cover image Count the Night by Stars

Count the Night by Stars

Michelle Shocklee. Tyndale House, $25.99 (432p) ISBN 978-1-4964-6109-4

Shocklee (Under the Tulip Tree) delivers a riveting historical romance set at the famed Maxwell House Hotel in Nashville, Tenn. In 1961, Audrey Whitfield, daughter of the Maxwell’s manager, returns home from college to care for her disabled brother and grief-stricken father after her mother’s death. When one of the hotel’s elderly residents, Priscilla Nichols, becomes ill and moves into a nursing home, it falls to Audrey to sort through the woman’s belongings to clear the room. Audrey uncovers a scrapbook containing mementos from the 1897 Tennessee Centennial Exposition and a series of love letters describing the Exposition’s first night, including the disappearance of a young immigrant woman. The letters slowly bring Priscilla’s life into focus: her reluctant courtship with a repugnant Southern aristocrat, her ill-fated romance with a poor Italian immigrant, and the dark injustice she discovers hiding in her hometown. The narrative shifts between timelines: in 1961, Audrey investigates the decades-old disappearance with the help of an attractive civil rights lawyer-in-training staying at the Maxwell, and in 1897, Priscilla falls in love and stumbles upon a terrible secret on the eve of the Exposition. Shocklee masterfully weaves mystery and romance in this spellbinding study of the horrors of xenophobia and the bravery of those who stand up to it. This is a timely and expertly crafted tale. (Mar.)