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My Thoughts About … ‘Hearts Of Gold’ by Jessica Stirling

Synopsis: – Taken from the dust jacket of this hardcover copy

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The icy squalls that lashed the Firth of Forth that Spring of  1814 only added to Elspeth Moodie’s misery. Shocked and shamed to discover that James, the man she knows as a hubsand, is also her father, Elspeth has abandoned the security of her prosperous home and taken to the road, seeking a hiding place where James and his agents will never find her and her baby.

She discovers a refuge of sorts in an isolated mining community, working as a lowly servant to widowed coal-hewer, Jock Bennet, and his three young children. But hunger, hardship and the threat of disaster down the mines are an ever-present spectre and when tragedy does indeed strike, Elspeth is forced into the grinding labour of  a ‘harness-wife’ in the dangerous base seams of the pit. Her only hope of a happier future seems to lie with the mine’s raffish, scheming manager, Keir  Bolderon – but James and the legacy of her past are inescapable.

Meanwhile, back in the town she left, Anna, the discarded mistress of the local laird is also desperate to escape from the circumstances to which fate has condemned her. She calculatingly sets out to snare a respectable husband, unaware that her ambition may ruin not only her life, but Elspeth’s too.”

About The Author:-

Fans of Jessica Stirling will probably be familiar with the story of how she became a writer, but new readers may find themselves in for a few surprises!

A Question … Do authors need to hide behind alter-egos and pseudonyms? Do we really ‘judge a book by it’s cover’ and pre-judge the quality of a specific genre of writing, by the gender of the author?

Jessica Stirling is a very Scottish author, but also very male, with the real name of Hugh C. Rae.

Hugh began his career writing pulp crime fiction, but was then offered a niche on the list of a major publisher, although he was told that the novels to be written, were aimed at the female market and must be ‘fronted’ by a woman.

Hugh decided that the best way to approach the problem, would be to find himself a female writing partner, who turned out to be Peggy Coghlan, older than Hugh, but one of his best friends.

So began a very successful partnership for ‘Jessica Stirling’. Hugh and Peggy worked well and successfully together for many years, with eight titles to her credit.

Peggy then decided to retire, but was more than happy for Hugh to take over full ownership of Jessica, which he has done for the last almost 30 years, now with more than 30 titles, of predominantly Scottish romantic sagas, to her name.

My Thoughts About ‘Hearts Of Gold’…

I always try to check out any other reviews of a book, just to gauge different readers perspectives on a story, but was disappointed that, despite this not being a latest release, no-one had reviewed or commented about it, that I could find.

This Scottish romantic saga, with it’s author Jessica Stirling, is to my mind, right up there with some of the other great period saga writers, the likes of Catherine Cookson and Josephine Cox, for example.

The characters are authentically and sympathetically portrayed, reflecting both the harsh life and times of the 1800’s coal mining community and it’s antithesis, of life within the drawing rooms of the professional and wealthy classes.

Two storylines run in parallel for most of the book, with the changing dialogue transitions between them , being handled smoothly and not leaving the reader with any confusion about the unfolding story.

Two half sisters, so different, but both so single minded in their need to escape the hand in life that fate has dealt them.

The deviousness and greed woven into Anna’s character, leaves you in no doubt that she is someone who, once her mind is made up, will stop at nothing to get her own way. Unfortunately, she is so focused on her own ambitions and schemes, that she misses the first signs that she has met her match, in her latest conquest. She is also oblivious to the fact that her actions may have far-reaching consequences for her half-sister.

Elspeth has an altogether different personality. Whilst wanting to escape the life which she sees as a lie, she is a much nicer, kinder, unselfish person. She is strong in a quieter and more thoughtful way and can’t help but to care for people as she strives to make a new beginning for herself and her child.

Two men, from diverse backgrounds, yet each with their own agenda, seek to further their ambitions and fortunes, at the girls expense, forcing both to review their situations and their safety.

As the two stories converge into the inevitable confrontational climax, ‘blood becomes thicker than water’ and the girls form an uneasy truce.

Anna gets the wealth and position in society that she has always craved, but has she paid and will continue to pay the price?

Elspeth comes to terms with her past and decides to turn it to her advantage, but again, at what cost? A visitor from the past, a betrayer, seeks to make amends, but can Elspeth open her heart at last?

Jessica Stirling evokes all the basic emotions in this thoughtful Scottish saga, which is well written and evenly balanced. The only comment I would make is that the synopsis gives away quite a few plot spoilers, which I strive not to do in ‘my thoughts’ article.

Overall worthy of 4 out of 5

This book was a worthy contribution to my ‘What’s In a Name’ 2011 challenge, in the category of ‘A book with jewellery or gem in the title’.

Other links to this book, can be found:


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I can’t remember a time, even as a child, when I haven’t been passionate about books and reading.
I began blogging, when I realised just how many other people out there shared my passion for the written word and I have been continually amazed at the wealth of books that are available and the amount of great new friends I have made, from literally 'The Four Corners Of The World'.

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  • Reading the synopsis I thought this sounded very much in the Catherine Cookson vein. I haven’t read anything by this author or heard of ‘her’/him, but that’s not so surprising with so many books out there!

    I don’t like to think I prejudge a book by the gender of its author, but I realise that I do like to know that a writer with a female name is a female and vice versa. I think that it’s a form of lying not to do so and it makes me feel a bit cheated, but I can’t analyse why, especially as I have no trouble with pseudonyms or writers combining to write – Nicci French for example. I suppose I just like to know … and it annoys me to think that publishers think it needs to be a woman writer to get women to read a book!

    • Hello Margaret,

      There are a whole host of authors out there, who write very much in the Catherine Cookson vein and I guess that it is either a style that you love or hate.

      I have a whole series of such books on my shelves, mostly courtesy of my mother-in-law, who reads them voraciously. You may say that I don’t have to read them when she passes them on to me, but I just can’t bear to part with a book until it has been read and I do find this particular style of writing an easy and cosy read between other more series subjects.

      I don’t inherently find anything disturbing about a male author writing a romantic fiction novel, but, like yourself, find it outrageous that publishers are so adverse to the whole concept that romantic fiction does not need to be written by a woman, for women to want to read it, especially to the point where they insist on a male author having to adopt a female pseudonym to satisfy them.

      I didn’t realise just how many male romantic fiction authors have found themselves forced ino this situation, until I found the following article, which was a real eye-opener.


  • Hi Yvonne
    Other than the comparison to Catherine Cookson (sorry, not a fan), I’m intrigued. I guess there is a reason for Elspeth not knowing that James was her father – I’ll have to wait and see. You probably remember my daughter is named Elspeth, therefore I’m drawn to any book with a character with the same name. Another one onto the TBR!

    • Hi Chris,

      There is a good reason why Elspeth does not know that James is, in fact, her father, until it is too late, but it would be too much of a spoiler if I told you.

      You mention that you are not a great fan of Catherine Cookson and I wonder if it is specifically her work in particular that aren’t keen on, or her style of writing?

      So many of the period romantic sagas seem to written in this style and whilst I couldn’t read them exclusively, I do enjoy them if they are slotted in amongst other genres.

      Sometimes I find that ‘chick-lit’ can get a bit ‘samey’, with one author sounding pretty much like another, but again, they are great in small doses!

      Let’s face it, I will read just about any genre and most authors!!

Written by Yvonne