Hope Between the Pages

Aug 15, 2023 | Book Reviews

Decades ago, on my first trip to Southern Appalachia during college, I visited the Biltmore House in Asheville, North Carolina. That’s when I fell in love with the Smoky Mountains, the surrounding area, and its people—as an outsider and a Northerner.

But author Pepper Basham is the real deal, born and bred in the Blue Ridge. She still lives there. Her stories spring from those hills, and also from across the pond in Britain, another favorite place of hers.

So it’s only fitting that one of her stories would eventually encompass the Biltmore House in Asheville and the Lake District in England. That story is Hope Between the Pages.

A few basic Biltmore facts:

  • The Biltmore was a country retreat built by George Vanderbilt in 1895 on 8000 acres 
  • It’s a 250-room French Renaissance château with four acres of floor space, including 35 bedrooms, 43 bathrooms, and 65 fireplaces
  • Its landscape was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, who also designed New York City’s Central Park and the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition
  • George married Edith and they had one daughter, Cornelia
  • Together they contributed much to the community through employment, education, and environmental protection
  • The Biltmore opened to the public in 1930 during the Depression, for tourism
  • In 1963, it was nominated as a National Historic Landmark
  • In 1985 the winery opened
  • Since 2001, it also operates as an Inn with a hotel and cottages
  • 2012—Biltmore received the Asheville GreenWorks Hall of Fame Award for its sustainability initiatives, including a new solar array and a tree protection project
  • Today it’s still a family business (5th generation) with over 2000 employees

Learn more here:

Recently I’ve learned that while some people love dual timeline stories, others despise them. There doesn’t seem to be much middle ground. I happen to love them, and though Hope Between the Pages is Pepper’s 15th book, it’s her first split-time novel. It’s a part of Barbour Fiction’s Doors to the Past series.

Pepper’s previous visits to my blog:

Barbour Fiction (April 1, 2021)


Uncover the Story Behind a One-Hundred-Year-Old Love Letter

Walk through Doors to the Past via a new series of historical stories of romance and adventure.

Clara Blackwell helps her mother manage a struggling one-hundred-year old family bookshop in Asheville, North Carolina, but the discovery of a forgotten letter opens a mystery of a long-lost romance and undiscovered inheritance which could save its future. Forced to step outside of her predictable world, Clara embarks on an adventure with only the name Oliver as a hint of the man’s identity in her great-great-grandmother’s letter. From the nearby grand estate of the Vanderbilts, to a hamlet in Derbyshire, England, Clara seeks to uncover truth about family and love that may lead to her own unexpected romance.


My Thoughts

Don’t be put off by what may appear as just another “save the bookshop” story. Yes, there’s that, but there’s so much more. There’s mystery and family secrets. Fairy tales imprint the characters and their situations in new shapes and forms. 

“The only people too old for fairy tales
are the ones who’ve forgotten their imaginations.”
— Sadie to 9-year-old Victoria—p 56

Present day Clara Blackwell owns Blackwell’s Bookstore (or so she thinks) in Biltmore Village, inherited by her great-grandma Sadie Blackwell who opened the shop in 1916. The novel alternates between Sadie in 1915-1916 and Clara, over 100 years later. The common threads are the family connection, the bookstore, and fairy tales. 

Both Clara and Sadie have a passion for connecting the right book to the right reader, and vice versa. 

“Books without readers were like homes without people.” —Clara, p 169

Though they both embrace fairy tales, neither woman can legitimately hope for a happily-ever-after. After all, Sadie is merely a maid in the Biltmore House library. Max, Sadie, and Oliver are prevented by scars or station in life. And Clara has devoted herself to the bookstore and caring for aging parents, with no time for adventure or romance.

Yet the magic of fairy tales visit both Sadie and Clara—a bit of “Cinderella” for one, glimmers of “Beauty and the Beast” for the other. 

When Clara has to find the missing bookstore deed, she is forced to step outside her  comfort zone and fly to England for some answers. Of course the story has to lead to the Old Country—the English countryside, no less. Isn’t that the origin of many familiar fairy tales?

“How long will you breathe in the life of other people’s stories,
but not step out into your own?”
—Clara’s mother to Clara —p 63

A century earlier, Sadie does something similar—but at great risk. 

Like pixie dust, the imagery throughout this novel brings it alive. Experience being inside the Biltmore mansion. Eavesdrop on letters and dialogs between the “Library Fairy” and the “Book Goblin” as they share their love of books. (Just to be clear, this is historical fiction, not fantasy. And I’m trying to avoid spoilers, so read the book if you want to know who I’m referring to.)

The flow between past and present work seamlessly without confusion. Both storylines are equally compelling. This is a clean read, but with plenty of romance and swoon-y moments. Faith plays a part without being preachy or heavy-handed.

Overshadowing all are the prevalent themes, beautifully woven in. A key one is being seen, known, and accepted for who you are—no matter your appearance, no matter your role or station in life. And loving somebody gives you courage to do things you never dreamed of. 

I love the way certain fairy tale aspects weave through the real characters and actions. The antagonists are extreme, but are fitting for a fairy-tale themed book. The not-so-happy-endings of certain characters echo the dark themes of Hans Christian Anderson tales and some Grimm stories. But don’t despair. Redemptive themes abound.

Above all, I love that the novel reveals how fiction and stories shape us, and can be integral to our well-being. 

“But you and I are kindred spirits
because we both know the best way to manage the real world
is to keep a firm hold on an imaginary one.” — Sadie to 9-year-old Victoria

“Keep to your Bible and to your fairy tale, sweet girl.
One is your soul and the other is for your daydreams.
Both will help you through this, and in both you’ll find your story.”
—Sadie to Victoria, p 301


Join me for some Q & A with Pepper Basham.

Author Pepper Basham

Questions about Hope Between the Pages

What was your inspiration for writing Hope Between the Pages? What’s your personal connection to the Biltmore House, Asheville, or the story situation?

I have always wanted to write a story that incorporated Biltmore since first visiting in my ninth grade year of school, but the opportunity arose when Barbour started seeking split-time story ideas featuring famous historical landmarks. I live about 15 minutes from Biltmore and visit often, and was drawn to the idea of creating a story introducing readers to this lovely place.

When I started thinking of Biltmore village, the people who worked within the walls of Biltmore, and how it could all be connected through time, the story and characters began to take shape. It was all a little magical to me. 😊  

Since Edith Vanderbilt is a minor character in your story, what did you need to learn about her? What historical parameters were imposed on you? 

Edith Vanderbilt has always been a historical person I’ve found fascinating and inspiring. Even as a wealthy woman, she had this love and compassion for people, which is shown in the thousands of her correspondence. She appreciated and valued the Appalachian people within the culture around Biltmore and found ways to encourage, educate, and inspire people from all walks of life in the community where she lived. As an Appalachian girl, her love for ‘my people’ makes me like her even more.

How did you develop your protagonists Sadie Blackwell (1915-1916) and Clara Blackwell (present day)? What about Oliver and Max? What would any of them (particularly the women) have to say about you? 

I knew pretty early on that I wanted to use a servant in Biltmore as my historical main character and since servants were to be ‘invisible”, I wondered how this may be incorporated into Sadie’s overall story. Once I began with her, she kind of took over. Clara was a little more tricky to write, as I didn’t want her to be a copy of Sadie, but I DID want her to have an ‘old soul’ sort of personality which would make her all the more connected to history.

I have to say that Oliver danced onto the page, smile intact, ready to meet his readers. Once I started writing him, he just delighted me with his wonderful personality. Max was a COMPLETE surprise. I wasn’t even sure of having a secondary romance and then…Max showed up at the airport with all his grumpiness and I was determined to uncover how to show the heart of the man.

As far as what Sadie or Clara would have to say about me?? LOL  I don’t think Sadie would be very happy with me because of all the hardship I put her through, but I think Clara would thank me for helping her find her HEA. 😊

How did you develop the storyline? Did your characters hijack the story or did you have full rein? 

My characters almost ALWAYS hijack the story. 😊 As I started learning about my characters, this beautiful theme of “being seen” began to emerge. I didn’t go in with the theme planned, but I’m so glad the story brought it out during the creation process. So glad! I think it’s perfect. 

What made you decide to try writing a dual timeline story? Since this was your first time, what were your main challenges? Will you write another one? 

I only tried it because I wanted another opportunity to be published with Barbour. Otherwise, I’m not sure I would have tried dual timeline at all! LOL. I think the biggest challenge was trying to make the two storylines feel connected in a smooth, realistic way. I wanted people to love both stories and easily move from one to the other. As far as writing another? I’m not sure. If I’m surprised by another opportunity, I may. 😊

What unusual thing did you do or discover while researching for this story? 

Learning how Edith and her daughter, Cornelia, grieved the loss of George Vanderbilt touched me. I think, in part, it also helped me when writing Oliver’s story. The strength of women who loved big and lost hard yet still grew from their grief is a powerful story of its own. 


Back to Laura . . . On a similar note

If you like the themes of Hope Between the Pages, especially how stories and imagination shape us, you might enjoy my dual timeline novel, Fifteen Minutes with Mr. Baum. This story spotlights L. Frank Baum, author of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Set in Holland, Michigan, this pre-published novel alternates between 1980 and the early 1900s. Similar themes of fairy tales, faith and imagination, plus being known and accepted are echoed in this tale. Read more and watch the book trailer here.

“Only imagination and faith
keep man above the common place.” — L. Frank Baum

If you like Southern fiction or stories about family secrets and small town dynamics, you might enjoy my re-launched novel All That Is Hidden. Set near North Carolina’s Smoky Mountains in 1968 (not far from Asheville and the Biltmore House!), the story spotlights the bond of family and the connections of a tight-knit community. Northern exploitation threatens as a father’s hidden past catches up to him and tests family ties. Learn more and watch the trailer here.

All That Is Hidden awards:

  • Winner of the Artisan Book Reviews Book Excellence Award
  • Semifinalist in Serious Writer’s Book of the Decade contest

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Pepper Basham Bio

Pepper Basham is an award-winning author who writes romance “peppered” with grace and humor. Writing both historical and contemporary novels, she loves to incorporate her native Appalachian culture and/or her unabashed adoration of the UK into her stories. She currently resides in the lovely mountains of Asheville, NC where she is the wife of a fantastic pastor, mom of five great kids, a speech-language pathologist, and a lover of chocolate, jazz, hats, and Jesus. Her newest novel is The Mistletoe Countess, a historical romantic romp with a dash of mystery and a bunch of humor, too. You can learn more about Pepper and her books on her website and on FacebookInstagramPinterest, and Twitter


Join me next time for a visit with T. I. Lowe.

Meanwhile, have you read Hope Between the Pages or any other novels by Pepper Basham? Have you been to the Biltmore House? Answer in the comments below.

Ever reading,


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  1. Deena Adams

    I love all the books I’ve read by Pepper. This one is on my want to read list!

    • Laura DeNooyer

      Since you’re already a fan anyhow, I’m pretty sure you won’t be disappointed with this one!

  2. Stephanie H.

    This is one of my favorite books by Pepper Basham. I haven’t been to the Biltmore House yet, but I have heard wonderful things about it!

    • Laura DeNooyer

      I hope you get a chance to visit the Biltmore sometime, Stephanie! It’s quite incredible!

  3. Ruth Schmeckpeper

    I love a well-written story–whether split-time or not. This one works well. I loved Hope Between the Pages! I listened to the audio version which was especially fun with the great accents.
    I also read Authentically Izzy. I have to read more of Pepper’s books. These two books both had bookstores and love across the sea, but otherwise are such different stories. Loved both!

    • Laura DeNooyer

      Glad to know you enjoyed Hope Between the Pages! That would be interesting to hear it with the accents. I’m hoping to read Authentically Izzy soon. Thanks for the recommendation.

  4. Anita Klumpers

    I’ve not read any of Pepper’s books. Her writing style is interesting!
    I’m curious about her not-dual timeline books.
    And if a pastor’s wife with a passel of kids makes time to write, my excuses are looking pretty meager.

    Thanks for another fine interview!

    • Laura DeNooyer

      I hope this inspired you to tackle some of your own writing! I’ve only read a few of Pepper’s books. I can certainly vouch for the three I’ve featured on the blog.

  5. Elizabeth Daghfal

    I had a chance to drive on the Biltmore grounds last year. Would love to do so for longer, especially after reading Pepper’s book. Sounds like it would make the place come to life even more.

    My first thought as I read your description was “You’ve Got Mail”–a beautiful classic. 🙂 But with the split time, this story seems like it brings to life two classics in one. I look forward to reading it.

    And by the way, we need more librarians and bookstore owners like “both Clara and Sadie [who] have a passion for connecting the right book to the right reader,” Nothing like connecting to characters like that!

    • Laura DeNooyer

      I think that would be the biggest challenge as a librarian or bookshop owner. You’d have to know books so well in order to connect the right ones to the perfect reader.


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