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...

In Pieces

By Rhonda Ortiz,

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.

The books I picked & why

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Christy

By Catherine Marshall,

Book cover of Christy

Why 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.


The Passion of Mary-Margaret

By Lisa Samson,

Book cover of The Passion of Mary-Margaret

Why 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.


Fire by Night

By Lynn Austin,

Book cover of Fire by Night

Why 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.


In a Far-Off Land

By Stephanie Landsem,

Book cover of In a Far-Off Land

Why 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.


The Witch of Blackbird Pond

By Elizabeth George Speare,

Book cover of The Witch of Blackbird Pond

Why 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.


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