Grace A. Johnson
Review: Boulevard of Confusion by Sandra Merville Hart
Synopsis: When Beatrice Swanson’s wealthy father tasks her with delivering a gift of gold to the Confederacy on her next trip to visit her aunt in Richmond, Bea finds herself in the midst of danger, confusion, and betrayal. And perhaps, when a certain Southern gentleman catches her eye, in the midst of a beautiful love story.
As some of you may know, I am a Confederate (yes, I hear your gasp of shock), so reading Civil War era fiction is literally torture for me, as everyone these days is a Unionist, and few—if any—modern novels include an accurate representation and viewpoint of my beloved South.
So I had both high hopes and low expectations for Boulevard of Confusion. One half of me was hopeful that this could be the book...the one that for once gave grace to the Confederacy and painted the circumstances of the Civil War with more shades of grey than blunt black and white. The other half knew that no book would ever be written that would satisfy that fruitless desire of mine, least of all this one.
In the end, I’d say I got the best of both worlds. Yes, the Union is portrayed as absolutely perfect, without fault or blemish...but the Confederacy was given grace, praise the Lord! Our hero, Jay, never conformed to the North or shifted his allegiance to the Union; he was loyal to his country, to his home, to the land that was as much a part of him as his right arm, and I so admired how he and the other Southerners in this novel were never portrayed as dumb, racist, or heartless. They were beautiful, devoted, honorable people (most of them, at least).
And even though the issue of slavery was brought up on many occasions, and many points are made that none of the main characters supported it, the author at least acknowledged that there were other reasons why men fought for the South.
Still, it wasn’t perfect, and there is so much that most people don’t even know, let along write about, but I am grateful for this small morsel I was offered.
Now, enough about all that. Just how was this novel of loyalty and values?
Well, if anything, the themes were apparent! I did appreciate how well Hart wrote the themes, although I was certainly missing definable character arcs. I feel like the main character(s) should always grow in some way, big or small, during the course of the story; however, in Boulevard of Confusion, they did not. Both Jay and Beatrice, the heroine, stayed stagnant.
Naturally, Beatrice didn’t appeal to me a whit, and though I tried to like Jay, I found him...rather bland, to be honest. The characters seems kind of two-dimensional. Like they were missing something that would have perfectly topped them off (like whipped cream...and cherries).
The same went for the plot. We started out strong—with Beatrice being sent on a mission to deliver gold to the Confederacy by her father—but once the main plot point fizzled out within the first few chapters, I felt like the story was left floundering. Oh, sure, things happened! But either they were never fully developed or they never fully engaged Beatrice and Jay, making it seem like our two point-of-view characters were really just standing by and watching others do things.
It was just…missing something. Something to quicken the pace and engage the reader. Perhaps all that it ended was a bit more romance, for I did feel like Jay and Beatrice’s relationship got very little page time. Maybe it was more realistic that way—they met, they liked each other, they courted a little with a chaperon, etc.—but because Jay and Beatrice seemed so smitten with one another and yet had a scant amount of development and interaction, it came off a more unrealistic.
Then again, I just don’t like subtle romances. I need a romance that’s on fire with chemistry, emotion, conflict, connection, expression, and, yes, passion.
I did, however, really like the emphasis that was put on respect. Beatrice and Jay respected each other and their convictions and loyalties, and I was glad to see that! Neither of them expected the other to change or become exactly who they wanted them to be...because they were already exactly who they needed!
Let’s face it, though. The fact that Beatrice thought Jay was “perfect” and that Jay wouldn’t shut up about how beautiful Bea was doesn’t bode well for their continued relationship. (That, and I just prefer to read about ugly people. Seriously. It’s so much more beautiful when everyone is ugly. Or at least not gorgeous, y’know?)
Also...I felt like the spiritual content was as subtle as the romance. Oh, they prayed, and let me tell you, I adored how everyone prayed about all the different decisions and choices they made (except for where they put their loyalties, that is)...but I guess I would’ve liked to see Bea and Jay’s personal relationships with God fleshed out a wee bit more. Maybe even had some growth within their relationships with Him. Either way, I can’t complain, because I got much more than I usually do (but, truth be told, most of that didn’t come in until the last half of the book).
Now, last but certainly not least...the writing. Oh, boy. Hart wove in some very intriguing historical details and didn’t shy away from including historical figures and events, which was awesome...but her actual writing wasn’t as immersive as her facts. I wanted to feel Virginia. I wanted to see Virginia. I wanted to smell it, touch it, taste it. That’s the thing about the South...our cities come to life, and we as Southerners love it when people capture the essence of our cities, our ports, our towns. (Like how Eugenia Price captured Savannah and how Margaret Mitchell captured Atlanta.)
When I feel transported into that time and place...it’s just surreal. Especially when it’s a Southern setting, so vibrant and unique and full of life.
*sighs wistfully* Oh, well. The characters’ perspectives weren’t very immersive either, and there were some moments of telling rather than showing (and not in a classical manner, mind you). Hart’s writing wasn’t bad, no, but it too was missing something. Honestly, a deeper emotional connection and a few vivid descriptions probably would have done a world of good!
Long story short...Boulevard of Confusion had the potential to be a perfect book or an absolutely horrible book. It fell somewhere in between, with some elements just needing a little something extra to make the story shine! It’s not necessarily a short, fast-paced read, but it is a bit of a Civil War slice of life with some interesting facts woven in!
Disclaimer: A complimentary copy of this book was provided by the publisher, publicist, or author, including NetGalley and CelebrateLit Publicity. All opinions expressed are my own.
about the book
In times of war, is anything as it seems?
Her aunt’s invitation to Richmond is just the change Beatrice Swanson needs after her brother’s release from a Union prison. Bea’s father agrees to the trip with a condition—one that tosses her emotions into swirling confusion.
Though Jay Nickson wants to serve his country as a Confederate soldier, his work is too important to the government. Bea’s interest in his job, which includes secrets that would benefit the Union, arouses his suspicions. Is she spying for the North? His growing feelings for her are hard to squelch.
Though she participates in activities to benefit Confederate soldiers, Bea struggles with her own loyalties and her father’s demands. Where does her cousin, Meg, go on her solitary errands? Bea’s own growing love for Jay, a Southerner, only adds to her confusion. Tensions escalate in Richmond as the Union army approaches, drawing her into more secrecy. Where does her allegiance lie? And how will she be forced to prove it?
Nothing in war is simple…especially when the heart becomes entangled.
Boulevard of Confusion is a Christian historical romance that released May 10th, 2022.
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about the author
Sandra Merville Hart, award-winning and Amazon bestselling author of inspirational historical romances, loves to discover little-known yet fascinating facts from American history to include in her stories. Her desire is to transport her readers back in time. She is also a blogger, speaker, and conference teacher. Connect with Sandra on her blog, https://sandramervillehart.wordpress.com/.
a word from the author
In Boulevard of Confusion, Book 2 of my “Spies of the Civil War” series, two people in love—one supporting the North, one supporting the South—struggle to rise above their differing loyalties.
In my book, the hero is a Virginian who supports the South. Though Jay hates slavery, he cannot turn against his state. His job at Tredegar Ironworks supplies the Confederate army with artillery. They develop new weapons and technology, such as submarines, that must be kept secret even from Richmond residents.
Our heroine is from the North. Bea has Southern ties and her brother, a Confederate officer, was recently released from a prison camp. Bea’s understanding of both sides of the conflict tosses her into confusion, especially in light of her growing feelings for Jay.
Part of my research for this novel involved a trip to Richmond museums. One display in particular at the American Civil War Museum at Historic Tredegar made me want to do a little dance. (If you followed me around on my museum visits, you’d witness my enthusiasm for historical people and events and how they impact my stories. Perhaps you share my love of history. 😊)
Anyway, this particular display was a painting of Julia Ann Mitchell, who lived in Richmond at the start of the Civil War. She was from a well-to-do family that traveled often. On one of these trips, she met and fell in love with Frederick Coggill, a New York City resident. Though they loved one another, the couple was divided in their loyalties.
Sadly, Julia’s brother, who fought for the Confederacy, was killed in battle. This probably added to the conflict between Julia and Frederick.
I’m happy to say that the couple seemed to enjoy a happy ending, for they were married in 1863.
I didn’t yet know my characters when I read this display, for the stories ferment in my imagination as research reveals the history. I tucked it away in my mind and it later inspired me.
Boulevard of Confusion isn’t Julia’s and Frederick’s love story. Not at all. It’s simply that history’s record of them overcoming their differing loyalties to marry proves that it happened. That’s all I needed to know.
Avenue of Betrayal, Book 1, is set in the Union capital of Washington City (Washington DC) in 1861, where a surprising number of Confederate sympathizers and spies lived. Boulevard of Confusion is set in Richmond, the Confederate capital in 1862. Actual historical spies touch the lives of our fictional family.
Through both real and fictional characters, this series highlights activities spies were involved in and some of the motives behind their decisions.
I invite you to read both Avenue of Betrayal and Boulevard of Confusion. And please watch for Book 3, Byway to Danger, which will soon follow!
Debbie’s Dusty Deliberations, May 10
Texas Book-aholic, May 11
Inklings and notions, May 12
Betti Mace, May 13
Books, Books, and More Books, May 13
For Him and My Family, May 14
deb’s Book Review, May 15
Locks, Hooks and Books, May 16
Ashley’s Clean Book Reviews, May 17
Connie’s History Classroom, May 18
Truth and Grace Homeschool Academy, May 19
Happily Managing a Household of Boys, May 20
Blossoms and Blessings, May 21
Pause for Tales, May 22
Tell Tale Book Reviews, May 23 (Author Interview)
Of Blades and Thorns, May 23
In honor of Boulevard of Confusion's tour with CelebrateLit, Sandra is giving away a grand prize of a $50 Amazon gift card! (That'll buy a lot of books, trust me!) You can enter by clicking HERE and gain extra entries by leaving comments on each blog post in the tour! Y'all have a lovely week, and thanks for reading!
yours in spirit and script,
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