In this Texas-sized romance novella collection, courting couples, decades apart, leave a permanent mark of their love by carving their initials into the same oak’s bark.
Regina Jennings: “Broken Limbs, Mended Hearts“
When a young man from her past returns and upends their small town with a new invention, schoolteacher Bella Eden is reminded of the heartbreak she suffered years ago under the old oak tree. When her job is on the line, can she trust the man who disrupted her life to help her fight for a brighter future?
Karen Witemeyer: “Inn for a Surprise“
Determined to keep love alive for others, Phoebe Woodward builds an inn that caters to couples. When her father sends a property manager to help make it a success, she finds her whimsical vision thwarted by his stodgy practicality. Finding the right blend of romance and reality is a challenge, and her spinster heart may be in for a surprise.
Amanda Dykes: “From Roots to Sky“
WWII airman Luke Hampstead found comfort in letters from the sister of a lost compatriot. When he visits Texas to thank her, he discovers her constructing a project with surprising ties to his letters . . . and that she herself is even more surprising. While a promising opportunity awaits him elsewhere, will what they’ve shared be enough to give their future flight?
Nicole Deese: “Heartwood“
Abby Brookshire’s world is turned upside down when the historic tree she’s strived to preserve as the head groundskeeper at the Kissing Tree Inn is put in danger of removal. Making matters worse, the only way to protect its legacy is to partner with the man she’s been ignoring since he left town years ago. Will she have the courage to move on from the past and start a new beginning?
I have read a few collections of love stories based in Texas before, but none of them hold a candle to the work in The Kissing Tree by Karen Witemeyer, Regina Jennings, Amanda Dykes, and Nicole Deese. While those other anthologies had a connection with each other because of the time period or place, The Kissing Tree is a truly unified piece that stretches across generations through the love for and longevity of a magnificent oak tree.
Jenning’s story – Broken Limbs, Mended Hearts – is a lesson in forgiveness and trust. Bethany House could not have picked a better author to voice the charm and innocence of romance in 1868. Although Bella Eden struck me as a little modern at times, she still possessed equal parts southern belle and pioneer woman, which are traits that I adore and respect very much. Of the four stories in this book, this one is a tie for my favorite because of the characters. Jennings created larger than life characters with fantastic obstacles, making it difficult to choose whose side to take. Even when the stakes are high, Jennings writes with a levity that assures you that true love will conquer all.
Witemeyer’s story – Inn for a Surprise – took me a while to get into. For reasons that I can’t explain, it took me a few chapters to take a shine to Phoebe and Barnabas. Maybe it was the obvious tension between the two characters that kept me from relaxing into the story. At any rate, when we start seeing the softer side of Phoebe and Barnabas finally drops his perfect façade, I really enjoyed the interaction between the two and how a competition made way to teamwork. Witemeyer’s description of the Kissing Tree Inn’s conception is a joy to read and provides a lovely backstory and backdrop for the stories that follow. And as a side note, I especially appreciated that the cover artist clearly took notes from this adorable story when designing the cover art.
Amanda Dykes’ story – From Roots to Sky – is my other favorite in this book. There is something about a relationship that grows between two people without them even realizing what has happened. I loved how a connection forged by love for Hannah’s brother (who is Luke’s best friend) defies tragedy and distance, and manifests itself beautifully. Like any good love story entangled in secrets, Dykes keeps us in suspense over why Luke can’t just tell Hannah why he really came to Oak Springs. Of the four stories, this one felt the most complete and could be fleshed out into a lovely movie that I would gladly watch.
Nicole Deese’s story – Heartwood – is the only one that doesn’t paint the heroine as an oddball spinster. There is no timestamp on this one, but I’m guessing that the story takes place in present day. So I guess it makes sense that even if Abby were 40 and single (I’m assuming she is not), there would be no stigma over being unmarried and childless. Again, Bethany House could not have picked a better author to voice the practical and modern story between two old lovers being reunited by conflict. In more ways than one, this story wraps up the other three very nicely as everything comes full circle. Intended or not, there are parallels between the first story and this one, and the symmetry of it is quite lovely.
I give kudos to the authors and editors for the amazing job of tying these stories together. It gave me a little thrill every time I realized the connections between each story. The Kissing Tree really is a fantastic book comprised of four exceptional romance novellas.
#1 Reader’s Favorite Christian Romance Author of 2019 by Family Fiction
Magazine, bestselling author Karen Witemeyer offers warmhearted historical romance with a flair for humor, feisty heroines,
and swoon-worthy Texas heroes. She makes her home in Abilene, Texas, with her
husband and three children.
Regina Jennings is a graduate of Oklahoma
Baptist University, with a degree in English and a minor in history. She’s the
winner of the National Readers’ Choice Award, a two-time Golden Quill finalist, and a finalist for the Oklahoma Book of the Year Award. Regina has worked at
the Mustang News and at First Baptist Church of Mustang, along
with time at the Oklahoma National Stockyards and various livestock shows. She
lives outside of Oklahoma City with her husband and four children.
Amanda Dykes is a drinker of tea, dweller of redemption, and spinner of hope-filled tales who spends most days chasing wonder and words with her family. She’s a former English teacher and the author of Whose Waves These Are, a Booklist 2019 Top Ten Romance debut, as well as three novellas.
Nicole Deese’s eight humorous, heartfelt, and hope-filled novels include the 2017 Carol Award-winning A Season to Love. Her 2018 release, A New Shade of Summer, was a finalist in the RITA Awards, Carol Awards, and INSPY Awards. Both of these books are from her bestselling Love in Lenox series. When she’s not working on her next contemporary romance, she can usually be found reading one by a window overlooking the inspiring beauty of the Pacific Northwest. She lives in small-town Idaho with her happily-ever-after hubby, two rambunctious sons, and princess daughter with the heart of a warrior.
Genre: YA / Fantasy / Magical Realism / Sword & Sorcery
Publisher: Book Liftoff
Publication Date: August 4, 2020
Number of Pages: 302 pages
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New Life, New World, New Problems Alexandria Duvalier’s new life on the magical world of Meredith takes a shattering twist when her father, the Duke of Wheel, pledges her hand in marriage to the cruel lord, Rodric Regret. Desperate to escape his clutches, Alex flees the city with the help of her friend, Tell Tollet, a handsome lieutenant in the city guard. But their freedom is short-lived when Rodric’s brutal brother, Stefan, joins in the pursuit.
Hotheaded Prince Tal, heir to the throne of Meredith, has but one goal: kill the Dark Queen and destroy the Veil, the enchanted barrier which has ensnared generations of his people. He discovers a breach in the magical wall and leads an army through, bent on completing his mission.
When an unusual and potent magic calls to him, he follows its trail back to Alex. Thrown together by circumstances and chased across the wilderness by the ruthless Lord Stefan, Tal and Alex are drawn to each other by the greatest magic of all—love. Now they just need to stay alive . . .
Escape from Wheel by Michael Scott Clifton is one of those rare instances where book two outshines the first. Don’t get me wrong, The Open Portal, was a beautifully written book, but it could get so grotesque at times that I needed to stop for a moment and collect myself. Not to say that the sequel is all sunshine and daisies, but Clifton strikes a perfect balance of evil and suspense with love and hope.
In the first book, I wasn’t a huge fan of the characters’ strange names, but this volume had me wishing that Clifton took them a bit further. While the reader wouldn’t mistake Tell for Tal, the names were so similar that I expected Alex to slip up at least once. But perhaps our heroine is too clever to make such a rookie mistake.
I love how the author portrays this young woman with so much duality: a girl from our world and time transported to this ancient fantasy world, yet fitting in very well; a girl who researches and plots her own way but must rely upon a handsome man to help her stay safe. Alex might be a damsel in distress at times, but she puts up a hell of a fight and has hidden talents up her sleeve as well.
It’s been a while since I’ve read a good fantasy book, so one thing that stood out to me was Clifton’s vivid descriptions of, well, everything. While fiction books generally rely on dialogue to propel a story, fantasy books truly build worlds in your mind, and Clifton is a master architect and painter in one. You see the lay of the land, the buildings that tower above or crumble before you, and the colorful delights of the court set and fantastical creatures in nature. As someone who loves reading about food, I swooned over the descriptions of feast fare, as well as the roughing it recipes.
While the violence was my least favorite part of the previous book, I actually enjoyed the battles in this one. The gore wasn’t excessive and I particularly liked the cunning of various traps that were set up to help even out the unlikeliest of odds. The pace was just right, until I realized that I was super invested in the story and there were only a few more pages left. Alas, it appears I will have to wait again for the next installment of Conquest of the Veil.
I recommend this book to all you fantasy lovers out there. Definitely read the first book, The Open Portal, which has a George R.R. Martin vibe to it, and then follow up with this book that has an Arthurian legend meets Hunger Games groove to it.
Multi-award-winning author Michael Scott Clifton was a longtime public educator as a teacher, coach, and administrator. Professional credits include articles published in the Texas Study of Secondary Education Magazine. He currently lives in Mount Pleasant, Texas, with his wife, Melanie, and family cat. An avid gardener, reader, and movie junkie, Michael enjoys all kinds of book and movie genres. His books contain aspects of all the genres he enjoys: action, adventure, magic, fantasy, and romance.
His fantasy novels, The Janus Witch and The Open Portal, received five-star reviews from the prestigious Readers’ Favorite Book Reviews, and he has been a finalist in a number of short-story contests, with “Edges of Gray” winning first place in the Texas Authors Contest.
The Open Portal, winner ofthe Feathered Quill Book Finalist Award, launches the fantasy book series, Conquest of the Veil. Michael’s latest release, Escape From Wheel, is book two in this fantasy series. Visit Michael’s official website, or google him @authormsclifton.
Irene Foxglove wishes she were a French chef. Henrietta James, her assistant, knows she is nothing more than a small-time TV chef on a local Chicago channel. And yet when Irene is threatened, Henny tries desperately to save her, wishing always that “Madame” would tell her the truth—about her marriage, her spoiled daughter, her days in France, the man who threatens her. Henny’s best friend, the gay guy who lives next door, teases her, encourages her—and maybe loves her from afar. Murder, kidnapping, and some French gossip complicate this mystery, set in Chicago and redolent with the aroma of fine food. Recipes included.
PRAISE FOR SAVING IRENE:
“A nicely convoluted murder mystery and a glorification of America’s diverse cuisines, played out against the attractions of a lovingly drawn Chicago.”—Fred Erisman, In Their Own Words: Forgotten Women Pilots of Early Aviation
“You’ll find yourself cheering for Henny James as she works beyond her job description as prep assistant to save her boss, Irene Foxglove, glamorous local French-ish TV chef.”—Kaye George, Deadly Sweet Tooth (Vintage Sweets Mysteries Book 2)
“Get lost in the beauty of Chicago and the intrigue of a Texas girl making her way in the world . . . You won’t see the end coming.”—Mary Dulle, avid cozy fan
After an award-winning career writing historical fiction about women of the nineteenth-century American West, Judy Alter turned her attention to contemporary cozy mysteries: the Kelly O’Connell Mysteries and Blue Plate Café Mysteries. Her avocation is cooking, and she is the author of Cooking My Way Through Life with Kids and Books, Gourmet on a Hot Plate, and Texas is Chili Country.
Born in Chicago, she has made her home in Fort Worth for over fifty years. Judy is also a proud Scot, a member of Clan MacBean. One trip to the Highlands convinced her that is where her heart is, and she longs to write a novel set in Scotland.
Judy is an active member of Sisters in Crime, Guppies, Story Circle Network, Women Writing the West, and the Texas Institute of Letters. When she is not writing, she is busy with seven grandchildren and a lively poodle/border collie cross.
Unique, Famous, & Historic Graves in the Lone Star State
(Cemetery Tales Book 1)
Genre: Nonfiction / Texana / History / Texas Travel
Publisher: Castle Azle Press
Date of Publication: August 15, 2020
Number of Pages: 250 pages
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Explore the cemeteries of Texas with Tui Snider as she reveals overlooked history in these fascinating open-air museums.
Along the way, you’ll meet fascinating characters, including a whistleblower who died in suspicious circumstances, an oilman who added a phone line to his mausoleum, and the events that caused two “frenemies” to be chained together in death.
I was very excited to get my hands on 6 Feet Under Texas: Unique, Famous, & Historic Graves in the Lone Star State by Tui Snider for two reasons. Reason one, I loved Paranormal Texas – Snider’s writing style is so fun to read and you can really tell that she did her homework. Reason two, I’m too much of a weenie to actually go to haunted places, but I can handle visiting graves in broad daylight.
Although the subject material has changed, Snider has not. She still writes like that fun friend who shares the best stories at every party. And these stories – not matter how fantastical they seem- are not pulled out of thin air. She will give you websites and books to reference, and encourages you to fact check her or share your own theories and findings.
The gravesites are organized alphabetically by the city they are located in and each chapter is preceded by a simple Texas map with a star on the featured location. Snider picked a lot of cities that I’ve never heard of, but I hope to someday stop at some of them on my next road trip. I really appreciated the variety of graves that she selected – from fun stories like a space alien in Aurora, to reverent ones from historic times, to more recent tragedies like the namesake of the Amber Alert – Snider approaches each story with respect and aims to give us the most accurate information possible. If she hit a dead end or had multiple theories that are yet to be proven, she tells us.
In true guidebook fashion, Snider gives us the address, website if available, and markers to go by. As someone who had to track down a famous writer’s grave for creative writing eons ago, I am a big fan of the markers and photos of significant landmarks that help the readers locate the graves. Speaking of photos, I really wish that they had been printed in color. “Graves in color?” you might ask. Not all of the photos are gravestones. There’s a huge stamp mural that I would have loved to see in color and some interesting structures with details that are lost in black and white.
Despite the array of stories told, some even intertwining to great effect, I finished this book wishing there was more. It turns out that COVID-19 threw a wrench into Snider’s tour across Texas. But on the upside, we will be getting a volume two! Be sure to let Snider know on social media if there is anything in particular that you want her to check out.
The timing of this book couldn’t have been better with Halloween just around the corner. I recommend this book to people who like history, travel, and quirky books.
Tui Snider is an author, speaker, photographer, YouTuber, podcast host, and musician who researches historic cemeteries and symbolism, offbeat Texas travel, overlooked history, and haunted lore. As she puts it, “I used to write fiction–but then I moved to Texas!”
Snider’s best-selling books include Understanding Cemetery Symbols, 100 Things to Do in Dallas-Fort Worth Before You Die, Paranormal Texas, and many more. Snider has several books in progress and enjoys connecting with readers all over the globe through social media, her weekly newsletter, and website: TuiSnider.com.