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Review & Giveaway: Gone to Dallas by Laurie Moore-Moore


GONE TO DALLAS:
THE STOREKEEPER
1856 – 1861

by
LAURIE MOORE – MOORE
Genre: Historical Fiction / Texas Pioneers / Civil War
Publisher: Goat Mountain Press
Date of Publication: October 4, 2021
Number of Pages: 348 pages 
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Sara’s husband was a disappointment in life, but she had to admit he was a handsome corpse.
Climb aboard an 1856 Dallas-bound wagon train and join a plucky female protagonist for the journey of a lifetime in Laurie Moore-Moore’s richly entertaining new book, Gone to Dallas, The Storekeeper 1856-1861. Far from your average historical novel or western, Gone to Dallas is a compelling tale of migration, betrayal, death and dreams—peppered with real people, places, and events. With a cast of interesting characters and more bumps and hazards than a wagon trail, Gone to Dallas tells the unforgettable story of a formidable frontier woman in the context of true Texas history.
It had seemed so romantic when Morgan Darnell courted Sara in Tennessee, finally convincing her they should marry and join an 1856 “Gone to Texas” wagon train traveling along the “Trail of Tears,” through Indian territory, and across the Red River into Texas.
In a twist of fate, Sara arrives in Dallas a 19-year-old widow, armed with plenty of pluck, and determined to open a general store in the tiny settlement of log cabins on the Trinity River. Standing in her way as a young woman alone are a host of challenges. Can Sara (with the help of her friends) pull herself up by the bootstraps and overcome uncertainty, vandalism, threats, and even being shot?
Follow Sara as she strives to create her store while living Dallas’ true history — from the beginnings of La Réunion (the European colony across the Trinity) to a mud and muck circus, a grand ball and the mighty fire that burns Dallas to the ground. Dallas is a challenging place, especially with the Civil War looming.
Even with the friendship of a retired Texas Ranger and Dallas’ most important citizen — another woman — is Sara strong enough to meet the challenge? The risks are high. Failure means being destitute in Dallas!
In Gone to Dallas, The Storekeeper 1856-1861, author Laurie Moore-Moore spins a page-turner of a tale salted with historically accurate Texas events and populated with real characters. It’s Portis’ True Grit meets Texas history.
READER PRAISE FOR GONE TO DALLAS:
“Creative and captivating…five stars!”
“An unforgettable journey…superb writing.”
“I was hooked at the very first sentence.”
“Lovely work of historical fiction…can’t wait for the sequel.”
“Brilliant!”
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Review

Gone to Dallas by Laurie Moore-Moore surprised me in all the right ways. I was expecting a lighthearted, romantic Texan tale of a young widow who opens a cute shop and finds love among the quirky townspeople of a newly established Dallas. Instead, it was an often heart-wrenching journey of a young woman who persevered despite many setbacks.

The book begins much like the old computer game, Oregon Trail. Sara and her new husband have to buy supplies and balance them carefully in a covered wagon so that they can ford streams and rivers safely as they make their way to Dallas. Life lessons are learned and several lives are lost, but Sara keeps her head up with the aim to make her dreams into reality. The author goes into great detail about the conditions of the town, the particulars of claiming land, and what is needed in order to set up a new business. Those were things that I wished to know more about when reading similar novels, so I absorbed all of the information eagerly.

Moore-Moore has a knack for breathing life into characters, endearing them to you instantly. But while you are able to identify who can be trusted and who should be avoided rather quickly, the author is quite skilled at taking a sharp turn into a totally unexpected, yet completely plausible, series of events. I appreciated the thought put into including important pieces of history, even the unsavory bits, in order to serve the reader with a story that is quite robust.

I, too, married a man who didn’t turn out to be who he said he was. As a result, I am turning a new chapter in my life, much like Sara did. This book was exactly what I needed to read at this moment. If you love historical fiction or romance, you will enjoy this book. If you’re someone like me who is looking for hope and inspiration, you will love this book. I can’t wait to read the next installment of the series.

From the author: “My husband, Roger, and I have been blessed with many adventures in life—from trekking across India’s Thar desert on a camel (and sleeping in the sand on our camel blankets) to repeating marriage vows in a remote Maasi village in Kenya (my dowery was one cow and one goat). My favorite adventure? As a fifth generation Texan, it is discovering more and more Texas history and writing about it!
We live in Dallas, Texas but sneak away when possible, to a mountain-top cabin overlooking a lake in former Indian Territory (the Oklahoma Ozark Mountains) The cabin is unique—there is a nine foot chainsaw bear in our entry hall. The house was built around it. Never thought I’d own a piece of chainsaw art, much less a nine-foot bear. Life is full of surprises. . . just like a good historical novel.”
Laurie Moore-Moore is a retired entrepreneur who has built and sold multiple businesses and served on the Board of Directors of an international corporation.
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Review & Giveaway: Holding on Loosely by Dana Knox Wright

HOLDING ON LOOSELY

by
DANA KNOX WRIGHT
Genre: Narrative Nonfiction / Memoir / Self Help
Publisher: Carpenter’s Son / Clovercroft Publishing
Date of Publication: August 24, 2021
Number of Pages: 208 pages
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Helicopter parents. Control freaks. Perfectionists. Intolerants. Over-consumers. Social media junkies. We all fit in there somewhere. Read one woman’s stories of clinging, turning loose, and becoming free.

We are overly busy helicopter parents, control freaks, perfectionists, intolerants, over-consumers and social media junkies–who worry, fear, laugh less, and always want more. In the midst of it, we wonder what it would feel like to open our hands and turn loose of all of it.

In HOLDING ON LOOSELY: Opening My Hands, Lightening My Load, and Seeing Something Else, author Dana Knox Wright tells stories of one who is hardwired to cling. To her children when they asked for a blessing to go. To someone else’s ideas, when she didn’t trust her own. She held on to prejudice when she would tell you she didn’t. She shut down for days while clinging to fear. She clung to youthfulness as if what would come next couldn’t be her life’s cherry on top.

In a particular season of her life, she recognized her bent to possess, to keep, to hold tightly, and to control was completely contrary to Jesus’ example. This is one woman’s history of holding on and her stories of turning loose–stories of the gentle and firm, humorous and heartbreaking ways God led her to turn loose. It is living minimally from the inside out.

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Review

Holding on Loosely by Dana Knox Wright couldn’t have come at a better time in my life. A whole book filled with meaningful stories about letting go. Letting go of material things, old beliefs and behaviors, and even people. Ironically, I am clinging so tightly to those stories about losing people because of the place I am in currently. In the wake of a divorce, I’ve lost my last grandparent and the best friend that I ever had. I chose to let go of my husband, I had no choice about losing my grandmother, and by acting childish, I lost a dear friend.

Wright’s words are a balm to my wounds, knowing that maybe years from now, I can reflect on these losses with sage-like clarity. Because I can tell you that at this moment, I am hurting so badly and it often feels like I can’t catch my breath. The optimism in these pages gives me hope that time will ease the pain and that I can learn to open my hands and let things and people go. Let that butterfly rise into the sun, hold more sand in my open hands, that sort of thing.

Perhaps if I wasn’t disillusioned with Christianity at the moment, I could feel something other than bitterness with the occasional dash of sadness. Wright is frank about the times that fellow Christians have wounded her or others, and I wish that I was that secure in my beliefs to act the same. If she says it in the book, I missed it, but I think that the key to letting go is often forgiveness. Not always, but I think it often is the answer. Forgiving someone for their wrongdoing, even if that person is yourself. Maybe especially if that person is yourself.

This book is for anyone who is struggling with change. While Wright does include stories from her childhood and adolescence, I think that this book is really aimed at more seasoned readers.

Dana Knox Wright began letting go of fear at fifty. It’s the decade where, in an odd twist, Sandra Bullock asked for her autograph—the decade she began hiking to places with seriously wild animals, rafting in crazy rivers and eating wild blackberries with only mild concern rabid foxes eat from the plants, too. After a long career in radio voiceover, she found a passion for spreading goodness and living to the full. She has offered readers encouragement, hope and sisterhood for almost ten years through her essays published on her blog. Dana holds a degree in Journalism from The University of Texas at Austin and is the author of Saving Stories: Afternoons with Darrell (2017). She is the mother of three adult children and three grandchildren and currently lives in a small river town in the Texas Hill Country with her husband and an English Mastiff named Pearl.

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Review & Giveaway: Once Upon a Camel by Kathi Appelt

ONCE UPON A CAMEL
by Kathi Appelt
Categories: Middle Grade Fiction / Historical / Friendship / Ages 8-12
Publisher: Atheneum / Caitlyn Dlouhy Books
Pub Date: September 7, 2021
Pages: 336 pages

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Zada is a camel with a treasure trove of stories to tell. She’s won camel races for the royal Pasha of Smyrna, crossed treacherous oceans to new land, led army missions with her best camel friend by her side, and outsmarted a far too pompous mountain lion. But those stories were from before.
Now, Zada wanders the desert as the last camel in Texas. But she’s not alone. Two tiny kestrel chicks are nestled in the fluff of fur between her ears—kee-killy-keeing for their missing parents—and a dust storm the size of a mountain is taking Zada on one more grand adventure. And it could lead to this achy old camel’s most brilliant story yet.

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Review

Once Upon a Camel by Kathi Appelt is a heartfelt story with beautiful illustrations by Eric Rohmann. It is a delightful mix of prose and adorable puns, as well as a tale of adventure and true-blue friendship. What could have easily just been the journey of a camel traversing a Texas desert with two baby birds on her head, Appelt has painted a lush tale of immigration from Turkey to West Texas. She envelopes the reader’s every sense in her description of the sights, sounds, and smells of each location.

Appelt also deftly slips in educational tidbits quite effortlessly (i.e., historical facts, the evolution of a species, etc.) without being distracting. There are even links in the back of the book for anyone who wants to learn more about camels and West Texas. While I didn’t need it personally, I appreciate that she also placed a glossary in the back of the book to define the Turkish, Latin, and French phrases used throughout. I feel that Appelt does an excellent job of providing context clues so that young readers can surmise the definition of an unfamiliar word or phrase. She provides a fun way for children to practice the various reading skills that are taught in school.

This book is targeted towards children in grades 3-7, but I think that it could even be used in the upper grade levels because of how much substance resides within the pages. I hope that I don’t ruin the story for anyone, but I feel like it is a commentary on issues such as identity, gender roles, prejudice, self-esteem, class systems, and I’m sure that I’m missing many more. I would also definitely recommend that this book be included in children’s literature courses at the college level.

Kathi Appelt is the author of the Newbery Honoree, National Book Award finalist, and bestselling The Underneath as well as the National Book Award Finalist The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp, Maybe a Fox (with Alison McGhee), Keeper, and many picture books including Counting Crows and Mogie, the Heart of the House. She lives in College Station, Texas, with her husband and five gifted and talented cats.

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Review & Giveaway: Rio Bonito by Preston Lewis

RIO BONITO
The Three Rivers Trilogy, Book 2
By PRESTON LEWIS
Categories: Western / Historical Fiction
Publisher: Five Star Publishing
Pub Date: August 18, 2021
Pages: 336 pages
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With Lincoln County teetering on the edge of lawless turmoil, small rancher Wes Bracken avoids taking sides, but his goal is complicated by his devotion to what he sees as justice and by his friendship with William H. Bonney, who’s developing a reputation as Billy the Kid.

As Lincoln County devolves into explosive violence, Bracken must skirt the edge of the law to guarantee the survival of his family, his spread, and his dream. But dangers abound from both factions for a man refusing to take sides. Before the Lincoln County War culminates on the banks of the Rio Bonito during a five-day shootout in Lincoln, Bracken is accused of being both a vigilante and a rustler. As the law stands idly by, Bracken’s ranch is torched, and his wife is assaulted by the notorious outlaw Jesse Evans. Survival trumps vengeance, though, as Bracken tries to outlast the dueling factions aimed at destroying him.

At every turn Bracken must counter the devious ploys of both factions and fight against lawmen and a court system skewed to protect the powerful and politically connected. Against overwhelming odds, Bracken challenges the wicked forces arrayed against him in hopes of a better life for himself, for his family, and for New Mexico Territory. And throughout it all, Bracken stands in the growing shadow of his sometime pal, Billy the Kid.

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Review
Rio Bonito by Preston Lewis is the third book that I have read by this author. Given how much I enjoyed two of his other books, I knew that I would be in for a wild ride. Even though I had not read the first book in this Three Rivers Trilogy, I feel like Lewis did an excellent job of bringing the reader up to speed. I quickly felt like I knew Wes Bracken and admired his devotion to his wife and stepson, as well as his best friend and partner Jace Cousins.

To be completely honest, I was waiting for the punchline for a few chapters because the two H.H. Lomax books that I read were these historical reimaginings softened by some slapstick comedy. But at some point it finally dawned on me that I was reading a pretty serious story about a man just trying to live as straight as possible in a town run by outlaws.

To say that things are complicated would be a severe understatement. In order to protect his family and the friends that he cares about, Bracken often has to resort to criminal activity himself in the name of justice. When the law is doled out by men easily swayed by money or power, how do you define justice? And who is really the keeper and enforcer of it? I don’t know if the final installment will answer these questions, but I do know that it will be an exciting and interesting story nonetheless.

I am a huge fan of bringing in historical figures into fiction, so you can bet that I was delighted to see Billy the Kid in this book. The Kid’s charm and bucktooth grin were pretty much the only comedy in the story, but they were replaced with something very grave and dangerous by the end. The transformation would be startling if not for the harrowing turn of events that Lewis unravels at a perfect pace. I truly look forward to seeing what happens next and you can bet that I will backtrack and read the first book in the series beforehand.

Preston Lewis is the Spur Award-winning author of 40 westerns, historical novels, juvenile books and memoirs. He has received national awards for his novels, articles, short stories and humor.

In 2021 he was inducted into the Texas Institute of Letters for his literary accomplishments. Lewis is past president of Western Writers of America and the West Texas Historical Association.

His historical novel Blood of Texas on the Texas Revolution earned a Spur Award as did his True West article on the Battle of Yellow House Canyon. He developed the Memoirs of H.H. Lomax series, which includes two Spur finalists and a Will Rogers Gold Medallion Award for western humor for his novel Bluster’s Last Stand on the battle of Little Big Horn. His comic western The Fleecing of Fort Griffin and two of his YA novels have won Elmer Kelton Awards for best creative work on West Texas from the West Texas Historical Association.

He began his writing career working for Texas daily newspapers in Abilene, Waco, Orange and Lubbock before going into university administration. During his 35-year career in higher education, he directed communications and marketing offices at Texas Tech University, Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center and Angelo State University.

Lewis holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Baylor University and master’s degrees from Ohio State in journalism and Angelo State in history. He lives in San Angelo with his wife, Harriet.


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Review & Giveaway: Creatrix Rising by Stephanie Raffelock

CREATRIX RISING: UNLOCKING THE POWER
OF MIDLIFE WOMEN
By Stephanie Raffelock
Categories: Nonfiction / Self Help Memoir
Publisher: She Writes Press
Pub Date: August 24, 2021
Pages:176 Pages
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From the author of the award-winning book A Delightful Little Book on Aging comes a new self-help memoir Creatrix Rising: Unlocking the Power of Midlife Women. In her new book, Stephanie Raffelock liberates mold-defying midlife women, tired of the oft-inaccurate characterization of the “old crone,” to amplify the resounding strength within.

Ever since Eve was banned from the garden, women have endured the oftentimes painful and inaccurate definitions foisted upon them by the patriarchy. Maiden, mother, and crone, representing the three stages assigned to a woman’s life cycle, have been the limiting categories of both ancient and modern (neo-pagan) mythology. And one label in particular rankles: crone. The word conjures a wizened hag—useless for the most part, marginalized by appearance and ability.

None of us has ever truly fit the old-crone image, and for today’s midlife women, a new archetype is being birthed: the Creatrix.

In Creatrix Rising, Raffelock lays out—through personal stories and essays—the highlights of the past fifty years, in which women have gone from a quiet strength to a resounding voice. She invites us along on her own transformational journey by providing probing questions for reflection so that we can flesh out and bring to life this new archetype within ourselves. If what the Dalai Lama has predicted—that women will save the world—proves true, then the Creatrix will for certain be out front, leading the pack.

PRAISE FOR CREATRIX RISING:

“The perfect topic at the perfect time, Stephanie Raffelock’s self-help memoir, Creatrix Rising, identifies a new archetype, the Creatrix, that transcends the old archetype of Crone. Her stories and insights about how far women have come is nothing short of inspirational. A must-read for any woman who wants to embrace the strength and creativity of midlife.” -Marci Shimoff, #1 New York Times best-selling author of Happy for No Reason and Chicken Soup for the Women’s Soul

“Poetic and philosophical, Creatrix Rising will inspire readers to claim the courage and confidence that already lives inside of them. An intimate story of transformation, of journeying through life on your own terms without apology.”
Richard Blanco, 2013 Presidential Inaugural Poet and author of How to Love a Country

“The new archetype Stephanie Raffelock assigns to midlife women underscores the assets and wisdom older women bring to our culture and to the greater good. Creatrix Rising is an affirmation and celebration of the feminine story taking place in leadership and creativity throughout our country.”
Gabby Reese, volleyball legend, Nike’s first female spokeswoman, and New York Times best-selling author
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Review

To be completely honest, I have no idea where to begin when describing the effect that Creatrix Rising by Stephanie Raffelock has had on me. I can tell you that my initial thoughts were: (1) pretty cover, clearly a book on female empowerment; (2) Creatrix – that’s a cool word; and (3) Unlocking the Power of Midlife Women – I’m almost to midlife, so let’s do this!

I’m going to say some things that seem completely contradictory, but I hope that you will stay with me. This book was everything that I expected from it yet so much more at the same time. I figured that this book would be written from the perspective of an older and wiser woman with the aim to motivate middle-aged women to fulfill their hidden potential. I was curious about this potential, so I dived in looking for these answers. What I found was something different and, dare I say, better.

It could be a coincidence, but I think that the universe has been working in mysterious ways for me lately. Today, my brother told me about a Harvard study which stated that females pass down mitochondria to only their female offspring. Which prompted my mother to add that people who claim to be Jewish are only really Jewish if their mother is. So, of course, I had to add a really cool genetic nesting doll idea that I came across years ago about how since females have all of the eggs that they will ever have in their lifetime in their bodies, then I was already inside of my very first female ancestor however many years ago that was.

You’re probably thinking, “Cool, but what does that have to do with anything?” Raffelock talks about how she has “felt her ancestors walking with her, whispering to her.” She is “not the only woman who feels connected to the spiritual DNA of her ancestors, the ancient women who sang ancient songs.” I truly believe that it is this science and spirituality that makes women special and something to truly celebrate. So yes, Raffelock is a mature woman who likes to motivate women, but that is not the only thing she does in this book.

She shares stories that demonstrate different struggles that women face, whether during the 1930s or the current Coronavirus pandemic, and leaves us with the inspiration to find the answers or solutions for ourselves, using the path of those before us as a guide, but not necessarily as a turn-by-turn map. She encourages connection, especially with other women, but she subscribes to the notion that there are sometimes people who come into your life for a reason or a season. So do not despair over what you think you may have lost, whether that is some object, a person, or even some former version of yourself.

Creatrix Rising is a call to action, for women to set aside the idea that even though your reproductive years are behind you, that doesn’t mean that you can’t create. As a soon-to-be-divorced woman on the cusp of midlife, I am inspired to take my destiny in my own hands and find the path to my creative calling. For such a short book, there is so much ground covered and really great questions and writing prompts at the end of each chapter that can help you sort through your thoughts and goals.

If you are a woman who struggles with some obstacle in your life, whether it’s a job or relationship issue, a deep-seated insecurity, or a general feeling of not knowing what to do next; I think that this book can shed some light on various paths that you might consider exploring. Even if it means just meandering a different path in your mind before committing to making new moves. That’s sort of the point of sharing experiences with other people, and both accepting and giving the gift of experience by living vicariously through each other.

I am really surprised that this book was written and published during the pandemic. It is very well thought out and the prose is beautiful like poetry. Not to mention, the whole package is pristine: from the beautiful cover art, to the nicely constructed hardcover, to the impeccable editing. While obviously timely, I think that this book is also timeless. It has earned a permanent spot on my bookshelf and will be referenced at various intervals in my life. Not to mention, I will definitely share it with other women as well.

Stephanie Raffelock is the author of Creatrix Rising, Unlocking the Power of Midlife Women, (She Writes Press – August, 2021). She also penned the award winning book, A Delightful Little Book on Aging.

A graduate of Naropa University’s program in Writing and Poetics, Stephanie was a contributor to The Rogue Valley Messenger in Oregon. She has blogged for Nexus Magazine, Omaha Lifestyles, Care2.com, as well as SixtyandMe.com.

A former i-Heart Radio host, she is now a popular guest on podcasts, where she inspires women to embrace the strength and passion of their personal story. Stephanie continues to build her speaker’s resume by giving presentations for groups like The Ashland Literary Arts Festival, Breaking the Glass, WINS at Charles Schwab and Southern Oregon University, Friends of the Hannon Library. Her commitment to uplift women extends to teaching personal development classes for incarcerated women and non-profits, including Dress for Success, Austin.

A recent transplant to Austin, Texas Stephanie enjoys an active life with her husband, Dean, and their Labrador retriever, Mickey Mantel Raffelock.

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Review & Giveaway: No Names to Be Given by Julia Brewer Daily

NO NAMES TO BE GIVEN
By
JULIA BREWER DAILY

Categories: Women’s Fiction / Vintage Fiction / Adoption / 1960s
Publisher: Admission Press Inc.
Pub Date: August 3, 2021
Pages: 334 pages
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1965. Sandy runs away from home to escape her mother’s abusive boyfriend. Becca falls in love with the wrong man. And Faith suffers a devastating attack. With no support and no other options, these three young, unwed women meet at a maternity home hospital in New Orleans where they are expected to relinquish their babies and return home as if nothing transpired.

But such a life-altering event can never be forgotten, and no secret remains buried forever. Twenty-five years later, the women are reunited by a blackmailer, who threatens to expose their secrets and destroy the lives they’ve built. That shattering revelation would shake their very foundations—and reverberate all the way to the White House.

Told from the three women’s perspectives in alternating chapters, this mesmerizing story is based on actual experiences of women in the 1960s who found themselves pregnant but unmarried, pressured by family and society to make horrific decisions. How that inconceivable act changed women forever is the story of No Names to Be Given, a heartbreaking but uplifting novel of family and redemption.

PRAISE FOR NO NAMES TO BE GIVEN:

A gorgeous, thrilling, and important novel! These strong women will capture your heart. Stacey Swann, author of Olympus, Texas.

An insightful and sympathetic view offered into the lives of those who were adopted and those who adopted them. Pam Johnson, author of Justice for Ella.

A novel worthy of a Lifetime movie adaptation. Jess Hagemann, author of Headcheese.

Readers can expect deep knowledge of the world the characters inhabit. Sara Kocek, author of Promise Me Something.

This book is a relevant read and one that will keep readers guessing page after page until the very end. The US Review of Books

Today’s young women, especially, need to absorb No Names to Be Given. Midwest Book Review, D. Donovan, Senior Reviewer

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Review
No Names to Be Given by Julia Brewer Daily is a fascinating story filled with every human emotion, especially fear, desire, distress, and confusion. Daily pulls you in from the first chapter as we meet the three young girls on the day that they each give birth to unplanned babies. For 1965, you couldn’t meet a threesome as different as Sandy, Becca, and Faith. I really admire the lengths that the author goes to, gently pulling each girl’s story like taffy, making us feel like we know each girl intimately and the people that either influence or directly control the path that they have taken. Rich or poor, sweet or abrasive, you cannot help but empathize with the three and you are anxious to see how not only their lives turn out, but those of their children as well.

In school, we learned about the social issues that took place during the 1960s. Daily has clearly done her research to portray a time period where women don’t have control over what happens to their own bodies and African Americans are still discriminated against. Sadly, 60 years later, we are still at war with these social injustices. I don’t know if that sad fact is part of the reason that Daily wrote this novel, but the message of caution, the call to action, and the hope for change are very timely and needed in our country today.

As someone who has grown up in the South, in a traditional Filipino family, and raised as a strict Baptist, I could relate to the shame of not fulfilling certain expectations and the pressure to live a certain life. As I take my own destiny in my hands, it has been truly inspiring to hear how these three girls rose above their circumstances and forged lives that no one else could have predicted they would be capable of creating. You might scoff and say that this is a work of fiction, so how can I be inspired? This book is loosely based on true stories that Daily found during her research. And in my experience, even the most fantastical tale can be found in the real world if you dig deep enough.

I think that many readers will enjoy this well-crafted story, but I think it will especially speak to those who are adopted, who plan to adopt, or are debating whether to put a child up for adoption. And if you don’t fall in any of those categories, I think you will find value in the story of perseverance, friendship, and self-love.


Julia Brewer Daily is a Texan with a southern accent. She holds a B.S. in English and a M.S. degree in Education from the University of Southern Mississippi. She has been a Communications Adjunct Professor at Belhaven University, Jackson, Mississippi, and Public Relations Director of the Mississippi Department of Education and Millsaps College, a liberal arts college in Jackson, MS. She was the founding director of the Greater Belhaven Market, a producers’ only market in a historic neighborhood in Jackson, and even shadowed Martha Stewart. As the Executive Director of the Craftsmen’s Guild of Mississippi (300 artisans from 19 states) which operates the Mississippi Craft Center, she wrote their stories to introduce them to the public. Daily is an adopted child from a maternity home hospital in New Orleans. She searched and found her birth mother and through a DNA test, her birth father’s family, as well. A lifelong southerner, she now resides on a ranch in Fredericksburg, Texas, with her husband Emmerson and Labrador retrievers, Memphis Belle and Texas Star.

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Review & Giveaway: Crude Ambition by Patricia Hunt Holmes

CRUDE AMBITION
by
Patricia Hunt Holmes
Categories: Mystery / Thriller / Women’s Fiction
Publisher: River Grove Books (Greenleaf Book Group)
Date of Publication: June 8, 2021
Number of Pages: 326
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A Texas Reckoning

In the early morning hours after a law firm recruiting party at a beachside house on Galveston Island, a female summer intern is found lying on the floor, bruised, bleeding and unconscious. Four men and one young woman attorney who were staying at the house know something terrible happened.

The woman attorney takes her to a hospital but the next day the intern disappears. All of them decide to keep silent, doing nothing about the incident in order to further their own career ambitions while the events of that night haunt the two women. Time passes and then ten years later, crime and hubris bring the former intern back into their lives. Only this time she has the power and the truth is finally brought to light, uprooting everyone’s plans.

From the power centers of Houston law and oil to the fracking fields of South Texas to the Jersey Shore and Washington D.C., this story chronicles the struggles of two ambitious young women in their quest for legal success and justice.

PRAISE FOR CRUDE AMBITION:

“Crude Ambition is a great read. It is an authentic look at big law in Houston and the Texas oil business. Patricia Hunt Holmes weaves a story of ambition, greed, romance and revenge that kept me turning the pages until all the just desserts were served.”

Marc Grossberg, J.D., Author of The Best People: A Tale of Trials and Errors

“In Crude Ambition, Patricia Hunt Holmes shows she knows Texas in the way Grisham knows Mississippi—politics, environment, strong men and strong women, egos, oil, arrogance, influence and hunger for power. I don’t think anyone could have nailed it better.”

— Bill Sarpalius, Former U.S. Congressman, Author of The Grand Duke of Boys’ Ranch

Review

Crude Ambition by Patricia Hunt Holmes is the second book that I have read by this talented author. I have read many books where the writer has obviously done their research, and then there is this whole other level of writing that comes from a place of having lived what the story is about. While the acknowledgements section suggests that Holmes is of the research variety, my hunch is that she very much draws from her personal experience as well. There is an intimacy to her storytelling that can only come from knowing a city and a profession to the extent that the reader can truly immerse themselves in the story without confusion or disbelief clouding their experience.

Much like in Searching for Pilar, the city of Houston is a character that Holmes enjoys sharing secrets and tidbits about here and there. Despite my humble upbringing in a northern suburb of Houston, I am well aware of the fancy side of town and enjoy the references to places I have only glimpsed from the outside. Holmes flexes her knowledge of Texas terrain in this book a bit by also taking us to Galveston Island and the Hill Country. This tour of the land made me realize and appreciate just how multifaceted this great state is. Well, when it’s not crawling with corruption, I suppose.

I know that this is only the second book that I have read by Holmes, but I feel like she has already established a signature flair for writing about difficult social issues in a way that is equal parts cautionary and informative. In this particular story, there is this very thin line between ambition and greed. And it is fascinating to see how people from all different walks of life pick a path and, if they are fortunate enough, are allowed the opportunity to change course before it is too late.

If you enjoy a good legal drama, this book is definitely for you. If you like stories about second chances and rising above, this book is also for you. If you are anything like me and enjoy a well-written book that features your hometown, just pick up this book already. Trust me, this book has it all: intrigue, love, betrayal, you name it. You’re welcome.

Patricia Hunt Holmes spent 30 years as a public finance attorney with a large international law firm, specializing in nonprofit healthcare finance and rural electric cooperative finance. Consistently listed in Best Lawyers in America, Texas Super Lawyers, and Top Lawyers in Houston, she was a frequent speaker at national public finance and health care conferences. Patricia has also served on the faculty of the University of Missouri-Columbia, University of Tennessee, and University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston. She has written and published in the fields of intellectual history and law.

In addition to her legal career, Patricia has been a member and board member of several social
service organizations throughout Houston, including the United Way of the Texas Gulf Coast Women’s Initiative, Dress for Success Houston, the University of Houston Women’s Studies Program, University of Houston Law Review Board of Directors, is a Trustee of the Houston Grand Opera, and Houston Justice for Our Neighbors.

Patricia grew up in Egg Harbor City, New Jersey but has lived in Houston for over 40 years. She has two daughters, Hillary and Ashley, who have successful careers as an attorney and a geologist, and three adorable grandsons. She is an avid golfer and traveler.

Patricia holds a BA in English and History, an MA in History, and a PhD in Russian and South Asian History with honors, all from the University of Missouri-Columbia. She received her J.D. from the University of Houston Law Center and was an editor on the Houston Law Review.


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Review & Giveaway: The Nature of Small Birds by Susie Finkbeiner

THE NATURE OF SMALL BIRDS
BY SUSIE FINKBEINER

Publisher: Revell
Pub Date: July 6, 2021
Pages: 368 pages
Categories: Fiction / Christian / General

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In 1975, three thousand children were airlifted out of Saigon to be adopted into Western homes. When Mindy, one of those children, announces her plans to return to Vietnam to find her birth mother, her loving adopted family is suddenly thrown back to the events surrounding her unconventional arrival in their lives.

Though her father supports Mindy’s desire to meet her family of origin, he struggles privately with an unsettling fear that he’ll lose the daughter he’s poured his heart into. Mindy’s mother undergoes the emotional rollercoaster inherent in the adoption of a child from a war-torn country, discovering the joy hidden amid the difficulties. And Mindy’s sister helps her sort through relics that whisper of the effect the trauma of war has had on their family–but also speak of the beauty of overcoming.

Told through three strong voices in three compelling timelines, The Nature of Small Birds is a hopeful story that explores the meaning of family far beyond genetic code.

“Susie Finkbeiner has such an inviting and distinctive voice as a writer that you’ll gladly follow it–and follow her–to any setting.”–Valerie Fraser Luesse, Christy Award-winning author of Under the Bayou Moon

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Review

The Nature of Small Birds by Susie Finkbeiner is a beautifully written novel that spans nearly four decades and is told from the perspective of a father, mother, and their first born daughter. At first glance, this book is about the impact of adopting a Vietnamese orphan at a time when our nation was divided over its involvement in the Vietnam War. A timely narrative given our current state of affairs, definitely. But if the title of the book is a clue to the deeper meaning behind this story, I would say that this is more about how people in general are essentially the same; specifically, small children (the metaphorical small birds) and their inevitable departure from the nest.

The perspective and the timeline shifts every chapter. In 2013, we get Bruce’s point of view as a man providing emotional support to his family, particularly the women, as they struggle with their various stages of life. In 1975, we see things from Linda’s perspective as a woman who set aside dreams of being a musician to live a simple life – or so she thought. In 1988, we get Sonny’s delightfully angsty point of view as a teenage girl with a complicated but loving relationship with her adopted sister Mindy. 

Finkbeiner does an excellent job of differentiating between the characters and maintaining credible voices while driving the story forward. I really admire her choice to stick to one character’s viewpoint for each time period because it allows us to see how every character – not just the narrator at that particular point in time – develops as they interact with each other and face difficult times, both as individuals and together as a family.

As the story of Mindy’s adoption and integration into the family and their small community unfolds, there are so many wonderfully vivid moments that we are privy to that range from comical to frustrating, but with a constant undertone of sentimentality. My only real complaint about this story is the omission of certain details that I am sure other readers would want to know. I will not elaborate further on this because I do not want to spoil any of the plot. But I think it speaks volumes to the talent of an author when the only critique is that she should have given us more to read.

So who is this story for? I think that anyone who enjoys reading will love this book. But I think that this novel will especially speak to those who love books like Amy Tan’s Joy Luck Club and Nicholas Sparks’ The Notebook. I know I know, those books are completely different from each other, but I think that once you read The Nature of Small Birds, you will catch my drift.

Susie Finkbeiner is the CBA bestselling author of All Manner of Things, which was selected as a 2020 Michigan Notable Book, and Stories That Bind Us,as well as A Cup of Dust, A Trail of Crumbs, and A Song of Home. She serves on the Fiction Readers Summit planning committee, volunteers her time at Ada Bible Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and speaks at retreats and women’s events across the country. Susie and her husband have three children and live in West Michigan.

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Review & Giveaway: Gingerbread Kisses by Minette Lauren

GINGERBREAD KISSES
Hot in Magnolia Book 4
By Minette
Lauren


Publication Date: April 30th, 2021
Pages: 275
Categories: Sexy Romance

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Hollywood actress Ginger Lynn Harding is broke, unemployed, and stuck in the glaring spotlight of a sex-tape scandal thanks to her lousy ex-boyfriend. Changing her coveted ginger-colored hair to brown, Ginger heads to small-town Magnolia, Texas, where she plans to hide out and wait tables at the Cupcake Diner and Dive.

As a Magnolia constable and possible candidate for mayor, Roland Karr prides himself on protecting the community. When he nabs a Lauren Bacall look-alike for speeding, Roland is surprised that he lets the sassy beauty off the hook, but he can’t help it. She looks like she could use a break.

As Ginger settles into life in Magnolia, she can’t stop thinking about the handsome and debonair cop, but can she risk losing her heart when she’s lost everything else?

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Gingerbread Kisses by Minette Lauren is aptly named as the book is equal parts sweet and spicy. It takes a very talented author who can write a beautiful, wholesome love story and then flip the script mid chapter to treat the reader to a tantalizing, pulse quickening love scene.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. From the moment we meet Ginger Lynn Harding, we know that she is more than a pretty face. And like the old Hollywood starlets she physically resembles, the woman has gumption. She’s not one to feel sorry for herself and wallow like some fallen stars that have graced the cover of Us Weekly. To be completely honest, I knew that there was something special about this woman by the unusual, yet surprisingly practical, pet iguana that she dotes on.

As Ginger warily creates a temporary life for herself in Magnolia, the colorful townspeople are eager to bring her into the fold. This detail shocked me since I have more often read about or have personally known proud Texans who hold generational grudges. So to find out that Ginger has relatives with questionable reputations… Let’s just say that I had trouble believing that the locals would not hold that against her.

But the wonderful cast of characters made me forget about that slight hiccup quite quickly. Grudgeless Magnolia folk aside, I found the characters to be believable, interesting, and endearing. Maybe a little too endearing? I think it bothered me that there seem to be no unattractive people in this book. Perhaps the author is too kind to point out physical flaws? At any rate, the lack of ugly or even plain people had me imagining a movie shot with a soft lens (they used those in old Hollywood, right?) or those funny photo filters that make everyone look cute.

After I read the epilogue, I only then realized that this was book four of the Hot in Magnolia series. I’m not sure who the main characters are in the first three books, but I hope that the fiery Rosie Bush is featured prominently in at least one of them. Or perhaps in a future book? (Hint, hint. Nudge, nudge.)

If my previous comments haven’t made it clear, let it be known that this book can be read as a standalone. But why would you want to read just one when you could read all four? I intend to go back and read the whole series while eagerly waiting for the next book. Five stars for a scorching hot romance.

Minette Lauren is an award-winning author who loves animals and writes humorous romance in a small Texas town.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

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Third place: Signed copy of Gingerbread Kisses

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Review & Giveaway: A Witch’s Brew by Michael Scott Clifton

A WITCH’S BREW

Conquest of the Veil Book III

By Michael Scott Clifton

Publisher: Book Liftoff
Publication Date: April 14th, 2021

Pages: 318 Pages
Categories:

Sword & Sorcery / Magical Realism / Fantasy / Paranormal

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Intent on defeating the Dark Queen and destroying the Veil, Prince Tal and Alexandria arrive at Markingham to discover a city on the verge of collapse, its people starving, and children vanishing without a trace. Hopes of launching attacks from the city against the Dark Queen evaporate. To make matters worse, the tiny breach in the Veil allows only a trickle of soldiers and supplies to pass through.
Before the city’s defenses can be restored, the Baleful, a vast army composed of melded humans and animals led by a giant centaur, sweeps across the land like locusts, leaving nothing behind.
In the midst of turmoil and conflict, the love between Tal and Alex reaches white-hot intensity. But the leader of a ragtag militia group wants Tal for herself and will do anything to get him…even strike a bargain with a child-killing witch for a potion to make her irresistible.
But every witch’s brew comes with a price.

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Review

A Witch’s Brew by Michael Scott Clifton is book three of the Conquest of the Veil series, which I am very pleased to find is not the last book of a trilogy. In true Clifton fashion, this book manages to surpass even the first two brilliant books of the series as we are further entangled in the battle between good and evil.

 

While books one and two paint the line between the two sides more obviously, I love how this book has you pondering the meaning behind “a means to an end.” Is breaking a promise so bad when you do it out of love? And are you willing to break someone’s heart over honor? Those are just a few existential questions that come to mind when I mull over this wonderful story. The other questions I had: where is the witch and what’s in her brew? Those answers come just past the halfway mark of the book. Normally that type of thing would bother me, but I was so wrapped up in the story that I did not mind at all! Clifton’s gift for painting a complete picture of a fantasy world is so great that you forget where you are and become fully immersed.

 

Escape from the Wheel left me hopelessly in love with Alexandria’s character. So beautiful but kind, delicate yet strong. And this latest book confirmed that she is worthy of all admiration. Of course, someone is bound to be jealous of such a shining light. As someone who identifies as more of a best friend than a leading lady, I felt compassion for the brash Maggie. Oh, Sir Clifton, why do you torture us with yet another love triangle in this series? My heart can only take so much! To be completely honest, you could get by without reading the first two books. But why would you? You would miss out on so much backstory and this exciting build of adventure and love.

 

I know that I will need to toughen up for the next book because things are only getting harrier for our heroine and her brave prince. Each hard-won victory has been exciting but you know that the worst is yet to come. And Clifton’s magical way with the written word assures you that every detail will be unveiled and you will see all – both the good and the bad – unwind in a cinematic cyclone.

 

The vibe of this book was interesting – sort of Game of Thrones meets Hocus Pocus. I really look forward to reading the next book, especially knowing that it will be even better than this one. If you are a fantasy reader, you definitely need to pick up the first three books of the Conquest of the Veil series so that you’re ready for book four.

by Michael Scott Clifton is book three of the Conquest of the Veil series, which I am very pleased to find is not the last book of a trilogy. In true Clifton fashion, this book manages to surpass even the first two brilliant books of the series as we are further entangled in the battle between good and evil.

While books one and two paint the line between the two sides more obviously, I love how this book has you pondering the meaning behind “a means to an end.” Is breaking a promise so bad when you do it out of love? And are you willing to break someone’s heart over honor? Those are just a few existential questions that come to mind when I mull over this wonderful story. The other questions I had: where is the witch and what’s in her brew? Those answers come just past the halfway mark of the book. Normally that type of thing would bother me, but I was so wrapped up in the story that I did not mind at all! Clifton’s gift for painting a complete picture of a fantasy world is so great that you forget where you are and become fully immersed.

Escape from the Wheel left me hopelessly in love with Alexandria’s character. So beautiful but kind, delicate yet strong. And this latest book confirmed that she is worthy of all admiration. Of course, someone is bound to be jealous of such a shining light. As someone who identifies as more of a best friend than a leading lady, I felt compassion for the brash Maggie. Oh, Sir Clifton, why do you torture us with yet another love triangle in this series? My heart can only take so much! To be completely honest, you could get by without reading the first two books. But why would you? You would miss out on so much backstory and this exciting build of adventure and love.

I know that I will need to toughen up for the next book because things are only getting harrier for our heroine and her brave prince. Each hard-won victory has been exciting but you know that the worst is yet to come. And Clifton’s magical way with the written word assures you that every detail will be unveiled and you will see all – both the good and the bad – unwind in a cinematic cyclone.

The vibe of this book was interesting – sort of Game of Thrones meets Hocus Pocus. I really look forward to reading the next book, especially knowing that it will be even better than this one. If you are a fantasy reader, you definitely need to pick up the first three books of the Conquest of the Veil series so that you’re ready for book four.

Multi Award-Winning Author Michael Scott Clifton, a longtime public educator, currently lives in Mount Pleasant, Texas with his wife, Melanie. An avid gardener, reader, and movie junkie, his books contain facets of all the genres he enjoys—action, adventure, magic, fantasy, and romance. His fantasy novels, The Janus Witch, The Open Portal (Book I in the Conquest of the Veil series), and Escape from Wheel (Book II), all received 5-Star reviews from the prestigious Readers Favorite Book Reviews. The Open Portal has also been honored with a Feathered Quill Book Finalist Award. In addition, Edison Jones and the Anti-Grav Elevator earned a 2021 Feathered Quill Book Award Bronze Medal in the Teen Readers category. Two of his short stories have won Gold Medals, with Edges of Gray winning the Texas Authors Contest, and The End Game, winning the Northeast Texas Writer’s Organization Contest. Professional credits include articles published in the Texas Study of Secondary Education Magazine.
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