Sunday, April 23, 2017

The Beloved Hope Chest by Amy Clipston, © 2017

Amish Heirloom, Book 4
The Beloved Hope Chest
My Review:
I have been wanting to read this final book in the Amish Heirloom series by Amy Clipston. Will this bond the family further together or separate them with the disclosure of the hidden away memories in their mamm's hope chest?

I love how this last book has begun at the very beginning as Mamm shares her heart with her girls. I loved the other books, but... have been excited to discover the clue from the first and continuing stories in the series. Life has a way of happening in the very least way we thought it would. Hearts held lightly to grow in what is today until a depth cannot be expressed in words. Love happens as a gleaning of learning together, discovering or finding usually little by little or slowly ~ coming together in trust.

Home. Safe. Cherished.

Especially, to know the rest of the story before discovering the very beginnings. Happiness has already been shared. Lives have played out to today. An adventure of love that will carry them through anything that may have come before.

Leroy Fisher has known loss in his life that affects his expectations and concern for Mattie. Wanting to shelter and care for her ~ and fulfill his longing of his longtime love for her, these childhood friends seek refuge.

Mattie's parents, with their children now adults, have chosen a smaller one-bedroom cottage for them with her dat considering retirement in building and selling furniture in a shared business with another man.

This story is looking back as Mattie realizes how she has been loved and provision for future generations by a glimpse of what caring for another can look like in retrospect. Others come alongside to share, encouraging her as all things are new on an untraveled path to find her way.
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.
2 Corinthians 1:3, 4
Enjoy the previous stories in the series that share clues to this final story.
The Forgotten RecipeThe Forgotten RecipeThe Forgotten Recipe
***Thank you, author Amy Clipston for sharing an Advance Reader's Copy with me. This review was written in my own words. No other compensation was received.***

Monday, April 17, 2017

Upon a Spring Breeze by Kelly Irvin, © 2017

Every Amish Season, Book 1


Such a beautiful visual cover! Ready to open up and begin reading...

I so enjoyed the Amish of Bee County series by this author and am ready for this new series that will contain F*O*U*R novels. We will be meeting the Weaver and Graber families featured in Jamesport, Missouri.

In Upon a Spring Breeze, the first book in my new Amish romance series, Every Amish Season, Bess Weaver’s first step in healing after tragedy is to visit a nursery, pick out her favorite flowers, take them home, and plant them. Here’s a snippet from the nursery scene:
“Take these.” He shoved a tray of golden yellow marigolds along with another of pink impatiens onto the cart. “Oh, and these. You’ll need to balance out the colors.”
“Zinneas in pinks, yellows, and fuchsia. A cornucopia of color. Somehow she felt better already, and not a single flower had graced Mattie’s garden. “Thank you.”
Watching new life sprout in the spring reminds Bess that her life isn’t over. This is a season of change in her life, just as it is in ours. Sometimes flowers are the best medicine.
   --author Kelly Irvin ~ flowers

Blue Morning Glories, Four O'Clocks, and White Moon Flowers are some of my favorites ~ the beginning and ending of a day. Bess Weaver has received therapeutic value from her plantings. A young widow with her newborn son, Bess strives to find her place in her new life, so different from what she had expected in continuation of each day.

I was glad Bess had a listening ear by those near her. Women in her community come alongside and are such a benefit for her. I especially liked Mary Katherine Ropp, an older widow who lovingly nurtured Bess, gathering her in with Jennie Troyer and Laura Kauffman, befriending her when they could understand the most. They wisely love her by example rather than telling, for each one must experience a resurfacing after a raw loss and new directions. Moms can remember what it was like with your first child ~ uncertain of what you were to do and others seemed to do it so easily.

Bess does not want to become a burden and seeks employment to help with daily needs within her extended family. Post-partum depression and feelings of inadequacy, Bess relies on skills she does have.

Spring is in the air and the Purple Martins have come to nest. A reminder that life continues and you can rely on growth and the cycle of seasons renewing. This story is portrayed in a realistic way surviving the best way she knew ~ by trying to find herself separate from what she had known.

I am looking forward to reading the continuing stories of these families.

Kelly Irvin
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***Thank you author Kelly Irvin for having a print copy sent to me from the publisher. This review was written in my own words. No other compensation was received.***

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

The Message in a Bottle Romance Collection ~ Joanne Bischof, Amanda Dykes, Heather Day Gilbert, Jocelyn Green, Maureen Lang, © 2017

Hope Reaches Across the Centuries in One Single Bottle, Inspiring Five Romances

My Review:
You are in for a treat when you begin reading the stories of hope traveling in the different time periods.

A sprinkling of hope that ignites hearts to believe again ~ beyond their limited scope. How narrowly do we keep our boundaries?
   A new voice seemed to penetrate his heart––a truthful voice that seemed older than time itself. The voice said only one word, but he heard it very clearly: hope.
   --The Distant Tide, 41.
1170: County Kerry, Ireland
Join Princess Britta as she finds a foe is a person who is not a threat to her ~ only to his memory of past confrontation with her kingdom home.

 Lucky white heather from Scotland
Long days have maneuvered between what was and what is today...
Duncan and MegAnd there--just in the very depths of her eyes––he saw it. A flicker of hope––distant and elusive as a will-o'-the-wisp light upon the loch. If she could dare to believe...
   --A Song in the Night, 115.
1715: Scotland and England
Could it be all that her heart desired? Meg MacNaughton sought a touch of home, strength enough to bolster courage. Longingly, the messenger.
"I call to remembrance my song in the night: I commune with mine own heart: and my spirit made diligent search."
Psalm 77:6
Peace to renew strength.

Image result for pearl street NYC 1798
Miss Abigail Van de Klerk has been sent to the home of her friend by her father for the summer season to entertain proper decorum away from his medical practice.
"...Age is only important as it relates to experience."
   --The Forgotten Hope, 187.
1798: New York

It is so important to be who we are, and not to emulate another for societal expectations. Frivolity does not match solidity in character when misrepresented, especially on first impressions. For in being ourselves we find out who we truly are intended to be. Beloved.
IMG_3225.JPGMiss Cora Mae Stewart had a decision to make to be able to continue care for her mama: By settling for her pap's parting request, now including care for young June, herself needing a mama. Or... upturned by war, the dispatch of Union soldiers removing her from her Southern mill work drawing patterns for Confederate uniforms. This second decision wasn't hers to make.
Hearing her talk had been like looking at his own reflection, the recognition so complete, it was like coming home. The woman he captured just this morning was now seizing his heart instead.
   --A River between Us, 293-4.
1864: Roswell, Georgia
Following orders does not cover the courage of a longing to care for another protectively. Dreams, faith, and hope, not lost amid uncertain travel to destiny as it seemed.
Dare to imagine a different life than the one you got used to expecting.
   --Ibid., 296.
Is that beautiful, or what!
"Hope is on the inside. Even if the vessel is battered and scarred. Hope can still live within."
   --Ibid., 322.
You will indeed cry with this story!!

"I write things down that I mean not to forget. Notes for remembrance."
    --The Swelling Sea, 379.
1890: Coronado Island, California
Image result for hotel del coronado 1888
Rosie Graham meets Jonas McIntosh on the beach as he frees a bottle from the salt-laden sand near the edge of the water. Insistent that it is hers, she attempts to have it. A story of encouragement, understanding, and a hope without boundaries.

I know I will be starting back to the beginning as these stories are interwoven with a single word on a bottle that is cherished and sent forth to a further generation who will realize its message at just the right time.
Even there shall Thy hand lead me, and Thy right hand shall hold me.
Psalm 139:10
EnJ*O*Y this excerpt beginning in 834 AD Ireland ~ Prologue


“You will surely forget your trouble, recalling it only as waters gone by.”
Job 11:16 NIV

Ballyfír Monastery, the North of Ireland
834 AD

Flames lapped at the monk’s robes. He raced down corridors that crackled with the collision of dampness and heat, dodging fire-lit debris. So this was to be the end, then. The night the stones of Ballyfír Monastery would tell their last tale.
   Voices ricocheted. Quick into an alcove he pressed himself, wincing against the sharp, foreign echoes. One man barked out heavy words, only to be cut off by another. How many were there? Five in the cross path, by the sounds of it. Maybe more. Perhaps there was yet hope, if their number was small. Another, more distant voice summoned them away, and they thundered in the direction of the cellarium.
   Good, he thought. Let them take the food. If they will but leave the words. . .
   The monk released his breath then pulled in ash-thick air only to sputter it back out in a fit of coughing. Turning, he flung open the latched window and gasped for clean air. He was too far from the round tower where the finished manuscripts were stored, but he might reach the scriptorium before the fire did. The Living Word must endure.
   But as he filled his lungs afresh, he saw them: three ships curled against the night in stark silhouette, horrible dragon mouths agape upon each prow. Torchlights running to and fro on board, on the beach, winding their way up the hill to the monastery like one great serpent, ready to swallow them whole.
   “Please, Father.” His whispered prayer was raspy. “If we perish, may hope yet live.”
   Slipping into the empty corridor, the prayer released a thousand leaden weights that had anchored him: the sight of the abbot moments before, slain in the refectory; the desperation that washed over him at the thought of those confined to the infirmary, unable to escape; and the subsequent realization that none of his brothers could flee—not far enough, on this island. Tonight Ballyfír—the place of truth—would give its life for truth. For hope.
   Suddenly the yelling, the crashing debris, the pounding footsteps, and shrieks of a raid faded until all he could hear was his own heartbeat carrying him swiftly to what he sought. In the darkness of the scriptorium he grabbed for something—anything—to protect the words. He laid hold of a vessel, hand-forged by one of the metalworking brothers, its cold bronze inscribed with braided intricacies and a Latin word encircling its neck. He pitched the quills it held and capped it. The bottle was a messenger, now. A guardian.
   He gripped it and ran to snatch the parchments from the table. With full arms he lingered but a moment, torn: Should he flee back into the fiery mayhem, where destruction would surely consume the pages? The room seemed smaller and smaller, and so did he, until his eyes fell on the small wooden door in the corner—only waist-high, created to retrieve candles from the cupboard shared with the kitchen. He dashed to it, flung open the door, tossed the cupboard’s contents out, and burrowed through to the other side.
   A door scraped open behind him. They’d breached the scriptorium. Pulse rushing in his ears, he scrambled into the kitchen and through its door to the outside, where the night cloaked him long enough to reach the cliff-side tower. Wind lashed his face and plucked the parchment leaves from his arms until he held fast to what remained: one solitary sheet in a swirling dance of wind-borne pages. Despair threatened to cripple him, but truth was truth whether one page or fifty. The tower door creaked open to his push, and he took the steps up, up, up two at a time until he burst into the tower chamber—home to the perpetual flame that guided weary visitors to them. The monk shivered, realizing it was the work of his own hand that had guided the Vikings here—for he’d tended the flame just hours ago. Was it such a short time? It seemed an eternity, and now he stood on the brink of just that.
   With a mighty heave, he pushed open the window latch overlooking the surf. Time stood still as he rolled the solitary parchment up, glimpsing its ornately illuminated words as he did. He slipped the scroll inside the bottle. This, then, would be their legacy to the world. He would set it free to be carried somewhere, to safety if it pleased God.
   Windows in every direction, he turned to take in the sight of his earthly home one last time, clutching the vessel to his chest.
   Behind him, he glimpsed the far end of the monastery, where the open-air cloister walled in a handful of candles flickering amid the firestorm encroaching around them. Those who still lived must have gathered there. He could hear their harmonies rising on the wind, a haunting and sweeping steadiness carried with each interlaced note, wrapping him with the peace of his God. Peace that made no sense. Peace that could only be from its very Author.
   Beside him, the steady stream of torches grew closer.
   And before him, the midnight sea waited to swallow the precious words. Through cracked lips, the monk prayed the waves would not bury them, but carry them until they could speak life into another soul.
   Perhaps even the souls of their attackers.
   “Father, forgive them. . . .”
   He lifted the candle and dripped its wax around the bottle’s mouth to seal it before securing the lid. By the light of the single flame, he read the word etched 11 upon the bronze with such care: Spero.
   He stretched his arm out through the window and, gathering every bit of strength left within him, hurled it outward. It arced, briefly catching the moonlight, then dropped into the dark water below.
   It was finished.
   The monk dropped to his knees, hands clasped, and joined his voice with his brothers in a song of life, even as Viking shouts overpowered them.
   The stones of Ballyfír told their last tale that night. . .but it was just the beginning.

***Thank you lovely authors for gifting me with this beautiful volume. This review was written in my own words. No other compensation was received.***
Joanne Bischof

Amanda Dykes

Heather Day Gilbert
Jocelyn Green
Maureen Lang

Monday, April 3, 2017

21 Days of Grace: Stories that Celebrate God's Unconditional Love compiled by Kathy Ide, © 2015

A Fiction Lover’s Devotional series, Book 1

21 days of grace FB cover
Click here to purchase your copy.

Book: 21 Days of Grace  
Author: Compiled by Kathy Ide
Genre: Devotional  
Release Date: March 24, 2015

Love fiction? Looking for a devotional? Check out 21 DAYS OF GRACE, book one in the Fiction Lover’s Devotional series (published by BroadStreet Publishing Group). Fictional stories followed by brief life applications written by best-selling Christian novelists and debut authors, including Angela Hunt, Cindy Woodsmall, and Deborah Raney. Great for individual or group study.

21 Days of Grace

My Review:
A hardcover devotional just the right size to take along with you for moments to read while you wait. Whether you are at the doctor's office or in a school zone picking up your child, you will find just the right time to read a devotional by a favorite or soon to be! author.

Grace ~ Grace ~ God's Grace
This is a compilation of sharings of how God has met them in their daily adventure. Twenty-one days of freedom to experience individually. These stories parallel the grace we have been given. Accepting it or placing focus only on what we have known, is the decision our choice will make ~ rejecting a burden to rely completely upon His love offered to us.

You will enjoy refreshing as you also re-read these devotions and apply them for yourself, beneficial to others! Seeing with new eyes, possibilities. Honoring another, receiving help given to you, when you usually fill a need you observe in others, allows them to give. A gift to both!

Each day has a life application and author introduction. There is a ribbon bookmark ready to keep your place. Short reads, but their reflective thought will stay with you. They would make a good around the table devotional for discussion over tea and scones, adding applicable Scripture examples with them. Any one of the day stories would be a good conversation opener for small gatherings to share life experiences where God has shown His grace.

Kathy Ide-rectangle (1)
This little book would make a nice tuck-in gift. You may even find a new author you would like to follow after reading their fiction story here that magnifies God's unconditional love for each of us in our daily life. A snippet that will tug at your heart and stay with you long after the day has begun.

***Thank you, Celebrate Lit for including me in the book tour for 21 Days of Grace and sending a copy to me. This review was written in my own words. No other compensation was received.***

Visit the website,, and find the forum for "21 Days of Grace."

Kathy Ide is the author of Proofreading Secrets of Best-Selling Authors and the editor/compiler of the Fiction Lover’s Devotional series. She’s a full-time freelance editor and writing mentor, working with Christian authors of all genres at all levels. She teaches at writers’ conferences across the country and is the director of the SoCal Christian Writers’ Conference and the Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference. She’s a co-owner of the Christian Editor Network LLC and founder of the four divisions that comprise the CEN: Christian Editor Connection, The Christian PEN: Proofreaders and Editors Network, PENCON, and The PEN Institute. To find out more about Kathy, visit

Guest Post from Kathy Ide

I’ve always loved Christian fiction, and I’ve seen the power of fiction to touch hearts and change lives, both firsthand and hearing about the experiences of others. But you know, in my quiet times with the Lord, reading a chapter from a novel just doesn’t seem quite appropriate. So a devotional with short fiction stories seemed like a great solution. And you can take these purse-sized devotionals wherever you go, to read when you have a few minutes of down time. It’s a great way to get “inspiration on the go.” And they make fantastic gifts for friends and loved ones.

Blog Stops

March 24: ASC Book Reviews
March 24: autism mom
March 28: A Greater Yes
March 29: Southern Chelle
March 30: Pause for Tales
March 30: The Scribbler
March 31: Carpe Diem
April 1: Splashesofjoy
April 3: Lane Hill House
April 5: God is Love

EnJ*O*Y these Fiction Lover's Devotionals:


To celebrate her tour, Kathy is giving away:

1st – 4th place winners: A set of all four devotionals in the series. 
5th & 6th place winners: An autographed copy of 21 Days of Grace with a novel written by one of the contributing authors!!

Click below to enter. Be sure to comment on this post before you enter to claim 9 extra entries!

Saturday, April 1, 2017

The Pony Express Romance Collection ~ Barbara Tifft Blakey, Mary Davis, Darlene Franklin, Cynthia Hickey, Maureen Lang, Debby Lee, Donna Schlachter, Connie Stevens, Pegg Thomas, © 2017

Historic Express Mail Route Delivers Nine Inspiring Romances

The Pony Express Romance Collection

What could be more fun than joining the Wild West and the NINETEEN-month Pony Express??

I was surprised to find the short-lived Express ~ perhaps safer than the train robberies, the stagecoach holdups, and who knows what else ~ especially when they knew the mail pouch contained long-awaited pay by many. Merely my speculation!

Read this New News! I received via email from author Maureen Lang today.

Maureen Lang
I will be highlighting My Dear Adora written by author Maureen Lang ~ thank you for honoring me with a copy of The Pony Express Romance Collection, Maureen!!

Setting Time Period
San Francisco ~ Spring, 1862

My Review
Adora Denley had arrived at her destination months earlier, but due to an accusation of duplicity and an unsavory announcement of her character, she is erroneously let go from her employment and... livelihood. Thankful for the harboring at Miss Roseleen's Boardinghouse, she is taught kitchen skills to alleviate Roseleen's duties. A shelter from the storm of life.

Chip Nolan had hunted down a stolen mochila, the saddle pack filled with mail that Lewy, his little brother, had been carrying as a Pony Express rider. Assured he would uphold his brother's name with Lewy being left for dead, Chip was finally about to complete his deliveries. Upon arriving in San Francisco, he was now at his last stop, finding a Miss Adora Denley.

Appearing dandy Dirk Stanford has arrived ahead of Chip Nolan and has indebted himself to the aid of Miss Denley's social standings. He has encouraged her that he is just the one who can bring her peace and security by staying by his side for now and the future.

An unriddling is set when the newest boarder arrives. Returning Jed Malone; he had been among the first of the forty-niners. I always like it when a stabilizer comes along to set things straight toward what is right.

The Mochila: detail from Pony Express
a mochila, or covering of leather,
 was thrown over the saddle

I really liked this novella! I am eager to read the remaining eight stories.

***This review was written in my own words. No other compensation, besides adventure, was received.***

Friday, March 31, 2017

A Hopeful Heart by Amy Clipston, © 2013, © 2016

Hearts of the Lancaster Grand Hotel, Book 1


Image result for dutch harness horse amish
Dutch Harness Horse
The Grand Hotel in Paradise, Pennsylvania, employs Amish women to be housekeepers for their guest rooms. Widow Hannah Glick co-owns a horse farm business with her brother-in-law, Joshua. Her hotel wages will help toward hiring a man to work in the stables.

Hannah has three children. Her twin teenage daughters, Lillian and Amanda, work within their community members. On the alternate days that their mamm is away from home, Lillian cares for their younger brother, Andrew.

Hannah unexpectedly begins talking with an English guest at the hotel who has lost his wife and teenage daughter to an accident. She finds herself at ease sharing her thoughts about loss and life changes she has not voiced to anyone. She is reminded by an older coworker about talking with guests at the hotel. And, by her family...
Families were full of complicated, intertwined relationships that somehow translated into love and support.
  --A Hopeful Heart, 69.
Each character is fully developed and although Hannah is the main character, her family and those around them have a complete voice. Do we see our intentions as others see them? Matters of the heart being justified or are others warily looking on?

Conversational, author Amy Clipston reveals each character's heart with their thoughts and interactions together. Hannah has a good listening friend in Ruth, who allows her to speak out loud to hear and process her thoughts. Unsure how it is going to turn out until arriving at the last page will keep you engaged in this first story in this new series.

author Amy Clipston

A Mother's Secret
Book 2 Description
A Dream of Home
Book 3 Description
A Simple Prayer
Book 4 Description

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

The Elusive Miss Ellison by Carolyn Miller, © 2017

Regency Brides: A Legacy of Grace, Book 1

Regency England 1813
Nicholas Stamford ~ the seventh Earl of Hawkesbury
Miss Lavinia "Livvie" Ellison ~ the reverend's daughter
This was an exquisite story! Two people unlikely to continually meet ~ the new landowner of his inherited property, Hampton Hall; and Miss Ellison, the noteworthy tender of St. Hampton Heath's villagers with dire needs, poor tenant families cared for by her mother before her.

The dialogue is fantastic as the antagonists spar back and forth with words ~ which becomes a distinct fascination of quick wit between them. Out of the ordinary of aspiring ladies he usually meets, he is quickly drawn to her while she doesn't appear to be interested in his arrival at all. Not coyly, but ... not interested.

Beagle MoreMeet Miss Ellison's companion and chaperone allowing her to venture through the hillsides without an escort ~ her sweet beagle, Mickey, alerting her of trespassers in their domain and an excellent purveyor of true interests.

Such a beautifully written story encompassing regrets, introspection, forgiveness, compassion, amid the realization of a love that surpasses all boundaries set by man.
"For the invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen..."
--Romans 1:20a
I hope we will continue to glimpse Nicholas and Livvie in the forthcoming stories, featuring a closer view of secondary characters introduced in this debut novel. I loved the adventures of God's grace received in a humble life turned to Him.

EnJ*O*Y this excerpt from Carolyn Miller's The Elusive Miss Ellison ~ Chapter One


St. Hampton Heath
Gloucestershire, England
June 1813

"WHY, LIVVIE! WHATEVER are you doing?"

   Lavinia Ellison placed down her gardening trowel, swiped perspiration from her brow, and smiled up at her friend. "Good morning, Sophy."
   "Oh, er, yes, good morning." Sophia Milton's nose wrinkled as she peered at Lavinia's handiwork: a tall pile of weeds. "But where is Albert? Surely tending the garden is his responsibility. I know Mama would never permit me to do so, let alone without a hat —"
   "Albert is tending our old Jersey. She has been rather ill lately." She avoided the question of permission. After all, neither the preparations for Papa's sermon nor Aunt Patience's Sunday school lesson deserved interruption for such a minor matter.
   "Oh. That's unfortunate for you all."
   Lavinia nodded as she dusted off her skirts. Sally's sad decline was unfortunate not just for their household, but for the poor families in the village blessed by her superior milk production. Still, God would provide. And if He didn't, Lavinia would find a way. She pushed the twinge of worry to one side and led the way indoors, cleaning up quickly before directing her guest to a seat in the morning room. She picked up her embroidery. "So, what brings you here on this glorious sunny day?"
   "Oh, Livvie! You'll never guess who is coming tomorrow night!"
   She swallowed a smile at her friend's wide cobalt eyes. Sophia Milton was notorious for her passions. "Alas, you are correct. Do tell."
   "Father said the new earl has accepted the invitation to our musicale!"
   The new earl. Lavinia's chest tightened.
   Sophia sighed. "I saw him from the window when he called on Papa yesterday. He's ever so handsome. So tall and dark ..."
   Yes, but a handsome appearance counted for naught unless matched by good character and actions. She quashed her uncharitable thought, offered a polite nod, and cast her attention back to her ever-frustrating needlepoint as her visitor continued listing his charms. Why Aunt Patience insisted that Lavinia embroider was beyond comprehension. The list of accomplishments for young ladies was ridiculously long, especially when young men did not have nearly so many requirements.
   After Sophia finally stopped for breath Lavinia murmured, "Your mother must be very happy."
   "Oh, yes! And Papa, too."
   But of course the squire would be pleased. The second-largest landowner in the district had a wife whose social aspirations far surpassed their sizeable income. To receive such a distinction would prove most gratifying. She frowned at the miniscule mistake she'd just made in her stitching. Why couldn't sewing be simple and enjoyable, like music? She swallowed a sigh and glanced up.
   Sophia's smile had dimmed. "But Mother has heard he is something of a flirt, so we should be on our guard."
   "I hardly think I need be on my guard. I would think the prettiest girl in Gloucestershire should be more concerned about attracting attention." Lavinia gazed without envy at her visitor's artfully styled blond tresses, crimson cheeks, and fresh new muslin, overlaid with embroidered blue flowers. Lady Milton might have her shortcomings, but dressing her daughter to disadvantage was not one of them.
   "Livvie, you do not seem terribly thrilled."
   "You should know by now that I am quite unwilling to be excited about someone I have never met. But after I meet him, if indeed he does condescend to appear, I shall endeavor to seem excited for you. Will that suffice?"
   Sophia laughed. "Must you always talk such nonsense?"
   "I'm afraid I must, if only to balance some of the prosiness of ordinary conversation."
   The younger girl's brows knit together. "Oh no!"
   "What is it?"
   "Now we know the earl shall attend, whatever shall I wear?"

SOPHIA SOON SWEPT from the house in a flutter of muslin and ecstasy, leaving Lavinia to open the window, drink in the delightful scent of the late flowering lilacs, and then exchange her embroidery for her sketchbook. As she sketched the glorious rainbow of pansies cascading down the garden's rock wall, she thought on the Earl of Hawkesbury she had once known.
   Lord Robert had been as kind as her father: generous, interested in his neighbors, seeking the well-being of his tenants and the local village of St. Hampton Heath. A truly good man. But his death two years ago had precipitated a series of family tragedies. George, his younger brother, had died of influenza within six months of inheriting the title. Less than a year later, while his younger son had been engaged in heavy fighting on the Peninsular, George's elder son, James, had been killed in a hunting accident. Her fingers clenched. His death she could not even pretend to mourn.
   A blur of tan-and-white fur leapt through the open window. Mickey barked and jumped onto her lap, as if sensing her disquietude. She hugged him close as her art pencils spilled to the floor. Perhaps Sophia and her parents were right to be excited about the district's new addition. Lately, Hampton Hall had taken on a slightly neglected look, thanks to the bailiff' s less than stellar efforts. And the family's prolonged absence meant the little things Lord Robert formerly noted, such as cottage roof repairs and sending baskets at Christmastime to the poor—services that made a great difference in the lives of the less fortunate—these things had been missed.
   "If the new earl fulfills his obligations, he might prove a blessing, Mickey."
   He barked his agreement, wriggled away, and dashed through the open window to the tangled underbrush of the rose garden beyond. Tangled underbrush she would resume clearing this afternoon, when Papa and Aunt Patience were sure to be absent and unable to object.
   She returned her attention to her sketchbook, working to capture the purple heart of a pansy, until the swish of skirts announced her aunt's arrival. "So, little Sophia hopes to snag herself a Hawkesbury, does she?"
   "I don't believe Sophy has any such idea, although Lady Milton may."
   An appreciative twinkle lit her aunt's deep blue eyes. Over the past fourteen years, Lavinia had learned many things from this independent, intelligent woman, yet sometimes she still found it difficult to believe that Patience West was Mama's sister. Mama had lived up to her name. Grace had filled everything from her musical voice to her pretty mannerisms and her compassion for others. Patience's forthright, practical ways contrasted as strongly as her dark hair differed from Mama's—and Lavinia's own—fairness.
   "That woman would be far better off teaching her daughters useful accomplishments and knowledge rather than filling their heads with frippery and empty dreams." Aunt Patience smoothed her severe gray dress, which matched Lavinia's.
   Lavinia gestured to the discarded needlepoint. "Useful accomplishments?"
   A thin smile escaped her aunt's lips. "One of these days, my dear girl, you will realize that not every worthwhile endeavor can be as enjoyable as writing letters to The Times."
   Memories arose of the past week's efforts to bring solace to two poor tenant families, endeavors of far greater worth than needlepoint, and far from pleasant: The sour stench of sickness, only slightly alleviated by the aroma of the hearty beef stew she'd brought. Dark, dank cottages filled with a dense chill no fire could chase away. The sad-eyed desperation of wee children who seemed to suspect their mother might die soon. The old ache rippled across Lavinia's soul. Tears pricked. She blinked them away. The earl simply must help.
   Her aunt patted her arm. "Worthy endeavors are most often rather less than enjoyable."
   Lavinia nodded. Good deeds were not about personal pleasure but pleasing God: visiting the sick, biting one's tongue, rooting out envy, forgiving enemies.
   And allowing the past to remain buried in the churchyard.

* * *
The seventh Earl of Hawkesbury leaned back in his saddle. Fields of sun-ripened barley waved golden in the June sunshine. The scent of fresh-dug earth filled his nostrils as a light breeze ruffled nearby hedgerows. In the distance, the village of St. Hampton Heath reposed peacefully, watched over by the gray-stoned church. Such an idyllic pastoral scene, yet its peace did little to ease the tension edging his heart.
   Fourteen years since that disastrous day. Fourteen years filled with study, travel, and then war. Fourteen years spent avoiding this upcoming interview. Sweat beaded his brow as it had the first time he faced cannon fire. He swiped at the moisture, disciplined his limbs to remain still and not turn his horse for home.
   Midnight snorted and stamped his hoof, impatience pulling at the bit.
   He patted his horse's neck. "There, there, boy. This surely cannot be as bad as Burgos."
   The great horse nickered, as if remembering the chaotic withdrawal of allied troops from that Spanish fortress amidst rain and cold.
   Nicholas's jaw tightened. Too many good men had died or been captured in that campaign, back when he'd been plain Captain Stamford. Thank whatever gods may be for his horse whose faithfulness had brought him safely to Ciudad Rodrigo. He stroked the glossy mane with tender affection.
   Midnight lowered his head, tugging at young grass.
   "At least we have food now, don't we, boy?"
   Midnight's ears flickered. No French cavalry had chased them harder than starvation, the pangs of hunger carving deeper than the bullet wound in his thigh.
   No, the only thing chasing Nicholas now was his conscience.
   He shook off the memories and squared his shoulders. "One can only hope this mission proves as unexceptionable as the first, eh?"
   Small hope of that.
   After wading through the paperwork his bailiff had prepared, his first port of call had been to visit the local squire and baronet. Sir Anthony's delight at his impromptu appearance had been cast in the shade by his effusive invitation to some local assembly, which made him wonder how many unmarried daughters the man had. All soldierly assurance had fled, replaced by mealymouthed capitulation. This visit would be equally trying, but for very different reasons.
   "Come. We best get on, before someone overhears me talking to you, questions my sanity, and insists I be sent to Bedlam."
   He tapped Midnight's flanks and rode down the drive. They soon arrived at a modest, red-brick manor house, surrounded by oaks and fruiting trees. A servant girl was kneeling in the adjoining weed-strewn garden.
   "Excuse me," he called. "Is your master at home?"
   The girl squinted up. Dirt smeared her face, her hair tucked under a monstrously ugly mobcap. He nudged Midnight closer. Her gray eyes widened and she backed away. Poor simpleton.
   "There is nothing to be afraid of. He is a good horse."
   She raised a hand to shade her eyes but said nothing. Perhaps she was a mute.
   "I am the seventh Earl of Hawkesbury." How strange it felt to say so, like he was defrauding the world, just as his brother had defrauded his creditors. He swallowed bile. "Now, can you tell me if your master is within?"
   The pink staining her face as he announced himself gave way to something rather less maidenly as she lifted her chin. "I cannot."
   "I beg your pardon?" Who was this chit to refuse a major's command? To refuse an earl's command? He put iron in his voice. "Tell me, is your master home?"
   He jerked a nod, wheeled Midnight around, and then paused. "Wait. Do you mean to say he is not home, or do you merely defy me?"
   A trace of a smile flashed across her face before her features settled into coolness. "If you are enquiring about Mr. Ellison, he is at home. As for my master, I cannot be expected to own what I do not have."
   He blinked. Perhaps he was the simpleton, after all. The most unusual servant girl picked up her basket of weeds and disappeared around the side of the house. He stared after her, until Midnight's restless nickering recalled him to his mission. He secured his horse, rapped on the heavy wooden door, and waited. Apparently the rude maid had neglected to inform anyone of the visitor. What kind of servant was she? And what did she mean by saying she had no master?
   A rattle of locks dragged him from his musings. Another servant greeted him, wide-eyed with the customary awe his rank and fashion usually merited, and ushered him inside. Nicholas was announced and led into a cluttered drawing room, lined with bookcases.
   An older gentleman looked up. "Lord Hawkesbury! Welcome back."
   "Thank you." He sat at his host's request and studied the reverend. Deep lines creased a face topped with graying brown hair. He would have been somewhat plain save for a pair of shrewd gray eyes that gave cause to wonder just how much the older man saw.
   "The village trusts you will enjoy your stay here."
   "I hope, Mr. Ellison, those are your sentiments as well."
   "Of course, sir."
   Nicholas glanced away. A pianoforte stood near the window, stacked with an untidy pile of papers. "I never had the opportunity to say how very sorry I am for the incident of years ago."
   Which was a lie. He'd had the opportunity. Uncle Robert had begged, cajoled, even threatened both of his nephews with banishment, but the pride running so deep in his mother had forbidden either of her sons to apologize.
   Until now.
   He steeled himself to meet his host's justifiable recrimination—but saw compassion instead.
   The shame doubled and redoubled, twisting his heart into knots. He forced himself to remain still and not squirm like a child. Many years had passed since anyone had made him feel quite so uncomfortable.
   The reverend steepled his fingers and leaned back in his leather armchair. "It was my understanding that it was your brother and his friend who were responsible."
   He gave a small shrug, dropping his attention to his highly polished Hessians. "For the actual incident perhaps, but I fear my words goaded them. For that I am truly sorry." His gaze lifted.
   "And I am truly sorry that you have carried this weight for so many years." Something like peace and acceptance suffused the reverend's face. "You and your brother were forgiven a long time ago."
   Nicholas swallowed. "By yourself?"
   "Aye. And my daughter."
   Memories flashed of the slight, golden-haired girl keening over a broken, bloodied body. He dragged guilty thoughts away and nodded stiffly. "Thank you, sir."
   He glanced up at a lovely watercolor of St. Hampton Heath's old Norman church. The square stone tower and small curved windows had spoken of assurance for countless generations. Peace teased the restlessness within him.
   "You will attend services?"
   He suppressed a groan. Yet another duty he had no wish to perform. "Perhaps." The wise eyes seemed to search his soul, prompting a more enthusiastic, "I will try."
   The reverend nodded. "I believe it will be a great blessing for our little village to have one such as yourself take an interest." He smiled gently. "I trust your time here will also prove a great blessing for you, my lord."
   His throat cinched. The undeserved warmth and kindness filling the drawing room seemed to almost choke him. He couldn't take another jot. He rose. "Thank you, Mr. Ellison. Good day, sir."
   After exchanging a slight bow with his surprised host, he exited the room and strode down the dim hall to the front entrance, fresh air, and freedom.
   He dragged in great cleansing breaths as he untied Midnight, his heart hammering its insistence that he get away. His fingers seemed clumsier than when he was a boy in short pants.
   From somewhere inside, a door slammed.
   As he mounted his horse, a dark gleam of gold flashed through the apple trees on the manor's southern side. A small beagle appeared, yapping at Midnight's heels, drawing a dismissive snort from the great beast. Nicholas wheeled his horse around, down the dusty drive, back toward the lonely three-storied stone pile that was the countryseat of the Earl of Hawkesbury.
   His inheritance. Not a blessing, like the reverend seemed to believe, but both a burden and a curse.

This story is so strong as the realization of our own pride and merits we expel on someone else. So reminiscent of Psalm 139. We are known and seek to know who we truly can be. Accepted in the beloved.

***Thank you to Kregel Blog Tours for inviting me on the tour for Carolyn Miller's novel, The Elusive Miss Ellison, and for sending me a copy. This review was written in my own words. No other compensation was received.***

author Carolyn Miller
I look forward to reading the continuing stories in the series of Grace by this author!


Carolyn Miller, her husband, and their four children live in New South Wales, Australia. You won't want to miss her writings! Books 2 and 3 in this series release in the US in June and December 2017.

Book 2 ~ The Captivating Lady Charlotte
The Dishonorable Miss Delancey
Book 3 ~ The Dishonorable Miss DeLancey

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Grace and the Preacher by Kim Vogel Sawyer, © 2017

US Mail: The townspeople are certain the young preacher's call to Fairland will fulfill postmistress Grace Cristler's longing of a home and hearth.

Grace's Uncle Philemon is retiring as the long-time minister of Fairland Gospel Church in this small Kansas prairie town in 1882. Grace and Reverend Rufus Dille have been corresponding and become endearing to each other across the miles. The young preacher's arrival is looked toward with anticipation.

Mrs. Kirby has opened her home as a boardinghouse with shelter and warmth of heart. Her Sammy-Cat has become a good inspector of character. He welcomes the new preacher, assuring his placement with confidence.

I loved the background story of each character, seeing their importance in their interaction with each other. Full of surprises, events in life can build or deteriorate the direction of a life. Theo Garrison and his cousin, Earl Boyd, find obstacles in their lives overcome with good when they are welcomed and received by others. How we treat others does matter.

beautiful location ... romance by the river:
The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
A Sunday afternoon picnic refreshes and brings thought and delightful certainty of care and direction. Mrs. Kirby, lovingly referred to as Aunt Bess, sets an example of hospitality and care for others that Grace is watchful of and hopes to become at ease with too. She begins to invite those at the boardinghouse home for meals she prepares. Her Uncle Philemon finds he enjoys the back and forth meal sharing as much as Grace. A new addition to their lives.

I liked the strength of the story and how reading the Bible changed the outlook of the people without external prompting. Putting God first cleared their decision-making for right living, knowing what they were to do. Offenses failed when not responded to in-kind.

This is an excellent story. Happenings caused heart reflection to be sorted out. This is a story for all times. God's grace and redemption; acceptance and love.

WaterBrook offers this Sneak Peek of the first chapter of Grace and the Preacher by Kim Vogel Sawyer:

Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a
new creature: old things are passed away;
behold, all things are become new.


Cooperville, Missouri
March 1882

Theophil Garrison

Hey, Theo, didja hear the news?”
   Theophil Garrison paused with the pitchfork tines buried in the mound of hay and sent a sideways look at the barber’s son. The skinny youth nicknamed Red nearly danced in place on the packed-dirt floor of the livery stable, and an eager grin split his pimply face. The news must be powerful exciting to get Red so wound up. Theo could use a little excitement.
   Angling himself to face the boy, he held the pitchfork handle like a walking stick. “Don’t reckon I did. What is it?”
   “They’re comin’ home.”
   But not that much excitement. Chills attacked Theo from the inside out. Cotton filled his mouth. His muscles went quivery, and he lost his grip on the pitchfork. It fell against the stall wall, bounced, then slid onto the pile of straw. He unstuck his tongue from the roof of his mouth and barked a nervous laugh. “You’re makin’ up stories. My cousins got a twelve-year sentence for that attempted robbery. They’ve only been gone ten.” He knew, because he’d served the same number of years laboring as hard as four men to atone for robbing his aunt and uncle of their sons.
   “State shortened things up ’cause of their good behavior.” The boy sniggered. “I guess it is kinda  hard to believe.”
   Knowing Claight, Earl, and Wilton the way he did, it was impossible to believe.
   “But it’s true. I swear it on my mama’s grave.”
   Red’s mother wasn’t even dead. Theo scowled at the boy. “You’re foolin’ with me.”
   “Am not! I was standin’ right next to my pa when Sappington came runnin’ across the street from the telegraph office an’ read the wire message to your uncle.”
   “Mr. Sappington knows telegrams’re supposed to be private.” Red shrugged. “He only read it ’cause your uncle told him to. You know ol’ man Boyd can’t read a word hisself.”
   His neck felt stiff, his head heavy, but Theo managed a jerky nod. “Yeah. Yeah, I know.” Nobody in Theo’s family could read except him. He wouldn’t be able to, either, if Granny Iva hadn’t sent him off to school when he was young. Uncle Smithers called Theo a sissy if he even cracked the cover of a book. Of course, Uncle Smithers called Theo a sissy—and worse—for other reasons, too.
   “So your uncle told Sappington to read the telegram out loud right there in the barber shop. Every fella in the place heard it.”
   Which meant by evening every living soul in Cooperville would know that the Boyd brothers were on their way home from the state penitentiary. Theo gnawed his lip. Had the officials already let his cousins out? Jefferson City was a hundred miles away, but if the prison warden gave them train tickets to Springfield, they could cover that distance in half a day. Then an hour stage ride from Springfield, and—
   “Think they’ve forgot how you let the law catch ’em, Theo?”
   The last thing Claight said before the deputies took him, Earl, and Wilton away roared through Theo’s memory. “Just wait ’til we get out, boy. You’ll pay for this. You’ll pay.”
   They hadn’t forgotten. Theo snatched up the pitchfork and jammed it into the straw. “Thanks for tellin’ me about my cousins, but I got work to do, Red. You get on outta here now.”
   The boy smirked. “You might wanna get outta here, too.”
   Theo ignored the taunt and continued forking clean hay into the stall. When all the stalls were fresh and ready, he headed to the attached corral to collect the horses. As he grabbed the cheek strap for a tall, speckled gelding, another memory attacked.
   “You got the easy part, Theophil.” Earl never shortened up Theo’s name, and he had a way of making Theophil sound like a curse word. “All you gotta do is sneak the horses from the livery an’ make sure they’re waitin’ under the trestle.”
   Theo might’ve been only fifteen, but he understood that “sneak” really meant “steal,” something Granny Iva had taught him was wrong. He said so, and Earl gave him a clop on the side of the head that made his ears ring. “We gotta have horses to make our getaway after robbin’ that train, so you just bring ’em, you hear me, Theophil?”
   Theo had heard, had even nodded in agreement, but he hadn’t done it. And his cousins paid for his deceit with ten years of their lives.
   He released the gelding into the first stall with a pat on its neck and hurried back to the corral for another horse. Red’s parting comment—“You might wanna get outta here, too”—nipped in the back of Theo’s mind. Red was young, prone to talking without thinking, but this time his words had merit.
   When the stagecoach rolled into town and Claight, Earl, and Wilton set foot on Cooperville’s Main Street, Theo intended to be far, far away.


Fairland, Kansas
Grace Cristler

Even before the murky cloud stirred by the stagecoach’s wheels and horses’ hooves on the dirt road had begun to settle, Grace Cristler stepped from the little stone-block post office and onto the boardwalk. With a lace handkerchief pressed over her nose and mouth, she blinked rapidly and made her way through the billowing swirl of dust particles to the battered conveyance’s side.
   “Afternoon, Miss Cristler.” The driver grinned down at her, his teeth a slash of yellowish-white against his overgrown beard and grime-smeared face. “Watchin’ for me, were ya?”
   She lowered the handkerchief. “Why, of course. Everyone in town anticipates your once-a-week delivery of the mail, Mr. Lunger.” Every Friday at one o’clock, as dependable as Uncle Philemon’s key-wound mantel clock, the man pulled the stagecoach to a stop outside the post office. She often wondered how he managed to keep such a precise schedule given the poor road conditions and ever-changing Kansas weather. But not once during the three years she’d served as the town’s postmistress had he disappointed her with a late arrival.
   Lunger chuckled. He reached beneath the bench seat and pulled out a worn leather pouch stamped with the name FAIRLAND, KANSAS, USA. “I don’t reckon you come runnin’, though, ’cause you’re all excited about other folks’ mail.” The man had the audacity to wink. “You’re hopin’ for another letter.”
   Oh, such a brash thing to say! She frowned.
   “When’s your preacher due, Miss Cristler?”
   Her preacher? She pursed her lips tight and gave him her sternest look.
   He laughed. “Sometime next month, ain’t it?”
   Grace hoped the dust was still thick enough to hide the flush surely staining her face at the man’s impudent comments. She loved the close-knit community that had been her home since she was very young, but did everyone—including the United States mail carrier!—have to be privy to her personal affairs?
   “My uncle expects Reverend Dille by the end of April.” She waved the handkerchief, pretending to swish dust but actually fanning her warm cheeks. “The entire congregation is very eager to make his acquaintance.”
   Mr. Lunger laughed, his thick beard bobbing against his bandanna. He yanked off his shabby hat and used it to slap his thigh twice, raising another small cloud of dust. “All right, all right, I can take a hint. You ain’t already smitten with the new preacher.” He settled the hat back in place and winked again. “Least not more’n anyone else in town is. That make you feel better?”
   “Let me empty this bag and replace the contents with our outgoing mail. Please wait.”
   His laughter chased her back into the post office. Her fingers trembled as she made the transfer, and it took all of her self-control not to search through the stack of envelopes for one addressed to her from Reverend Rufus Dille of Bowling Green, Missouri.
   With the bag in hand, she hurried out to the stagecoach. “Here you are, Mr. Lunger. Drive safely now. I’ll see you next week.”
   Humor still twinkled in his eyes, but he kept his smirking lips closed and gave her a nod in reply. He brought the reins down on the horses’ rumps, and the beasts strained forward.
   Grace hurried inside the building and snapped the door closed to avoid a second coating of dust for the day. She rounded the counter, her skirts swirling with her rapid strides, and reached for the pile of letters. Was there one from Reverend Dille? From . . . Rufus? Her heart pat-pattered just thinking of his given name. Of course there should be a letter. For the past twelve weeks, his missives had been as dependable as Mr. Lunger’s deliveries. She skimmed through the stack, seeking his bold, masculine script.
   Mr. Lunger’s taunt about her running to retrieve her own personal mail raised a wave of guilt. Wasn’t she the town’s postmistress, voted to the position by ballot? If she put her own wants above theirs, she would disappoint and betray the people who’d appointed her. By three o’clock folks would start arriving, asking her to check their boxes. She had a beholden duty to put their mail where it could be found.
   She stamped her foot against the floorboard. “I must do my job.” She picked up the entire stack, balanced it against her rib cage, and marched to the wood cubbies built behind the counter along the north wall. Midday sunshine streamed through the uncovered window and highlighted the face of each envelope as she sorted through the stack. She flicked the envelopes into their boxes, so familiar with the routine she didn’t even need to look at the numbers stamped on the little brass plates to ascertain the envelopes found their rightful locations.
   She’d nearly reached the end of the stack when familiar handwriting leaped from the front of an envelope and sent her heart spinning in wild somersaults. Her hands stilled, and a smile pulled at her mouth. She drew several shallow breaths, a giggle of delight building in her throat. With slow, measured steps she moved to the counter and placed the envelope, faceup, in the middle of the darkly stained surface.
   Keeping her gaze fixed on her name—Miss Grace Cristler—written in black ink on creamy paper, she forced her feet back to the cubbies, where she finished sorting the remainder of the postcards and letters, this time more slowly and with shaking hands.
   Finally she slid the last envelope into its place, and she skipped to the counter and scooped the letter from Rufus against her thudding heart. The scent of spicy cloves, an aroma she’d come to associate with the man, rose from the crisp rectangle. She pulled in a slow, deep breath, savoring the essence, before she lowered the envelope, this time facedown, to the work surface once more and reached for the silver-plated opener stored in a little basket beneath the counter.
   As she slipped the tip of the opener beneath the edge of the envelope flap, the post office door swung open and the town’s milliner, Opal Perry, breezed into the building. Grace tossed the opener and envelope into the basket and aimed a smile at the older woman.
   “Good afternoon, Mrs. Perry. Have you come for your mail?”
   Mrs. Perry’s gray eyebrows rose. “Can you think of some other reason for me to visit the post office?”
   Women often visited the dressmaker’s shop, the mercantile, and even the millinery shop to collect pieces of town gossip, but Grace never indulged in such activity. She released a nervous laugh. “I suppose not. Let me check your box.”
   “I’m actually more interested in a package. From Chicago. I ordered several spools of silk ribbon, all in pastel hues.”
   “Then I’m sorry to disappoint you.” Grace removed a picture postcard and two envelopes from the Perrys’ cubby and gave them to the milliner. “Mr. Lunger didn’t bring any packages at all this week.”
   Mrs. Perry made a sour face and tapped the mail against the wood countertop. “I was so hoping to place my Easter bonnets on the sale shelf this week.”
  Grace offered the woman a sympathetic look. “Maybe you can buy some ribbon here in town. Mr. Benton carries ribbon in the general merchandise store.”
   “He sells ribbon for men’s ties.”
   “Isn’t the ribbon silk, though?” Her uncle’s ties were silk, and he’d purchased most of them from the merchant next door to the post office.
   “Yes, the ribbon is silk, but it’s meant for men’s ties. It’s black.” She flipped her wrist in a dismissive gesture. “What woman wants black ribbon on an Easter bonnet? Or any spring bonnet, for that matter?” The milliner sniffed. “How am I to decorate my spring hats without pastel silk ribbons?”
   Grace gave Mrs. Perry’s wrinkled hand a pat. “Surely the ribbons will arrive next week. You’ll have them in plenty of time to finish the bonnets for Easter.”
   “Well, you be certain to come in and pick out a pretty bonnet, dear.” She flicked a look across the unadorned bodice of Grace’s brown dress. “I also sell lovely collars, hand-tatted by my nieces from Boston. If you buy a bonnet, I’ll let you choose a tatted collar free of charge. You’ll want to wear something feminine and eye catching when your preacher takes the pulpit for the first time, won’t you?”
   Grace yanked her hand back. “Mrs. Perry . . .”
   A sly smile curved the woman’s lips. “Oh, come now, Miss Cristler. Don’t be coy with me. Your uncle told the congregation that the new preacher is young and single. He’ll need a helpmate. Everyone knows you’d make the perfect preacher’s wife, having been raised by a clergyman and serving as his assistant since his wife’s passing during that dreadful flu epidemic. Is it three or four years now?”
   “Five.” Grace didn’t rue a single year of assisting in her uncle’s ministry, either. Her aunt and uncle had been so good, taking her in when her parents died. She owed them a debt of gratitude and service.
   “Yes, five. And a true blessing you’ve been to your dear uncle. But to appeal to a younger man, you need a softer hairstyle.” Mrs. Perry shook her head, clicking her tongue on her teeth. “Must you comb your lovely locks down so snugly?”
   Grace smoothed her fingertips from her temple to the tightly wound bun at the nape of her neck. It took a great deal of effort to tame her thick, wavy hair into a bun, and she’d always been proud of her ability to fashion the style without the help of a mother or an aunt or a sister. Until now.
  “The color of your hair, as rich red-brown as a maple leaf in fall, is so eye catching. With a softer hairstyle and a little rouge coloring your cheeks, you’d come close to being pretty.”
   Close? Grace’s face heated.
   “Not that pretty is necessary for a preacher’s wife. Your dear aunt, rest her soul, was a plain woman. But to my way of thinking, ministers are men first and servants of the Lord second.”
   To Grace’s way of thinking, Mrs. Perry had it backward, and she started to say so.
   “So donning a less, er, austere frock and setting off your face with a ruffled bonnet all covered with flowers and lace would appeal to the man. Then, when you’ve captured his attention, you can let him see all the wonderful qualities that would make you a fine wife for a preacher.”
   Surely he already knew her qualities. By now he knew everything of importance about her, thanks to the weekly letters she’d written to him. If Rufus’s responses were any indication, he approved of her. But would he find her appearance displeasing when he set eyes on her for the first time?
   The woman reached across the counter and delivered a pat on Grace’s cheek. “You be sure to come see me next week after my shipment of ribbons has arrived. We’ll find the perfect bonnet to help you capture your preacher’s heart.” She scooped up her letters and departed.
   Grace sagged against the counter. Finally! Now maybe she could read her letter. She needed the assurance of his interest after listening to—
   The door banged open again, and two youngsters raced in, clamoring for their pa’s mail. For the next hour Grace assisted one townsperson after another until more than a third of the cubbies were empty. The regulator clock on the wall chimed five, and Grace locked the door behind young Mrs. Morehead. The rest of the mail could wait until tomorrow when folks did their Saturday shopping. For now, she had her own mail to read.

author Kim Vogel Sawyer

***Thank you, Blogging for Books, for having a print copy sent from the publisher. This review was written in my own words. No other compensation was received.***