Book Review, Friends to Lovers, Historical, Romance

The Pretenders by Marti Ziegler


Two crooked hearts find their perfect fit.

Orphaned and forsaken, Ivy Porter and Shane McLaughlin band together at the tender ages of eight and ten in order to survive the brutal streets of nineteenth-century Chicago. Years later, displaced by the historic fire that razes the city, the loyal duo migrates to Colorado. The next decade is spent gambling, picking pockets, and scamming rich silver barons, but their hubris pits them against one very determined small-town marshal intent on bringing them to justice.

Throughout, Ivy believes it’s only a matter of time before Shane regards her as someone more than his childhood confidante or partner in crime, but any greater intimacies between them are quelled by Shane’s traumatic past. Feeling increasingly dissatisfied with the life they’ve cobbled together, Ivy posits an ultimatum, but Shane reacts by revealing a betrayal so deep as to tear them apart.

Benchmarked by two of the greatest natural calamities to take place in nineteenth-century America—the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 and the catastrophic winter of 1886-87—a final act of faith high in the Rocky Mountains seals the interwoven fates of two childhood friends, a marvelous surprise christened Jack, and the unexpectedly sympathetic lawman who brings them all together again.


This moving story set in 1865 Chicago begins when two lonely and abandoned children, Shane aged 10 and Ivy aged 8 bond over a puppy and their desperate need for companionship. 

As they grow up on the streets picking pockets and conning people for their money, their dependency on each other becomes more than survival.  Their love grows as a family unit and then blooms into more, but they have to learn to trust each other differently as a couple.

Watching these two tragic figures grow in their confidence, their strength of character, and their love for each other is beautiful to watch.  They go through so much braving the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 and later on the extreme winter of 1887 and their love endures a long arduous journey full of doubts, loneliness, and eventually a HEA ending.

At times I wondered if they would ever recover from the bad things that happen to them, but their strong will to be together and their willingness to start letting others in to their tight cocoon of just the two of them is touching and powerful.

I loved the fact that this story was told in Ivy’s point of view. As I felt Ivy’s sadness, her loneliness, and her unrelenting love for Shane no matter how he tries to push her away, I desperately wanted to see her happiness for all the sacrifices she made. Ivy is a strong and smart young woman who comes into her own. She is definitely the energy behind the relationship as Shane’s fear and guilt for letting her down is always below the surface. But Shane grows too and becomes a dependable and devoted man who would do anything for the woman he loves. There are a few supporting characters, but I have to say that I valued Gabriel Palmer. I can’t explain who he is without spoilers, but his character is essential to my appreciation of this story and how he especially interacts with Ivy had me tearing up more than once.

Ms. Ziegler’s prose is beautiful, her characters are well-developed, and her historical settings are captivating. I recommend this book for history buffs and people who enjoy unpredictable romances with characters who are deserving of a happy ending.


The Pretenders

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I live in a small town in central Illinois surrounded by cornfields and wind turbines. I’m owned by two faithful hounds, a sweet Huskie-German Shepherd mix and a deranged Brittany Spaniel always on the hunt for squirrels. I have a Bachelor of Science in Individual and Family Development from Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, Illinois, and yes, I still have the congratulatory letter that says I finally paid off my student loans.

After spending nearly twenty years banging my head against the wall trying to get my books traditionally published, I came to my senses at long last and self-published my first book ​Clingstone in 2016. Clingstone went on to win the historical category in the 2017 I Heart Indie Contest and placed as a finalist in the 2017 Gayle Wilson Award of Excellence.

​The goose egg on my forehead has diminished in size ever since.

Follow Marti on her website.

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