Sunday, July 12, 2009

Grace note - apology

I want to apologize for the delay in publishing new reviews. The world went faster than I did. Hopefully, I'm back on the right track.

Also, I woud really appreciate any purchase you're willing to make on this web site. As you may have guessed, I'm still a bit new at this.

Thanks for your patience and patronage!

Hometown Courtship

Diann Hunt’s Hometown Courtship is about two losers. Wait! Not that kind of loser. Who wants to read about losers? Her two main characters both have recently lost loves; and predictably, those losses have hardened their hearts for any future hopes.

And our story begins. . .

For the moment, let’s forget that at least one of the main characters in most romance novels has lost a previous love or may even boast an entire litany of lost loves. It is that loss (those losses) that makes the overcoming to come that much more satisfying. But despite relying on this lost-love cliché for both leading characters, Hunt’s Hometown Courtship deals us an engaging read.

Callie Easton, had committed a crime. She had not only not paid her tickets, but she had lost the unpaid tickets. Now she stood before Judge Sharp for sentencing. He sentenced her to community service. She was ordered to report to Brad Sharp at the Make A Home project. It appeared that Judge Sharp was attempting to find a wife for his younger brother, again. Brad was tired of brother, Ryan, finding him women. He’d had some bad experiences and trust wasn’t high on his list.

Brad loved the Make a Home project and worked hard. His desire was to go to foreign lands and be a missionary builder. He wanted to keep his life simple. Just he and his dog. Why wouldn’t people leave him alone?

What lies in wait for the cute cosmetologist who doesn’t trust men, and the builder who wants to be alone with his dog and work as a missionary in foreign lands, and doesn’t trust women? That’s what this story is about. All the characters are likeable and all the pets are lovable. What lies in wait for you is a lovely story. It was a real joy to read!

Love Thine Enemy

Louise M. Gouge
Inspirational Historical Romance
Steeple Hill Books - July, 2009

Louise M. Gouge's "short biography" begins with the sentence, "When I was a girl, I had a plan." As a psychotherapist, I would term her girlhood plans "self-fulfilling prophecy." Except for a few unforseens, everything in Gouge's life turned out pretty much according to plan, except that her Love Thine Enemy is a fascinating departure from the traditioinal plan for historical romance settings. Yes, it’s historical; and yes, it sprouts a happy ending; but the setting, immediately before the American Revolution and in Florida, marks a fresh departure. The only other Florida setting related to the Revolution that I can recall was Mel Gibson’s movie “The Patriot.”

Rachael Folger and her father moved from Nantucket to St. Johns Settlement, East Florida Colony, in 1775. Those who settled the colony were loyal to the British crown. Those from the Boston area were patriots at least at heart if not for action. Rachael was definitely a patriot and tended to speak her mind. Her father worried that she would run off business. Mr. Folger had been a sea captain, but his health was failing and he could no longer take the hard work. His nephew now was captain of the ship making regular trips to England and back.

Frederick Moberly was loyal to the crown and was magistrate of the colony. He was also sweet on Rachael. Of course, Frederick operated at the pleasure of his father who owned the plantation that Frederick ran. He could see that Rachael was not apt to turn from her patriot ways. Would his father accept a patriot in his family? That was his dilemma.

A betrayal of Rachael’s trust drives a wedge between them. Frederick was left to scuffle with the meaning of faith in God and country. Rachael urged him to see life, liberty, and love through God’s eyes. He’s left to capture his faith and courage to keep his love and not let the war tear them apart.

This is a well done piece of early American history. The setting helps one feel the great distances in this new land. The characters show the difficulty of the time. It’s a wonder we turned out where we are today.

Healing the Boss's Heart

Valerie Hansen
Contemporary Inspirational Romance
Steeple Hill Books

With Valerie Hansen’s Healing the Boss’s Heart, the folks at Steeple Hill have launched a unique miniseries of romance novels they have titled After the Storm (a Kansas community unites to rebuild). All six books deal with how the people in High Plains, Kansas cope with the aftermath of a killer tornado, the worst one since “the big one in 1860.”

Healing the Boss’s Heart begins with the tornado scene, unsuspecting lives lofted into nature’s take-no-prisoners maelstrom. Hansen introduces the main characters as the life-threatening events unfold with a fury. Greg Garrison, a wealthy businessman in town, was thought of as being rather stiff and unreachable. The tornado made a rapid change in him. He rescued an orphan boy and even spent quite a bit of time looking for his dog. He made resources available from his hardware store to help out the people and the church.

Maya Logan, Greg Garrison’s secretary, was not only in shock because of the tornado but also by the changes in formal, sober, Mr. Garrison. He helped her and her daughter get situated with an open heart and kindness, expecting nothing in return. Others noticed the difference in him, too. Especially those who knew his father who was generally quite unpleasant and looked down on others, including his own son.

While High Plains, Kansas, had many losses from the tornado, it also experienced gains in the closeness and helpfulness of the people. Some good seems to come from everything.

While this series is tied together by the worst tornado since the Civil War, just like the cover illustration of Healing the Boss’s Heart, none of the titles trade on the storm’s inherent drama. The final book, Kathryn Springer’s Jingle Bell Babies, wraps the series in December with the storm nowhere in evidence. Just like with most good series books, the story in each novel appears to be dramatically valid in its own right. That means you can join the series in progress, with any title at any time; but if the drama of the killer tornado stirs your heart (no pun intended) and you’re intrigued how such an event might stir the lives of the people living in High Plains, starting at the beginning is never a bad plan.

The Preacher's Wife

Cheryl St. John
Inspirational Historical Romance
Steeple Hill Books - June, 2009

While I must confess that I run across periodic factual mistakes and illogical moments in many romance novels, the level of the writing itself is predictably good. The writing in some is remarkable. That’s the case with Cheryl St. John’s The Preacher’s Wife. Maybe that’s why St. John is a national award winner in both the contemporary and historical genres. Her proliference may also be a contributor. To date she has penned some 20 novels, though The Preacher’s Wife is her first Love Inspired Historical.

Regarding the word “proliference,” if novelists dare to write entire novels jam packed with a maelstrom of words, reviewers ought to have earned the right to coin a single word or two. If, because of my extensive reading, I have earned the right to critique our authors’ handiwork, my occasional coinage certainly invites equal time. Turnabout is fair play. (Not my phrase.) Tit for tat. (Not my phrase either.)

Set in Durham, Nebraska (1869), The Preacher’s Wife is a satisfying story with characters you really care about (about which you care?); but even the remarkable St. John is unable to dodge the “widow/widower syndrome.” I can’t tell you how many romance novels show their main characters embarking on take-two lives—all for generally good reasons, mind you (often with disarmingly cute offspring as plot points)—but it’s like our authors see richer possibilities in second-chance stories. For the record, however, I must say I can’t think of any third-chance romance novels, and I’m rapidly approaching my third thousand reads.

Josie Randolph was a widow. She’d had a rather unpleasant marriage and had no children. Her mother-in-law blamed her for that. Josie thought of herself as a helping person. Not a beauty. She longed to have a family but thought that would be impossible. Therefore, she kept busy taking care of the local preacher who had fallen off the roof of the church and had several serious injuries. While that was somewhat monotonous, she was diligent in her serving.

Samuel Hart arrived on the scene. He was the preacher sent to help Rev. Martin through his convalescence after which he and his family would continue west to his new assignment. His wife had drowned while traveling west. He and his daughters were grieving and having a difficult time of it. Josie helped them however she could and however they would let her.

The story is warm, real, and painful. She and Samuel grew slowly closer. His oldest daughter was hesitant to allow Josie to get close to her. She felt she should be the new mother. Thru good times and bad they each grew in their own way. Problems were present thru to the end of the story. But, you’ll love the ending! Thanks, Cheryl St. John, for an excellent piece of writing!

Monday, June 15, 2009

A Soldier's Reunion

Cheryl Wyatt
Love Inspired Contemporary Romance
Steeple Hill Books - June, 2009

A Soldier’s Reunion is the fourth book in Cheryl Wyatt’s “Wings of Refuge” series. (Earlier I reviewed her Ready-Made Family, the third book in this series. I concluded her work was flawed but “worth watching.”)

Consistent with her series, Wyatt sets her story in a military environment. She remains fascinated with the soldiers of the skies, setting this story in the dashing world of pararescue. Wyatt adds a bitter sweet component with leading characters in this story who were first high school sweethearts.

This story begins with a large bridge that is compromised when hit by an airplane. The bridge is filled with cars and a school bus filled with children. Nolan Briggs is the pararescuer in charge of this rescue mission. He and his rescuers are on the job to save as many as possible. They discover that Reece, Amelia’s daughter from Ready-Made Family, is on the school bus.

While rescuing people from the bridge, Nolan Briggs runs into Mandy Manchester, his old girlfriend from high school. They haven’t seen each other for ten years since graduation. She looks as good to him as ever. He, on the other hand, is the guy who left without saying goodbye. She would be afraid to trust him.

The balance of the story has to do with how Mandy and Nolan work toward getting back together. I can’t fault this book by Cheryl Wyatt like I did the last one. This one tends to stay more with the important things and not include absolutely everything possible. This is a faster read filled with action and people and personalities and, of course, great lacks of communication. To Cheryl Wyatt – congratulations on a good, well paced book. Definitely worth the read!

Rewriting Monday

Jodi Thomas
Contemporary Romance
Berkley Books - April 2009

As you may have guessed, I love romance novels, especially the latest Steeple Hill books and the historicals. I enjoy the historical romance novels because the environments in which they are set are generally real and there tends to be less explicit sex, especially when compared to the contemporary stories. I enjoy the Steeple Hill books because they weave Christian issues into the stories and characters just like they are woven in real life. And, of course, they all have happy endings!

But reading Jodi Thomas (Berkley Books) is an exceptional pleasure for me. She’s gooood! I know I’m in good hands when she’s at the story’s helm. They are beautifully written. Her characters are real. She sticks to telling the story, always making it a lean, compelling read. Not only is Rewriting Monday an intriguing title for a romance novel, but its female lead, Pepper Malone, sports a character name straight out of the popular pulp panoply. Can you see it? The New Adventures of Pepper Malone, Pepper Malone Strikes Back, Pepper Malone Goes to Hollywood, Pepper Malone and the McTeague Murders, Pepper Malone Packs A Wallop! Books, movies, radio, TV—Pepper Malone lives! (And loves: Pepper Malone Dares to Love) And who can forget that ubiquitous line from Editor Perry, “Where’s that Pepper when we need her?”

Pepper Malone lost her job as a reporter for a major Chicago publisher when she reported information about a prominent Chicago family. The family claimed she received the information by unethical means. The family had more power than she had. That’s what caused her to flee Chicago to find a good place to hide. She found it in Bailee, Texas, a quiet little town where her old aunt lived. It was a place to hide and heal. Of course, she needed to make a living. She went to the Bailee Bugle and told editor, Mike McCullock, that the weekly paper needed her. From there we get adventure, intrigue, mysterious accidents, and lots of action. And, Mike McCullock gets hope, which is something he hasn’t felt for a long time.

Jodi Thomas never lets me down and she’s done it again. Don’t miss this well written fast moving book!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

His Forever Love

Missy Tippens
Love Inspired Contemporary Romance
Steeple Hill Books - June, 2009

Missy Tippens’ His Forever Love introduces the “forever” tree, and who could resist such a deciduation? Her “forever” tree is the sacred stuff out of which the romance genre was birthed. (Where’s screen director Frank Capra [“It’s a Wonderful Life”] when you have such a great story for him?)

Legend has it that every couple who holds hands around the “forever” tree will experience an unending love for each other. Oh, please! I’m already in tears of joy because I can sense a wonderful ending around the final carefully-plotted turn. But our leading characters are only ten years old when they invoke the legend. Guess what? The two kids meet years later. Will the “forever” tree legend hold water?

Ooo, I can hardly wait.

But that’s only part of our story. Both Lindsey Jones and Bill Wellington have grown up as poster people for low self esteem, the sin de jour in this self-indulgent era. But, can you believe it? The “forever” tree wins out in the end, and Tippens’ story roars into an uplifting ending as the two characters come to discover, each through the eyes of the other, the great value each one has. Is that not the essence of our favorite genre?

Yes, boys and girls, His Forever Love is a lovely read.

After ten years of paying her writer dues, this is Missy’s second book for Steeple Hill. With any luck she and her pastor husband will continue holding hands around her “forever” computer, and that will inspire Missy to many more delightful journeys into the world of Steeple Hill romance.

The Accidental Lawman

Jill Marie Landis
Historical Romance
Steeple Hill Books - 2009

Jill Marie Landis is 20 novels deep into a career which includes titles that have earned their way into the New York Times and USA Today best seller lists. That suggests she’s a good writer. Her latest book, The Accidental Lawman, does the same. Interesting characters and a small town in which any sensible person would want to live grace this historical set in 1874.

Glory is a small town in Texas populated by good hearted, salt-of-the-earth folks for whom a penchant for gossip is essentially non existent. (The small town exception that proves the rule.) The towns folks genuinely enjoy and care for one another, so much so that the place has no sheriff and no jail. But the quiet, friendly town is suddenly shaken by the bank robbery that opens Landis’s story.

The robbery introduces us to the novel’s main characters, Hank Larson and Amelia Hawthorne. Hank is a widower recently arrived in town to open a newspaper (without a sheriff and a jail—and folks who love each other—what is he going to write about?). The beautiful Amelia, the daughter of the small town’s recently deceased doctor is, a healer.

Hank thwarts the robbery, but it turns out that one of the robbers is Amelia’s nineteen-year-old brother. Ahh, the plot thickens; and it thickens into a well-written, taut adventure romance.

Still grieving the loss of his wife and child, Hank Larson wanted nothing more than to start his newspaper and become part of this small town. He wasn’t ready for any serious involvement and yet the good folks of Glory, Texas, insisted that he become their sheriff, at least until another could be found.

Amelia Hawthorne had convinced herself that she was meant to be an old maid. She had raised her brother, Evan, since her mother died; and she was frustrated because at nineteen he no longer listened to her. She felt guilty for not being able to control Evan, but then no one else could either.

This is an adventurous story with many twists and turns. Tension builds to the very end. Enjoy this very satisfying book!

A Ring and a Promise

Lois Richer
Love Inspired Contemporary Romance
Steeple Hill Books - June, 2009

A Ring and a Promise is another in Lois Richer’s Love Inspired “Weddings by Woodwards” series. Richer is a craftsman. The characters in A Ring and a Promise are real, but the events pressing in on them aren’t all that earth shaking. Nice little stories certainly have their place; but by the time I reached the last page, I felt that my investment in the read hadn’t yielded much.

The lead character in this outing is Abby Franklin who is a jewelry designer for Weddings by Woodward. It seems to me the company is too small to have a fulltime jewelry designer. (Or is it just me?) Too many romance novels ask their readers to indulge stretches in logic.

The male lead is Donovan Woodward, the man Abby planned to marry; but who, for no apparent reason, left her in the lurch five years before the story opens. Now he’s returned to the family business with a godchild in tow; and it is Abby’s growing feelings for this godchild that overcome her anger and disappointment over Donovan’s unexplained exit.

Where have I encountered this metric before?

Too many recent romance novels ask some unsuspecting kid to rekindle an earlier romance or spark a new one. By the same token, too many romance novels are populated by widows and widowers suffering from the flames and arrows of incomprehensible fate and failed relationships. Our romance novel landscape is overpopulated by “take-two” situations: “Maybe we’ll get it right this time.” I wouldn’t be surprised to discover that some author is now hard at work on a fifth-time-around romance between two octogenarians who have met in some picturesque seaside old folks home. “It’s never too late, baby. Pass the Levitra.”

In this second time around for me and Lois Richer, the Weddings by Woodwards premise for a series seems a bit wanting. However, with some 35 titles to her credit, Richer’s writing has clearly found an audience among Christian readers. With that kind of a track record, I obviously need to give the lady a take three or even a take four.

Small-Town Brides

Janet Tronstad and Debra Clopton
Love Inspired Contemporary Inspirational Romance
Steeple Hill Books – June, 2009

Small-Town Brides is a Steeple Hill coupling of two novellas, one by Janet Tronstad and the other by Debra Clopton. Both are fine writers and this coupling does nothing to harm either reputation.

Both stories begin in Mule Hollow; but the first story, Tronstad’s A Dry Creek Wedding, migrates to, you guessed it, Dry Creek, a small town in Montana. As the collection’s title suggests, both stories end in obligatory weddings and the ever-present happy ending; but the journeys for both pairs of characters offer good reads.

In the first story, Rene Mitchell, 32, is a waitress at the truck stop in Mule Hollow. She was a hopeless romantic. For her romance was everything; but her boyfriend, Trace, only offered a “practical” marriage. Romance, per se, was not on his plate. The marriage would be a practical one in which Rene’s primary responsibility would be to care for Trace’s young niece who had just arrived in town. Her parents had just died.

Rene went ballistic! In a fury, she shook Mule Hollow’s dust from her feet and packed her car for her aunt and uncle’s place in Dry Creek, Montana. She would have made it, too, except that the piece of junk broke down at the city limits. Enter Clay Preston, 41, and his trusty wrecker.

Clay liked to watch Rene when he ate at the local truck stop; but his foster home upbringing left him too shy for anything overt—until Rene’s sick vehicle offered him the hero’s mantel. Yes, he agreed to tow her all the way to Dry Creek. (A beautiful damsel in distress? Come on, gentlemen, what would you have done?) And what a tow it was, Rene dealing with her anger and disappointment and Clay dealing with his shyness. By the time the two made it to Dry Creek, Rene discovered the romance she craved and Clay set aside his shyness.

In the second story, A Mule Hollow Match by Debra Clopton, we meet Rene’s cousin, Paisley Norton. The two women had been close. When Rene left Trace and his offer in the dust, Trace tried it out on Paisley. She was angry at Trace because of how he treated Rene, but she did agree to care for the little girl, feeling that the child should not suffer because Trace was a jerk. Any relationship with Trace was out of the question, but Paisley’s care for the man’s niece brought her into Trace’s daily life much as the close quarters of the wrecker’s cab had brought Clay into Rene’s life.

Close quarters have a way of overcoming obstacles, especially in romance novels; and the more Paisley was around Trace, the more she liked him, especially the marvelous man she was now seeing through the eyes of his little niece.

Both novellas are fast reads by good writers. Their character’s problems are far from earth shaking, but they were important to the two sets of characters and they are true to life.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Tides of Hope

Irene Hannon
Contemporary Inspirational Romance
Steeple Hill Books - May, 2009

Irene Hannon’s Tides of Hope is another recent Steeple Hill romance set on Nantucket Island, but this one is contemporary. Kate MacDonald is a widow who has taken over her husband’s charter boat business. While she’s a strong willed, no-nonsense woman successfully navigating a demanding business, she’s been unable to handle her husband’s death. He was too handsome, too wonderful, and too perfect. Kate is also having an increasingly difficult time with her four year-old daughter who wants a dad.

Craig Cole, the new commander at Nantucket’s Coast Guard station might, be a good candidate if he weren’t so picky. Kate understands that anyone earning their living from the sea has to honor the details. Not doing so can kill you, but this Craig Cole guy is ridiculous. Everyone else thinks Craig is a gorgeous hunk and much to be desired. Of course, Craig had his own problems. He was a widower with a four-year-old daughter. He, like Kate, was still grieving the death of his wife and son from an accident for which he felt some guilt. Therefore, he was racked with grief. His daughter was with him full-time now.
That was an adjustment since she had spent a lot of time with nannies and Craig’s relatives in their prior location.

Psychologically, both people are dealing with painful issues. After such losses, each of them feared having new relationships especially with the possibility of those ending unexpectedly, too. This book deals with tough stuff, but, we believe that love will win out in the end, which, since Tides of Hope is a romance novel, Guess what? Enjoy this page turner that Anna Schmidt has provided us.


Diana Palmer
Romance - Contemporary
HQN Books - 2008

I get scared easily when I read or watch TV. My husband laughs at me, but he’s always within hailing distance (or by my side) when it’s suspense, adventure, or mystery. I know it’s all just fiction and I can close the book or turn off the TV anytime I want, but it really affects me. He loves that stuff. I don’t.

Diana Palmer’s Fearless is packed with adventure and suspense, but I liked it. Hmmm. At first I thought my reaction was strange, but then I realized my usual fears were being cradled in the arms of a first class writer. Suspense lurks around every corner in Fearless but I knew I was safe with Palmer. The psychotherapist in me is going to have to spend more time thinking about this. Maybe, I believed the title. Suppose?

Since 1979, Diana Palmer has written 100+ novels. That averages more than one every four months. That’s phenomenal enough but when you read her biography, she’s living at least two other busy lives. My guess is that she lives 36 hour days (eight per week). Her 100+ novels are just a sideline.

This story takes place in Jacobsville, Texas. This town has an unusual mix of lawmen. Their backgrounds are varied and dangerous. Glory Barnes is staying on a Jacobsville farm for her protection. She’s an assistant DA in San Antonio who needs protection until she testifies in a dangerous case. Cash Grier, the police chief, will try to keep her protected but with that particular mix of lawmen in residence it’s hard to know the good guys from the bad.

Any of Diana Palmer’s books that take place in this location are always full of adventure and surprises. Glory Barnes is attracted to Rodrigo Ramirez, the ranch foreman, who seems like a nice guy, but, how can she know for sure? We know that someone isn’t just right, but who? A bad guess could cost a life, hers. Any of these professionals are apt to trust no one. This is a page turner you’re sure to enjoy!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Gift from the Sea

Anna Schmidt
Inspirational Historic Romance
Steeple Hill Books - May, 2009

Gift from the Sea is the ninth of Anna Schmidt’s Steeple Hill books. It’s an historical romance, but Schmidt did not set it in an era typical of romance novels. Gift from the Sea is set in the midst of World War I, “the war to end all wars,” and the gift is odd, indeed. Its name is Stefan Witte. He is an injured German washed ashore at Nantucket Island off the Massachusetts coast. At the outset, Witte is no threat. Nurse Maggie Hunter found him dangerously close to death. But now that’s he’s getting better and more lucid. . .

Hanna Schmidt’s Gift from the Sea has a storyline that’s different for a typical romance novel. Stefan Witte, the injured German who washed ashore on Nantucket Island had lost his only family to the German’s. There was nothing left for him there. He claimed to be on a mission of peace, but no one was willing to believe him. Maggie Hunter, the nurse who cared for him didn’t trust him at all. He needed to deliver information to American authorities but had no way to make the contact without help from a go-between. And, no one would believe him so that contact could be made. Romance was nowhere in sight. Stefan was badly injured and unable to leave his sick room. Maggie was grieving over her intended who had been killed overseas. She was fine to blame that on Stefan too.

This is a romance, but, you will be surprised at how it comes about. This is a good and interesting historical. It takes a bit to get into it, but it’s worth the time – enjoy!

The Baby Bond

Linda Goodnight
Contemporary Inspirational Romance
Steeple Hill Books - May - 2009

The blurb in The Baby Bond indicates that Linda Goodnight has written 9 books for Steeple Hill. Three of these are a series, The Brothers’ Bond. She’s also published in Harlequin’s Silhouette series. According to her biography, she’s written some 19 books since 2000. That’s nearly 6 novels a year, an average of one every two plus months. Whew, but she’s not just an assembly line. In 2007 she won the RITA for the best inspirational novel. Quantity plus quality. It doesn’t get much better than that. She’s also a gut writer. Most of her characters arrive in her head complete with names. She tends not to know the ending of a book when she begins it. The characters know, and Linda trusts them.

The Baby Bond is a story with both tragedy and adventure. It also has love and lack of trust. Firefighter, Nic Carano, rescues baby Alex from a burning house. Baby Alex and Nic form an immediate bond. Alex’s parents were both lost in the fire.

Nic was thought of as a playboy who refused to grow up. He had that reputation when he and Cassidy Willis were in college together. Cassidy Willis is Alex’s aunt and becomes his guardian. Nic was attracted to Cassidy but she refused to get close to him. To her, every time Nic went to work he was in danger of dying in a fire. She wanted none of that! Cassidy’s parents died in a tornado in the Philippines where they were missionaries. She was trapped in a collapsing school building. She could smell smoke and feared being burned to death.

Psychologically, these are people with problems. Nic has done such a good job of looking like a playboy that no one has noticed that he is also a responsible person. True, he hasn’t wanted to get hooked by a woman and pressured into marriage. He put out love with the same skills he used putting out fires. He wasn’t anti-marriage just not ready yet. Cassidy had an irrational fear about fire. She was living a nightmare that had reached dysfunctional proportions. She spent her time being self protective. Actually, all this makes for a very good story.

Laugh, cry and enjoy this well-written story with a very satisfying ending.

Blind-Date Bride

Jillian Hart
Contemporary Inspirational Romance
Steeple Hill Books - May, 2009

Blind Date Bride is book number 18 in Jillian Hart’s McKaslin Clan series, so if you like this one, great reads lie ahead. The bottom line for me is that Blind Date Bride is a sweet little story, but the problems Brianna McKaslin (Brandilyn’s twin sister) and Max Decker face aren’t particularly significant. They are to them, make no mistake, but in the larger scheme of things, they’re more a footnote. Blind Date Bride is true to the romance formula. It’s an easy read. It moves well; and typical of most Steeple Hills, Hart skillfully blends in the Christian message. Both characters have problems that mediate against their chances at romance, but guess what? They’re all solved by page 267 and the words “The best was yet to come.”

The Secret

Beverly Lewis
Amish - Novel
Bethany House Publishers - 2009

In an earlier Grace Note I talked about Andrea Sachs’ Time Magazine’s article on the current Amish love stories, dubbed “bonnet books” by some. They’re not really romance novels in the traditional sense because they don’t follow the romance formula. Actually, I think they’re more “soap opera books” because their let’s-not-talk-about-it-now (ever) efforts at communication drive the plot. As a psychotherapist, I find the character’s dysfunctional lives very sad. Get on with it!” I scream. “Say what you mean!”

I know what the Bible says about life and the Amish interpretation, to me, isn’t it. (Unless you’re a man and would be king.) The popularity of these books escapes me. Reading this one is like four hours watching an ant farm. (Those ants really know how to live.) The bonnet books are supposed to be inspirational fiction. They only inspire me to throw up. Not the writing, the characters. How can professing Christians be so strict with behaviors that aren’t taught by Scripture to be bad. The characters don’t allow themselves to communicate. They are ineffective in every sense of the word. They run away from problems. They let their men get away with being world class snots. They have made turning the other cheek into an art form. They don’t show the God that I worship as a loving God who is always interested in our welfare

Beverly Lewis is a good writer. She spells well. Her coherent sentences advance even to her paragraphs. Page after page, she draws her characters with clean, crisp lines; but who could stand to live with them? Give me a nice axe murderer anytime, wait!, a handsome axe murderer with a darling suntanned face and a really deep voice. It’s not just no automobiles, no radios, no electricity, and their lackluster fashion sense. It’s just, well, no good sense at all. Life lived this way is ineffective and no darn fun! I don’t think that’s what God intended. It seems like a sure route to depression. It’s not OK to have a car or truck. But it is OK to pay someone who has one to transport them or their freight for a fee. Can anyone justify that for me? If so, please share. This book made me want to cry for those living in this lifestyle. Help me out here if I’m missing the point.

The genre boasts at least a dozen writers. No computers, no typewriters, no dictionaries. Yesterday I found a dozen quill pens in the attic. Now I’ve found a market for them.

Friday, May 15, 2009

The Wild One

Denise Eagan
Historical Romance
Zebra Books - 2009

The Wild One is Denise Eagan’s second book, her second book to be published. She began writing at fourteen. Typical of so many good novelists, she began young, worked hard, trained for a real job (accounting, she graduated from a college from which my husband holds a degree), gathered her obligatory trunk full of reassuring rejection, continued writing, joined Romance Writers of America, won a contest, and soldiered on to a two-book contract with Kensington (while being a mother, wife, and homemaker). I’m tired just thinking about it. The Wild One is the second of the two and a sequel to her first, Wicked Woman. Yes, hers is that old familiar story: Overnight sensation!

She mentions that The Wild One came to her in pieces, scene by scene, most often out of order. That is a sign she’s a gut writer, one who lives the story as she writes, letting the winds of inspiration drive her to unplanned destinations. The gut is the writer. The head is the editor. When the writer learns to let the first roam free and keep the second in check, the result is usually a deliciously surprising story. And that it is.

Jessica Sullivan was a beautiful, serious actress. She had no interest in men because her husband had abandoned her while she was in labor with their child. As if that weren’t enough, her child died when he was two days old. She continued living as a married woman because she couldn’t afford to divorce the man who abandoned her. But that was not the beginning of life’s destruction of her self worth.

Because she was serious about her craft, Jessica didn’t fit well with the other actors in the troupe who used the stage to advance their sex lives. She didn’t “play” with men because she thought that was morally inappropriate. But more importantly, her experience with men showed her they couldn’t be trusted. At a deeper level and in spite of her moral convictions, she felt that life was just passing her by.

Not only that, she had asked the director of the traveling players to set apart a portion of her weekly salary so that she could repay a debt to her brother, but he was a man, too, and true to her experience, he gambled away the money he was supposed to be saving for her. Her view of herself kept getting lower. She tried so hard and yet never succeeded. In addition to that, her family had disowned her. Her self-worth was hitting bottom.

Could the tall, dark, handsome, and rich Lee Montgomery keep it from hitting bottom. Since this is a romance novel, that’s reasonable to expect, but he had his problems, too. While he came from a wealthy Boston family, his success at gambling fed his desire to never settle down He didn’t want his family’s money if it also required him to be a proper Bostonian. Besides, there was this actress who had caught his eye. Her name was Jessica Sullivan.

Then she was wrongly accused of murder and was on the run. To top it all off, her estranged husband showed up and kidnapped her. She thought her life was over and the thought didn’t displease her. Would Lee Montgomery spring for the ransom? She figured not. Psychologically, she had hit bottom.

But, let’s not forget this is a romance novel. While it starts out more slowly than I like, Eagan crafts well drawn, engaging characters. Their depth made them fun to be with and drew me into the story. When the pace took off in the last third of the book, being intimate with the characters made the read more rewarding than most.

Courting the Doctor's Daughter

Janet Dean
Inspirational Historical Romance
Steeple Hill Books - 2009

Who would have thought the handsome man hawking his herbal elixir from the seat of his wagon was a real medical doctor and heir to a vast Boston fortune? While physically engaging, he still looked the huckster to Mary Graves, and she knew that the magic in most such potions was alcohol, making it more dangerous than medicinal. Her dad was the town doctor. That gave Mary more than a passing knowledge of such frauds. Unwilling to let this man dupe her friends from the town, she challenged Luke Jacobs in front his gullible audience. That prickly encounter begins Janet Dean’s second novel, Courting the Doctor’s Daughter.

Mary Graves openly called Luke Jacobs a fraud. Of course, he hadn’t yet divulged that he was a medical doctor. He was, in fact, searching for his lost son. He had heard that his son was put on an orphanage train after his mother died. He was following the route the train had taken. He didn’t want it known that he was looking for his son. Since he had lost track of him, he wanted to find him and make sure he had a good home without disturbing him.

Luke had lost track of his son because he was so busy with his laboratory work. His mission was to find a cure for epilepsy. His brother had had epilepsy and died too young in an institution.

This is a book of losses. Luke had lost his brother and blamed his parents for his treatment. He thought an institution was the wrong place for an epileptic. He had separated from his parents over this issue. Mary Graves had been left on the doctor’s doorstep when she was a baby and had lost her mother. While the doctor and his wife loved her and treated her well, she still wondered why she wasn’t good enough for her mother to keep her. Psychologically, this kept her from feeling as good about herself as she might have. She had niggling doubts about herself. Because of that, she adopted a child off the orphanage train since she knew what a loss being an orphan had brought to her life. She already had two children from an unsatisfactory marriage. She had a very busy, work-filled life for a widow. Somehow she felt that’s all she deserved.

Courting the Doctor’s Daughter is the second book of a projected Steeple Hill series. The first was Courting Miss Adelaide. Janet Dean grew up in what she describes as a story telling family. Her folks and their folks loved the past and telling stories about it. Not surprisingly, Janet caught the bug and once she and her husband had raised their two girls, she devoted herself to writing stories that would honor God and take the reader on satisfying adventures.

Grace Note - Amish Romance

In the April 27, 2009, issue of Time Magazine is an article by Andrea Sachs, titled “Love, Plain and Simple.” “This is about Amish love stories, or “bonnet books,” being the hot new trend in romance fiction.” According to Sachs, these books generate nearly $1.4 billion in sales each year.

You don’t have to worry about explicit sex in these books, there isn’t any. For many of us that’s a breath of fresh air, but does it go too far in the other direction? I’ll find out. The article talks about Beverly Lewis who has just published her novel “The Secret”. It came out at #10 on the paperback best seller list in the New York Times. In all, she has written 87 books. Sachs says that these books have an easy history lesson. Is that enough? The Pennsylvania Dutch have many rules to live by and have a strange way of changing them. To change a rule the leaders vote on the change. Consequently, probably no two groups have exactly the same rules. All of this gets to sounding a bit over-bearing. Or is that my independent self reacting?

What I’m going to do is read “The Secret” by Beverly Lewis. Then I’ll review it without holding back. I’ll meet you back here soon.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Ready-Made Family

Cheryl Wyatt
Inspirational Romance
Steeple Hill Books - April, 2009

Based on my reading experience of over 2,500 romance novels over the past eight years, Cheryl Wyatt may be pioneering the Contemporary Christian Military Romance genre. She suspects it might even be destiny.

Cheryl Wyatt was born on a naval base—there’s the military. She was born on Valentine’s Day—there’s the romance. But unlike in the military, Wyatt reports that her characters don’t always obey her orders and “take the hill” she had planned to advance the story. But authors tell me that that rebellion is a good sign.

When characters become real in an author’s mind, more than fiction, they always want to usurp the author’s authority. Usually that rebellion makes for a realistic, more surprising, more rewarding read, often better than the one the author had in mind at the outset.

In Ready-Made Family, the third in Wyatt’s “Wings of Refuge” series, her interesting cast of characters seemed to be badgering her to keep themselves all front-and-center, all the time. In some scenes, it’s as if all her creations are jumping up and down, yelling, “Me! Me!” As a result, these scenes lose focus, and the reader—this reader, at least—is not always sure where Wyatt wants me to look. Too many of her scenes are a clattering mayhem like the din of a family of 20 whipping up Thanksgiving dinner. “I thought you brought the cranberry sauce.” It’s a friendly din, to be sure, but it weakens the narrative thrust. (Or maybe I shouldn’t be making dinner and watching the evening news while reading.)

In any event, Ready-Made Family opens with a bang: “Mister! Mommy needs help!”
The panicked voice comes from seven year-old Reece North clutching her ever-present stuffed toy, Bearby. She asks Ben Dillinger for help. Reece’s mom fell asleep at the wheel and slammed into a light pole. Reese and Bearby survived, but the little girl isn’t so sure about her mom.

Wyatt falls into a similar trap in some action scenes. She brings to them too many details that I don’t see contributing to the action. I assume she does this in an effort to give the scene greater life while further illuminating her characters. Not good when a life’s at stake.

But I did find the psychology of the characters more true to life. Amelia, Reece’s mom, was on her way to St. Louis for a job when she fell asleep at the wheel. She was trying to gain independence. Her father repeatedly told her that she’d never amount to anything. After all, she’d had Reece out of wedlock with no man in sight. Her dad thought that behavior just showed how worthless she was. Needless to say, Amelia didn’t feel too good about herself. Ben Dillinger was ashamed at the way he had treated his brother who had Mosaic Down Syndrome. That gave him some guilt problems which caused him to doubt his worth. The characters continued to live out their scripts until a hurricane in the Carolinas gave them all something more important to use their energy in a cooperative way. Amelia’s dad came around and even acted like the Christian he’d always claimed to be. Ben and his brother spent time together and even enjoyed it. Gradually, the story unfolds to a very satisfying people story.

All in all and for me, the mechanics got in the way of an otherwise compelling story. The military environment and the hurricane events aren’t the usual stuff of romance novels. Typical of the Steeple Hill books, Wyatt seamlessly wove the Christian elements into her story. We’ll watch Cheryl as she grows and I think she’ll make it.

The Cowboy Next Door

Brenda Minton
Inspirational Romance
Steeple Hill Books - May, 2009

In my next life I’m going to copyright “Cowboy” and “Viking.” The royalties from romance covers alone should keep me in designer clothes. (I had a designer body once, but, alas, not now. Ask any of my great grandchildren.) The cover of Brenda Minton’s new Steeple Hill romance shows a smiling cowboy, a rocker, a baby, and the family dog. Tell me this is going to be a murder mystery in which a baby kills a dog.

No, dear reader, The Cowboy Next Door is Minton’s fourth Steeple Hill outing, and it moves along at a much greater-than-rocking-chair pace. As a matter of fact, Minton seamlessly sets her stage. She introduces her central characters and the emotions driving them all in a few hundred or so smooth flowing, fully packed words. Every word ringing with purpose.

Minton introduces Lacey Gould, our heroine from the city; Jay Blackhorse, the hunky deputy sheriff, and Lacey’s druggy younger sister with a cute plot-driving baby in the first few pages. Although I must say Lacey’s studio apartment with a walk-in closet seems a bit of a stretch, but then I didn’t grow up in Gibson.

It’s no surprise that the story revolves around the baby. The baby is safe, cute, and needy. Lacey becomes the baby’s guardian. Corry, Lacey’s sister, was looking for a free ride and trouble. Lacey had worked hard to become part of this small, wholesome community and certainly didn’t need her sister messing it up for her. What other unwanted family member will show up?

This book moves well. Psychologically, it has trust issues, grief, abandonment, and people with varying degrees of dysfunction. Lacey is working hard to overcome her unsavory background and live a Norman Rockwell life. Jay Blackhorse wants nothing to do with a city girl because he figured all city girls would break his heart like the first one did. Fortunately, Lacey and Jay come to care for one another and not surprisingly, that caring begins to dispel the dysfunctions. Isn’t that what Biblical love is all about? Stir them together and what do you get? One whale of a good story!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Montana Creeds: Logan, Dylan, Tyler

Linda Lael Miller
HQN Books (Harlequin) - 2009

Is it just me or is the hat too big on the smiling cover model. A ten-gallon hat on an eight-gallon head. I can visualize some bunched-up newspaper pages keeping the hat out of his eyes. Remove the newspaper and you have a cover for a Cowboy Comedy Romance, but apparently that wasn’t what series’ author, Linda Lael Miller, had in mind this time—or ever, for that matter.

Logan, Tyler, and Dylan are offspring from Miller’s five-book jaunt featuring the McKettricks. Miller should have better luck keeping her characters out of the bedroom, but then that would handicap the romance part of all this, wouldn’t it? Besides, as Janet Daily has shown in spades, there’s gold in them thar offsprings. Especially when their names are Calder. A good series requires offspring to strut their stuff. I think it has something to do with the economics of romance publishing, but now to the subjects at hand.

The three brothers had a falling out after their dad’s funeral. From that unpleasantness they each went in a different direction. Logan had his law degree and had done well starting a company that did do-it-yourself law complete with forms and instructions. He had sold the company for a tidy sum and decided to go back home and restore the family ranch. Tyler and Dylan worked rodeos and did some film work. Dylan had occasionally had talked to Logan but they still weren’t friends. Tyler was the one who tried never to have contact with his brothers. Logan wanted them to be in business together but the other two didn’t seem agreeable to that. Their dad hadn’t been a loving man. Each son had a different mother. Needless to say, their home life wasn’t pleasant.

Logan and Dylan are what I’ve come to expect from Miller and from the western romance genre in general: Generally well-crafted stories in well-researched settings, with generally interesting principle characters, facing life’s panoply of problems, some a bit stretchy, to be sure, but mostly true-to-life. Oh, yes, and there’s the romance part and my growing recognition that romance novels have more than their fair share of widows and widowers. But Tyler surprised me:

More accurately, the sex surprised me, not that sex is a bad thing (been there; done that, well, not ALL that; but, well, you get the picture.) It’s the quantity and the explicit details that made this last book of the trilogy a much less rewarding read for me.

When I read a Linda Lael Miller book I don’t expect to see the explicit sex like she wrote in Tyler. Not only was it an unexpected dip into porn, but it didn’t add a thing to the story. Needless to say I was disappointed. I e-mailed Miller and asked for an explanation, but I received no response. However, these books are worth the time and are excellent reading except for the sex in Tyler.

Spring Creek Bride

Janice Thompson
Inspirational Historical Romance
Steeple Hill Books - April, 2009

One of the skills shared by Steeple Hill novelists is the ability to seamlessly weave Christian issues into arresting narratives. This suggests an across-the-board editorial policy at Steeple Hill. If it is their policy, it’s sharp because it yields true to life, easy-to-read stories. I don’t want to tell you how many Christian novels I began and never finished because of their off-putting, heavy-handed, often legalistic treatment of Christianity: “Wait everybody! Hold on there. Before we put out the schoolhouse fire that threatens to burn our beloved offspring to a crispy death, let’s consider God’s will for everyone here in this spur-of-the-moment bucket brigade and pray for God’s generous wisdom in this obviously challenging time. May Romans 8:28-39 prevail. Dear gracious heavenly Father. . .”

In Spring Creek Bride, Janice Thompson, clearly doesn’t go that far, but she fails to craft a seamless novel in which the Christian life flows easily.

That not withstanding, Thompson offers her readers interesting characters in a challenging situation. Janice Thompson has published more than thirty full-length novels and non-fiction books. She is a Christian free-lance author and a native Texan.

Twice Upon A Time

Lois Richer
Inspirational Romance
Steeple Hill Books - April, 2009

The subtext we’ve come to expect from the Big Wedding Scene in movies and novels is the best man-bridesmaid tryst. And, yes, Lois Richer’s Twice Upon a Time delivers that scene. Although she bypasses the steam, it is the boy-meets-girl part of Richer’s story.

Olivia Hastings is the bridesmaid and widower Reese Woodward is the best man. He’s the brother of the bride. As a boy, Reese was adopted by the bride’s family. Richer introduced the family in Rocky Mountain Legacy, a Love Inspired novel, the first of this trilogy. Twice Upon a Time is the second with one more to come. While this second book is also a Love Inspired novel, it certainly has its delicious share of things gone wrong.

Reese handles the family’s legal affairs and is the father of twin sons. His wife was killed in an automobile accident, and his grief remains oppressive. While Olivia attracts him at the wedding, Reese’s grief remains all-consuming; and his deep loyalty to his deceased wife renders him helpless. But, tough one to loose, Olivia is taken by the twins, and predictably, by Reese Woodward. Olivia also has a painful past and she is somewhat leery of a new relationship. With that, the story unfolds.

Weddings by Woodwords is the corporate name of this family business. Reese is an adopted son who is active in Weddings by Woodwards. Since he is adopted, he feels extra responsible for doing everything right and on his own. He has some hard lessons to learn. The family is totally accepting of Reese. Reese is the one with doubts. Because of these doubts, Reese is especially hard on himself. This speaks to the psychological problems that adopted are apt to have. A loving family helps, but sometimes psychotherapy can help a great deal.

Lois Richer is good at her craft and this book shows her work well. The next book in this trilogy A Ring And A Promise will be out in June. Watch for it!

Someone Like You

A Night Riders Romance
Leigh Greenwood
Historical Romance
Leisure Books - 2009

Leigh Greenwood is the exception that proves the rule. (I’m still not sure what that old saw really means. It makes no sense to me. The exception disproves the rule; but it is undeniably a good way in which to launch this review.)

Leigh Greenwood is one-of-a-kind in the world of today’s romance writers. He’s not one-of-a-kind because of the quality of his books, although that’s a case I can easily make, he’s one-of-a-kind because in the midst of all those wonderfully creative women novelists, Leigh Greenwood stands tall—as a man. Once a man; always a man. He may not be the only man entertaining us with successful romance novels, but in my view he is certainly the best. That could be because he has devoted his life to the craft with three series, totaling 23 novels, and eleven other novels. Prolific is thy name.

Greenwood titles the fourth book in his Night Riders series Someone Like You. His hero, Rafe Jerry finds his girl friend in bed with his father. That begins the back story that estranges Rafe from his family as he joins the Confederate Army to fight the good fight.

Leigh Greenwood has always been a shocker. He writes romance from a male point of view, but surprisingly his intimate scenes honor the woman. They are delicate, building, and often reveal fascinating qualities in his characters.

In Someone Like You, there is a lot of pain and lack of trust. There is reason for this. When Rafe finds his girlfriend in bed with his father, he immediately loses trust in his girlfriend and experiences pain for his loss. Unfortunately, the psychological effect tends to conclude that no woman can be trusted. It’s easy to generalize such feelings, no matter how inaccurate they are. Once again it may be time for a good psychotherapist.

You can always count on Leigh Greenwood to deal with people in an even handed way. It’s always a joy to read his work.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Give Me A Cowboy

Jodi Thomas, DeWanna Pace, Linda Broday, Phyllis Miranda
Historical Romance
Zebra Books (410 pgs) - 2009

It’s anthology time around the old coral: The four one-hundred page novellas in this Zebra Historical are set at the same time and in the same town, Kasota Springs in the Texas Panhandle. It is rodeo week and the rough-and-tumble festivities drive all four stories, except that with one exception, the characters in the different stories are unrelated.

In Silent Partner, Jodi Thomas builds her story around Rowdy Darnell and Laurel Hayes. Rowdy’s name fits the character. He was a hell-raiser since childhood, but except for the imprisonment for a crime he didn’t commit, he could count on his ready charm to ease the consequences of his patented scrapes. He didn’t know there was going to be a rodeo until he got back in town. But decided he’d give it a go. He had only enough money to enter one event.

Laurel Hayes is the other side of the coin. She’s a solid citizen and a successful rancher’s daughter. She has known Rowdy since they were kids. She knows he’s poison, but she finds it a compelling poison, a spider and fly thing, and Jodi Thomas turns their dichotomy into a fast-moving, rewarding read. Rowdy had always been nice to Laurel and she has never forgotten it. She has a plan. She told him she would pay his entry fees and if he won “All-around-winner” Rowdy could keep the money prize and half the cattle and give her the other 100 head of cattle. One other stipulation – Rowdy had to keep quiet about their deal. It had to be a silent partnership.

Rowdy thought she was crazy to make such a deal, but, he was up for it. Her main objective was for her father not to find out about this silent partnership.

In Luck of the Draw, DeWanna Pace takes us to the rodeo. The legendary bull, Bone Buster, had killed Dally Angelo’s dad. When Dally Angelo’s dad was killed by Bone Buster, Augusta swore that she’d make sure that Dally would never get the chance to ride Bone Buster. Augusta Garrison who broke her engagement to Dally Angelo back in Pecos, with no explanation, was in charge of the drawing for the bull rides. Augusta also didn’t tell Dally that she was pregnant at the time of the break-up. That together with rodeo intrigue builds a story of love laced with action (or action laced with love, depending). Either way DeWanna Pace takes you off to the races. Whoops. Sorry. Off to the bull ride and Bone Buster’s questionable future.

In Texas Tempest, Linda Broday travels outside the box for her western historical. Not that her story doesn’t end well, but it begins in an unlikely setting, the Kasota Springs Community Cemetery. Tempest LeDoux (again the first name fits the character) carefully tends to a group of adjacent graves. Her obvious loving care catches the attention of gunslinger McKenna Smith. After she leaves, he looks closer.

All five graves belong to Tempest’s previous husbands, suggesting serious overuse of the death-do-us-part department. Checking further, McKenna finds they were all natural deaths. As beautiful as this woman was, husband number six would clearly be tempting fate. Husband number six? I wonder who that will be?

In Roping the Wind, Phyliss Miranda has an imaginative title for her page-turning contribution to this Give Me A Cowboy set. Boy meets girl in an unusual way. It involves a bow and arrow. Not Cupid’s bow but Alaine LeDoux’s bow. (Yes, Tempest’s daughter.) While practicing for a rodeo bow-and-arrow competition, she shoots Morgan Payne in the upper thigh, proving Alaine still needs practice. But her bow-driven ballistics does get the boy-meets-girl thing done with some charm.

While Morgan Payne (who should change the spelling to “Pain”) has come from the distant city, beneath his dude-like facade lurks a Pinkerton undercover man and one hell of a cowboy. Not unexpectedly, Morgan Payne will become Alaine’s husband number one. Hopefully the curse of the mother will not be visited upon her fetching daughter.

Personally, I like anthologies. Each story is shorter than a novel and therefore moves faster. I especially like that part. This anthology leads off with a story by Jodi Thomas, one of my favorites. The other three writers were new to me. The writing was all acceptable, however, some of the stories seemed to have a lot of western jargon in them. I understand that is an issue that has had a lot of discussion. Evidently, each section of the country had its own jargon. Therefore, it’s too confusing to use all of the jargons, so we usually see a generally accepted mix that won’t throw anyone.

In a Mother's Arms

Jillian Hart & Victoria Bylin
Inspirational Historical Romance
Steeple Hill Books - April, 2009

In a Mother’s Arms is two great reads for the price of one in a Mother’s Day anthology from Steeple Hill.

The first story is Jillian Hart’s Finally A Family. Her plot echoes familiar. The kids in the story, the hero’s twin daughters, rabble rouse for their widower dad to marry the heroine and give them a complete family. They want a real mom, not the housekeeper. The twins Hart draws are wildly assertive, often to an amusing fault. They refuse to take no for an answer and their continuing refusal fuels the story.

The twin’s dad is the local doctor. He doesn’t want a second wife because he’s been there, done that; and the hurt from her loss continues to haunt. Never again! Doctor Sam Frost no longer believes in romantic love. It could open the door to the possibility of yet another loss which would aggravate the pain with which he still deals.

Hart’s heroine, Mollie McKaslin, lost her husband and only child to scarlet fever. Self reliant and fighting the pain from her loss, she wants nothing to do with a relationship that isn’t based on true love. But she finds the obstreperous twins more than engaging, and their pet cow, who insists on going in the house, adds to the story a Disney-like charm.

The second novella is Victoria Bylin’s Home Again. So far she’s published six novels and three novellas, the most recent of which is this one. Six of her stories are under the Harlequin imprint with the other three Love Inspired Historicals. She’s under contract for four more which makes for job security as long as she keeps her Muse happy.

Victoria is leaning to the Love Inspired brand because she tells me, “it’s a better fit for her voice.” She has a heart for romance readers who may also be struggling with spiritual concerns. When she got serious about writing, she was drawn to westerns, not only because of the physical challenges of survival during the period, but because “church and Christianity were a vital part of the culture.”

Fourteen years ago, Cassiopeia O’Rourke left Gabe Wyatt at the altar without explanation. She wasn’t sure why herself, except that there had to be more to life than Guthry Corners, Colorado. Her father had given her her mother’s diary. Upon reading it she found that her mother hadn’t been satisfied with her life and always wished she had put off marriage and spread her wings. Cassie was afraid that would happen to her. She hightailed it to Chicago and gave life to a childhood dream of becoming an actress. After getting married, she also gave life to a kid. As so many before her, she soon discovers that life upon the wicked stage is nothing like a girl supposes. The man she had foolishly married in hopes of that career-making part turns out to be a liar, a drunk, and a wife beater. A trifecta of wedded bliss.

Surprisingly, she is saved by her dad’s death. He left her his mercantile store in Guthry Conners which gives Cassie an escape from her Chicago nightmare.

The once and only Gabe Wyatt is now the town deputy sheriff, and Cassiopeia’s 12-year-old boy, Luke, fast becomes the local hellion. Victoria’s story unfolds with Wyatt wishing that the burgeoning town hellion was actually his son. Gabe can see that Luke is having a tough time and needs a father and he wants to help him.

Psychologically, these two stories have similarities. In Finally a Family, Dr. Frost, now wants to protect himself and thinks that not having romantic love is a way to do that. Molly had had a loveless marriage and it hurt so much she wanted to make sure she was not caught in that predicament again.

In Home Again. Cassie had a terrible marriage in Chicago. She wanted to make sure that never happened again! Consequently she wasn’t that anxious to marry again. She was afraid to try. She too was protecting herself. Gabe was so broken hearted over Cassie leaving him at the alter that he didn’t even look for a wife. He just waited, hoping that she would come back. She did come back and he was still willing to wait, but he feared another heartbreak.

We, as humans, try to solve our problems but don’t always try in an effective way. Often the solution is actually simple, difficult for the people going through it to see, but easy for a good psychotherapist. Like any trained professional not directly involved in a situation, they can often recognize an easy solution. Thank God for good therapists. Thank God for romance novels, too, because they always deliver a happy ending.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Homecoming Blessings

Merrillee Whren
Inspirational Romance
Steeple Hill Love Inspired - April, 2009

Author Merrilee Whren lives with her successful businessman husband on an island off Florida’s east coast. That’s where they finally settled, but their 30-plus-year relationship took them all around the United States. That provided her with lots of picturesque settings. Now their lovely island gives her the opportunity to stroll a sandy beach to think about the plotting. How could she not have become a romance writer? Where do I sign?

Homecoming Blessings is a contemporary Love Inspired Steeple Hill effort that, as expected, easily weaves a story of faith into its character-driven (beach inspired?) plot. In this case the beach turned in a gentle plot in which the action drifts like a lazy sea gull on the wind.

The action revolves around the different values held by the fresh-from-the-field missionary, Ashley Hiatt, and big-city businessman, Peter Dalton. Ashley’s dad, Peter’s boss, has paired the two on a project that ultimately changes them both. Homecoming Blessings is about that change, and it asks both characters to stretch.

Peter is a worldly guy who doesn’t want to settle down and Ashley is a godly gal for whom settling down is all but logical. Psychologically, Peter judges his worth by how much money he makes. Ashley judges her worth, not by money, but on serving people who need to be ministered to. She also always puts others first and is comfortable doing that. Peter and Ashley make quite a diverse pair, however, they make it work and adjust to reality. And, end up feeling good about themselves.

Merrillee Whren won the 2003 Golden Heart Award for best inspirational romance manuscript presented by Romance Writers of America. We always look forward to Merrillee's books and know that we'll get a nice flowing book that will keep us calm as we read.

Rachel and the Hired Gun

Elaine Levine
Historical Romance
Zebra Books - 2009

No one wants to find themselves in the middle of a hassle, especially a hassle that could kill—especially when you’re the “bait,” the “target,” or the “score.” That’s what Rachel Douglas discovered when summoned west to live with her dad. She thought she was lucky to leave the eastern situation in which she was nearly a slave. But with her unscrupulous dad she found herself a pawn in a ranch war.

But then there was this hired gun named Sager. He was a tall, dark, and, yes, handsome half-Indian guy who was handy with his gun, his fists, and, well, it’s a romance novel, right?

While the old west did have lawmen, they were few and far between, especially in the Eastern Dakota Territory; and the ranchers there “had a hankering” for making up their own law, especially Rachel’s dad who hired Sager to do the dirty work. Sager had his own score to settle, so for him it was two for the price of one, getting well paid for seeking making a score in his own vengeance column.

Thus unfolds Elaine Levine’s first book, Rachel and the Hired Gun. This is a well crafted book. It moves right along advancing the story at a good pace. Rachel's dilemma is a tough one, but she managed to make the best choices. Elaine had lived with relatives in Virginia. They treated her like a servant. Her mother had died when she was very young and her dad thought it wouldn't be safe to keep her in the wild west so he sent her to Virginia. Psychologically, that had led Rachel to think she had little value and that no one really cared for her. Needless to say her self-esteem was really low. It seemed to aid her self worth when she really had to take care of herself in the wild country.

We can all look forward to more books from Elaine Levine and hopefully it won't be long!


Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Texas Ranger Dad

Debra Clopton
Inspirational Romance
Steeple Hill Books - 2009

When is the romance novel community of writers and publishers—not to mention editors—going to offer us intriguing titles? I’m tired of Cute-Location Brides, Something-or-Other Christmas, Beloved Anything, Any Kind of Viking, and Fill-in-the Blank Promises. One more Texas Anything, and I’m going to throw up (that’s not true, I’m drawn to Texas anything). And look at those covers. They say you can tell a book by its cover. Amen to that. Whatever happened to ugly people. How about a romance entitled The Overweight Bride with Buck Teeth? (She found romance while being drilled by a Texas Dentist).

Oh, the cliché of it.

And so, here we are, squaring off against Texas Ranger Dad. Change the character names, setting, and the number of kids and I’ve read this one at least three other times with a bunch of variations on common sub themes.

And would you believe a town named Mule Hollow? Debra Clopton has made Mule Hollow a real place.

Do you think it’s small and quaint?

All that said (and predictably), Texas Ranger Dad is a contemporary romance that will quench any reader’s needs for believable characterization, a workman-like plot, and a satisfying outcome. (Some romance novel clichés do serve us well. Who wants to spend too much time in this modern fill-in-the-blank world?) And, as with pretty much all of the “Love Inspired” books, the inspiration flows as an integral part of the plot, not as a sharp-edged pause for effect.

The characters in this book have their own problems. Rose Vincent lied to her son, Max, about his father. She never dreamed that he would show up in the same town they had escaped to. How was she going to tell Max? Zane Cantrell, Maxes father, came to Mule Hollow looking for Rose. He felt he had not treated her right when he disappeared when she was in the witness protection program. They had gotten too close and he thought he might be placing her in danger. He had no idea she was pregnant. Rose was bitter over the whole situation.

Max longed for a father. Zane was glad to meet his son and that turned out well. For Rose, it took a lot longer to give up her bitterness and to give Zane a chance. Rose needed to forgive Zane, but she really didn’t want to. He was patient.

Debra Clopton is a multi-awarded writer and after reading several of her books, I know why. She knows her craft and her characters are believable and enjoyable. This is a Love Inspired Inspirational Romance and it’s not preachy but real. This is a writer that out of the 2500+ romances I’ve read stands out as one of the best.

The Widow's Secret

Sara Mitchell
Inspirational Historical Romance
Steeple Hill Books – 2009

Christian romance novels used to be part naïveté, part wooden characters, and lots of hokum, all well seasoned with Preachy Parts and King James prayers. No longer. The “Love Inspired” imprint is changing all that.

Thank God!

Sara Mitchell brings to “The Widow’s Secret” brisk storytelling, suspense, believable situations, and yes, you guessed it, a tall, dark, and well-built hero and a woman who just doesn’t need men.
Her secret?

That’s for you to find out, Dear Reader, but the evidence planted in her purse will take her on the wildest ride the 1890s could serve up, centered on a national underworld plot, dark family mysteries, and counterfeit currency.

However, Mitchell’s story, while fiction, is far from counterfeit with fascinating characters and page-turning high adventure.

Jocelyn Tremayne and Micah MacKenzie have a very slow moving romance. She has no desire to be attached to a man. Her prior experience has caused her to not trust men. Micah has also had prior heart-breaking experience when his first wife died in child-birth and lost the baby too. It still hurt and he feared trying again. Therefore, neither of them wanted to rush into anything. We process pain in several ways. Losing trust is a common response and one we don’t let go of easily.

Jocelyn had lost her faith in God because of her first marriage and the experience she’d had. Micah’s faith was in tact, yet he had more questions since losing his wife and baby.
I had some shaky moments during the suspense of tracking down the underworld characters and building a case against them. Of course, I admit that it doesn’t take much to scare me. I made it, but stayed awake to get through that part.

I’m glad I pushed through the suspense. I wouldn’t have wanted to miss this very moving book. It was well worth the nerves!

Sara Mitchell has been a highly acclaimed author for quite some time. She lives in Virginia with her husband, a retired Air Force officer. They have two grown daughters. Sara has traveled extensively and that has given her books solid settings. I look forward to more books from Sara Mitchell!

Monday, March 23, 2009

The Marshall Takes A Bride

Renee Ryan
Inspirational Historical Romance
Steeple Hill Books – Feb 2009

Marshall Trey Scott fell in love with Katherine Taylor but she came with some baggage; a whole orphanage filled with, you guessed it, Orphans. In order to keep her orphan mayhem in check, Katherine had become a straight-laced disciplinarian, leading Marshall Scott to wonder which Katherine was he really getting, the lovely sweet Katherine or the straight-laced disciplinarian. Maybe it would be safer wrestling the bad guys than coming home to dinner.

Katherine Taylor’s mother was a prostitute. Katherine was also abused and sexually assaulted. She has a general fear of men and certainly doesn’t trust them. She has made herself as “socially acceptable” as possible. She still fears that others see her past when they look at her. This has caused her to fear marriage. She thinks she loves Marshall Scott but then he’s a man. She doesn’t trust him and now she doesn’t trust herself. Obviously, trust issues take a major role.

Marshall Scott is not without his issues. Scott’s pregnant wife was murdered by Ike Hayes. Ike Hayes is still at large and Trey follows up on every lead to find and capture him. Katherine would like Trey to let it go but, he won’t. He is confined by this hate and doesn’t see how it eats away at him. He knows God teaches forgiveness, but he just can’t get there.

Both Katherine and Trey have fairly common hang-ups. They get in ones way and cause much pain. In my practice as a psychotherapist I’ve found them difficult to eradicate. The main difficulty is giving up those irrational beliefs. They’re extremely hard to see by the person who is experiencing them. Once pointed out, however, they can begin to challenge those irrational beliefs by reexamining them and making a new decision.

This is Renee Ryan’s first book for Steeple Hills Love Inspired Historical. She does an admiral job and we look forward to many more!

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Wanted! The Texan

Bobbi Smith
Historical Romance
Leisure Books – 2009

You’re sweet 17 and plenty sharp. That’s good. But, your father just died. That’s bad. But, you inherited your dad’s ranch. That’s good. But, only 70% of it. That’s bad. The other 30% is owned by a gorgeous, tall, dark and handsome Texan. That’s good. But, he used to make his living as a gun fighter. That’s bad.

This kicks off Bobbi Smith’s new novel Wanted! The Texan. True to any good romance novel the sharp 17 year old Philadelphia girl wins the gun fighter’s heart. There was an ongoing dilemma around Josh Grady, the gun fighter, and his expectation that Emmie Ryan, the 17 year old, wouldn’t know anything about running a ranch. He was pleased to know that she had spent summers at the ranch helping her father. He was also pleased to find out that she wasn’t a pampered, spoiled girl. Emmie was pleased to see that Josh was a good foreman and was fair to her.

They weren’t without problems! There were rustlers and others who made it hard to keep the peace. One thing that probably helped was their daily fight to survive in a part of the west that still had problems with Indians and outlaws. They found that dealing with the problems together was much more pleasurable than dealing with them apart.

Bobbi Smith’s books are always a treat! This is no exception! Savor the writing , the characters, and this fast moving story!

Grace Notes - My Opinion

From the time I started school, the instructions were, “When you write a paper give references for your facts. Don’t give your opinion!”. Then came the time to write my dissertation and the instructions changed. Now the rule was to give references for your facts and don’t forget to give your own opinion. What? I didn’t know how to do that. It’s a very uncomfortable thing to do. It’s still an uncomfortable thing to do. But, I keep trying to do it better. Hang in there with me and we’ll make it!

A Cowboy's Heart

Brenda Minton
Inspirational Romance
Steeple Hill Books – Feb 2009

Brenda Minton titled her new book A Cowboy’s Heart. Coming in its love-inspired, larger print edition (with two sets of boots on the front porch), you know who is going to be living happily ever-after. The boots, two dazzling occupants; end of story. What if Minton had named the book a Cowboy’s Liver and replaced the boots with a scotch on the rocks and a daiquiri. I don’t want to know what that might do to the audience of Christian readers. How about A Cowboy’s Navel? Would that suggest that he’s a Navy man? How about A Cowboy’s Elbow? But that would take us back to drinking. Maybe you can’t really tell a book by its cover. But in this case, by merely relying on the name, Brenda Minton, you know you’re in for a treat in spite of the fact that no brawny, good looking cowboy or dazzling damsel in distress graces the cover.

Willow Michaels is ready to run her own life. She raises bucking bulls and has a hearing disability. She’s so sure she can do it, she refuses anyone’s help. She wants to succeed, but she doesn’t want to be always alone. This is a tough place to be. But Brenda Minton in her inimitable style will take care of everything and make it turn out right. This is a good book to relax with and enjoy!

Second Chance Bride

Jane Myers Perrine
Inspirational Historical Romance
Steeple Hill Books – Jan 2009

Central Texas, 1885

What do you do when you’re masquerading as a school teacher and don’t know how to read? Worse yet, you used to be a prostitute and you’re afraid your past is going to catch up with you. That’s the beginning of the problems with which Annie MacAllister has to deal in Jane Myers Perrine’s new novel, Second Chance Bride.

This is a fast moving book with a lot going on. Annie has taken quite a chance to cover up her lack of education and yet she needs to in order to cover up her background as a prostitute. She’s never liked being a prostitute, but her life situation left her no other way to support herself. Psychologically, she hasn’t felt good about herself for a long time. Now, she sees a way to have a new, respectable life. But, it won’t be easy. To her credit, she’s smart and catches on fast.

Sit back and enjoy this book. It will leave you feeling like a winner.

Grace Note - Real People

I like stories about real people dealing with real problems with happy endings! I’ve found that books by Steeple Hill Books meet that criteria. While having a Christian flavor, they aren’t preachy or judgmental. Most often they deal with people who have lost their faith. If you haven’t read one of these books, give them a try. You’ll be glad you did!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Path To Her Heart

Linda Ford
Inspirational Historical Romance
Steeple Hill Books – Jan – 2009

Favor, South Dakota 1934

Can a woman who is a nurse and a man who hates the medical profession find happiness together?

Emma was a nurse. She loved being a nurse but longed to be a wife, and mom. Yet, for some reason, she felt she could never marry. She acted like she didn’t deserve happiness.

I had to wonder why she might have felt that way. Low self esteem is one possibility. A bad experience with a man is another. Obviously, she wasn’t too sure of herself. However, she was very sure that she was an excellent nurse. That was her strength.

Boothe had come to help his aunt with the boarding house. He was a widower with a six year old son, Jessie. Jessie had a deep cut on his arm that needed cleaning and stitches. Emma mentioned that and Boothe became immediately angry. He let it be known in no uncertain terms that he would never let anyone in the medical profession touch his son. It turns out that his wife died from an overdose of quinine. Both a doctor and a nurse were involved in that error.

Boothe’s brother and sister-in-law wanted to adopt Jessie. Boothe was afraid of losing his son. He was still grieving the death of his wife and the possibility of losing his son was more than he could bear. He had lost his faith in medicine, but he needed to care for his son. That was quite a conflict. He felt pressured from all directions and in the process he had lost his faith in God.

I don’t think that Boothe would have reacted the way he did if he hadn’t been faced with so many problems at one time. Plus the problems got worse before they got better. That forced him to make decisions that he would have preferred to ignore. His grief, the depression, the threat of having his son taken away, and the other disasters that kept coming were debilitating to say the least. I had to empathize with him!

We learn from this well-written book how Emma and Boothe deal with their problems. Aren’t we glad that romance novels always have happy endings? You’ll enjoy the journey through this book.

A Family For Luke

Carolyne Aarsen
Inspirational Romance
Steeple Hill Books – Jan – 2009

When I was on page 62 I questioned if I’d make it to the end. I like books that get into the story faster. I still didn’t feel familiar with the characters. On page 100 my feeling was “It’s working too hard to get where it’s going”. On page 150 it started to move at a more rapid pace.

I liked the characters, once I knew them. The problems were real but they managed to avoid them. Janie didn’t trust men. Her experience with marriage was painful and she painted all men with the same brush. She also refused to ask for help no matter how much she needed it. She was overly suspicious.

Luke wanted a family but he found no cooperation. He thought it would be wise to give up but, he didn’t want to. So, he hung in there and was glad that he did.

This author writes good books! I was disappointed with this one.

What do you think?

Monday, February 9, 2009

Heart of Honor

Kat Martin
Historical Romance
Mira Books - 2007

first in trilogy

England 1842

Krista Hart is the publisher of the weekly "Heart to Heart". The primary readers are ladies. Krista is fearless when it comes to speaking her mind. Social reform, while not popular, is one of her favorite venues.

While walking by a side show, she sees a Viking descendent in a cage. She advocates for Leif Draugr's freedom and she is successful. Her father then works with Leif to help him become an English gentleman.

Of course, the trouble doesn't stop there. Leif ends up protecting Krista.

This story smacks of the real probvlems of that time. Kat Martin sweeps you into the story for a very enjoyable ride. Then, you'll be looking for the second book in this trilogy, "Heart of Fire".

Saturday, January 24, 2009

The Making Of A Gentleman

by Ruth Axtell Morren
Historical Romance
Steeple Hill Books – 2008

London, 1812

Florence Hathaway is a volunteer at Newgate Prison. She attends all hangings. Today, Jonah Quinn is to be hanged. Just as the hanging starts, a group of men rush the gallows freeing Jonah Quinn. He takes Florence hostage and escapes.

The following day Florence was released by Jonah. She told him to come to her brother, the curate of a local church, and he could help him.

It was decided that Jonah was a victim of circumstances and not a criminal. The plan to help him was to train him to be a gentleman. This program was hard on everyone. Jonah was still an escaped prisoner.

This is a lively story filled with action, tension, and much faith. Ms. Morren has redeemed herself. This book was far superior to her other book I read. It's a good story and a good read!

The Loner

Geralyn Dawson
Historical Romance
Harlequin – 2008

When Luke Grey was five years old he had a rocking horse named Racer. He had red cowboy boots, a white felt hat, a leather vest and a pistol carved out of oak with an “L” on the handle.

One day the family left East Texas to attend a wedding in Louisiana. He felt they were in danger, probably from outlaws hiding in the trees. His parents never paid any attention when he had those feelings. They didn't this time either.

While fording Brushy Creek in a shallow spot, they were swept away by a flash flood. The family was all killed except Luke. His suspenders had caught on brush that held his head out of the water.

Ten days later, he was found sitting on a log rocking back and forth. He wouldn't say anything but “run Racer, run Racer, run Racer”. He was taken to an orphanage. He still wouldn't talk. When they gave up trying to find out his name. They decided that the “L” on his gun handle stood for “Lucky”.

He grew up and became a range detective. He was good at it. He married and had a daughter. His wife and child were killed in a revenge killing for some crook Luke had brought in.

Could a man who had lost two families still believe he could find love and happiness? He decided he couldn't and he's just have to be a loner. But, our Loner didn't seek counseling to help change his mind.

So then, on his own could he reach another conclusion? That's what this action packed, page turner is about. Get comfortable and enjoy this well written, fast moving book!

The Journey Home

Linda Ford
Inspirational Historical Romance
Steeple Hill Books – August, 2008

South Dakota – 1934

The depression is in full swing and the long drought continues with no end in sight. Kody Douglas is a half-breed who is searching for a place without prejudice.

Charlotte Porter is a young woman waiting for her brother to send for her.
The country is in turmoil and that makes everything more difficult.

Charlotte depends on God and stays close to Him in prayer. Kody's drifted away from God and he's resistant to changing that. Of course there are secrets too.

Kody refused to leave Charlotte alone in a cabin full of dust and with too little food. He insisted that she go with him. That started their adventure.

Kody was overly sensitive about his lack of acceptance. The book mentioned that he wore long braids. Seems like it might have been better if he cut off the braids. He might have blended in better. Of course, he might have been daring people to say anything. Sometimes we don't notice how we feed our own problems.

This book pulls no punches about how bad things were. It had to be dreadful! We can thank the Lord we don't have to go through this frightful time! Stick with it. You'll enjoy it. I'm sure you'll empathize with these people. They had no place to turn except to God.

Siren's Song

Trish Albright
Historical Romance
Leisure Books – 2008


The Stafford family was in the shipping business. Their home office was in Boston. However, they spent a lot of time in England. Alexandra was the only Stafford girl. She seemed to be one with the sea. Yet, all of her luck was not good. Unexplainable things happened to her. Why?

In Morocco, Joshua Leigh, Duke of Worthington, rescued Alexandra from being kidnapped by a white slave trader. Alexandra didn’t give him her correct name. But, she was in his dreams.

Their paths next crossed three years later. They each looked somewhat different and there was no immediate recognition. They set off on an adventure of intrigue and danger.

This book certainly doesn’t lack action! Fortunately it moves right along which helps to ease the tension. A good read that you'll enjoy!

Seaside Cinderella

Anne Schmidt
Inspirational Historical Romance
Steeple Hill – 2008

Nantucket Island

Emma and Colonel Hunter are retired at what had been their summer home on Nantucket Island. They've hired Lucie McNeil to help with the house and cooking but insist that she's not “hired help”.

The Hunter's were a prosperous family but had suffered severe setbacks. They were a couple still deliriously in love. They met just as the Civil War ended. She lived in Charleston, South Carolina and he was a Yankee officer. Their marriage produced one son, Gabriel. He was 29 years old and a businessman in Boston.

Lucie was an Irish immigrant. She and Gabriel seemed to have an immediate attraction to one another. She promptly judged that their backgrounds were too diverse for them to ever be together.

This is a story of family, problems, and a love that can withstand it all through faith, patience and caring. A good read with a feel good ending!

Heart of Fire

Kat Martin
Historical Romance
MIRA Books – 2008

Second in sensual Heart trilogy

Coralee Whitmore is a writer. Her sister drowned and it was called a suicide. She didn't believe it. She suspected the Earl of Tremaine. She went to Castle Tremaine posing as a poor, distant cousin. The adventure begins.

She finds a variety of wrong doing and is in danger. The Earl redeems himself.

This is a nail-biter with danger at every turn. It's also a passionate love story, always enjoyable when written by Kat Martin!

Gabriel's Lady

Charlotte Hubbard
Historical Romance
Leisure Books – 2008

Gabriel Getty, an orphan at eight, adopted by a wonderful family, earned a degree from law school, got an internship with a prestigious law firm, the senior partner has a beautiful daughter, he proposes, she accepts. Her parents, the Bancrofts, built them a home and all looks perfect as the wedding day arrives.

As the first shine of marriage began to fade away, Gabe began to notice how frail Letitia was. Also, she didn't care for sex. And, her mother, an apparent man-hater, spoiled and hovered over Letitia in excess. Gabe, also noticed that Letitia took laudanum with regularity.

Billy Bristol was Gabe's best friend and best man. He and his family had come to the wedding as “Gabe's family”. He was a loving man who loved his wife and babies dearly. His mother and dad were also at the wedding with their three daughters. All three girls, ages 9-13, had crushes on Gabe especially Solace. Of course, to Gabe she was just Billy's kid sister. Gabe even danced with Solace, who was 11. Solace was sad because she planned to grow up and marry Gabe. She thanked Gabe for the dance and cherished the dream material it furnished. She loved horses and wanted to be a trick rider. Billy's family left after the reception to return to their homes some miles west of St. Louis.
Six years later he was at the cemetary for Letitia's graveside service. It brought back memories of when he was eight years old and his parents and sisters were massacred by indians. He was so frightened he couldn't talk for months.

Mrs. Bancroft was hysterical and blamed Gabe for her daughter's death. She said her daughter died because Gabe insisted on having children despite her fragile frame. Gabe felt that he was an outsider and always felt that way around the Bancrofts.

He told Mrs. Bancroft that he was sorry and that he'd be out of their lives by weeks end and that no one had loved Letitia more than he.

Letitia had died an opium addict. She had increased her use when she learned she was pregnant. The thought of losing her 19” waist panicked her. Her mother, the enabler, supplied her with the drugs.

While packing his things, Agatha Vanderbilt, the headmistress of the Academy for Young Ladies, dropped by to offer her condolences. She was upset and outspoken about Mrs. Bancroft's selfish, vicious harang at the cemetery. She told Gabe she was sorry for him! She opened her arms and he rushed into them. He cried and cried. She told him there was a room ready for him at the Academy for as long as he needed it. She even offered him a job teaching at the Academy in the fall. He thanked her and felt love and warmth for the first time in quite awhile.

Gabe got a letter from Billy asking him to come visit him and his family. He also asked him to escort his sister, Grace, to his home where she was going to be governess to his three children. It sounded like just what he needed.

Gabe and Grace arrived by train. Billy picked them up and they talked all the way to Billy's horse ranch. Gabe relaxed and felt surrounded by love and acceptance. He could hardly remember that feeling.

At the house Gabe met Billy's three children – redheads all. Olivia, Owen, and Bernadette. Olivia was bossy, Owen was ornery and Bernadette mute from birth. They all gathered around the dinner table. Owen rushed to sit by Gabe. Everyone settled for the blessing asked by Olivia.

The plate of ham was passed to Grace and about the same time she jumped up saying “oh, my” and backing away from the table as fast as she could. Old Asa grabbed a plate and took the garter snake off the table. Owen was delighted and in trouble. His father invited him behind the barn for a chat after dinner. Gabe loved the normalcy of it all.

Solace was at Billy's ranch to help train the horses. When dinner cleanup was over, Solace got her writing materials and went out to the swing by the lilac bushes. She pulled a letter out of her portfolio and read it again. It was to Sol Juddson, her pen name, from her publisher.
It announced that they would publish all three of her submissions. They included a check and a request for anything else she wrote.

She started a new story. The words just poured out of her pen. She chuckled smugly. Lily might be a princess and Gracie a saint, but she was a writer! No one else knew. It was her secret.

Billy and Gabe went out to look at Billy's operation. It was very impressive. While leaning on a fence, they talked about things that had happened since they'd been together six years ago at Gabe's wedding. They talked about Letitia's death for as long as Gabe could tolerate .

About then, two boys came running out of the barn with Solace with them and Rex, the dog, too. Gabe was very impressed with Solace as a horse trainer. “This is absolutely incredible” he whispered to Billy. Just then a voice from somewhere said, “She's a woman like no other. A woman you could love, Gabe.”

He looked around, but the voice hadn't come from anyone he could see. Billy was right next to him and hadn't heard anything. It felt wrong to have such thoughts about a woman so soon.

Billy called his attention to the trick that Solace was going to do with a gun. He told Gabe he'd be amazed and he was.

After dinner cleanup, everyone gathered back at the table to recite the twenty-third Psalm. They paired off child and adult. Owen picked Gabe fast. Gabe hoped he could get thru it and he did.

Everyone was busy and Gabe felt like he didn't belong. He realized that Solace didn't belong either. Her talents set her apart from Lily and Gracie. Lily and Gracie did not accept her talents and always found fault with her.

He saw the white of the dog and followed him. He found Solace on the swing pushing papers into her portfolio. She talked about this being the time of day when Bernadette painted with her mother in her studio. Solace pulled out a paper with a painting on it and showed it to Gabe. “This is one of Bernadette's paintings.” Gabe couldn't believe it. But Solace reiterated that Bernadette was the artist. And that she was very bright.

Her portfolio fell to the ground and papers scattered everywhere. They both picked up papers and one in Gabe's hand said “Daddy was a Desperado”. He asked about it. She swore him to secrecy and showed him the letter from the publisher.

Gabe's interest in Solace grew. They seemed to be a perfect fit. Enjoy this warm, loving story about grief, pain, forgiveness, understanding, patience, and caring. It's a winner!

Family Of The Heart

Dorothy Clark
Inspirational Historical Romance
Steeple Hill Books – September, 2008

Cincinnati, Ohio – 1838

Sarah Randolph took a job as a nanny for Nora. She came from a wealthy family and didn't need the money, but, she needed a place to grieve. Her fiance had been killed in a storm that took his ship and his life. Sarah was grief stricken and she felt that God had forsaken her.

Clayton Bainbridge was Nora's father. He never referred to her by name. He wanted to never see the child. His wife had died as a result of having Nora and Clayton was not dealing with his grief. He also felt that God had deserted him.

Sarah and Nora formed a bond that fed them both. Sarah worked to make sure that Clayton naturally came across Nora on a daily basis. He fought being close to her but gradually he was drawn to her.

This is a story about grief. Some wise person once said, “He who grieves well lives well.” The people in this book needed to learn to grieve and while they did that their faith was restored. This is a touchng story about deep grief, misplaced blame, forgiveness, and love. Get comfortable and enjoy it!

Duchess By Night

Eloisa James
Historical Romance
Avon Books – 2008


This is a story about titled women, mostly widows, who are tired of their boring lives. They want to do things that are more daring.

Harriet, Duchess of Berrow, is one of these women. She arranges an invitation to an outrageous soiree. She disguises herself as a man and pulls if off quite successfully.

Of course, it's not all that trouble free. This is a tasty, entertaining story that will hold your interest and warm your heart.