Published by Skyhorse Publishing
Published: January 19th, 2021
Categories: Southern Fiction / Rural Fiction / Mystery
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The seemingly never-ending Cabinda War (1975—) has left multitudes dead in its wake and thousands of children homeless and orphaned.
Jackaleena N’denga, a young Angolan girl, has become the sole survivor of one specifically brutal village massacre carried out by a band of guerrilla boy-soldiers.
Jackaleena’s resilience leads her to an orphanage on the west coast of Africa, known as Benguela by the Sea, where she and other children are taken in and protected. Her brilliant mind and endless questions capture the heart of her mentor, Margaret, who ensures her that her survival thus far—especially being the survivor from her village—must mean she has big things ahead of her. When the opportunity arises, she must find her purpose.
Not without a plan, Jackaleena stows away on a mercy ship that has made its yearly visit to the orphanage and is now preparing to return to America. Her journey takes her across the ocean, into the arms of New York City’s customs officials, and finally into placement in a temporary foster home in Texas.
Enter Alfie Carter—a workaholic, small-town detective who is also battling memories of his past. His life is forever changed when he meets a young African girl looking for her higher purpose.
Alfie Carter is an affecting story of finding faith and of losing and rediscovering deeply-held beliefs. With its characters examining the state of their spiritual life, it’s a timely read for this holy season of Lent. It is also a tale of harrowing cruelty, extraordinary bravery, careless disregard for others, incredible kindness, and unbelievable acts of forgiveness..
Despite the singular name in the title, this book recounts the lives of two people in places thousands of miles apart–Jackaleena N’Denga in Angola and Alfie Carter in Texas.
Jackaleena’s remarkable story is tough to read in the beginning because of the gruesome massacre she witnessed and the extreme difficulties of her desperate run for survival. Things improved after she’s led to Benguela by the Sea where she learns a different way of living and is taught about another higher being to trust. This is also where she develops her search for her purpose in life.
Alfie’s situation is not as shocking but he has his own losses to contend with, particularly the death of his child. It lead him to distance himself from his wife and turn his back on the unfair God who wasn’t there for him at many points in his life. It was interesting that it was also death that caused him to reevaluate his thinking and return to his wife and to believe again.
Mr. Mayo’s writing shone in the Texas scenes, in Alfie’s musings, in his investigation of the case he was working on, and in the spirit and strength he imbued into Jackaleena’s character. His own faith leaped off the pages of the book through various characters like Margaret, Rufus, and Cotton.
God gives us all a chance to believe in Him and serve Him or not. He does not force you to go down that path … You can simply walk away. All of us are free to do what we want individually. There ain’t nobody a-draggin you to God … His yoke is easy and his burden is light.
The book has some flaws. Some scenes about Alfie’s early life could have been cut short or deleted altogether in favor of expanding the parts where he and his adopted daughter interacted. It was a curious choice to have Jackaleena’s story narrated in the third person and Alfie’s in the first when the book started and ended with Jackie telling her background to the judge. I preferred it in the reverse. Finally, the book requires suspension of disbelief in many instances in the story, especially with regard to the result of the case that Alfie was working on. That or, have extreme faith in the goodness of man.
Overall, it’s an involving story that has uplifting messages. Thanks to Lone Star Lit and Skyhorse Publishing for providing a free copy to review.
BJ Mayo was born in an oil field town in Texas. He spent the first few years of his life living in a company field camp twenty-five miles from the closest town. His career in the energy industry took him to various points in Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, Louisiana, Bangladesh, Australia, and Angola West Africa. He and his wife were high school sweethearts and have been married for forty-six years with two grown children. They live on a working farm near San Angelo, Texas.
A Mixtape of Big ’80s Style, High School Angst, and a Classic Jane Austen Tale
It’s 1984 and after moving to Northenfield, Texas, with her family, Elyse Nebbit faces the challenge of finding her place in a new school, one dominated by social status and Friday night football. When Elyse’s effortlessly beautiful older sister Jayne starts dating golden boy Charlie Bingley, Elyse finds herself curious about Charlie’s popular and brooding best friend, Billy Fitz. Elyse’s body insecurities eventually complicate her relationship with Billy, leaving Jayne and Elyse’s exceedingly blunt friend, Lottie, to step in and help Elyse accept herself for who she is, pant size and all.
PRAISE FOR PUDGE AND PREJUDICE:
Written with wit and considerable insight into the highs and lows of first love, this coming-of-age twist on the Jane Austen classic had me laughing out loud, singing ‘80s lyrics in my head, and cheering on the brilliant, yet self-deprecating heroine. Pudge & Prejudice is a joy to read from beginning to end! —Lorie Langdon, author of Olivia Twist and the Disney Villains series
Allison Pittman will have readers laughing (and singing) on every page of this delightfully tenderhearted novel for all ages…[She] crafts a particularly savvy character who learns that beauty really is soul-deep…. —Julie Cantrell, New York Times and USA TODAY bestselling author of Perennials
I can’t remember the last time I loved a book as much as I love this one. It’s an instant classic I will return to time after time. —Bethany Turner, Award-Winning Author of The Secret Life of Sarah Hollenbeck
Y’all must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and now this delightful Texas-located, ’80s-set adaptation of it. A.K. Pittman gave a unique spin to the beloved classic while staying true to its timeless themes. She managed to make Pudge & Prejudice relatable to this Gen-Xer who grew up over 8,000 miles away from where the book is located.
Like Elyse, I was in high school in the mid-’80s and a transferee from another place. Plenty of elements in the book, especially the music, evoked nostalgia. I was reminiscing the entire time I was reading it. The wit and fluidity of Ms. Pittman’s writing had me smiling and even misty-eyed at the end.
I was something to be overcome. Like, a stunt girlfriend. A dare to himself.
The use of first-person point-of-view to tell the story fits perfectly. I cannot imagine it told any other way. Being inside Elyse’s head gave me a deep sense of connection with her. The way she processed her feelings for Billy was really affecting. If Mr. Darcy hadn’t been one of my most favorite Book Boyfriends already, he’d be one after getting to know Billy Fitz in this book.
The characterizations are spot-on with some modifications to fit the revised setting and time period. Elyse’s prejudices against Billy were amplified by her own insecurities about her weight. Billy’s pride was reinforced by the adulation of the entire town because of his football prowess. All authentic additions to the story. Lottie’s belittling of Collin, however, may have been too much. It nearly renders her character unlikable. Jayne and Charlie are pretty close to the original. So are Caroline and Gage (Wickham). There’s a slight change in this version’s Lydia which I like.
Next to Bridget Jones’s Diary, Pudge & Prejudice is now on my Top Two favorite adaptations of Pride & Prejudice. Like the original, it is incredibly quotable. Here are some of my favorite lines from the book:
Somehow, since that first day of school–maybe since that first day of ever–I belonged to myself, and I was finding more than a few bits to embrace.
I don’t know when, exactly–when you started to mean more to me. My mind woke up in the middle of liking you.
Thanks to Lone Star Lit and Wander for giving me the opportunity to review this book. I highly recommend it for all fans of Jane Austen and of sweet romance.
Allison Pittman is an award-winning author of thirteen novels, including the Christy-nominated Sister Wife series and the critically acclaimed The Seamstress. An enthusiast for all of the writing world, Allison holds active leadership in her local American Christian Fiction Writers chapter, and she heads up a thriving critique group in the San Antonio area. When not writing, Allison teaches middle school English, working as a conduit to introduce her students to new, fresh literature. You can follow her around on Instagram or Twitter and keep up with her writing news on her Allison Pittman Author Facebook page. Here you’ll learn what’s going on with new books, next books, and day-to-day life with Allison and her husband, Mikey. You’ll also get a peek at Snax, the world’s worst dog.
From the award-winning author of Comfort Plans and Comfort Songs comes a story of two rising stars blitzed by social media. Lacy Cavanaugh and single-dad Rudy Delgardo live a hundred miles apart but meet in the worst possible way. Working at a weekly paper and creating social media for area businesses helps Lacy connect with locals who open her mind to a perspective beyond Instagram. In launching a food-and-wine festival to support Comfort’s new event center, she discovers surprising skills bubbling over, much like the food she’s attempting to cook.
Rudy, on the brink of his restaurant’s takeover, struggles to improve time management so he can create a better relationship with his daughter. Distracted by Lacy and her invitation to the festival, he’s tempted by her beauty, wit, and courage, but as a chef, he rarely gets to enjoy life outside the kitchen. Enemies, illness, and exes add unwelcome spice to the dish they’re concocting—one that will teeter with misunderstanding until the very end.
Will Lacy and Rudy embrace their second chances and discover the perfect seasonings of family, resilience, and grace to create a handwritten recipe of love that will stand the test of time?
Relevant and current, Comfort Foods is a feast of a read. Gobble it up in one sitting or savor for several days, you’ll end up satisfied either way.
When I saw the opportunity to review this book, I jumped at the chance. Food and romance are two of my favorite things. As I said when I requested it, foodie romance is my jam, pun fully intended.
Comfort Foods lives up to my expectations. Lacy and Rudy’s story, taking place in two locations (Comfort and Austin), is rich and filling. Lacy’s journey of self-discovery after her fall from grace is especially fascinating and touching. Her scenes with Frank Bachman, the publisher of the newspaper she works for, provide moments of both laughter and tears. In doing service for her sister and for others in the community, Lacy finds her worth beyond the superficial beauty and fashion she was previously famous for. Rudy’s grappling with too many pots on the stove–his restaurant Stella, his daughter Luna, and his attraction to Lacy–is realistic in today’s world and highly relatable. His bewilderment in his search for balance amid man-made obstacles is endearing and admirable.
But life is more than a shiny ball. It has edges, holes, and deep caves. Make a choice on where you feel most grounded.
Ms. Fish created fully-fleshed-out characters that are sympathetic and likable and oh-so-real with their all-too-human failings. I love that she included multicultural characters that’s reflective of the society at present. She spun a tale filled with humor, angst, insider knowledge of the restaurant and publishing businesses, and the weighty concern of human trafficking. The themes of found family and close-knit community are ones I often seek out and are entrenched in this book and in this series. And then, there’s the food. There’s enough to make a reader’s mouth water and head to the kitchen to recreate the dishes mentioned in the book.
Food is a necessary element of living, and there is real beauty in the process of preparing it and serving people who appreciate the effort.
I enjoyed the slow burn of Lacy and Rudy’s romance from their awkward first couple of meetings to cooking together, to the impromptu bridal photo shoot, and to their eventual happy ever after. I wish though that they have more scenes together and that they communicated more frequently, and collaborated on resolving their issues. Rudy’s declaration at the end seems too quick for a relationship that’s not fully developed because of so much distance.
Love is a recipe worth every effort.
As always, huge thanks to Kimberly Fish and to Lone Star Literary Life for the copy of the book to review.
Author Kimberly Fish resides in Longview, Texas, and enjoys writing contemporary fiction set in the Hill Country. During the seven years she lived in San Antonio, wandering in and around Comfort, Texas, provided endless space for her imagination to develop stories of women discovering their grit. She studied the small Texas town that had seemingly dug its heels into the limestone and refused modern development and thought that was fertile ground for stories about women remodeling their lives. It made a juxtaposition of place and purpose that was hard to ignore. Plus, anything that takes intentional effort has a much higher value than the things that come easily—Comfort personifies this, and the novels remind readers that anything worth having is worth the work.
Comfort Foods is the third full-length novel in the set, Fiction from the Texas Hill Country, and follows behind the award-winning novels Comfort Plans and Comfort Songs. A novella, Emeralds Mark the Spot, is available as a free eBook download to subscribers of the incredibly sporadic newsletter at kimberlyfish.com and is the original story from which all other Comfort novels grew.
ONCE UPON A MAIL ORDER BRIDE Outlaw Mail Order Brides, #4 by
Categories: Western / Historical Romance
Publisher: Sourcebooks Casablanca
Date of Publication: November 24, 2020
Number of Pages: 352 pages
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Accused of crimes he didn’t commit, ex-preacher Ridge Steele is forced to give up everything he knew and make his home with outlaws. Desperate for someone to confide in, he strikes up correspondence with mail-order bride Adeline Jancy, finding in her the open heart he’s been searching for. Upon her arrival, Ridge discovers Addie only communicates through the written word, but he knows a little of what trauma can do to a person and vows to stand by her side.
Addie is eager to start a new life with the kind ex-preacher and the little boy she’s stolen away from her father―a zealot priest of a terrorized flock. As her small family settles into life at Hope’s Crossing, she even begins to find the voice, and confidence, she’d lost so long ago.
But danger is not far behind, and her father will not be denied. While Addie desperately fights the man who destroyed her childhood, a determined Ridge races to the rescue. The star-crossed lovers will need more than prayers to survive this final challenge…and find their way back to each other again.
PRAISE FOR ONCE UPON A MAIL ORDER BRIDE:
“An awesome culmination to a great western romance series!”
~ Fresh Fiction
“Broday concludes the Outlaw Mail Order Bride series with a sizzling finale that features a tantalizingly slow build to intimate trust that catapults into adrenaline packed ardor.” ~Booklist
What a thoroughly satisfying conclusion to an action-packed and love-filled series! I’ve read and reviewed all of the Outlaw Mail Order Brides books these past two years and I can honestly say I’m going to miss the extraordinary citizens of Hope’s Crossing.
Ms. Broday has created some amazing characters in these books. These outlaws and their mail-order brides are not your typical heroes and heroines in romance. They’re ex-convicts, fugitives, thieves. They have blood on their hands. Yet, readers can’t help but root for them to have a fresh start, find love, build a family, belong to a community. They’re fighters, survivors, exemplifying the best of the old West. Even as I say goodbye to Clay and Tally, Jack and Nora, Tait and Melanie, and Ridge and Addie, I have hope that I’ll see them — and characters just like them — in future books by Ms. Broday.
Life is 10 percent made up of what happens to you. Everything else is how well you cope with the events. Don’t waste time being bitter. A mistake is not a life sentence. We learn, we grow, and we move on—hopefully as better people.
I’ve been waiting for Ridge’s story since Saving The Mail Order Bride and Once Upon a Mail Order Bride did not disappoint. This preacher-turned-outlaw’s back story is as fascinating as any of the others before him. So is Adeline’s. Their story consists of breathtaking action and slow fall into love. They not only try to escape from bounty hunters and vindictive fathers, but also from natural disasters. Ms. Broday spent a good bit of time having Ridge and Addie adjust to each other, gain each other’s trust, and develop their attraction to make their growing love believable. I’m happy that there’s neither instalove nor excessive push-and-pull.
There were updates on previous couples and storylines were tied up neatly, including those of minor characters and new people introduced to the community. A few of them might not have been necessary and could have been cut to tighten the story even more. While I didn’t agree with some of Ridge and Addie’s decisions and wasn’t entirely convinced with the about-face of some of the characters, I still really enjoyed this series-ender and recommend these books and other titles in Linda Broday’s backlist to lovers of historical western romance.
Huge thanks to Lone Star Lit and Ms. Broday for providing me with copies of these books I’m proud to display in my personal library.
I’m a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of thirty historical western romance novels and short stories. I reside in the Texas Panhandle on land the American Indian and early cowboys once roamed, and at times if the breeze is just right, I can hear their voices whispering in the wind. Texas’s rich history is one reason I set all my stories here where cowboys still remain caretakers of the land. I’m inspired every day by their immense dedication and love for the wide-open spaces. I combine those men with the love of family in all my stories and hope to continue to give readers books that entertain and fulfill.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
Genre: Women’s Fiction / Romance
Publisher: Graydon House (Harlequin)
Date of Publication: August 4, 2020
Number of Pages: 352
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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
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.
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.
Wealthy cowboy, James MacLachlan, is content running his massive family ranch and starting an equine therapy program for special needs children. After his mother died in childbirth, and witnessing his father’s destruction at the loss of true love, James sticks to casual affairs. Marriage and children are risks he won’t take.
Reese Turner visits Cypress Creek, Texas, to complete a photo assignment for National Geographic and buy back her grandparents’ cottage. After disastrous romances, she’s sworn off men to focus on her career. Marriage and the babies she longs for can wait. When she runs into an old flame, she decides she can live out a fantasy, then leave town to pursue her dreams.
Filled with tropes (small-town/return to hometown/second-chance/fling), a touch of mystery, a dash of intrigue, vivid imagery, and fascinating characters, Her Second Chance Cowboy is a highly polished debut by Makenna Lee. Reese and James have such intense chemistry from page one, their decision to have a summer fling is inevitable. Of course, the real story is how they turn that temporary arrangement into a long-term commitment. Along the way, they have to deal with past hurts, lack of trust, miscommunication, incompatible dreams, and external forces that seek to separate them. Good thing, there’s also a fun treasure hunt that helps strengthen their bond.
Overall, this is a light read with some sweet steam. Being the first book of a series, Her Second Chance Cowboy suffers a little from multiple subplots and the introduction of numerous characters who could have their own stories someday. These made the book longer than it has to be and may have taken the focus away from Reese and James at various parts of the book. Aside from these, this promises to be a series worth following.
Makenna Lee is an award-winning romance author living in the Texas Hill Country with her real-life hero and their two children. Her oldest son has Down syndrome and taught her to appreciate the little things. He inspired her first Harlequin book A Sheriff’s Star. Her writing journey began when she mentioned all her story ideas and her husband asked why she wasn’t writing them down. The next day she bought a laptop, started her first book, and knew she’d found her passion. Makenna is often drinking coffee while writing, reading, or plotting a new story. She enjoys renaissance festivals, nature photography, studying herbal medicine, and usually listens to Celtic music while writing. Makenna writes for Harlequin and Entangled Publishing and believes everyone deserves a happy ending. Her wish is to write books that touch your heart, making you feel, think, and dream.
Western / Historical Fiction / Clean and Wholesome Romance
Publisher: Sourcebooks Casablanca
Date of Publication: May 26, 2020
Number of Pages: 384
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He 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.
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
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.
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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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 Cleeton, NYT 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. Weinstein, USA Today bestselling author of This Is Not How It Ends
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.
Camille 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 Falls, The 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.
Genre: Historical Fiction / Christian Romance
Date of Publication: March 3, 2020
Number of Pages: 336
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Ten years after her parents were killed, Evelyn Radcliffe is once more homeless. The orphanage that was her refuge and later her workplace has burned to the ground, and only she and a young orphan girl have escaped. Convinced this must be related to her parents’ murders, Evelyn flees with the girl to Mesquite Springs in the Texas Hill Country and finds refuge in the home of Wyatt Clark, a talented horse rancher whose plans don’t include a family of his own.
At first, Evelyn is a distraction. But when it becomes clear that trouble has followed her to Mesquite Springs, she becomes a full-blown disruption. Can Wyatt keep her safe from the man who wants her dead? And will his own plans become collateral damage?
Suspenseful and sweetly romantic, Out of the Embers is the first in a new series that invites you to the Texas Hill Country in the 1850s, when the West was wild, the men were noble, and the women were strong.
PRAISE FOR OUT OF THE EMBERS:
“Out of the Embers is part prairie romance, part romantic suspense. I can’t remember when I’ve enjoyed a book more. Amanda Cabot has written an intriguing, chilling mystery and she winds it through the pages of a sweet romance in a way that made me keep turning the pages fast to see what was going to happen next. An absolutely excellent read. And now I’m hungry for oatmeal pecan pie!”
~ Mary Connealy, author of Aiming for Love, book #1 in the Brides of Hope Mountain series
Amanda Cabot is the bestselling author of the Cimarron Creek trilogy, as well as the Texas Crossroads series, the Texas Dreams series, the Westward Winds series, and Christmas Roses. Her books have been finalists for the ACFW Carol Awards, the HOLT Medallion, and the Booksellers’ Best. She lives in Wyoming.
What inspired the idea for your new book, Out of the Embers?
I’ve always been fascinated by the way that events of the past shape us, so I started brainstorming worst case scenarios. What if a young girl’s parents were murdered and she never knew why? What if she still felt as if someone was watching her and planning to kill her too, even though it’s been ten years? What if she narrowly missed being inside her new home when it was destroyed and everyone died? These were the seeds of Out of the Embers.
Out of the Embers is set in a fictional small town in the Texas Hill Country. What inspired you to create a place like Mesquite Springs?
By now, readers have probably figured out that I enjoy bringing small towns to life, particularly in the Texas Hill Country. The challenge for me is making each of my fictional towns different. After all, I wouldn’t want anyone to say “same old, same old” when reading one of my stories. What distinguishes Mesquite Springs from Ladreville and Cimarron Creek is that it’s experiencing a period of growth with new businesses and new people coming to town. Those people change the town’s dynamics—some in good ways, some in not-so-good ways—but they all make their mark on Mesquite Springs.
Two of the main characters in Out of the Embers, Evelyn and Polly, are joined together through a fire that destroys their home. But, that’s not the only thing the two have in common. Can you tell us a little more about their relationship?
Besides both being orphans, Evelyn and Polly share enough of a resemblance that when she flees after the orphanage is destroyed, Evelyn finds it easy to pretend that Polly is her younger sister. In truth, their relationship is more like mother and daughter than sisters, with Polly depending on Evelyn to make her fondest dream come true: finding her a new daddy.
Did anything surprise you as you were writing the novel?
Yes, as a matter of fact. Although I plot my books before I begin the actual writing process and rarely make major deviations from those plots, this time when I was about half through the first draft, I realized that what I had envisioned for Wyatt’s life after the book ended wasn’t the right one for him. He needed to stay in Mesquite Springs, and he needed a compelling reason to stay. The mayoral race was the result of those realizations.
Did you face any challenges in creating this story? What was the hardest scene to write?
The biggest challenge was not revealing too much about the two men who are secondary characters too soon but still giving readers enough reason to care about what was going to happen to them.
I wouldn’t say that any one scene was particularly difficult to write, but perhaps that’s because I tend to agonize over every scene, trying to make it as close to perfect as possible.
Do you see parts of yourself in any of your characters?
I’d like to claim that my characters are totally fictional, but the truth is that I, like all authors, bring parts of myself to each story. The fact that I’m the oldest of four children made Evelyn’s almost parental relationship with Polly an easy one for me to write.
What do you hope readers will gain from Out of the Embers?
As always, I hope they’ll finish the book with a smile on their faces, a renewed belief in the healing power of love, and the knowledge that God can—and does—answer prayers.
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THREE WINNERS One Grand Prize Winner: Copy of Out of the Embers + Special Hill Country Sweets Cookbook +$25 Barnes and Noble Gift Card Next Two Winners: Copy of Out of the Embers + Special Hill Country Sweets Cookbook + $10 Starbucks Card March 10-March 20, 2020 (US ONLY)