Great Train Robberies of the West by Eugene B. Block

Reviewed by Sandra Merville Hart

This book was part of my research for A Not So Peaceful Journey, Book 3 in my “Second Chances” series. My characters take a train journey from Ohio to Oakland, California, in 1884.

Early western trains had express cars where an armed agent guarded the safes. There often carried gold from mines, silver coins, gold bars, bank notes, precious stones, and expensive jewelry. This tempted bandits to rob the train.

Some famous train robbers discussed in the book are Chris Evans, John Sontag, and Jesse James. Butch Cassidy and Kid Curry were the leaders of the Wild Bunch

These robberies took months of planning. Some bandits had previously worked on the railroad.

This book was interesting and easy to read. Recommended for those interested in learning the history of train travel.


Receiving A Gold Medal for Byway to Danger

by Sandra Merville Hart

I learned a few weeks ago Byway to Danger, Book 3 in my Spies of the Civil War series, won the Gold Illumination Award for Romance Fiction. What fun it was to open the package containing the award, a gold medal, and seals for the book!

When we think of winning medals, our thoughts most likely go to the Olympics where we celebrate our gifted athletes. It’s such an honor to win this award.

I love the hero and heroine in this book as I hope you have grown to love this fictional family in the whole series who live in the turbulent times of the Civil War where the way isn’t always clear. Though this series is about a fictional family, there are actual historical spies who touch the stories.

I’m happy to announce that this series will be extending! Book 4, where we move to another section of the country, will soon be submitted to my publisher.

More about that later…

Byway to Danger is set in the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia, in 1862. Because Richmond was the capital of the Confederacy, the Union army was often threatening the city. One might suppose that all of Richmond’s citizens supported the Confederacy, yet there were a lot of Union supporters and Union spies in the capital.

Here’s a bit about the book:

Everyone in Richmond has secrets. Especially the spies.

Meg Brooks, widow, didn’t stop spying for the Union when her job at the Pinkerton National Detective Agency ended, especially now that she lives in the Confederate capital. Her job at the Yancey bakery provides many opportunities to discover vital information about the Confederacy to pass on to her Union contact. She prefers to work alone, yet the strong, silent baker earns her respect and tugs at her heart.

Cade Yancey knows the beautiful widow is a spy when he hires her only because his fellow Unionist spies know of her activities. Meg sure didn’t tell him. He’s glad she knows how to keep her mouth shut, for he has hidden his dangerous activities from even his closest friends. The more his feelings for the courageous woman grow, the greater his determination to protect her by guarding his secrets. Her own investigations place her in enough peril.

As danger escalates, Meg realizes her choice to work alone isn’t a wise one. Can she trust Cade with details from her past not even her family knows?

Order your copy today on AmazonBarnes & Noble, Kobo, Apple Books, and Books 2 Read!

Men of the Steel Rails by James H. Ducker

Reviewed by Sandra Merville Hart

This book was part of my research for A Not So Peaceful Journey, Book 3 in my “Second Chances” series. My characters take a train journey from Ohio to Oakland, California, in 1884. On the last leg of their journey, they rode in Palace cars.

This book was especially helpful for learning about the jobs of the train crews and engine crews and were scattered at 100-mile intervals. At division points they had repair crews, blacksmiths, machinists, and painters.

Clerks, train dispatchers, flagmen, baggagemen, and switchmen were a few of the jobs needed at train depots.

An engineer, a conductor, a fireman, and two brakemen made up the typical train crew.

This book provided wonderful details like these and I believe this book would appeal to those desiring to learn more about train travel.


Cobalt Skies by Pegg Thomas

Reviewed by Sandra Merville Hart

A More Perfect Union, Book 2

Susannah Piper had planned to go to Oregon to start a new life after the War Between the States with her husband. It seemed a good enough goal after he died. She’d head West, find a wagon train to Oregon, and start a new life. But a woman traveling alone faces many dangers.  

When Samuel Hickman, a Union cavalry officer, finally left the army behind, he never wanted to be in charge of anyone again. Rescuing Susannah Piper left him in a quandary. He couldn’t just leave her on the trail for the men who’d shot her to find her again. She wants to go to Oregon didn’t affect his plans to train while horses in the mountains.

But helping Susannah comes with a cost. The pair face danger and judgment and lots of surprises on the journey.

The story pulled me in from the beginning. So many believable, lovable characters with their own tragic stories to tell kept me turning pages. The author weaves the story swiftly from conflict to conflict while keeping the inner struggles of the main characters in focus.

Although this story takes place after the Civil War, I love how the author shows the struggles everyone continued to face because of it.

A beautifully written fast-paced adventure with surprises at every turn. It held my attention so effectively that I read the last half in one sitting. Such a great story. Well-done!

Recommended for readers of westerns and historical romance!


Telegraphic Romance

by Sandra Merville Hart

The heroine in my recent release, A Not So Peaceful Journey, Book 3 in my “Second Chances” series is a telegrapher in Hamilton, Ohio. I researched to find out about the daily activities required by the job in 1884.

Female telegraph operators had been hired for the job as early as the 1840s. In 1846, Sarah Bagley performed that job in Lowell, Massachusetts. Three years later, Phoebe Wood accepted the position in Albion, Michigan.

During the Civil War, the need for telegraphers heightened when the men enlisted in the military for both sides, putting more women in the industry. Training for female telegraphers became more available when Western Union opened a school for them in 1869. A year later, 4% of the telegraphers were female and that number continued to rise.

One fun thing I learned in my research was that the increased number of women in the profession sparked public interest. This led to novels and stories being written about them.

A new literary genre, telegraphic romance, was born. In these stories, young women found romance with operators they “met” in the course of their job.

Desiring to learn more about the day-to-day job of the telegraphers, I read Wired Love: A Romance of Dots and Dashes by Ella Cheever Thayer. It was published in 1880 and it provided all those daily details—and more—that I needed for my story.

In the novel, Feisty Nattie Rogers is a telegraph operator. She meets the mysterious “C”, a telegraph operation in another station on her wire. He refuses to tell her his full name and they develop a friendship over the wire that soon has her dreaming of love.

Nattie tells her fellow boarders all about “C” and they can’t wait for the two of them to meet. But the course of true love meets some hurdles.

This book is written in the omniscient viewpoint. The reader knows what everyone is thinking all the time. Written in 1880, this story has the long conversations prevalent in writings of that day. I confess that I skimmed over some of those, but still enjoyed the story.

What was important to me wat that the author gives a thorough overview of a telegrapher’s job in the story.

What fun that this occupation inspired a new genre in the late 1800s!


Thayer, Ella Cheever. Wired Love, 1880.

“Women in telegraphy,” Wikipedia, 2022/10/19,

American Notes by Rudyard Kipling

Reviewed by Sandra Merville Hart

Rudyard Kipling’s West American Notes

I checked this book out of the library when doing research for A Not So Peaceful Journey, Book 3 in my “Second Chances” series. My characters take a train journey from Ohio to Oakland, California, in 1884.

I found his experiences interesting but he didn’t take the route I needed my characters to follow. Also, his journey happened five to six years after my story so it wasn’t a research book for me.

Kipling’s excellent writing transported me back in time. His well-written descriptions gave just enough details so that I could see the scene.

Recommended for readers who enjoy learning about the West in the latter part of the 1800s.


Tea Brack Recipe

Welcome to friend and fellow author, Cindy Thomson, who shares a recipe with us for a delicious tea brack. Cindy is the author of several historical novels set in Ireland or that have Irish characters. Welcome to Historical Nibbles, Cindy!

by Cindy Thomson

Ireland is a rural country dotted with seemingly endless family farms. Local beef, potatoes, cold weather vegetables, free range eggs … are all the things you’d expect to find enrich a meal in Ireland.

I love tea brack—a traditional Irish fruit loaf or tea cake. Everywhere you go in Ireland, you are offered tea anytime of the day. I loved that since I love tea.

My interest in Ireland started with my genealogy. I wanted to learn more about my ancestors who came over from Ireland in the 18th century. I learned about Irish culture and history and wrote about it in both my fiction and nonfiction.

I write stories that seek to share the legacy those before left for us. Their joys and sorrows, their lessons learned, can teach us so much. I have two fiction series. The Daughters of Ireland series includes Brigid of Ireland, Pages of Ireland, and Enya’s Son. They are set in ancient Ireland and are based on legends. My Ellis Island series features immigrants, most from Ireland but there is an Italian immigrant main character as well. The characters all live in a boarding house run by an English woman. The books are Grace’s Pictures, Annie’s Stories, and Sofia’s Tune. Subscribers to my newsletter receive a free novella, which is the boarding house woman’s story, a prequel.

 I’m sharing a recipe for tea brack today.


  • 1 cup brewed hot tea, Irish breakfast tea is a good choice
  • 1 cup raisins, packed
  • 1/2 cup currants, packed
  • 1 cup pitted prunes, snipped into small pieces
  • 1 cup chopped dates
  • 1 cup light brown sugar or dark brown sugar, firmly packed
  • 2 cups light wheat flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons coarse sparkling sugar

Pour the hot tea over the dried fruits in a medium-sized bowl. Set the mixture aside to cool to lukewarm, about 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 325°F. Lightly grease an 8″ x 2″ round cake pan. If your pan isn’t at least 2″ deep, use a 9″ round pan.

In a medium-sized bowl, stir together the brown sugar, flour, baking powder, and salt. Add the dried fruit, and any remaining liquid. Stir until thoroughly combined; the batter will be thick and stiff. Add the egg, mixing until thoroughly combined.

Spread the mixture into the prepared pan. Sprinkle the top evenly with the coarse sparkling sugar. Bake the bread for 60 to 70 minutes, until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out moist, but without clinging crumbs. Turn the bread out of the pan onto a rack.

I hope you enjoy this delicious bread as much as my family does.

About Cindy

Known for the inspirational Celtic theme employed in most of her books, Cindy Thomson is the author of two novel series and several non-fiction books. She is the owner of a team blog Novel PASTimes, vice president of the Mordecai Brown Legacy Foundation, and co-founder of the Faith & Fellowship Book Festival. She is also a frequent Thurber House creative writing teacher. As a genealogy enthusiast, she does research for hire and writes from her home in central Ohio where she lives with her husband Tom near their three grown sons and their families. Visit her online at, on Facebook:, Twitter: @cindyswriting, Pinterest: @cindyswriting and Book Bub: @cindyswriting.

 Amazon Author Page

Mr. Pullman’s Elegant Palace Car by Lucius Beebe

Reviewed by Sandra Merville Hart

This book was part of my research for A Not So Peaceful Journey, Book 3 in my “Second Chances” series. My characters take a train journey from Ohio to Oakland, California, in 1884. On the last leg of their journey, they rode in Palace cars.

George Pullman was one of several in the railroad industry who built cars for passenger travel in the 1800s. The Palace car was an elegant way to travel for the more well-to-do guests and there were a variety of designs.

In the West, the Pullman Palace cars were painted canary yellow for a number of years.

One thing I love about this book is the many photos, early ads, and sketches of old cars. The descriptions included with them were quite helpful.

Recommended for readers who want to learn more about early train travel.


Lucy and Thunder by Bettie Boswell

Reviewed by Sandra Merville Hart

Lucy is afraid of Thunder. Whenever a storm comes, her family has a lot of advice on how to deal with it. She tries to follow it, but is still scared.

Then when one of her furry friends is also frightened by Thunder, Lucy finds the courage to confront her fears.

This is a delightful book for adults to read to young children. It’s also a good book for new readers to read.

I love the illustrations! The author is not only a talented writer but also a gifted artist. She illustrated her own book.

The book is geared to children 3 – 7, and a great book for parents to read to their children at bedtime.

I will look for more books by this author!


Chocolate Bread Pudding

by Sandra Merville Hart

I was looking for a recipe to use some old bread and found this one for chocolate bread pudding in The Fannie Farmer Cookbook.

I utilized my food processor to make the bread crumbs and then toasted them in a 300-degree oven for 10 minutes. Allow the crumbs to cool.

The milk was scalded while the bread crumbs were in the oven.


2 ounces unsweetened chocolate

1 quart milk, scalded

2 cups homemade bread crumbs

1/3 cup sugar

¼ cup butter, melted

2 eggs, slightly beaten

¼ teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Butter a 2-quart baking dish.

Add the unsweetened chocolate to the scalded milk away from the burner and stir until smooth. (This didn’t look quite chocolatey enough for me, so I added 3/8 cup of semi-sweet chocolate chips to the mixture.) Add the breadcrumbs and set aside to cool until lukewarm. (The mixture cools within a few minutes.)

Once cooled, add the remaining ingredients. Mix well and then pour into the prepared dish.

Bake for about 50 minutes or until the pudding is set.

Serve with whipped cream—a delicious suggestion. 😊

Light, soft. Deliciously chocolate flavor. I think that my addition of semi-sweet chocolate chips worked well. It’s not a heavy dessert, which I loved. It wasn’t too sweet. The whipped topping was a creamy addition.

I’ll make this again.


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