Bradford Junction, A Railroad Town

by Sandra Merville Hart

In 1870, the Ohio railroad town of Bradford Junction (now known as Bradford) had a population around 400.

Trains stopped at specific depots for meal stops. These were called eating stations. General S.E. Ogden took over Hoover House and renamed it Ogden Hotel and Restaurant and was one of the eating stations in Bradford Junction. Louie’s Place was another spot where train passengers obtained hot meals.

Farmers or widows often sold fruit or cakes on the platform to passengers not desiring a big, hot meal as a cheaper alternative.

A child or teenager sometimes boarded the train to sell candy, cold drinks, or newspapers. Bradford’s first newspaper, the Railroad Gazette, was no doubt sold to people passing through.

Meal stops were generally twenty minutes only. The conductor entered the eating stations and announced how long diners had before the train departed. If they weren’t on the train, they were left.

In the 1880s, the Miami Hotel charged $1 a day for first-class accommodations.

Private boarding houses offered housing to railroad men. Widows of railroad workers also rented rooms as a way to make income. Men who rented from these families were expected to maintain a respectful manner. He enjoyed clean bed linens and meals with the family. In return, he should maintain cleanliness.

Some men lived in the same boarding house for years, helping to raise the widow’s children. Sometimes boarders attended functions with the landlady and her family. He might purchase a chair for the parlor for his own use.

Bradford Junction is a setting in A Not So Convenient Marriage, Book 1 in my “Second Chances” series, where the heroine works with orphaned twins at the fictitious meal stop, Mrs. Saunders’ Eatery. I invite you to pick up a copy and read it!


Cincinnati Candy by Dann Woellert

Reviewed by Sandra Merville Hart

A Sweet History

This book about the early history of confectioners in Cincinnati is a fun and easy read.

Readers may recognize early candy makers like Goelitz and Mullane. I’m uncertain how to spell the Doscher’s family name—Doscher’s Candies is painted on its storefront and a photo of an invoice says A.&J. Doescher, Wholesale Confectioners.

Regardless, there’s lots of fun historical tidbits about the candy industry in Cincinnati—even the surprising role the city’s candy makers played in Sweetest Day.

I read this book during my research for my book set in Cincinnati, A Not So Persistent Suitor. My heroine works in a soda and candy store where the shop is set up in a similar manner to Mullane’s.    

Recommended for readers who love sweet treats and those who love the history of Ohio.

Lights! Camera! Christmas! by Kathleen Y’Barbo

Reviewed by Sandra Merville Hart

Mysteries of Lancaster County series, Book 9  

This is the first book I’ve read of this cozy mystery series. Three sisters share ownership of a Victorian home and a business called Secondhand Blessings.

Elizabeth, who took care of her aging parents until they died, shuns changes, of which there are plenty in this story.

Recently-divorced Mary paints beautiful ornaments that sell the next day and must be replenished.

Martha, a widow coping with the recent loss of her husband, maintains the store’s books and sells baked goods.

It’s Martha’s baked goods that capture the eye of Martine Fontaine, star of It’s Always a Party with Marti, who decides she must tape her Christmas baking show in the sisters’ home.

From there, chaos ensues. Too many accidents that nearly kill Martine have Martha, an amateur sleuth, trying to discover who is behind them before the star of the show is killed.

I enjoyed this cozy mystery and found myself trying to figure out the culprit along with the sisters. I especially love that the story is set at Christmas. Conflicts with Mary’s children and Martha’s children seem real and enhance the story.

A satisfying read. Recommended for those who enjoy cozy mysteries.


Pecan Pie Recipe

by Sandra Merville Hart

When my daughter asked me to bring a pecan pie for a family dinner, I had to search for a recipe. I can’t clearly remember making one, but, if I did, it was before she was born. 😊

I chose one from my old Fannie Farmer’s cookbook.

Pecan Pie

3 eggs, slightly beaten

¾ cup sugar

1/8 teaspoon salt

1 cup dark corn syrup

1 teaspoon vanilla

8 ounces whole pecans

Prepared single crust pie dough

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

Place the bottom layer of pie dough into your pie plate and prick with a fork several times along the bottom and sides. (I bought prepared pie dough to save time.)

Blend together the eggs, sugar, salt, corn syrup, and vanilla in a medium mixing bowl.

Arrange the pecans around the bottom of the pie pan. It’s okay to fill in with broken ones on the bottom layer because no one will see it.

Then pour the filling over the pecans. Next, arrange another layer of unbroken pecan over the filling.

Bake at 425 degrees for 10 minutes. Then lower the heat to 350. Continue baking for 35 minutes.

This delicious pie earned compliments from all who ate it. The gooey filling with 2 layers of pecans had a nice nutty flavor. A slice of the sweet pie was my breakfast the next day.   

Let me know if you try it.



Revised by Cunningham, Marion and Laber, Jeri. The Fannie Farmer Cookbook, Alfred A Knopf Inc., 1983.

Three Reasons Dicken’s A Christmas Carol Packs an Emotional Punch

by Sandra Merville Hart

With Christmas just around the corner, I read Charles Dickens’ famous novel, A Christmas Carol, and discovered at least three reasons why his story is a beloved classic.

The first thing I noticed are the engaging descriptions that bring depth and meaning to the story. He paints vivid pictures of the settings and characters in a way that captures the reader’s imagination.

The many beautiful images made it difficult to choose an example to illustrate this point. One that made me smile was Dickens’ comments about Scrooge’s nephew:

If you should happen, by any unlikely chance, to know a man more blest in a laugh than Scrooge’s nephew, all I can say is, I should like to know him, too. Introduce him to me, and I’ll cultivate his acquaintance.

Simple yet vivid descriptions fill the classic tale.

Dickens also writes about realistic characters. At first glance, Scrooge comes across as a stingy boss who refuses an invitation to a family Christmas dinner and a request to give to the poor. He only grudgingly grants his clerk Christmas Day off.

The writer then tells Scrooge’s back story in a creative way. Ghostly journeys into Christmas Past reveal a boy alone in a boarding school when all his classmates go home for Christmas. The sight touches our hearts.

Dickens also includes timeless truths in his tale of a lonely, unhappy old man. Scrooge’s clerk, Bob Cratchit, maintains an optimistic outlook despite his anxiety over his son’s health. Tiny Tim’s faith and courage touches everyone around him. Scrooge’s nephew forgives his uncle for rejecting his family.       

The Ghost of Christmas Future shows Scrooge two imminent deaths if nothing changes—one deeply mourned and one barely noticed.

Dickens’ novel lives on in our hearts. Some reasons for this are his engaging descriptions, realistic characters, and timeless truths. The story vividly reminds us how one life affects another.

A timeless tale.       

O Little Town, A Romance Christmas Collection

Reviewed by Sandra Merville Hart

What a very different set of novellas! The main thing that each story shares is a connection with the school in Mapleview, Michigan, and the main story is set in that town. The titles from the Christmas hymn “O Little Town of Bethlehem” fit all the stories. They all end at Christmas.

In Hopes and Fears by Amanda Wen, Frederick has always loved Emma, even when they were fiercely competitive as children. Past mistakes prevent him from accepting the love Emma has for him. This 1912 story grabbed my attention right away and is a wonderful, feel-good, historical read.

While Mortals Sleep by Janyre Tromp takes place during World War II. Though historical, it deals with murder, danger, and long-held bitterness giving it a very different feel from the first story. It’s suspenseful and kept me turning pages because I feared our heroine would make the wrong ultimate choices.

The Wondrous Gift by Deborah Raney begins in February with the staff of a Christian school in Mapleview learning the school will close in two weeks. This doesn’t allow much time for planning and that urgency draws our hero and heroine together. Both Rachel and Caleb make new plans that don’t involve working at a school, but clash when their dreams settle on the same property. This contemporary story also held my attention.

I like to read Christmas stories during the holidays and each romance—one historical, one historical suspense, and one contemporary—is well-written with hidden clues to tie them together.

Flora’s Wish by Kathleen Y’Barbo

Reviewed by Sandra Merville Hart

The Secret Lives of Will Tucker, Book 1

It’s 1887, and Flora Brimm must get a fiancé to live long enough to marry her and produce an heir to her grandfather’s Natchez home, where her crippled sister resides. If not, her cousin stands to inherit it and he will sell the estate.

Unfortunately, four men have died before their intended wedding day, earning her the nickname “Fatal Flora.” The fifth man she agrees to marry must make it to the altar. She doesn’t love Will Tucker, but time is running out. They must marry.

Lucas McMinn, a Pinkerton agent with personal reasons for arresting Will Tucker, has his hands full when taking on the task of protecting Flora from her fiancé.

There’s a lot of action and adventure in this story. The characters are believable and likeable. There was plenty of suspense and danger as well. Romantic scenes often happened in the midst of danger and had the effect of lessening the suspense for me.

Recommended for readers of inspirational historical romance.


Apple Pie Recipe

by Sandra Merville Hart

I decided to change my apple pie recipe because I wanted to cook the apples ahead of baking. I used parts of my old familiar recipe and changed others—just in time to share at our family Thanksgiving meal! It was risky but everyone liked it.

Apple Pie

5-6 tart apples such as Granny Smith, peeled, cored, and cut into large slices (a generous 4 cups of apples)

4 tablespoons butter

1 cup sugar + 1 teaspoon sugar, divided

3 tablespoons flour

1 teaspoon cinnamon

Prepared 2 crust pie dough

1 beaten egg

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Combine 1 cup sugar, flour, and cinnamon into a large mixing bowl and mix thoroughly. Add the sliced apples. Gently toss the apples into the sugary mixture until they are well-coated.

Melt the butter in a large cast iron skillet over medium heat. When melted, add the apple mixture. Stir often as the apples cook. As the fruit cooks, it releases juices that thicken in the bottom of the pan. Cook until the apples begin to soften, about 10 – 12 minutes.

Pour the apple mixture into a bowl and allow to cool.

Place the bottom layer of pie dough into your pie plate and prick with a fork several times along the bottom and sides. (I bought prepared pie dough to save time.)

Pour cooled apples onto the prepared pie plate. Cover with the top layer of crust and fold it under the bottom layer. Using your thumbs, press the ends together to seal and to make a fluted edge.

Brush the top layer with the egg and sprinkle on about a teaspoon of sugar. Using a knife, make slits for the air to escape.

Bake 45- 50 minutes or until golden brown.

As I said, I took this to a family Thanksgiving meal and hoped for the best.

I needn’t have worried. The delicious pie was a hit. It was a little sweet, but not overly so. Six apples were the right amount of fruit. The filling was thick and didn’t spill out over the plate when slicing it.

Let me know if you try it.


Background for A Not So Convenient Marriage

by Sandra Merville Hart

There are some stories that must be told. A Not So Convenient Marriage is one of them for me.

I don’t know what it is about this story, but once I began writing it over a dozen years ago, the characters wouldn’t leave me alone.

I wrote the first draft of this book a few years before my first book—another book, A Stranger on My Land—released, so I was still learning about the writing journey. I’m certain that my first draft of A Not So Convenient Marriage wasn’t ready for publication because it was rejected.

But the characters in my imagination wouldn’t allow me to let this one go. I edited and reedited, using skills I learned at writing conferences. Then I tried again with another editor. Another rejection. And then another.

Discouraged, I worked on other writing projects and met with a little success. When my first Civil War romance published, I decided to follow my heart and continue writing about that turbulent time period.

This book was set aside.

Still, every morning I woke up thinking about the characters in A Not So Convenient Marriage. In my mind, I’d rewrite a scene from the book as I lay, trying to sleep, in the middle of the night. Or the story would haunt me before falling asleep at night, keeping me awake an hour or two.

This happened almost daily for years.

Finally, I pulled up the manuscript again. It had been written in my early days so it required a lot of modification. I asked my agent to begin showing my updated proposal for the book. She was happy to do this because she always believed in this book. In fact, she decided to represent me after reading my proposal for it.

By the way, the story was still keeping me awake as I waited to sign a book contract.

Last year, I was thrilled when Misty Beller at Wild Heart Books offered me a contract for a three-book series for this novel. Not only that, she also gave me a three-book contract for my “Spies of the Civil War” series, that published this year. (I invite you to read the whole “Spies of the Civil War” series beginning with Book 1 Avenue of Betrayal, Book 2 Boulevard of Confusion, and Book 3 Byway to Danger.)

Misty told me that she cried when reading my manuscript for A Not So Convenient Marriage—the first time that had ever happened for a submission. That touched my heart.

I’m happy to say that scenes from the book no longer keep me awake at night…for now the story will be told.

Back Cover Blurb

A spinster teacher…a grieving widower…a marriage of convenience and a second chance with the man she’s always loved…

When Samuel Walker proposes a marriage of convenience to Rose Hatfield so soon after the death of his wife, she knows he doesn’t love her. She’s loved him since their school days. Those long-suppressed feelings spring to life as she marries him. She must sell her childhood home, quit her teaching job, and move to a new city.

Marrying Rose is harder than Samuel expected, especially with the shadow of his deceased wife everywhere in his life. And he has two young children to consider. Peter and Emma need a mother’s love, but they also need to hold close the memories of their real mother as they grieve her loss.

Life as Samuel’s wife is nothing like Rose hoped, and even the townspeople, who loved his first wife, make Rose feel like an outsider. The work of the farm draws the two of them closer, giving hope that they might one day become a happy family. Until the dream shatters, and the life Rose craves tumbles down around them. Only God can put these pieces back together, but the outcome may not look anything like she planned.

Available on Amazon, Apple Books, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, and Books 2 Read.