This is a collection of stories from the California Gold Rush days, all featuring very different women. All stories strongly rooted in the Christian faith.
The Price of Love by Amanda Barratt—Lorena Quinn goes to San Francisco on a bet from her magazine editor who wants stories from the gold rush. As many men were in the 1800s, he is a chauvinist. The only way he can get her to go west is to promise her an Assistant Editor’s position—but only if she comes back an accomplished writer, single, and not in love! With a hundred men for every woman, the challenge is a big one. What her boss doesn’t tell her is that he has sent a letter to a former employee who currently lives in San Francisco. Not just any employee, but handsome Caleb who he is promising the same job to IF he can woo Miss Quinn and accompany her back to the East head-over-heels in love. Headstrong, determined Lorena does not plan to fail, but neither does Caleb. Although a good story, it felt rushed, and at times, a bit awkward, especially with the surprise addition of a baby, which seemed to take the story off track. Those who enjoy reading about life’s challenges will undoubtedly find a champion in Lorena Quinn.
The Best Man in Brookside by Angela Bell—This story begins with Donovan Gallagher striking it rich in the gold-rich waters of California then heading home to reclaim his young sister from the arms of a caretaker. But just as importantly, he wants to go home and start life over again, in spite of Sophia Heyer, the woman who wrongly accused him of thievery. Both Donovan and Sophia have their own interesting life stories, so much so, in fact, that I found it hard to decide who was the bad guy/girl and who was the good? Throughout the story, I wanted to cheer for someone, but never knew whom. The addition of the carousel had me excited, but the “vision” of it all never completely came together for me, and the Gold Rush portion of the story was virtually non-existent. Overall, this was a good story, but not my favorite.
Civilizing Clementine by Dianne Christner—Ever watched the old Doris Day movie called Calamity Jane from the 1950s? As cute as this story is, it is eerily reminiscent of said movie, without all the singing and dancing. It’s about a very unladylike woman, rough and tumble, who is not about to wear a dress, yet gets transformed in a lady, clean and refined, before our eyes. And the man of her dreams? Ah, well, we’ll let you guess. This is a cute addition to the collection, but I would have enjoyed a more original idea.
The Marriage Broker and the Mortician by Anne Greene—Eve Molloy, a dance teacher at an orphanage who happens to be a former orphan herself, decides to help the “of-age” girls who are old enough and must leave the orphanage to begin their adult lives. But what is an eighteen-year-old girl supposed to do all alone in 1850? Eve sets out to find them respectable husbands, but when she herself is left near destitute after a robbery, she finds herself in quite a predicament. Rafe Riley, a mortician, comes to her rescue—sort of, anyway. This story had an interesting premise, but it never seemed to gel. Too many, “oh, yes, then this happened, and oh, that happened too,” side stories that could’ve/should’ve been part of the overall story, such as the uncle and the cousin who seemed written in as afterthoughts. This tale would have been better as a full-length novel where it might have had a chance to develop into a full-fledged story.
The Lye Water Bride by Linda Farmer Harris—Jo Bass is an important woman in Dry Diggins, California, 1849. Not because she’s beautiful or charming, though I’m not saying she isn’t, but because she works at the bank and determines the amount of money given for each gold nugget. Jo and her brother Thad run the bank, but everyone thinks Thad is her husband, which made for some interesting, and often confusing, dialog. I enjoyed reading about “cashing in the gold,” which so little is written about, but overall this story seemed disorganized and had plenty of situations that only seemed to slow down the pace. With that said, this storyline is very creative.
A Sketch of Gold by Cynthia Hickey—Rose McIlroy is a devoted nineteen-year-old daughter, whose father fears for her safety in a world of wild men clambering for gold, so he talks her into cutting her hair and dressing like a boy so that no one will know she is a girl. But when Jack Westin befriends the two, things change. Interestingly, Jack has come west to sketch the miners and their search for gold, with a plan on sending them to a newspaper back East. As soon as he can, Jack wants to start his own newspaper in gold country. Adding to this interesting character is in finding out he is a preacher, too. It doesn’t take him too long to realize Rose is a girl, whom he falls madly in love with, in spite of her protests. The characters were very real, and the unsavory men had me on edge worrying about Rose. This was a well-done story.
Love is a Puzzle by Pam Hillman—Shanyn Duvall, along with her aunt, goes west looking for her missing father, who is a cartographer with the Sierra Nevada Typographical Surveyors (shouldn’t that be Topographical, Ms. Hillman?) Shanyn has not seen her father in two years and she feels certain he has found a place for them to put down roots. Unfortunately, her father is nowhere to be found and she soon receives the dreadful news that her father is dead. This story takes on the task of a rarely told side story to this era: Obadiah Duvall, her father, was not only a mapper, but also a puzzle-maker and artist. This is a delightful story that kept me turning pages and thinking about it long after I’d finished reading. If one can turn a novella into a full-length novel with more detail given to the history, this story would be a real winner.
The Golden Cross by Jennifer Rogers Spinola—From the Canton Province of China comes this story, which truly sweeps you away into a different tale about the gold rush days. Ming and her Uncle Wang sail to America with hopes that San Francisco is full of gold, just waiting for them. Life for the Chinese was vastly different from that of others, but both cultures believed the golden nuggets meant a better way of life. Religion played a heavy role in this one, but it is an unforgettable story, which gives a glimpse of another existence during California’s Gold Rush. Perhaps the best-written story in the entire collection.
Gold Haven Heiress by Jamie Jo Wright—The least “romantic” story of this collection borders on being one of the best. Thalia Simmons lives in a ghost town, and Jack Taylor wants to know why? Gold Haven is the deserted town and it has little to offer anyone at this point, except maybe someone who just wants to be left alone. And to be free. The first page of this story hooked me. I adored poor Thalia right away. This tale could easily have been fleshed out into a full-length novel just by adding more town residents, which would have been a major hit with me. Perfect characters with a very creative storyline. Great final story to round out this collection!
The mid-1800s had a different life story for everyone, which is what makes this collection so wonderful. No two stories are alike, and each are worthy of their own telling.
Editor's note: This article was originally published at Long and Short Reviews. It has been republished with permission. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.