Monday, March 28, 2016

The Steeplechase novella by Carrie Fancett Pagels, © 2016

Love's Sporting Chance Collection

What a magnificent story! You will not want to miss this one. I was so impressed when Martha Osborne was retrieved from a ladies tea. What bravery and intent! But, I get ahead of myself.

Elm Hill, 1810/1875 Halifax County, VA: Martha longs for her little brother to be released from the private Yorkview Academy he has been sent to by his mother. On her way to England with her youngest daughter, she conveniently to her, drops Johnny off at the boarding school.

Phillip Paulson, the brother of the headmaster, goes to Johnny's home to beseech his father to bring him home. Met with no interest, he is summoned by Martha to bring Johnny for a visit.

It is 1810 in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Martha would like nothing more than to be able to purchase a small riding stable and cottage nearby. Hearing that there would be a race, she takes the place of her ill older brother and enters for the winner's purse.

Such a fun story and character building. I dearly hope this is a prequel because these characters want to let us know what they are doing now ~ hopefully averting the war and casualties.

Carrie Fancett Pagels, Ph.D. “Hearts Overcoming Through Time,” is ...

***Thank you to author Carrie Fancett Pagels for sending me a print copy of The Steeplechase novella for review. This review was written in my own words. No other compensation was received.***

The Imposter by Suzanne Woods Fisher, © 2015

The Bishop's Family, Book 1

Cover Art    

I wasn't ready for this book to end. Here are some wonderful quotes from The Imposter:
Thelma Beiler: " can't find a way when hate has a hold on your heart."
Birdy Glick: "Did you know that trees do most of their growth in winter? Their roots push down to find deepwater sources. So what's seen in spring is the proud display of winter labor, but it's the empty times when the most growth has occurred."
David Stoltzfus: "Beauty is more than perfect features, **. There's something about you that draws everyone to you, the way flowers turn toward the sun. You walk into a room and the place comes alive. You are beautiful, **. All the more so because you don't even realize it."
Bible verse: "There's a verse that keeps coming to mind whenever I've seen you. 'Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.'"
Andy Miller: "A hundred ways," he said, "but mainly by watching you cope with the problems you were facing. You didn't run away. You didn't look for the easy way out. You faced things, head-on, and tried to work through them, not around them. You woke up my world."
Wisdom ~ the characters speak of each other and their good influence bringing out the best in others.

Stoney Ridge, Pennsylvania
Andy Miller has hired on as a farmhand, tending widow Thelma Beiler's new moss business on her hilltop. Since falling, her friend Birdy Glick has come to ask if the older daughter of widowed minister David Stoltzfus could come and stay while Thelma's shoulder mended. Heartbroken by the unexpected desertion of her boyfriend, Katrina Stoltzfus is eager to go, to reclaim her life in a new setting.

Image result for Amish Bent N' Dent David Stoltzfus owns the local bulk store, Bent N' Dent. Their family moved from Ohio, when he was invited to serve the church in Stoney Ridge. The family dynamic shifts when Katrina leaves, with sister Molly volunteering to take over the kitchen duties. Their father encourages she is learning. Her brother, Jesse, is glad he has noontime meals with his job! Sister Ruthie and younger twins Lydie and Emily are occupied and don't seem to notice.

Uncertain adventures happen in the story, affecting David and his family. He looks to the future outcome while making decisions and learns a great lesson in waiting upon the Lord. All is not as it seems with others over the church until their ploy is unexpectedly revealed. David guides his family and those who come to meet with him in a respectful and insightful way. I am glad this is only book one, as I am looking forward to entering Stoney Ridge again.

***Thank you to author Suzanne Woods Fisher, and to Celebrate Lit for sending me a print copy to read and review this first book in The Bishop's Family series as part of the book tour.***
Suzanne Woods Fisher
© Dan Davis Photography

Enjoy this excerpt from Suzanne Woods Fisher's The Imposter, Prologue and Chapter 1


Surprises come in two shapes—good and bad. This one, though, felt indeterminate.
   David Stoltzfus awoke in the middle of the night with a clear prompting in his heart: leave what was familiar and comfortable and go forth into the wilderness. He had developed a listening ear to God’s promptings over the years and knew not to ignore them. God who had spoken, David believed with his whole heart, still speaks.
   But where was this wilderness?
   A week passed. David searched Scripture, prayed, spoke to a few trusted friends, and still the prompting remained. Grew stronger. A month passed. David’s daily prayer was the same: Where is the wilderness, Lord? Where will you send me? Another month passed. Nothing.
   And then David received a letter from a bishop—someone he had known over the years—in a little town in Lancaster County, inviting him to come alongside to serve the church. Go, came the prompting, loud and clear.
   So David packed up his home, sold his bulk store business, and moved his family to the wilderness, which, for him, meant Stoney Ridge, Pennsylvania. As the first few months passed, it seemed puzzling to David to think that God would consider Stoney Ridge as a wilderness, albeit metaphorically. The bishop, Elmo Beiler, had welcomed him in as an additional minister, had encouraged him to preach the word of God from his heart. It was a charming town and he had been warmly embraced. A wilderness? Hardly that. More like the Garden of Eden. When he casually remarked as much to Elmo, the old bishop gave him an unreadable look. “There is no such thing, David.” Elmo didn’t expand on the thought, and David chalked it up to a warning of pride.
   No place was perfect, he knew that, but the new life of the Stoltzfus family was taking shape. His children were starting to settle in. They were a family still adapting to the loss of Anna, David’s wife, but they weren’t stuck, not like they had been. It was a fresh start, and everything was going about as well as David could expect.
   Then, during a church service, Elmo suffered a major heart attack. In a dramatic fashion for a man who was not at all dramatic, Elmo grabbed David’s shirt and whispered, “Beware, David. A snake is in the garden.”
   Later that evening, Elmo passed away.
   Two weeks later, Freeman Glick, the other minister who had served alongside David, drew the lot to become the new bishop, his brother Levi drew the lot to replace him as minister, and in the space of one month, the little Amish church of Stoney Ridge was an altogether different place. Almost overnight, David sensed the wilderness had arrived.


When Hank Lapp burst through the door of the Bent N’ Dent in Stoney Ridge, Katrina Stoltzfus whirled around from stocking the shelves to see what was wrong. He’d lost his hat and his white hair was poking out in every direction, like a dandelion puff. His dog was right on his heels, barking like he was chasing a bear.
   “What in the world, Hank?”
   “Candidates! I’ve got candidates!” He waved a fistful of envelopes in the air. “From the letter I wrote in the Budget.”
   “About . . .”
   “Your father! Needing a bride! I think we’ve got some suitable options.”
   Katrina stared at him while the words sank in. “No!” The word came out sharper than she intended, so she softened it a bit. “Hank,” she said, “what have you done?”
   Bethany Schrock, her best friend and best employee, walked over from behind the front counter, a horrified look on her face. “How many times have I been in this very store and heard you girls talk about how much David Stoltzfus needed a wife? So I got to thinking, ‘Now, Hank, what was it you done to get Amos a wife?’ I couldn’t remember, not ’til I was halfway home. Then it hit me, like a brick from heaven dropped on my head! For Amos, I put a letter in the Budget and next thing you knew, Fern showed up at the door and married him.”
   “Please, please, please don’t tell me you advertised for a wife for David in the Budget,” Bethany said in a slow, shocked voice.
   “Not an advertisement, exactly. More like a gentle appeal.” He pulled out the newspaper from the back of his coat and pointed to it.

   He jabbed his finger at the quote that wrapped up his scribe letter. “Look at that. ‘From an old maid you get a faithful wife.’ I thought that was an especially fine touch. Just to be sure I got the point across.”
   Katrina felt sick to her stomach, an uneasiness she couldn’t place. “Oh, Hank. Dad is not going to be happy about this.”
   “Well, neither was Amos. But Fern was the best thing that ever happened to him. She tells him so every morning.”
   A heavy, awkward silence covered the room. Hank looked from Katrina to Bethany. “You both said he needed a wife.” Just a few weeks ago, I heard you both say so, standing right in this very spot. Birdy was here too, and she agreed whole-heartedly. Now, what’s so wrong about doing something about it?”
   Bethany put her hands on her hips. “It seems like David should do the choosing of a wife.”
   “He can do all the choosing he wants to do!” Hank said, hurt. “Plenty to choose from. All I did was let the ladies know that he was interested.”
   And that was the problem, right there, Katrina thought. Her father wasn’t interested in getting remarried. She watched Hank try to jam the letters into his coat pocket, only to miss his pocket so that the bundle of letters scattered on the ground. She felt a twinge of guilt as she watched his happiness evaporate. The more he picked up, the more fell out of his coat. He had become a clumsy bundle of anxiety.
   And that made her think of her father, the number one anxiety in her life at the moment—no, scratch that. Definitely the number two anxiety in her life, if she allowed herself to think of her boyfriend, John, which she tried not to do but couldn’t help herself.
   John. The thought of his name sent a sharp pain through her ribs, an invisible dagger into her heart. She refused to believe it was truly over between her and John. Surely he would come to his senses soon. They were supposed to be forever.
   Her father strongly—strongly!—disapproved of John, for all kinds of reasons that Katrina thought were unfair and biased. After the accident that took the life of her mother and nearly took hers too, her father had become ridiculously over-protective. Katrina had worried him to pieces in the hospital.
   She knew her behavior lately was spiking his concern that she was still suffering effects from the accident. She’d been quieter than usual and kept to herself as much as she could. He suggested, more than once, that she see a doctor. But what could a doctor do to mend a broken heart? And fix dreams that had turned to dust?
   Hank cleared his throat, pulling her back to the matter at hand. Katrina placed her fingers on her temples—a headache was threatening. “What were you thinking? When I said that I hoped my father would find someone, I didn’t mean to imply that it was our business to do something about it.”
   That wasn’t entirely true. Katrina was doing something on her own—she had made a list of every eligible female over the age of forty in Stoney Ridge who bore some resemblance to her mother, either in some physical attribute or in personality. And she was systematically inviting each woman over to dinner. Two, so far. Two disastrous dinners in which her father never even showed up—though, to be fair, his untimely absence was through no fault of his own. His work as a minister meant he was often called away from home at unusual hours. When all was said and done, Katrina decided it was not such a bad thing to have a test to weed out those women who might not have the patience or endurance to be a minister’s wife. After all, interruptions were part and parcel of the calling.
   The only sound in the store was the crackle of the letters as Hank stuffed them into his coat pocket. “That’s the trouble with the world today. All talk, no action.” Insulted, Hank spun around, muttering about women and their lack of understanding.
   Katrina hadn’t meant to hurt his tender pride. “Wait! Wait, Hank. I’m sorry. You just surprised me, that’s all.” When he slowed to turn around, she tried to feign interest and ignore the queasy feeling that rose up in her stomach again. “Did you read the letters? Any possibilities?”
   Hank patted his pockets. “Fourteen women, all sensing a divine calling to move to Stoney Ridge, all eager to meet the widowed minister David Stoltzfus.”
   Honestly, that is exactly what Katrina hoped might happen. Her father needed to find someone. He hovered over her like a worried hen, objecting to any activity that might bring risk with it. He was getting worse too. Lately, he insisted on dropping Katrina off at the Bent N’ Dent as if she were nine and not nineteen. She was starting to suffocate under her father’s watchful concern. “Maybe . . . we should take a look at some of those letters.”
   Hank lit up. “Now you’re talking!” He grabbed the letters from his coat and plunked them on the counter. “I like most of them. But skip that one.” He pointed to a pink envelope rimmed with flowers. “That’s from a lady who loves cats. Has over twenty of them.”
   “Katrina,” Bethany frowned at her.
   Katrina set the pink envelope aside, but picked up a blue one. “Look at the bright side, Bethany. One of those women might be the right wife for my father.”
   “The bright side isn’t always the right side.”
   “Don’t sound so sour on true love, Bethany,” Hank said. “You might give Jimmy Fisher another chance.”
   The on-again, off-again romance of Bethany Schrock and Jimmy Fisher was a source of great interest to everyone in Stoney Ridge. Katrina’s brother, Jesse, held bets on who would be the first to break up. Bethany and Jimmy would teeter toward matrimony, only to have one or the other pull back as if getting too close to a fire.
   “Ha!” Bethany rolled her eyes. “You know how unreliable he is.”
   “That I do,” Hank said happily.
   At that moment, Jimmy Fisher materialized out of nowhere. “Who’s unreliable?” he said, holding the door open.
   “You,” Bethany said. “You’ve never had a plan that lasts longer than five minutes.”
   “Not true!” Jimmy turned to Hank. “Want to go fishing this afternoon?”
   Katrina and Bethany exchanged amazed glances.
   “Where’ve you been, Jimmy Fisher?” Bethany asked, scowling. “I haven’t seen you in over a week.”
   Jimmy grinned and closed the door behind him. “She can’t do with me and she can’t do without me.”
   “Oh, I can do without you just fine,” Bethany said. Lately, she was the one full of doubts about Jimmy as suitable husband material. “I’m going to the storeroom to unpack some boxes.”
   Jimmy watched her go, then leaned his elbows onto the countertop. “She can simmer up faster than a teapot on a hot stove.” He gave Katrina his most charming grin. “But I have learned to weather it.”
   Katrina lowered her voice. “She thinks you’re suffering from a temporary case of permanent immaturity.”
   “Katrina!” came her voice from the storeroom. “I told you that information in private.”
   Katrina shrugged. “But she tells that to everyone. She says so all the time.” She pulled out a box of ground cumin–filled containers and weighed them to mark their price. The strong smell of the cumin made her stomach twist. Was cumin always this strong? Or was this a particularly pungent batch? “I wish people would say what they mean and mean what they say.” John, for example. There I go, thinking of him again! She put the cumin container back in the box. That overly aromatic chore could wait until tomorrow.
   “Which reminds me,” Jimmy said. “Katrina, your dad said to ask Bethany to close up so you could leave early. Your brother just got home.”
   “Jesse?” Katrina said. “My brother is . . . home?”
   “I gave him a ride from town in my own buggy,” Jimmy said. “Dropped him off a few minutes ago. That’s why I’m here. Your dad sent me to tell you. The prodigal has returned!”
   “I need to get home.” Her thoughts jumbled together like tangled yarn in a basket. Jesse was home! Finally, she could stop being her father’s favorite child and let Jesse have a turn at it. “Would you mind asking Bethany to lock up? I need to get home.”
   “What about these letters?” Hank roared.
   Katrina reached out both hands and scooped up the letters from the countertop, all but the pink envelope from the cat lady. She hurried to the door. Over her shoulder she shouted, “I’ll handle it from here, Hank.”

   Being the most favorite child of David Stoltzfus had been both a gift and a burden to bear for Jesse. It was hard enough to be the only son among five daughters, but added to that was his father’s constant attention and concern and worry . . . well, it meant quite a lot of attention was focused on him. Happily, he loved being the center of attention.
   Most of the time. He thought back to the stricken look on Katrina’s face last night when he told her the news that her ex-boyfriend, John, was getting married. His dad had been right about John, all along. He wasn’t a keeper, his dad had said.
   “Is that really true?” Katrina’s voice was thin and wobbly, but she kept her gaze fixed on him. “You’re not just making that up so I’ll stop pining for him?”
   “It’s true,” Jesse had said. It pained him to be the bearer of that news, dreaded his sister’s reaction, but he was impressed with how stoically she was handling the shock. Maybe she wasn’t as head over heels in love with John as she had seemed for the last year.
   Later that night, Jesse stopped by Katrina’s door and heard her sobbing as if her heart had shattered. It actually hurt to hear her cry.
   Unrequited love. It was a predicament he hoped he would never face.
   This morning, as soon as Jesse heard the kitchen door slam shut behind his twin sisters, and he knew his father had left to take the girls to school, he jumped out of bed to take a shower. He borrowed Katrina’s best lavender soap and hoped she wouldn’t mind. He had never smelled better, never looked more handsome, as he sauntered across the street to pay a call on a special someone at the Inn at Eagle Hill.
   He knocked tentatively on the door to the farmhouse, hoping that the bad-tempered grandmother of Eagle Hill wasn’t hovering nearby.
   The kitchen door opened and there she was, Miriam Schrock, his special someone, almost as if she were expecting him. He looked, and looked again. Why, she had changed over the summer, filled out in certain places, gone from girl to woman. Her dress, snuggly fitting her compact form, was rose-colored with a hint of blush. Even her complexion had a new glow. Her gray eyes met his in mutual appraisal. She pushed a rather fetching raven wisp of hair off her forehead and studied him as if he was an oddity.
   “Miriam,” he began with a lift of his hat, “I have returned, as promised.”
   “You also promised to write to me,” she said, cool as custard. “And you never did. Not once.” The door began to shut in his face.
   “Let me start again,” he amended rapidly. “I was kept extraordinarily busy by my hardworking relatives. You know there’s always more than enough work to do on a farm.”
   She kept the door open a crack and peeped around the doorframe to consider his words.
   “There wasn’t time in the day to even pick up a pen and share with you all that was in my heart.”
   “You could have called.”
   “Ah, yes. That, too, would have required a surfeit of spare time, of which I had none.”
   “I heard you had plenty of free time on Sunday nights to drive Sicily Bender home from singings.”
   Sicily Bender? How in the world had she ever heard that he had been going out with Sicily Bender? Who would have told her? Unless . . . news had trickled to Ruthie from one of those Ohio cousins. The traitors.
   He felt the collar around his neck tighten up. “It’s a long story,” he said, as if that explained everything.
   “Then it will have to wait until I have time to hear it.” And with that, the door shut tight. So much for a storybook Welcome back! to Stoney Ridge.

   Wide awake at four thirty in the morning, David Stoltzfus gave up on sleep and decided to go downstairs to work on Sunday’s sermon before the household started to stir. He paused at each bedroom door in the hallway, as he did every morning, to thank God for the gift of his children. All six, each one his favorite.
   He went through the motions of scooping tablespoons of coffee grounds into the filter, filling the coffeepot with water, waiting for the pleasant percolating sound to begin, but his mind was far away.
   Jesse was home—a wonderful surprise. But . . . why? And so suddenly. When he asked his son, Jesse answered with a shrug, as if . . . why not? David would have to call his sister for the real story.
   Also troubling was Jesse’s news about Katrina’s boyfriend. Truth be told, David was relieved to hear that John was engaged to someone else, but he ached for his daughter’s pain. His heart felt pierced as he watched her absorb the information: First, complete shock. Then she flinched, as if she’d been struck.
   But as distracted as David felt by his children, it was the condition of the church that weighed most heavily on him. He poured a cup of coffee and sat at the kitchen table, books spread out, right under the light of the hissing kerosene lamp, and bowed his head, asking God for guidance and wisdom as he prepared for Sunday.
   “Sunday,” he said again, this time aloud.
   His thoughts immediately traveled to the Sunday before last, when he had told the young people in the baptism class, “If you’re going to choose to be Amish, be Amish with your whole heart. Don’t be half-Amish. Don’t live your life with one foot out the door.” Bishop Freeman Glick glared at him and cornered him right afterward to give him an earful of criticism.
   That week, six young men dropped out of baptism class. Parents were frantic, Freeman was livid. He was first at David’s door to tell him I told you so.
   But David stood by his words. He believed them, believed them with his whole heart.
   Freeman said David didn’t understand young people. “That kind of talk is going to make being Amish obsolete. The youth will leave in droves. They can’t think for themselves. We need to do the thinking for them. Coax them in and lead them down the path.”
   If a young person didn’t know what he was bending at the knee for, what was the point of being Amish? What was the point of all those who had gone before to ensure that baptism was an adult decision? And what would the church look like if it were filled with confused, lukewarm, halfhearted members? That, David felt, would make the church obsolete.
   He rubbed his forehead, tense with the image of a scowling Freeman Glick. His private opinion of the bishop, inconstant in the best of times, varied almost hourly. Every single discussion ended up in a stalemate. Sometimes David thought Freeman exercised certain neck veins just for discussions with him.
   These were the moments when David most sorely missed his wife, Anna. She was such a good sounding board. She listened at all the right times, gave him advice when he asked. She would know what to do, where to turn. Leave it in God’s hands, she would say.
   David looked up to the ceiling and lifted his palms. Leave it in God’s hands.
   A tapping sound on the window made him jerk in his chair. Birdy Glick, the only sister to the Glick brothers, stood at the kitchen window in the cold and murky light of dawn, waving timidly. He jumped up from the kitchen table to open the back door for her.
   “David!” she exclaimed. Her face was bright, as if with happiness. “I hope you don’t mind such an early visit. I’m on my way to Windmill Farm to watch the peregrine falcon hunt for breakfast and happened to notice your light was on.”
   She took a step and tripped over the door’s threshold, sailing straight into David. He braced himself to catch her and ended up knocking bonnets and hats and coats to the floor.
   “I’m terribly sorry! I’ll get them.”
   But David was already picking them up, fearing the worst. A visit from Birdy was like inviting a kind and gentle bull into a china shop. David was tall but not as tall as Birdy: she was six foot two inches, taller than most men.
   As her gaze settled fully on him, her eyebrows drew together in a slight frown. “What’s the matter?”
   “What makes you think something’s wrong?”
   “I stood knocking at the door for five minutes before I finally yoo-hooed at the window.”
   David felt his cheeks grow warm. “Sorry, Birdy. I didn’t hear the knock. My thoughts were elsewhere.” He lifted his palm in the direction of the kitchen table. Books and notes were piled helter-skelter.
   “Miles away, I’d say.”
   Not quite that far. More like down the road at the Glick farm. Intentionally redirecting his thoughts, he smiled at Birdy. “Are you looking for Katrina? She’s still asleep.”
   “Actually, no. I stopped by to let you know that Thelma Beiler hired a farmhand. She said it was your idea.”
   “What?” David’s smile faded. “I told her I’d help her interview a few possibilities, to narrow it down. I even gave her some suggestions.”
   “She thought you were too busy to be bothered, so she posted an ad on the bulletin board down at the Hay & Grain and hired the first fellow who called. She liked the sound of his voice on the phone. He started a few days ago.” Birdy stepped up to the window, then turned back to face David. “ I also learned that Thelma has taken a fall and hurt her shoulder. Nothing broken,” she hastened to add at the look of alarm on David’s face. “Her arm is in a sling while it heals. I thought, perhaps, it might be wise if someone were to stay with her for a while. After all, Thelma’s alone up on that hilltop.”
   Thelma Beiler, Elmo’s widow, was in her late seventies but acted like she was in her twenties, insisting she didn’t need anyone fussing over her.
   “Though, of course, it would be best if it were presented in a different light to Thelma. Perhaps, as someone who wants to apprentice the moss business.”
   David nodded. “This farmhand, he’s Amish, isn’t he?”
   “Of course!” Then her brows gathered into a frown. “He spoke to Thelma and me in Penn Dutch. I think . . . he’s one of us.”
   Something didn’t sound quite right. “Birdy, would you be willing to stay with her?”
   Birdy frowned. “Oh, I would if I could. I really would. I’m very fond of Thelma.” She lifted her head with a deep breath. “But apparently I’m going to be teaching school this term.”
   David tried to hide his surprise. Surprise and annoyance. Yet another decision made by Freeman and Levi that excluded him. Big decisions, starting with allowing cell phones for business use. Then Freeman added computers.
   David couldn’t ignore the fact that quite a few church members welcomed Freeman’s soft attitude toward modernizing. The farmers of Stoney Ridge were struggling to make ends meet; many were abandoning farming altogether to try their hand at business ventures. Computers, they believed, could help aid a small business’s success. Cell phones would help a business owner be readily available to their customers.
   All true.
   But these decisions weren’t without repercussions. They were choices about principles. Yes, a computer might make keeping accounts more efficient, but its access to the internet ushered in a host of new complexities. Discovering Jimmy Fisher had a Facebook account, for one thing.
   And a cell phone might make life more convenient than an answering machine in a cold shanty in the middle of winter, but it also brought in all kinds of options. His mind trailed off to last week’s wedding, when he spotted Luke Schrock slyly taking cell phone pictures of the bride and groom.
   More to the point, since when was ease or convenience the goal of the Plain life? He believed the purpose of the Amish was to love God and others well.
   Birdy cleared her throat and David snapped back to the present, to the news that she was now going to teach at the new school. He had nothing against Birdy. He didn’t know much about her other than a few obvious facts: she lived in a small cottage on her brothers’ property, she led bird-watching tours for tourists. And she was quite tall.
   “I think there’s one person Thelma wouldn’t object to,” Birdy said. “Your Katrina. It’s a perfect solution, you see, in that it was Katrina’s idea in the first place for Thelma to start selling all that moss she’s got up there.”
   “I suppose you’re right about that.” It came from a casual comment Katrina had made at last June’s school program. A few of the eighth-grade boys had doubled back for another year or two, easy to spot by the rim of fuzz on their upper lips. Katrina had said it looked as if they were starting to grow moss from all their years in the schoolroom. Thelma had laughed so hard at her remark that she had tears running down her cheeks.
   A few weeks after her husband Elmo’s passing, Thelma called David to her home and said one word: “Moss!” She’d been searching for some kind of business venture, but her property was a shady, steep, rocky hillside. Moss was the only thing that grew in abundance. David researched the topic and discovered that several states and national forests had banned harvesting wild moss; there was, indeed, a need for a commercial moss market.
   “It seemed, well, I thought, perhaps Katrina might benefit from spending time with Thelma . . .” Birdy paused and regrouped, searching for the right words. “Sometimes, people never get over losing somebody.”
   David’s eyes strayed to his wife Anna’s knitting basket, gathering dust in a corner of the room, but he didn’t let his gaze linger there. An all-too-familiar stirring of worry started to swirl in his chest. He hated to admit it, considering the source came from a Glick, but there was a lot of sense in that suggestion. Katrina seemed so wounded and bruised. The poor girl looked tired. Worse than tired—exhausted. She was too slim and too pale, with dark circles under her eyes.
   Birdy took David’s brief silence to mean he was thinking it over. “It’s a bit like hitting two birds with one stone, don’t you think?”
   It couldn’t hurt. “I’ll suggest it to Katrina this morning.”
   “Excellent. Wonderful. I think it’s a splendid solution,” Birdy said cheerfully.
   The conversation grew suddenly silent. The distant clip-clopping sound of a buggy horse sifted through the awkward silence.
   Then Birdy spun around to leave and, in doing so, swept two books off the table with her elbow. They both bent down to pick up the books at the same time and knocked heads. A sharp pain creased David’s forehead and he put his hand over it.
   “Oh, I’m so sorry. Terribly sorry,” she said, scrambling to collect the books.
   David stepped back to avoid another collision. Katrina said Birdy’s clumsiness was David’s fault, that Birdy said he made her “frightfully nervous.” But what could he do about that? He didn’t know any cure for just being himself.
   The early morning sun started to stream into the kitchen windows. The day had begun. “I’ll walk you down the driveway. I forgot to pick up yesterday’s mail.” About halfway down the path, his attention was caught by the Glick buggy turning into the Inn at Eagle Hill. He saw Freeman and Levi climb out of the buggy and walk toward the house.
   “The brothers are making the rounds to speak to each family.”
   “About . . . ?”
   Birdy lowered her eyes and said in a hushed voice, “Finances. They plan to review each family’s finances.”
   David’s fists clenched. It was a fairly common practice for a church to nominate trustees to make an assessment of each family’s finances, every five years or so, to support the teacher’s salary and maintain the schoolhouse. But the trustees were chosen, not self-appointed, and the church leaders were never nominated as trustees. Elmo would’ve never done such a thing.
   “I’d better go.” She took a few steps, then turned around to face him, a face that was kind and open and sincere. “Don’t let my brothers wear you down. The church, Stoney Ridge . . . ,” Birdy dropped her eyes, “we need . . .” She kept her eyes locked on her shoes.
   They were rather substantial shoes, David noted. As large as her brothers’. But unlike her brothers, she had the nature of a gentle, artless young woman, surprisingly diffident and shy. Well, it was a good thing she had such stature—she would need everything she could muster to manage the boys in that schoolhouse.
   The next came out as if she were talking to herself , “David, just don’t give up.”
Suzanne Woods Fisher, The Imposter Revell Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group, © 2015. Used by permission.

The Bishop's Family, Book 2 releases May 2016 ~ The Quieting ~ an excerpt is included within Book 1.

The Quieting I will be reviewing Book 2 here at Lane Hill House on May 24, 2016.

Blog Tour Stops for The Imposter

March 22: Quiet Quilter
March 23: Heidi Reads…
March 24: Splashes of Joy
March 24: Mary Hake
March 25: cherylbbookblog
March 26: Just Commonly
March 27: Giveaway Lady
March 28: Lane Hill House
March 28: Marilyn Ridgeway
March 30: A Greater Yes
March 31: A Holland Reads
April 1: Bukwurmzzz


Suzanne has graciously provided a Kindle Fire for one lucky grand prize winner!

Friday, March 25, 2016

The Red Door Inn by Liz Johnson, © 2016

Prince Edward Island Dreams, Book 1

"Step into the Red Door Inn, a lovely home away from home tucked along the fabled north shore of Prince Edward Island. It’s a place where the wounded come to heal, the broken find forgiveness, and the lonely find a family. Won’t you stay for the season?" ~ author Liz Johnson

Red Door Inn Cover:

Have you ever followed a dream, really followed it, or ~ just dreamed about it?
Marie Carrington gets right to the edge of it ~ and...
an unsuspecting adventure opens ~ just for her.
But first, she had to be at the right place at the right time ~ right at the edge of her dream.
I'm here. How can it be? Right out of the pages of my books ~ I am really at Prince Edward Island! My feet are truly on P.E.I.
North Rustico
I have a job! I can't even imagine how this opened up for me. Leaving disaster, I hope to unravel all that has happened and have a fresh beginning, desiring to leave hard memories behind.

quotes ~
   Rose had dreamed and prayed for this old house. She'd prayed that the broken would find healing under its roof. Long before the house had an address or an image in their minds, she had petitioned God for a place of healing.
   --The Red Door Inn, 185
   The memory brought a smile to Seth's face, and he dropped his hands from his hips. "He told me red doors are a sign of welcome, an invitation. Years ago during harsh Canadian blizzards, red doors helped stranded travelers find safety and protection from the storm."
   --Ibid., 265
   She'd emptied his accounts, his wallet, even the pockets of his jeans.
   But she couldn't take his future.
   --Ibid., 271
   Her pace picked up, feet pounding like they had the first time she'd run these boards. Except this time she wasn't broken by her past. Her future stood before her...
   --Ibid., 320
   Caden motioned to the heaping dessert plate. "These are my specialty. Peanut butter fudge brownies. Have one. And then tell me what happened."
   --Ibid., 287

This story is so alive. The characters move as you are with them around every corner. So vivid. The first chapter of book 2 is in the back and you turn the page hoping there is more!

A beautiful story of hope! Of mercy extended to all; love and forgiveness exuding, covering all offenses ~ freedom. This wonderful sentence ~ paraphrased, "She cannot step into my future, pulling disaster from my past."

Where Two Hearts Meet, book 2 in the series releases October 2016

Enjoy this excerpt from The Red Door Inn by Liz Johnson ~ Chapter 1


The change in Marie Carrington’s pocket wouldn’t pay for a ferry ride across the Northumberland Strait to Prince Edward Island, let alone a bus ticket to anywhere else in the world. As she cupped the Canadian dollar coins in her shaking hand, they clinked together, drawing the curious gaze of the man in the seat next to her.
   Marie shifted on the painful plastic chair, putting her shoulder between all the money she had access to in the world and the gaze shrouded by bushy, white eyebrows.
   Two. Four. Five. Six. Seven. Seven twenty-five.
   The sign on the café attached to the ferry terminal announced a fish sandwich lunch special for $6.99, but tax would be more than a quarter. Besides, that would completely wipe her out. And then she’d be penniless in a strange town.
   “Which color do you like better?” The man with the eyebrows and more wrinkles than she’d ever seen on one face leaned forward, holding out four paint swatches.
   Marie rotated farther away from him, shoving her coins back in her pocket, but he didn’t seem to notice.
   “My wife liked the pale blue, but I think we need something brighter for the shutters of a bed-and-breakfast. Don’t you?”
   She couldn’t fight the urge to survey the swatches, even if just out of the corner of her eye. With one finger she twisted the necklace at her throat, imagining each color on the front of a robust, two-story Maritime home.
   He dipped his chin as though waiting for her answer . “Well? Don’t you think it’s too light?”
   Finally she whispered, “Unless the house is a deep blue.” Keeping an eye on him, she scooted to the far edge of her seat, the armrest digging into her side as she bent to scoop her backpack into the safety of her lap.
   “What?” His eyebrows nearly reached his hairline. Pulling his glasses from his front shirt pocket and planting them on his face, he held the color swatch in question to within an inch of his nose, mumbling her words over and over. “Deep blue. The house could be deep blue.”
   After several seconds of peace, she decided he’d forgotten all about her until he flipped the same blue color swatch over her shoulder and pointed to the darkest hue on the row. “Is that dark enough?”
   “Then what would be?”
   Shoulder still in place, she pointed with her other hand to the blue of his pants. “Maybe with a hint of gray mixed in.”
   Holding the color card against a handful of jean fabric, he nodded slowly. “That might work. But not too much gray.” He scratched his chin, his whiskers rasping beneath aged fingers. “What about the trim? Would you do the same color as the shutters?”
   “It depends.”
   “On what?”
   “Lots of things. What do the neighboring houses look like? Do you have other colors around the house?”
   “Like what?”
   She relaxed her back a fraction of an inch so that she didn’t have to strain her neck to watch his reactions. “Maybe a flower garden or water feature. If you already have several other colors, keep the trim and shutters the same color or the house can look disjointed and unappealing.”
   “Never thought of having a flower garden.” He poked his tongue into his cheek, staring at the color cards as though they’d failed him. “Suppose women might like that.”
   “Men too.”
   He raised one of his bushy brows at her.
   “Well, if I have to have flowers and a red door, I suppose the shutters and trim should be one color.”
   “Why a red door?” Marie hadn’t asked a voluntary question in two months, but this one just slipped out before she could clamp her hand over her mouth.
   The old man didn’t seem to notice her surprise. Instead, lost in the colors in his hands, he cleared his throat. “We visited the island for the first time fifteen years ago, and the red doors captured her imagination. She said we had to have a red door. There was no argument. No discussion, only—”
   “The nine thirty ferry will begin boarding shortly. ” The voice of the announcer echoed over the tinny intercom. “All passengers please make your way to the boarding area and have your ticket in hand.”
   The old man shuffled his cards and tucked them into his pocket before slipping one arm into his oversized coat. He reached for and missed the other arm twice before Marie set her bag back on the floor, stood, and held the jacket open for him. “Thank you.”
   She nodded and slipped back into her seat, fighting the urge to hug her knees to her chest and let the tears roll. She could sit here for hours, but it wouldn’t make the money she needed appear. She’d never have enough for the ferry traveling north. She couldn’t come up with the sixteen dollars to keep moving.
   “Aren’t you going on the boat?”
   He wasn’t from New England or the Canadian Maritimes. Any self-respecting man from that area would know it was a ship or a ferry, not a boat.
   “No.” Her fingers brushed over her pocket and the outline of her meager funds pressing through the black corduroy.
   His eyebrows pulled into a V that looked like a single angry caterpillar. “Have some more ideas to ask you about.”
   She looked anywhere but into his ice-blue eyes, her gaze finally resting on the posted ferry schedule above the ticket counter. “I’m not going to Prince Edward Island today.” If she was honest with herself, she probably wasn’t ever going to make it to PEI. More than likely she’d have to call her father back in Boston and face him, no matter how much she hated that.
   “Don’t you want to go to the island?”
   Her laugh was more stinging than humorous, even to her own ears. Of course she wanted to go to the island. Of course she wanted to keep putting more and more distance between her and her past.
   She’d grown up reading books set on the island, dreaming of finding a home there. She’d even managed to squeeze one of her favorites by the island’s beloved author into her backpack. Of course, the corners were bent and the edges worn, but she’d never loved the book or the dream of the island any more than she did sitting just a few miles away.
   Of course she wanted to go to the island.
   But wanting wouldn’t get her more than a toe in the icy water.
   “I don’t have a ticket.”
   “That all? I’ll get you a ticket.”
   She shook her head, swallowing the hint of hope that was quickly coupled with certain disappointment. “Thank you, no. I can’t accept.”
   But he was halfway to the counter already, spreading the mouth of his cracked wallet and pulling a colorful bill from within. He said something to the raven-haired ticket agent, who tipped her head to shoot a curious glance around his arm.
   Grabbing her bag, Marie jumped to her feet. If she were lucky, a wave would crash into the building, sweeping her away. Away from prying eyes and inquiring stares. Away from old men who asked too many questions. Away from that ever-present emptiness.
   But luck wasn’t on her side. A familiar tightness rose in her chest, and she gasped for even the shallowest breath.
   Oh, not again! Not with an audience and no place to lie down.
   She tried to fill her lungs as a band squeezed around them. The ground shifted, her whole world tilting as she stumbled toward the chair she had just vacated. Squeezing her eyes shut against the black spots that danced in the edges of her line of sight, she leaned forward, fighting for a breath. Pain shot down the middle of her chest, but no amount of rubbing soothed the throbbing.
   She was going to pass out in front of everyone.
   A hand grabbed her forearm, and she jerked away from the searing touch. “You getting sick?”
   The old man’s now familiar voice made his hand on her shoulder barely tolerable, but she couldn’t fight the blaze in her chest enough to get the air needed to reply. Finally, she wiggled her head, her hair swiping across her shoulders.
   “You sure?” His hands guided her all the way into the chair, his breath warm on her face as he sat beside her. “You look a little green. And we’re not even on the water yet.”
   Shaking her head again, she gasped, this time rewarded with a loosening in her lungs. They weren’t full, but the relief lessened the spinning in her head and the pain at her sternum. She arched her back and again managed a wheeze.
   “Now boarding the nine thirty ferry to Wood Islands. All ticketed passengers should be in the boarding area.” They both turned toward the girl in the fleece vest holding the microphone.
   “Can you make it to the boat?”
   Marie blinked into the wrinkled face, pinning her gaze on a particularly deep crevice between the corner of his eye and his jawline. “Going to miss . . .”
   “Well then, let’s get on there before they leave us behind.” He held out a ticket, the white slip contrasting his tanned, weathered fingers. “Take this.”
   “Can’t.” The ticket didn’t budge. Had he not heard? Or had the words not passed her lips?
   Finally he squatted before her with an unusual agility for a man his age. “Why not?”
   She couldn’t possibly repay him. She had no money. At least none that she could access without drawing undue attention. But she wasn’t so low that she had to accept charity.
   Another pang seared her heart.
   Well, maybe she was.
   He shot a glance toward the entrance to the ferry boarding area. “If you don’t use this ticket, it’ll just go to waste.”
   “I don’t even know your name.”
   The lines around his mouth grew deeper, his eyes catching a shimmer from the ceiling lights. “Jack Sloane from . . . well, I suppose I’m from North Rustico, PEI, now.”
   “Marie.” Twisting her hands into the hem of her sweater, she continued, the words barely making it to her own ears. “I can’t pay for it.”
   “Didn’t ask you to, Marie.” He winked at her, adding in a conspiratorial whisper, “I’ll make you a trade. The ticket for your help in picking out paint colors.”
   The attack had left her too weak to argue, but the trade was certainly in her favor. “All right.” She dismissed his out-stretched hand, and they stood together, his knees creaking like the old screen door at her father’s beach house.
   When she slipped her fingers around the ticket, it fluttered like a flag caught in an ocean breeze, and she clutched it to her chest, finally catching a full breath.
   But could he really expect so little in return?
◆ ◆ ◆ ◆ ◆
   “What color would you call that?” Jack gestured to the point where the open sea met the roiling gray clouds.
   Marie squinted in the direction of his finger, hugging that silly pink bag to her chest but finally breathing normally. He’d been afraid she wouldn’t make it onto the ferry, the way she’d been gasping for air, but she’d refused his arm as they boarded. And the salty sea air turned her pale cheeks pink like his wife’s favorite flower.
   After several long seconds, she shrugged one shoulder. “I don’t know.”
   “Sure is pretty.” She nodded slowly, thoughtfully, as she leaned back against the railing, tucking her chin again into her chest, nearly hidden behind the bag that was just about half her size. The pack wasn’t so big, really. She was just a wisp of a creature. “You think I could paint the house that color?”
   Without turning toward the sky again, she whispered, “I think it’d be perfect.”
   “Even with a red door.”
   “Especially with a red door.” She offered him a tiny lift of the corner of her mouth, an obligatory smile. But she didn’t mean it. He had a hunch she’d be a stunner if she really smiled, which she hadn’t all morning. Not even when he pointed out the Caribou Lighthouse as they headed into open water. Rose had always smiled at the little lighthouse, delighted by the red roof.
   “Maybe we should buy a lighthouse and become light keepers,” his Rose would muse, leaning into his embrace.
   “And give up on the bed-and-breakfast?” He only said it to watch her forehead wrinkle in distaste. “I’d be happy to take up light keeping, if you really want.”
   Rose had laughed and smacked his arm. “No so fast, Mr. Sloane. You aren’t getting off the hook that easy.”
   Even after forty-one years, he’d loved it when she called him Mr. Sloane. Without fail it was accompanied by a twinkle in her eyes that reminded him of the day they’d met . The day he’d fallen in love with her.
   But there wasn’t a twinkle in Marie’s eyes. They eclipsed her face, blue and haunted, as she gazed at the deck. Free of humor and good spirits, they made his heart ache.
   What between here and heaven had caused such a pretty little thing to be so sad?
   “So what brings you to the island?”
   She turned those anxious eyes on him and without a hint of irony said, “You.”
   She may not have meant it to be funny, but he couldn’t keep the laughter inside, letting the mirth roll from deep in his belly. Marie’s eyes remained fixed on him, but she didn’t say anything more. “You’re quick, aren’t you?” One bony shoulder poked up, and she wrapped a finger around the gold chain at her neck, twirling it. “I meant, why are you headed to PEI?”
   She turned away from him, putting her shrugging shoulder between them before whispering, “In the books I read as a child, it sounded like a magical place.” Her head turned farther away from Jack, as though she were looking back at the gray horizon, but she’d closed her eyes, taking deep breaths through her nose and releasing them slowly through tight lips.
   “Where are you staying?”
   His gut flipped when she didn’t answer him, and he knew. She didn’t have sixteen dollars to buy a ferry ticket. She didn’t have two pennies to rub together. She didn’t have a soul to ask for help or anyplace to go.
   As if sitting on his other side, Rose whispered in his ear, “It’s a fine how-do-you-do when you can’t help someone in need, Jack. Give the poor girl a place to stay.”
   Of course, Rose didn’t bother with any particulars. She never had. Always a big-picture thinker, she wasn’t concerned with the details. But Marie wasn’t going to accept anything else for free. She’d fought him on the ferry ticket. What would she say about a room at his inn?
   “They sure don’t make these benches for seventy-two-year-old backsides.” He shifted, relieving pressure from a sore spot and, in the meantime, leaning closer to her.
   Marie nodded, but her shoulder dipped enough that he could see her whole face.
   Apparently, if he wanted more of a response from her, he was going to have to ask direct questions. “How’d you get to know so much about colors and paint and stuff?”
   Several seconds ticked by, the only sounds the hum of the ferry’s motor and the squawking of a lone gull. “I took—” Her voice broke, and she had to clear her throat before she could continue. “I took a few art classes in college after a friend showed me a few things.”
   “You must have been pretty talented. Ever consider a career in it?”
   “That wasn’t really an option.”
   “Why not?” That barrier jumped into place again, and he tossed a less invasive question her way. “Do you know anything about decorating?”
   “A bit.”
   He scrubbed his chin, rasping his fingernails over his whiskers, and let his eyes grow bigger as though just thinking of something. “Say, you wouldn’t be available to help me with a project, would you?”
   The girl could teach a college course in shrugging. One for every occasion, but this one most likely meant she wasn’t going to commit to anything without more information. She might be broke, but she wasn’t desperate.
   Jack nodded slowly, rubbing his hands together, for the first time realizing that the kid didn’t have more than a light jacket to ward off the damp chill of the late winter air. Maybe that’s why she hugged that bag so tight.
   “Don’t know how long you’re planning to stay in the area, but I need some help. I’m renovatin’ a home in North Rustico, turning it into an inn along the harbor.”
   “Sounds beautiful.”
   “Oh, it is. The core renovations are almost done, but it’s missing something.”
   Marie shot him a look and leaned in just enough to ask her question without having to speak.
   “It’s missing a woman’s touch.” He waved toward the sky. “That certain something from someone who knows what color the clouds are. It’s missing the details that will make it a home.”
   Her forehead wrinkled. “I don’t understand.”
   Over her shoulder, the green pine trees on the shoreline quickly approached. Soon they’d be on the island. Soon he’d miss his chance to help her. And to get her help.
   “My inn opens in a couple months, and I need help getting it ready for guests. I have beds but no sheets. I have a little furniture but no decorations. I have rooms with no soul. And I could use a woman with an eye for color and details.”
   Marie’s eyebrows lifted as she bit her lower lip. “Really?”
   His hands jumped into the air, warding off too much hope. “I can’t pay much, but you can stay in the basement apartment until we open the first of May.”
   A flicker of hope disappeared almost before he noticed it was there. “What’s the catch?”
   “No catch. I need help turning this house into a home.” And as he said the words, he knew they were true. He did need help.
   Rose would have called this meeting positively providential, and she’d have been right. The big guy upstairs clearly knew that Jack needed a hand before Jack even knew it.
   Marie’s eyelids drooped, and she turned away from him again. He had to do something to get her on board before the ferry landed and he was left with the ugliest bed-and-breakfast on the island.
   “I could pay you four hundred dollars a month, and I’ll cover all your living expenses.”
   The terse shake of her head made his stomach churn.
   “Fine! Six hundred for the month, the best room in the house, and a bonus when the inn is done.”
   “I can’t take your money.”
   “But you’ll be earning it.”
   “Ladies and gentleman, please prepare for arrival at Wood Islands, Prince Edward Island.” The disembodied voice sent both Jack and Marie turning toward the overhead speakers. The humming motor suddenly went silent as they floated to the dock, but Jack’s heart revved. It was now or never.
   “I’ve owned three auto shops, and I’ve always paid a fair wage. I won’t start shorting employees now.”
   “Employee?” Chin still tucked, she looked up, her eyes glistening. It could be the wind making them water, but he had a feeling it was something else.
   “Until the inn is ready.”
   “What’s its name?”
   “The inn?” She nodded, and he scratched at his hairline. “Well now, I haven’t quite decided on that yet, but I’m thinking about the North Rustico Red Door.”
Liz Johnson, The Red Door Inn Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group, © 2016. Used by permission.

Liz Johnson

Meet Liz here: website, Facebook, twitter
Liz Johnson is a bestselling author of Inspirational Romantic Suspense and Historical Fiction novels who makes her home in Nashville, Tennessee.

***Thank you to Revell Reads for this review copy of Liz Johnson's The Red Door Inn. This review was written in my own words. No other compensation was received.***

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Return to Shirley Plantation: A Civil War Romance novella by Carrie Fancett Pagels, © 2013, © 2016 2nd edition

Shirley Plantation on the north bank of the James River
Charles City, Virginia, between Jamestown and Richmond

1862 ~ Changes are coming to Hill Carter's plantation as a Union troop encamps on the lawn at dark. Confederate Lieutenant Hilly Carter is serving in the Navy, another son leaving no land protection for the ladies at home.

Angelina Rose, a freed woman, is retained at her will as a servant to stay with her sister Lorena's orphaned twins. Charity and Julian, belonged to the Carters until their freedom could be purchased.

At dusk, Angelina and the children had moved from over the laundry to the unused Old House. How long would the buildings remain empty, or would the army move on?

Matthew Scott was conscripted against his will into the Confederacy as retribution of his father being a local congressman. Matthew was the owner manager of a touring theatrical troupe in Southern Ohio. Leaving after the night's performance, his plans were officially changed.

Stumbling through the night, unprepared for what lie ahead, in battle, Matthew receives a head injury.  Intercepted by the same Union army camped at Shirley Plantation, he is cared for by Angelina as he recuperates.

There are surprises for both of them as they fall in love and seek passage North with the two children. They retrace steps they might have taken and find that God's plan is far beyond what could have been had they not waited upon Him.

Author Carrie Fancett Pagels recounts the ravages of war and the personage of the people beyond being soldiers.

***Thank you to author Carrie Fancett Pagels for inviting me to review her novella, Return to Shirley Plantation, and sending me a print copy. This review was written in my own words. No other compensation was received.***

Image result for the south flanker shirley plantation

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Bride of a Distant Isle by Sandra Byrd, © 2016

Daughters of Hampshire, Book Two

Alla fine andrà tutto bene se non andrà bene, non e le fine.
All will be well in the end; if it's not well, then it's not the end.


An Absolute Ten!

My review:
I am thrilled to have received Bride of a Distant Isle ~ I have read several of author Sandra Byrd's historicals and looked forward to reading book 2 in the Daughters of Hampshire series. So excellent, I began reading until the wee hours of the morning.

The story takes place from May to December 1851, with an Epilogue three years later. I love writings that you can envision and draw you in from the beginning. Thus, is so as Annabel Ashton prepares to leave Highcliffe Hall at Milford on Sea with her cousin, Edward Everedge, and his wife, Clementine, repairing to London to attend the Great Exhibition in Hyde Park.

Crystal Palace from the northeast from Dickinson's Comprehensive Pictures of the Great Exhibition of 1851. 1854.jpg
Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of all Nations
Hoping to meet with other investors, Edward greatly anticipated the outcome of having funds to retain Highcliffe, as heir to the country house. Annabel is looking forward to returning to her teaching position at the Rogers Day School for Young Ladies in Winchester following the remainder of the summer season.
   "A lifetime has unraveled and then been re-knit since I'd left Winchester seven months earlier, hoping for a quiet life as a teacher. I had learnt who I was, and that I was beloved, and that I could chance risk and prevail."
   Annabel ~ Bride of a Distant Isle, 359
Today is release day and you are in for a treat!

As much as I have enjoyed author Sandra Byrd's other historical fictions ~ I will have to say this was most *i*n*t*r*i*g*u*i*n*g. Pulling in the happenings of the time period, this story was magnificently written. Flawlessly crafted, riveting throughout.

An unforgettable romance set in Victorian England, Bride of A Distant Isle is the engrossing story of Annabel Ashton, who fights to save her family home and her mother's honor while trying to figure out if the man she loves wants her—or just wants to use her to achieve his own ambitions.
   Miss Annabel Ashton is a teacher at the Rogers School for Young Ladies in Winchester when she takes a brief visit to her family home, Highcliffe Hall at Milford-on-Sea. She believes her stay will be short but soon learns that she will not be returning to the safety of the school. Instead, she remains at Highcliffe, at the mercy of her cousin, Edward Everedge.
   Annabel protests, but as the illegitimate daughter of a woman who died in an insane asylum, she has little say. Edward is running out of money and puts the house up for sale to avoid financial ruin. He insists that Annabel marry, promising her to a sinister, frightening man. But as the house gets packed for sale, it begins to reveal disquieting secrets. Jewelry, artifacts, and portraits mysteriously appear, suggesting that Annabel may be the true heir of Highcliffe.
   She has only a few months to prove her legitimacy, perhaps with assistance from the handsome but troubled Maltese Captain Dell’Acqua. But does he have Annabel’s best interests at heart?
   And then, a final, most ominous barrier to both her inheritance and her existence appears: a situation neither she nor anyone else could have expected. Will Annabel regain her life and property—and trust her heart—before it’s too late?
Sandra Byrd
***Thank you to author Sandra Byrd and to Howard Books for sending me a review copy of Bride of a Distant Isle. This review was written in my own words. No other compensation was received.***
Mist of Midnight by Sandra Byrd Book One

A Lady in Disguise by Sandra Byrd
Daughters of Hampshire, Book Three
Releases 2017

Enjoy this recipe from author Sandra Byrd:

Maltese Pastizzi

Maltese Pastizzi
The island-bound Maltese are famous for their tasty little pastry boats. These are most often filled with a blend of cheeses, and perhaps peas. My family enjoyed them just a little sweeter, with strawberry jam on top. The beautiful thing is – the recipe is so accommodating. So try them once, and then adjust to taste!

 · Preheat oven to 400


One sheet of frozen puff pastry dough
One cup whole milk ricotta cheese, softened
2 T sugar
2 eggs

Let the puff pastry come to room temperature according to the directions on the box. Roll out to about ¼ inch thickness. Using a biscuit cutter, cut the dough into circles about 4” across.

Place the circles onto a baking sheet which has been lined with parchment paper. Then, pinch together the ends of each circle, causing the pastry to look like a canoe or little boat.

Mix, with a fork and until thoroughly blended, the ricotta, the sugar, and one egg. Whip, the second egg in another bowl, to be brushed onto pastries.

Spoon cheese mixture into the “boat” of each pastry until it is nearly filled.

Brush each boat with the beaten egg, and place in oven for about 20 minutes until pastry is completely cooked and the tops are golden brown.

Serve – and enjoy!!
Thank you, Sandra Byrd

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Playing the Part by Jen Turano, © 2016

Cover Art
New York. This is the kind of apartment I wanna live in. - Forget the apt. I would like the house! :):

I find that I must join my friend, Mrs. Abigail Hart, leaving a wonderful Washington Square brownstone to obtain safety at her grandson's estate, away from an overly adoring fan. I am striving to be an accomplished actress and as much as I love the buzzing of city noises, it is paramount that I be wise and acquiesce to Abigail's wisdom. You see, I've always prided myself in the mystery of the stage and those following our rise to fame. There comes a time when that isn't viable, as much as one might want to continue to attain success. A sustained body is better than a cold one, unable to be warmed.

Jen Turanos new book, about to release!!I first met Bram Haverstein thinking him sheltering to his grandmother. I am quite used to taking care of myself. The countryside was beautiful, the full stars, as we traveled by night arriving unexpectedly at Ravenwood. We received an immediate greeting. They were ready for us. I came disguised in trousers and a heavy overcoat. Bram had seen me when I am my character, but not on my natural stage. He was quite taken with who he perceived me to be. He doesn't know the real Lucetta Plum. I am more than memorized lines in a script.

Jen Turano has again brought to life a cast of characters unlikely to be found together. An assortment of animals given a new spark in life, rescued from their dismal surroundings and people given a second chance, taken out of their demise to rise to substance all working together to become a lively whole.

Enjoy this excerpt from Jen Turano's Playing the Part ~ Chapter 1



Forgive me, Miss Plum, but there’s a gentleman outside demanding to speak with you. He claims to be your father.” Miss Lucetta Plum paused in the act of removing her stage makeup and turned, finding Mr. Skukman, an intimidating gentleman she employed to manage her overzealous admirers, standing in the doorway of her dressing room. “How fascinating, Mr. Skukman, especially considering my father died years ago.”
   Mr. Skukman arched a single dark brow her way. “Fascinating indeed.” With that, he withdrew, pulling the door firmly shut behind him. Seconds later, the sound of what was surely some type of a scuffle drifted into the dressing room.
   “This is an outrage,” a man bellowed. “I demand you unhand me at once, sir.”
   Recognition of the voice was immediate. Rising ever so slowly from a vanity stool upholstered in red velvet, Lucetta navigated her way across the cluttered dressing room. Stepping over a pair of high-heeled shoes she’d slipped off her feet the moment after she’d taken her last curtsy, she drew in a steadying breath and yanked open the door.
   Exasperation mixed with a large dollop of annoyance coursed through her when her gaze settled on the gentleman Mr. Skukman was now muscling down the narrow hallway.
   Knowing there would be little benefit in putting off what was certain to be a most disagreeable meeting, Lucetta lifted her chin. “You may release him, Mr. Skukman.”
   Mr. Skukman stopped in his tracks, glanced over his shoulder, and let out a grunt that sounded exactly how it had been intended to sound—menacing.
   Lucetta barely batted an eye. While she’d hired Mr. Skukman because of his frightening demeanor and ability to make grown men shake in their boots, she was well aware there was a charming man behind the menace—a man who possessed an endearingly tender heart. That man enjoyed reading poems of a slightly romantic nature, and reciting those poems out loud in a soft yet dramatic tone of voice, when he thought no one was listening.
   “Forgive me, Miss Plum, but I don’t think it would benefit you in the least for me to release this particular man,” Mr. Skukman argued. “He’s obviously a most unpleasant sort, and I know you have little to no tolerance for unpleasant gentlemen.”
   “He is indeed unpleasant, Mr. Skukman, but—”
   “I’m your father,” the man yelled.
   “You are not my father, Nigel,” Lucetta said, holding up her hand when Nigel opened his mouth to obviously argue that point. “Officially, you’re my stepfather, but ever since I was sixteen and you tried to force me to assist you with one of your nefarious schemes, I don’t consider you part of my family. You’re merely an unpleasant man my mother foolishly chose to marry.”
   Mr. Nigel Wolfe shook himself out of Mr. Skukman’s hold and pulled his jacket over a stomach that was less than trim. While he’d once possessed boyish good looks, late nights with too much liquor and rich foods were beginning to take their toll on him. Nigel’s jowls were heavy, and his complexion was pasty. Given the dark bags under his eyes, it was clear he hadn’t slept well in days. His brown hair, now liberally streaked with gray, was mussed, and his general air of neglect meant only one thing. . . .
   He’d been gambling again.
   “I need to speak with you privately regarding a matter of great urgency,” Nigel said.
   Lucetta refused a sigh. “Of course you do.” Sending Mr. Skukman a nod even as she pretended not to notice the incredulous look her guard was sending back to her, she turned on a bare heel and headed through the dressing room again. Retaking her seat on the vanity stool, she watched Nigel from the reflection in the mirror as Mr. Skukman pulled her door almost closed before he took up his position directly outside it again.
   Distaste settled on her tongue as Nigel strolled across the room and dropped into a deep-seated fainting couch, squishing the wig she’d recently taken off her head. He immediately took to scrutinizing his surroundings.
   “The matter of great urgency . . . ?” she was finally forced to ask when Nigel seemed to have forgotten the business at hand as he continued perusing the room.
   “Are those real diamonds?” He nodded to a necklace dangling from her mirror.
   Picking up a jar of cream, she dipped a finger in it and then dabbed the cream underneath a blue eye with far more force than necessary, wincing when she unintentionally poked herself. “I’m sure they are, but since Mr. Skukman will be returning the necklace to a Mr. Dover later on this evening, it doesn’t matter one way or the other.”
   “You’re giving the necklace back?”
   “Since I have no intention of paying the price Mr. Dover will surely expect if I keep his token of affection, of course I am.” Lucetta snatched up a handkerchief and began blotting an eye that had taken to watering.
   “That’s incredibly foolish of you, my dear. You’re neglecting a prime opportunity to secure yourself a tidy fortune.”
   Setting aside the handkerchief, Lucetta swiveled around and caught Nigel’s eye. “While I would love nothing more than to continue discussing my admirers and their completely inappropriate gifts and expectations, tell me, what exactly are you doing in New York. And where is Mother?”
   “She’s back in Virginia at Plum Hill, preparing for a luncheon she’s hosting tomorrow.”
   “Does she know you’re here?”
   “Who do you think insisted I seek you out after discovering I’ve landed myself in a bit of a pickle?”
   A hint of something that felt remarkably like hurt stole over Lucetta, taking her by surprise. She’d never shared a close relationship with her mother, having had more in common with her father, but . . .
   “So if you’ll just kindly fetch the deed to Plum Hill for me, I’ll leave you in peace.”
   All sense of hurt evaporated in a split second.
   “Forgive me, Nigel, but surely you didn’t just ask me for the deed to Plum Hill.”
   “While it pains me no small amount to have to ask for a deed that should be in my name in the first place . . . yes, I did ask for the deed, and . . . I need it tonight.”
   “Do not tell me you tried to gamble away the plantation again.”
   “I didn’t merely try, my dear, unfortunately, this time I succeeded.”
   “If I need remind you, Plum Hill isn’t yours to gamble away.”
   “I’m well aware of that, but when I threw the promise of the deed into the game of cards, I wasn’t planning on losing. I was certain I held a winning hand, but . . .”
   Nigel shuddered ever so slightly before pulling out a pocket watch, took note of the time, and then shuddered again. “I’m under a bit of a time constraint, so if you’d just fetch that deed for me, I’ll be ever so grateful—as will your mother who, again, encouraged me to seek you out.”
   Lucetta narrowed her eyes. “If Mother was so keen to encourage you to leave her without a roof over her head, why didn’t she make the trip to New York with you?”
   Nigel began inspecting his pocket watch. “I told you, she’s hosting a luncheon tomorrow. Besides, you know full well that Susannah doesn’t like to face the reality of having a daughter who treads the boards for a living.”
   “Mother’s also not the sort of lady who’d want to face the reality of not being able to host luncheons in her very own home, which makes me question whether or not she really did encourage you to seek me out.”
   Nigel’s head shot up. “Are you going to give me the deed or not?”
   “Not—which I think you probably realized all along, but . . . even if I completely lost my sanity and wanted to hand you the deed, I couldn’t because I no longer have the deed in my possession.”
   “You sold Plum Hill without seeking my counsel first?”
   “Don’t be ridiculous. Do you really believe you’d still be permitted to live at Plum Hill if I’d sold it to someone else? If you recall, I promised my father on his deathbed that I would always look after Mother. Selling Plum Hill out from under her would hardly be honoring my promise.
   “For your information, Mr. Everett Mulberry has possession of the deed, but he’s merely holding it for me to keep it safe, strictly as a precaution against situations like the one I currently find myself in. Furthermore, I’ve given him explicit instructions regarding the release of that deed—those instructions being that someone will need to present him with my very cold, very dead body.”
   Nigel smiled a smile that was less than pleasant. “That could be arranged.”
   It took a great deal of restraint to keep her temper in check. “I’m sure you do find the notion of my death vastly appealing at times, Nigel. Nevertheless, even though you’re a remarkably disagreeable man, I don’t believe you have the stomach for murder.”
   Nigel settled back against the fainting couch. “Probably not, but . . .” He suddenly brightened. “This Mr. Mulberry—he wouldn’t happen to be one of the New York Mulberrys, would he?”
   “He would, but before you continue on with what I know you’re about to say—insulting me in the process, no doubt—he’s simply a friend of mine, married to one of my best friends, the former Miss Millie Longfellow. He’s holding the deed for me because he owes me a favor.”
   “Would that favor be big enough that he’d consider making your stepfather a rather large loan?”
   Folding his hands over his stomach, Nigel eyed her for a long moment. “That’s too bad, but fortunately for us, we have another option available, and one that will keep me out of jail for not honoring a debt, or beaten to a bloody pulp, which might, indeed, be worse than a stint in jail.” He drew in a deep breath, released it, and then drew in another as perspiration began to bead his pasty forehead.
   Trepidation settled in the pit of Lucetta’s stomach. “I’m not certain I like the sound of we having another option available. I had nothing to do with you losing something in a game of cards that wasn’t yours to lose in the first place.”
   “We’re family, and as such, our problems are shared.” Nigel wiped his forehead with the back of his hand. “While I truly wish I didn’t have to broach this particular option—because you’re hardly going to like what I have to say—as you recently mentioned, you did promise your father you’d look after your mother. Because of that, and because you must know Susannah would be horribly distressed if I got hauled off to jail or harmed in any way, broach it I shall.” He cleared his throat. “Do know that if I’d had the slightest inkling how events were going to play out, I would have never sat down to that particular game of cards.”
   “You’ve never turned down a game of cards with your friends,” Lucetta pointed out.
   Nigel’s face, oddly enough, took on a tinge of green. “Oh, these weren’t friends of mine,” he began. “In fact, I’d never met any of the gentlemen before, but since they made a point of telling me how they’d heard about my reputation at the table, I certainly wouldn’t have been comfortable refusing their kind offer of a friendly game.”
   Wrinkling her nose, Lucetta leaned forward. “Why in the world would you sit down to play cards with gentlemen who freely admitted they’d heard about your reputation for losing at the table?”
   Nigel wrinkled his nose right back at her. “They heard I was remarkably skilled at cards.”
   “When you’re not drowning yourself in a bottle of brandy, which, I hate to say, is something I’m afraid every one knows you make a habit of doing most nights.”
   “I was delighted to accept the invitation after their flattering words,” Nigel continued as if Lucetta had not spoken. “And was doing quite well, but then . . . I’m afraid I got overly ambitious and lost everything on a single turn of the cards. To my relief, Mr. Silas Ruff was incredibly gracious. When he discovered I might not actually have the deed to Plum Hill readily available, he offered me another way to honor my debt to him.”
   Lucetta suddenly found it rather difficult to breathe. “You sat down to cards with Mr. Silas Ruff?”
   “Ah, wonderful, so you do know him.” Nigel smiled. “He spoke most highly of you, my dear, and learning you’re acquainted with him makes this so much easier to say.”
   “Makes what easier to say?”
   “That Mr. Ruff is perfectly willing to take something in lieu of the deed to Plum Hill—something he seems very anxious to acquire. . . . That something being . . . well . . you.”
Jen Turano, Playing the Part Bethany House, a division of Baker Publishing Group, © 2016. Used by permission.

Sara Karam Photography

***Thank you to author Jen Turano and Bethany House for sending me a copy of Playing the Part. This review was written in my own words. No other compensation was received.***

Jen Turano is the author of seven books, including the Ladies of Distinction and A Class of Their Own series. Her novel, After a Fashion, is a Booklist Top 10 Romance of 2015 and a nominee in the 2015 RT Book Reviews Reviewer's Choice Awards. She makes her home in Denver, Colorado, with her husband and son. Visit her website here.