HEARTS OF MERCY by Joan Donaldson


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Donaldson’s historical novel follows a group of vigilantes in 19th-century Tennessee who attempt to control the behavior of “wayward” females.  

Donaldson (On Viney’s Mountain, 2009, etc.) begins her tale as Lavinia “Viney” Walker receives a letter from her fiance, Charlie, breaking their engagement. Viney’s long-lost father shows up, asking that either she or her sister, Lizzie, accompany him from Rugby, Tennessee, to his home in the Great Smoky Mountains. He feels he needs one of his daughters to look after him as he approaches the end of his life. Viney agrees, and she hopes that the change of scenery will distract her from her heartache. Shortly after arriving at her father’s home, Viney is indeed distracted by her handsome young cousin James. As James and Viney begin to court, Viney learns of a violent group called the White Caps—hood-wearing men who terrorize and whip local women who are alleged to have behaved in any sort of “lewd” manner. Most White Caps are former Union soldiers who claim that their actions will somehow preserve the integrity of the U.S. after the Civil War. When the White Caps catch Viney kissing James, the group sets their sights on her. Told in a straightforward prose, Donaldson’s novel animates 19th-century Tennessee, particularly in descriptions of apple stack cakes, chess pies, spicy apple butter, gingerbreads, and other popular dishes of the era. Told primarily from Viney’s perspective, the narrative shifts a few times to the point of view of Charlie, an odd choice since his role is minor. Even so, Donaldson demonstrates a thoughtful understanding of the political climate, the lasting impact of war, and one woman’s emotional journey in this action-packed story. The novel also deftly illustrates the tensions that persisted after the Civil War.

A captivating tale about father-daughter relationships, personal independence, and second chances.

Pub Date: June 28th, 2018
ISBN: 978-1-68433-091-1
Page count: 208pp
Publisher: Black Rose Writing
Program: Kirkus Indie
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15th, 2018


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