IN THE SHADOW OF THE RIVER by Ann H. Gabhart
GENRE: Inspirational Historical Romance
RELEASE DATE: May 9, 2023
If all the world’s a stage, Jacci will play her part.
She only hopes her story does not turn out to be a tragedy.
In 1881, Jacci Reed is only five years old when a man attempts to kidnap her from the steamboat her mother, Irena, works on. Badly wounded during the confrontation, Irena takes Jacci aboard the Kingston Floating Palace, a showboat tied up beside them. There, Jacci’s actor grandfather tends to her mother and Jacci gets a first taste of the life she will come to lead.
Fifteen years later, Jacci is an actress aboard the Kingston Floating Palace, and largely contented with her adopted family of actors, singers, and dancers. Especially Gabe, who has always supported her, and the gruff grandfather she has come to know and love. Jacci’s mother has been gone for years, but the memory of the altercation that ultimately took her life–and the cryptic things Jacci has overheard about her past–is always there, lurking in the back of her mind.
When someone on the showboat tries to kill Jacci, it’s clear her questions demand answers. But secrets have a way of staying in the shadows, and the answers she craves will not come easily. Gabe only hopes they come in time for him and Jacci to have a future together.
“Sometimes we have no choice but to play the roles we’re given.”
I have always been fascinated with the history of showboats and steamboats that traveled up and down the rivers, providing one form of entertainment or the other for those in riverside towns. Maybe it was Nancy Drew’s The Haunted Showboat that piqued my interest – who knows. But there aren’t a lot of novels that cover this particular subset of history (I can only think of a couple others, including the Nancy Drew book lol) so my radar zeroes in on the ones that do. Books like Ann H. Gabhart’s latest, In the Shadow of the River.
The theme of family is strong in this novel – the family who gives you life, the family who raises you, and the family you choose. Sometimes, they’re one and the same – but not always. The author has created such vividly-drawn characters in the cast and crew of the Kingston Floating Palace, a showboat that travels up and down the Ohio River in the late 1800s. This ragtag group of actors, musicians, and all manner of vaudeville-style performers – as well as the boat crew – really have formed a family since most have been part of the show for many seasons. The bond between the ‘regulars’ is strong and tender, all at the same time, and I loved seeing all the different personalities and even imagined sitting down with them over a cup of Aunt Tildy’s hot cocoa after the show.
The main character of In the Shadow of the River, though, is definitely Jacci, and we first meet her as a scared (but brave) five-year-old whose mother is grievously injured by a man trying to take the little girl from the steamboat where Irena works. When they seek refuge on the neighboring showboat, Jacci is reacquainted with her grandfather who also became one of my favorite players in this drama. I loved the layers to Duke’s character, and it touched my heart to watch him step up for this new role of grandfather. He had spent a lifetime mostly thinking of himself, and now he has this little girl who needs him to put her first. Gabhart pulled off this transformation with such heart and feeling, and I just wanted to reach into the pages and give Duke a big ol’ hug.
While we meet Jacci as a five-year-old and stay there with her for a few chapters, we also get to jump ahead fifteen years and get to know her again as a young adult who has fallen in love with the showboat and its family. Particularly with her friend Gabe who finds it necessary to continue reminding her that he is not her brother. Oh no, the only familial connection he wants with Jacci is as her husband… if, that is, he can ever be sure that she could feel the same about him. Their friendship is another transformation that I loved over the course of this story, and its end result filled my romance-loving heart to the brim!
“… when the scene calls for a kiss, it doesn’t matter who is in the audience.”
The added dash of danger that bookends the story also bolsters the romantic tension, and there are some twists I didn’t see coming. It all works cohesively to make this a riveting story from beginning to end.
Bottom Line: Compelling characters, intriguing history, a sense of adventure, a dose of suspense, and a sweet exploration of what ‘family’ means are all reasons you should pick up In the Shadow of the River by Ann H. Gabhart. Readers will fall in love with Jacci, Duke, Gabe, Aunt Tildy and so many other characters who call the showboat their home. I enjoyed the behind-the-scenes glimpses of life aboard the Kingston Floating Palace – from the parades to the calliope to the different acts, and of course the stories the showboat has to tell. A great choice for fans of the author’s previous books and new-to-her readers who also love Lynn Austin or Jocelyn Green.
(I voluntarily reviewed a complimentary copy of this book which I received from the publisher. In the interest of full disclosure, the company for which I freelance as a blog/review tour coordinator was hired to promote this book with a social media tour, with which I have no involvement. All views expressed are only my honest opinion.)
My Rating: 4 stars / loved it!
KissingBook Level: 3 / may forget to breathe on occasion
Ann H. Gabhart is the bestselling author of many novels, including When the Meadow Blooms, Along a Storied Trail, An Appalachian Summer, River to Redemption, These Healing Hills, and Angel Sister. She and her husband live on a farm a mile from where she was born in rural Kentucky. Ann enjoys discovering the everyday wonders of nature while hiking in her farm’s fields and woods with her grandchildren and her dogs, Frankie and Marley. Learn more at www.annhgabhart.com.
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