The best historical romances for armchair theologians

Who am I?

I’m a writer married to a theologian. My husband and I often discuss Augustine and Aquinas, Austen and Tolstoy, Christie and Sayers, and trends in popular fiction—when we’re not discussing Frog and Toad, Elephant and Piggie, baby diapers, and what to make for dinner. Love stories have long been my favorite stories, and I’ve always enjoyed historical settings. My award-winning novel In Pieces, a 1793 Boston-set historical romance with elements of family drama, society drama, and political suspense, combines all these interests. I even managed to sneak in a diaper-changing scene.

I wrote...

Book cover of In Pieces

What is my book about?

Boston, 1793—Beautiful and artistic, the only daughter of a prominent merchant, Molly Chase cannot help but attract everyone’s notice. But she carries a painful secret: her father committed suicide and she found his body. When Molly moves in the Robb family, society assumes the worst, tempting her to take the easy way out: a marriage of convenience.

Merchant sailor Josiah Robb is as familiar to Molly as a brother—as dear and as exasperating. She is no sister to him, but sailing the seas leaves no time for convincing Molly he is more than her teasing childhood friend. Josiah wants a new job and a fresh start, and when he agrees to carry a confidential letter to President Washington, his life is forever changed.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Christy

Rhonda Ortiz Why did I love this book?

Catherine Marshall’s masterpiece Christy is revered for a reason. This Edwardian-era coming-of-age story about a young teacher in an impoverished Appalachia village is not only a romantic page-turner, but also theologically rich, psychologically astute, and honest about the effects of poverty, violence, and social injustice. I’ve read Christy multiple times and continue to find it engaging and thought-provoking.

By Catherine Marshall,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Christy as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

50th Anniversary Edition of the New York Times Bestselling NovelThe train taking nineteen-year-old teacher Christy Huddleston from her home in Asheville, North Carolina, might as well be transporting her to another world. The Smoky Mountain community of Cutter Gap feels suspended in time, trapped by poverty, superstitions, and century-old traditions.But as Christy struggles to find acceptance in her new home, some see her — and her one-room school — as a threat to their way of life. Her faith is challenged and her heart is torn between two strong men with conflicting views about how to care for the families…

Book cover of The Passion of Mary-Margaret

Rhonda Ortiz Why did I love this book?

I rarely experience “book hangover” after finishing a novel. The Passion of Mary-Margaret was a notable exception. The story centers on a religious sister (nun) and mystic, Mary-Margaret Fischer, who, before taking final vows, gives up religious life in order to marry her troubled childhood friend. The Passion of Mary-Margaret delves unflinchingly into difficult themes—abuse, prostitution, racism and bigotry, absentee parents, and self-sacrifice—with an eye toward grace. After finishing the book, I thought, “Yes. This is what love looks like.” It was so good, I couldn’t pick up another novel for weeks.

By Lisa Samson,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Passion of Mary-Margaret as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Mary-Margaret yearned to dedicate her life to the Lord. Jesus had another idea.

When Mary-Margaret Fischer met Jude Keller, the lighthouse keeper's son, she was studying at a convent school on a small island off Chesapeake Bay. Destined for a life as a religious sister, she nevertheless felt a pull toward Jude--gorgeous, rebellious, promiscuous Jude. But Jude, driven by demons no one really understood, disappeared into Baltimore's seamy red-light district. Mary-Margaret moved on with her life, preparing to serve God with her sisters as a teacher and artist.

Then Jude comes home--but now he's bitter, dissolute, and diseased. And Mary-Margaret…

Book cover of Fire by Night

Rhonda Ortiz Why did I love this book?

Few topics rouse people’s ire faster than women’s issues. Within Christianity we find a wide range of theologies, left and right. Lynn Austin’s Fire by Night, about a Civil War nurse, takes up questions of gender roles and woman as man’s “helpmeet” (cf. Genesis 2:18) and threads the needle between the various schools of thought in a faithful, mature, real-to-life way.

By Lynn Austin,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Fire by Night as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Two young women in a land shattered by war test the limits of their strength

Lovely Julia Hoffman has always enjoyed the carefree life of her well-to-do Philadelphia family. But when she fails to attract the attention of Nathaniel Greene, a fierce abolitionist, she shocks her family by becoming a Union nurse. Will that be enough to win Nathaniel's heart?

Phoebe Bigelow, from western Virginia, has always been a misfit, and when her brothers join the Union army, she also enlists--under false pretenses.

Soon, both have their eyes opened to the realities of war and suffering. Neither is quite ready…

Book cover of In a Far-Off Land

Rhonda Ortiz Why did I love this book?

Biblical allegory is hard to do well. Bible stories themselves have infinite depths, but their allegories are often didactic, especially when author parallels the original story too closely. Stephanie Landem’s In a Far-Off Land is anything but didactic. Set in 1930s Hollywood, the novel is equal parts Prodigal Son retelling, romance, and murder mystery. By allowing the story to take on a life of its own, Landsem avoids the Sunday School vibe, and in the end, I understood the Prodigal Son archetypal characters better.

By Stephanie Landsem,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked In a Far-Off Land as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

“Immersive, enchanting, and gripping, In A Far-Off Land is do-not-miss historical fiction.” —Patti Callahan, NYT Bestselling author of Becoming Mrs. Lewis

It’s 1931 in Hollywood, and Minerva Sinclaire is on the run for a murder she didn’t commit.

As the Great Depression hits the Midwest, Minerva Sinclaire runs away to Hollywood, determined to make it big and save the family farm. But beauty and moxie don’t pay the bills in Tinseltown, and she’s caught in a downward spiral of poverty, desperation, and compromise. Finally, she’s about to sign with a major studio and make up for it all. Instead, she…

Book cover of The Witch of Blackbird Pond

Rhonda Ortiz Why did I love this book?

My last recommendation veers from adult fiction into children’s. The Witch of Blackbird Pond, a Newbery Award-winning novel set in early colonial America, is a personal favorite and, with regards to its depiction of Puritanism, surprisingly nuanced. After the loss of her grandfather, Kit Tyler sails from Barbados to Connecticut to live with her aunt and quickly finds herself an object of suspicion. The love story between Kit and sailor Nat Eaton is intrinsic to the main story, with Nat acting as a bridge between Kit’s old life and her new one, helping her understand New Englanders’ unfamiliar beliefs and passion for political and religious freedom.

By Elizabeth George Speare,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked The Witch of Blackbird Pond as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 12, 13, 14, and 15.

What is this book about?

In this Newbery Medal-winning novel, a girl faces prejudice and accusations of witchcraft in seventeenth-century Connecticut. A classic of historical fiction that continues to resonate across the generations.

Sixteen-year-old Kit Tyler is marked by suspicion and disapproval from the moment she arrives on the unfamiliar shores of colonial Connecticut in 1687. Alone and desperate, she has been forced to leave her beloved home on the island of Barbados and join a family she has never met.

Torn between her quest for belonging and her desire to be true to herself, Kit struggles to survive in a hostile place. Just when…

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The Child Riddler

By Angela Greenman,

Book cover of The Child Riddler

Angela Greenman Author Of The Child Riddler

New book alert!

Who am I?

Author Communications expert International traveler Human relations champion Focused

Angela's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

Zoe Lorel, an elite operative in an international spy agency, is sent to abduct a nine-year-old girl. The girl is the only one who knows the riddle that holds the code to unleash the most lethal weapon on earth—the first ever “invisibility” nano weapon, a cloaking spider bot. But when enemies reveal the invisibility weapon’s existence to underground arms dealers, every government and terrorist organization in the world wants to find that little girl.

Zoe races to save not only the child she has grown to care about but also herself. Her agency-prescribed pills—the ones that transform her into the icy killer she must become to survive—are beginning to threaten her engagement to the one person who brings her happiness.

The Child Riddler

By Angela Greenman,

What is this book about?

Despite the angry scars she carries from her childhood training, Zoe Lorel has reached a good place in her life. She has her dream job as an elite operative in an international spy agency and she’s found her one true love. Her world is mostly perfect—until she is sent to abduct a nine-year-old girl.

The girl is the only one who knows the riddle that holds the code to unleash the most lethal weapon on earth—the first ever “invisibility” nanoweapon, a cloaking spider bot. But Zoe’s agency isn’t the only one after the child. And when enemies reveal the invisibility…

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