The Names of the Stars by Ann Tatlock

Annalise Rycroft’s family makes a hard living in a troupe of Vaudeville acts in 1918. Living in rundown hotels in cities across the United States is the only life the thirteen-year-old remembers. Anna longs for the audience applause known by her mother and uncles. It’s the only appreciation her family knows—yet stage-fright silences Anna’s angelic voice.

She doesn’t remember the father that her mother says she’s better off without. Nor does she have a home. Anna rereads her favorite book—A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens—and fears she’s one of the “surplus population.”

Mother tells her to ignore nightmares about a baby that plague her. Dreams mean nothing to Mother unless they are of fame.

The author has skillfully woven an intricate, multi-layered story. Twists and turns deepen the web that entangles the characters.

Well-written. Thought-provoking. Honest. Tragic. Filled with surprises—and surprising wisdom.

One of the marks of a truly great story is that it digs its ways into your soul and pushes you to reevaluate. The story stays with you.

This is one of those stories. Highly recommend this book and this author!

-Sandra Merville Hart

Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas

Sandra Merville Hart’s Interview about the Western Theater

Recently, I was invited to interview for The Western Theater in the Civil War website with questions about my inspiration for writing historical novels and the Civil War in the Western Theater. The Battle of Franklin, Tennessee, which was such a tragic loss of life for the Southerners, is also highlighted.

I also answered questions about women disguising themselves as men to pose as Civil War soldiers, an important aspect of  A Musket in My Hands,  which is set in Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi in 1864.

You can read the interview  here!


A Heart Surrendered by Joy K. Massenburge

Sharonda Peterson is almost engaged to someone who travels constantly for his job at church so she rarely sees him. All she has to do is set the date for their wedding for their engagement to be official. Yet, as her thirtieth birthday approaches, she hesitates. Her heart yearns for Carl, a gifted man who left her behind years ago to pursue a singing career.

Carl is recovering from a difficult surgery that nearly claimed his life. He wants to get right with God … and Sharonda. He takes a job at the church where he tries to make up for past wrongs to her.

Sharonda has spent so many years trying to please her parents—especially her difficult mother—that she resists her heart’s pleading to reunite with Carl, the only man she ever loved.

Honest, with plenty of unexpected twists and turns. I was so into the story that at times I wanted to shake some of the characters when they made bad choices.

The struggles of the main characters tugged at my heart. Secondary characters also wrestle with difficulties. The author skillfully weaves a story where the struggles of the secondary characters enhance the pain of the main characters. Very well done.

Massenburge also beautifully illustrates how the pain of one generation can be passed down to the next … and then the next.

I will look for more books by this author.

-Sandra Merville Hart

Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas


Raspberry Frangipane Tart

I’ve been watching The Great British Baking Show and learning a lot about dishes that are new to me. Even more helpful is The Great British Baking Show Masterclass, where talented bakers Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry demonstrate their own recipes.

Mary Berry shared her recipe for a frangipane tart on one of the episodes. I’d never made one so I watched carefully and wrote down all the instructions.

She advised bakers that several fruits would taste delicious in this recipe. Just choose a fresh fruit that’s in season. Though her apricot frangipane tart looked delicious, they weren’t in season when I made the dessert. I chose raspberries instead.

Though it challenged me to convert “grams” to cups, her recipe was pretty easy to follow.

Frangipane takes it name from Marquis Muzio Frangipani, who lived in France. This 16th century Italian nobleman invented an almond scent that was used to add a fragrance to gloves. This somewhat bitter perfume inspired French bakers to create the classic frangipane recipe.

If you’d like to check out one of Mary Berry’s frangipane desserts, here’s the link.

I took this dessert to a family gathering and they were excited to try it. Frangipane was a new dish for everyone and most of them liked it. Some thought that the raspberry jam layer and the fruit of the top greatly enhanced the dessert. I liked it but felt it needed a little more almond flavor. I was very glad I tried it.

Have you ever made this dessert?

-Sandra Merville Hart


“Frangipane,” Baking Encyclopedia, 2020/07/19

Radford Gatlin’s Store Gives a Town a Name


by Sandra Merville Hart

Settlers from the eastern states of North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia had lived in the area of Tennessee now known as Gatlinburg almost a half-century before Radford Gatlin arrived.

North Carolinian Radford Gatlin came to White Oak Flats with his wife and a slave woman in 1854. He purchased property around the mouth of Roaring Fork Creek that extended over from what later became known as Burg Hill to Huckleberry Ridge. He built a home and a store on his land.

Gatlin, a shrewd businessman, hauled merchandise from Sevierville on horseback or on his shoulders because there were no wagon roads. He stocked large quantities of coffee, salt, sugar, guns, axes, rifles, and ammunition—items in great demand. Residents at the time recalled the heavy, clear-toned cowbells sold by the store.

A deeply religious man, Gatlin established a church and called it New Hampshire Baptist Gatlinites. About half the folks attended at first. Crowds dwindled as hard feelings arose against the overbearing and antagonistic preacher. The Gatlins were charged with abusing their servant.

Soon he was forbidden to preach at the church. Around this time, his barn burned. He accused Elisha Ogle of setting the fire. Ogle sued. Gatlin lost and had to sell his land to repay money borrowed to defend himself.

Gatlin paid grant fees on a claim of 50,000 acres that extended to the top of the Great Smokies over toward Maryville in 1855, and it was recorded in Sevierville at the county’s courthouse.

Dick Reagan, the postmaster, was one of Gatlin’s friends. In 1856, the post office was in Gatlin’s store and Reagan named it Gatlinburg in his friend’s honor.

Gatlin’s slave fell ill and died. She is buried in a field about twenty feet east of where Ogle Brothers’ Store once stood. Jane Huskie and James Bohannon are also buried there. Both women are in unmarked graves.

Sentiment in the mountains during the 1850s was for the Union while Gatlin was strongly outspoken in support of the Confederacy. As the Civil War approached, Gatlin gave such a bitter speech that masked men severely beat him one night and ordered him to leave.

No valid claims were found for his vast acreage. Some belonged to prior claims and some was even across North Carolina’s state boundary. Destitute, he left Gatlinburg in 1859 or 1860.

Gatlin moved to Fultonville where he started a school. He wrote textbooks–a reader and a speller–that he used there as a teacher. One of the families kept an old receipt from Gatlin for $4, the cost of their son’s quarterly tuition.


“8 Huge Moments in Gatlinburg History and Pigeon Forge History,” Timber Tops Cabin Rentals, 2020/08/23

“Gatlinburg, Tennessee,” Wikipedia, 2020/08/24,_Tennessee.

Greve, Jeanette S. The Story of Gatlinburg, Premium Press America, 2003.

“Smoky Mountain History: How Did Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge and Sevierville Get Their Names?” Visit My Smokies, 2020/08/23

“The Story of Gatlinburg,” Gatlinburg Convention and Visitors Bureau, 2020/08/23

Our Heart Psalms by Joyce K. Ellis

Many of the topics in this book, such as grief, worry, and suffering—have been experienced by most readers, making this a helpful source of comfort.

The author begins each devotional with a scripture reference. Scattered throughout are psalms written by the author.

Journal prompts are included for the reader to write their own thoughts, prayers, or psalms. Ellis shows us how to write our own psalms of lament, praise, thanksgiving, confession, and creation. She gives her own examples as well as some written by other authors.

Most of the chapters in the book are longer than other devotionals, yet the wisdom imparted by the author’s own experiences are worth the extra time.

Honest and insightful. A great book!

-Sandra Merville Hart

Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas

Practically Married by Karin Beery

Ashley moves to Michigan to marry her best friend though she’s a little miffed Tom has stopped returning her calls. She learns of the accident that claimed his life when she arrives on his farm.

There’s a good reason no one thought to inform her. Tom didn’t tell his family about their upcoming marriage.

Russ, Tom’s cousin and business partner, had lived on the farm with him—Ashley’s only home since she sold her Ohio property. Russ doesn’t know her but it’s just like Tom to keep his relationship a secret. Then he learns that Tom left the farm—Russ’s livelihood—to his fiancé.

Tom’s accident recalls the fatal accident of Ashley’s parents and she struggles to cope with all the tragedy in her life. Though she can’t deny her attraction to Russ, she’s reluctant to rob him of his family home. What can be done?

This contemporary romance snagged my interest immediately. There are twists and turns throughout that kept me turning pages. This romance doesn’t follow the normal pattern, making the story more intriguing. I loved the honesty of the characters. I felt that I knew them by the end of the story.

I’ll look for more books by this author!

-Sandra Merville Hart

Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas

Granny’s Tea Cakes

by Sandra Merville Hart

I was so excited that friend and fellow author Debra DuPree Williams shared a recipe from her debut novel, Grave Consequences, that I asked her if I could share another one from her novel. Happily, she agreed. This is her family’s recipe for her Granny’s Tea Cakes.

Southern tea cakes are more like a thick cookie than a cake. They probably were created in rural Southern kitchens from basic ingredients and passed down through the generations.

“Sis and I lamented that we don’t have any of our granny’s recipes,” Debra says. “I doubt she wrote down anything. They were all stored inside her mind and her heart.”

Granny’s Tea Cakes

1 stick butter

1 cup sugar

2 eggs

1 Tbs. buttermilk

¼ tsp baking soda

flour (Note: she didn’t include quantity. See below.)

Cream butter and sugar. Add eggs, buttermilk, then soda. Add flour and beat until it is of a consistency that can be rolled out. (Sandra used about 2 cups of flour.) Roll out on floured board and cut into small cakes. Bake at 350 degrees until golden brown.

I used a glass as a “cake cutter” and baked them in a preheated oven for about 20 minutes. Depending on the individual size of the cakes, you may need more or less time.

These are deliciously soft, thick cookies that remind me of my own grandmother’s stack cakes. The tea cakes are a little plain so I dusted mine with powdered sugar. The next time I bake them, I’ll add cinnamon to the batter.

This basic recipe will be easy to modify to your family’s preferences.

Thanks for allowing me to share these tea cakes with my Historical Nibbles family, Debra!


Williams, Debra DuPree. Grave Consequences, Firefly Southern Fiction, 2020.

Shannon, Patricia. “What is a Southern Tea Cake Anyway?”, Southern Living, 2020/08/22

When Gatlinburg was known as White Oak Flats


by Sandra Merville Hart

Indian Gap Trail was a footpath that Cherokee traveled to hunt in the Smoky Mountains. It connected to a trail that followed the West Fork of the Little Pigeon River through what is now Sevierville, Pigeon Forge, and Gatlinburg over the mountains into North Carolina.

There were many settlers in Sevier County when Sevierville became the county seat in 1793. William Oglesby came to the Gatlinburg area from Edgefield, South Carolina. He cut and notched logs to build a cabin with the help of the Cherokee. Then he returned home for his family. Unfortunately, he caught malaria and died in 1803.

Martha Jane Huskey Oglesby, his widow, brought her family to the mountains and found the logs as her husband left them four years earlier and built a cabin. They shortened their name to Ogle.

Jane’s oldest daughter, Rebecca, was already married when they arrived. She and her husband James McCarter settled in what’s now called Cartertown. Isaac Ogle, Jane’s oldest son, owned 50 acres around Mill Creek.

By 1802, Richard Reagan had moved with his family from Virginia. Daniel Wesley Reagan was born on October 15, 1802, the first child born in the new settlement that was soon to be called White Oak Flats for the area’s abundance of white oak trees.

Pioneers settling in White Oak Flats around this time were John Ownby, Jr. and Henry Bohanon. Other early family names are Whaley, Trentham, Pinckney, and Maples.

There were no wagon roads. The pioneers carried their possessions over rough trails to make a home in the Smoky Mountains. They chopped down trees to plant crops and build cabins and barns.

James Bohannon was the first person to die in White Oak Flats. While carrying a heavy sack of maple sugar across a foot log bridge on the Pigeon River, he fell off and drowned.

Cherokee and Creeks resented their presence—it caused fights and friction. Gradually the Native Americans left the Smokies.

Many early residents may have been Revolutionary War soldiers who received fifty acres of land from North Carolina. (Tennessee had been part of North Carolina during the war.) Soldiers brought warrants with them, paying 75 cents for their property. The Sevier County Courthouse burned in 1824, losing all records, so this can’t be proven except by family tradition.

Worship services were first held out-of-doors until a church was built where the roads crossed. (Ogle Brothers’ store later stood there.)

Folks continued to move to the area. A second church was built near the mouth of Mill Creek on river road. This five-cornered building served the community as a church and school from 1816—35. They then built a log building, The White Oak Flats Baptist Church, on the Bearskins Creek bank in 1835.

The post office moved to Radford Gatlin’s store and White Oak Flats became known as Gatlinburg in 1856.


“Gatlinburg, Tennessee,” Bearskin Lodge, 2020/08/24

“Gatlinburg, Tennessee,” Wikipedia, 2020/08/24,_Tennessee.

Greve, Jeanette S. The Story of Gatlinburg, Premium Press America, 2003.

“The Story of Gatlinburg,” Gatlinburg Convention and Visitors Bureau, 2020/08/23

Call of the Mountain by Yvonne Lehman

Book 3 in Finding Love in the Blue Ridge Mountains Series

Beth tries to talk her younger sister, Carol, out of having an abortion. The father doesn’t want the child and does not support her. Carol gives Beth an ultimatum—Beth must raise the baby as her own or she ends the pregnancy. She has two weeks to decide.

Stranded by a snowstorm, Beth meets the Logan family. Josh Logan is certainly a handsome and compassionate bachelor and catches Beth’s eye, but she already has a boyfriend. She worries about Randy’s reaction to her raising her sister’s child and begins to understand the emotions and fears of an unwed mother.

My interest was captured right away by a young single woman’s plight of the cost of potentially raising her sister’s child as her own. The romance also snagged my attention and I was pulling for “the best man” to win her heart.

I’ve read many books by this author and Lehman has never disappointed me. Looking forward to reading the rest of the series!

-Sandra Merville Hart