Friday, July 12, 2024

"Road Trip Rescue" by Becca Wierwille

What a lovely book!  I was utterly enchanted by this middle-grade book about a girl trying to find her missing dog.

Kimmy's dog Bo disappeared two years ago.  When she finds a photo in a magazine that looks just like him, she begs her parents to take her to see if that dog in the magazine really is Bo.  Her parents can't take time away from their dairy farm, but Kimmy's Aunt Skylar decides to take Kimmy on a road trip with a stop at the place where Bo might be living.  

The road trip gets longer and longer, with various stops and adventures along the way, and with extra people joining it along the way.  Kimmy does finally find the dog from the magazine.  I won't spoil the book by telling you whether the dog is Bo or not.

Kimmy was born with one full arm and hand, and one "little arm" that ends just below her elbow.  Over the course of the book, she learns that not all strangers stare, not all people who stare are being intentionally rude, and not everyone thinks that her "little arm" makes her a freak.  Most importantly, she learns the power of the forgiveness, and that you can forgive people whether or not they apologize to you.  

This is Christian fiction of the best kind, with characters who strive to live out their faith and act according to what the Bible teaches.  They read the Bible and they attend church, too.

I plan to have my elementary literature class at our homeschool co-op read this book this year.  It's so good!

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: G.  A good, wholesome, heartwarming story.

This has been my 18th book read from my TBR shelves for the 2024 Mount TBR Reading Challenge.

Monday, July 8, 2024

Cover Reveal and ARC Sign-Up for My Book "Prairie Tales"

It's finally time to share the cover for the sixth book in my Once Upon a Western series!  Prairie Tales: Volume One is a collection of ten short stories that are all related to the first five books in the series, whether as sequels or prequels to those books.

Here's the official synopsis:
Discover ten re-imaginings of fairy tales, folk tales, and even a Mother Goose rhyme in this heartwarming collection. Journey across the plains of Nebraska and Kansas and explore the mountains of Wyoming and Colorado with characters from the "Once Upon a Western" series—or meet them for the first time! Encounter a mattress filled with apples, a runaway basket of gingerbread, a house that looks like a shoe, a disappointing Christmas tree, and a Halloween prank gone wrong. Each short story brings a classic tale to life, offering fresh adventures and cozy charm in the Old West.
The ten short stories included are:
  • "None Too Particular" (The Princess and the Pea) 
  • "Let Down Your Hair" (Rapunzel) 
  • "I'll Do It Myself" (The Little Red Hen) 
  • "No Match for a Good Story" (Scheherazade) 
  • "Run, Run" (The Gingerbread Man) 
  • "Who Lived in a Shoe" (There Was an Old Woman) 
  • "The Ugly Evergreen" (The Ugly Duckling) 
  • "The Wind Makes a Poor Husband" (The Mouse's Marriage) 
  • "The Blizzard at Three Bears Lake" (Goldilocks and the Three Bears) 
  • "Gruff" (Three Billy Goats Gruff)

And now, it's time to reveal the cover!

I think this just might be the prettiest cover for this series yet!  And look how wonderful it looks with all the others:

If some of those short stories sound familiar to you, five of them have been previously available on their own as free e-books, and two of them have been free Christmas gifts to people who subscribe to my author newsletter.  If you're keeping up with my math here, that means that three of these short stories are totally new and have never been available before!  And none of them have been available in print before this. 

Only "Who Lived in a Shoe" and "Blizzard at Three Bears Lake" will continue to be offered as free e-books on their own.  All the rest will only be available in this collection from now on.

Prairie Tales: Volume One
 will release on August 6, 2024, which is less than a month away!  If you don't want to wait a whole month to read it, you can apply for an Advance Reader Copy (ARC) by filling out this form.  I will give out a limited number of ARCs, and they will be available on a first-come, first-served basis, so if you want one, you'd better sign up soon!  All ARCs will be e-books, not paperbacks.

The Kindle edition of Prairie Tales is available for pre-order right here already, and you can also mark it as want-to-read here on GoodReads.

I'll be offering some book launch goodies, and taking this book on a virtual book tour during its launch week, so keep an eye out for news about those!

Oh, and yes... the title includes the words "volume one."  I fully expect to keep writing books and short stories in this series, which means there will be another volume of Once Upon a Western short stories one day!  I currently have plans for the next three books, and ideas for a couple more short stories...

Saturday, July 6, 2024

"Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves" by P. G. Wodehouse (audiobook read by Jonathan Cecil)

I happened upon the audiobook version of Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves by P. G. Wodehouse at a used book store this spring.  When I saw it was read by Jonathan Cecil, I snapped it up because I was pretty sure this would be a fun book for our family vacation.  My kids know who Jonathan Cecil is because he played Captain Hastings in several Poirot mysteries opposite Peter Ustinov, and we are definite fans of that particular iteration of Poirot.

Anyway, we had a jolly time listening to this book over a couple of days on our drive home last week!  We got a lot of laughs out of it, and we've acquired a few new favorite things to quote to each other (especially, "In that case, I shall now eat a ham sandwich!").

In this book, Bertie Wooster tries very hard not to get invited to a big manor house, not to get tangled up in his friends' problems, and not to get rid of the jaunty blue alpine hat with a pink feather that he loves and Jeeves hates.  As you can expect, he fails on all three counts, with hilarious and delightful results.  

I find it very heartening that Wodehouse published this book when he was 82.  And published two more Jeeves books after it!  Makes me hope I could have another 40ish years of writing ahead of me yet.

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG for a smattering of mild cussing here and there.

This is my 25th book read and reviewed for my fourth Classics Club list and my 17th from my TBR shelves for the 2024 Mount TBR Reading Challenge.  I'm counting it for the latter because, although I bought the audiobook this year, the paperback has been on my TBR shelves since 2023.

Monday, July 1, 2024

"Steal the Morrow" by Jenelle Leanne Schmidt

Another excellent book in the Classic Retold series!  In fact, please don't throw things at me for this, but I actually liked Steal the Morrow better than the book it's retelling, Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens.  :-o  I know, I know, but hear me out.

Steal the Morrow has its orphan, Olifur, fall in with a Robin Hood-esque band of boys living in the forest, led by a kind man named Fritjof who teaches them how to survive and thrive.  Unlike Robin Hood, and unlike Fagin in the original book, these folks don't steal.  They work.

Eventually, Olifur goes to a big city to find a doctor to help Fritjof, who has weak lungs and gets sick a lot.  There, he gets an unpleasant and dangerous job, reminiscent of a work house, to pay the doctor.  He encounters this book's versions of the Artful Dodger, Nancy, and Bill Sikes.  Moral quandries ensue, which Olifer eventually finds his way through, and the ending is WAY happier than the ending of Oliver Twist.  

So, yeah -- happier ending, less misery, far nicer characters, and a Robin Hood aspect make me like Steal the Morrow a lot more than Oliver Twist.  I'm not saying it's a better book, I'm just saying I personally like and enjoy it more.

Particularly Good Bits:

Perhaps that was part of growing up, he thought.  Perhaps there would always be small pieces of his heart missing, scattered from town to town, staying with the people he cared about most (p. 181).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG for violent loss of parents, scenes of children in peril/danger, and violence toward women and children.  No smut or bad language, and the violence is not described in a gory way.

This is my 16th book read from my TBR shelves for the 2024 Mount TBR Reading Challenge.

Saturday, June 22, 2024

"Murder at the Merton Library" by Andrea Penrose

The only real downside to this book is that, now that I've finished it, I have to wait until September for another Wrexford and Sloane book!  I absolutely love this series and am slowly collecting them up because I know I will want to read them all again.

In this one, the Earl of Wrexford's late brother's best friend is murdered, and Wrex vows to bring the killer to justice.  Meanwhile, a scientific laboratory burns down in what appears to be arson, and Charlotte is drawn into the search for possible motives and perpetrators.  Of course, the two crimes end up being linked, and it takes the combined talents of their entire found family to figure everything out.  

I very much enjoy how Penrose works so many real-life scientific discoveries and inventions into this series.  It's set during the Industrial Revolution, and the emphasis on science really sets this series apart from other Regency-era books I've read.

Particularly Good Bits:

"It is a curse of human nature that we are inclined to believe things that we wish to be true.  Evildoers have exploited that weakness since the Garden of Eden" (p. 220).

"Vengeance doesn't soothe the soul" (p. 240).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG-13 for violence, including showing a murder on-page, a smattering of cuss words, and mention of an attempt at rape (in the past, not shown, and neither victim nor perpetrator are regular characters).

Tuesday, June 11, 2024

The Cover Reveal for My Book "A Noble Companion"

As you may have heard, I will be releasing an Ugly Duckling retelling called A Noble Companion this fall as part of the Cornerstone Series from Beyond the Bookery. I am revealing its gorgeous cover at last!

A Noble Companion releases on November 12, and you can already pre-order the Kindle version on Amazon.

The books in this series are all non-magical fantasy, which means the authors will include fantasy elements such as creatures (such as dragons, centaurs, unicorns, mermaids) or settings, but there will be no magic-users, such as witches or wizards or sorcerers.

Is this a major step out into the unknown for me as a writer?  In some ways, yes.  I tried writing a fantasy novel in my teens and gave it up because the worldbuilding was driving me crazy.  I've never tried to write anything fantasy-ish again... until now.  

But, because I'm me, A Noble Companion has an American West flavor -- I've created a world based on Spanish California in the early 1800s (think of Zorro), but with talking animals and dragons.  

I have an inspiration board for this book on Pinterest -- you can check that out here!

Anyway!  I love my cover, and I'm having a great time writing this book.  If you'd like to see covers for more of the series, we are releasing four at a time every Monday for the whole month of June -- you can find the first eight here in my Instagram feed!

If you think A Noble Companion sounds like a fun read, you can mark it as "want to read" here on Goodreads.

Monday, June 10, 2024

"Break the Beast" by Allison Tebo

This book blew me away.  It's got a vibe like Till We Have Faces by C. S. Lewis, but mixed with wonderful wordsmithing ala Caraval by Stephanie Garber, and with a hero who could stand beside any of the great men in The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien.

And if that sounds hyperbolic, I assure you it is not.  This is going to be one of my top books for the year.

Break the Beast is a retelling of the ancient epic Beowulf, but with a wonderful twist.  Instead of killing the monster Grendel, Beowulf saves her from being a monster.  In this book, Grendel was once a human girl, and when Beowulf offers her a chance to turn from worshiping the Dragon Below and instead worship the Almighty, he's also offering her a chance to reclaim her humanity.

I don't want to spoil the story too much, but this is simultaneously an epic quest to defeat monsters and a very personal story of the power of faith and friendship.  It's an allegory like Till We Have Faces, but it's also an emotion-charged fantasy adventure like The Lord of the Rings.

I also loved that, like Balefire by Deborah Koren, this book centers on a platonic friendship between a man and a woman.  I love books like that where romance doesn't need to be part of the plot just because the two main characters are a guy and a girl.  If this is a new trend, I applaud it!

I had to read this book in little bites most of the time because I needed to savor the exquisite writing and storytelling.  I've enjoyed Allison Tebo's writing for years now, but this is far above everything she's written before.  It is magnificent.  Though there is a little flavor of decision-based theology here and there that I do not personally agree with, just fyi.

Particularly Good Bits:

"You and I both know that when we do not allow the Almighty to erect the walls of his truth around our thoughts, our minds devour us, and then, fools that we are, we blame the Almighty for our pain, and we choose to live in the chaos, instead of seeking freedom in Him (p. 20-21).

As the hours pass, he tries several times to speak to me, but each time, the words fall to the ground with the rain, leaving puddles of awkward silence behind (p. 172).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG-13 for mildly gory violence and one instance of someone insinuating a woman has seduced a man (she hasn't).

This is the 15th book I've read from my TBR shelves for the 2024 Mount TBR Reading Challenge.

Saturday, June 8, 2024

"Galloway" by Louis L'Amour

Why is this one called Galloway when it's mostly about Galloway Sackett's brother Flagan?  I mean, Galloway is in it, lots -- but it starts out from Flagan's point of view, and he gets to narrate it in first person here and there, whereas Galloway's chapters get told in third person.  I'm not saying the title makes no sense, because Galloway does play a key role here -- but it's really Flagan's story.  That's Flagan on the cover, even.  Huh.  I wonder if the publisher titled this one, or L'Amour himself.

Anyway, I liked this book a LOT.  Flagan Sackett escapes from some angry Apaches, stark naked and on foot, and manages to not only evade them, but survive in the mountains alone, and eventually find other people... and more trouble, which is where the actual plot takes place -- there's a mean guy and his mean followers who want to take over and control a whole section of the country, and Flagan and Galloway Sackett like the looks of that area and want to ranch there too, and so other people take sides, and more Sacketts get involved, and there's not quite a range war, but it gets close to one.  Since one Sackett is a whole lot of Sacketts, and there are four involved here, it's pretty clear who will win in the end.  The fun is in seeing how they do it.

Particularly Good Bits:

Back up at the forks of the creek in Tennessee they don't raise many foolish children, and the foolish men don't live long enough to get knee-high to a short sheep (p. 26).

There's a saying in the mountains that if you harm a cricket his friends will come and eat your socks (p. 28) (This made me laugh so much!)

I had lived long enough to know that nothing lasts forever, and men torture themselves who believe that it will.  The one law that does not change is that everything changes (p. 46).

There's a saying that when guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns (p. 52).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG-10 for some brief discussions of torture, scenes of survival in harsh conditions, a little mild cussing, and western violence.

This is my 14th book read from my TBR shelves for the 2024 Mount TBR Challenge.

Tuesday, June 4, 2024

My Book "Jane Eyre: A Christian Reader's Guide" Releases Today!

My nonfiction audiobook has released today!  I'm so excited to finally get to share this project with the world.

Jane Eyre: A Christian Reader's Guide helps readers explore and understand Charlotte Bronte's classic novel.  In it, I provide a breakdown and analysis of each chapter, discussion prompts, and historical notes on the book and its author. This audiobook will be a great resource for teaching literature or your own personal study.  It would be particularly helpful for homeschoolers and literature classes, and works for book clubs, too.  It works equally well whether you're hoping to understand this classic better yourself or looking for something to help you teach it to others.

You can buy my book from Amazon Audible here, from Barnes and Noble Audiobooks here, or straight from publisher One Audiobooks here.  You can also find it on Goodreads.

My audiobook is part of a new series of literature guides that One Audiobooks is producing.  Their aim is to help modern readers understand and appreciate classic books from a Christian perspective.  Mine is the first guide for a more adult book, and probably works better for teens and adults, but the others would be great for all ages.

Currently, these guides are only available as audiobooks, but there is a possibility that the publisher might release them as ebooks as well.  If that interests you, please let the publisher know!

Monday, June 3, 2024

"Weaving Roots" by Heather Wood

I loved so many characters in this book!  Main characters Betha and Colm, Betha's nephew Henry, and basically all of Colm's family.

Betha keeps house for her brother Seamus and is raising his illegitimate son Henry for him.  The little family has recently moved to Baltimore to get away from unkind neighbors who shunned Henry for his parentage.  Betha enrolls Henry in a free school nearby, where she meets Colm, who will be his teacher.

Colm and Betha are drawn to each other immediately.  They share Irish-American heritage, strong faith in God, and the desire to help those around them.  Colm is idolized a bit by Henry, whose father Seamus tends to ignore or dismiss him.  It's clear early on that Colm, Betha, and Henry could make a happy little family together, should Colm and Betha get married.

However, it takes three-quarters of the book for the characters to actually realize that Colm and Betha raising Henry is an option.  That's the only thing I disliked about the book -- in an era when people pretty commonly raised their nieces and nephews as their own, why did neither Colm nor Betha (nor Seamus) ever say, "Hey, here's a solution!"  Nobody even suggested it as a solution until the end of the book, not even to dismiss it as unworkable or raise objections to it.  Which drove me a little crazy.

Aside from that, this book was engrossing and uplifting.  I connected quickly with the characters and very much enjoyed their efforts to learn and grow in their faith while doing the work God has given them.  Much of the book's plot revolves around Colm's coming to realize he needs to be including the Bible in his classroom teaching, and the controversy that stirs up.  Wood includes historical notes about this exact controversy actually happening at that school in the 1820s, which was fascinating.  History really does run in cycles, and the more I learn about the 1820s, the more they remind me of the 1920s and the 2020s.

Full disclosure: I received an advance review copy of this book from the publisher.  All opinions here are my own and freely stated.

Particularly Good Bits:

"I'd appreciate understanding the difference between living by faith and living foolishly in the name of faith."

"The Lord doesn't give us control over each other's outcomes."

"Yes, there are things we can do, but for all our efforts, we can never change hearts.  He just didn't give us that power."

The Bible wasn't a neutral book, and the words in it didn't leave room for a passive response.  If a heart wasn't changed by it, it very likely would find itself in sharp opposition to it.

"...we're weaker when the devil gets us off by ourselves.  Like a predator trying to get his prey away from the herd."

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG for discussions of Henry's illegitimacy and the use of a coarse slur to refer to him.  There are also veiled references to marital bedtime activities which are not explicit or titillating.  There is a brief mention of an adult striking a child and being emotionally abusive.  No bad language aside from the word 'bastard' used in its original context; little violence.

Thursday, May 30, 2024

"Stuff Every Gardener Should Know" by Scott Meyer

Let us be clear: I did not read this book cover-to-cover.  I skipped swaths of it that had nothing to do with the kind of gardening I do right now.  I gave up growing tomatoes when the local groundhogs got spiteful one night, climbed over and through my layers of fencing, and took one bite out of each tomato.  Rude!  The ground around here isn't great for vegetables anyway, without loads of enrichment.  We do have an asparagus bed, but that's my husband's baby.  Me, I tend a couple of rose bushes and azaleas, and random rings of daffodils around the yard, but my main gardening focus is my container flower garden on our deck.

So, I skipped the sections in this book about food and concentrated on the sections about flowers and landscaping and problem-solving.  Those had lots of good nuggets of wisdom, and I have added a couple of lemon balm plants to my flower garden in hopes that they really do help cut down on mosquitoes like lavender does.

This is really more of a book you consult when you're having a question about gardening, and it's filled with lots of good tricks and tidbits.  I knew some of them, I learned others, and I will go back and learn more in the coming years, I'm sure!

Saturday, May 25, 2024

"Balefire" by Deborah Koren

Balefire centers on a refugee named Rain who has been focusing solely on survival, caring more about finding her next meal than about the fate of her homeland.  But when she finds a magical relic that Crown Prince Orin Balefire is desperate to acquire, all that changes.

Then there's Reece Railey, a loyal guard for Orin Balefire who's faced with a sudden moral choice that puts him on the prince's hit list.  Together, Reece and Rain flee with the magical relic.  They meet an aged enchanter who reveals that, although magic has long been outlawed in their kingdom, it still flourishes unseen.  If they revive old magical practices, they could use the relic to stop Orin's destructive plans.  But that will bring magic back to the surface all across the kingdom, Orin could twist it in ways that would destroy everyone. 

This book is adult fantasy, not YA, but that doesn't mean it's filled with "adults-only" content.  The book centers on a firm, platonic friendship between the two main characters, though there is a romance between some side characters.  There is enough violence that I am not sure I'll hand this to my tween, but I bought my older teen son a copy of his own, and he enjoyed it.  This isn't "Christian fantasy," and does have some bad language, but I can recommend it for older teens and adults without a qualm.

Particularly Good Bits:

"The world is full of people, working together, working against each other, working deliberately, and many times working unintentionally toward ends of which they’re not even aware. You can only be here and now, doing this one thing" (p. 213-214).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG-16 for violence, torture, a sprinkling of cuss words, and very very mild innuendo (such as a man missing the woman who "warms his bed" -- nothing smuttier than that).

Full disclosure: Deborah Koren is my best friend, and I edited and proofread this book.

Thursday, May 23, 2024

"The Lantern's Dance" by Laurie R. King

Another winner from Laurie R. King!  The Lantern's Dance is the eighteenth Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes book, and a thoroughly enjoyable entry into the series.

This review contains SPOILERS for the series, not just for this book, so beware!  Jump to the movie-style rating if you want to avoid spoilage.

Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes already on their way to France when Holmes's son, Damian Adler, alerts them to the fact his home has been broken into.  Fearing that some of their enemies may try to hurt them through Damian, his young daughter, and his new fiancée, they rush to the rescue.  While Holmes ensures that Damian and company are hidden away safely, Russell investigates the break-in and ends up delving into long-buried family secrets.

Like Locked Rooms, this is one of the more deeply personal books in the series.  This time, it is Holmes who confronts past trauma and woe, as he grapples with remember his mother's suicide when he was a boy. But this book has a very happy ending indeed -- much happier than I expected for a long time!  I found it very satisfying.

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG-13 for oblique references to the impropriety of a man and his fiancée sharing a house, then a hotel room, and for the unsettlingly modern reaction of most characters to this behavior.

Tuesday, May 14, 2024

"Mustang Man" by Louis L'Amour

I liked this one all right.  It was an enjoyable and fast-paced read, but I didn't love it.  I'm not sure why, either, as the story was solid, and Nolan Sackett was an interesting character.  But he felt a little detached, as a narrator, or maybe like he was trying to distance himself and the readers from the story in a way?

The storyline is good stuff -- Nolan Sackett, who could be a hero but is often labeled an outlaw, falls afoul of a witch.  Well, not a witch, really, but a sociopathic woman who likes to poison people and torture people and kill people.  Anyway, he escapes her clutches and then encounters a Wise Old Mentor who gives him tools and advice.  Then he finds a Woman in Distress and helps her seek out a treasure.  It's very myth-based storytelling, if you can't tell, and I usually really like that! 

You know, now that I've been mulling over it a bit, I think I know what the problem is.  I didn't really like the main female character, Penelope.  She didn't get as well-fleshed-out as most of L'Amour's heroines, and so I never got a chance to know her, and that means I didn't get invested in Nolan's desire to help her and his secret hope that she might see him as more than a crooked-nosed outlaw.

Oh well -- not every Sackett book needs to be my favorite!

Particularly Good Bits:

I knew I wouldn't get anywhere now trying to run; and when it comes to that, I am not a man who cares to run, unless it's toward something (p. 37).

It was always as Ivanhoe that I saw myself, and always as the Norman knight that I was being seen by others (p. 73).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG-13 for violence, non-detailed descriptions of someone who has been tortured, and a brief mention of prostitution.  Also some mild cussing.

This has been my 13th book read off my TBR shelves for the 2024 Mount TBR Reading Challenge.

Thursday, May 9, 2024

"Beowulf: Dragonslayer" by Rosemary Sutcliff

I didn't grow up knowing the story of Beowulf.  I'd heard the name and knew it was some kind of Norse legend or something, but my first real contact with it was going to see The Thirteenth Warrior (1999) with my college bestie.  She told me it was a retelling of Beowulf, and that intrigued me because I loved the movie, but I was busy with reading-heavy college courses and simply didn't have time to find and read any versions of the myth.  Plus, based on how things go in the movie, I wasn't sure I wanted to read it, even though I have seen the movie at least a dozen times over the years.  The fate of Buliwyf in the film just felt like.... reading this will make me sad.

Over the years, I've learned a bit more about the story -- thanks to all those college lit courses, I knew things about its place in literary history, but I still haven't read a full version of it.  However!  I did read Rosemary Sutcliff's classic retelling for kids today, and it was really fun.  I have J. R. R. Tolkien's translation on my TBR shelves, and reading this has bumped it up a lot higher on my to-read list.  


Because all these years, I thought Beowulf died slaying Grendel's mother!  I was today years old when I learned that nope, he lived a long and successful and battle-glory-filled life before dying while slaying a dragon.  What?!?!?  I am so happy!  This is awesome!  I'm suddenly a fan.  

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG.  Totally appropriate for kids.  Yes, there's death and violence, but it's the good kind -- heroes defeating monsters to protect others.  

I'm counting this as my 24th book read for my 4th Classics Club list because not only does it retell one of our absolute oldest stories, it's by a well-known and important author, and more than 50 years old.

Saturday, May 4, 2024

"The Smoking Iron and Other Stories" by Elisabeth Grace Foley

I think this is Foley's best short story collection yet!  Also, how marvelous is that cover?  I absolutely love silhouettes, and the colors in that sky here are so delightful!

This is a collection of seven short stories, all set in the American West, but not all in the classic "Cowboy Era" of the 1860s-1880s.  In fact, some are set in the 20th century!  

Here's a bit of what I thought about each story:

"Dakota Clothesline" made me angry.  This is not a great way to start a review, and I promise I liked the rest of the stories, but this one gets a huge red X from me.  No parent of a helpless infant has any business leaving that infant alone to go out into a life-threatening situation.  Sure, this mother did so to try to save her husband's life during a blizzard, but if she had gotten lost or otherwise died in that blizzard, she was dooming her child to a slow and horrible death by starvation.  That is absolutely unacceptable behavior, and I will never condone it.  Parents who abandon a child to try to rescue another adult make me furiously angry, and I don't care who knows it.

"The Heiress and the Horse-Trade" was pleasingly clever in places, though the main character annoyed me a little by getting herself into such a predicament in the first place.  Money should be left in the bank where it's safe, not toted all about the countryside just because you want to show it to someone.

"Sheep Need a Shepherd" was my favorite.  In fact, I would buy this book solely for this one story, even if I disliked all the others.  A minister with a young family takes a call to a church in a town surrounded by ranchers, only to have lots of trouble with the ranchers because of his unorthodox side job that he takes on to put food on his family's table since the church is too small to fully support him.  As a pastor's daughter, I am very particular about how ministers are portrayed in fiction, and I absolutely loved this fictional preacher.

"Professor Pruitt's Circulating Concert Company" made me chuckle aloud.  A young man tries to run away from home and join a troupe of entertainers, but mishaps abound.  

"Lark's Nest" was poignant and thought-provoking.  A young woman tries hard to be a hearthkeeper for her grandfather and her brothers, but her efforts seem useless for a long time.  Good stuff.

"Big Aspen" was a solid coming-of-age story, but also dealt with the difficulties of coming back home to 'normal life' after WWII.  In some ways, it reminded me of The Best Years of Our Lives (1946), but make it a western instead.  It was my second-favorite story in the book.

"The Smoking Iron" was very exciting, and almost to tense for comfort!  A young man is accused of stealing cattle by changing their brands and has to find a way to prove his innocence.  Good stuff.

Particularly Good Bits:

"If there's one thing I've been convinced of -- maybe believed more strongly than anything else, ever since I first felt called to preach - it's just that one thing: the gospel is sufficient.  If I ever tried to preach in any way apart from that, I wouldn't be any good for anything." ("Sheep Need a Shepherd")

"I never have appreciated being told what's the Christian thing to do by people who aren't Christians." ("Sheep Need a Shepherd")

And even if no one saw or noticed, she must be faithful in the little things and trust that it would all matter in the end. ("Lark's Nest")

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG for some violence and threats of violence in several stories.  No cussing; no smut.

I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher.  I was not required to review it.  All thoughts and opinions here are my own.

Monday, April 29, 2024

"The Man on the Buckskin Horse" Goes on Tour!

It's book tour time!  The illustrated edition of my Sleeping Beauty retelling, The Man on the Buckskin Horse, releases TOMORROW!  Here is a link to it on Amazon. The paperback drops on Tuesday, and you can pre-order the Kindle until then.

I am taking this book on an online tour, starting today.  The tour involves several interviews, lots of book reviews, and even a post by the illustrator!  For website and blog stops, I will update links as things go live, but for now, I've just linked to their front pages.  For Instagram stops, I have linked to the individual accounts that are hosting stops.

Note that the interviews on Monday and Friday are live events that you can join on Instagram and watch as they happen, and even ask questions during!  Those will be archived on Instagram as well, to watch any other time that works for you.

Here is the book tour itinerary:

Monday, April 29

Live interview with @books_with_cordy at 8pm EST on Instagram
Book review by @jillions_of_stories on Instagram

Tuesday, April 30 -- Release Day

Post by the book's illustrator, Skye Hoffert, on her blog Ink Castles
Book review by @thefilmdirectorswife on Instagram
Book review by @ive_seen_a_new_world on Instagram

Wednesday, May 1

Book review by Kilmeny on her blog VT Dorchester
Book review by @giltedgedpages on Instagram
Book review by @thepurplegiraffereads on Instagram

Thursday, May 2

Interview with Suey Nordberg on YouTube
Book review by @elisabethaimeebrown on Instagram

Friday, May 3

Live interview with @eldmountain at 7pm EST on Instagram
Book review by @aliciaandherbooks on Instagram

Don't forget that when you buy a copy of The Man on the Buckskin Horse by May 31, you are eligible to receive a pack of related goodies!  There's more info about that in this post.  

As always, you can order signed paperback copies of my books via this form.  I don't have paperbacks for Buckskin on hand yet, but I should have them soon, and will ship them out as soon as I have them.  All paperbacks ordered directly from me before May 31 will automatically receive the packet of goodies.

Friday, April 26, 2024

"The Annotated Pride and Prejudice" by Jane Austen (Annotated and Edited by David M. Shapard)

Reading an annotated book like this is almost like reading two books at once.  You have the actual novel, and you have the extensive notes, and you go back and forth from one to the other every paragraph or so.  As it happens, I love to learn about history and literature, so I absolutely am loving these annotated editions!!!  But they are a very different reading experience from simply reading Austen's books for fun.  

And yet, I still got sucked into the book.  Like always, from about the time Elizabeth visits Pemberley onward, I could not read fast enough to suit my own wishes.  It absolutely fascinates me how Austen can sweep me off my feet time and time again, even though I know exactly how the book will end, and how we get to that ending!  Powerful writing indeed.

If you don't know, Pride and Prejudice is a timeless look at how our frailties and failings can define us, but don't have to.  When two flawed people meet, they can either fall in love and accept each others' flaws, or they can fall in love and try to help each other grow and mature and improve.  Austen definitely falls in the "help each other improve" camp, and I love her for it. 

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG for the text and PG-13 for the annotations, which talk about subjects such as Regency attitudes about unmarried sexual intimacy in a much more frank way than the text does. Nothing salacious, and no bad language, but not necessarily something I would hand to a young teen, either.

Saturday, April 13, 2024

"Kill the Dawn" by Emily Hayse

Ahhh, Hamlet.  Is any Shakespearean play more obviously suited to a YA magical Vikings retelling?  I can't think of any.  I mean, it's already set in Scandinavia, based on a medieval Danish tale -- dragons wandering by wouldn't seem at all amiss even in Shakespeare's version.

Yes, this Hamlet retelling has dragons.  It has tamed dragons and wild dragons.  There's a dragon hunt.  There are also horses, warriors, wolves, snow, Viking ships, Viking funerals, and a lot of hard-to-pronounce names.

Hakkr's father, the king, dies while off warring with a neighboring bunch of Vikings.  Hakkr learns from a new slave, called a thrall, that his father did not die in battle the way everyone says, but was betrayed by one of those he considered his closest friends.  When that friend marries Hakkr's sister and claims the throne that should belong to Hakkr, their entire community is set on a path of destruction that will claim many innocent lives by the end -- and some guilty lives, too.

I like that the ending here is slightly changed from Shakespeare's play, in a way that makes sense for this world and these characters.  I was particularly pleased by the true identity of one side character becoming clear only at the very end.  I don't want to say who, because it's a pretty big spoiler, but it's cool.

As usual, Emily Hayse melds a lyrical style with forceful pacing to create a book both beautiful and thrilling.  Kill the Dawn is part of the Classic Retold multi-author series of fantasy novellas that were released last fall and winter.  It's the first one I've read from the series, but I have all nine books, so expect me to read and review them all eventually.

Particularly Good Bits:

Hakkr hung back.  He was caught in a separate world, slow and empty, his grief washing over him like cold sea waves (p. 30).

"You do the right thing and don't think about it.  To some men it is a very great struggle.  You -- you are friends with doing right and do not battle it" (p. 70).

"I will not let fear keep me from that which is right" (p. 172).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG-13 for non-gory violence, including off-page deaths of children (some killed violently during war).  No bad language and no smut.  

This is my 12th book read off my TBR shelves for the 2024 Mount TBR Challenge.

Thursday, April 11, 2024

"Winter Holiday" by Arthur Ransome

In my defense, it WAS winter when I started reading this aloud to my kids!  I started it in January, but it's been challenging to fit read-aloud time into the general chaos that has been our lives for the first few months of this year.  In fact, I finished reading it to them in the van on the way home from a road trip to Indiana to view the total solar eclipse this week.  I think the characters in this series would have approved of that.

This is book four in the Swallows and Amazons series, and I think it ties with the first book as my favorite so far.  That's partly because I love snow, and this involves a lot of snow, and partly because it felt kind of new and different because of the setting and the addition of new characters.  To the usual Swallows (John, Susan, Titty, and Roger) and Amazons (Nancy and Peggy) and Captain Flint, we add the Ds (Dick and Dorothea).  The Ds are NOT great at things like sailing and camping and climbing mountains... but they are willing to do their best and try their hardest, and I grew to love them for their gumption.

Because the Swallows and Amazons are both spending their winter school break at the lake where they usually hang out in the summer, they decide to get together an expedition to the North Pole.  They meet Dick and Dorothea after the Ds try signalling with lights to the house at Holly Howe where the Swallows are staying, only they don't know Morse Code, so the Swallows and Amazons promptly teach it to them.  And then let them tag along as they build an igloo of sorts, and make plans and preparations for their polar expedition, and so on.  The Ds enter fully into the very real spirit behind the somewhat imaginary expedition, and end up having a truly thrilling adventure of their own before the end.

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG for children getting into dangerous situations.  No one is ever permanently or seriously hurt, however.

This has been my 23rd book read and reviewed for my fourth Classics Club list, and my 11th for the 2024 Mount TBR Challenge.

Sunday, April 7, 2024

The I'll Get Around to It Tag

I found this at The Christian Fiction Girl and thought it looked like good fun, especially as I eye my TBR stacks and shelves, and see how they just keep filling up no matter how assiduously I try to empty them.

The Rules 
  • Link back to the original post @ Quote, Unquote
  • Link back to the person who tagged you. 
  • You may use the included graphic anywhere in your post (optional; a black clock with Roman numerals) 
  • Answer all seven categories with a book. 
  • Tag seven others. (optional)

The Categories

1. A classic book that you have been meaning to read forever but haven’t yet

Moby-Dick by Herman Melville.  I even bought myself a really pretty copy a couple years ago, but that still hasn't gotten me to actually read it.  Yet.

2. A book on your shelf that you haven’t read yet 

Um, I have more than 400 books on my shelves that I haven't read yet.  And you want me to pick one?  Well, I shall pick Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes, which has been on my TBR shelves longer than two of my kids have been alive...

3. A book that you got recently that you haven’t read 

I just picked up a lovely copy of The Old Curiosity Shop by Charles Dickens at a thrift store recently.  Will read it someday.

4. A book that you’ve had forever but haven’t read 

I've had Under the Deodars by Rudyard Kipling on my shelves since before all three of my kids were born.  Still haven't read it.

5. A book a friend recommended that you haven’t read 

People tell me I will love The Story Girl by L. M. Montgomery, and I have a copy on my shelves for when I am in the right mood for some Montgomery!

6. A book you’re procrastinating on 

I keep telling myself to read Villette by Charlotte Bronte, but I am a little afraid to try it, to be honest.  I'm afraid I will compare it to Jane Eyre too much, and it can't possibly live up to that.  I know I can choose not to compare them intentionally, but I worry I will do it subconsciously.  One of these days, I'll read it!

7. The next book on your TBR

Break the Beast by Allison Tebo, a fantasy retelling of Beowulf!

Not tagging anyone with this today because I just don't feel like it.  Play if you want to!

The categories again, for your copying ease:

A classic book that you have been meaning to read forever but haven’t yet 
A book on your shelf that you haven’t read yet 
A book that you got recently that you haven’t read 
A book that you’ve had forever but haven’t read 
A book a friend recommended that you haven’t read 
A book you’re procrastinating on 
The next book on your TBR