Free to Love by Bettie Boswell

Reviewed by Sandra Merville Hart

Prequel to On Cue

I had read On Cue, Boswell’s contemporary romance that began this series. This prequel to that story is very strong and I had a hard time putting it down.

This novel is a time-slip story. The modern-day story is that Ginny Cline is researching to write a musical as a fundraiser for the Woodson House, a recent addition to a local museum. Ginny’s task is to write a musical showing the Woodson House’s connection to the Underground Railroad.

Missy, the teenaged daughter of an Alabama plantation owner in 1858, has been raised with Early, one of her father’s slaves. The teenagers who bear a striking resemblance to one another are friends, though Early begins to understand that things are not the same between them after Missy’s father remarries. The harsh stepmother is the least of the girls’ worries because Sidney, Missy’s new stepbrother, has evil designs on both young ladies.

To make matters worse, Missy’s father’s health is failing and he does little to protect either girl.

But Missy’s aunt is coming for a visit. Will she help them?

The historical thread comprises over 90% of this story, which was fine with me. My interest was quickly snagged and I couldn’t turn pages fast enough. The danger to both ladies continues throughout, adding to the suspense. The author does a wonderful job building tension and suspense. The relationship between the two ladies changes and revolves through the story.

I couldn’t put the book down. There were punctuation errors that jumped out at me but, on the whole, it’s a great book.

I will look for more books by this author.


Henry “Box” Brown

by Sandra Merville Hart

Henry “Box” Brown earned his unusual nickname in a surprising way. Wishing to escape slavery in a Richmond tobacco factory, Brown mailed himself to Philadelphia.

Brown’s wife, Nancy, was also enslaved by Samuel Cottrell and lived with their children on an adjacent plantation. Brown developed skills at the factory that enabled him to earn money. Cottrell charged Brown $50 a year to not sell his family. Brown paid it but Cottrell sold his pregnant wife and three children anyway in 1848.

His grief spurred him to escape. Brown, a Christian, sang in the choir at the First African Baptist Church. He prayed for guidance about his escape and the answer came to get in a box and mail himself.

Brown turned to James Caesar Anthony Smith, a free black choir friend, for help. James knew a white sympathizer, Samuel Alexander Smith, who agreed to help for a price. Samuel arranged for Henry to be shipped via Adams Express Company to James Miller McKim of the Philadelphia Anti-Slavery Society who also participated in the Underground Railroad.

On March 23, 1849, Henry traveled in a 3 feet long, 2 feet wide, and 2 ½ feet deep wooden box labeled “Dry Goods” and “This Side Up.” The box was lined with coarse wool cloth. With one air hole cut into the box, a few biscuits and water, Henry traveled by train on the Richmond, Fredericksburg, and Potomac Railroad to a steamboat on the Potomac River.

His box was turned upside down and Henry felt like he wasn’t going to survive the trip. Then two men who needed a seat turned his box the right way to sit on it, possibly saving Henry’s life.

When he finally arrived 26-27 hours later, four men opened his box. Henry recited a psalm about waiting patiently on the Lord. Then he sang the psalm, which touched the men who helped him.

Instead of keeping his escape methods to himself, as Frederick Douglass suggested, Henry began speaking to audiences about his experiences two months later. He also performed for them the psalm he had sung. The Narrative of Henry Box Brown written by Charles Stearns was published in 1849, and Brown and Stearns sold them at lectures.

The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, requiring slaves to be returned to their owners even when in a free state, passed on September 18th, and Henry feared he’d be captured and taken back to Richmond. He fled to England with Smith.

Henry lived there for 25 years. During those years he performed for audiences as a mesmerist. When he returned to the United States with his wife and daughter, he also performed as a magician.

Henry “Box” Brown is remembered for the creative way he escaped to the North, inspired by the prayers of a man of faith.

Brown and others inspired me in my writing. One of the characters in Byway to Danger, Book 3 in my “Spies of the Civil War” series, has a station on the Underground Railroad in Richmond.


“Fugitive Slave Act,” American Battlefield Trust, 2022/06/20

“Henry Box Brown,” Encyclopedia Virginia, 2022/06/20

Newby-Alexander, PHD, Cassandra L. Virginia Waterways and the Underground Railroad, History Press, 2017.

Walls, Dr. Bryan. “Freedom Marker: Courage and Creativity,”, 2022/06/22

At Lighthouse Point by Suzanne Woods Fisher

Reviewed by Sandra Merville Hart

Three Sisters Island, Book 3

I bought this book without realizing it was Book 3 in a series. I normally try to read books in order as the characters tend to build on another in each story. I’d recommend reading the other books in the series first. Still, I was able to understand the gist of what happened in earlier stories and it made sense.

Chef Blaine Grayson is back home on Three Sisters Island. She dreams of running the restaurant for Camp Kicking Moose, her family’s campground, but nothing goes according to plan—beginning with her sister’s completed design for the camp’s kitchen. Blaine had dreamed of remodeling it. Plus, both her sisters are pregnant and had decided to surprise her with the news when she arrives.

Her estranged grandfather is staying with them.

And her best friend, Artie Lotosky, gives Blaine the cold shoulder. She doesn’t understand his reasons and he’s not explaining them.

There is romance in this story yet it’s more about family relationships. The story is told in multiple viewpoints. The characters are lovable—and, at times, frustrating. The author inserted many scenes from Blaine’s past into the story, which jarred me from the current scene.

This well-written book kept me turning pages. I will look for more books by this author.

Ida Scudder by Terri B. Kelly

Reviewed by Sandra Merville Hart

Missionary Doctor

I had read Mary Slessor: Missionary Mother, a biography written by Terri Kelly of a Scottish missionary (1848 – 1915) whose heart’s desire was to serve God and the people of Africa, and looked forward to reading Ida Scudder: Missionary Doctor.

Kelly did not disappoint me.

Ida Scudder was reluctant to join her parents’ mission in India. She had a mind of her own and lived with a spirit of fun back at the Northfield Seminary for Girls in Massachusetts. After all, it’s 1889, and the high school student didn’t want to live the rest of her life in poverty at the mission.

Then her mother falls ill and Ida needs to return to India. Caring for her mother through her illness and seeing the great need for female doctors changes her mind about her future.

I love how the author allows Ida’s mischievous nature to shine as well as her real struggle with her decision to become a missionary doctor.  

Her life and fierce faith changed many lives.

This biography is written for children 9 – 12. I’d say that middle-school aged boys and girls will be inspired by this story.  

I also recommend it for adults. Though written in language children can understand, this biography was a page turner for me.

I will look for more books by this author.

-Sandra Merville Hart

No-churn Chocolate Ice Cream

by Sandra Merville Hart

It always thrills me to find recipes for something I never dreamed of making. I don’t own an ice-cream maker and thought I’d have to purchase one before making homemade ice cream. Imagine my surprise at finding a no-churn recipe. And it’s easy to make!

I followed the Food Network’s recipe for No-Churn Chocolate Ice Cream. Click on the link for the recipe.

One of my grandchildren (the other watched his favorite show 😊) was thrilled to make this ice cream with me early in the day to be ready for an afternoon treat, as it requires 5 hours in the freezer before serving.

It’s amazingly quick and easy—and fun with a little one helping you and sneaking a lick of chocolaty fingers. 😊

I followed the recipe except I sprinkled a layer of milk chocolate chips in the middle and on top (about an ounce of chips in total) because I love chocolate-chocolate chip ice cream.

It turned out creamy and delicious! I could taste the cocoa, giving it an enhanced chocolate flavor over most frozen ice creams.

I lined my loaf pan with parchment paper. After the ice cream was frozen, the parchment paper was turned down to cover the ice cream in the freezer. Another option is to choose a container with a lid from the start, which is what I will do next time.

Additional add-ins—crushed cookies in a middle layer; M&M baking bits in a middle layer and on top; or gummy snack treats or sprinkles as decoration on top.

A fun summertime treat!


“No-Churn Chocolate Ice Cream,” Food Network, 2022/08/08

Endorsements for Byway to Danger

by Sandra Merville Hart

I was thrilled to receive three wonderful endorsements for Byway to Danger. Book 3 in my “Spies of the Civil War” series released on July 19, 2022. It’s set in the Confederate capital of Richmond and Fort Monroe, both in Virginia, in 1862.

“Several years ago I had the distinct pleasure of vetting Sandra Hart’s first manuscript submitted to our publishing company. Her story was about the Battle of Lookout Mountain, and became her acclaimed first novel A Stranger on My Land. I was amazed then at her level of research and the small details she got right. Not to mention her intriguing story and her courage in offering a fresh look at a battle that had been covered many times before. Now, several books later, I’m delighted to say that not only has Sandra maintained her quality, but her level of research and attention to detail has only improved from what was already an impressively high standard. In her new book, Byway to Danger, the third in her Spies of the Civil War series, Sandra has taken her writing to new heights. She sprinkles awesome historical details throughout her story that enrich the story without overpowering it.  I could almost smell the goodies cooking in the bakery that is our heroine Meg’s base of operations. Sandra Hart has crafted a wonderful story, with rich characters and a taut, roller coaster of a ride through the streets of Confederate Richmond, Virginia, and the incredibly tense lives of the undercover Union spies who live there. Yet even in constant danger, love can grow like a flower through concrete, and this too Sandra nurtures with a fine and delicate hand. Byway to Danger is simply a delightful, wonderful read…I hated to see it end!”

~ Kevin Spencer, Author, North Carolina Expatriates

“Award-winning and Amazon Bestselling Author Sandra Merville Hart brings us another Civil War sweet romance you will not want to miss. Byway to Danger combines her gentle storytelling style with a plot full of secrets, danger, and sweet romance that kept me glued to the page. This is the last book of the Spies of the Civil War series and stands on its own but, if you missed the other books, after reading this you’ll want to read the other two books.” 

~Catherine Castle, Multi-Award-Winning Author

Byway to Danger is an intriguing look into the heroism of the men and women loyal to the Union living in the South. Sandra Merville Hart’s novels always satisfy this history buff with details that bring the characters to life. The love story between Meg, a Union spy and former Pinkerton, and Cade Yancey, the baker she works for who is also a conductor on the Underground Railroad, is touching as they both overcome past heartache to find love together. I found myself transported back to a time when danger lurked everywhere but also where joy still reigned.

~Cindy Thomson, Author of the Ellis Island Series and the Daughters of Ireland Series

Emma’s Quest by Starr Ayers

Reviewed by Sandra Merville Hart

Book 2 in “Dream Beyond Tomorrow” Series

A packet of love letters found among the possessions of the author’s deceased mother sparked the first book of the series, a wonderful timeslip story. Emma’s Quest, Book 2, is another timeslip novel with some of the same characters in a continuation of the story.

Two sisters in modern day still try to piece together their mother’s early courtships and her romance with their father. It has plenty of twists and turns…

Emma Rose Walsh’s story begins in 1939. Whe travels to Chicago where the handsome Andrew Brown works as an artist. Things don’t start out well when he isn’t there to pick her up from the train.

Drew’s job takes him to various cities for short jaunts and Emma has only her waitressing job and a few friends in Chicago to keep her busy. She’s lonely and longs for her friends and family back in North Carolina.

And with the war in Europe escalating, there’s plenty happening on all fronts.

This nostalgic story has plenty of suspense. The contemporary story with the sisters intrigues readers with clues about what’s coming in the historical side.

As in the first book, more than one man is worthy of a good woman. I found myself pulling for first one and then the other to win Emma’s heart.

The country marches ever closer to World War II and then is catapulted into it, and every character is affected by. As the story continued, it snagged my interest making it difficult to put down.   

Recommended for readers of inspirational historical romance.


Emerald Fields by Pegg Thomas

Reviewed by Sandra Merville Hart

A More Perfect Union, Book 1

Emmie Mason receives the sad news of her friend’s death from the woman’s brother, Russ Fields. She’s never met Russ, but answers his letter with her condolences. She’s not the only one grieving her best friend.

Her letter to the lonely veteran of the War Between the States is gratefully received. Russ, whose face is so badly scarred from battle wounds that he shields that side of his profile, answers her letter. When the correspondence continues, friendship grows between them. Russ comforts himself that she’ll never see his scars—or know the terrible way the war still haunts him.   

Emmie loses her job at the Pittsburgh hospital near her home and wonders what it would be like to see Russ’s Michigan farm. The loss of her job gives her more time to spend with her dying father.

I loved this story! Lovable characters tugged at my heart—even the crusty ones. Lots of unexpected turns kept my attention. I didn’t want to put the book down.

Readers are given a glimpse of the trauma of war’s aftermath.

Well-written. Unexpected. Poignant. The author has crafted a beautiful story to begin this series!  

Recommended for readers of inspirational historical romance.


Ice Cream Cake

by Sandra Merville Hart

My sister has a summer birthday and she told me how much she enjoyed making an ice cream cake with her young grandchildren, aged 5 and 2.

It sounded like so much fun that I decided to do the same with my grandchildren around the same age. The best part is you can modify this recipe and choose your favorites.

I asked her if she froze the cake between adding layers and she didn’t—but they must have worked quickly. I didn’t freeze the cake before adding the second layer of ice cream but I will next time. That’s the suggestion I’d make for you if you’re using 2 different layers of ice cream.

Below is the list of ingredients I used for our ice cream cake. Change them for your family’s preferences. 😊


Fudge brownies—make from scratch or use a mix

½ gallon chocolate ice cream

½ gallon cookies and cream ice cream

10-12 Oreo cookies, crushed


Chocolate ganache—9 ounces unsweetened chocolate and 1 cup heavy cream

Use a springform pan to layer this dessert.

Bottom layer—prepare a brownie recipe and cook it in the springform pan. Allow it to cool.

Next, prepare the chocolate ganache. Set aside to cool for about 10 minutes.

On top of the cooled brownie inside the springform pan, scoop in a layer of chocolate ice cream.

Next, spoon on a thin layer of ganache.

On top of the ganache, sprinkle a layer of crushed Oreos.

Freeze all this in the pan for about half an hour.

Next, add a layer of cookies and cream ice cream.

Top it with sprinkles.

Freeze until ready to serve.

This was a little messy with young children but it was worth it. What fun! Their creative side came into play and, well, let’s just say the sprinkles ended up in a heap. I didn’t mind at all.

When it came time to serve the cake, I allowed 30 minutes of thawing time. It was too hard to slice, so I’d suggest removing it from the freezer an hour ahead of time.

Delicious! As if it could be anything else with 2 kinds of ice creams, fudge brownies, Oreos, ganache, and sprinkles!

What a great summertime activity with the kids! Be prepared for a bit of a mess and have fun with it. Creating a cake using flavors your family will love is half the fun.

Suggestions for alternatives: Instead of brownies as a bottom layer, substitute with large chocolate chip cookie layer.

Substitute the crushed Oreos with your favorite cookie.

Substitute one of the ice cream layers with chocolate mousse.