Review: In Spotlight and Shadow, by Rachel Scott McDaniel


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A Gem of a Mystery Takes Center Stage

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

Elise Malvern has a habit of letting people down. Her former boyfriend who hoped she’d be his bride. Her grandfather who hoped she’d take over the family’s auction company. But mostly she’s disappointed herself. What’s the point of pursuing her passion as a violinist, if she is too scared to audition for a seat in the Pittsburgh Symphony? Her internship at the elegant Heinz Hall places her in the wings of the stage, but never on it. By accident, she discovers an old stage prop. Her instincts tell her there’s more to the paste necklace than meets the eye. Whether a good idea or not, she accepts help from a childhood friend, who happens to be country music megastar—Peirson Brooks. Peirson and Elise share a history; one she doesn’t care to repeat. The more involved they become in the mystery, the more things get tangled, including her heart.

A century earlier…
Sophie Walters longs for center stage, her name on the marquee, and all that jazz, but climbing her way into an acting career is more difficult than she imagined. Having spoiled all her chances in Hollywood, she returns to Pittsburgh, accepting an insignificant role in a popular production. She watches her dreams pass by from behind the curtain at the illustrious Loew’s Penn Theatre. She finally gets the coveted spotlight, but not for her talent. No, her surge to fame is all one terrible mistake. Somehow, she’s suspected to be a notorious jewel thief known around Pittsburgh as The Mirage. The man she pleads for help is none other than the man she jilted at the altar five years before, Sterling Monroe.


Disclaimer: Although I received an electronic copy of this book from the publisher, the opinions below are my own.

Two years ago, in a review for Rachel Scott McDaniel’s debut novel, I wrote that I’d love to read more about the male lead character’s cousin. In Above the Fold, the lead character’s name was Cole. His cousin was called… Sterling. Did I put that Sterling together with this one? Nope. Not until Cole showed up approximately halfway through In Spotlight and Shadow.

Elise is a “creative marketing intern,” which sounds more like a social media position. She’s someone who knows her Instagram from her Snapchat, but is also a bit of an introvert. She’s a reader, she loves history, and also her city. She’s someone I immediately “got.” Her part of the tale is written from the third person perspective. In comparison, her 1920s co-star Sophie has traveled across the country in search of fame and fortune. Her story is told from the first person point of view. Their supporting act has to be the city of Pittsburgh. Heinz Hall – or the Loew’s Penn Theater in Sophie’s time – is the central location, but the historic William Penn Hotel is also featured. I walked the streets with both women, reveling in McDaniel’s descriptions of my favorite American city.

I’ve come to appreciate historical mysteries with a side of romance rather than a straightforward romance set in the past. Not only is there the question of how the couple will reach their Happily Ever After, there’s the whodunnit aspect. Did I figure out the real identity of The Mirage before they were revealed? No. The romances, especially the one between Elise and Pierce, were cute although I was surprised Peirson wasn’t recognized more often.

This is part of the Doors to the Past split time series published by Barbour. While each book is designed to stand alone, they must feature two plots – one in the present day and one in the past – which come together by the end. This is McDaniels’ second title in the series, the earlier one being set on a steamboat traveling between Louisville and Pittsburgh. As far as I can tell, it isn’t necessary to have read it although I do recommend it. I also suggest reading Above the Fold, so you can see just why I said I wanted more Sterling.


Rating: 5 out of 5.


Publisher: Barbour Publishing

Publication Date: 01 February, 2023

Book Information


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Julie Klassen ( loves all things Jane–Jane Eyre and Jane Austen. Her books have sold more than 1.5 million copies, and she is a three-time recipient of the Christy Award for Historical Romance. The Secret of Pembrooke Park was honored with the Minnesota Book Award for Genre Fiction. Julie has also won the Midwest Book Award and Christian Retailing‘s Best Award and has been a finalist in the RITA and Carol Awards. A graduate of the University of Illinois, Julie worked in publishing for sixteen years and now writes full-time. She and her husband have two sons and live in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Rachel Scott McDaniel’s website



In Spotlight and Shadow’s central setting is the almost 100 year old building now known as Heinz Hall. Back in character Sophie’s time it was the Loew’s Penn Theater, and was considered the “most magnificent theater between New York and Chicago.” Sadly, it closed in the 1960s and was almost demolished to make way for a parking lot (a familiar story). Thankfully, the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra (character Elise’s employer) stepped in and made the building its new home.

For more detail on its history, and some great old photographs of the building, do check out the following page on the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra’s website: Heinz Hall History

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