Kate Winters is a young lady from a fairly well off family in 1855 Westerville, Ohio. She is one of a very small group of young ladies who are the first women to attend Otterbein College and with graduating comes the first step towards her secret dreams of leaving Westerville before the family secrets and her Mother's controlling suffocate her. But she is hindered from achieving that dream when, because of her painful shyness, she is not able to complete an assignment that requires she make a speech in front of the class. At her Mother's insistence she tries out for a musicale being done at the college, her mother hoping she gets over her shyness and Kate in the hopes that she can use it to make an escape and run away from home & her Mother's schemes to marry her off to a wealthy young man who also attends the college.
When Ben Hanby hears Kate sing, though she is quiet and shy, he is taken with her voice and quiet demeanor. He immediately wants to cast her for the solo in the musicale. As Ben starts to develop feelings beyond the musicale for Kate he is torn because of his own secrets that he must keep as his faith leads him to work alongside his parents for the Underground Railroad. While on a "railroad business" trip that coincides with a shopping trip that his mother is making that includes Kate, Ben and Kate are unexpectedly thrown together into circumstances that goes beyond the musicale and brings their hearts together in a way neither could have imagined.
This is the second book in the Saddler's Legacy Series by the author. Though the I did not read the first, this story was totally easy to follow and didn't leave me wondering what was going on. It is a fictional story that was based on historical facts of the Hanby family who were very involved in aiding slaves to find their freedom through the Underground Railroad and on Ben Hanby specifically, whose published song became one of the hallmarks of the abolitionist movement. I really enjoyed all the research the author made into the main characters that were real persons and how she developed their personalities. The traditions of the day came across in the descriptions and events and were told with, what I thought, were great detail. I loved paragraphs such as this describing female equestrians at a circus:
"The equestriennes vaulted from one horse's back to another, changing places with astonishing precision. A clergyman had endorsed this act, with women in their knee-length tutus and exposed legs in tights? It was no different from the ballet, she supposed. Nonetheless, she sensed Ben's shyness from the determined set of his head, as if he dared not even glance at any of his lady companions while such a display of limbs occurred--not just ankles, but entire calves, practically even knees when the tutus bounced. "And this one describing a train ride:
"The air shimmered with the heat of the woodstove down by the door, but here in the middle of the car, Ben had to pull his muffler closer to his neck against the cold. Woodstoves could not combat the drafts from the windows of a wooden box on wheels, speeding across the landscape at twenty miles per hour."The contrast to today's world is made so well by the descriptions of the decorum and transportation of the time it made me smile.
But the story also told of the heartache of the slaves and their flights to freedom and of the deep convictions of those helping them. It was beautifully written and conveyed their deep convictions and courage. I would love to get ahold of the first book in the series which centers around the parents of Ben Hanby and their work. I would definitely recommend this read for historical fiction fans, clean love story fans and/or those interested in the history of the Underground Railroad.
Thanks to Booksneeze for providing me a copy of the book for my honest review. All thoughts and opinions expressed are my own.
You can purchase "Sweeter Than Birdsong" here and here.