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.***

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

A Lady in Disguise by Sandra Byrd, © 2017

Daughters of Hampshire Series, Book 3
A lady in disguise 9781476717937 hr
My Review:
I thoroughly enjoy reading Sandra Byrd's historical fiction novels! In this story the protagonist will be solving a mystery close to her heart ~ what is behind the death of her father and... henceforth uncovering circumstances revealing a hidden life?

England ~ early-spring 1883
Miss Gillian Young and her attendant stand graveside at the burial of her Papa at the chapel in the village near Winton next to her Mamma with none in attendance beyond the vicar. Andrew Young had been an Inspector with the Metropolitan Police Chelsea division. Upon the late night arrival at Cheyne Gardens in Chelsea at her townhouse, they find there has been a break-in ~ and the interloper is still there rummaging through their house and goods. Questions loom as Gillian sets out on an adventure of her own to tie up the loose ends. Where it will carry her is unknown to find truth of dubious activities that has escaped all of them.
Image result for theatre royal drury lane london
Theatre Royal Drury Lane ~ London
Image result for theatre royal drury lane london As the newly appointed principal costume designer for the Theatre Royal Drury Lane and individual seamstress of designer gowns for a titled lady of merit for the April-to-mid-August Season, Gillian has access within the theatre and society. Her mother had been an actress here in past golden days. She aspires to deem clues to solve the mysterious happenings before the officials and those wanting secret substances to remain hidden.
   I took a deep breath and forced my mind to recall the joy of seeing my latest creations on that stage. What a pleasure that had been!
   --A Lady in Disguise, 32.
In her search for seamstresses to assist with her theatrical wardrobe for the upcoming show, Gillian knows just where to begin her search: The Theatrical Mission.
Like herbs in a pestle, life steadily ground out the essence of those who did not have access to comforts.
   --Ibid., 62.
Her mother had spoken of the Cause in notes Gillian uncovered and instead of rejecting them, she indeed cared to include those no longer needed in pantomimes because of their advancing ages beyond being "cute."
Bits, Pieces & Slices of Life: Enters Lord Lockwood whom Gillian had gazed on horseback afar at the graveyard. He soon came to deliver a hamper from his mother with tea and delicacies. As heiress of Winton Park, her mother's childhood home, he offered to assemble a list of attentions needed for the large country home and estate.

Upon returning to London to her work obligations, he stated he too was frequently in attendance to his investments and other concerns. A perfect opportunity for arrival it seems.

Gillian first saw Thomas Lockwood's image again in her sketches that seemed to surface unbidden in her drawings.
Until his carriage arrives at their London townhouse with a messenger requesting if he might call and bring his mother in attendance? Thus, begins an informal acquisition of the needs of Winton, and an open door to friendship.

Warnings come to not interfere with the past and her visit to King Street where her father met his untimely death.

As you likely will know, Gillian is not one to be set aside. Sandra Byrd is a tremendous author with detailed characters, which I love, and a firm story surrounding a past and a future. A hope attained!
Isn't this awesomely beautiful!!!?
You may read this book as a stand-alone, but you will love books 1 and 2 in the series too!!

The publisher shares the first 46 pages here ~ you will not want the intrigue to stop... March 21, 2017, release day!!

Sandra Byrd
Photograph © Studio B Portraits

Award-winning and bestselling author Sandra Byrd has published four dozen books in the fiction and nonfiction markets, including Mist of Midnight, Bride of a Distant Isle (A Romantic Times Book Reviews Top Pick), and her most recent, A Lady in Disguise. For nearly two decades, Sandra has shared her secrets with the many writers she edits, mentors, and coaches. She lives in the Seattle, Washington area.
Books 1, 2, and 3 ~ Daughters of Hampshire Series by author Sandra Byrd
I was provided a copy of A Lady in Disguise by the publisher. All opinions in this review are my own.
March 21-29, 2017
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Saturday, March 18, 2017

When Tides Turn by Sarah Sundin, © 2017

Waves of Freedom series, Book 3

Cover Art
Even if you take side trips or spin around or veer off the path, the compass stays true. You can always find your way.
   --When Tides Turn, 195.
July 30, 1942 - August 28, 1943
A change in lives, unimaginable what one year would bring.
Print of old US Navy Poster  Recruiting Women by BloominLuvly, $9.95  Tess Beaumont enlists in the newly formed WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service) yet finds she must go through an arduous interview system before being selected or rejected. Wanting to be seen as useful and not projected as another pretty face, Tess wants to merit service to her country. Substance. Purposeful.

Lieutenant Dan Avery and Tess find they are assigned to the same Boston location. Dan is the older brother of Tess' roommate, Lillian. Tess previously was interested in their brother Jim, so she is unsure how Dan views her. She will definitely make sure he knows she is not a flirt!
Appreciation was far better than adoration, a heady feeling.
   --Ibid., 243.
Dan has long felt as the appointed care for his siblings, demanding lookout and no frill off-duty activities. It has carried over into his adult life and mission to be knowledgeable in the latest antisubmarine warfare research. So good, that his commander wants to retain him in the study while Dan wants to put the information to use aboard the carriers at sea.

I liked how Tess and Dan communicated through drawings ~ his straight drafted lines and her added flair in color. Could this transfer over to their lives?

There is deep historical research from war diaries and recounting of actual happenings. Infiltration of information is guarded and known to be leaked to the opposition from someone within their gatherings. It sets doubts in whom to trust and speak around in their normal daily activities, on the job or socially.

This is the second series I have read by this author and find them to be very thorough and informative of earlier days in our country and allies during World War II. The novels in Waves of Freedom may be read as stand-alones but you will want to become acquainted with the Avery family and their friends. This third novel continues on the following day of book two.

EnJ*O*Y this excerpt from When Tides Turn ~ Chapter 1


Boston, Massachusetts
Thursday, July 30, 1942

A touch of kindness and enthusiasm could transform a person’s spirit, and Quintessa Beaumont delighted in participating in the process.
   “This is lovely on you, Mrs. Finnegan.” Quintessa lined a box with tissue paper on the counter at Filene’s.
 Her customer giggled and tucked a gray curl behind her ear. “Listen to me. I sound like a schoolgirl. All because of a blouse.”
   “Not just any blouse. The perfect blouse for you.” Quintessa laid the floral fabric in neat folds in the box. At first, Mrs. Finnegan had struck her as drab and tired and dowdy. Shame on her for thinking that way—so shallow. But as Quintessa had assisted the older lady in her search, she’d sensed a sweet dreaminess. Mrs. Finnegan deserved a blouse that reflected who she was inside, something to make her happy and confident. Quintessa had found it.
   She settled the lid on the box and handed it to Mrs. Finnegan. “Thank you for your purchase. It was a pleasure meeting you.”
   “The pleasure was mine. You certainly have a gift, Miss Beaumont.” Mrs. Finnegan strolled down the aisle with a new bounce in her step.
   Quintessa returned to the sales floor and straightened racks of summer blouses, which needed to be sold to make room for autumn merchandise.
   Filene’s fifth floor boasted fashionable women’s apparel, designed to meet the War Production Board’s standards to limit use of fabric. For the past ten months, Quintessa had rotated among Filene’s various shops, learning the business and the wares. When her year in training was complete, she could finally put her business degree to use in the offices.
   A few ladies browsed the racks. With so many women working now due to the war, business was slow on weekday mornings.
   A figure in white caught her eye—a naval officer with a familiar determined gait. Quintessa’s heart lurched. Dan Avery? What was her roommate’s oldest brother doing here?
   She smoothed her blonde curls but stopped herself. Why bother? The man was already married—to the United States Navy.
   Although his stride didn’t waver, he gazed from side to side like a lost child, frowning and squinting. Then he spotted Quintessa, and the frown and squint disappeared.
   He was looking for her. Another lurch, with a tingle this time, but Quintessa shoved it aside. She tilted her head. “Lieutenant Daniel Avery. Whatever brings you to Filene’s better blouses?”
   “My mom’s birthday.” Dan rubbed the back of his neck and eyed the clothing racks as if they were a fleet of enemy vessels. “I tried to bribe Lillian to do my shopping for me, but she refused. Some sister. Told me you’d help me find something.”
   Quintessa loved her roommate’s forthright nature. “Does the bribe apply to me too?”
   He didn’t smile. He rarely did, and she didn’t think she’d ever heard him laugh, but his dark eyes twinkled. A no-nonsense man, but not humorless. “I imagine Filene’s disapproves of employees taking bribes.”
   “I’ll settle for the commission.” Shifting her thoughts to her former Sunday school teacher, Quintessa contemplated the summer blouses. “Let’s see. Your mother is about Lillian’s size and coloring.”
   “Plumper and grayer.”
   No wonder the man was still a bachelor. “We would never say that here at Filene’s. She’s more mature.”
   “I’d hope so. Raising the seven of us, she’s earned her gray.”
   Quintessa smiled and flipped through the blouses. Mrs. Avery handled the business end of her husband’s boatyard, and she was neither frilly nor frumpy.
   “How about this?” Quintessa held up a tailored cream blouse with a brown yoke and short brown sleeves. An embroidered green vine with delicate yellow flowers softened the border between cream and brown.
   “I’ll take it.”
   “Let’s see what else we have.”
   “Why?” Dan gestured to the blouse. “Is it her size?”
   “Do you think she’ll like it?”
   “Well, yes, but—”
   “I’ll take it.”
   The man certainly knew his mind. One of many things she found attractive about him. “All right then.”
   Quintessa took the blouse to the cash register and rang up the purchase. “How are things at the Anti-Submarine Warfare Unit?”
   One dark eyebrow lifted, and he pulled out his wallet. “We’re making progress, but personally, I want to get back out to sea.”
   “That’s where the excitement is.”
   “And the real work. We finally have convoys along the East Coast, and we’ve pretty much driven the U-boats away. But they’re back to their old hunting grounds in the North Atlantic, and they’re wreaking havoc in the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico. The battle’s constantly changing, and we have to stay on top of it.”
   Quintessa focused on making change. Concentration was always difficult when Dan Avery spoke about the war or ships or the Navy. Passion lit the strong lines of his face and animated his firm mouth. If only he’d remove his white officer’s cap and run his hand through his wavy black hair. The wildness of it.
   She puffed out a breath. “Here’s your change. Let me wrap that for you.”
   “Very well.” He slipped the coins in the pocket of his white trousers and glanced at his wristwatch.
   Quintessa gritted her teeth as she pleated the tissue paper inside the box. What was wrong with her? She’d always been drawn to men who showered her with starry-eyed adoration. Now she was drawn to a man who looked right through her as if she had nothing of substance to stop his gaze.
   Shame shriveled up her insides. How could she blame him? He had to know she’d come to Boston to throw herself at his younger brother, Jim—who turned out to be in love with her best friend, Mary Stirling. Dan had also been in Boston when Quintessa was dating Clifford White—who turned out to be married. Surely Dan saw her as a silly, selfish woman with poor judgment.
   He’d be right.
   She worked up a smile and presented him with the wrapped package. “Here you go. Thank you for your purchase.”
   “Thank you for your help. Mom will love it.” He tipped his cap to her and strode away.
   Just as well. She needed to set her head on straight before she started another romance. The past year had turned her topsy-turvy.
   Miss Doyle arrived to relieve Quintessa for her lunch break, but Quintessa headed up to the offices on the seventh floor instead. Her former boss, Mr. Garrett, had retired last week, and she’d only briefly met his replacement, Mr. Young.
   First she slipped into the restroom, powdered her nose, freshened her lipstick, and straightened her chic golden-brown suit jacket. She smiled at her reflection. Feminine, but smart and professional. Perfect for this meeting.
   The business offices buzzed with a tantalizing sense of purpose. Mr. Young’s office door stood open, and she lightly rapped on the doorjamb.
   Her boss raised his salt-and-pepper head, grinned at her, and stood to shake her hand. “Miss Beaumont, isn’t it? Yes, yes. I don’t have the final sales figures for July, but you’re in line to be one of the top salesgirls again. A true asset to Filene’s.”
   An excellent start. “Thank you, Mr. Young.”
   He crossed his arms over his charcoal gray suit. “What can I do for you?”
   “I wanted to speak with you about the next step in my training program.”
   “Training?” He narrowed one eye. “You’re the last person who needs sales training.”
   A sick feeling settled in her belly. Hadn’t Mr. Garrett told Mr. Young why she was here? “Mr. Garrett hired me to work here in the business offices, but—”
   “You’re a secretary?”
   Quintessa maintained her professional smile. “No, sir. I have a bachelor’s degree in business. Mr. Garrett wanted to give me a year of sales experience before starting here. He felt it was important for his assistant—”
   “Assistant?” Mr. Young winced as if he had a toothache. “That might have been Mr. Garrett’s plan, but I just hired a man. These offices are no place for a young lady.”
   “Unless she’s a secretary.”
   “I’m glad you understand.” His face brightened. “Besides, you’re excellent at sales. Why would we waste your talents on boring old numbers and paperwork? And why would we hide that pretty face behind office doors?”
   A pretty face. That’s all she was.
   “Now, off you go.” Mr. Young guided her out his office door. “That’s a good girl. Go make Filene’s proud.”
   Quintessa trudged down the hallway. She’d come to Boston for nothing. She’d worked for her degree for nothing. Lord, what’s the reason for all this? What do you want me to do?
   Patriotic posters by the elevator reminded employees to put part of their paychecks into war bonds. The nation was at war, and everyone was working together. Her roommates Mary Stirling and Yvette Lafontaine worked at the Boston Navy Yard, where American warships were built and repaired. Her other roommate, Lillian Avery, worked as a pharmacist, freeing men to fight.
   But Quintessa Beaumont was only good for selling blouses.

* * *
   After a day like today, Quintessa needed this. She opened the door to Robillard’s Bakery and inhaled the scents of bread and pastry and hospitality.
   “Bonsoir, ma petite Quintessa.” Madame Celeste Robillard raised a plump hand in greeting.
   “Bonsoir, Madame Robillard.”
   “I will be with you in a minute,” the bakery owner said in French, Quintessa’s father’s native tongue.
   “Merci.” Her French roommate, Yvette, had introduced her to Robillard’s, a gathering place for Boston’s French ex-patriates and refugees.
   With sugar on ration, Robillard’s carried fewer pastries and more breads, but today a row of éclairs called from the glass display case. Why not? If she were fat, Mr. Young might want to hide her in the business offices.
   Maybe she’d buy two éclairs. Or three.
   Guilt zinged through her. No, she’d buy four, one for each roommate. How could she forget her friends? After all, she planned to indulge in their sympathy this evening. Didn’t they deserve compensation in pastry form?
   “Oh, ma petite. You are sad.” Madame Robillard’s brown eyes crinkled.
   Quintessa waved her hand in airy dismissal. “Nothing an éclair can’t fix.”
   “Oui.” Madame Robillard opened a pink pasteboard box.
   “Four, si’l vous plait.”
   “You are so kind. Such a good friend.”
   That’s what everyone thought.
   Madame Robillard stopped and studied Quintessa. Wiry curls in brown and gray framed her face, escapees from the loose bun at the nape of her neck.
   Quintessa propped up her smile.
   “Come, come.” Madame Robillard abandoned the éclairs, shoved open the half-door in the counter, grabbed Quintessa’s arm, and guided her to the back wall. “Paris is the cure for sadness.”
   Quintessa had to smile at the Philippe Beaumont lithograph of the Pont Neuf, from Papa’s youth in Paris, before he’d come to America in 1910 and had fallen in love with Mama. His early work sparkled with color and light, influenced by the Postimpressionists.
   Madame Robillard squeezed Quintessa’s arm. “You are sad because of Yvette, non?”
   “Yvette?” Quintessa blinked at the tiny woman. “Why? Is something wrong?”
   “Have you not noticed? She is not herself. At our meetings, what she says is tuned down.”
   “Toned down?”
   “Oui. I am glad she is not so hotheaded, but I worry. It is not like her.”
   Quintessa had never attended one of the meetings with Yvette’s French friends, but Yvette was always one to speak her mind. “Maybe she’s preoccupied with Henri.”
   “Henri Dubois? Non.” Madame Robillard fluttered her hand in front of her chest. “They are like brother and sister.”
   “Not anymore. Last week she told me they’ve fallen in love.”
   “Non, it cannot be. A woman in love is happy, not suspicious, always looking over her shoulder. Yvette is jumpy. Like a little flea.”
   Come to think of it, last night while cooking dinner, Yvette had jumped when the egg timer dinged. Quintessa patted Madame Robillard’s hand. “I’m sure she’s fine. Aren’t we all blessed to have another mother watching over us?”
   “You are too kind.” The baker pressed her hand to her chest. “You young people are far from home with no one to look after you. And here I am, far from my Paris and my sons and my grandchildren. We must be family for each other. And now I must get to work.”
   Quintessa followed her back to the counter. An evening newspaper lay in an untidy mess on an empty table, so Quintessa picked it up.
   The headlines made her shudder. Eight German saboteurs had landed in the US by U-boat in June and were under trial for their lives, with the verdict expected any day. And the Nazi army was advancing in the Soviet Union, unstoppable.
   Awful, awful. She folded the paper to hide the madness
  . “Navy making WAVES.” She stood still and read the article. That morning, President Franklin Roosevelt had signed a bill establishing Women Accepted for Voluntary Emergency Service, the women’s branch of the US Naval Reserve.
   Back in May, the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps had been formed, and magazines showcased young ladies in olive drab uniforms. Now young ladies would parade in navy blue.
   Purposeful women contributing to the war effort, selflessly serving the nation.
   “Ma petite? Are you all right?”
   “Yes.” Quintessa’s vision cleared. “I know what I’m going to do.”
Sarah Sundin, When Tides Turn Revell Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group, © 2017. Used by permission.

Author photo: © Marci Seither

***Thank you to author Sarah Sundin for requesting her novel be sent to me from the publisher. This review was written in my own words. No other compensation was received.***

Anchor in the Storm When Tides Turn by Sarah Sundin, coming from Revell, March 2017

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Murder is No Accident by A. H. Gabhart, © 2017

The Hidden Springs Mysteries, Book 3

Cover Art

“The little town that time forgot but murder didn’t.”

Miss Fonda's Victorian House in Hidden Springs
   After Miss Fonda had to go to the Gentle Care Home, Maggie’s mother did say Maggie could come feed Miss Fonda’s calico cat, Miss Marble, who lived out in the garden shed. But the cat excuse wouldn’t help if Maggie got caught inside the house. She’d be in trouble.
   --Murder is No Accident, 7.
   Image result for cat quotes
Miss Marble
Deputy Sheriff Michael Keane is well taken care of supplied with sandwiches and coffee as he makes his rounds in Hidden Springs with Sheriff Potter away on vacation. Be sure to read the author's behind-the-scenes writings in her January 2017 blog posts here. Two new businesses have been added, a tea & bookshop, and an antique store. Both are newcomers and in hope of rising interest in this quaint little town of older residents, all settled for prospective tourist Main Street visitors.

There is quite a difference in Deputy Keane in his quiet care of the town, and Lester Stucker who liked to keep his patrol car dome lights flashing and siren going throughout town. That is an alert to Hank Leland, the newspaper editor, to be scribbling in his notebook and camera ready.

I really like the young teen character, Maggie Greene, who helps her mom clean a couple times a month at the Chandler mansion, dusting and tidying up the vacant home of elderly Miss Fonda who is needing closer care at Mrs. Gibson's house now with her loss of memory. Well partial loss, anyway; she remembers bits and pieces of the past, especially about her beloved home. Remembering how much she loved writing in her journal, sharing verbal stories with Maggie, she would want her quiet hidden space to be Maggie's too...

Anthony Blake and Maggie become better acquainted while at a church youth group fishing outing. She is fifteen and not allowed to date yet. Maggie is amazed that a senior would like her and begin talking to her at school. She takes care of her little brother after school until her parents are home. I like how Anthony checks on them. He is a good friend to have.

Deputy Keane has a returning visitor, placing concentration on his job vision at the forefront. Likely, there may be some who would like to predict what others "will do and should say."

The past becomes unexpectedly revealed. Today has enough troubles of its own. What an opener! Visiting Hidden Springs, it will not be an ordinary day.

EnJ*O*Y this excerpt from Murder is No Accident ~ Chapter 1


When Maggie Greene heard a noise in the big old house below her, she sucked in her breath to listen. She couldn’t get caught up in the tower room at Miss Fonda’s house. That would not be good. It didn’t matter that Miss Fonda had told Maggie she could come here whenever she wanted. The old lady’s face had lit up when she remembered being fifteen like Maggie and hiding out here to write in her diary.
   The tower room was the perfect place to write. But Maggie’s mother wouldn’t think Maggie had any business anywhere inside the house unless they were cleaning it for Miss Fonda. So Maggie kept her visits to the tower room a secret.
   After Miss Fonda had to go to the Gentle Care Home, Maggie’s mother did say Maggie could come feed Miss Fonda’s calico cat, Miss Marble, who lived out in the garden shed. But the cat excuse wouldn’t help if Maggie got caught inside the house. She’d be in trouble.
   The thing was not to get caught. So she stayed very still and listened for what she’d heard. Or thought she heard. No sounds now. Old houses could creak and groan for no reason.
   Maggie crept over to the window and felt better when the circular drive down below was empty. She rubbed a spot clean on the glass with a corner of her sweater. No telling how long since these windows had been washed. The years of grime didn’t let in much of the October sunshine.
   She shivered and pulled her sweater tighter around her. But it wasn’t a feeling-cold shiver. More that kind of shiver that made old-timey people like Miss Fonda say somebody must have walked over their grave.
   As Maggie started to turn away from the window, a car did pull into the driveway. She took a step back, but she could still see the red-and-white sign shaped like a house on the car’s door. She knew who drove that car. Geraldine Harper.
    Everybody in Hidden Springs knew the realtor. They said she could talk a bulldog into selling his doghouse. Maggie had heard her sales pitch back when her parents had hoped to move out of the trailer park and buy a house. That was before Maggie’s father lost his job. Since then, there wasn’t any talk about new houses, just worries about paying the lot rent in the trailer park.
   That didn’t keep Mrs. Harper from calling about this or that perfect house. Calls that nearly always led to arguments between Maggie’s parents. A couple of weeks ago the woman stopped by the trailer where Maggie’s father told her in no uncertain terms to stop bothering them about houses. Mrs. Harper gave him back as good as she got and then kicked their little dog when he sidled up to her, his tail wagging friendly as anything.
   She’d probably kick Miss Marble too if she spotted the cat, but maybe the cat would stay hidden. Like Maggie. If Mrs. Harper caught Maggie in Miss Fonda’s house, things were going to be bad. Really bad. Surely Mrs. Harper wouldn’t climb up to the tower room. She had on a skirt and shoes with a little heel. A woman had to dress for success, she’d told Maggie’s class last year on career day. But she definitely wasn’t dressed for climbing the rickety ladder up to the tower room.
   All Maggie had to do was stay quiet. Very quiet. And hope the woman left soon. She needed to be home before her mother came in from her job at the Fast Serve. The “doing homework at the library” excuse didn’t work past closing time.
   The woman pulled her briefcase and purse out of the car and headed toward the front steps. She must have a key. Maggie couldn’t believe Miss Fonda wanted to sell her house. She loved this house. She was always begging to go home whenever Maggie went to visit her.
   Maggie couldn’t see Mrs. Harper after she stepped up on the porch. She couldn’t hear her either. The tower room was a long way from the front door.
   But what about the back door? That was how Maggie had come in. If Mrs. Harper found it unlocked, she might blame Maggie’s mother. Say she was careless. They might fire her mother.
   Maggie’s heart was already beating too hard before she heard somebody coming up the steps to the third floor. Too soon for Mrs. Harper. She would just be coming in the front hall where the grand staircase rose up to the second floor. But somebody was in the hall below. A board creaked. The one in front of the room that had the trap door to the tower. Maggie always stepped over it, but whoever was there now didn’t.
   Mrs. Harper must have heard the board creak too. Her voice came up the stairway. “Hello?”
   Nobody answered. Certainly not Maggie. And not whoever had just stepped on the squeaky floorboard. Maggie wasn’t sure she could have answered if she’d wanted to. Her throat was too tight.
   The door opened in the room below Maggie and something crashed to the floor. Probably the lamp on that table beside the door. It sounded like a bomb going off in the silent house.
   “Who’s there?” Mrs. Harper’s feet pounded on the steps.
   Maggie desperately hoped whoever it was wouldn’t decide to hide in the tower room. Her heart banged against her ribs, and she put a hand over her mouth to keep her breathing from sounding so loud.
   Relief rushed through her when the door creaked open and the floorboard squeaked again. Where earlier the steps had sounded furtive, now they were hurried. Mrs. Harper’s heels clattered on the wooden stairs up to the third floor. Those steps were narrow and steep, nothing like the sweeping, broad staircase from the first to the second floor.
   Maggie slipped over to the trapdoor into the tower and eased it up a few inches. She couldn’t see anything, but maybe she could hear what was happening.
   “What are you doing here?” Mrs. Harper’s voice was strident.
   The other person must not have found a place to hide. Whoever it was mumbled something, but Maggie couldn’t make out any words.
   “Stealing is more like it.” Mrs. Harper sounded angry. “I’ll not let you get away with it.”
   Maggie did hear the other person then. Panicked sounding. Maybe a woman’s voice. Maybe not. “I can explain.”
   “You can explain it to the sheriff.”
   Mrs. Harper didn’t wait. Her heels clicked purposely on the floorboards as she moved away. The other person rushed after her.
   A shriek. Thumps. The whole upstairs seemed to shake as the bumps kept on. Then it was quiet. Too quiet.
   Maggie lowered the trapdoor and scooted away from it. She waited. Down below, a door opened and shut. Not on the third floor. On the first floor. Somebody leaving the house. Maggie counted to one hundred slowly. Once. Twice. Everything was quiet. Maggie peeked out the window. Mrs. Harper’s car sat in the same place in the driveway.
   What if the woman was hurt? She might have fallen. Something had made all that noise. Maggie couldn’t just stay hidden and not help her. It didn’t matter whether she liked Mrs. Harper or not.
   She took a deep breath and squeezed her hands into fists to keep her fingers from trembling.
   You’re fifteen, Maggie. Stop acting like a scared three-year-old.
   The trapdoor creaked when she lifted it. Maggie froze for a few seconds, but nobody shouted. She put her foot on the first rung of the ladder, but then climbed back into the tower room to hide the notebook full of her stories. She’d never worried about that before, but nobody had ever come into the house while she was there until today.
   She spotted a crack between the wallboards and stuck the notebook in it. When she turned it loose, it sank out of sight. Well hidden. With a big breath for courage, she climbed down into the room. She stood still. All she could hear was her own breathing.
   With her foot, she scooted aside the broken lamp and went out into the hallway. She made sure to step over the squeaky board.
   The silence pounded against her ears. She’d never been afraid in the house, even though people said it was haunted. People had died there. Miss Fonda told her that, but that didn’t mean they were hanging around now. Maggie didn’t believe in ghosts. She really didn’t, but right that moment, she was having trouble being absolutely sure.
   “Mrs. Harper, are you all right?” Her voice, not much more than a whisper, sounded loud in Maggie’s ears. She shouldn’t have said anything. If Mrs. Harper had followed the other person outside, Maggie might sneak out of the house without being seen.
   A little hope took wing inside her as she reached the top of the stairs. Hope that sank as fast as it rose.
   Mrs. Harper was on her back at the bottom of the steps. She wasn’t moving. At all. Maggie grabbed the railing and half stumbled, half slid down to stoop by the woman.
   “Mrs. Harper?” Again her voice was barely audible, but that didn’t matter. The woman stared up at Maggie with fixed eyes.
   Maggie had never seen a dead person out of a casket. She wanted to scream but that wouldn’t help. Nothing was going to help.
   She should tell somebody, but how? She didn’t have a cell phone. Not with her family struggling to buy groceries. Maybe the other person did. The one who had chased after Mrs. Harper to keep her from calling the sheriff.
   But that person must have walked past Mrs. Harper and on out the door without doing anything. Maybe worried like Maggie about getting in trouble. Afraid like Maggie.
  Maggie stood up. It wasn’t like she could do anything for Mrs. Harper. The woman was dead. A shiver shook through Maggie, and she rubbed her hands up and down her arms. She could leave and nobody would be the wiser.
   A chill followed her down the stairs. Her feet got heavier with every step. Whether she got in trouble or not, she couldn’t leave without telling somebody. When Maggie spotted the white cell phone in an outside pocket of Mrs. Harper’s handbag at the bottom of the stairs, it seemed the perfect answer. She didn’t even have to unzip anything. She gingerly picked it up and punched in 911. The beeps sounded deafening in the silent house.
   “What’s your emergency?”
   The woman’s voice made Maggie jump. She must have hit the speaker button. She didn’t want to say anything. She thought they just came when you dialed 911.
   The woman on the other end of the line repeated her question. “Respond if you can.”
   Maggie held the phone close to her mouth. “She can’t. She’s dead.”
   “Who’s speaking? What’s your location?” The woman sounded matter-of-fact, as though she heard about people being dead every day.
   Maggie didn’t answer. Instead she clicked the call off so she couldn’t hear the questions. She started to put the phone down, but then she remembered those police shows on television. She pulled her sweater sleeve down to hold the phone while she wiped it off on her shirt. Her fingerprints were all over the house, but nobody would be suspicious of that since she helped her mother clean there. The 911 voice didn’t have to know who Maggie was.
  Maggie propped the phone against Mrs. Harper’s purse. The police surely had ways of tracking cell phones, so they could find Mrs. Harper easy enough. But Maggie didn’t want them to find her too.
   She slipped through the house and outside. Her hands shook so much that she had to try three times to get the key in the slot to lock the back door.
   When she turned away from the house and looked around, she didn’t see anybody. Not even Miss Marble. She ran across the yard and ducked through the opening in the shrubs. She didn’t think about whether anybody saw her.
A. H. Gabhart, Murder is No Accident Revell Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group, © 2017. Used by permission.

Ann GabhartA. H. Gabhart is the author of Murder at the Courthouse and Murder Comes by Mail. As Ann H. Gabhart, she is the bestselling author of many novels, including Angel Sister, Small Town Girl, and Love Comes Home, and several popular Shaker novels such as The Outsider, The Believer, and The Innocent. Ann grew up in a small rural town in Kentucky much like Hidden Springs. She and her husband still live on a farm near that same Kentucky town.
Revell Reads

***Thank you, Revell Reads Fiction for a copy of the third book in The Hidden Springs Mysteries. This review was written in my own words. No other compensation was received.***

Two Bits, the cat in Book 1
Grimalkin, the cat in Book 2

A Bridge Across the Ocean by Susan Meissner, © 2017

The Trans-Atlantic Crossing of European War Brides on the Luxury Liner RMS Queen Mary

"Here's a link to a video of war bride, June Allen, who I became friends with in the research and writing of this book. You will love her..." ~ author Susan Meissner

After watching this video, Queen Mary ~ War Brides (June Allen), I was excited to be able to read Susan Meissner's A Bridge Across the Ocean!

I really liked the intro of the ladies we would be traveling with, their back story, before they got on the ship. This gave me a feel for their thoughts and reasoning for their actions when they got together. Amazing, actually, as I was unaware the brides were sent on ships to meet their husbands in America. Somehow, I thought they came together as a couple, as anyone would travel. Mistaken! I came to care for each one individually, to root for them, before they boarded the ship and the adventure before them.
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RMS Queen Mary
This is a composite of brides aboard the vessel and not one, individually ~ it is not June Allen's story specifically, but rather a compilation of women during this time; their trials and separation from what they knew, hopeful to advance to a happier, freer personhood.

Can you imagine being cast together, unsure of whom to trust, would they set you aside?
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Lady Liberty, a gift from France
"There is always a place somewhere in the world where the sun is shining."
   --A Bridge Across the Ocean, 208.
Traveling from England's shores in the 1940s to the New York harbor, a five-day crossing journey surrounds the ocean liner. Arriving in America, the rescuer of the tired, hungry, longing for a new beginning; the war brides are eager to be reunited with their husbands after a longer separation.

Activity on the crossing is brought to the forefront as seventy years later a young wife delves to answer questions for a former classmate, and finds herself seeking answers.
The author has included habitation by ghosts aboard the RMS Queen Mary throughout the story.

Susan Meissner
About the Author ~ Susan Meissner is a former managing editor of a weekly newspaper and an award-winning columnist. She is the award-winning author of A Bridge Across the Ocean, Secrets of a Charmed Life, A Fall of Marigolds, and Stars Over Sunset Boulevard, among other novels.

A Penguin For Every Reader.
***Thank you to Berkley for sending me a copy of this novel. This review was written in my own words. No other compensation was received.***