Tag Archives: Western

Review & Giveaway: Rio Bonito by Preston Lewis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Review & Giveaway: All the Cowboys Ain’t Gone by John J. Jacobson

ALL THE COWBOYS AIN’T GONE

BY JOHN J. JACOBSON
 
Pages: 352
Pub Date: February 23, 2021
Categories: Historical Fiction / Action Adventure / Western
 
 
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All the Cowboys Ain’t Goneis the rollicking adventure story of Lincoln Smith, a young Texan living at the beginning of the twentieth century, who thinks of himself as the last true cowboy. He longs for the days of the Old West, when men like his father, a famous Texas Ranger, lived by the chivalric code. Lincoln finds himself hopelessly out of time and place in the fast-changing United States of the new century. When he gets his heart broken by a sweetheart who doesn’t appreciate his anachronistic tendencies, he does what any sensible young romantic would do: he joins the French Foreign Legion. 
On his way to an ancient and exotic country at the edge of the Sahara, Lincoln encounters a number of curious characters and strange adventures, from a desert hermit who can slow up time to a battle with a crocodile cult that worships the god of death. He meets them all with his own charming brand of courage and resourcefulness.
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Review

All the Cowboys Ain’t Gone by John J. Jacobson surprised me in all the best possible ways. In my typical fashion, I didn’t read the blurb or summary before diving into this beauty, so I thought I was headed for a good ol’ Western. Y’know, cowboys on a trail ride, telling stories by a campfire, and maybe a saloon fight or two. So when we’re introduced to a young Lincoln Smith who gets busted for reading a book about the French Foreign Legion, I immediately knew that I had miscalculated and was eager to read on.

Jacobson’s knack for writing very natural dialogue allows each scene to play out cinematically in my mind. From the strict but doting former schoolteacher (Lincoln’s mother), to the devious and dishonorable Humberto Hill, Jacobson paints a clear portrait of each character and really breathes life into each of them. So much so that I was completely shocked at how much happened in the first part of the book, a scant 31 pages.

While Part One truly reads like a Western, Part Two has a more modern feel as we follow Lincoln through college and his stateside adventures. After a series of mishaps, Lincoln does what many others have done in his position. He remembers the dream of his childhood and, having nothing to hold him back, turns his dream into reality. Though the people who love him try to persuade him otherwise, our young adventurer is wise enough to know that life is too short to not pursue your dreams. With each new chapter of his life unfolding, Lincoln encounters interesting characters, both good and bad, and it’s entertaining to see how he handles himself in the various scrapes he gets into.

Part Three brings about another shift in tone as we arrive in Mur, as it is at the cusp of joining the modern world. Given that Lincoln romanticizes the place for being part of the old world, it is interesting to anticipate how he will feel once he arrives. And as the author envelopes us in this new place, it is difficult, yet exciting, to imagine how Lincoln’s story will intersect with King Suleiman’s. With each reference to legends, history, and archaeology, I have to admit that my brain immediately drew parallels to Indiana Jones. But I found Lincoln to be wiser and more grounded than Doctor Jones. Also, this book has me raring to do some of my own research on the French Foreign Legion and the history of men fighting for other countries to pay for their world travels.

This book might not be a typical Western (although to be honest, there are trail rides, campfire stories, and saloon fights) but I think that it is so much more. Much like the Alexandre Dumas books that are referenced, this book has a swashbuckling hero, true blue friendships, and romantic love that defies fate. It doesn’t read like a sequel, but I would love to hear more about what happens to Lincoln next.

Though John J. Jacobson didn’t join the French Foreign Legion after being jilted by a girlfriend, or over his displeasure of missing the last great cattle drive, he has, borrowing Churchill’s phrase, lived a rather variegated life. He was born in Nevada, grew up in the West, surfed big waves in Hawaii, circled the world thrice, survived the sixties and seventies, corporate America, and grad school. Among other degrees he has an MA in Renaissance literature from Claremont Graduate University.

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Review & Giveaway: The Outlaw’s Daughter by Margaret Brownley

THE OUTLAW’S DAUGHTER
HAYWIRE BRIDES, BOOK 3

by
MARGARET BROWNLEY
Western / Historical Fiction / Clean & Wholesome Romance
Publisher: Sourcebooks Casablanca
Date of Publication: May 26, 2020
Number of Pages: 384
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He may be a Texas Ranger, but he only has eyes for the outlaw’s beautiful daughter . . . 

Texas Ranger Matt Taggert is on the trail of a wanted man. He has good reason to believe that Ellie-May’s late husband was involved in a stagecoach robbery, and he’s here to see justice done. But when he arrives in town, he discovers the thief has become a local hero . . . and his beautiful young widow isn’t too happy to see some lawman out to tarnish her family’s newly spotless reputation. 

 

Ellie-May’s shaken by her encounter with the ranger. Having grown up an outlaw’s daughter, she’ll do anything to keep her children safe—and if that means hardening her heart against the handsome lawman’s smiles, then so be it. Because she knows Matt isn’t about to give up his search. He’s out to redeem himself and find proof that Ellie-May’s husband wasn’t the saint everyone claims . . . even if it means losing the love neither expected to discover along the way.

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Review

The Outlaw’s Daughter by Margaret Brownley is the third book of the Haywire Brides series, but it is the second book of the series that I have read (I read Cowboy Charm School and loved it). Just so you know, I wasn’t concerned about missing the second one because a great author like Brownley can provide exposition as necessary or write a story that reads like a standalone. However, I do intend on reading The Cowboy Meets His Match when I have a free moment.

The first chapter might make you take another glance at the cover to make sure you are reading the right book. The tone is so serious without a hint of physical attraction between Texas Ranger Matt Taggert and the titular character, Ellie-May Blackwell, but that is Brownley’s style. She sets up that meet-cute in true grit fashion, with two strangers who are wary of each other for very good reasons. Even as some barriers break down and feelings start to surface, the bleakness of Ellie-May’s situation is not lessened just because love is in the air.

That is what I really enjoy about Brownley’s brand of western romance and what separates her from other authors in the genre. She doesn’t throw in a hardship or villain or two to make the story interesting. Brownley acknowledges that the time period was hard for everyone but especially so for a woman like Ellie-May. The author doesn’t hand out rose-colored glasses just because Ellie-May has a second chance at love. She creates interesting characters who have been grown in this harsh environment, showing us how some people will take what they think they’re entitled to and how others will do what they have to do to survive while still keeping their moral integrity intact. Striving to be the latter is a struggle and Brownley shows that it is not always easy to accomplish.

Brownley’s flavor of romance also tastes realistic, which to me is much more gratifying than the cloying love stories that flood the genre. The boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy wins girl back motif is a common one in romance, but the stakes are usually comically low and they cheapen the love story. This is not the case with The Outlaw’s Daughter. Love and respect are hard earned, as they should be.

I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a great story with love and the Wild West in the mix as well. It reads like a standalone; so don’t worry if you haven’t read the first two books. But if you’re about to put this book in your shopping cart, you might as well save yourself another trip or delivery wait by adding the other two now. You’re welcome.

  

New York Times bestselling author Margaret Brownley has penned more than forty-six novels and novellas. 

 
A two-time Romance Writers of American RITA® finalist, Margaret has also written for a TV soap and is a recipient of the Romantic Times Pioneer Award. Not bad for someone who flunked eighth-grade English. Just don’t ask her to diagram a sentence.
 
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Review & Giveaway: Longing for a Cowboy Christmas

LONGING FOR
A COWBOY CHRISTMAS
with stories by
ROSANNE BITTNER, LINDA BRODAY,
MARGARET BROWNLEY, AMY SANDAS,
LEIGH GREENWOOD, ANNA SCHMIDT
Genre: Romance Anthology / Western / Historical
Publisher: Sourcebooks Casablanca
Date of Publication: September 24, 2019
Number of Pages: 528

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Find your very own cowboy to keep warm these long, wintry nights as you cozy up with six sweeping, epic tales of heroism, passion, family and celebration from bestselling authors Leigh Greenwood, Rosanne Bittner, Linda Broday, Margaret Brownley, Anna Schmidt, and Amy Sandas.

 

 

Fall in Love with Christmas
Whether it’s a widower finding an unexpected new start, a former outlaw and his new wife welcoming their very own Christmas miracle, a long-lost lover returning just in time for a special holiday celebration, a second chance at love between two warring hearts given peace at last, an unlikely pair working together to bring joy to a small Texas town, or a cowboy and his dark-eyed beauty snowed in one unforgettable wintry eve…every Christmas with a cowboy is filled with light, laughter, and a forever kind of love.

Review

 

“It’s not the size that matters, it’s how you use it.” That double entendre is among my favorites and it fits this book perfectly. When I picked up this midsized paperback, I was a little skeptical that it could hold six stories that would satisfy me in such a small amount of space. I am glad that I was proved wrong. I believe that one of the stories is a snippet of a full-length book while the other five are novellas, but they all very much represent the best of this genre. While each story has its own distinct flavor, the high-quality editing is evident throughout the whole package. There are no messy typos or confusing text in this little gem. (ETA: Oh darn, the page numbers on the index are a bit off in the ARC, but I’m sure they fixed it in the final copy.)

Greenwood’s A Fairy Tale Christmas and Brownley’s A Love Letter to Santa has descriptions that make my brain dance with delight. I could see everything because they described every detail so carefully. I read those stories deliberately so that I wouldn’t miss anything. A Fairy Tale Christmas is the perfect story to start the anthology with because it is the least steamy of the six. Although A Love Letter to Santa is also pretty tame in the sexy department. But don’t get me wrong; there is tons of delicious tension between the love interests. However, if you’re more accustomed to historical romances that follow the “normal and proper” rules of courting behavior from that era, those two stories will leave you breathless but not quite flushed.

If you want to feel the heat and read a happy ending (double entendre strikes again!), Bittner’s Christmas in Paradise, Broday’s A Christmas Wedding, and Schmidt’s One Snowy Christmas Eve are juicy appetizers to the sinfully sensual Through the Storm by Sandas. I don’t know if it’s because of the time period, but I appreciate that the couples in these stories have way more going on under the surface beyond just pure, animal physical attraction. With the exception of One Snowy Christmas Eve, the lovers in all of these particularly steamy stories fell in love pretty quickly but it is obvious to the reader that they found their match and simply were not wasting any time in expressing their love for each other.

I really enjoyed how this anthology featured scenarios that I’m sure existed at the time but I never put much thought into before. For example, A Christmas Wedding is set in a town populated by asylum refugees, ex-outlaws, and other society castoffs. Christmas in Paradise’s male protagonist is a divorcee and One Snowy Christmas Eve’s female protagonist turns down the love of her life to become a doctor. I feel like the common thread in all of these stories, besides the Christmas bit, is an independent woman who finally falls in love when she meets a man strong enough to catch her. Take your pick of wine or hot cocoa and settle in. You need these stories in your life!

——–║——–
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PRAISE FOR LONGING FOR A COWBOY CHRISTMAS: 
“Greenwood is a master at westerns.” ―RT Book Reviews for Leigh Greenwood

“An emotional powerhouse! This classic historical western is destined for the “keeper” shelf.” ―RT Book ReviewsTop Pick for Rosanne Bittner

“Fun and sensual…great for fans of history, romance, and some good old Texas grit.” ―Kirkus for Linda Broday

“A great story by a wonderful author.”―#1 New York Times bestselling author DEBBIE MACOMBER for Margaret Brownley

“The perfect read.” ―RT Book Reviews for Anna Schmidt
 
“A genuine page-turner…electric and absorbing.” ―Kirkus for Amy Sandas
Blog Tour Participating Authors (L to R): Rosanne Bittner, Linda Broday, Margaret Brownley, Amy Sandas
Rosanne Bittner:
Website * Facebook * Twitter * Goodreads * Blog * Amazon
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Website * Facebook * Twitter * Goodreads * Pinterest * BookBub * Amazon 
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Website * Facebook  * Twitter * Goodreads * Amazon
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Website * Goodreads
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Anna Schmidt:
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2nd Prize: Copies of:  LFACC, The Cowboy’s Honor, Logan’s Lady + $25 Amazon Gift Card
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Notable Quotable & Giveaway: Christmas in Winter Valley by Jodi Thomas

CHRISTMAS 
IN WINTER VALLEY
Ransom Canyon, #8 
by
Jodi Thomas
Genre: Contemporary / Western / Holiday Romance
Publisher: HQN
Publication Date: September 24, 2019
Number of Pages: 288 pages

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Ransom Canyon welcomes you back for a Christmas that has everything you’re looking for: romance, family, and a whole lot of Texas.

Cooper Holloway would take nature over people any day—especially visiting relatives. That’s why he’s headed for a rustic cabin in remote Winter Valley, where he’ll care for a herd of wild mustangs. But Cooper’s plans are quickly thwarted by the arrival of two unexpected guests: one, a stranger in desperate need of his help, and the other, a very attractive young veterinarian.

Elliott is busy trying to keep Maverick Ranch running smoothly with Cooper gone, which is no easy task with family visiting. And when a long-lost love suddenly reappears in his life, Elliott knows he’ll have more than just books to balance this season.

With a big, chaotic family Christmas around the corner and love blooming in surprising ways, the Holloway men will have to make big choices about the future—just in time for the holidays.

PRAISE FOR CHRISTMAS IN WINTER VALLEY:
“This book has everything you would want. Laughter, drama. And tears both happy and sad. I highly recommend this book.” — Patty Champion (5 Stars, Goodreads Review)“I could not put this book down once I started it and longed for more once I was done.” — Melanie (5 Stars, Goodreads Review)

“I got lost in the world that she [Jodi Thomas] has created and enjoyed seeing her characters with their overlapping and interconnected stories find a happiness that none of them expected to ever find.” — B. (5 Stars, Goodreads Review)

 
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notable
1012 LORILEI NQ 2, 2 of 2 Christmas in Winter Valley.jpg

With millions of books in print, Jodi Thomas is both a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of over fifty novels and countless short story collections. Her stories travel through the past and present days of Texas and draw readers from around the world.
In July 2006, Jodi was the 11th writer to be inducted into the Romance Writers of America Hall of Fame. With five RITA’s to her credit, along with National Readers’ Choice Awards and Booksellers’ Best Awards, Thomas has proven her skill as a master storyteller.
Thomas was honored in 2002 as a Distinguished Alumni by Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas and served sixteen years as the Writer in Residence at West Texas A&M University in Canyon, Texas.
 
When not working on a novel, or inspiring students to pursue writing careers, Thomas enjoys traveling with her family, renovating an historic home, and “checking up” on two grown sons and four grandchildren.

 ║ Website ║ Facebook ║ Twitter  
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Review & Giveaway: Hitchin’ Post and the Tornado Twistin’ 4th of July Celebration by Julie Barker

HITCHIN’ POST
and the Tornado Twistin’
4th of July Celebration

by
JULIE BARKER
illustrated by Carolyn Altman
  Genre: Children’s Picture Book / Western / Fantasy
Publisher: BookBaby
Date of Publication: September 28, 2018
Number of Pages: 50
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Hitchin’ Post, the cowboy jackrabbit, is back with an all new adventure on the 6Bs’Ranch. 
 
Hitch’s brothers come to visit for the annual 4th of July rodeo and dance, but they get much more than a long-awaited visit with their brother. When a giant tornado threatens to cut their Independence Day celebration short, Hitchin’ Post, his brothers, and the rest of the cowboys have to work hard to save the ranch and the celebration. Hitchin’ Post shows that even though he is just a small jackrabbit, he has the courage it takes to bring everyone together to rebuild what the tornado destroyed. Because of old Hitch being a great leader, the 6Bs’ 4th of July celebration will go on! 
 
This is the second book in the Hitchin’ Post series by Julie Barker, where Julie once again collaborates with her mother, artist Carolyn Altman, who provides the illustrations in this romping, stomping cowboy adventure!

PRAISE FOR THE BOOK:

Hitchin’ Post and the Tornado Twistin’ 4th of July Celebration is a brilliantly woven story with a strong plot that will easily entertain anyone. The illustrations by Carolyn Altman are fun and engaging, complementing the story. I love how Barker has written an interesting story that will teach kids how working together as a team makes the hard work a whole lot lighter and much more rewarding. – Readers’ Favorite, 5 STARS

 
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review

My son and I enjoyed reading the first Hitchin’ Post book, so I was very excited to learn that Barker and Altman teamed up to create a second book. And much like Book 1, Hitchin’ Post and the Tornado Twistin’ 4th of July Celebration serves up a story with big heart and illustrations that make you feel warm and fuzzy inside.

At face value, this is a cute cowboy book starring an adorable rabbit; but it has so much more than that. It tells the story of a rabbit who takes pride in his work and his country. It addresses deep-rooted relationships that don’t weaken by distance and time apart. We get to see the intuition of the youngest character and teamwork at its finest – both rabbit and human cowboys accomplishing the impossible. From sadness to elation, to the little guy coming out on top, this book has it all.

I think that old and young readers alike will enjoy Altman’s artistic style as it is easy on the eyes. You won’t see any of the harsh lines and psychedelic colors that seem to be the norm with picture books today. However, I found the random placement of the red, white, and blue banner that says, “6Bs’ 4th of July Celebration” distracting. At first I thought it was part of the story, perhaps the backdrop of that particular scene. But as I read on, it really felt like someone didn’t like to leave any white space and just pasted the banner up willy nilly.

I also felt confident going in that my 6-year-old had grown up enough to really appreciate this book, but I guess that Book 2 ran a little longer than Book 1. He only made it about a fourth of the way through before I was reading aloud to myself. Much like the original Hitchin’ Post book, some of the rhyming schemes got away from me. There were times where I wished that the book was written in prose instead, but then the last stanza changed my mind:

“Hitch would never forget that moment at the 6Bs’
standing with his brothers and filled with joy.
He was so proud to be an American,
but more than that, proud to be a cowboy.”

I recommend this book for grades 1-4 and think that it would be a great anticipatory set to lessons on Independence Day. I could also see a family sitting near a campfire or barbecue grill reading this story while they wait for the burgers and ribs to cook up nice. I look forward to reading the next Hitchin’ Post book.

Julie Barker is the author of Hitchin’ Post, her debut children’s storybook. With inspiration from her West Texas roots and being surrounded by the ranching heritage, Julie is fulfilling her dream of becoming a children’s author. Along with the encouragement and beautiful illustrations from her mother and artist, Carolyn Altman, the story of Hitchin’ Post the cowboy jackrabbit was born and is now officially a series. The second book, Hitchin’ Post and the Tornado Twistin’ 4th of July Celebration, was released September 2018.

WEBSITE  ┃  FACEBOOK   ┃  GOODREADS 
Carolyn Altman is an artist and the illustrator of the Hitchin’ Post children’s book series, in which she collaborated with her daughter, Julie Barker, the author. Carolyn resides in Vernon, Texas, with her husband Stanley. They have two daughters and six grandchildren, all of whom live nearby. “Touch the Heart with Original Art” is Carolyn’s slogan, which she has used for the past 40 years as she creates lighthearted and inspiring art with subjects such as wildlife, horses, cattle, and cowboys, in hopes of helping to preserve this way of life for many years to come. 
 
The beginning of her art career consisted of using mostly oil and acrylic mediums, then Carolyn began creating baby memory books in which she incorporates her art into each page. Each baby memory book is personalized and truly a work of art in itself. Carolyn believes that her experiences throughout her life are what inspires her art. 
 
She has spent her life in West Texas surrounded by wide open spaces and the beauty of the farming and ranching heritage, and that way of life will always show up in her paintings and illustrations. Her latest creations include a series of angel paintings depicting what she deems most important in her life — her faith. 
WEBSITE  ┃  INSTAGRAM  ┃  ETSY
TWITTER  ┃  PINTEREST  ┃  FACEBOOK 
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Review & Giveaway: Cowboy Charm School by Margaret Brownley


COWBOY CHARM SCHOOL 
HAYWIRE BRIDES, #1

by
MARGARET BROWNLEY
Sub-genre: Western / Clean Romance
Publisher: Sourcebooks Casablanca
Date of Publication: September 4, 2018
Number of Pages: 384
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When Texas Ranger Brett Tucker accidentally derails a wedding, he’s determined to bring the estranged couple back together…but he never dreamed he’d start falling for the bride!
Texas Ranger Brett Tucker hates to break up a wedding, but the groom—notorious criminal Frank Foster—is a danger to any woman. So he busts into the church, guns blazing…only to find he has the wrong man.
 
STOP THAT WEDDING!
Bride-to-be Kate Denver is appalled by her fiancé’s over-the-top reaction to the innocent mistake and calls off the wedding—for good. Guilt-ridden, Brett’s desperate to get them back on track. But the more time he spends with Kate, the harder he falls…and the more he yearns to prove that he’s her true match in every way.
“Light and airy as cotton candy, this tale charms.” 
— Publishers Weekly
 
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review
From the very first chapter, I could tell that this book wasn’t written by your typical romance novelist. I can’t put my finger on it, but perhaps it is Brownley’s word choice – none of those overused descriptions we see in most western romance novels – that sets this book apart from all the other romance novels I have read. Or maybe it’s because that first chapter, so suspenseful and visceral, doesn’t read like a romance at all. But don’t worry, come chapter two, you definitely know that you have picked up a romance novel, if the pretty book cover hasn’t tipped you off yet.
If you follow my blog, you know that I have recently reviewed another western romance that featured a young woman who makes candy for a living and eventually falls in love with a law man. You can rest easy that this book is completely different and exciting to read. The search for the robbers is paced nicely with very subtle clues about who the culprits might be. Kate’s job as the town’s candymaker is more than just a quaint occupation she holds, but a family legacy and vehicle with which she spreads hope and goodwill to the citizens of Haywire.
The part that I enjoyed most, that also had me sighing with exasperation at times, was Brett’s tutelage of Frank – very Cyrano de Bergerac. Although, I got the impression that Brett was easier on the eyes than Frank, which is not the typical Cyrano reincarnation. The whole “Cowboy Charm School” thing had me at war with myself. The idea that a guy can learn to be more romantic was sweet, but at what point is it like the games guys play nowadays just to land the girl? And the sticky situation of falling in love with someone that you’re trying to help someone else woo, that doesn’t usually work out well either. No matter, it was fun to read and to guess how it would work out in the end.
While Brownley’s language is beautiful, it’s not too flowery. There are no wasted descriptions or useless dialogue. I really am amazed that although this book can be considered a mystery, it very solidly reads like the western romance that it is classified as. I look forward to reading about the other Haywire brides.
I recommend this book to anyone who loves a cozy romance, but also to anyone who likes mysteries as well.
New York Times bestselling author MARGARET BROWNLEY has penned more than forty-five novels and novellas. She’s a two-time Romance Writers of American RITA® finalist and has written for a TV soap. She is also a recipient of the Romantic Times Pioneer Award.  
 
Her story, A Pony Express Christmas, will appear this fall in the Old West Christmas Brides collection, and book two of her Haywire Brides series will be published May 2019.  Not bad for someone who flunked eighth-grade English.  Just don’t ask her to diagram a sentence.
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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
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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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Blitz: The Hope of Azure Springs by Rachel Fordham

THE HOPE OF
AZURE SPRINGS 
by
RACHEL FORDHAM
Genre: Inspirational Historical Romance 
Date of Publication: July 3, 2018
Publisher: Revell

Number of Pages: 336

ABOUT THE BOOK: Seven years ago, orphaned and alone, Em finally arrived at a new home in Iowa after riding the orphan train. But secrets from her past haunt her, and her new life in the Western wilderness is a rough one. When her guardian is shot and killed, Em, now nineteen, finally has the chance to search for her long-lost sister, but she won’t be able to do it alone.

For Azure Springs Sheriff Caleb Reynolds, securing justice for the waifish and injured Em is just part of his job. He’s determined to solve every case put before him in order to impress his parents and make a name for himself. Caleb expects to succeed. What he doesn’t expect is the hold this strange young woman will have on his heart.
Welcome to the charming town of Azure Springs, Iowa, where people care deeply for one another and, sometimes, even fall in love.
 
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PRAISE FOR THE HOPE OF AZURE SPRINGS: “In her promising first novel, Fordham assembles an endearing cast of characters in the rugged Midwest plains for a tale about surviving and thriving. . . .Fordham depicts heartbreaking emotional and physical suffering, while beautifully illustrating the power in simple acts of kindness to foster healing, hope, and happiness.”
Booklist

EXCERPT: PROLOGUE
FROM THE HOPE OF AZURE SPRINGS

Iowa, 1881

     She dead?”
     Em heard a man’s voice from somewhere above her. A strange thumping pulsed through her with each word he spoke. Her throat burned, screaming for water, but she could not cry out.
     “There’s life in her. Not much of it though,” a second, raspier voice answered. She felt a hand press against her throat and then move over her body, gently probing. “She’s bleeding pretty bad.”
     “Gunshot?” the first voice asked.
     If only her eyes would open, and she could see them. Straining, she struggled to pull her heavy eyelids open. Finally, bits of light darted in front of her eyes, but she could not focus. The faces above her were fuzzy and indiscernible.
     Fear swept through her, suddenly waking her battered body. Afraid the men from before had returned, she opened her eyes wide, finding strength that only moments before she had lacked. With thrashing arms, she flailed at the men. Her arms flopped about but offered little defense—she was too weak from blood loss. And then they moved no longer, subdued by large, strong hands.
     “Easy, girl. We aren’t going to hurt you. We just want to help. Take you into town, that’s all. There’s a good doctor there.” The man’s deep voice sounded gentle, but still she did not trust him. Voices could be deceiving. Arms could hurt as well as help. She knew these things well.
     Soon she felt her body being raised above the ground, and moments later the hard planks of a wagon became the resting place for her injured frame. Too weak to move, she lay looking at the sky, wishing there were a way to end the agony, but knowing that for Lucy she would fight on.
     Once the wagon lurched forward, she lost track of everything again. The wheels bouncing over ruts made her pain so intense that everything closed around her and then faded to black.
 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Rachel Fordham started writing when her children began begging her for stories at night. She’d pull a book from the shelf, but they’d insist she make one up. She hasn’t stopped since. She lives with her husband and children on an island in the state of Washington.

 
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Review & Giveaway: Palo Duro by Max L. Knight

PALO DURO
by
MAX L. KNIGHT
  Genre: Historical Fiction / Western
Publisher: Page Publishing, Inc.
Date of Publication: September 2, 2017
Number of Pages: 226
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Westward expansion following the civil war ushered in an era of increased conflict between the Southern Plains Indians and white settlers. Peace treaties offered temporary suspension of hostilities, but more often than not resulted in broken promises as the two cultures clashed over land. The construction of frontier forts and towns, the decimation of the buffalo herds, the movement of cattle through Indian lands to burgeoning western markets, – all of these forces threatened a way of life that had existed for centuries.
The Comanche, the Southern Cheyenne, the Kiowa, the Apache all fought to protect their customs and homelands. The clashes were characterized by savagery on both sides – Indian and white. However, finite numbers and options would ensure the tribes’ defeat; they faced certain death or forced relocation and their days were numbered.

Though the Indian wars are the focus of Palo Duro, the novel also captures the spirit of the “Old West” with its depiction of the great cattle drives from Texas into Kansas, New Mexico, Colorado and Montana, the cattle barons and the trail blazers, the outlaws and gunslingers, the lawmen and Texas Rangers, and the settlers and entrepreneurs who built this country. It chronicles an era characterized by heroism, brutality, and bold ventures while paying tribute to a genre that is fading from public consciousness – the western. It is the story of the Southwest United States towards the end of the nineteenth century and the rugged individualism that forged a nation.
5 STAR PRAISE FOR PALO DURO:
This book captured Central Texas in the post-Civil War era better than any other book I’ve read. It was well researched, well written, and easy to read. I enjoyed this book more than Empire of the Summer Moon, the standard setter. I recommend this to readers of any level, even if you dislike history, as this book is that good. 
– Jeffrey R. Murray, Amazon review
Max Knight brought to life the saga of how Texas tamed their frontier. He presents a colorful experience with characters effectively placed throughout his story. If you have any interest in Texas history this book is a must read. – AmazonJacki, Amazon review

Palo Duro is an exceptional novel, well researched; a must read. 
– Chuck B., Amazon review

Reading this book is a great way to deepen and appreciate one’s Texas roots – or if you are not a Texan to understand and enjoy what makes Texas, well, Texas! I found this novel to be especially entertaining as well as informative. Made me want to go back and read Lonesome Dove again! – Michael P., Amazon review

In the spirit of the old Western genre of Zane Grey and L’amour, Max Knight pays homage to our national heritage with this fictional but historically accurate labor of love that warms the heart with his vivid imagery and authentic tone of America’s illustrious and sometimes brutal past. – Chester Sosinski, Amazon review

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Right off the bat, I noticed that this historical fiction novel reads an awful lot like a history book. Not one of those dry, fact-listing history books, but one that was written by an academic author with a bit of an imagination. When Knight is in this mode of writing, his descriptions go beyond the surface skimming details of most historical fiction books. The colorful descriptions range from the beauty and simplicity of Native American family life to the horrible, clinical depictions of warfare.
I preferred Knight’s sections of dialogue – although I wonder if some of those people were really that eloquent – that truly read like a novel. Those sections are punctuated nicely throughout the novel and kept me moving forward. They also breathed life into people and moments of history that I have never heard about. As I suffered through some of the more horrible, violent parts, the more I realized how watered down or just plain wrong my history classes were from elementary school and even on through college. The victors get to write the history books, right? So I appreciate that Knight treats both sides equally – he doesn’t glorify or justify any of it.
Seventh grade was the last time I remember learning about the Native Americans in Texas. I recall years later hearing that most of what we learned back then was incorrect. I am embarrassed to admit that I never took the time to find out the truth. I hope that Knight has done his research better than those textbook writers.
One thing that I know for sure, Knight has captured the beauty and brutality of the time period. While the book is classified as a novel, I would describe it as a history lesson punctuated by historical fiction. There are a few long stretches of dialogue throughout and it made me wonder if Knight’s choice to write them were due to having more or less documentation on that particular scenario. At the risk of appearing even more history tome-like, I think I would have appreciated footnotes. What I especially liked in this book was the Afterword section because it tied up all the loose ends of what happened to people.
The parts that I savored were sort of day-in-a-life type snapshots: village life among the natives, cattle drives, and gearing up to be a ranger. I glossed over the carnage when I could but lingered over the few times humanity shined through.
What will really stay with me are the following questions: “What accommodation would have satisfied the white’s hunger for more land?” and “What accommodation would have allowed the Apache or any of the Plains Indians to hold onto theirs?” Forever into the future, these questions will be recast with different people or nations inserted. And unfortunately, the answer more often that not might be, “Sometimes it is better to die than to be subjugated.” [Quotes from page 206]
I have a few minor criticisms: Sectioning the novel into books and chapters was a little odd. And then there was the even odder decision to put all of the book and chapter titles in quotation marks. If it were up to me, I would have divided the novel differently so that some sections didn’t seem so sparse while others bloated.
Overall, a great read wrapped in a beautiful cover. It’s not very often that I feel like I’ve learned so much from a historical novel.
Max L. Knight was born in Panama in 1949, and was raised both in the Canal Zone and in San Antonio, Texas where he now resides with his wife, Janet “Gray.” A proud member of the Corps of Cadets and graduate of Texas A&M University (Class of ’73), he received a bachelor’s degree in English and a Regular Army commission and served the next twenty-four years as an Air Defense and Foreign Area Officer before retiring in 1997 with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. After leaving the Army, Max spent the next five years working for RCI Technologies of San Antonio, becoming its Director of Internal Operations. Separating from the company in 2002, he volunteered to be the first docent at the Alamo working within its Education Department before once again serving his country as a Counterintelligence Specialist in Europe, Central America, Asia and the Middle East through 2013. Max speaks several languages including Greek and Spanish. He also holds a Master of Science degree in government from Campbell University. He has written and published two books to date: Silver Taps, a personal memoir of his relationship with his father and a tribute to his alma mater, and Palo Duro, a novel focusing on the Indian wars in the southwestern United States at the end of the nineteenth century.
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