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Thursday, December 29, 2016

Book Review: The Innkeeper of Ivy Hill by Julie Klassen

Book Review: The Innkeeper of Ivy Hill by Julie Klassen (Tales from Ivy Hill book 1)

Hey y'all!

I love reading historical fiction books - so I was thrilled when I got this book to review. I had read other things by this author. My favorite book by Julie Klassen is: 

Description of the book: 
First Series from Bestselling Author Julie Klassen!

On a rise overlooking the Wiltshire countryside stands the village of Ivy Hill. Its coaching inn, The Bell, is its lifeblood--along with the coach lines that stop there daily, bringing news, mail, travelers, and much-needed trade.

Jane Bell lives on the edge of the inn property. She had been a genteel lady until she married the charming innkeeper who promised she would never have to work in his family's inn. But when he dies under mysterious circumstances, Jane finds herself The Bell's owner, and worse, she has three months to pay a large loan or lose the place.

Feeling reluctant and ill-equipped, Jane is tempted to abandon her husband's legacy and return to her former life of ease. However, she soon realizes there is more at stake than her comfort. But who can she trust to help her? Her resentful mother-in-law? Her husband's brother, who wanted the inn for himself? Or the handsome newcomer with secret plans of his own . . . ?

With pressure mounting from the bank, Jane struggles to win over naysayers and turn the place around. Can Jane bring new life to the inn, and to her heart as well?

My Review: 

This book took me awhile to get into. While the book is very well written, this was not my favorite book from this author. The characters are very well developed and well written - but it was hard for me to see my self standing there watching everything unfold. 

One of the things that I did enjoy was the well thought out research in regards to Inn Keeping during this time period and the Postal service. I really enjoy getting a history lesson while I am reading. 

Overall, This is not one of my favorite books. I had a hard time getting into the book and the plot was slow moving. However, as stated above, the book is very well written with good character development. I do feel that she sets the stage for future books. I do like the work and description that has gone into the residents of Ivy Hill. 

My overall review: 3.5 stars out of 5. 

I received a complementary copy of this book through the Bethany House blogger review program, but opinions stated are my own. 

About the Author:  (courtesy of 

Julie Klassen loves all things Jane--Jane Eyre and Jane Austen. She worked in publishing for sixteen years and now writes full time. Three of her novels have won the Christy Award for Historical Romance. Her book, The Silent Governess, was also a finalist in the Minnesota Book Awards, ForeWord Reviews Book of the Year Awards, and Romance Writers of America's RITA Awards. Julie is a graduate of the University of Illinois. She and her husband have two sons and live near St. Paul, Minnesota. Visit for more information.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Elizabeth Van Lew -- Union Spy

Elizabeth Van Lew is one of my favorite Civil War Spies -- She was so intriguing to read about - and I loved every moment of her. Ms. Van Lew, along with other women that risked their lives inspired my story that I am working on currently. 

In regards to the American Civil War one of the most effective Union Spies was Elizabeth Van Lew. Van Lew was born on October 25, 1818. She was born in Richmond, Virginia. She was sent to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to obtain her Quaker schooling and she inherited a lot of her Northern sympathies. When she returned home from schooling, “"Slave power," she wrote in her diary, "is arrogant, is jealous and intrusive, is cruel, is despotic." Outspoken and rebellious, she appeared to her neighbors to be more than a little eccentric and soon became known as "Crazy Bet."[1] Once her father passed, her mother and Van Lew freed some of their slaves. Van Lew would then with her mother aid the Northern cause.
Van Lew’s parents were Northerners and once they were married they had moved to Richmond. This was one of the reasons that Van Lew had a Northern Education. This education since was primarily Quaker run, leaned toward abolitionist teachings. These would stay with her always and she would stay connected with the Quakers.
A heart changing experience was during a visit to Hot Springs. Van Lew, who was also called Miss Lizzie, was hanging out with the daughter of a slave trader. The girl was telling Miss Lizzie about some of her father’s experiences as a slave trader. She mentioned how they had recently sold a slave mother and baby on the slave market. When the mother was sold to one master and the baby to another the mother fell over and died. This was a defining moment in her life.
“What a memorable day was the 17th of April 1861. How can I describe my feelings when on my way down town, looking towards the Capitol, I saw the flag of treason floating over it. [Government] John Letcher surrendered the State.”[2] She was very saddened to see all the anti-Union support. Since she was living in a border state she had been hoping that they would not be a state that would secede. She knew that she had to aid the Union.

 After the secession of the Southern States and the Confederate States of America were created those who supported the Union lived in fear. They would live in uncertainty of their own future. They knew that with the secession war would be imminent. Mobs would go into private houses and attack the loyalists to the Union. The loyalty to the Union was now considered treason and families’ names were cursed and slandered.
At this point the Van Lews were known to be staunch supporters of the Union. Their defiance and resistance to embrace the Confederacy would result in personal threats against them. They knew they had to rethink things to not lose everything. “The Van Lews quickly realized their mistake. To avoid deportation, imprisonment, and even possible execution, they had to lead a double life: pretend loyalty the cause while praying and working for the Union. They took flowers and religions books to the South Carolinians at the fairgrounds.”[3] This worked. The threats ceased toward the Van Lew family for a while.
Van Lew “would send valuable intelligence to Union officers, provide food and medicine to prisoners of war and help plan their escapes, and run her own network of spies. “She is considered the most successful Federal spy of the war,” said William Rasmussen, lead curator at the Virginia Historical Society.”[4]  Once her father died, Elizabeth and her mother freed all the family slaves. Several stayed on to work for the Van Lews. One in particular, helped work in the network of spies that Van Lew had created.

One of the things that Van Lew would involve herself in is making sure that Union Prisoners were treated fairly. The prisoners were fellow loyalists that needed help and could be valuable sources. They could provide information on the strength, position, information on resources of the Confederate Army. She knew that she had to find out a way to get the intelligence and get it to the Federal Authorities.
Once she was able to gain access to the prison, which she did so by baking sweets and treats for prison officials, she set right to work trying to get information. Prisoners soon learned to communicate by underlying words in books. The underlined words would be reviewed and strung together to make a code. Van Lew then learned that she could drain the contents of an egg and fill it with little slips of paper that would contain messages. Once suspicion fell on them again they had to show their Southern colors to cast suspicion off of them.
After a trip with her friend in the Van Lews’ carriage to U.S. Congressman John Minor Bott’s farm, the Union would realize what an asset they had in Van Lew. She dove deeper into helping within the prison. Her aid was no longer tolerated so she had to become more creative. She was able to influence surgeons to place prisoners in hospitals where some of her servants worked. This allowed her servants to visit them and give them food. She would be able to pass information through secret space in custard dishes. The prisoners would send messages back through the same dishes.
One of the biggest boldest moves that Van Lew was involved with was helping Erasmus Ross (who was the nephew of a Union sympathizer) obtain a position in the Libby Prison. This would allow her to create and forge a bond with prisoners that were housed there. One of the courier/helpers, a young 15 year old girl named Josephine helped in a daring move. Union Captain Harry S. Howard and assistant surgeon John R. McCullough were in Libby Prison being treated for minor injuries and illnesses. Josephine brought a pouch of fine Virginia Tobacco with a note in the bottom of it that said “would you like to be free? Then be prepared to act. Meet me tomorrow”.
Josephine and McCullough created a plan to put into action. Howard helped McCullough pretend to be dead. Howard covered him with a blanket and they carried him to a makeshift morgue. McCullough laid there from midday until dusk. After a distraction by other inmates, McCullough and Howard walked right out of the hospital and met Josephine. They were successful due to the help of Elizabeth Van Lew.
She eventually moved into assisting Captain Howard. They knew she was capable and careful. They wanted her to be head of Butler’s spy network which she gratefully accepted. She then had to learn how to cipher messages and would carry a cipher key with her.
She had set up five relay stations that were set up between Richmond and City Point (Grant’s headquarters). Couriers would pick up the messages from Van Lew and take them to one of these relay points where another courier would meet them and continue the journey. These relay points could have been anywhere, such as a vegetable farm on the edge of the city. Information that was passed through these relay stations were able to help Union Major General Philip H. Sheridan launch a series of attacks through and around Shenandoah Valley.
Ulysses S. Grant who was named general in chief of Union Armies in 1864 by President Lincoln was forever indebted to Van Lew. Her intelligence that she and gathered and the couriers that she managed were efficient and helpful.

[1] "Elizabeth Van Lew Biography." Elizabeth Van Lew Biography. Accessed July 5, 2016.

[2] L., Van Lew Elizabeth, and David D. Ryan. A Yankee Spy in Richmond: The Civil War Diary of "Crazy Bet" Van Lew. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 1996. Pg. 31

[3] Winkler, H. Donald. Stealing Secrets: How a Few Daring Women Deceived Generals, Impacted Battles, and Altered the Course of the Civil War. Naperville, IL: Cumberland House, 2010.

[4] "Elizabeth Van Lew: An Unlikely Union Spy." Smithsonian. Accessed April 23, 2016.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Women and African American Spies in the Civil War

I love the Civil War. I love reading, watching, learning and everything else that goes along with it. It was a war that is so misunderstood today. It is a war that textbooks do not even touch the surface of. 

When I started preparing ideas for my capstones I had read a book that was called "Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy: Four Women Undercover in the Civil War" It is written by Karen Abbott. It was fascinating to read about these women that risked their lives and their families. I find it fascinating how they were able to put on different hats and charm their way to top secret information. This part of my capstone gives some presentation and background into Spy activities during the Civil War. 

            The American Civil War is one of the most written about pieces of history. Some would call it the last old-fashioned war, and others would call it the first modern war. Brother against brother, father against son, families split down the Mason-Dixon Line. There has been a lot of literature that was written about the reasons and causes leading up to the war, the succession, the generals, the battles and the reconstruction era. It has been difficult to accurately describe the intelligence war between the North and the South.
The chronicling of Civil War intelligence activities challenges historians because of the lack of records, the lack of access to records, and the questionable truth of other records.”[1] The Confederate Secretary of state, Judah P. Benjamin had burned all the intelligence records before the federal troops entered Richmond. There was a lot of other personal papers that were destroyed. Some wrote memoirs and stretched their adventures. There are some identities that went to the grave.
The Confederates utilized the Confederacy’s Signal Corps. This was the group that would deal with communication and intercepts. They would also use drums, banners and trumpets to be able to communicate on the battlefield. A branch of the Signal Corps had a branch that was responsible for “espionage and counter-espionage operations in the North. Late in the war, the bureau set up a secret headquarters in Canada and sent out operatives on covert missions in Northern states.”[2]
The Confederate Signal Corps would be the ones that would set up the first covert intelligence operation that was known as the Secret Service Bureau. This is the department that would handle the passing of the coded messages from Richmond to the North.

The Union Army also utilized Signal Corps.  The Union’s Intelligence agency was ran by Allan Pinkerton. “Pinkerton later called himself “Chief of the United States Secret Service.”[3] Pinkerton would gather intelligence for General George B. McClellan, who was responsible for setting up the United States Secret Service. From this branch there were individuals that worked with a network of individuals that would reach out and collect, intercept, and report.
There has been a lot of literature that has been focused on spying during the Civil War. The valuable information can be found in memoirs, letters, and journals that have been left behind. After the Civil War, Pinkerton Detective agency founder, Allan Pinkerton wrote: The Spy of the Rebellion: A first-hand account of Civil War Espionage – told by the famous head of the Union Intelligence Service. In his work, he tells the stories of some of the information that was uncovered due to spying during the Civil War. He is able to give a true, accurate history of the spy system during the latter part of the Civil War. In this work I have been able to put pieces together and connect stories or people that have been mentioned in passing during some of the other research.

            Early on in the war Pinkerton would realize something: “Pinkerton, meanwhile, was developing a different view of espionage, pursuing what today would be called actionable intelligence. He realized that when the war began, the Confederacy had agents-in-place in Washington, while Northerners had few assets in Richmond. Pinkerton knew he had to establish a counterintelligence presence in Washington—and that he had to get agents into Richmond.”[4] One of the things that the North had to try and figure out was who had infiltrated. These people would have to cover their scent and tracks to be able throw off suspicion.
            Another obstacle that the Union Army would have to overcome is the rural landscaping they were marching through. The Confederates had this advantage. “They were a hardy outdoor breed, primarily rural, accustomed to horses, to firearms and to outdoor life. Federal Soldiers, largely town and city bred often had to be taught to shoot, stay on a horse, March, camp and live in the open.”[5] Since the Rebel Army was already familiar with the landscape, the area, the terrain, the Rebel spies were also going to be move around easily.
            “For Confederates planning espionage against the North, Washington looked like an ideal site: a city 60 miles south of the Mason-Dixon Line, adjacent to slave-holding states, and full of Southern sympathizers. Many of them were in Congress or in the federal bureaucracy, and had access to valuable intelligence. All recruiters had to do was find among them the men and women who would have the courage and the skill to act as reliable agents.”[6] They would have to network with other sympathizers to be able to establish their networks. Washington was center to the Union Army’s operations. It would be an important place to be able to collect espionage. The earliest known recruiter for Confederate Espionage was Governor John Letcher of Virginia. He was able to lay the foundation to start the work in Washington.

Civil War Spies
Unlike the American Revolution there was no set spy rings. Many of those that were involved in espionage did so individually with a few others that were involve. While there are several spies that served their respective government during the war, the four that will be looked at are: Union Spies: Elizabeth Van Lew, Harriet Tubman and Mary Bowser, and Confederate Spies:  Belle Boyd and Rose O’Neal Greenhow.


[1] Allen, Thomas. Intelligence in the American Civil War. New York: Nova Science Publishers, Inc., 2010. EBook Collection (EBSCOhost), EBSCOhost (accessed July 9, 2016). Pg. 1
[2] Ibid. Pg. 1
[3] Ibid. Pg. 21
[4] Ibid. Pg. 24
[5] Bakeless, John. Spies of the Confederacy. Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1970. Pg. 1

[6] Intelligence in the Civil War. Washington, D.C.: Central Intelligence Agency, 2005. Pg. 11

Friday, December 2, 2016

Review of Abducted by Dana Mentink

I was recently sent a copy of “Abducted” by Dana Mentink in exchange for my honest opinion about the book.

I have recently discovered the Love Inspired Series. It was through a giveaway that I was entering that I found them. I am hooked. They are a Christian branch of Harlequin (I know, not something you thought would be possible.) They have three categories. Love Inspired (mostly clean romance), Love Inspired Suspense (Suspenseful romances of Danger and Faith)  and Love Inspired Historical (Historical Romances of Adventure and Faith).

The book “Abducted” is part of the Pacific Coast Private Eyes Series. This book is the 3rd in the series. I have not read the other books and I had no problem following along.

Here is the synopsis from the back of the book:
When the high school sweetheart she never expected to see again bursts through the door of her medical mission clinic, nurse Sarah Gallagher can't hold back her shock. But Dominic Jett isn't there to catch up. He's trying to save a life, and the thugs on his tail will stop at nothing to catch him. Now abducted and imprisoned on a remote island, Sarah and Jett become pawns in a tug-of-war between a powerful drug lord and a devious madman. And their only chance for survival is working together to find the valuable painting the dangerous men are searching for. But with someone trying to kill them at every turn, can they locate it in time to keep their reunion from turning fatal?

My Review

I could not put this book down. It had me instantly hooked as soon as I started reading. The character descriptions had me feeling like I was friends with them. This book is jam packed full of action, suspense and romance. It was an easy read, even though I had not read the previous books in the series. It was fast paced, suspenseful and I found myself sad when the book concluded.
Sarah, one of the main characters is open about her faith and shares how she relies on God.  I really enjoyed seeing this character stay positive and trusting toward God in moments of turmoil.
I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to read a clean, suspenseful edge of your seat mystery.

5 Star Rating!!! 

Disclaimer: While I was gifted a copy of the book from the author – all opinions are my own. 

Thursday, December 1, 2016

James Armistead Lafayette American Spy

This next edition is going to feature James Armistead Lafayette an American Spy. This is the last of the American Revolutionary Spies and the next will feature the beginning of the Civil War Spies. 

            African Americans were able to fly under the radar because they were considered illiterate and did not have the intelligence to understand what was going on around them. This was still a time where they were considered property of their white owners. There were some, like James Armistead Lafayette that rose above these hurdles and were of great value to their country. “James Armistead Lafayette remains one of the most important, yet least known figures of the American Revolutionary War.”[1]
James Armistead Lafayette whose birthdate is not completely clear. His exact birthdate is not known since they did not usually keep track of the birth or death statistics. Some research has put his birthdate at: December 10, 1748. However some research has put his birth year in the year 1760. He was categorized as a farm hand in records. Both North and Southern Slave owners would categorize and sort their slaves into different categories. They could be sorted by: intelligence, appearance (this was to possibly work as a house slave), and their language skills. 
He was owned by General William Armistead. General William Armistead owned tobacco fields. When the revolutionary war started, James volunteered to be in the Continental Army. General Armistead had given his permission for him to enlist. “According to historians, hundreds of slaves chose to join a rebellion by the Virginia governor, the Earl of Dunmore, in 1775 for just such a reason. Tens of thousands of slaves fled to the British Army after Sir Henry Clintons' Philipsburg Declaration in 1779. However, more black men ended up fighting under George Washington for various colonial militias”[2] While slavery was still legal in America, Armistead wanted to fight for the democratic ideas that he would not be able to enjoy. Armistead might have also wanted to volunteer to get a temporary reprieve from working in the tobacco fields.
Armistead was placed under the service of General Lafayette. They immediately wanted to use him as a spy. “James volunteered to serve as a secret courier between spies already planted in British General Cornwallis’s headquarters at Portsmouth. Armistead, a provisions officer with Lafayette’s army, allowed his slave to begin a career as a spy. He knew how vital intelligence was to counter future British movements, and that a white man so planted as a servant would be under far greater suspicion.”[3] He would then pose as a laborer. This would allow him to act like he was looking for work. He was able to make it to the encampment of the British Army located in Virginia.  He was able to align himself with Benedict Arnold. This would allow him to be considered trustworthy and infiltrate deeper. He was able to position himself within the headquarters of General Cornwallis.
While in the headquarters of General Cornwallis, Armistead was able to relay the movement of the British Troops and their movements. “Historians believe that he gathered the information that he overheard as a waiter in the camp and disseminated it to a network of other black men who would move back and forth between the enemy lines.”[4] Armistead was not able to gain access to Cornwallis’ personal papers. While he was not able to get every single piece of information he was able to extract enough information to keep Armistead abreast of what the British were doing, moving and saying.
He was successful because while he was able to gain trust from the British Army, they also thought he could be a runaway slave that they could use as an asset. Arnold thought that they could use him to guide them through unfamiliar territories. They figured that since he was a runaway slave he would be able to navigate easily back through where he would have escaped through.
Once the war was over he had to return to his life as a slave. He was not eligible to be freed under the Act of 1783 for slave soldiers. This was because he was considered a slave spy. He eventually met up with General Lafayette, who was saddened that he was still living as a slave. He was so disappointed that he had written a letter on Armistead’s behalf to try and have his freedom secured for him. This took two years, and the Virginia General Assembly chose to emancipate him. In honor of Lafayette, James Armistead made his last name Lafayette.
After he became a free man. He moved to New Kent County in Virginia. He purchased forty acres of land. He then became a farmer. He married and had several children. He was given approximately $40 a year by the Virginia legislature. This money was given to him for his services during the American Revolution. The freedoms that he had desired for were finally granted. Armistead died August 9, 1830.
There are some that were involved in spy activities that were not named. Benjamin Tallmadge reflected in his memoir about one of these women. “Very soon I saw a young female coming out from the city, who also came to the same tavern. After we had made ourselves known to each other, and while she was communicating some intelligence to me, I was also informed that the British light horse were advancing.”[5] While this woman was able to tip him off and pass information off to each other. This woman was not identified anywhere.

[1] Witherbee, Amy. "James Armistead Lafayette." James Armistead Lafayette (January 2007): 1. MasterFILE Premier, EBSCOhost (accessed July 17, 2016).
[2] Ibid.
[3] Flanders, Alan. "BLACK SPIES WERE KEY TO AMERICAN DEFEAT OF CORNWALLIS IN REVOLUTION." The Virginian-pilot, February 12, 1999.

[4] Witherbee, Amy. "James Armistead Lafayette." James Armistead Lafayette (January 2007): 1. MasterFILE Premier, EBSCOhost (accessed July 17, 2016).
[5] Tallmadge, Benjamin. Memoir of Colonel Benjamin Tallmadge. New York: new York Times, 1968. Pg. 26