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Review & Giveaway: The Kissing Tree by Karen Witemeyer, Regina Jennings, Amanda Dykes, and Nicole Deese

THE KISSING TREE
Four Novellas Rooted in Timeless Love

by KAREN WITEMEYER, REGINA JENNINGS, 

AMANDA DYKES, and NICOLE DEESE
 
Genre: Christian / Romance / Anthology
Publisher: Bethany House
Date of Publication: October 13, 2020
Number of Pages: 400
 

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In this Texas-sized romance novella collection, courting couples, decades apart, leave a permanent mark of their love by carving their initials into the same oak’s bark.

Regina Jennings: “Broken Limbs, Mended Hearts

When a young man from her past returns and upends their small town with a new invention, schoolteacher Bella Eden is reminded of the heartbreak she suffered years ago under the old oak tree. When her job is on the line, can she trust the man who disrupted her life to help her fight for a brighter future?

Karen Witemeyer: “Inn for a Surprise

Determined to keep love alive for others, Phoebe Woodward builds an inn that caters to couples. When her father sends a property manager to help make it a success, she finds her whimsical vision thwarted by his stodgy practicality. Finding the right blend of romance and reality is a challenge, and her spinster heart may be in for a surprise.

Amanda Dykes: “From Roots to Sky

WWII airman Luke Hampstead found comfort in letters from the sister of a lost compatriot. When he visits Texas to thank her, he discovers her constructing a project with surprising ties to his letters . . . and that she herself is even more surprising. While a promising opportunity awaits him elsewhere, will what they’ve shared be enough to give their future flight?

Nicole Deese: “Heartwood

Abby Brookshire’s world is turned upside down when the historic tree she’s strived to preserve as the head groundskeeper at the Kissing Tree Inn is put in danger of removal. Making matters worse, the only way to protect its legacy is to partner with the man she’s been ignoring since he left town years ago. Will she have the courage to move on from the past and start a new beginning?

I have read a few collections of love stories based in Texas before, but none of them hold a candle to the work in The Kissing Tree by Karen Witemeyer, Regina Jennings, Amanda Dykes, and Nicole Deese. While those other anthologies had a connection with each other because of the time period or place, The Kissing Tree is a truly unified piece that stretches across generations through the love for and longevity of a magnificent oak tree.

Jenning’s story – Broken Limbs, Mended Hearts – is a lesson in forgiveness and trust. Bethany House could not have picked a better author to voice the charm and innocence of romance in 1868. Although Bella Eden struck me as a little modern at times, she still possessed equal parts southern belle and pioneer woman, which are traits that I adore and respect very much. Of the four stories in this book, this one is a tie for my favorite because of the characters. Jennings created larger than life characters with fantastic obstacles, making it difficult to choose whose side to take. Even when the stakes are high, Jennings writes with a levity that assures you that true love will conquer all.

Witemeyer’s story – Inn for a Surprise – took me a while to get into. For reasons that I can’t explain, it took me a few chapters to take a shine to Phoebe and Barnabas. Maybe it was the obvious tension between the two characters that kept me from relaxing into the story. At any rate, when we start seeing the softer side of Phoebe and Barnabas finally drops his perfect façade, I really enjoyed the interaction between the two and how a competition made way to teamwork. Witemeyer’s description of the Kissing Tree Inn’s conception is a joy to read and provides a lovely backstory and backdrop for the stories that follow. And as a side note, I especially appreciated that the cover artist clearly took notes from this adorable story when designing the cover art.

Amanda Dykes’ story – From Roots to Sky – is my other favorite in this book. There is something about a relationship that grows between two people without them even realizing what has happened. I loved how a connection forged by love for Hannah’s brother (who is Luke’s best friend) defies tragedy and distance, and manifests itself beautifully. Like any good love story entangled in secrets, Dykes keeps us in suspense over why Luke can’t just tell Hannah why he really came to Oak Springs. Of the four stories, this one felt the most complete and could be fleshed out into a lovely movie that I would gladly watch.

Nicole Deese’s story – Heartwood – is the only one that doesn’t paint the heroine as an oddball spinster. There is no timestamp on this one, but I’m guessing that the story takes place in present day. So I guess it makes sense that even if Abby were 40 and single (I’m assuming she is not), there would be no stigma over being unmarried and childless. Again, Bethany House could not have picked a better author to voice the practical and modern story between two old lovers being reunited by conflict. In more ways than one, this story wraps up the other three very nicely as everything comes full circle. Intended or not, there are parallels between the first story and this one, and the symmetry of it is quite lovely.

I give kudos to the authors and editors for the amazing job of tying these stories together. It gave me a little thrill every time I realized the connections between each story. The Kissing Tree really is a fantastic book comprised of four exceptional romance novellas.

Voted
#1 Reader’s Favorite Christian Romance Author of 2019 by Family Fiction
Magazine
, bestselling author  Karen Witemeyer offers warmhearted historical romance with a flair for humor, feisty heroines,
and swoon-worthy Texas heroes. She makes her home in Abilene, Texas, with her
husband and three children.

 
Regina Jennings is a graduate of Oklahoma
Baptist University, with a degree in English and a minor in history. She’s the
winner of the National Readers’ Choice Award, a two-time Golden Quill finalist, and a finalist for the Oklahoma Book of the Year Award. Regina has worked at
the Mustang News and at First Baptist Church of Mustang, along
with time at the Oklahoma National Stockyards and various livestock shows. She
lives outside of Oklahoma City with her husband and four children.
 
Amanda Dykes is a drinker of tea, dweller of redemption, and spinner of hope-filled tales who spends most days chasing wonder and words with her family. She’s a former English teacher and the author of Whose Waves These Are, a Booklist 2019 Top Ten Romance debut, as well as three novellas.
 
Nicole Deese’s eight humorous, heartfelt, and hope-filled novels include the 2017 Carol Award-winning A Season to Love. Her 2018 release, A New Shade of Summer, was a finalist in the RITA Awards, Carol Awards, and INSPY Awards. Both of these books are from her bestselling Love in Lenox series. When she’s not working on her next contemporary romance, she can usually be found reading one by a window overlooking the inspiring beauty of the Pacific Northwest. She lives in small-town Idaho with her happily-ever-after hubby, two rambunctious sons, and princess daughter with the heart of a warrior.
 
 
 
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Review & Giveaway: The Secret of You and Me by Melissa Lenhardt

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

Number of Pages: 352Scroll down for the giveaway!

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

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

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

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

PRAISE FOR THE SECRET OF YOU AND ME:

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


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

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

Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Review & Giveaway: Blue Skies by Anne Bustard

 

BLUE SKIES
by
Anne Bustard
Middle Grade / Historical Fiction
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Date of Publication: March 17, 2020
Number of Pages: 224

Scroll down for the giveaway!
 

Ten-year-old Glory Bea Bennett believes in miracles. After all, her grandmother—the best matchmaker in the whole county—is responsible for thirty-nine of them so far.

Now, Glory Bea wants a miracle of her own—her daddy’s return.

The war ended three years ago, but Glory Bea’s father never returned from the front in France. She believes Daddy is still out there.

When reports that the Texas boxcar from the Merci Train—a train filled with gifts of gratitude from the people of France—will be stopping in Gladiola, Glory Bea just knows Daddy will be its surprise cargo.

But miracles, like people, are always changing, until at last they find their way home.

PRAISE FOR BLUE SKIES:

“I loved Blue Skies so much I couldn’t bear for it to end.” –Patricia Reilly Giff, Newbery Honor author of Lily’s Crossing and Pictures of Hollis Woods

“A heart-warming (and occasionally heart-wrenching) delight of a book . . .” –Joy Preble, Brazos Bookstore

“A tender story of grief and the gentle comfort of loved ones.” Kirkus Reviews

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Review

Acting out of character, I had read the synopsis of Blue Skies by Anne Bustard before deciding to read the book. The bit about a boxcar caught my eye because there are a few stories that I have read involving boxcars that I hold very dear in my heart. There were no orphans living or being transported to a new life in this boxcar, but I think that it served as a representation of hope much like those other stories.

The cover of Blue Skies is lovely to look at. The blue is the exact shade of what you think of on a perfect day, with fluffy white clouds and white birds flying across the cover. A young girl in a pretty dress looks hopeful as she faces the same direction that the birds are flying to with eyes closed and hands clasped in front of her. Now that I have read the book, the choice of cover has the same flavor of those used for the Anne of Green Gables series. They are beautiful covers but they don’t hint at the firecracker of a girl contained within their pages.

Glory Bea Bennett takes her place among my favorite heroines with big hearts and spirit: Laura Ingalls, Anne Shirley, Jo March, etc. Much like Jo, Glory Bea is “hopelessly flawed,” but that’s what makes you love her even more. She is fiercely loyal to the ones she loves to the point that she might miss the cues that something other than the plans she has for them might be best in the end. Aren’t we all like that at one time or another? Ten-year-old and adult readers alike can use a reminder here or there that we can help the people we love up to a point, and then we are only there to support them in the end.

Bustard has created a wonderful community around such a vibrant character. I have always had a soft spot for the small town where everyone not only knows your name but they know all about your business. I was tickled by the moments when eavesdroppers would get caught listening in on the party line. And with all the cynicism in our world today, it was relaxing to read a story where the conflict arises from inner turmoil rather than a place of evil intentions.

To be completely honest, girls will probably gravitate to this book much like they do to Little House, Green Gables, and Little Women, but boys would also get something out of it if they’re willing to try. While the male characters are secondary, they are strong and not afraid of strong women. I could see this book being used in the classroom when discussing the aftermath of war or perhaps as an introduction to the French language. I wish I had read this book before my trip to Austin so that I could have seen the real life inspiration in person. I have put that on my list of things to do, along with reading other books by Anne Bustard.

Anne Bustard is the former co-owner of Toad Hall Children’s Bookstore in Austin, Texas, and an MFA graduate of the Vermont College of Fine Arts. She is the author of the middle grade novel, Anywhere But Paradise, as well as two picture books, RAD! and Buddy: The Story of Buddy Holly, which was an IRA Children’s Book Award Notable and a Bank Street Book of the Year. Hawaii-born, she divides her time between Texas and Canada.

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Review & Giveaway: Sitting on a Fortune by Becki Willis

SITTING ON A FORTUNE

The Sisters, Texas Book 9 
by
BECKI WILLIS
Genre: Cozy Mystery / Romance / Women Sleuths
Publisher: Clear Creek Publishing
Date of Publication: February 11, 2020
Number of Pages: 228

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Hidden fortune. Hidden danger. Madison Reynolds deCordova is about to uncover a dangerous secret…literally.

During In a Pinch Professional Services’s latest gig at an upholstery shop, Madison finds a chair that’s perfect for her husband’s birthday gift. At least it will be, once she removes the worn velvet. Hiding the chair at Granny Bert’s, Madison tackles her first solo upholstery project but soon discovers more than she bargained for! A hidden treasure beneath the cushion puts her in the middle of a new mystery and new danger.

The treasure isn’t her only problem. While helping a young boy find his lost dog, Madison lands on the wrong side of surly businessman Lamont Andrews. Meanwhile, best friend Genny is worried about one of her café patrons. Mr. Pruett’s wild stories are getting wilder each day, and now he’s missing. Plus, there’s the matter of a troublesome new habit Maddy seems to have acquired: breaking and entering. It’s a harsh term for simply trying to rescue a dog and save an old man.

Somehow, she knows it all fits together. But what does a lost dog, a cluttered old barn, Mr. Pruett’s disappearance, and a hidden treasure have to do with her chair? Now someone is stalking her and her grandmother, and Madison knows that danger is on its way.

As always, The Sisters are full of fun, excitement, family antics, and more danger than the law allows!

I get a little nervous when I’m reviewing a book that is part of series that I haven’t kept up with. I worry that I will be too focused on the minutiae that are explained in earlier books. Well, I worried for nothing because Sitting on a Fortune by Becki Willis grabbed my attention and did not let up for one second. Willis must be the mistress of narrative exposition because not only did she give the right amount of backstory for people and events that I should know about already, but each occurrence made me more and more excited about reading books 1-8 as well.

I enjoy Willis’ style of mystery writing because she doesn’t throw red herrings left and right, but she also doesn’t hit you over the head with the relevant clues either. The only thing that made me pause for a moment was her choice to have Madison speak her thoughts aloud so often. It almost felt like it was used solely as a device to have our protagonist caught out on several occasions. Although to be fair, when I’m psyching myself up to do something or have trouble processing something in my head, I have a tendency to talk to myself too.

Something about small towns where silly old rivalries run rampant and everyone knows everybody else’s business make for great reading. The interaction between Madison and Monte played out like a moving Normal Rockwell painting, while the bustle at Genny’s cafe had me picturing a cuter version of Luke’s Diner from Gilmore Girls. I would give anything to see a picture of Madison’s three-story mansion and the blueprints (especially for all the secret additions). Even more than the idea of living in an old mansion, I am enamored with the thought of living across the street from an old library.

In addition to knowing more about their community, I am excited to read the previous books so that I can soak up all the lovely backstories and Madison’s meet cute with her husband. If not for Willis sharing little tidbits about the early challenges of blending their families, you wouldn’t have guessed that this more modern and smaller version of the Brady Bunch faced any obstacles at all. Although, I get a little bit of a vibe just short of a ’50s husband flavor when Madison’s police chief husband shows disapproval at the thought of her pursuing her private investigator license. I would have liked a little more exposition on that business. Is Brash just worried about her safety or is he worried a little bit that she will get in the way of his job? Again, I must read books 1-8!

A nice little touch would have been to have a sample page of Juliet’s journal at the very end of the book. Perhaps something that could tease the reader for the next installment in the series. Overall, I am very much in love with this cozy mystery. I never thought about what the “cozy” part meant but I feel like this book embodied it perfectly. (I now take cozy to mean no crass, sexy stuff or gratuitous gore.) So I can highly recommend this series to anyone who likes a good mystery that leaves you feeling lighter once you’ve finished it.

Becki Willis, best known for her popular The Sisters, Texas Mystery Series and Forgotten Boxes, always dreamed of being an author. In November of ’13, that dream became a reality. Since that time, she has published numerous books, won first place honors for Best Mystery Series, Best Suspense Fiction, Best Women’s Detective Fiction and Best Audio Book, won the 2018 RONE Award for Paranormal Fiction, and has introduced her imaginary friends to readers around the world.

An avid history buff, Becki likes to poke around in old places and learn about the past. Other addictions include reading, writing, junking, unraveling a good mystery, and coffee. She loves to travel, but believes coming home to her family and her Texas ranch is the best part of any trip. Becki is a member of the Association of Texas Authors, Writer’s League of Texas, Sisters in Crime, the National Association of Professional Women, and the Brazos Writers organization. She attended Texas A&M University and majored in Journalism.

 
Connect with Becki below. She loves to hear from readers and encourages feedback!

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Review & Giveaway: Finding Esme by Suzanne Crowley

FINDING ESME
by
SUZANNE CROWLEY
  
Genre: Middle Grade (3-7) / Magical Realism / Family & Loss
Publisher: Greenwillow Books
Date of Publication: August 14, 2018
Number of Pages: 288

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After her grandfather died from a heart attack while driving his tractor on Solace Hill, twelve-year-old Esme’s been inextricably drawn to that spot, although her grandmother warns her to stay away. But when she follows her little brother, Bo, and her dog, Old Jack, up the hill while chasing fireflies, she makes an incredible discovery—dinosaur bones peeking out from underneath the abandoned tractor.

The bones must be a message from her grandfather, a connection from beyond the grave. But when word gets out that the farm is hiding something valuable, reporters, researchers, and neighbors arrive in droves. Esme struggles to understand who has her best interests at heart, especially as the memory of her grandfather begins to slip away.

Full of friendship and adventure, and featuring a palpable Texas setting, Finding Esme is a moving and heartfelt story about family, friendship, and learning to deal with loss.

PRAISE & HONORS FOR FINDING ESME:

“Esme is a brave, appealing heroine with the odds stacked against her… Bad blood and layered family secrets drive this story to its ultimately optimistic and satisfying conclusion.” — Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books (starred review)

“Esme McCauley is a lonely but spirited 12-year-old who feels nothing ever happens to her the way it’s supposed to…A poignant tale for readers who enjoy character-driven realism.” — School Library Journal

“Readers muddling through preteen changes or unstable family lives will identify with Esme’s struggles, but the thrill of discovery will appeal to most.” — Booklist

Texas Library Association 2019 Spirit of Texas (SPOT) reading program selection

 

Every once in a while you read a book and just know that this is the first of many times that you will read it. Finding Esme by Suzanne Crowley is one of these books. I struggle to put into words why that is exactly, but it’s a feeling that came over me when I began reading. I have read a good number of stories with a similar setting, but Crowley’s turn of phrase, character building, and imaginative plot transport you to a completely different place.

But let me backtrack a bit and talk about the cover for a second. I like the unusual use of colors and the distinctive illustration style. I especially like that the cover art ties in with the story while appealing to its intended audience. However, I feel like the artwork is a shade too juvenile for the story within. This book was like a mash up of To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, Homecoming by Cynthia Voigt, and My Daniel by Pam Conrad. If you have read any of those books, you know that they deal with tough subject matter and they all have pretty somber cover art to match. But I get it. Kids are more excited to pick up a pretty book in hues of purple, orange, and green; but I think it disguises a very sophisticated story.

If you’ve gotten this far without reading any synopses of the book, then proceed directly to your own copy and enjoy reading one of the best coming of age books ever. There’s a whimsy of adventure that is tethered to the earth by the hardships of the time and the personal struggles of Esme. I found it fascinating how a supernatural gift could be grave one moment and then later provide levity to another situation. I don’t know if it’s intentional, but there’s a lot of duality at play. Characters that flip between love and hate, a home that is a safe harbor one day and a cage the next, the desire to find the truth replaced by stubborn denial. And that’s just a handful that I came up with on the fly. This is the sort of book that should be studied in a youth literature class.

Funny coincidence that I had to point out, Crowley dedicates the book to her father, whose last name is Carlisle. Esme and Carlisle! [Insert groan here.] I read a lot of YA, what can I say? But seriously, this book is top shelf. Boys and girls alike will take something special from this book. And old fogies like myself will add this to our collection of classics.

Suzanne Crowley is the author of two acclaimed novels for young readers, The Very Ordered Existence of Merilee Marvelous and The Stolen One. The author, who is also a miniaturist and dollhouse collector whose work has graced the covers of magazines worldwide, was born in a small town in Texas and lives in Southlake, Texas. When not hugging her dog or imbibing in chocolate, she can often be found taking a nap.
 

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Audio Book Review & Giveaway: Covey Jencks by Shelton L. Williams

COVEY JENCKS
by
SHELTON L. WILLIAMS
Narrated by Kathy James
Genre: Mystery / Social Thriller
Publisher: Southern Owl Publications, LLC
Publication Date: February 10, 2018
Number of Pages: 229 pages
Audio Book Length: 6 hours, 38 minutesSCROLL DOWN FOR THE GIVEAWAY! 

Covey Jencks is a murder mystery with a social conscience. Set in West Texas with a cast of colorful and humorous characters, it follows a young lawyer from Washington, DC back to his hometown of Odessa, Texas. He wants and needs to solve a murder case from 1979 in 1993. The problem is that the Odessa Police Department has already found its man, and no one wants to re-visit the case of a black prostitute whose life was seemingly of no consequence to anyone. But Freddie Mae Johnson’s death matters to Covey, and eventually he discovers an old flame, JayJay Qualls, who also knew and loved Freddie. Together they undertake an investigation that uncovers not only the truth about Freddie but also the secrets of Odessa’s south side, Mexican gangs, a Boston mobster, and the fallacy of unexamined assumptions. Finding out who killed Freddie is one thing, but preventing their own demise is quite another! 
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CLICK TO BUY AUDIO

PRAISE FOR COVEY JENCKS:
 
Williams seamlessly braids a murder mystery with a love story and a drama about the pervasiveness of racism in the South… The author’s prose is buoyantly eccentric, both insightful and self-effacingly humorous. And the clues Covey and JayJay track down are meted out to readers with impressive judiciousness: The author never prematurely surrenders so much information that the conclusion is rendered foregone while the tale’s swift pace prevents it from becoming tedious. An engrossing crime drama that’s both entertaining and provocative. — Kirkus Indie

review

Welcome to my first ever audio book review! I’m really excited to share my thoughts on Covey Jencks. Within the first few seconds, I was laughing because I was pronouncing Covey with a long “O” sound. So you can see that I am someone who could definitely benefit from listening to audio books more often.

One thing I noticed several minutes into this audio book is that all the normal front of the book stuff (title page, publishing information, foreword, etc.) was treated as individual chapters. So when you looked at your listening device, chapter 7 was when chapter 1 of the book actually began. I wish the company that put together the audio book could or would have used some other naming convention so that the chapter numbers actually matched up.

Narrator: At first I was a little confused with the choice of Kathy James as narrator, but I feel like it might have had to do with what was discussed in the foreword. This book contains all types of characters and the diversity extends beyond the normal racial categories to include cisgender individuals as well. So I think that Williams wanted to liberate us of our assumption as to what Covey Jencks would sound like. James was a good choice for keeping us on neutral footing. She has a very soothing voice with very precise diction, sort of like Siri. It takes her about a chapter or two to hit her stride, but it feels satisfying to hear her personality shine through. And though I tried to break the confines of my bias on gender roles, I couldn’t help but smile every time that pretty voice cursed or talked about lewd behavior. Side note: I truly hope that Ms. James narrates some of those children’s books intended for adult audiences in the future. Lastly, kudos to anyone who can read AIM messages without me fast forwarding.

Story: I can’t praise this story enough. I was able to invest myself into every character, especially when it came to Covey and Freddie. I liked hearing about Covey’s upbringing and just appreciated his sense of humor all around. I have a feeling that Williams has a bit of Covey in him because that character just felt so natural. I liked the many layers of Ms. Freddie as well and was glad to get to know her through the various flashbacks. Odessa was sort of its own character for me also because who knew about the seedy underground during that time period? I have never been to Odessa but I had imagined a sleepy town where there’s one bar and one police officer to break up the occasional drunken brawl. But I guess that there would have to be more to a place for Covey to come back from a high power attorney position in Washington, D.C.

I had a good time listening to this book. It’s a good mystery that takes you on a wild ride that is very different from your typical whodunit. You can’t go wrong getting this in audio or print format.

Shelton L. Williams (Shelly) is founder and president of the Osgood Center for International Studies in Washington, DC. He holds a PhD from Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and he taught for nearly 40 years at Austin College in Sherman, Texas. He has served in the US Government on 4 occasions and he has written books and articles on nuclear proliferation. In 2004 he began a new career of writing books on crime and society. Those books are Washed in the Blood, Summer of 66, and now Covey Jencks. All firmly prove that he is still a Texan at heart.

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My first part time job while I was in high school was announcing at the local radio station, and I had fun being “on the air” and using my sarcastic sense of humor.  I worked in the radio business for more than twenty years. My favorite pastimes are teaching figure skating, getting lost in a great book, and watching movies.  I narrate and produce audio books in my home studio, and I truly enjoy bringing an author’s characters to life with an audio book. I currently reside in Minnesota with my slightly overweight cat and two childlike golden retrievers.  
 
 
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Review & Giveaway: Mistletoe Miracles by Jodi Thomas

MISTLETOE MIRACLES
Ransom Canyon
by
JODI THOMAS
Sub-genre: Holiday Romance / Western
Publisher: HQN
Date of Publication: September 25, 2018
Number of Pages: 354
Scroll down for an exclusive giveaway from Jodi Thomas! 
A small-town Texas Christmas story, where hearts are lost, love is found, and family always brings you back home.
Griffin Holloway is desperate: the Maverick Ranch has been in his family for generations, but lately, it’s a money pit. He’d sooner marry one of his horses than sell the ranch. Marriage, though, could be a solution. If he can woo a wealthy bride, he might save the ranch—just in time for Christmas. Jaxon O’Grady likes his solitude just fine, thank you very much. But when a car accident brings the unexpected to his door, he realizes just how much one person can need another. Crossroads is the perfect place for Jamie Johnson: avoiding nosy questions about why she’s single, she’s happy to keep to her lakeside home. So she’s baffled when she gets the strangest Christmas present of all, in the form of a Mr. Johnson, asleep on her sofa. Who is he, and why does everyone think he’s her husband?

In this uplifting novel, three unlikely couples discover just what Crossroads, Texas, can offer: romance, belonging, and plenty of Christmas spirit. 
”Deeply poignant moments and artfully
rendered characters create a rich story that
transports readers to an idyllic place.”
Publishers Weekly
 
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review
I didn’t read the summary or the book jacket before diving into this lovely Christmas romance, so I didn’t know that I would get three love stories for the price of one. It was sort of a Love Actually feel, three stories running parallel to each other, dipping and twisting together every once in a while. Thomas did a fantastic job of making me care about each and every character (except for the bad guy) and every storyline.
This is the first romance novel that I have read where the leading ladies don’t appear until chapter 7. (Actually, one appears in chapter 3 but she is unconscious, so it doesn’t count.) I found that a bit unorthodox, but I liked the tone it set. You really get to know the men in this book, and I loved the three Holloway brothers’ banter so much! It makes me wonder if Thomas based them off of close friends or family because their hilarity is so vivid. Actually, all of her characters are so full of life and color. Not a single detail or conversation felt cliche or disingenuous.
 The reluctant and slow (although, is less than a month really slow?) love that develops between the three couples feels believable. Never was there a moment that I scoffed, ‘she wouldn’t do that’ or’ he wouldn’t say that.’ I was lapping up every detail and so sad whenever I had to take a break from reading to do something else.
My only critique is that there are some typo and type setting issues, at least with the e-book. I hope that those little blunders were caught before this lovely book went off to the printing press. Overall, I really really enjoyed this modern day western romance. I highly recommend it to sad hearts that need a smile, but also to anyone who just loves to feel the glow of new love in their soul.
A fifth-generation Texan, New York Times and USA TODAY bestselling author Jodi Thomas chooses to set the majority of her novels in her home state, where her grandmother was born in a covered wagon. A former teacher, Thomas traces the beginning of her storytelling career to the days when her twin sisters were young and impressionable. 
 
With a degree in family studies, Thomas is a marriage and family counselor by education, a background that enables her to write about family dynamics. Honored in 2002 as a Distinguished Alumni by Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Thomas enjoys interacting with students on the West Texas A&M University campus, where she currently serves as Writer in Residence.
 
Commenting on her contribution to the arts, Thomas said, “When I was teaching classes full-time, I thought I was making the world a better place. Now I think of a teacher or nurse or mother settling back and relaxing with one of my books. I want to take her away on an adventure that will entertain her. Maybe, in a small way, I’m still making the world a better place.”
 
When not working on a novel or inspiring students to pursue a writing career, Thomas enjoys traveling with her husband, renovating a historic home they bought in Amarillo and checking up on their two grown sons.
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Review & Giveaway: Cinco de Murder by Rebecca Adler

 

CINCO DE MURDER
A Taste of Texas Mystery, #3
by
Rebecca Adler
Genre:  Texas Cozy Mystery
Date of Publication: April 3, 2018
Publisher: Berkley
Number of Pages: 304

Scroll down for the giveaway!

 

Tex-Mex waitress and part-time reporter Josie Callahan serves up more Lone Star justice in this spicy mystery from the author of The Good, the Bad, and the Guacamole.It’s fiesta time in Broken Boot, Texas, and tourists are pouring into town faster than free beer at a bull roping for the mouthwatering Cinco de Mayo festivities. Tex-Mex waitress Josie Callahan, her feisty abuela, and even her spunky Chihuahua Lenny are polishing their folklórico dances for Saturday’s big parade, while Uncle Eddie is adding his own spicy event to the fiesta menu: Broken Boot’s First Annual Charity Chili Cook-off.

But Uncle Eddie’s hopes of impressing the town council go up in smoke when cantankerous chili cook Lucky Straw is found dead in his tent. And when Josie’s beloved uncle is accused of fatal negligence, she, Lenny, and the steadfast Detective Lightfoot must uncover who ended the ambitious chilihead’s life–before another cook kicks the bucket.

PRAISE FOR CINCO DE MURDER:

“I enjoyed every minute of this high fa looting Texas escapade. The authentic Texas sayings had me rolling on the floor. I’m a Texan and boy did I relate to the towns and chili cook-off so well.”
Texas Book-aholic

 

“I enjoy the Texas flair and touch while all the food talk just makes me hungry. If you enjoy a good cozy mystery that features an adorable dog and a culinary touch then this is the book/series for you.”~Books a Plenty Book Reviews

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review
I don’t know that I would ever visit a town like Broken Boot, Texas, but I do know that I found the people and the vibe so quaint that I didn’t want to see anyone get murdered. But then those pesky tourists come in and I start thinking, “I wouldn’t miss that Lucky Straw guy at all.” I suppose that Adler felt the same way since she decided to off him as soon as she could. Well, I have to admit that I was halfway wrong about nobody missing the big lug. Surprisingly, a few of the chili cooks who have made the circuit with him shed a tear or two while others only lament that they didn’t get to steal his chili championship title before he died.
Josie Callahan, already in the thick of things since her family is in charge of the chili cook off, wades in even deeper as she tries to prove herself worthy of the criminal reporter position with the town’s newspaper. When she isn’t busy trying to please her adopted family or negotiate her way through a subtle love triangle, she is channelling Nancy Drew and coming up with theories that no one takes seriously for some reason.
Adler kept me hooked with her colorful cast and funny dialogue. There were a few times that even Josie acknowledged her use of corny cliches, while other times some slipped by without comment. It’s a little silly, but I would have liked to see Lenny the dog have a more varied vocabulary since I know that dogs can say a lot more than, “yip.”
There were a few times that I felt like Adler was hitting us over the head with details to make sure that we didn’t miss them. For example, Lightfoot’s ponytail and his various Native American accessory choices. I’m not sure why those details were so important to bring up so often, especially when there’s a whole tense conversation between Lightfoot and Josie about his ethnicity.
Overall, Adler writes a cute story with great use of misdirection to keep the reader guessing. Once you track down the other books in the series, grab a margarita and enjoy.

Rebecca Adler grew up on the sugar beaches of the Florida Gulf Coast. Drawn to the Big Apple by the sweet smell of wishful thinking, she studied acting on Broadway until a dark-eyed cowboy flung her over his saddle and hightailed it to the Southwest.
She’s currently content to pour her melodramatic tendencies into writing the Taste of Texas culinary mysteries from Berkley Prime Crime: Here Today, Gone Tamale; The Good, the Bad, and the Guacamole; and Cinco de Murder. Set in far West Texas, her humorous stories are filled with delicious suspense and scrumptious Tex-Mex recipes. Her alter ego, Gina Lee Nelson, writes contemporary romance with a sweet, Southern-fried flavor. 
A former president of North Texas Romance Writers, Rebecca is currently a member of Sisters in Crime and Romance Writers of America. When not writing, she spends a great deal of time on her other favorite pastime, directing high school theatre. 
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Covey Jencks by Shelton L. Williams

 
COVEY JENCKS
by
Shelton L. Williams
Genre: Mystery / Social Thriller
Publisher: Southern Owl Publications, LLC
Publication Date: February 10, 2018
Number of Pages: 229 pages
Covey Jencks is a murder mystery with a social conscience. Set in West Texas with a cast of colorful and humorous characters, it follows a young lawyer from Washington, DC back to his hometown of Odessa, Texas. He wants and needs to solve a murder case from 1979 in 1993. The problem is that the Odessa Police Department has already found its man, and no one wants to re-visit the case of a black prostitute whose life was seemingly of no consequence to anyone. But Freddie Mae Johnson’s death matters to Covey and eventually he discovers an old flame, JayJay Qualls, who also knew and loved Freddie. Together they undertake an investigation that uncovers not only the truth about Freddie but also the secrets of Odessa’s south side, Mexican gangs, a Boston mobster, and the fallacy of unexamined assumptions. Finding out who killed Freddie is one thing, but preventing their own demise is quite another! 
scrapbook page
LORILEI POST ONLY Scrapbook Covey Jencks JPG

PRAISE FOR COVEY JENCKS: 
I just love Covey Jencks and JayJay Qualls! They are a modern couple who remind me of Nick and Nora in West Texas. Characters, crimes, and social commentary leap off the page. Shelly can tell a story! Deborah Crombie, author of the award-winning mysteries of Gemma James/Duncan Kincaid

I loved the story, the writing, and the prospects for future Covey Jencks adventures, but what I love the most, as an African- American author and documenter of human experience, is the proof that this work presents of the inextricability of Black and White lives in America. Sharon T. Freeman, CEO of Gems of Wisdom Consulting, author of 24 books, and global development expert

A dead body and a miscarriage of justice? What is a West Texas boy to do? Well, Covey Jencks, an Odessa native who knows some secrets, spurns his job with a Washington, DC law firm, and heads back to his hometown to solve the crime. Prudence Mackintosh, Contributing Editor, Texas Monthly, author of Thundering Sneakers and more

“I have unfinished business in Odessa, by God, Texas.” And with that, we are off on a wild ride with Covey Jencks as he tries to find out who killed Freddie Mae Johnson, a black prostitute, when Covey was a junior in high school. If you like your detectives to be misfits who chafe at the social rules, idealists who try to find the order behind apparent chaos, attractors of a cast of characters as contradictory as the detective is, you will grab hold of Covey and hang on until the end of the ride. When you get there, you’ll know for sure that you’ve been somewhere. Carol Daeley, Professor Emerita of English, Austin College.

Shelton L. Williams (Shelly) is founder and president of the Osgood Center for International Studies in Washington, DC. He holds a PhD from Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and he taught for nearly 40 years at Austin College in Sherman, Texas. He has served in the US Government on 4 occasions and he has written books and articles on nuclear proliferation. In 2004 he began a new career of writing books on crime and society. Those books are Washed in the Blood, Summer of 66, and now Covey Jencks. All firmly prove that he is still a Texan at heart.

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Review & Giveaway: The Fleecing of Fort Griffin by Preston Lewis

 

THE FLEECING 
OF FORT GRIFFIN
by
PRESTON LEWIS
Genre: Western Humor 
Publisher: Wild Horse Press
Date of Publication: May 19, 2016
Number of Pages: 234

2017 Elmer Kelton Award from the West Texas Historical Association:
Best Creative Work on West Texas


Scroll down for the giveaway!

 When the young Englishman Baron Jerome Manchester Paget arrives in 1878 Fort Griffin with a satchel full of money to start a buffalo ranch and find a bride, a horde of colorful swindlers from throughout Texas arrive to help themselves to a rich serving of his naiveté to frontier ways.  
  With a passel of oddball characters and more twists and turns than a stagecoach trail, The Fleecing of Fort Griffin pits the baron against crooked gamblers, a one-eyed gunfighter, a savvy marshal, conniving females, a duplicitous cavalry officer and a worldly stump preacher. 
   To stay rich, the baron must stay alive!  And to stay alive, the baron must rely on a fourteen-year-old orphan and a rooster that serves as his guard animal.  Even so, the odds and the cards are stacked against the Englishman and his bold vision of becoming the baron of bison in West Texas. 
   Written by Spur Award-winning author Preston Lewis, a master of western plot twists and humor, The Fleecing of Fort Griffin takes readers on an unconventional and uproarious journey through the Old West and some of its unsavory characters.  

PRAISE FOR THE FLEECING OF FORT GRIFFIN:

“… a work of colorful and humorous fiction,”
                             Albany Review
The Fleecing of Fort Griffin by Preston Lewis of San Angelo is one of the funniest westerns I’ve ever read.”
                             Glenn Dromgoole, Texas Reads
“If you’re looking for a delightful tale, check out The Fleecing of Fort Griffin.” 
                             Bryan Eagle

As a fan of Bluster’s Last Stand, I can’t tell you just how much I looked forward to reading this book. Lewis has the rare talent of being able to write about some of the most gruesome times in our country’s history and make us laugh until we’re out of breath. His characters, partially or completely fictionalized, are colorful and so completely drawn in that you can practically see them.
The Fleecing of Fort Griffin introduces a British character who seems to even influence the narrative voice in the beginning of the novel. Something about Lewis’s turn of phrase in the opening chapter read like a classic British novel. It was almost too descriptive and the stage was set at sort of a languid pace. But then again, maybe the Texas heat was to blame for the sluggish descriptions.
It’s the description of the characters that I savor and would like to sop up every little detail. Count on Lewis to present every sort of person you would expect in a Western, and then some. With the exception of young Sammy, I had a feeling that everybody in that town, locals and visitors alike, were full of bullshit.
The title hits you over the head with a key bit of information from the start: Fort Griffin is about to be had. But you’re constantly guessing at how the chips will fall, what kind of hand the baron is going to be dealt… you get the idea. And while you worry about the British guy’s well-being, you have to wonder if a red herring will make an appearance. At times, the set up feels like the great-grandaddy of Ocean’s 11, at other times it reminded me of a rugby match. How there’s a dog pile of people jostling for position, constantly in motion (no down, set, hike like American football), and the progress can be so minute that you didn’t realize they’ve moved down the field a bit.
“The baron attracted business like dung drew flies,” (p. 68) was a particularly apt description of the man who reeled in all sorts of people who were just after his money. It was entertaining to watch seasoned scam artists leave whatever town they last duped to follow the money, and even law enforcement and military officers plotting to win some money off of him via gambling.
My only issue with the book is the cover. At first glance, the cover is among the best I have seen in a while. But upon closer inspection and after having finished reading the book, I’m pretty sure the baron’s hat is incorrect. He is said to wear a bowler, which, according to Google is accurate in the West, but it appears he’s wearing a top hat. Also, the money overflowing from his satchel are American greenbacks. I’m pretty sure the satchel only contained British pounds. Any American money he picked up along the way was usually stashed on his person. And lastly, the baron is missing his beard. Nitpicks aside, the art looks fantastic.

            Preston Lewis is the Spur Award-winning author of 30 western, juvenile and historical novels, including The Fleecing of Fort Griffin, a western caper published by Wild Horse Press.  Fleecing won the 2017 Elmer Kelton Award from the West Texas Historical Association (WTHA) for best creative work on West Texas. 
     Lewis is best known for his comic novels in The Memoirs of H.H. Lomax series. 
Bluster’s Last Stand, a novel about Custer and the Battle of Little Bighorn, is the latest volume in the well-received series that began with The Demise of Billy the Kid.  Subsequent books in the series—The Redemption of Jesse James and Mix-Up at the O.K. Corral—were both Spur Finalists from Western Writers of America (WWA). 
           Blood of Texas, Lewis’s historical novel on the Texas Revolution, received WWA’s Spur Award for Best Western Novel.  His True West article on the Battle of Yellowhouse Canyon won a Spur Award for Best Nonfiction Article.  In addition to his two Spurs from WWA, Lewis has earned three Elmer Kelton Awards from WTHA.
       Lewis’s novels have appeared under the imprint of national publishing houses such as Bantam, Zebra and HarperCollins and of regional publishing companies like Eakin Press and Wild Horse Press.  His short works have appeared in publications as varied as Louis L’Amour Western Magazine, Persimmon Hill, Dallas Morning News, True West, The Roundup, Journal of the Wild West History Association and San Angelo Standard-Times
       A native West Texan and current San Angelo resident, Lewis holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in journalism from Baylor and Ohio State universities.  He earned a second master’s degree in history from Angelo State University.  He is a past president of WWA and WTHA.  Lewis is a longstanding member of the Authors Guild and an associate member of the Dramatists Guild of America.  

———————-

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Choice of Any One Book from the H.H. Lomax Series
2ND PRIZE: Signed Copy of The Fleecing of Fort Griffin
MARCH 20-29, 2018

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