Review & Giveaway: The Edge of Belonging by Amanda Cox

THE EDGE OF BELONGING

by AMANDA COX

 
Genre: Christian Contemporary Fiction 
Publisher: Revell
Date of Publication: September 8, 2020
Number of Pages: 400

Scroll down for the giveaway!


When Ivy Rose returns to her hometown to oversee her late grandmother’s estate sale, she soon discovers that the woman left behind more than trinkets and photo framesshe provided a path to the truth behind Ivy’s adoption. Shocked, Ivy seeks clues to her past, but a key piece to the mystery is missing.

Twenty-four years earlier, Harvey James finds an abandoned newborn who gives him a sense of human connection for the first time in his life. His desire to care for the baby runs up against the stark fact that he is homeless. When he becomes entwined with two people seeking to help him find his way, Harvey knows he must keep the baby a secret or risk losing the only person he’s ever loved.

In this dual-timeline story from debut novelist Amanda Cox, the truthboth the search for it and the desire to keep it from otherstakes center stage as Ivy and Harvey grapple with love, loss, and letting go.

 
When I picked up The Edge of Belonging by Amanda Cox, I knew that I was in for an emotional ride. Any book about family secrets will do that to a person, but the idea that your true origin story has been kept from you for over 20 years… I couldn’t imagine it. I also couldn’t figure out why Ivy’s adoptive family didn’t just tell her where she came from. But I guess there wouldn’t be much of a story if they had just laid it all out!
I have read many novels that alternate between characters and/or time periods, but Cox uses the technique masterfully. The chapter lengths are perfect with nice little cliffhangers that make you groan a little because you want to keep going. But then the revelations that occur with each new chapter, flipping between the two timelines, are so riveting as the big picture is slowly but surely shaded in with deliberate strokes and increasing pressure.
I admire the framework that Cox must have laid out for this story to take shape. As connections are realized between the different characters, it feels like we aren’t getting any closer to finding out why the details of Ivy’s adoption are not out in the open. When it finally dawned on me that I would just have to read patiently to find the answer, I was able to sit back and ponder Ivy’s hangups.
For someone who is so very loved and supported, I was confused by how Ivy could fall into such an abusive relationship with Seth. I know that situation could happen to anyone, but I feel like people more often are easy prey when they have had to look for love and approval during their formative years. As I learned more about Ivy’s origin story, the concept of nature vs nurture came to mind. But also, hearing how the people in Ivy’s small town speculated about her backstory within earshot of her probably had a lot to do with it as well.
I really enjoyed this book and how it was such an active read despite the unrushed pace. I recommend it to anyone who enjoys a feel good story that truly lifts the spirit. If you’re not into Christian books, don’t be put off by the labeling. Cox doesn’t hit you over the head with the Bible and the characters are very real without the usual Christian filters.

Amanda Cox is a blogger and a curriculum developer for a national nonprofit youth leadership organization, but her first love is communicating through story. 

 
She holds a bachelor’s degree in Bible and theology and a master’s degree in professional counseling. Her studies and her interactions with hurting families over a decade have allowed her to create multidimensional characters that connect emotionally with readers. 
 
Amanda lives in Tennessee with her husband and their three children.
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THREE WINNERS 
1st: Copy of The Edge of Belonging + Fern Tote Bag 
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+ $10 Barnes and Noble Gift Card 
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Blitz & Giveaway: A Vote Is a Powerful Thing by Catherine Stier

A VOTE IS A 
POWERFUL THING
By CATHERINE STIER
Illustrated by Courtney Dawson
 
Children’s Picture Book / American Historical Fiction / Elections and Voting 
Ages 4-7
Date of Publication: September 1, 2020
Number of Pages: 32
 
Scroll down for the giveaway!
Callie knows there’s a presidential election coming up, and people will soon vote to decide the country’s leader. 
 
Her class is having an election too, about an issue that affects them all–the class field trip. Should they choose the cookie factory or the wilderness park? 
 
Join Callie as she campaigns for the wilderness park she loves and learns how people have organized, marched, and protested for the right to vote. And find out how a vote–even just one vote–can make a difference!
PRAISE FOR A VOTE IS A POWERFUL THING
“Gets the job done.” ―Kirkus Reviews 
 
“A galvanizing read for children interested in politics or parents who hope to instill such interests.” ―Publishers Weekly
 
CLICK TO PURCHASE

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

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patriotic socks, button, and pencils; plus a $15 gift card to The Twig Book Shop.
 
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Top Ten & Giveaway: Nacho’s Nachos by Sandra Nickel

NACHO’S NACHOS
The Story Behind the 
World’s Favorite Snack
by
Sandra Nickel
Illustrated by 
Oliver Dominguez

Genre: Picture Book / Nonfiction / Food History / Latinx Interest 
Publisher: Lee & Low Books
Publication Date: August 11, 2020
Number of Pages: 32
 Scroll down for the giveaway!

NACHO’S NACHOS is the deliciously true story about how nachos were invented—about what happened when a regular customer asked Ignacio “Nacho” Anaya for something new, and there were no chefs in the kitchen. 

 
2020 is the eightieth anniversary of the invention, and Oliver Dominguez’s illustrations transport us back to the border of the Rio Grande in 1940, when Nacho’s quick thinking resulted in a snack now eaten everywhere from Texas to Paris to Hong Kong!
CLICK TO PURCHASE:

Nachos! Nachos! Nachos!
By Sandra Nickel, author of Nacho’s Nachos

Nachos are everywhere! Ignacio Anaya’s original three-ingredient recipe is my favorite, but I’m constantly running across nacho ideas that I would love to try. At least one bite.

Some of the nachos on my list . . .

• Fried Chicken Nachos https://www.chicagotribune.com/dining/ct-eat-this-2017-honey-butter-20170611-story.html

• Greek Salad Nachos http://www.eatingwell.com/recipe/261440/greek-salad-nachos/

• Kung Pao Chicken Nachos https://healthynibblesandbits.com/kung-pao-chicken-nachos/

• Pizza Nachos https://www.delish.com/cooking/recipe-ideas/recipes/a55664/pizza-nachos-recipe/

• Reuben Nachos https://www.allrecipes.com/recipe/278282/reuben-nachos/

• Hot Dog Nachos https://www.foodandwine.com/recipes/hot-dog-nachos

• 50-Ingredient Nachos https://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/epis-50-ingredient-super-bowl-nacho

• Apple Pie Nachos https://www.food.com/recipe/apple-pie-nachos-243293#activity-feed

• S’mores Nachos https://www.thedailymeal.com/coors-field-smores-nachos-recipe

• And last but not least, Tex-Mex Breakfast Waffle Nachos https://www.bonappetit.com/recipe/tex-mex-breakfast-waffle-nachos

Are you tempted? If you’d rather stay with the original, you can find the recipe I put together for Nacho’s Nachos HERE.

And, if I’ve missed a must-try nacho, please let me know!

Sandra Nickel writes books and poetry for young readers. In 2020 and 2021, she has three books coming out: Nacho’s Nachos: The Story Behind the World’s Favorite Snack (Lee & Low), The Stuff Between the Stars: How Vera Rubin Discovered Most of the Universe (Abrams), and Breaking Through the Clouds: The Sometimes Turbulent Life of Meteorologist Joanne Simpson (Abrams). Sandra’s poetry can be found in SCOOP magazine. 

 
Sandra holds an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts and has presented workshops on writing for children and young adults throughout Europe and the United States. Sandra has twice won the Katherine Paterson Prize for picture books.
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Review & Giveaway: The Secret of You and Me by Melissa Lenhardt

THE SECRET OF YOU AND ME
by
MELISSA LENHARDT
Genre: Women’s Fiction / Romance 
Publisher:  Graydon House (Harlequin)
Date of Publication: August 4, 2020

Number of Pages: 352Scroll down for the giveaway!

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

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

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

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

PRAISE FOR THE SECRET OF YOU AND ME:

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


“Lenhardt convinces in her portrayal of the conflict between desire and control.” —Publishers Weekly
CLICK TO PURCHASE
(Personalized/signed copies available through Interabang)

A portion of royalties are going to the It Gets Better Project
(Click for more details.)

Review

The Secret of You and Me by Meslissa Lenhardt has been described by the author herself as a modern retelling of Jane Austen’s Persuasion. I read Persuasion years ago and had to read a synopsis to refresh my memory. My takeaway? I saw some parallels, but Lenhardt’s story felt more tragic to me.

Persuasion was aptly named because that was the method used to rip Anne away from the man she planned to marry. If The Secret of You and Me was renamed to a single word description of how Sophie and Nora were separated, it would be something brutal like Slander or Intimidate. Living my whole life in Texas as part of a deeply religious Asian family, I could relate to the “my way or the highway” parenting that left relationships and confidences in shambles. There are moments that I look back and wonder how things would be different if I had been braver. But seeing the choices that Nora and Sophie made and how their lives panned out showed me that there are different ways of being brave. There also seems to be very a thin line between being perceived as a martyr (in the overdramatic sense, not the literal) and being selfish. Nonetheless, this book left me with this: Life is the series of choices we make and it is never too late to make new ones as long as we are still alive.

While the perspective shifts between Nora and Sophie, I got the distinct feeling that Nora was the main character. Reading the author’s acknowledgements at the end seemed to verify that for me. However, I never felt like I truly knew Nora. And I don’t know if it’s because we don’t get as much detail about what her life has been like the past 18 years. With Sophie, you meet the people she’s been around who have influenced her decisions – namely her mother, her husband, and her daughter. We meet the important people in Nora’s life, but the secrecy and the walls that are up are denser than those in Sophie’s circle. Because of that difference, I felt more for Sophie and was firmly in her corner as the two sparred for the upper hand in their relationship.

Lenhardt’s characterizations were a nice mix of qualities that are common in other books or movies, but different enough that I had several different actors in mind for each role while the story played out like a movie in my head. It is the multifaceted characters like Sophie and Charlie in particular that would be interesting to cast because of the changes in their character (or at least our perception of them) that occurs in the story. I think that their daughter, Logan, is also a very interesting person and I would enjoy seeing her character on the big screen.

While definitely a love story, this book was not the typical romance novel for me. Most romances are light and fluffy, like a yeast donut, while this one was like a mochi donut. Not cloyingly sweet, but super dense and much to chew on. What would you give up to be with your soul mate? Don’t wax poetic. Literally list everything and everyone that means anything to you, and then ask yourself if you could give that all up. That is how deep and heavy this book is.

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

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

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Review & Giveaway: The Black Midnight by Kathleen Y’Barbo

THE BLACK MIDNIGHT
by
Kathleen Y’Barbo

Genre: Fiction / Historical Mystery / True Crime 
Publisher: Barbour Books
Publication Date: August 1, 2020
Number of Pages: 257
 Scroll down for the giveaway!

Two killers, two detectives, and a menace called The Black Midnight may be the death of both of them.
Three years before Jack the Ripper began his murderous spree on the streets of London, a killer struck fear into the hearts of the citizens of Austin, Texas. Some believe one man is responsible for both, while others lay the blame at the feet of someone close to the queen herself. With suspicion falling on Her Majesty’s family and Scotland Yard at a loss as to who the Ripper might be, Queen Victoria summons her great-granddaughter, Alice Anne von Wettin, a former Pinkerton agent who worked the unsolved Austin murders case, and orders her to discreetly form a team to look into the London matter. One man is essential to her team, and she doesn’t want to consider taking on this challenge without his expertise. Unfortunately, he’s back in Texas, with a bad attitude and a new profession. 

The prospect of a second chance at catching the man who terrorized Austin three years ago just might entice Isaiah Joplin out of his comfortable life as an Austin lawyer, even if it does mean working with the Queen’s great-granddaughter again. If his theories are right, they’ll find the Midnight Assassin and, by default, the Ripper. If they’re wrong, he and Annie are in a bigger mess than the one the lady detective left behind when she departed Austin under cover of darkness three years ago. 
 
Can the unlikely pair find the truth of who is behind the murders before they are drawn into the killer’s deadly game? From Texas to London, the story navigates the fine line between truth and fiction as Annie and Isaiah ultimately find the hunters have become the hunted.


PRAISE for The Black Midnight:

“Warning! Don’t read this historical romantic suspense at night!” DiAnn Mills, Expect an Adventure 
 
“Impeccably researched with sparkling dialogue and riveting history, Kathleen Y’Barbo’s The Black Midnight puts a pair of star-crossed Pinkerton detectives on the trail of a Texas killer who may also be the notorious Jack the Ripper. Very highly recommended and sure to keep you reading well past your bedtime!!” Colleen Thompson, RITA-nominated author of Deadly Texas Summer 
 
“You’re in for a wild ride as Kathleen Y’Barbo takes you on a story through some of America and Britain’s grisliest murders and somehow manages to weave in a delicious romance. From Texas to London, the ties that bind may be more linked than you previously believed. Settle in for a novel of suspense and romancejust be sure to look over your shoulder every now and then!” Jaime Jo Wright, 2018 Christy Award-winning author of The House on Foster Hill and 2020 Inspy Award-nominated The Curse of Misty Wayfair
 
 
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Review

The Black Midnight by Kathleen Y’Barbo is one of the most balanced and flawlessly written historical fiction books I have ever read. And that is quite an accomplishment when you consider that it is loosely framed about the infamous Jack the Ripper case. It can be difficult to suspend the reader’s disbelief or incorporate fictional characters around such a case, even with the holes in evidence.

As a murderino (a fan of the My Favorite Murder podcast), I was already familiar with the various theories about Jack the Ripper but completely forgot about the possible connection to murders in Austin, Texas. Having lived in Austin while I attended the University of Texas at Austin, it was thrilling to read about the city and the university from an imagined 19th century point of view. Beyond the obvious horse and buggy references, we have historic landmarks like the Driskill Hotel breaking ground and the capitol under construction. I always get a thrill from sartorial details that solidify the time period: pin watches, bowler hats, and sprigged patterned frocks.

Y’Barbo delivers a smart mystery and a touching love story all in one. She sets up the “present” time and jumps to the past to explain the tense encounter between the ex-Pinkerton partners. Y’Barbo also shifts seamlessly from Annie’s perspective to Isaiah’s, and even more smoothly transitions from the gumshoe to the heartstring moments.

As much as I enjoyed Annie and Isaiah, my favorite characters in the book were Queen Victoria and the housekeeper Miss Hattie. I couldn’t picture anyone’s face clearly in my head, but the dialogue and gumption of those two characters in particular made me smile every time. Normally, the lack of physical descriptions would bother me, but this novel contained minute details like tics and differentiated speech patterns that kept my attention focused on more important things.

I think that anyone who has an interest in historical fiction and unsolved mysteries would enjoy this story. Even though it is not categorized as a romance, I think that fans of the historical romance genre would like this one as well. I look forward to reading more from this author.

Bestselling author Kathleen Y’Barbo is a multiple Carol Award and RITA nominee and author of more than eighty books, with almost two million in print. A tenth-generation Texan and certified paralegal, she has been nominated for a Career Achievement Award as well a Reader’s Choice Award and several Top Picks by Romantic Times magazine.

Kathleen celebrated her fifteenth year as a published author by receiving the Romantic Times Inspirational Romance Book of the Year Award for Sadie’s Secret, a Secret Lives of Will Tucker novel. Her novels celebrate life, love, and the Lord—and whenever she can manage it, her home state of Texas. Recent releases include The Pirate Bride, River of Life, and My Heart Belongs in Galveston, Texas.


 
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Promo & Giveaway: A Delightful Little Book on Aging by Stephanie Raffelock

A DELIGHTFUL LITTLE BOOK ON AGING
by
Stephanie Raffelock

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

Scroll down for the giveaway!

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

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


PRAISE for A Delightful Little Book on Aging:

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

The Dominant Gene and the Gracious Ladies
of the Ranch Readers Book Club
Guest Post by Stephanie Raffelock

A friend who will share dessert with you is the very best kind of friend.

For most of my adult life I have been a carrot-juice-swilling, veggie-chomping, sugar-eschewing fitness buff. I’ve made good choices. I value health. I stood strong and somewhat smugly in the light of that truth. And then I moved to Texas.

Texas women are belles. That means they are beautiful, elegant, smart, and gracious—all in one package. I’ve never met women like them anywhere. And they all have a certain gene. The more Texan they are, the more dominant the gene. The gene causes a cross between mothering, welcoming, sisterhood, and baking. Oh my God, the baking!

Early on in my new Austin life, I was invited into a book group. I’ve been in groups before. Writing groups, book groups, bang-on-a-drum women’s groups. But nothing in my past could have prepared me for the change that this group would thrust upon me with its room full of belles all seeking expression for their dominant gene.

I’m talking about Texas hospitality. I was warmly welcomed into a sisterhood that conducts its book group in a way that would put Martha Stewart to shame. And they make it look easy. First, a light dinner is served. It’s perfect. Everything is arranged in an inviting way, and even though the food is being dished out as guests arrive, the kitchen remains mysteriously clean and sparkly.

Only after the meal is consumed and wine is poured is there talk of the book, but the talk is not an afterthought. The conversations are smart and emotionally intelligent. The women are savvy and sensitively honest, relating themes from the book to their own lives, quick to praise the author’s efforts and equally quick to point out where the story let them down. Getting to know women from my new community through the discussion of books is about as good as it gets.

Once the book has been discussed, that genetic snip raises itself up, and the hostess brings out dessert.

Please keep in mind my earlier statement about “sugar-eschewing.” The first time dessert was served at a meeting, I wanted to be polite, and so I took a little bite. There are no store-bought desserts in this group. The gene to which I refer causes these women to concoct an alchemical decadence of creamy, sweet, tart, crunchy luxury with powdered sugar sprinkled on top. Like a siren calling to the mariner, I am moved to another bite, as I try making deals with myself: “Okay, just one more bite, and that’s all.” Ha!

And then came the second book group. Dessert was brought out—some kind of made-from-scratch layered cake with a Swiss buttercream frosting—and my mouth began to water. Are you kidding me? Who bakes like this? I knew I was hooked when I began to moan. “Oh, God. Ohhhhhh. Oh, this is so good. So good. Yes, yes, yes.” I’ll have what she’s having takes on a new meaning.

We have no control over the events in our life, only our attitudes. So here’s my attitude: “Bring it on!”

My life is changing before my eyes. I think about building a shrine to Paula Deen on my front porch. I dream of the ingredients these women keep in their cupboards. I fantasize about being in their kitchens and licking out the remains of chocolate, vanilla, and raspberry cream from stacks of bowls.

Last night, I wanted to throw myself into a tray of banana pudding, so I can’t really be held responsible for what escaped my lips as I finished the last bite of pudding. In front of these warm, kind, gracious ladies, the words just wouldn’t stay in my head and without my knowing it, escaped into the space. “This is so fucking good,” I moaned, unaware that I had pierced the veil between thought and Did I just say that?

But no one judged. They laughed, so I don’t think I’ve been thrown out of the group for bad behavior just yet. I am not a belle, more like a street urchin who has probably been exposed to one too many Fitbits and too much kale.

I’ll get in my ten thousand steps today. I’ll prepare vegetables and protein for dinner. I’ll drink a protein smoothie for breakfast . . . with fiber. I know that for the next month, if I have dessert at all, it will be fresh berries with coconut milk and a little Stevia. Then next month, it will happen again. I’ll go to the book group. I’ll adore all those wonderful women. I’ll participate in the smart book discussion, and when dessert is served, I’ll greedily take my portion, and hope that I can behave.

My life is different now. My design on the pure and healthy diet has met its match. The sweet taste of homemade dessert served up on a bed of Southern graciousness is too difficult for me to resist. The truth is that I want to fill a bathtub with their chocolate torts, vanilla cakes, and banana puddings, inserting myself naked into the center of it. This is probably an indication that I need serious therapy.

Or maybe just that I love living in Texas.

 

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

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Review & Giveaway: The Republic of Jack by Jeffrey Kerr

THE REPUBLIC OF JACK
by

Jeffrey Kerr

Political Satire / Texas Humor / Texas Fiction

Publisher: Independently published
Date of Publication: April 7, 2020
Number of Pages: 253

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Jack Cowherd will do anything to win the Texas governorship, even flirt with twenty-first-century secessionists in the Texas Patriot Party. Victory is achieved, but only at the cost of Texas being tossed out of the United States. The Republic of Texas lives again! And Jack is president. 
 
Friend and political advisor Tasha Longoria has long warned Jack of the dangers of his demagoguery. Now when he tries to halt the madness, the worst comes to pass: he is impeached, arrested, and charged with treason, the penalty for which is death.
 
Jack has but one chance to save his beloved Texas, not to mention his life. But success depends upon help from the one person least likely to give it . . . Tasha.


PRAISE for The Republic of Jack:

“Jeff Kerr’s Republic of Jack is a ribald, raucous farce of Texas politics that often exposes the self-serving cynicism boiling beneath the surface of public debate.”

—Texas political reporter R.G. Ratcliffe 


“Jeffrey Kerr’s ideal Texas politician—a man truly for these bitter times—bites off more than any enabler could ever chew in this romp of a new novel, The Republic of Jack! It’s time for readers to discover this writer’s range, intelligence, humor, and, ultimately, compassion. Or maybe you should just go and see his movie or read his catalog of nonfiction titles! In any case, it’s Jeff Kerr’s time.”

David Marion Wilkinson, author of Not Between Brothers and co-author of One Ranger
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Review

I think that with the chaos going on within my beloved country and especially within the great state of Texas, The Republic of Jack by Jeffrey Kerr could not have come at a better time. It pokes fun at the misguided and misunderstood ideas that allow terrible things like misogyny and racism to run rampant. And it is my fervent hope that even just one person whose hatred for our country, a particular race or nationality, sexual orientation, religion, or gender will read this book and realize how ridiculous their hate is. Surprisingly, this book opened my eyes to the outlandish things that politicians will say just to garner favor with a large group of voters. It gives me a little bit of hope that a particularly uncouth political figure is just trying to keep a group happy… but I’m not holding my breath.

Kerr has a clear picture of each main player in this story and paints each one so well. I particularly liked the different varieties of politicians: super driven and handsome men, the super ugly, overweight or nearly dead men, and then the few women who were usually old or not good-looking, but usually both. Behind the flurry of assistants who help these people reach their political aspirations, you have the languid trophy wives who consume whole bottles of expensive booze and play amorous musical chairs.

Jack is the prize lion in the middle of this circus. The desire to be a winner is the ringmaster cracking the whip, urging him to do things he doesn’t want to do just to win the crowd over. But unlike the lion, Jack has the ability to free himself from the situation without mauling everyone in sight. His journey is comical at times but I could feel the gravity behind certain situations. This is fiction but I still feel for the human that could truly go through something similar.

If you are looking for an outrageous read, you came to the right place. Don’t let my touchy feely analysis put you off. I found myself smirking and guffawing throughout most of this book. There were a few tried and true jokes, but there were plenty that I had never heard before that I found hilarious. I found this whole book to be a delightful look at what could be if everyone took everything too far. I don’t know if it was the author’s intent, but I found it to be a great balance between comedy and a cautionary tale.

Who should read this book? Anyone old enough to handle some sexually explicit situations and crude language. Who would get the biggest kick? Texans, of course, followed by other citizens of the U. S. of A. But I think that the other countries around the world who are watching Texas and the U.S. with wide eyes right now would probably get a kick out of it as well.

Jeffrey Kerr is the author of three nonfiction books on Texas history, a historical novel, and, most recently, The Republic of Jack, a satirical novel that imagines Texas as an independent country in the twenty-first century. His history of Austin’s founding, Seat of Empire: The Embattled Birth of Austin, Texas, was named one of sixty essential books about Texas by Michael Barnes of the Austin American-Statesman. Kerr also co-wrote and co-produced the documentary film, The Last of the Moonlight Towers, and a feature film, the psychological thriller Writer’s Block. He lives in Austin, Texas, with his wife and two dogs.
 

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Review & Giveaway: What Momma Left Behind by Cindy K. Sproles

WHAT MOMMA LEFT BEHIND
by

Cindy K. SprolesChristian Historical Fiction

Publisher: Revell
Date of Publication: June 2, 2020
Number of Pages: 256

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Worie Dressar is seventeen years old when influenza and typhoid ravage her Appalachian Mountain community in 1877, leaving behind a growing number of orphaned children with no way to care for themselves. Worie’s mother has been secretly feeding a number of these little ones on Sourwood Mountain. But when she dies suddenly, Worie is left to figure out why and how she was caring for them.

 

Plagued with two good-for-nothing brothers—one greedy and the other a drunkard—Worie fights to save her home and the orphaned children now in her begrudging care. Along the way, she will discover the beauty of unconditional love and the power of forgiveness as she cares for all of Momma’s children.
Storyteller and popular speaker Cindy K. Sproles pens a tender novel full of sacrifice, heartache, and courage in the face of overwhelming obstacles.
 
PRAISE for What Momma Left Behind: 


“Worie Dressar isn’t your typical heroine
she’s tough, she’s opinionated, and she’s loud. But at her core she wants to love and be lovedjust like the rest of us. Cindy’s special talent is in telling about life the way it ishard parts and allwhile preserving the beauty and wonder of love shining through even the darkest night.” Sarah Loudin Thomas, Christy Award-nominated author of Miracle in a Dry Season

“Seldom does a story move me to tears and encourage me to examine my life. A powerful story. Highly recommended.” DiAnn Mills, author of Fatal Strike

“Cindy Sproles has a way of placing readers inside the Blue Ridge Mountains. Her ability to transport readers into her Appalachian adventures is nothing short of genius. Leaving us hanging on every word, Cindy writes with feeling and incredible historical knowledge. This book is a must-read!” LaTan Murphy, writer, speaker, author of Courageous Women of the Bible

 

Review

What Momma Left Behind by Cindy K. Sproles is the kind of book that I will reread when I need to feel inspired and find inner strength or peace. If you were to judge this book by its cover, you would probably assume that this was another run of the mill historical fiction with a fluffy love story. I wouldn’t blame you because the cover is gorgeous and fits right in with that type of book. And the description on the back cover also does not prepare you for the harrowing story contained within.

We lay eyes on Worie Dressar at the lowest point of her young, hard life. Sproles points out several times that her characters have had to grow up quickly because of their environment. But the opening scene is something that someone even near the end of his or her life would have a hard time coping with. Physically, we see the characters in this novel carry on because nothing would get done if they threw themselves down and mourned for days on end. But Sproles lets us in on their inner turmoil with subtle descriptions and inner dialogue since the story is told from Worie’s perspective. And I suppose it dawned on me that this was not a romance novel when the author did not waste words on the physical appearance of the characters. As a reader who craves love stories in even action or horror genres, this was a big jarring to me. But it made sense given how pragmatic Worie is.

Sproles’ authenticity is consistent in every way, from the characters’ dialect (even in Worie’s narrative point of view) to the description of daily life and the norms of that society. And it is because of that authenticity that it never registered to me that this was a Christian book as well. I suppose because the Bible was the one book that everyone in America read if they knew how to read, I just assumed that folks from that time period quoted the good book frequently. Also, Christian books are not the only ones that teach us lessons in faith and forgiveness.

Maybe you’re not into Christian books. Fear not, because What Momma Left Behind does not read like one. The villain in this novel is among the worst human beings I have ever read in fiction. This is not your cloyingly sweet novel with a picture perfect happy ending; nor does it thump you over the head with the Bible unnecessarily. There are quotes from scripture, but they’re used in a way like if Dan Brown wrote his cryptic clues down and floated them in a bottle. So basically, they have a purpose beyond getting some heathens to read the Word of God.

I thought I was going to read a soothing story of a young woman who teaches orphans to hunt and farm the land. That is not what this story is. It is so much better and more real. I recommend this book to people who like to read realistic historical fiction. Not to mention, a book about the effects of an influenza and typhoid pandemic in America is quite timely during COVID-19.

 

Cindy K. Sproles is the cofounder of Christian Devotions Ministries. An author, storyteller, and popular speaker, Cindy teaches at writers’ conferences across the country and directs the Asheville Christian Writers Conference in North Carolina. Editor of ChristianDevotions.us and managing editor for Straight Street Books and SonRise Devotionals, Cindy has a BA in business and journalism and lives in the mountains of East Tennessee with her family. 

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Excerpt & Giveaway: All Things Left Wild by James Wade

ALL THINGS LEFT WILD
by
James Wade

Genre: Adventure / Rural Fiction / Coming of Age
Publisher: Blackstone Publishing
Publication Date: June 16, 2020
Number of Pages: 304 pages

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After an attempted horse theft goes tragically wrong, sixteen-year-old Caleb Bentley is on the run with his mean-spirited older brother across the American Southwest at the turn of the twentieth century. Caleb’s moral compass and inner courage will be tested as they travel the harsh terrain and encounter those who have carved out a life there, for good or ill. 

Wealthy and bookish Randall Dawson, out of place in this rugged and violent country, is begrudgingly chasing after the Bentley brothers. With little sense of how to survive, much less how to take his revenge, Randall meets Charlotte, a woman experienced in the deadly ways of life in the West. Together they navigate the murky values of vigilante justice.


Powerful and atmospheric, lyrical and fast-paced, All Things Left Wild is a coming-of-age for one man, a midlife odyssey for the other, and an illustration of the violence and corruption prevalent in our fast-expanding country. It artfully sketches the magnificence of the American West as mirrored in the human soul.

PRAISE for All Things Left Wild:
“A debut full of atmosphere and awe. Wade gives emotional depth to his dust-covered characters and creates an image of the American West that is harsh and unforgiving, but — like All Things Left Wild — not without hope.” — Texas Literary Hall of Fame member Sarah Bird, Daughter of a Daughter of a Queen

“James Wade has delivered a McCarthy-esque odyssey with an Elmore Leonard ear for dialogue. All Things Left Wild moves like a coyote across this cracked-earth landscape—relentlessly paced and ambitiously hungry.” — Edgar Award finalist David Joy, When These Mountains Burn

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Excerpt

 

An excerpt from the prologue of All Things Left Wild

by James Wade

Two barn swallows hopped and danced between thin branches in a grove of tangled salt cedar, never getting too close or too far from one another. It was as if their movements were circumscribed by some choreography they were born knowing, and should either decide to quit the routine, the other would surely die of incertitude, and the world would become in an instant a less balanced place.

I watched them, turning away from the sad scene in front of me. The cemetery wasn’t much to look at, unless you were needing to look at wood crosses and chewed-up dirt. There were a few rocks. Somebody had tried to set up a little fence around the graves and their markers, but it didn’t take and now there were old posts lying about on the ground like bodies waiting to be buried themselves.

Fall was late in coming, but the morning air was crisp, and the baked brown grass held onto the dew as long as it could, fighting the rising sun over water rights. The land sloped down into town and the trail up the hill was covered in greasewood and flowered yucca, and the preacher had spoken of the beauty of the morning and the wonder of eternity and all that it held. Beyond the plots the trail gave out, like some woebegone spirit too tired to continue, and there the sumac grew thick and would often times mantle the valley with its perfumed scent. Higher still, the earth pitched itself toward the sky and borne upon it were the juniper and pine of the high country and out from amongst them he rode, atop the old bay horse he’d given to her when they married.

I saw him there on the ridge. He sat his horse like a drunk, slightly slumped and tilting off to one side. He was a drunk. The preacher spoke to the part about life everlasting, but he was too far away to hear. He was too far away for anything.

He had on a black coat and he’d taken off his hat and there he sat in reverence and in sobriety. I turned back to the preacher, and when he was finished I scanned the ridge again and there was nothing and no one and the service had ended.

I smoothed my hair back and pulled my hat down firm over top it and the few dozen people shrouded in black began to all move as one, trudging toward the cheap pine coffin in a manner withdrawn, sending up muffled prayers, wondering about rain and war and if it was too late for breakfast. They nodded at us or gave half-hearted smiles or both. There were hands on our shoulders and pats on our backs. Some offered kind words. Others offered food. We watched them go.

“He was settin’ up there on that ridge,” Shelby said. “Just past the tree line.”

“I know,” I told him.

“You seen him?”

“I did.”

“Well?” he asked.

“Well what?”

“What do you think?”

“What do I think about what?”

“Nothing, I guess.” Shelby walked toward the line of mourners as they filed down the hill, and he stopped midway and turned and stared for a while at the tree line, then walked on.

I stood and watched as the gravediggers lowered her down and filled in the dirt, and when they were finished I stood some more. I didn’t want to go back to the house yet, not even to change clothes.

I walked out from the graveyard and followed a well-trod deer path to Red Creek and sat in the grass. The morning sky glowed golden behind a bank of blue-gray clouds, a quiet caution to the world’s awakening.

The sun was distancing itself from the horizon line, but the clouds had yet to burn off, leaving the eastern half of the world to be filtered through an orange tint. The creek moved slowly, matching the pace of the morning, the water shining pale pink, and on its surface, a bleeding reflection of the world.

A cat-squirrel duo on the far side of the creek were hard at play with some game I could not follow. They barked at one another or at me or at nothing, then in fits and starts they hopped from one tree to the next, clinging to the bark with their arms and legs splayed in an almost sacrificial manner.

A siege of herons passed overhead. The long-legged shorebirds flew beneath the lowest clouds and I saw them and they me and it would be months before they returned north, passing again along the same sky.

I watched them glide across the morning, unencumbered by the changing of the times, following the flight of their fathers and their fathers’ fathers, all the while unburdened by such things as doubt and desire. Participating by blood. Born into decisions made long ago and born knowing, but not knowing why. I envied the certitude of their existence. I longed for the conviction of those like my mother who, despite all to the contrary, could maintain a faith in the way of things, holding tight to a structured and resolute reading of every breath until her last.

Instead, at a moment I couldn’t recall, or perhaps in a series of built-upon moments, I accepted ambivalence and unease, and there inside of me they did remain in some dogged cellar of the soul, determined that I should never know peace or certainty again.

 

 

James Wade lives and writes in Austin, Texas, with his wife and daughter. He has had twenty short stories published in various literary magazines and journals. He is the winner of the Writers’ League of Texas Manuscript Contest and a finalist of the Tethered by Letters Short Fiction Contest. All Things Left Wild is his debut novel.
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Review & Giveaway: Storms of Malhado by Maria Elena Sandovici

STORMS OF MALHADO
by
MARIA ELENA SANDOVICI
Genre: Historical Fiction / Ghosts
Publisher: Independently Published
Date of Publication: March 26, 2020
Number of Pages: 252

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Galveston Island, Texas, September 2008 Katie doesn’t believe in ghosts. And she certainly doesn’t believe the rumors that her family’s home is haunted, despite its tragic history: two young women who lived there in different eras died in hurricanesone during Hurricane Carla in 1961, one during the Great Storm of 1900, the greatest natural disaster to befall the United States. But that was the past, a fact Katie reminds herself of when she returns to Galveston to await Hurricane Ike with her parents and boyfriend in her family’s Broadway mansion, hoping to rekindle her flailing relationship.

While Katie is not afraid of the ghost stories she’s heard, she is afraid of the monster storm approaching. As even die-hard Islanders evacuate, her fears grow—fear of the looming hurricane, fear that she’s talentless as a painter, fear that her relationship with her boyfriend is already over. As Katie struggles against her fears, the past whispers to her of the women who died there and the haunting similarities they share with Katie’s own life. 


Through three different timelines, Storms of Malhado weaves a story of Galveston’s past, underscoring its danger and isolation, as well as its remarkable resilience, and its capacity for both nostalgia and reinvention. Full of contradictions, at once insular and open to the world, Galveston Island is as much a character of the novel as Katie, Suzanne, Betty, their lovers, and their confidantes.
 
PRAISE FOR STORMS OF MALHADO:


“Taking place entirely on a beautifully moody Galveston Island, Ms. Sandovici weaves three simultaneous stories with ease. With a timeless tale, ethereal language, and complicated characters, readers will be entranced by this modern ghost story. How many times can the past repeat itself? How do we recognize people through generations? The author tackles this topic amid a backdrop of violent nature and intangible dreamscapes.” 

—Courtney Brandt, author of The Queen of England: Coronation, Grand Tour, Ascension

”Three women, three great storms, and one house, haunted by forbidden love and frustrated ambition. Get ready to be swept away by Sandovici’s foray into Galveston Island’s tempestuous history in this tale of lives intertwined across time.”
—Donna Dechen Birdwell, author of Not Knowing

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Review

Storms of Malhado is the second book that I have ready by Maria Elena Sandovici. I read Lost Path to Solitude almost exactly four years ago and remember being very impressed with Sandovici’s excellent storytelling and her talent for writing natural dialogue. Those two traits are present in this latest book and Sandovici has certainly honed her craft to create such a fascinating story.

As a Houston native (a far north suburbanite, at the least) I was a little annoyed with Katie’s decision to leave Houston in order to weather the storm of Hurricane Ike in Galveston of all places. When Ike was about to hit, distant relatives of mine left Galveston to hunker down with my family, so Katie’s reverse evacuation didn’t make sense to me. But alas, there would be no story if she acted rationally. The story spans three different timelines and takes place in the same mansion on the Island.

I recall wishing with Sandovici’s previous book that she had used character names at the beginning of chapters when she switched POV because it sometimes became confusing. I was happy to see that she gave us the year and a short description of what was happening at each break in this book. I also was delighted to see that her characters had names indicative of the times that they lived in. Names like Desmond and Esmeralda feel distinctly 1900s while names such as Betty and Edna are perfect for the 1960s. Details like those are among the many that Sandovici thoroughly researched so that the reader could be transported without the rude shock of glaring inaccuracies.

Authenticity is obviously important to Sandovici as her vivid details of Galveston across the timeline ring true when compared to the photographs I have viewed and the stories that I have read in museums and historical landmarks. The relationships between the characters within each era and spanning across the three time periods are intricate and bursting with color. Which makes sense when you take into account that the main character and the author herself are artists.

I don’t want to go into specifics and ruin the ending for you but I felt like the point where everything merged felt a little too perfect, for lack of a better word. When I have read about similar phenomena in real life accounts or fiction, there usually isn’t so much clarity, especially when multiple people are involved. There, I will zip my lips now and let you see for yourself.

I think that this book would resound with practically any reader, but I think that it would truly affect those who are into the supernatural or very realistic historical fiction (the kind that borders on nonfiction when it comes to details). This is not your fluffy historical fiction, which you might have guessed since it takes place during times of devastation. However, I like how it leaves you feeling hopeful, like seeing a rainbow after the storm.

 

Maria Elena Sandovici is a full-time writer, artist, and gallery owner living in Houston, Texas. After obtaining a Ph.D. in political science from the State University of New York at Binghamton in 2005, her curiosity led her to Texas, where she taught at Lamar University for fourteen years. She felt attracted to Galveston Island from her first visit and lived there part-time for three years before her artistic career took her to Houston. 

 
Sandovici is a 2008 graduate of John Ross Palmer’s Escapist Mentorship Program, a program that teaches artists business skills. She resigned from her tenured academic position in December 2018 and opened her own private gallery space. Her previous works of fiction are Dogs with Bagels, Stray Dogs and Lonely Beaches, Lost Path to Solitude, The Adventures of Miss Vulpe, and Lone Wolf. She is also the author of Stop and Smell the Garbage, a volume of poetry in the voice of her dog, Holly Golightly. You can follow her daily adventures on her blog HaveWatercolorsWillTravel.blog.

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