Category Archives: Book Reviews

Review & Giveaway: The Catch by Lisa Harris

THE CATCH

U.S. Marshals Series #3
by
LISA HARRIS
Fiction / Christian / Mystery / Suspense / Romance
Publisher: Revell
Date of Publication: April 5, 2022
Number of Pages: 352 pages 
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Everything hidden is eventually found
After a harrowing attempt on a judge’s life at the courthouse, Deputy US Marshals Madison James and Jonas Quinn are tasked with finding a missing woman and an endangered child in connection to the murder of the judge’s wife. What seems like a fairly straightforward case becomes hopelessly tangled when the marshals discover that the woman they are searching for is not who they think she is.
Madison and Jonas are forced into a race to find the woman and the child before the people who want her dead discover her location. And in a final showdown that could cost her everything, Madison will come face-to-face with the person who murdered her husband.
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Review

The Catch by Lisa Harris is the first book that I have read by the author and Book 3 in the U.S. Marshals Series. I am always a little nervous jumping into the middle of a series like that, but Harris quickly soothed away those feelings with her excellent exposition. The first chapter opens up with the perfect combination of dread and anticipation. With just a few pages, I was hooked.

Harris effortlessly transitions the reader from a tense opening chapter to a lighter (though also somewhat tense) scene where we meet our heroine, Madison, as she teaches her sister how to rock climb. I like the use of the activity as a metaphor for trust and though maybe a bit on the nose, a metaphor for falling in love as well. The scene is very cinematic as the character comes down from the high of physical exertion and the events leading up to this point are crashing down around her.

By using a third person point of view, Harris is able to give us insight into the feelings and thought processes of each character that we follow. With the exception of the opening chapter, the reader is normally following Madison or Jonas as they attempt to unwind this intricate case. What starts out as a deceptively simple case of jealousy and murder, each chapter reveals a new clue or character that makes the story twist and turn in very unexpected ways.

Classified as a Christian mystery suspense romance, The Catch is certainly all of these things and more. I know that some readers are put off by overly religious books, but this one is not in your face spouting Bible verses. I think that if you enjoy romance in your mystery books, this one has a lovely touch of hope for new beginnings to balance the high stakes adrenalin rush of action and deceit.

Lisa Harris is a USA Today bestselling author, a Christy Award winner, and the winner of the Best Inspirational Suspense Novel from Romantic Times for her novels Blood Covenant and Vendetta. The author of more than forty books, including The Escape, The Chase, The Traitor’s Pawn, Vanishing Point, A Secret to Die For, and Deadly Intentions, as well as The Nikki Boyd Files and the Southern Crimes series, Harris and her family have spent over 17 years living as missionaries in southern Africa and currently are living there.
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Review & Giveaway: The Bones of Amoret by Arthur Herbert

THE BONES OF AMORET
by
ARTHUR HERBERT
Genre: Mystery /Suspense
Publisher: Stitched Smile Publications
Date of Publication: April 1, 2022
Number of Pages: 323 pages 
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In this enigmatic follow up to his critically acclaimed debut novel The Cuts that Cure, Arthur Herbert returns to the Texas-Mexico border with this saga of a small town’s bloody loss of innocence.
Amoret, Texas, 1982. Life along the border is harsh, but in a world where cultures work together to carve a living from the desert landscape, Blaine Beckett lives a life of isolation. A transplanted Boston intellectual, for twenty years locals have viewed him as a snob, a misanthrope, an outsider. He seems content to stand apart until one night when he vanishes into thin air amid signs of foul play.
Noah Grady, the town doctor, is a charming and popular good ol’ boy. He’s also a keeper of secrets, both the town’s and his own. He watches from afar as the mystery of Blaine’s disappearance unravels and rumors fly. Were the incipient cartels responsible? Was it a local with a grudge? Or did Blaine himself orchestrate his own disappearance? Then the unthinkable happens, and Noah begins to realize he’s considered a suspect.
Paced like a lit fuse and full of dizzying plot twists, The Bones of Amoret is a riveting whodunit that will keep you guessing all the way to its shocking conclusion.
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Review

The Bones of Amoret by Arthur Herbert is one of the most satisfying mystery books that I have ever read. Too often I have been able to solve part (if not all of) a mystery by the middle. But Herbert is the master of twists and turns, as well as cooking up some delicious red herrings that are too tempting to ignore.

But even more tantalizing than the thrill of finding out the who and why behind the seemingly senseless murders, the cast of characters provide so much color, even in the midst of somber situations. Herbert’s talent for writing witticisms with a West Texas drawl make characters like Noah Grady spring to life. And his tendency to write things as he sees them in his mind’s eye translates into a truth that is not always pretty.

While there is love and friendship in this book, there is certainly a whole host of hate and vengeance. If there were ever a time to learn the lesson that in order for there to be good, evil must exist, this book would definitely be a candidate for a case study. It would also open up questions about what lies in the middle ground, I imagine.

Given the way that this book ends, I fully expected to walk away with some scars. But there is something in the way that Herbert writes that makes me accept that things are not as simple as right and wrong, good and bad. That every human has two sides of the same coin within them and that it only takes a split second for one side to emerge triumphant over the other.

Even more than a great mystery, I love how this book is a snapshot of West Texas in the ‘80s. One could argue that the social and racial tensions of those days are still prevalent. I don’t know if that was Herbert’s intent, but it’s a sobering thought, nonetheless. I can’t recommend this book enough to all the mystery readers out there. I hope to read more of this author’s work in the future.

Arthur Herbert was born and raised in small town Texas. He worked on offshore oil rigs, as a bartender, a landscaper at a trailer park, and as a social worker before going to medical school. For the last eighteen years, he’s worked as a trauma and burn surgeon, operating on all ages of injured patients. He continues to run a thriving practice.
He’s won multiple awards for his scientific writing, and his first novel, The Cuts that Cure, spent ten days as an Amazon #1 Best Seller. His second novel, The Bones of Amoret, will be released on April 1, 2022 through Stitched Smile Publishers. Arthur currently lives in New Orleans, with his wife Amy and their dogs.
Arthur loves hearing from readers, so don’t hesitate to email him at arthur@arthurherbertwriter.com.
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Review: The Two Gates by Eric R. Swanson

THE TRACEVERSE SAGA
The Shattered Gate &
The Two Gates
by
ERIC R. SWANSON
Categories: Science Fiction / Genetic Engineering
Publisher: Eric R. Swanson, LLC.
Date of Publication Book 1: March 22, 2020
Number of Pages: 394 pages
Date of Publication Book 2: May 1, 2021
Number of Pages: 402 pages 
The Shattered Gate
They selfishly pillaged Earth and made him a hybrid. Will his split nature spell the end of intergalactic abduction?

Half-human, half-Ceran, Micah Trace yearns for something more. Though the repetition and isolation of living as a body double for the King of Ceres is crushing, he’s grateful to be treated better than the other genetically engineered humans. But when he discovers the ailing plight of his ancestors, he heeds the calling and cleverly insinuates himself into a dangerous mission across the galaxy.
Fearing their plan to repair a failing transportation gate might lead to disaster, Micah uses his experience mimicking the king to steal the forbidden authority he’s assumed for so long. But with ulterior motives darkening the depths of space, he may not survive to see the centuries-old connection between the planets repaired.
Can the royal mimic win control of the ship before they’re lost to the vacuum’s void?
The Shattered Gate is the thought-provoking first tale in the science fiction Traceverse Saga. If you like character-driven action, high-tech military defense systems, and intriguing political powerplays, then you’ll love Eric R. Swanson’s interstellar adventure.

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Review & Giveaway: The Baby with Three Families, Two Countries, and One Promise: An International Adoption Story by Julie Gianelloni Connor

  The Baby with Three Families

THE BABY WITH THREE FAMILIES,
TWO COUNTRIES, AND ONE PROMISE
An International Adoption Story
by
JULIE GIANELLONI CONNOR
Illustrated by Saman Chinthaka Weersinghe
 
Genre: Children’s Fiction / Picture Book / Adoption 
Publisher: Bayou City Press
Date of Publication: December 9, 2020
Number of Pages: 40 pages 
 
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The Baby with Three Families, Two Countries, and One Promise is a children’s book designed to be read by parents to a child adopted from a foreign country. The story is first recounted from the perspective of the parents in the USA, who are very sad not to be able to have a child. The perspective then switches to that of the biological mother, who realizes that she does not have the wherewithal to raise a child. She makes the difficult decision to give up her baby. Next readers learn about a foreign adoption agency, to which the biological mother surrenders her child. The adoption agency identifies foster parents to take care of the baby temporarily. The foster parents give the baby a temporary name.

The parents in the USA begin researching international adoption possibilities and connect with the foreign adoption agency. The parents begin the adoption process and have to go to a school to learn how to be adoptive parents. When the foreign adoption agency matches the USA parents with the baby, the USA parents fly to the foreign country, where they meet the baby and the foster parents at the adoption agency. They find out that the temporary name given to the baby by his foster parents is one of the names they have selected for the baby. Their last requirement in the foreign country is to secure a visa for the baby from the U.S. Embassy.

With the baby’s visa in hand, the parents and baby return to the United States, where they are joyously greeted by their dog, their friends, and the baby’s new grandparents. When the parents tuck their baby in at night, they tell him his story—that he has three families, two countries, and a promise for the future to visit the country of his birth when he is older.
PRAISE FOR THE BOOK
Children’s Picture Book First Place Winner, 2021 North Texas Book Festival Awards
 
“Clearly laying out some of the key reasons, factors, and steps in the emotionally complex process of overseas adoption, this book delicately explores the subject, making it a great launching point for conversations between parents and children.” Self-Publishing Review
 
“International adoption is a complex topic, but under the dual, in-depth focus of author Julie Gianelloni Connor and illustrator Saman Chinthaka Weerasinghe, the story comes to life to teach all ages about the emotional and organizational process involved in joining a child to new parents.” Donovan’s Literary Services
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Review

The Baby with Three Families, Two Countries, and One Promise: An International Adoption Story by Julie Gianelloni Connor is both heartwarming and informative about the adoption process. It is the perfect book to share with children who have been adopted or who are part of families that plan to adopt a child one day. The colorful illustrations by Saman Chinthaka Weerasinghe are the perfect cross between cartoon and realistic, which will appeal to readers of all ages.

I read this book with my nine-year-old son who is not adopted, but he was interested to read the book because one of his cousins was adopted from China as a toddler. As we read, he wondered aloud how a baby could have three families, to which I replied, “Well, let’s read on and see.” Throughout the reading of the story, he peppered me with questions about whether his cousin’s experiences matched those of Baby Alejandro’s.

Perhaps because he is an older child, he wanted me to flesh out characters a bit more. He wondered how old the birthmother, Luz, was and who Alejandro’s birthfather was. I explained that the author made a choice not to share those details and maybe she didn’t know them herself. (I later told him that like many similar experiences that people have throughout their lives, it is the details that differ slightly. But at the very core, important things like love and family remain the same.)

Before reading the back of the book, I was a little confused by the choice to not identify the country where Luz was from. While I now understand the author’s intent to allow readers to insert the flag of their own child’s country, I don’t think it works well on one particular illustration since it clearly shows the flightpath between somewhere in the U.S. to Central America. (Imagine putting a Chinese flag on Central America. It’s a little odd!) Or perhaps a family from the U.K. is reading this book to their child who comes from Africa.

My son and I enjoyed the story and when asked what he thought of the illustrations, he said that they were nicely drawn and that he liked the colors that the artist used. I liked the flow of the story and thought that the book was laid out well. I think this is a great book to gift to adoptive families and would make a nice addition to the bookshelf in childcare and education settings as well.

Julie Gianelloni Connor is an award-winning author and retired senior Foreign Service Officer. Her first book, Savoring the Camino de Santiago: It’s the Pilgrimage, not the Hike, garnered no. 1 status on Amazon in both the category for new books on hiking and walking and the category for Spain and Portugal. It subsequently went on to win a silver medal in the eLit national competition as well as being selected as a finalist by Self-Publishing Review (SPR). She released her second title, a children’s book, in 2021. It has just won first place in the children’s book category at the North Texas Book Festival. The Baby with Three Families, Two Countries, and One Promise tells an international adoption story. Her short stories have appeared in four anthologies. 

Julie is the owner and publisher of Bayou City Press (BCP) in Houston, Texas, which focuses on travel writing, Houston, history, and international affairs. Julie writes a weekly newsletter for BCP updating subscribers about activities. She founded BCP after spending 33 years as a diplomat in the U.S. Foreign Service, first with the U.S. Information Agency and later with the U.S. Department of State. She had nine overseas assignments in seven different countries: Israel (twice), Paraguay, Guatemala, Indonesia, Colombia (twice), Malaysia, and Chile. In Washington, DC, Julie worked on a variety of matters, ranging from nuclear non-proliferation to narcotics control to women’s issues. She has one son and two cats, Halloween and Charles Augustus V. 
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Review & Giveaway: Out of Temper by Amber Royer

OUT OF TEMPER

Bean to Bar Mysteries, Book 3
by
AMBER ROYER
Categories: Cozy Mystery / Women Sleuth / Romance 
Publisher: Golden Tip Press
Date of Publication: February 1, 2022
Number of Pages: 264 pages 
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Felicity Koerber’s bean to bar chocolate shop on Galveston’s historic Strand has been the scene of two murders – both of which she has been instrumental in helping solve. So when she gets invited to demo her chocolate skills aboard a cruise ship sailing out of the local port, she’s excited at the chance to get away from the shop long enough to regain her equilibrium. She even brings her best friend along, and makes plans for time at the spa. But when she gets on board, she finds out that she’s been booked for a mystery-themed cruise, and said best friend, Autumn, has to finally deal with the real reasons she quit writing mysteries. Only – if that wasn’t stressful enough – it doesn’t take long before there’s a real murder on the cruise, and someone Felicity knows becomes the prime suspect. When said suspect asks her for help, she can’t exactly say no, can she?
Felicity finds herself surrounded by cruise goers who all had connections to the victim – and finds that both Logan (her business partner, whom she recently kissed) and Arlo (the cop who was once Felicity’s first boyfriend, before she moved away from Galveston) are dealing with the case until more official help can arrive. How will Felicity survive the ensuing awkwardness?

One thing that helps: the retired police dog turned therapy dog she meets on board. Satchmo helps Felicity deal with being back on the water after tragedy in her past – and also helps her uncover a vital clue to the case. Can Felicity unmask the killer and keep a friend from being framed before all the suspects leave the ship?
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Review

Out of Temper by Amber Royer is the third book in the Bean to Bar Mysteries series, but it is the second book in the series that I have read. After reading and thoroughly enjoying the first book, Grand Openings Can Be Murder, I knew that I had to get my paws on this one when presented with the opportunity to review it. I just wish that I had realized that I had not yet read the second book, 70% Dark Intentions, before cracking this one.

But that’s okay, because a good writer can fill you in so that you’re not floundering around confused, no matter what book you pick up in the series. And Royer is an excellent writer. She has fulfilled my expectations of a fun read filled with delicious chocolates, adorable furry sidekicks, colorful characters, and a conjecture that is tantalizingly just out of reach. Admittedly, the mystery in the first book had been easy to solve, but I couldn’t wrap my brain around why the killer did it. In this book, the victim wasn’t a cup of tea, so it wasn’t hard to imagine the many plausible scenarios that could have gone down.

Yet Royer had me convinced at least three times that I had finally nabbed the killer, and I was wrong each and every time. Just when you think that Felicity is about to uncover the final piece of the puzzle that will confirm your hunch, new clues will come to light that will send you spinning in a completely different direction. The intricate web of circumstances that ties this book to the other two is what really excites me about reading each installment of the series. Not to mention, I am dying to find out which love interest our amateur sleuth will end up with. I’m Team Logan all the way, just in case you were wondering.

I hope that Book Four has Felicity flying around in a plane with Logan to some exotic place to find obscure cacao beans and/or flavor combinations. I also would like to see tighter copy editing in the future. There were quite a few typos throughout the book. Maybe not enough to distract from a great mystery, but they were there and quite noticeable.

I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a good mystery read. As someone who usually savors the details in books, I am happy to report that the only place that Royer holds back a little is on gore. Other than that, prepare to drool a little when Felicity demos chocolate making… or perhaps when we catch Arlo or Logan sending longing glances in her direction. Either way, settle somewhere cozy with a snack or yummy beverage and enjoy the book.

Amber Royer writes the Chocoverse comic telenovela-style foodie-inspired space opera series, and the Bean to Bar Mysteries. She is also the author of Story Like a Journalist: a Workbook for Novelists, which boils down her writing knowledge into an actionable plan involving over 100 worksheets to build a comprehensive story plan for your novel. She also teaches creative writing and is an author coach. Amber and her husband live in the DFW Area, where you can often find them hiking or taking landscape/architecture/wildlife photographs. If you are very nice to Amber, she might make you cupcakes. Chocolate cupcakes, of course! Amber blogs about creative writing technique and all things chocolate.
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Review & Giveaway: Scattered Legacy by Marlene M. Bell

SCATTERED LEGACY: MURDER IN

SOUTHERN ITALY
Annalisse Series, #3
by
MARLENE M. BELL
 
Genre: Mystery / Romance
Publisher: Ewephoric Publishing
Date of Publication: November 4, 2021
Number of Pages: 352 pages 
 
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To outsiders, the relationship between Manhattan antiquities assessor Annalisse Drury and sports car magnate Alec Zavos must look carefree and glamorous. In reality, it’s a love affair regularly punctuated by treasure hunting, high adventure, and the occasional dead body.

When Alec schedules a getaway trip to show Annalisse his mother’s Italian birthplace, he squeezes in the high-stakes business of divesting his family’s corporation. But things go terribly wrong as murder makes its familiar reappearance in their lives – and this time it’s Alec’s disgraced former CFO who’s the main suspect.

Accompanied by friend and detective Bill Drake, Annalisse and Alec find themselves embroiled in a behind-closed-doors conspiracy that threatens the reputation and legacy of Alec’s late father – linking him to embezzlement, extortion, and the dirty business of the Sicilian Mafia. The key to it all might be a gifted set of rosary beads where Annalisse can use her skills for appraising artifacts to uncover the truth. She leads Alec toward answers that are unthinkable—and events that will change their futures forever.

Scattered Legacy is the third in Marlene M. Bell’s thrilling Annalisse series, which weaves romance, crime, and historical mystery into addictive tales to instantly captivate fans of TV show Bones or Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code

Link to the video trailer on YouTube
Review

Scattered Legacy by Marlene M. Bell is an exhilarating read filled with suspense, history, romance, and beauty. While I have not had the pleasure to read the first two books in the series, I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know the characters’ backstories through Bell’s excellent exposition skills and shifts in point of view. With each passing chapter, my resolve to go back and read the first two books grew stronger when a particular tidbit stoked my interest.

From the beginning, you have to wonder how Annalisse isn’t a private detective instead of an art gallery owner. But then you realize that as an antiquities valuator, she must use excellent observation skills and have the talent to find obscure details through deep research. The opening chapter gives us a sneak peak of her complicated life, which makes you a little less jealous of her cushy job and amazing boyfriend who is about to whisk her away to Italy.

Bell wastes no time throwing us into the action. From an attempted burglary to the family name being dragged through the tabloids, our lovebirds jet off to Italy in the wake of a strange message that involves a blackbird of some sort. There is a lot of intrigue percolating and while you have to assume that all of the strange events are related somehow, we definitely do not have enough details to tie them all together yet.

The author has a nice pace to her writing and allows us to luxuriate in the beautiful sights and scents of walking through Bari. She somehow makes a meal as simple as bread with sliced meats sound utterly delectable. But don’t worry, our travelers also partake of other authentic fare such as seafood, soups, bread, and pasta when they’re not finding dead bodies or getting tailed by the mafia. While Bell spares no details on the setting or Annalisse’s inner conflicts, I’m glad that she treads lightly when describing murder scenes.

While you do not have to read the first two books to enjoy this one, I would say that if you can, do it. I definitely plan on reading them as I await the next installment of the series. Spoiler: There’s a bananas cliffhanger ending that made me groan in disbelief. So exciting!

Marlene M. Bell is an award-winning writer and acclaimed artist as well as a photographer. Her sheep landscapes grace the covers of Sheep!, The Shepherd, Ranch & Rural Living and Sheep Industry News, to name a few.
Marlene and her husband, Gregg reside in beautiful East Texas on a wooded ranch with their dreadfully spoiled horned Dorset sheep, a large Maremma guard dog named, Tia, along with Hollywood, Leo, and Squeaks, the cats that believe they rule the household—and do.

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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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