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1863 Saratoga Summer is the first in a series about the five O’Malley Brothers, horsemen from Ireland, who will all wind up in Saratoga during the Thoroughbred racing seasons. As with her previous historical romances Ms. Nelson does an excellent job when writing about a certain era in history, bringing it alive with the period’s atmosphere. Her characters are all portrayed vividly, realistic, and become hard-to-forget to a reader.
The prologue opens with a dramatic scene that will eventually alter the lives of all those present, and then fast forwards from 1843 to 1863. The lives of the O’Malleys and the Brennens are once again about to come together --- this time far from their homes in Ireland to America.
A packet arrives one day to Finn O’Malley from America. The time to fulfill the oath he’d promised all those years ago has come. With heavy heart he calls in his five sons and tells them a ‘slightly altered’ story behind the oath and then informs them that one of them will be chosen to carry through with the promise he made to Bowes Brennen. The brothers hold a ‘lottery’ and the eldest son Connor is chosen.
Connor isn’t happy with the way it turns out. At thirty one he’s very content with his life raising and breeding the race horses he loves as much as his own family. Now he has to bow to his father’s wishes, marry-by-proxy a Brennen widow living in America, then sail there to collect her and her son. His youngest brother Egan goes with him.
Arriving in New York, Connor and Egan are shocked to see a world so different from their own. The city is in the midst of tumultuous conflicts over the federal drafting law called the Conscription. Irish immigrants, poor and oppressed, are slowly rallying to fight back. Connor is more than ready to collect his wife and her son and return home to Ireland with as little time wasted as possible. Fate has different plans in store for him.
Sinead Brennen Cavanaugh is once again pulled into her father, Bowes, schemes. Her only desire is to protect and care for her son Robbie. When he da has her marry-by-proxy an Irishman from the old country she accepts the inevitable and follows through. When Connor shows up to claim her, events escalate from there in rapid succession and Sinead is left with no other choices.
Two days after Connor arrives in New York a city war breaks out as rioters mass in the thousands to fight against the Consription Law. Amidst horrifying destruction, killing, and pillaging, Connor takes his small ‘family’ (Sinead, Bowe, Robbie) from the city and they journey to Saratoga. Egan stays behind to join the police force and eventually be able to help his fellow Irishmen.
Through all that happens, Connor and Sinead learn about each other, their weaknesses, their strengths, and their opposing plans for their future. Both have the strong, stubborn Irish temper that won’t allow either to give in, and their future looks even more fragile than either wants it to be.
Ms. Nelson has penned a story that is a fantastic read, full of the atmosphere and unique tone of the era in the 1860’s New York, characters that are so life-like you can easily picture them, page-turning events that keep you reading to see what happens next, and a love that is strong and endearing despite all the obstacles Connor and Sinead have to face.
A definite recommend to lovers of the historical genre! If you’ve never read Ms. Nelson’s Scottish Historical Romance (The Gunn Of Killearnan) and her Medieval Irish Romance (Unlawful) you will quickly become a fan and search for these books after reading 1863 Saratoga Summer!