Count the Nights by Stars – Michelle Shocklee

Count the Nights by Stars by Michelle Shocklee
Published by Tyndale on March 8, 2022
Genres: Fiction, Christian, Historical, Mystery, Romance
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Count your nights by stars, not shadows. Count your life with smiles, not tears.

1961. After a longtime resident at Nashville’s historic Maxwell House Hotel suffers a debilitating stroke, Audrey Whitfield is tasked with cleaning out the reclusive woman’s room. There, she discovers an elaborate scrapbook filled with memorabilia from the Tennessee Centennial Exposition. Love notes on the backs of unmailed postcards inside capture Audrey’s imagination with hints of a forbidden romance . . . and troubling revelations about the disappearance of young women at the exposition. Audrey enlists the help of a handsome hotel guest as she tracks down clues and information about the mysterious “Peaches” and her regrets over one fateful day, nearly sixty-five years earlier.

1897. Outspoken and forward-thinking Priscilla Nichols isn’t willing to settle for just any man. She’s still holding out hope for love when she meets Luca Moretti on the eve of the Tennessee Centennial Exposition. Charmed by the Italian immigrant’s boldness, Priscilla spends time exploring the wonderous sights of the expo with Luca―until a darkness overshadows the monthslong event. Haunted by a terrible truth, Priscilla and Luca are sent down separate paths as the night’s stars fade into dawn.

I first noticed Count the Nights by Stars because of the beautiful cover, and even though I don’t often read Christian fiction, the premise appealed to me as well. I wasn’t sure what to expect from this book, but when I borrowed it from the library, I found it so gripping that I didn’t want to put it down. This is one of the strongest dual timeline novels I have ever read, and I was deeply invested in both the 1897 and 1961 storylines, especially as they overlap with shared settings and a sense of mystery. The author does an amazing job building suspense throughout the book, allowing the reader to know some aspects of what is coming while still holding back major reveals until the perfect time.

The characters are all realistic and sympathetic, and Michelle Shocklee creates a vivid sense of time and place in both time periods. I especially appreciated her attention to period details in the 1897 part of the story, since her heroine is convincingly invested in certain social causes while still belonging to a turn-of-the-century world of ideas. This character never seems too modern, and the author did an amazing job with the setting, bringing the Tennessee Centennial Exposition to life in a vivid way. I knew nothing about this event, but could picture everything vividly based on the author’s descriptions. She included just the right amount of research, helping the reader feel like they’re there without bogging the story down in too many details. The 1961 storyline is also pitch-perfect, and its mystery elements are incredibly engaging.

I highly recommend Count the Nights by Stars to teens and adults who enjoy historical fiction, novels with social themes, and stories about strong women. The novel also includes a touch of romance, and shares powerful messages about forgiveness, family, love, and justice. Also, although this is a Christian book, it has crossover appeal for mainstream audiences. The characters’ faith is authentic to who they are, without ever seeming like a preachy add-on, and the book handles a variety of heavy and complex themes in a meaningful way. I found this book incredibly gripping and moving, and highly recommend it.