Circle of Spies

Circle of Spies is the third of Roseanna M. White’s Culper Spy Ring, a real life spy ring active during the Revolutionary War (Ring of Secrets was the first and Whispers from the Shadows was second). Although we don’t know that the ring continued, Roseanna said in the last book that someone in the CIA said it was possible. So Roseanna imagined how the spy ring could have worked during the War of 1812 in the second book, and now in the Civil War.

Marietta Hughes is an unlikely heroine at first. She has lived mostly for her own will and pleasure, not walking with the God of her parents. She married Lucien Hughes, wealthy president of a railroad company. But Lucien had been killed. Marietta had an understanding with his brother, Devereaux, that they would marry as soon as was proper after her period of mourning.

But then Marietta’s grandfather, Thaddeus Lane, informs her that the Hughes family is not staunchly Unionist, as they proclaim. Not only are they Confederate, but Devereaux is the head of a secret fifth column bent on killing Lincoln and seizing power.

As if that wasn’t enough to turn Marietta’s world upside down, Lane tells her that their family has been involved as a ring of spies since the Revolutionary War. Then he tells her that a Pinkerton man, Slade Osborne, is on his way to infiltrate the secret society to try to find proof that will lead to their arrests. Marietta’s job is to distract Devereaux as much as possible to facilitate Osborne’s investigation.

Thus begins a game of cat-and-mouse. Osborne is not altogether certain he can trust Marietta at first. Marietta is revolted at what she has learned about the Hughes family, but must keep pretending she is in love with Devereaux.

I ached with Marietta as she came to face what she had become and wondered if God could forgive her. Sometimes the realization of the magnitude of one’s sin breaks open to them more fully after they believe. Osborne, too, has a broken background, as well as complications from a twin brother whose values were the opposite of his.

By the end of this book, I wanted to put everything else aside to keep reading what happened. There were some quite exciting twists and turns!

I did disagree with one point, though, when a character says that God doesn’t speak for or against slavery. He does: I wrote once about the Bible and Slavery. But I did like what the character had to say about trying to reconcile the views of different Christians on the issue: “At last we realized we didn’t have to, because God so very rarely tells us what society should do—rather, He tells us how we, as believers, should behave in whatever society to which we belong” (p. 226).

In-between this book and the previous one was a little novella titled A Hero’s Promise. Julienne Lane has been helping a friend, Freeda, hide runaway slaves and get them to safety. Julienne is unsure whether to let her fiance, Jack Arnaud, in on the situation.

Meanwhile, Jack has postponed their wedding twice already but might have to do so again. A mentally unbalanced man is being set up by enemies to assassinate President Jackson, and the Culpers must intervene.

The assassination attempt was based on a true event.

I enjoyed these forays in early American history and spycraft. But even more, I enjoyed the journeys of faith Roseanna takes her characters through.

Book Review: A Quilt for Christmas

Sandra Dallas’ novel, A Quilt for Christmas, takes place in Kansas in 1864. Eliza Spooner is trying to keep the farm together with her two children while her husband is away fighting for the Union. An expert quilter, Eliza decides to make a quilt for her husband’s Christmas present to keep him warm and remind him of her love.

When Eliza’s friend, Missouri Ann, learns that her own husband has died, Eliza invites Missouri Ann and her daughter to stay with her in order to rescue them from Missouri’s abusive in-laws.

Then the unthinkable happens. Eliza receives news that Will has also died. She hopes he was buried in her quilt. Her children and her quilting group help bear her through her grief.

Eliza’s beliefs are put to the test when she is asked to shelter an escaped slave. She has already given a husband to the war: isn’t that enough? And what about the danger to her children? Though Kansas is a Union state, slave catchers in pursuit of a reward could be dangerous to anyone in their way.

As the war ends, soldiers in various states of need show up at her door occasionally, asking for a meal or permission to sleep in the barn overnight. Then one day a soldier shows up with Will’s quilt with the surprising, and at first disconcerting, story of what happened to it after Will died.

I picked this up on my friend Susanne’s recommendation and listened to the audiobook version, nicely read by Pilar Witherspoon.

I thought this was a very well-written book. The story shows the hardships women went through alone on a farm in that time. Not only did they have to deal with their husbands’ absence while fighting or his death, they had all the responsibility of the farm on their shoulders. Even though the North won the war, and the widows and wives received some compensation, many lived in poverty. Yet they were generous, helping others in need as much as they could.

I really liked Eliza’s character and could empathize with her struggles..

I appreciated the emphasis in the last few chapters on forgiveness. Eliza’s son is full of hatred against “Johnnies” because they killed his father. But Eliza tries to teach him that the war is over and they are one nation now.

I also appreciated the talk that, even though only men could fight, there was much women could do to help after all.

Though there is talk of God in the book, I wouldn’t call this Christian fiction. One reason is that Eliza credits her dead husband with watching over her. Another is that, in the talk of forgiveness, nothing is brought up about God’s forgiveness or expectation that we forgive others.

All in all, it was a very good book.