were together. That’s all I’ll say - just know that Ryan will absolutely steal your heart. I’ve read this one multiple times!
This one was also made into a Hallmark movie that is nowhere near as good as the book (Christmas on My Mind). First of all, the book doesn’t take place at Christmas. Second, Lucy is a spunky, petite, curvy blonde from Georgia in the book and far more interesting than the Lucy in the movie. Also, Lucy actually wakes up on the floor of a public restroom in her wedding dress, which is way more of a dramatic opening.
Anyway, this book is part of the Summer Harbor series, which is one of my favorite series by Hunter. The three Callahan brothers are just the definition of swoon-worthy. Little piece of trivia - Abby from Married Til Monday is their cousin, and the town of Summer Harbor is introduced in that book.
But about Lucy and Zac . . . As I said, Lucy wakes up in a diner bathroom, with a bump on her head, wearing a wedding dress. She calls her fiance Zac to come pick her up only to discover that he isn’t her fiance anymore and hasn’t been for over a year! Lucy has amnesia, with absolutely no memory of why Zac evidently hates her now. And who in the world was she about to marry? Zac wants to protect his still broken heart, yet he can’t resist trying to help Lucy. The mystery of why Lucy left Zac to begin with, who she’s marrying, and why she was in a diner bathroom on her wedding day will keep you on the edge of your seat. As for this couple, you will absolutely want to smash their faces together in frustration, but in the best way!
Yeah, I know, there are a lot of wedding themes here! What can I say? Denise Hunter does this trope so well! Just as the title suggests, Shay and Travis accidentally get married in this book. It’s part of the Big Sky series, set in Montana and featuring rugged ranchers and cowboys, and this one is my favorite of the three. How in the world does one accidentally get married? When you participate in a founder’s day reenactment, of course. Naturally. And the marriage license happens to not be fake, but the one you never used when you almost-eloped at eighteen. Naturally. Okay, maybe the premise is a little far-fetched, but I promise you won’t care. Shay is hurt by the fact that Travis didn’t go through with their elopement all those years ago, but she’s also in a tough spot with her ranch. Marriage to Travis may help her save it, so she’s just going to have to go along with it. She just won’t allow her heart to get involved. Sure, right Shay. Good luck with that. Did I mention that because they are married, things get steamy? You probably figured that already. Let’s just say they are on a ranch, remember, and there is hay. Enough said.
I am a former English teacher turned homeschool mom of three who writes Christian romance novels on the side. You know, in my huge amount of spare time.