R. E. Bradshaw’s 2x Great Aunt was known as the greatest horsewoman in Wayne County, North Carolina. Wild and untamed, living her life her way, she has inspired Bradshaw to begin a new series which starts at the tail end of the Civil War in Goldsborough, NC. The county is bracing itself for the arrival of Sherman’s troops, the ravages of the bummers and the slow return of the Counties young men, war-weary and damaged in body and mind.
Lottie Bratcher is only 18, but her strong will, fearless nature, and bright mind make her the natural leader of the Bratcher women left to scrabble a survival in their small parcel of land. The men are away fighting a war started by rich men and having little bearing on the poor white families who had never owned slaves and were socially only a step above the free blacks of the area. Scraping a living, guarding their own and protecting the so-called deserters, including her brother Jefferson, Lottie has little time for affairs of the heart and does her best to fight the childhood crush she has for the beautiful heiress Patrice Cole and her twin Patrick. But in times of war allies are frequently thrown together, especially when Patrice is determined that they will be.
This, the first in the Appletree Swamp series, is an intriguing and extremely well-done mix of historical adventure and light-hearted romance, with a delightful twist in the tale for the Bratcher and Cole siblings. The atmosphere created, the action and the setting, are exceptionally well drawn and feel so authentic that you get lost in the lives of the extended family and their neighbours. Full of cameo roles from the illegally literate Medicine Mary, the enchanting ferryman Jacob and even a brief encounter with Sherman himself, Bradshaw has filled the pages with delightful characters who instantly become friends.
The background of the swamp and the detail of the war make this very solidly set in time and place, clearly very familiar territory for Ms Bradshaw who’s eye for detail and love of both family genealogy, Civil War history and the land of her father, shines through in every line. The whole is lightened by the almost comedic attempts of Lottie to avoid the woman who dominates her heart and mind, running like a skittish colt, while Patrice patiently but determinedly chases her down.
Delightful reading, another wonderful example of how an idea can catch the imagination of an excellent writer and a whole world comes to life. From the darkness of the Rainey Bell thrillers through the madcap Decky and Charlie stories and the charming standalone romances such as “Waking up Gray”, R. E. Bradshaw has a real talent for producing deeply felt characters who climb inside our hearts and minds. Her books are always at the top of my reading pile, and the Appletree Swamp series just adds another string to her already full bow.
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(publisher review copy received)
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