THE KISSING TREE Book Blog Tour Mini-Reviewapalooza – Review & Giveaway

THE KISSING TREE

Four Novellas Rooted in Timeless Love

KAREN WITEMEYER, REGINA JENNINGS, 
AMANDA DYKES, and NICOLE DEESE

Genre: Christian / Romance / Anthology
Publisher: Bethany House
Date of Publication: October 13, 2020
Number of Pages: 400

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In this Texas-sized romance novella collection, courting couples, decades apart, leave a permanent mark of their love by carving their initials into the same oak’s bark. 

Regina Jennings: “Broken Limbs, Mended Hearts” When a young man from her past returns and upends their small town with a new invention, schoolteacher Bella Eden is reminded of the heartbreak she suffered years ago under the old oak tree. When her job is on the line, can she trust the man who disrupted her life to help her fight for a brighter future?

Karen Witemeyer: “Inn for a Surprise”
Determined to keep love alive for others, Phoebe Woodward builds an inn that caters to couples. When her father sends a property manager to help make it a success, she finds her whimsical vision thwarted by his stodgy practicality. Finding the right blend of romance and reality is a challenge, and her spinster heart may be in for a surprise. 

Amanda Dykes: “From Roots to Sky” WWII airman Luke Hampstead found comfort in letters from the sister of a lost compatriot. When he visits Texas to thank her, he discovers her constructing a project with surprising ties to his letters . . . and that she herself is even more surprising. While a promising opportunity awaits him elsewhere, will what they’ve shared be enough to give their future flight?

Nicole Deese: “Heartwood” Abby Brookshire’s world is turned upside down when the historic tree she’s strived to preserve as the head groundskeeper at the Kissing Tree Inn is put in danger of removal. Making matters worse, the only way to protect its legacy is to partner with the man she’s been ignoring since he left town years ago. Will she have the courage to move on from the past and start a new beginning?

 

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With its four delightful, heartwarming, and romantic novellas,  The Kissing Tree is one of my favorite books of 2020. Easily in the Top 20 of the 160 titles I’ve read so far.

Four excellent stories of love spanning generations. Three historical, one contemporary. One special tree at the center of them all. Related storylines, seamless integration of elements from one story to the next, cohesive execution. Each time I finished a story, I’d say it was my favorite. In the end, I couldn’t pick one. I choose all four. 

Broken Limbs, Mended Heart by Regina Jennings tells the story of how the stately live oak in Oak Springs, Texas became The Kissing Tree through Bella Eden and Adam Fisher. The pairing of schoolteacher and modern farmer is something I don’t read often and I’m long past the point of being able to relate to characters in their early 20s, but this sweet story appealed to me because Ms. Jennings created a lovely tale of young dreams being fulfilled and of a community coming together to welcome an innovation after initial skepticism.  

Inn For a Surprise by Karen Witemeyer had me laughing with the rivalry between romantic innkeeper-wannabe Phoebe Woodward and practical self-made businessman Barnabas Ackerly. I love their conversations and the way their contest showed them how well they complement each other’s styles. Opposites do attract and with parental matchmaking at work, these two have their happily-ever-after. Barnabas’ nicknames for the inn are some of the highlights of this story. I also like the cameo of Bella and Adam from the first story to establish continuity. 

Phoebe’s line really resonated with me: “I refuse to settle for anything other than soul-stirring, fully reciprocated love.”

From Roots to Sky by Amanda Dykes is both light and deep. I always have a soft spot for military romance and this story of pilot Luke Hampstead and Hannah Garland, the woman he’s been corresponding with, induced me to both laughter and tears. Hannah’s vibrant personality matched Luke’s quiet steadfastness perfectly. As in the previous story, I love it when the couple works together to achieve a common goal. This time, on building the cottage inspired by Danny’s letters and Luke’s drawings from Europe. 

Heartwood by Nicole Deese gutted me. The only contemporary story of the collection, this second-chance romance between Abby Brookshire and Griffin Malone is the most relatable to me. Like Abby, I too lost my father to illness and that letter she wrote him had me bawling. While tears-inducing, this story managed to also have light moments and it ends the series on the right note. That of hope and strength in community and love. 

This is one of my favorite quotes- “When things feel completely out of my control, my options become very simple: I can either tighten my grip and hang on no matter how much that hold might hurt myself or others, or I can open my fist and trust in a process much bigger than myself … and let go.” 

 

The stories have an awesome sense of place. I actually looked up “Oak Springs, Texas” and “The Kissing Tree, Texas” on the internet with the intention of visiting them when it’s safe to travel once more. Alas, they’re only in the imagination of four talented authors.

Thanks to Lone Star Lit and Bethany House for giving me an early copy to review this wonderful book. 

Regina Jennings is a graduate of Oklahoma Baptist University, with a degree in English and a minor in history. She’s the winner of the National Readers’ Choice Award, a two-time Golden Quill finalist, and a finalist for the Oklahoma Book of the Year Award. Regina has worked at the Mustang News and at First Baptist Church of Mustang, along with time at the Oklahoma National Stockyards and various livestock shows. She lives outside of Oklahoma City with her husband and four children.

Website ║ Facebook

Voted #1 Reader’s Favorite Christian Romance Author of 2019 by Family Fiction Magazine, bestselling author  Karen Witemeyer offers warmhearted historical romance with a flair for humor, feisty heroines, and swoon-worthy Texas heroes. She makes her home in Abilene, Texas, with her husband and three children.

Website ║ Karen’s Posse Reader Facebook Group 

Amanda Dykes is a drinker of tea, dweller of redemption, and spinner of hope-filled tales who spends most days chasing wonder and words with her family. She’s a former English teacher and the author of Whose Waves These Are, a Booklist 2019 Top Ten Romance debut, as well as three novellas.

Website ║ Instagram

Nicole Deese’s eight humorous, heartfelt, and hope-filled novels include the 2017 Carol Award-winning A Season to Love. Her 2018 release, A New Shade of Summer, was a finalist in the RITA Awards, Carol Awards, and INSPY Awards. Both of these books are from her bestselling Love in Lenox series. When she’s not working on her next contemporary romance, she can usually be found reading one by a window overlooking the inspiring beauty of the Pacific Northwest. She lives in small-town Idaho with her happily-ever-after hubby, two rambunctious sons, and princess daughter with the heart of a warrior.

Website ║ Facebook

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SIX WINNERS! Grand prize: print copy of The Kissing Tree plus custom, 18” x 3.5” wooden sign; five other winners: print copy of The Kissing Tree.
 
 October 20-30, 2020
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SAVING IRENE by Judy Alter – Book Blitz

SAVING IRENE

A Culinary Mystery

By JUDY ALTER

Cozy Mystery / Women Sleuths 
Publisher: Alter Ego Press
Date of Publication: September 10, 2020
Number of Pages: 208

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Irene Foxglove wishes she were a French chef. Henrietta James, her assistant, knows she is nothing more than a small-time TV chef on a local Chicago channel. And yet when Irene is threatened, Henny tries desperately to save her, wishing always that “Madame” would tell her the truth—about her marriage, her spoiled daughter, her days in France, the man who threatens her. Henny’s best friend, the gay guy who lives next door, teases her, encourages her—and maybe loves her from afar. Murder, kidnapping, and some French gossip complicate this mystery, set in Chicago and redolent with the aroma of fine food. Recipes included. 

PRAISE FOR SAVING IRENE

“A nicely convoluted murder mystery and a glorification of America’s diverse cuisines, played out against the attractions of a lovingly drawn Chicago.”—Fred Erisman, In Their Own Words: Forgotten Women Pilots of Early Aviation 

“You’ll find yourself cheering for Henny James as she works beyond her job description as prep assistant to save her boss, Irene Foxglove, glamorous local French-ish TV chef.”—Kaye George, Deadly Sweet Tooth (Vintage Sweets Mysteries Book 2)

“Get lost in the beauty of Chicago and the intrigue of a Texas girl making her way in the world . . . You won’t see the end coming.”—Mary Dulle, avid cozy fan

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After an award-winning career writing historical fiction about women of the nineteenth-century American West, Judy Alter turned her attention to contemporary cozy mysteries: the Kelly O’Connell Mysteries and Blue Plate Café Mysteries. Her avocation is cooking, and she is the author of Cooking My Way Through Life with Kids and BooksGourmet on a Hot Plate, and Texas is Chili Country

Born in Chicago, she has made her home in Fort Worth for over fifty years. Judy is also a proud Scot, a member of Clan MacBean. One trip to the Highlands convinced her that is where her heart is, and she longs to write a novel set in Scotland.

Judy is an active member of Sisters in Crime, Guppies, Story Circle Network, Women Writing the West, and the Texas Institute of Letters. When she is not writing, she is busy with seven grandchildren and a lively poodle/border collie cross.

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THREE WINNERS: Autographed paperback copies of Saving Irene. 
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A VOTE IS A POWERFUL THING by Catherine Stier – Book Blitz and Giveaway

A VOTE IS A POWERFUL THING

By CATHERINE STIER

Illustrated by Courtney Dawson

Children’s Picture Book / American Historical Fiction / Elections and Voting 
Ages 4-7
Publisher: Albert Whitman and Company
Date of Publication: September 1, 2020
Number of Pages: 32

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Callie knows there’s a presidential election coming up, and people will soon vote to decide the country’s leader. 

Her class is having an election too, about an issue that affects them all–the class field trip. Should they choose the cookie factory or the wilderness park? 

Join Callie as she campaigns for the wilderness park she loves and learns how people have organized, marched, and protested for the right to vote. And find out how a vote–even just one vote–can make a difference!

 

PRAISE FOR A VOTE IS A POWERFUL THING

“Gets the job done.” ―Kirkus Reviews 

“A galvanizing read for children interested in politics or parents who hope to instill such interests.” ―Publishers Weekly

"A galvanizing read for children interested in politics or parents who hope to instill such interests." ―Publishers Weekly

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"This book helps children make the leap from abstract concept to concrete understanding of the importance of these decisions and why voting matters...an inspiring read."-School Library Journal, starred review

About The Author

Catherine Stier is the author of several awarding-winning children’s books. Her titles include If I Were PresidentIf I Ran for PresidentIf I Were a Park Ranger, and the A Dog’s Day chapter-book series. In grade school, Catherine ran a class campaign for student council with handmade signs, and, although she didn’t win, she found the process exciting! She went on to earn an MA in reading and literacy from the University of Texas at San Antonio and has conducted children’s literature research. She now resides with her husband in San Antonio and volunteers at a local wilderness park. 

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ONE WINNER: Copies of each of the three election-series books;
patriotic socks, button, and pencils; plus a $15 gift card to The Twig Book Shop. 
September 4-10, 2020 
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AIRBORNE by DiAnn Mills – Book Blog Tour: Review and Giveaway

AIRBORNE

by

DiANN MILLS

Genre: Christian Romantic Suspense 
Publisher: Tyndale House Publishers
Date of Publication: September 8, 2020
Number of Pages: 400

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Heather Lawrence’s long-awaited vacation to Salzburg wasn’t supposed to go like this. Mere hours into the transatlantic flight, the Houston FBI agent is awakened when passengers begin exhibiting horrific symptoms of an unknown infection. As the virus quickly spreads and dozens of passengers fall ill, Heather fears she’s witnessing an epidemic similar to ones her estranged husband studies for a living—but this airborne contagion may have been deliberately released.

While Heather remains quarantined with other survivors, she works with her FBI colleagues to identify the person behind this attack. The prime suspect? Dr. Chad Lawrence, an expert in his field … and Heather’s husband. The Lawrences’ marriage has been on the rocks since Chad announced his career took precedence over his wife and future family and moved out. 

As more victims fall prey days after the initial outbreak, time’s running out to hunt down the killer, one who may be closer to the victims than anyone ever expected.

A NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR

The story line for Airborne came to me three and a half years ago. All I had was a what-if: A virus unleashed on an international flight.

The search to find experts who were willing to give me accurate information took another year. Along the way, God placed the right people in my path: a woman and new friend whose doctorate is in microbiology and immunology, a man who trains flight attendants for the airline that I envisioned in my story, a pilot who not only flies for my designated airline but is also a suspense and thriller writer, the amazing people and resources of the CDC, and the wisdom and guidance of the FBI.

Tyndale House Publishers saw my passion for Airborne. This book was completed and edited before COVID-19 spread across our globe. My mission then and now is to show a story that weaves hope, reality, and the sacrificial work of first responders when a deadly virus spreads through innocent people.

My prayer is people will experience God’s presence during our current global crisis. Will you join me in that prayer?

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With its fast-paced action, impeccably researched scientific facts, and super timely plotline, Airborne is totally unputdownable. I suggest for potential readers to schedule a few hours of uninterrupted reading time because they’ll surely be as absorbed in the story and characters as I was. 

To be honest, I had some apprehensions when I accepted the opportunity to review an advance copy of this book. Reading fiction is one of my escapes from the worries of real life and the subject of a virus being the central plot in the story seemed to be contrary to that objective. I am glad to have been relieved of my doubts.

While the book deals with the race to find a cure before more people died and the search for the villain who unleashed the deadly biological weapon, it also tackles relationships and the role of faith in them. Heather’s strong belief in God and Chad’s denial of a divine being are at the center of everything that happened to them. These informed how they made their decisions about their past and future, whether apart or together. 

Ms. Mills showed great skill in developing the characters in this book, especially the growth arc for Chad and the reveal of the villain. Her writing is commendable in that she incorporated science, medicine, law enforcement, and religion with a deft hand. The language is simple and the situations are realistic. 

My only quibble is the insufficient romance in the book. There’s not a lot of it except for the final chapter. Heather and Chad were separated physically and emotionally for the majority of the story and the few scenes when they interacted were mostly spent fighting. The Christian and Suspense parts were satisfactory, the Romantic aspect was a little lacking. 

Content advisory: several on-page deaths, physical violence, description of abuse. 

DiAnn Mills is a bestselling author who believes her readers should expect an adventure. She is a founding board member of the American Christian Fiction Writers; director, alongside Edie Melson, of the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference and Mountainside Retreats; and a member of Advanced Writers and Speakers Association, Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and International Thriller Writers. 

DiAnn is passionate about helping other writers be successful and speaks to various groups and teaches writing workshops around the country. She and her husband live in sunny Houston. DiAnn is very active online and loves to connect with readers on social media and at diannmills.com

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Each gets a signed, personalized hardcover edition of Airborne
+ choice of either $25 Amazon or $25 Barnes and Noble e-Gift Card

August 18-28, 2020
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8/27/20 Review StoreyBook Reviews
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THE SECRET OF YOU AND ME by Melissa Lenhardt – Book Blog Tour: Review and Giveaway

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THE SECRET OF YOU AND ME

by

MELISSA LENHARDT

Genre: Women’s Fiction / Romance
Publisher:  Graydon House (Harlequin)
Date of Publication: August 4, 2020
Number of Pages: 352

 

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Synopsis

TSOYAM book cover

True love never fades—and old secrets never die . . . 

Nora hasn’t looked back. Not since she fled Texas to start a new life. Away from her father’s volatile temper and the ever-watchful gaze of her claustrophobically conservative small town, Nora has freed herself. She can live—and love—however she wants. The only problem is that she also left behind the one woman she can’t forget. Now tragedy calls her back home to confront her past—and reconcile her future.

Sophie seems to have everything—a wonderful daughter, a successful husband, and a rewarding career. Yet underneath that perfection lies an explosive secret. She still yearns for Nora—her best friend and first love—despite all the years between them. Keeping her true self hidden hasn’t been easy, but it’s been necessary. So when Sophie finds out that Nora has returned, she hopes Nora’s stay is short. The life she has built depends on it.

But they both find that first love doesn’t fade easily. Memories come to light, passion ignites, and old feelings resurface. As the forces of family and intolerance that once tore them apart begin to reemerge, they realize some things may never change—unless they demand it.

PRAISE FOR THE SECRET OF YOU AND ME:

“Lenhardt convinces in her portrayal of the conflict between desire and control.” —Publishers Weekly

“A compelling story of second chances and being true to yourself.”
Harper Bliss, bestselling author of Seasons of Love

“At turns sweet, sexy, and always respectful of these characters and their journeys to their most authentic selves, Lenhardt’s wonderful book is highly recommended for all fiction collections.” —Booklist

 

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There was a question in one of my Facebook groups about which book I’d want to see made into a movie and I responded with a favorite title. Now, I have an additional candidate — The Secret of You and Me. The story of Nora and Sophie’s passionate second-chance journey to their happy-ever-after despite small town prejudices and past hurts lends itself highly adaptable to film. All the elements are there: fully fleshed-out characters, complicated relationships, well-described small town setting, timely subjects, and involving storytelling.

I loved how Ms. Lenhardt developed the characters of Nora and Sophie. Both are imperfect, broken people who, through the course of the story, have to learn things about themselves that they needed to address separately in order to forge a future together.

While Nora was able to live her truth elsewhere, Sophie has a more difficult time accepting her real identity within the narrow confines of her conservative town. A bigoted mother, a husband with political ambitions, and a teenage daughter she doesn’t want to lose if she came out all contribute to Sophie’s  quandary in making a choice. Similarly, Nora has her own internal conflicts to resolve with a family responsibility, a sick aunt, and a life in DC that’s hard for her to walk away from.

I also appreciate the balance of both opposing and supportive characters. For Nora’s always-complaining sister Mary there’s a mothering Emmadean. For Sophie’s heinous mother Brenda there’s her stalwart sponsor Todd.

Some serious topics are discussed in this book. Homosexuality, bisexuality, homophobia, PTSD, and alcoholism being the most prominent ones. For the most part, they’re treated with sensitivity and provide a positive representation of the LGBTQ community.

My main gripe is the overabundance of cheating. Sophie and Nora picking up where they left off eighteen years ago is an essential plot point but puts a tawdry element to their affair that can’t be erased by their true love for one another. Fidelity is an important issue (for me) in romance and the lack of it here gives me a little pause in an otherwise engaging story.

Overall, an entertaining read that highlights the message that love is universal.

4 out of 5 stars

 

AboutTheAuthor

TSOYAM Author photo

Melissa Lenhardt is a women’s fiction, mystery, and historical fiction author. Her debut mystery, Stillwater, was a finalist for the 2014 Whidbey Writers’ MFA Alumni Emerging Writers Contest, and Sawbones, her historical-fiction debut, was hailed as a “thoroughly original, smart and satisfying hybrid, perhaps a new sub-genre: the feminist Western” by Lone Star Literary Life. The New York Times called her sixth novel, Heresy, “An all-out women-driven, queer, transgender, multiracial takeover of the Old West”. The Secret of You and Me, her seventh novel and her first contemporary women’s fiction novel, was published on August 4, 2020.

 When Melissa isn’t writing, she’s thinking, “I really should be writing,” and eating Nutella or peanut butter straight out of the jar. A lifelong Texan, she lives in the Dallas area with her husband, two sons, and two Golden Retrievers.

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August 11-21, 2020
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8/11/20 Author Interview All the Ups and Downs
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8/12/20 Review Momma on the Rocks
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8/13/20 Review Carpe Diem Chronicles
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8/17/20 Review Missus Gonzo
8/17/20 Review Rainy Days with Amanda
8/18/20 Audio Spotlight Book Bustle
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A DELIGHTFUL LITTLE BOOK ON AGING by Stephanie Raffelock – Book Blog Tour: Review and Giveaway

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A DELIGHTFUL LITTLE BOOK ON AGING

by

Stephanie Raffelock

Genre: Inspirational / Spiritual / Essays / Self-Help
Publisher: She Writes Press
Publication Date: April 28, 2020
Number of Pages: 119 pages

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Synopsis

ADLBOA book coverAll around us, older women flourish in industry, entertainment, and politics. Do they know something that we don’t, or are we all just trying to figure it out? For so many of us, our hearts and minds still feel that we are twenty-something young women who can take on the world. But in our bodies, the flexibility and strength that were once taken for granted are far from how we remember them. Every day we have to rise above the creaky joints and achy knees to earn the opportunity of moving through the world with a modicum of grace.

Yet we do rise, because it’s a privilege to grow old, and every single day is a gift. Peter Pan’s mantra was, “Never grow up”; our collective mantra should be, “Never stop growing.” This collection of user-friendly stories, essays, and philosophies invites readers to celebrate whatever age they are with a sense of joy and purpose and with a spirit of gratitude.

 

PRAISE for A Delightful Little Book on Aging:

“Where are the elders? The wise women, the crones, the guardians of truth here to gently, lovingly, and playfully guide us towards the fulfillment of our collective destiny? It turns out that they are right here, in our midst, and Stephanie Raffelock is showcasing the reclamation of aging as a moment of becoming, no longer a dreaded withering into insignificance. A Delightful Little Book on Aging lays down new and beautiful tracks for the journey into our richest, deepest, and wildest years.” – Kelly Brogan, MD, author of the New York Times bestseller A Mind of Your Own

“A helpful, uplifting work for readers handling the challenges of growing older.” – Kirkus Reviews

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Live and love in great fulness

 

Review_preview
ADLBOA bookstagram 2Aptly titled, A Delightful Little Book on Aging lays out a joyful, thoughtful, easily applicable approach to handling the advancing years with dignity, grace, and gratitude. Ms. Raffelock wrote with so much wisdom, authority, and charm, I found myself highlighting numerous passages that resonated with me. By the time I finished reading, nearly the entire inside of the book was covered in light green color (I chose a highlighter that matched the cover) .

Arranged in four sections–Grief, Reclamation, Vision, and Laughter–the book is filled with personal anecdotes that illustrated the author’s message and lists of advice gleaned from experience and lessons learned through the years.  Of the anecdotes, my favorite was the one about the elderly couple who danced. “They showed us what wringing every last bit of life out of the cloth of our existence looks like.”

ADLBOA bookstagram 1Of all the advice, these stood out for me:

  • Keep moving – Walk, dance, exercise, do yoga. “You gotta keep moving to be relevant.”
  • Be authentic – Grieve, say no, accept failure, put yourself first, speak up. “Stand in the light of your truth.”
  • Have friends – Engage in community, volunteer, mentor, connect. “To care about someone beyond yourself is a fulfillment of our shared destiny.”
  • Practice gratitude – Breathe thanks, name the gifts and write them down, reflect. “Gratitude practice is a way of opening the heart to appreciation and hopeful possibility.”

I’m turning forty-eight this year. I have heart palpitations and arthritis. My hair has silver strands. Soon, I will have hot flashes. This is the perfect time for me to read this book. It reinforces what I already know and reminds me of things I’ve forgotten to include in my journey to the golden years. So, yes, I’m recommending this book. Join the giveaway AND buy the book. Buy as many copies as you can afford. It’s the perfect present to yourself, to friends and loved ones. Give it to them now. Tomorrow is not guaranteed. Carpe diem. Seize the day.

5 stars

AboutTheAuthor

Stephanie RaffelockStephanie Raffelock is the author of A Delightful Little Book on Aging  (She Writes Press, April 2020). A graduate of Naropa University’s program in Writing and Poetics, she has penned articles for numerous publications, including the Aspen Times, the Rogue Valley Messenger, Nexus Magazine, Omaha Lifestyles, Care2.com, and SixtyandMe.com. Stephanie is part of the positive-aging movement, which encourages viewing age as a beautiful and noble passage, the fruition of years that birth wisdom and deep gratitude for all of life.  She’s a recent transplant to Austin, Texas, where she enjoys life with her husband, Dean, and their Labrador retriever, Jeter (yes, named after the great Yankee shortstop).

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Wonder and delight for life, this is what wisdom is.

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7/13/20 Review Forgotten Winds
7/14/20 Review Momma on the Rocks
7/15/20 Podcast The Clueless Gent
7/15/20 Review Kelly Well Read
7/16/20 Review It’s Not All Gravy
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7/17/20 Review Sydney Young, Stories
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THE OUTLAW’S DAUGHTER by Margaret Brownley – Book Blog Tour: Review and Giveaway

 

THE OUTLAW’S DAUGHTER

HAYWIRE BRIDES, BOOK 3

by

MARGARET BROWNLEY

Western / Historical Fiction / Clean and Wholesome Romance
Publisher: Sourcebooks Casablanca
Date of Publication: May 26, 2020
Number of Pages: 384

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Synopsis

TOD book coverHe may be a Texas Ranger, but he only has eyes for the outlaw’s beautiful daughter . . . 

Texas Ranger Matt Taggert is on the trail of a wanted man. He has good reason to believe that Ellie-May’s late husband was involved in a stagecoach robbery, and he’s here to see justice done. But when he arrives in town, he discovers the thief has become a local hero . . . and his beautiful young widow isn’t too happy to see some lawman out to tarnish her family’s newly spotless reputation.

Ellie-May’s shaken by her encounter with the ranger. Having grown up an outlaw’s daughter, she’ll do anything to keep her children safe—and if that means hardening her heart against the handsome lawman’s smiles, then so be it. Because she knows Matt isn’t about to give up his search. He’s out to redeem himself and find proof that Ellie-May’s husband wasn’t the saint everyone claims . . . even if it means losing the love neither expected to discover along the way.

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Whenever I read a book by Margaret Brownley, it’s always exactly what I needed at the time. Cowboy Charm School provided a humorous break from the controversies in the fall of 2018. In 2020, when there is widespread distrust against those who work in law enforcement, The Outlaw’s Daughter allows the readers to visit a time when people in the profession were like Texas Ranger Matt Taggert — honest, honorable, determined to fulfill his sworn duty while caring deeply for the innocent family members whose lives will be affected adversely by the justice he seeks.

From the first chapter, the stakes were set high for Matt and Ellie-May. Matt was investigating her husband for a possible connection to a crime. Ellie-May was resolute in trying to keep her children’s father’s reputation sterling. She didn’t want them to suffer as she did from society’s ill-treatment because of who her father was.

The two main characters were at cross purposes for most of the book, I wasn’t sure how the author would bring about their happily ever after. Of course she did and it was a satisfactory resolution as far as I’m concerned. Such is Ms. Brownley’s writing prowess that my belief regarding Neal’s innocence closely matched Ellie-May’s in that there was a point that it wavered slightly.

There’s a lot to love in this book. The characters, including secondary ones like Lionel and Alicia, Anvil, and Jesse James, are sympathetic, the storytelling is topnotch, the romance is sweet and natural. If not for some repetitive elements that lengthened the story unnecessarily, a bit of an ineffectual villain, and parroting of oppressive gender roles  Ellie-May had to adhere to, I’d have given this the full marks.

Content advisory: six-year old child in peril and handled firearm, alcoholism, child neglect

4 out of 5 stars

AboutTheAuthor

Margaret Brownley

New York Times bestselling author Margaret Brownley has penned more than forty-six novels and novellas.

A two-time Romance Writers of American RITA® finalist, Margaret has also written for a TV soap and is a recipient of the Romantic Times Pioneer Award. Not bad for someone who flunked eighth-grade English. Just don’t ask her to diagram a sentence.

 

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5/31/20 Review Bibliotica
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6/1/20 Review Chapter Break Book Blog
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THE FIRST EMMA By Camille Di Maio – Book Blog Tour: Review and Giveaway

TFE Tour Cover

THE FIRST EMMA

by

Camille Di Maio

Historical Fiction / Historical Romance / Women’s Fiction
Publisher: Wyatt-MacKenzie Publishing
Date of Publication: May 5, 2020
Number of Pages: 315

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Synopsis

TFE book cover

The First Emma is the true story of Emma Koehler, whose tycoon husband, Otto, was killed in a crime-of-the-century murder by one of his two mistresses—both also named Emma—and her unlikely rise as CEO of a brewing empire during Prohibition. When a chance to tell her story to a young teetotaler arises, a tale unfolds of love, war, beer, and the power of women.

PRAISE for The First Emma: 
“Di Maio’s take on a shocking American drama pleasantly blends romantic and historical fiction . . . a sweet memorialization of a real-life female business pioneer in San Antonio.” —Kirkus

“A beautifully crafted portrait of an intriguing woman. Mystery and romance are set against the backdrop of fascinating pieces of twentieth-century history, and a richly drawn setting leaves the reader feeling wholly immersed. Historical fiction fans will love this one!” —Chanel CleetonNYT bestselling author of Next Year in Havana

“Di Maio does a brilliant job of weaving together all the threads—from past to present—while unearthing a tale of blossoming love, the power of our chosen family, and the losses that make us whole again.” —Rochelle B. WeinsteinUSA Today bestselling author of This Is Not How It Ends

 

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Born out of Camille Di Maio’s creative imagination and impeccable research, The First Emma is a wonderful tribute to a remarkable woman whose historic contributions to San Antonio have not been much touted as she deserved. Seamlessly intertwining fact and fiction, dual timelines, details of the brewery business, and the intricacies of the lives of two women, Ms. Di Maio has created a novel that engages the emotions and captivates the intellect at the same time.

In this book, close-to-dying Emma Koehler narrates her life story to young Mabel Hartley, spanning from her and her husband’s beginnings in St. Louis through their move to Texas and until the end of the Prohibition. All the while, the titular Emma provides a new home for the lonely young woman, matchmakes her with Erik, a nephew, and inspires her in her future. As Mabel said in the book, “Mrs. Koehler’s story was interesting, yes. But more than that, it offered hope to girls who were beginning to see a world where opportunities were available to them that were never there before.”

Having lived in San Antonio, I delighted in being transported to its past. I’ve only seen Pearl as it is now, a tourist destination filled with chic shops and fancy restaurants. This book took me on a fascinating “tour” of how it was eighty years ago through detailed descriptions of the brewery, the theater, cars, and the war. I can only say the “trip” was awesome.

So many themes in this book resonated with me–female strength, found family, hope, and love. I highlighted several passages that spoke to me.

“… there is much in life that is out of our control. The answer is not to give up and crumble. The answer is to find a way around it, no matter the difficulty. No matter how impossible the obstacles.”

I related so much to this because I met cousins in San Antonio I didn’t know I have. “… what I can give them is the gift of each other. It’s not easy to come from a different country and make a life here. But if they have each other to lean on, they will have a far better foundation than most.”

Well-crafted and evocative, The First Emma is a novel I highly recommend for readers of historical fiction and historical romance, and maybe even those who like true crime.

Content advisory: On-page deaths, gun violence, alcoholism, war.

4 Four-half-stars

 

AboutTheAuthor

Camille Di MaioCamille Di Maio always dreamed of being a writer, though she took a winding path of waitressing, temping, politicking, and real estate to get there. It all came to fruition with the publication of her bestselling debut, The Memory of Us, followed by Before the Rain FallsThe Way of Beauty, and The Beautiful Strangers. In addition to writing, she loves farmers’ markets, unashamedly belts out Broadway tunes when the mood strikes, and regularly faces her fear of flying to indulge her passion for travel. Married for twenty-three years, she home-schools their four children. (Though the first two are off at college now!) She is happy to live in Virginia near a beach.

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5/25/20 Review Carpe Diem Chronicles
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5/27/20 Review Chapter Break Book Blog
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THANK YOU, GARDEN By Liz Garton Scanlon – Blitz, Review, and Giveaway

TYG blitz cover

THANK YOU, GARDEN

By LIZ GARTON SCANLON

Illustrated by Simone Shin

Children’s Picture Book / Poetry / Environment / Ages 3-7
Publisher: Beach Lane Books / Simon & Schuster
Date of Publication: March 3, 2020
Number of Pages: 32

Synopsis

TYG cover

A community garden unites neighbors in this celebration of all the things that grow there, from flowers and fruits, to friendships!

This ode to working together for a better world will have young readers wanting to plant gardens of their own!

 

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Lyrical captions perfectly synced with superb drawings depicting a diverse, inclusive community that cares deeply for the environment make this picture book a must-buy for purchasers of children’s literature.

My fifth-grader delighted in reading the passages out loud because of the simplicity and rhythm of the words. He related well with the children in the book since it’s his responsibility to water my flowers and herbs on the porch of our home. He rated it five stars.

For my part, I approve the representation of various races, genders, and age groups in the characters. That’s reflective of the multicultural society we live in today. I also appreciate the positive values imparted in the book – environmental sustainability, self-sufficiency, and sense of community. I rate it five stars as well.

5 stars

AboutTheAuthor

TYG authorLiz Garton Scanlon is the author of many beloved books for kids, including the brand new Thank You, Garden, as well as the Caldecott Honor book All the World and others, including several co-authored with her pal Audrey Vernick. Scanlon also wrote the middle grade novel The Great Good Summer and is published in numerous poetry anthologies. She serves on the faculty of the Vermont Faculty of Fine Arts and is a frequent and popular presenter at conferences and festivals. Find more about her life and work at www.LizGartonScanlon.com

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BREAKFAST AT THE HONEY CREEK CAFÉ By Jodi Thomas: Review and Giveaway

BATHCC bbt cover

BREAKFAST AT THE HONEY CREEK CAFÉ

A Honey Creek Novel

by

Jodi Thomas

Genre: Contemporary Romance
Publisher: Zebra
Publication Date: May 26, 2020
Number of Pages: 336 pages

 

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Synopsis

BATHCC cover embellishedFrom Jodi Thomas, New York Times bestselling author of Mornings on Main and Indigo Lake, comes this heartwarming new novel set in Honey Creek, Texas—a small town where family bonds and legends run deep, and friendship and love are always close at hand . . .

Piper Jane Mackenzie, mayor of Honey Creek, won’t let a major scandal rip her quirky hometown apart or jeopardize her dream of one day running for higher office. So she’s willing to welcome undercover detective Colby McBride, hired to help solve the mystery behind her wannabe fiancé’s disappearance. Colby’s cover? That he is an old boyfriend now begging Piper for a second chance—always when there are plenty of townsfolk around to witness his shenanigans.

Piper hardly knows whether to laugh or cry, especially when she finds herself drawn to the handsome rascal. He’s not the only newcomer she has to deal with. There’s a new interim preacher in town, Sam Cassidy. Drifting from one assignment to another since his one love died, Sam isn’t sure he’s the right fit for Honey Creek. But as Piper knows, this is a place chock-full of surprises. And if she can keep her town—and her heart—from going completely off the rails, there may be a sweet, unexpected future in store . . .

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20200407_164151556_iOS

This was a hoot, a zany, funny light read that’s sure to entertain readers who like romantic fiction that’s set in a small town and that contains a little mystery to liven things up.

Breakfast at Honey Creek Café tells the intertwined stories of three couples – Piper and Colby, Sam and Anna, and Pecos and Kerrie. All different, all romantic in their own way.

Piper is the mayor of Honey Creek whose rumored boyfriend went missing and is now under suspicion of foul play. Colby is a trooper who was sent by her Texas Ranger brother to investigate the case and also to protect her. The cover story they came up with has Colby posing as an old suitor so that he can get the townspeople to talk to him. Both have bad experiences with relationships in the past that made them wary about their attraction to each other. With the entire town looking on, their pretend courtship soon turns oh-so real.

20200407_171819013_iOS

Sam is a former firefighter and former soldier who takes up the position of temporary preacher originally meant for his deceased father. After the death of his girlfriend, he found himself drifting along without any real purpose until he came to Honey Creek. There, he realizes that preaching isn’t for him, but Anna, the feisty world-saver definitely is. Their snappy banter made me laugh out loud.

The third story–told from the point of view of Pecos, the graduating high school student who wants to leave town to be somebody–is the one that touched me the most. Pecos has the most tremendous growth of all the POV characters. He made me tear up with this line: “That living through any storms with her was better than facing the world alone.”

Jodi Thomas described a setting that’s quirky enough to be fictional, but also familiar enough to be realistic. There’s a lot of named characters necessary to paint a complete picture of a community. My favorite is the generous Mr. Winston.

This book is a different style from what I’ve read of Ms. Thomas’s work before. It’s more comedic and less angsty. It’s still her usual heartwarming story and I love that. My only critique is in the inconsistency of the tone. It started really serious with the mystery of the missing boyfriend but as the book went on, the graveness was abandoned in favor of attempts to elicit laughter from the reader. Also, the ending was a tad rushed, with the villain’s motivations not fully fleshed out. But all of that is minor compared to my overall enjoyment of the book. How could I not when this quote from Anna expresses my carpe diem motto exactly?

“We don’t know what the future holds, but we want to step into it together. It’ll take some work, but we’ll fit each other in our lives.”

4 out of 5 stars

 

AboutTheAuthor

Jodi Thomas 2With millions of books in print, Jodi Thomas is both a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of over fifty novels and countless short story collections. Her stories travel through the past and present days of Texas and draw readers from around the world.

In July 2006, Jodi was the eleventh writer to be inducted into the Romance Writers of America Hall of Fame. With five RITAs to her credit, along with National Readers’ Choice Awards and Booksellers’ Best Awards, Thomas has proven her skill as a master storyteller.

Thomas was honored in 2002 as a Distinguished Alumni by Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas and served sixteen years as the Writer in Residence at West Texas A&M University in Canyon, Texas.

When not working on a novel, or inspiring students to pursue writing careers, Thomas enjoys traveling with her family, renovating an historic home, and “checking up” on two grown sons and four grandchildren.

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5/14/20 Guest Post All the Ups and Downs
5/15/20 Review Momma on the Rocks
5/16/20 Author Interview Story Schmoozing Book Reviews
5/17/20 Scrapbook Page That’s What She’s Reading
5/18/20 Review Jennifer Silverwood
5/19/20 Guest Post Chapter Break Book Blog
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