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SATURDAY SPOTLIGHT: West of Forgotten by Lynda J. Cox

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Banished from civilization to the Wyoming Territory, U.S. Marshal Harrison Taylor holds a deed to half the Lazy L. He isn’t sure why his beautiful new partner, Rachel Leonard, doesn’t trust him. He has to convince her he is nothing like the man who abused her and he must earn her trust before the escalating attacks at the Lazy L turn deadly.

For six years, Rachel has worked to repair a shattered life. Caring for her son and invalid father leaves little time to keep the Lazy L profitable. She doesn’t want a business partner simply because her father gambled away half of her beloved ranch, and most certainly doesn’t desire a husband. Unfortunately, she’s stuck with the former and can’t trust Harrison as the latter.

But unless she can learn to trust him, everything and everyone Rachel loves will be lost.

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EXCERPT

Rachel continued to watch the play of light in the depths of the clouds. She tried to puzzle out why Harrison was engaging in trivial small talk. Perhaps he was on the same uncertain footing she was about their marriage, about Sam’s sudden death, even what it was married couples talked about. “I don’t think so. I think that one is going to miss us. We might get a few drops, but it will rain out before it gets here.”

“Joshua asleep?”

She nodded. “I suppose we should discuss sleeping arrangements.” Just saying those words twisted her stomach with painful knots. “My father’s old room on the second floor hasn’t been used since his accident.” She had to stop thinking of that room as her father’s. It hadn’t been Sam’s room since the day she had found him nearly crushed under the rubble of the mine collapse. There had been no manner to navigate him up and down the stairs.

“We don’t have to discuss anything permanent tonight.” The chair creaked with his shifting weight. He rose from the chair and set his coffee cup on the porch railing, then crossed the distance to her. Without a word, he took her hand and pulled her closer to him. He looked down into her face. “I can continue to sleep on the chesterfield for a few more nights. Not that it would be my first choice…” His voice trailed off.

“I will need to air the room out, change the bed linens, and dust in there, but it would be senseless for you to continue to sleep in the parlor.” She freed her hand and walked a few paces away. She was talking nonsense, hoping to quell her unease. Even the most hastily arranged marriage had a wedding night. Yet he had agreed that for now, they would have a marriage in name only.

Harrison’s boot heels echoed on the porch floor. She startled when his hands came to rest on her shoulders.

“You’re terrified,” he said.

“What makes you think that?” She couldn’t make herself look at him. The knots in her stomach drew tighter, making breathing naturally more difficult, and forcing her heart to race.

He drew his hands down her arms and back to her shoulders. “Let’s start with how stiff your spine is. Or that your voice is shaking. Every time I’ve touched you, you’ve either frozen or you panic.” His breath whispered across the nape of her neck and ruffled the tendrils escaping her severe chignon. He turned her to him and caught her chin on the back of his hand, tilting her head up. “I made a promise, Rachel, and I will not break my word. You have to change the terms of our marriage.”

She forced herself to draw a deep breath when his arms wrapped around her waist and he exerted gentle pressure to bring her against his chest. He enveloped her within his embrace and this time there wasn’t panic or the desperate need to break free hammering in her. Rachel allowed herself to relax.

His cheek pressed into her crown. A self-deprecating laugh broke from him, and she admitted she liked how that sound rumbled in the depths of his chest.

“I really should have my head examined for agreeing to all of that.”

His arms tightened around her. She forced herself to remain within the circle of his arms, the side of her face against him. He must have sensed her sudden unease as he loosened his hold.

“You are an interesting woman. Beautiful, fascinating, and so full of contradictions.” He levered back from her and lifted his hand to cradle the side of her face, the pad of his thumb feathering along the slope of her cheek. “A seemingly very strong woman and yet terrified of a kiss.”

Rachel’s lips went dry and she couldn’t pry her tongue from the roof of her mouth. Her limbs trembled. Surely he had to hear how fiercely her heart was pounding, so loudly she heard it echoing in her ears.

His voice deepened, grew quieter until it was almost a whisper and she fought the urge to close her eyes and let the warmth in his voice wash fully over her. “A woman with a child but so frightened of intimacy.” He leaned even closer to her, his mouth almost on hers, yet not touching her except where his warm palm held her face.

In the darkness, she could just make out his features. Her hands slid up his chest and she didn’t know if it was to push him away or pull him closer. She was aware her breathing was shallow and she held her breath when he brushed the pad of his thumb against her lower lip.

“You have a mouth made for kissing, my beautiful wife, but I’m not going to kiss you. Not until you ask me. And, I promise, when that time comes, you’ll be asking me to do a whole lot more than just kiss you.”

He straightened and released her, moving away in the same fluid motion. His long strides carried him to the house, up the steps, and then through the door. Rachel sagged, pulling in a ragged, deep breath. A strange ache filled her lower belly, not painful but entirely confusing for its origin. She ran her tongue over her dry lips, staring into the night.

She twisted her head to the house. Part of her wanted to know if this time would be different. Fear of discovering that it wouldn’t be kept her feet frozen, unable to move forward.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Once upon a time there was little girl who fell in love with the wide open spaces of the American West, cowboys, horses, and collies. She blames a steady diet of syndicated Western programs and John Wayne movies as well as Lassie for these loves. That girl grew up but never outgrew her first loves. Lynda J Cox writes predominantly western historical romance. When she isn’t writing, she can be found on the road, travelling to the next dog show to exhibit her award winning collies. She loves to talk about books, writing, the allure of the vastness of the American West landscape, the mythos of the cowboy, and the insanity which is the sport of showing dogs. She can be reached at www.facebook.com/LyndaJCox or through her website at http://www.lyndajcox.com

The Star in the Meadow (Spanish Brand #4) by Carla Kelly

the star in the meadow

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Marco Mondragón and his wife Paloma are living hectic but happy lives at the Double Cross, on the edge of Comanchería. Five years after the death of Comanche leader Cuerno Verde, cautious diplomacy between the tribe and the colonists is underway to end Comanche raids into New Mexico. Paloma’s time has been fully consumed by her two toddlers and newborn son and Marco’s by spring planting.

The Seven Year Audit of 1784 arrives and with it comes auditor Fernando Ygnacio. After years of incarceration for a crime he did not commit, Señor Ygnacio is a broken man. Although his daughter Catalina is bitter about his mistreatment by his superiors, her storytelling abilities captivate the household, including a frequent visitor from the nearby presidio, El Teniente Joaquim Gasca, who has been undergoing his own reformation from rascal to leader. Unknown to him, Marco has peculiar enemies plotting his downfall.

When Paloma and Catalina set out on a visit to Marco’s sister, meant to give Paloma relief from her busy life, the women are kidnapped. Devastated, Marco is torn between love and duty. He yearns to search for his wife, but feels bound by colonial duties to accompany his friend Toshua to Río Napestle, where Comanches have gathered to debate the region’s fragile peace. In his absence from the Double Cross, will Joaquim Gasca and Toshua’s wife Eckapeta be able to find the missing women?

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Publisher and Release Date: Camel Press, February 2017

Time and Setting: New Mexico, 1785
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 1
Reviewer Rating: 5 stars

Review by Lady Blue

With this fourth book of the Spanish Brand Series, Carla Kelly concludes the ongoing saga of Marco Mondragon, an Spanish official in 1780’s New Mexico.  When we first met him, he was heartbroken over the deaths of his beloved wife and twin sons.  After a time, he found happiness with a new love, Paloma, and they began to build a future together.  They now have two children, and Paloma has just given birth to their second son.  Although she is overjoyed at having been delivered of a healthy child, Paloma doesn’t bounce back.  She is restless, overwhelmed, tired, and confused.  She tries to put on a brave front, but Marco realizes something is wrong.  After learning that this condition happens occasionally to a woman after giving birth, Marco decides to send Paloma away to his sister’s home for a couple of weeks, where she can just relax and have no responsibilities.

Disaster strikes when Paloma and her companion are kidnapped while travelling.  The kidnappers originally targeted someone else, but upon learning that Paloma is Marco’s wife, they decide to keep her, as they have a grudge against him.  To make matters worse, Marco is scheduled to attend a very important meeting with the Comanche to discuss peace.  Marco has earned their respect, and there will be no talks without him there.  While he desperately wants to search for his missing wife, he is forced to let others search while he attends the gathering.

While the previous books in this series have been fraught with conflict and danger, I found The Star in the Meadow to be the most heartbreaking.  Marco and Paloma are apart for most of the book, and both have to make hard and distressing decisions, including one about their newborn child.  Throughout all this darkness, Carla Kelly manages to inject moments of light humor, and when the lovers are finally reunited, each unsure of their reception from the other, their love and passion burns brighter than ever.  This couple has a genuine goodness about them, which seems to enfold their family and friends, and makes them all the better for it.  The Star in the Meadow is beautifully written, and a satisfying conclusion to the series, though I hate to see it end.  I was left with a great feeling of warmth and optimism for their future, and I recommend this series highly.

Beauty: An Everland Ever After Tale by Caroline Lee

beauty

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A faded matron and a blinded musician… but which is the Beauty and which is the Beast?

Twice-widowed Arabella Mayor has made a place for herself and her son in Everland, selling and lending her beloved books to other bibliophiles in the sweet town. But she’s running out of money, and ten-year-old Eddie is giving her fits, and their future is uncertain. Re-marriage might have once been an option, but Arabella knows she’s past her prime, and isn’t the Beauty she used to be. And as her beauty faded, so did her worth. What does she have left?

World-renown violinist Vincenzo Bellini is at ease with his carefully cultivated reputation of a beastly recluse. After all, the fewer people looking at his hideous scars, the better. Ready to retire, he’s trying to hide in Everland, but doesn’t count on the townsfolk being so curious… especially a particular bookseller who reminds him of the life he abandoned long ago. Can he teach her that worth isn’t tied to their appearances, or will he have to abandon his plans for a future here in Everland?

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Publisher and Release Date: Caroline Lee, May 2016

Time and Setting: Wyoming Territory, 1876
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 1
Review Rating: 3 stars

Review by Sara

There is something special about the boom town of Everland. Author Caroline Lee has populated the community with characters straight out of the fairy tale books but given them a distinctly American spin. You won’t find cursed princes or magical talking housewares in this story, but if you look closely you may see a little magic at work in Beauty: An Everland Ever After Tale.

The gossips of Everland are all clamoring to discover more about the mysterious stranger who has settled there. The large home on the outskirts of town shows that their new neighbor is a man of means but he’s been quite reticent to welcome anyone who has tried to meet him. The only thing they know about Signore Bellini is of his fame as a concert violinist and rumors of his beastly appearance.

Unfortunately Arabella Mayor has no time to discuss the curiosities of the newest townsperson. She is barely making ends meet after her second husband’s death left her alone to raise her son and work the bookshop in town. As Arabella’s resources have dwindled she’s had to make many sacrifices and is now at the point of renting out her own apartments above the store to bring in more money. Of course none of her friends are aware of her circumstances as it would break the rules of decorum her late husband all but drilled into her head. The appearance of success and a beautiful family was all that he desired from her, and to survive her marriage for her son’s benefit Arabella adopted those desires as her own.

Arabella is quite shocked when Bellini’s manservant appears in her store requesting her services to bring books and read them out loud to him. Upon arriving at the man’s home it becomes clear to Arabella why Signore Bellini has hidden himself. The musician is terribly scarred across his face and head, with the worst wounds having destroyed his eyes. Arabella is horrified by Bellini’s appearance and can only think about what her former husband would say about the worth of a man who cannot function in regular society. Her attitude towards Bellini begins to change when she catches him in a private moment playing his violin and the man’s true talent moves her to tears.

Vincenzo Bellini has survived for years by allowing people to know him only for his appearance or by the music he loves to play. His plan upon moving to Everland was to quietly retire from the public eye and settle in a community that might let him keep to himself. He didn’t count on inviting the local bookstore owner into his home and finding her company so entertaining. Talking with Mrs. Mayor about books or sharing his music with her and her son awakens emotions that Vincenzo had thought lost forever, just like his sight. Mrs. Mayor becomes special to Vincenzo within a very short period of time and his heart slowly opens to a hope that their relationship could change from friendship to something more; however a shocking revelation about her past puts that hope to the ultimate test.

Beauty: An Everland Tale spins the standard Beauty and the Beast story by asking the reader what a true beast is made of. Is it a visual thing or can it be something soul deep? Arabella may be a beautiful woman on the outside but her husband’s “rules” about appearance and behavior have turned her ugly on the inside. Vincenzo may have been forced to live with an unfortunate disfigurement but he creates beautiful music and opens his heart to the widow and her son when they need him. Arabella that has closed herself off from feeling true emotions or letting someone know the real person underneath all the ugliness. In being with Vincenzo, trusting him with her secrets and letting him know her son, she begins to understand what is truly important in life. Beauty can fade, but true love can endure.

I enjoy the clever ways Ms. Lee makes old fairy tales unique in the unusual town of Everland. There are fairy godmothers but they act in more mundane ways than transforming people or things. The people have characteristics of their literary namesakes, yet they feel like real small town neighbors all coming together to form a community on the frontier. Curses don’t change people but the aftermath of the Civil War does hang heavy on those it affected. There is a lot of charm in the Everland Ever After series and each book has been quite fun to read.

Her Safe Harbor (Crawford Family #3) by Holly Bush

her safe harbor

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1893. Jennifer Crawford, the peacekeeper in a well-to-do Boston family rife with anger, deceit, and even treachery, was born to solve mathematical mysteries at a time when women are only beginning to venture from home and into the world of commerce and politics. Beautiful and shy, she struggles to find the courage to face a scheming mother and guide a father denying their familial dysfunction, hesitant to traverse the volatile economics banks are facing at the turn of the twentieth century. But danger threatens when she discovers the crimes of an abusive man determined to make Jennifer his own.

Zebidiah Moran, chief of staff for a new senator in Washington, is determined to uncover the lovely Jennifer’s secrets and guard her from danger. But will his sacrifices be enough to keep her safe? Will he be Her Safe Harbor?

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Publisher and Release Date: Holly Bush Books, March 2016
Time and setting: Boston, 1893
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Rating: 4 Stars

Review by Vikki

I have been a fan of Holly Bush and her novels ever since I read The Train Station Bride. Her Safe Harbor is the final book in her Crawford Family series, which I have enjoyed immensely. While this is not my favorite of the series, I did enjoy it a great deal.

Jennifer Crawford is in a difficult position. She began a friendship with an attractive man, and now he is a vice-president at her father’s bank, but she learns too late that he is abusive and controlling. While she desperately wants to break it off, Jeffrey refuses to listen and her mother is so enamored of the man, she also refuses to listen to Jennifer’s protests.

After Jeffrey attacks her a second time, leaving her with bruised ribs, Jennifer leaves town in order to visit her sister, Jolene in Washington D.C. While there, she again meets Zebidiah Moran, a man she nursed through influenza when she visited her sister in Texas in Contract to Wed. She feels safe when she is near him and is relieved when Jolene’s husband sends Zeb to protect his wife while she visits her mother in Boston.

When Zeb discovers the truth about Jennifer’s injuries, he knows he must proceed with caution because of the relationship between her Jennifer’s mother and Jeffrey, and the fact that he works at her father’s bank; but Zeb will protect Jennifer no matter what. Will his protection keep her safe from this vile man, or will he lose her before he ever has a chance to tell her he loves her?

Her Safe Harbor is a fast-paced novel with elements of suspense, along with an emotionally-charged romance. This book has a few dark moments since the plot deals with physical abuse. While there are a couple of violent scenes, they are not gratuitous and are in no way offensive, but I do recognize that they could make some readers a bit uncomfortable.

Ms. Bush does an excellent job with the emotions experienced by an abused woman. Jennifer is an intriguing character with two sides to her personality. On the one hand, she is intelligent, independent, and a confident businesswoman, but in spite of her strength, she allows her abuser to make her question her abilities. While she is determined to stand up to him, in reality, her fear of what he will do to her and her loved ones keeps her from following through.

Zeb Moran is a great hero. He is an honorable man, determined to protect Jennifer from the egomaniac who is hurting her. He shows a great deal of patience with Jennifer, even when she is determined to keep him away. I fell in love with his character from the start.

Some of the writing is a little awkward, and I felt that the book could have used some decent editing to smooth it out. I found myself being pulled from the story at those moments.

If you enjoy an absorbing story with a bit of mystery woven in, then you will like Her Safe Harbor. It is a nice conclusion to this series.

SATURDAY SPOTLIGHT: A Necessary Woman by A. E. Easterlin

ANecessaryWoman_w8974_750

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Suzanna Worthington wants what most women want, a husband to love her, a home to shelter her, and a child to bring her joy.

The battle at Manassas has stolen her fiance and destroyed her dreams. Channeling grief into healing, she assists the local doctor at a makeshift hospital, while her friends plot to find the one man who can fulfill all her desires…and his.

Now the war is over, and Jake Cantrell has come to find a wife. A self-made man with a huge ranch in Wyoming, he’s ready to settle down and raise a passel of sons to carry on his legacy.

Who will win her love? It could be the doctor who admires her, the Indian chief who captures her, or the man who wants to possess her and finds himself possessed by this necessary woman.

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EXCERPT

His gaze offered himself, letting her search deep within, allowing her to see through to the heart of him, inviting her to explore his innermost person. In it she saw a different Jake. A man revealing himself, his vulnerabilities. A man alone and lonely. Wanting her, needing her, and by that very need offering to her the fulfillment of all she dreamed. Warm arms to keep her safe. Love and laughter to bring her joy. The hope of children to bless her days.

He no longer seemed adversarial. More a godsend.

Spent, Suzanna exhaled a heavy sigh. The sheltering walls of her comfortable home beckoned invitingly. Ideas about changes, new directions, possibilities and responsibilities—so much, so fast. She needed to slow down, to think. The entire evening had sapped her strength. She should put an end to this and be on her way.

Perhaps it was the stress or the uncertainty, but she couldn’t hide the resentment that everyone thought they knew better what she needed than she herself.

“Annie, some things are meant to remain as they are. I understand your intentions come from your love, but enough is enough. Thank you very much for putting your brother-in-law on the spot and embarrassing us all.

“You’ll have to forgive Annie, Jake. She’s on a mission to find me a husband. She and Nathan are convinced I can’t survive on my own.” She addressed the couple directly. “Which I can. I’m going to be perfectly all right whatever happens. I know this because nothing could be worse than what I’ve already experienced. I’m a strong woman. I can take care of myself.”

“That does not mean you should have to, Suzanna,” Jake said, taking her gently in his arms again. “Don’t be angry with Nathan and Annie. It was I who contacted my brother asking him to find me a suitable woman. Before you start another rant, think of this. The world can be a cruel and lonely place. You might find you like having a good man to warm you on a cold winter’s night. Somebody to talk to at the end of a long day. A person to share your life, someone to give you sons and daughters. Nothing wrong with that.”

Hadn’t the same thought haunted her since the end of the war? Was it possible they wanted and needed the same things?

She’d given him the perfect out, and he’d ignored her. He must be serious about wanting her for a wife. Being thrown into the arms of a stranger was not the way she envisioned meeting her future husband. Yet she stayed. Rather than bidding everyone a good night and taking her leave at that moment, she stayed within the cocoon of his embrace, and a vision of her future scrolled through her mind. Sons, tall and strong like their father. Daughters, with silver-blonde hair and eyes flashing bright blue fire.

It was not such a horrible thought. Not at all.

Suzanna looked at Jake—really seeing him. This rough-and-tumble cowboy stirred something deep inside her—a flush of adrenaline rushed through her at the thought of sons and daughters begat by a man like him.

Before she could rein in her tongue, she asked in a halting voice, “What is it you want, Jake?”

Did he have any concept of how he affected her? Of what the tantalizing thought of the two of them sharing the marriage bed conjured in her heart? Could he comprehend the depth of her loneliness and desire? The longing that she kept locked away inside?
Down in the honest place where her soul lived and no lies were allowed, did he truly see?

One word was his answer: “You.”

It wasn’t enough. She needed to know more.

“You think a man and woman should come together for a warm bed, a tender touch, to make babies, and it should be enough of a reason to marry? What of love?”

Jake took a while to consider, but when he answered the candid expression in his eyes took Suzanna’s breath away. “You’re talking about infatuation. Or romance. I have little experience with either. Nothing wrong with romance, except that it tends to fade like flowers wilt at the end of a long, hot summer. To my way of thinking, love—the real kind of love—grows over time. It comes with living a life shared over good times and bad. Lots of folks mistake that first quick rush of attraction for love. Not that it doesn’t have its place, mind you. But if you’re talking about a durable kind of love—that comes with time, with trust proved often, with surviving the challenge of years.”

She had to admit his answer impressed her. He wasn’t as shallow as he appeared. Not at all. His words had the ring of thought and truth and conviction.

“That’s true, Jake. But a woman has a need to feel loved and cherished. If you fail to add that to the mix, the long-lasting love you describe won’t grow, and the marriage will prove to be little more than a lesson in endurance, resulting in regret and unhappiness. Be careful not to discount the importance of romance—for a woman or a man. It’s the connecting stitch in the tapestry of a life well lived.”

No one spoke or moved. As she stared at Jake, Suzanna wondered if his cynicism was the result of a love lost. Had he experienced the death of a romance that left him skeptical and bitter?

She had no way of knowing, but looking into the window of his soul, she realized there was more to the cowboy than first met the eye.

As his fingers tightened about her waist, he leaned in for a gentle kiss. “I thought you would have figured it out by now, Suzanna. I’ve come to make you my bride.”

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

South Florida author, Elayne Cox, writing as A.E. Easterlin, loves spending time at her computer putting down in black and white stories of heroes and heroines, living and loving and learning in the process. An interest in music and performing led her to majoring in vocal performance at Alabama College and Music Education at UAB. Married 49 years to her husband, Clyde, they have three children and two grandchildren, as well as three granddogs. While rearing a family, Elayne and her husband work at their family business which they have owned since 1986.

Writing has always been a secret passion until being published in 2015, with her debut novel, Sonata by Moonlight, first in her Heroes and Half-notes series. The second novel in the series, A Little Night Music, will be released in 2016. Her books deal with universal conflicts, experienced by exceptional characters, and always with a happy conclusion. Traveling is another passion Elayne loves to indulge, having visited the enchanting capitols of Europe and Canada, as well as motor-coaching throughout the USA in search of story lines and real people to inspire her creativity. She’s an active member of Romance Writers of America as well as the local chapter, Florida Romance Writers, and is busy refining her craft and offering the reading public “a taste of love, a touch of heat, and a story that captivates the heart.”

The Devil You Know by Jo Goodman

the devil you know

WHAT HE DOESN’T KNOW . . .

After a horse drags him through the countryside, Israel McKenna awakes bruised and battered in a field in Pancake Valley, Colorado. He can recall where he came from and where he was going, but the memory of how he came to be on the Pancake homestead eludes him. He’s certain he did something wrong to deserve such a harsh punishment—and so is the beautiful woman who reluctantly comes to his aid.

. . . COULD HURT HER.

Wilhelmina “Willa” Pancake must focus on running her family’s ranch. With Israel’s hazy memory, she is unsure if she can trust him, let alone handle the budding attraction between them. And as men fight to steal her land and the truth about Israel’s past rides toward them, love is a risk she cannot easily take.

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Publisher and Release Date: Berkley 3 May, 2016

RHR Classifications:
Time and Setting: Colorado, 1891
Genre: Western Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 4 stars

Review by Jill

What she finally acknowledged, reluctantly and unhappily, was that Israel McKenna reminded her she was a woman.

Israel McKenna awakes half-dead on land owned by the Pancake family in Colorado. His hands have been tied and he’s been dragged through the countryside and left for dead. Lucky for him he’s discovered by young Annalea Pancake who raises the alarm. Brought back to the homestead and nursed back to health by Wilhelmina (Willa), Annalea’s older sister, Israel gradually recovers physically, but part of his memory remains elusively out of reach. He can remember leaving Chicago, but nothing between then and being found. And not what happened to him, who did it or why.

At twenty-four years-old, Willa is on the shelf. Not that she hasn’t had offers, but between running the ranch, raising Annalea, and keeping her father out of jail and the saloon, she has her hands full. Due to his hazy memory, Israel doesn’t really know why or how he ended up on Pancake land, except that someone wanted him dead. He also knows instinctively that he’s not a good and honourable man. But as he spends time at the ranch, he earns the trust and respect of Willa’s family and those who work there. Initially wary, Willa begins to see that Israel may be more than just a handsome face and broad set of shoulders.

Set in Colorado in 1891, the story brings together the hardworking and responsible Willa Pancake and the self-proscribed villain and liar, Israel McKenna. Known for her slow-paced, character-driven romances, Jo Goodman once again gives readers a study of personality and what motivates a man (and woman) and how their upbringings mould and influence the people they become. Readers who like a faster pace or more action may get impatient, but one of the joys of Ms Goodman’s writing is the slow unravelling of not just the plot, but the characters. Her villains likewise, are not the standard, one-dimensional cutouts. Malcolm Barber and his son, Eli whose land adjoins the Pancakes, are nuanced characters.

The Devil You Know is a companion novel to last year’s title This Gun for Hire, which featured Israel’s younger brother, Quill. We catch up with Quill and his wife, Calico – bounty hunter of some repute – who go searching for Israel after not hearing from him.

I have only one issue with this story, and it’s the same one I always seem to have with this author’s titles. Contractions. Or the lack of them, in both the narrative and dialogue. I don’t know whether it’s simply because I read ARCs of her books, or maybe that’s how people spoke back then and that’s what she’s wanting to convey. But the lack of contractions lends a formality to the story that often comes off as stilted and lacking the naturalness of everyday speech.

That minor quibble aside, The Devil You Know is another fine read from Ms Goodman, one of the top authors currently writing western historical romances. With some unexpected turns and surprises unleashed along the way, this is a recommended read for fans of western romances.

Sawbones by Melissa Lenhardt

Sawbones

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Outlander meets post-Civil War unrest in this fast-paced historical debut.

When Dr. Catherine Bennett is wrongfully accused of murder, she knows her fate likely lies with a noose unless she can disappear. Fleeing with a bounty on her head, she escapes with her maid to the uncharted territories of Colorado to build a new life with a new name. Although the story of the murderess in New York is common gossip, Catherine’s false identity serves her well as she fills in as a temporary army doctor. But in a land unknown, so large and yet so small, a female doctor can only hide for so long.

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Publisher and Release Date: Redhook, 29 March 2016

RHR Classifications:
Time and Setting: America, 1871
Genre: Romantic Historical Fiction
Heat Level: 1
Reviewer Rating: 4.5 stars

Review by Jill

When Dr Catherine Bennett is falsely accused of murdering one of her patients, she flees New York City with her maid. There’s little chance of a fair hearing, since the murdered man’s wife has influential connections, and a conviction seems certain. With a bounty on her head, she travels to Texas and from there decides that the wilds of Colorado may be her best chance to hide out with a new identity. So Dr Catherine Bennett becomes Dr Laura Elliston.

Set in 1871, the fictional story of Laura Elliston is embedded in actual historical events of that year, with a number of famous historical figures, like General William Sherman and Quanah Parker, included in the storyline.

If you pick this up thinking Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman, you may be disappointed. And shocked. Sawbones is not a light and fluffy historical romance or historical western. The cover, and perhaps the title, may give that impression but, be warned: the book is brutal and violent at times, depicting an era that was often harsh and without mercy.

There are graphic, uncompromising descriptions of massacres, violence – both sexual and physical – and of medical procedures. Racism and sexism abound. People die. These were not politically correct times.

Narrated in first person from Laura’s point-of-view, this is mainly her story. Laura’s father was a doctor-surgeon, and she trained alongside him as his (male) orderly during the war. We’re often reminded how difficult it was for any woman during this era, let alone one as independent and career-minded as Laura.

There are no black and white cardboard cutout characters here. Just as in real life, people are partly good, partly bad, their motives and reactions are not always pure or right. Even the main characters are nuanced, displaying at times less-than-stellar attitudes and characteristics. Laura is strong, independent and intelligent. She can also be rash, quick-tempered and unsympathetic towards the Native American population, whom she fears.

There is a romance, but it’s not the focus of the story and in fact, since it’s not mentioned in the blurb, I wasn’t even sure who Laura’s love interest would be. Her first meeting with him is as original as it is unexpected. He is charming, handsome, kind and honorable. And in true heroic form is willing to do his all to protect Laura, no matter the cost.

The blurb says: Outlander meets post-Civil War unrest…

Of all the books over recent years that have lured me in by playing the Outlander card, this is the first one I’ve read that actually lives up to the sales pitch. Not that Sawbones is Outlander exactly. After all we’re talking America in 1871, not the Scottish Highlands of 1743 .

But like Outlander, Sawbones is historical fiction, minus the time-travel. It is told in first-person from the heroine’s PoV. There is a love story. And like Outlander, the story is captivating, well-written, well-researched, set within real historical events, contains lots of details about medical procedures and vivid descriptions of the setting and era. Like Diana Gabaldon, Ms Lenhardt doesn’t pull any punches about the brutality and violence of the times. The heroine is a doctor like Claire. (Laura is thankfully, more likable.)

However, the romance is lighter, and the characterisation of the hero not quite as in-depth as Jamie Fraser, so raders looking for the depth of passion of the Outlander protagonists may be left wanting. The romance is definitely there, but it’s less to the fore.

I did have some minor issues with the story which is why it isn’t getting a straight 5 stars. Laura really should have kept her qualifications as a doctor under wraps. A female doctor in this era is going to draw attention, and that was the last thing she needed when she was on the run. Near the end in the final showdown with the villain, there were some clichéd and unnecessary turns before he was finally dealt with.

If you want a sanitised look at the Old West where nothing bad happens, where people don’t die and where atrocities are glossed over, this may not be the book for you. This is the first in a trilogy, I believe, with book two, Blood Oath due out later in the year. Sawbones doesn’t exactly end on a cliffhanger – it’s more of a to-be-continued. There are a number of threads that need to be tied off and number of characters whose continuing stories need to be told, not the least of which is how the main characters’ are going to get their happily-ever-after.

For readers who enjoy straight historical fiction, romantic historical fiction and American historicals, and an ongoing series with the same couple, Sawbones is highly recommended.

SATURDAY SPOTLIGHT: Sawyer’s Rose (The McCades Of Cheyenne #1) by Kim Turner

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Can a sheriff set on avenging his father’s death find love with a mail-order-bride who has secrets of her own?

As if he doesn’t have enough to handle between running outlaws out of Cheyenne, keeping his brother’s out of trouble and avenging his father’s death, sheriff Sawyer McCade’s meddling mother just dumped a mysterious mail-order-bride on his doorstep. One woman can be more trouble than a band of renegades and while this one has him all stirred up, he’d rather get to the bottom of the story she isn’t telling. Rose Parker had it all. Until she discovers a web of danger and deceit that sends her running to Cheyenne, posing as a mail-order-bride. Escaping the evils of New York seems sensible until she meets the unsuspecting sheriff who didn’t ask for her, has no intention of marrying her and won’t rest until he uncovers her secret and sends her back home.

READ OUR REVIEW HERE.

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EXCERPT

“I’m a lawman, remember, and I read people very well. I know when I’m only hearing part of a story.”

Her blue eyes narrowed, and that too-enticing flush lit her cheeks to a bright pink. She darted past him to look out across the ranch and then spoke. “I came here looking for a new life. Accepting a husband is a means to survival for any woman in the West. But getting here and finding out you didn’t send for me—” She swung around. “Well that’s certainly a relief. I thought I was going to step off the train in Cheyenne, be whisked to the judge and right into your bed. Frankly, that idea was rather frightening.”

Was she trying to be funny? It wasn’t that the thought hadn’t crossed his mind. Bedding her would be more than interesting, but he didn’t need a wife. Not right now. “Then why are you here?”

“I wanted to see the West and find adventure like I told you. So why not start here? Did you read the papers I sent?” She shook her head realizing he hadn’t. I suppose your mother got those.”

He supposed so, too.

I filled in my application.” She took a deep breath, “And I realized I had led an incredibly normal life. An only child, raised by my father, schooled in the proper etiquette, sent to university, and spoiled to the point I hadn’t lived for myself. I am here to create a new life—my life. If you do not wish to marry, I will find my own way, which is probably best anyway.” She stared out across the horizon, blinking back tears.

“You can’t stay here alone, not in Cheyenne. I’ll get your fare paid and send you home.”

She snapped around and glared at him. “I will not be returning home, regardless of a marriage. You have no idea what I am capable of, and I think that makes me somewhat of a—thorn in your side?”

Sawyer wasn’t sure which was more annoying, her presence and will to stay or the thoughts she made him think. She wasn’t a thorn, but damned if he’d be able to sleep with her in the same house for any length of time.

When he only nodded, a knowing smile spread across her face. “Good.”

As furious as he was, he couldn’t take his eyes off the sway of her hips as she spun around and went inside. She couldn’t possibly think she would be staying in Cheyenne as an unescorted woman. Well, he had no intention of marrying her either, and one way or the other he’d see her on a train back to New York if it was the last thing he did.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kim Turner writes western historical romance, and discovered her passion of writing at the age of eight by writing poems, short KimTurnerstories and journals. Kim graduated from Clayton State University with a Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing and holds a Master’s Degree in Adult Education from Central Michigan University. Working as a registered nurse educator for over twenty-six years, she enjoys studying the medical treatments of the old west as well as keeping up with the latest western movies and television series. While she loves reading anything from highlanders to pirates, she claims to have an unquenchable thirst for the American Cowboy when choosing her reads. Kim lives south of Atlanta with her husband and calls her greatest accomplishment the birth of one daughter and the adoption of another from China-neither of which came easy. Kim is a member of Romance Writers of America and Georgia Romance Writers and calls her critique group from Southside Scribes the best thing that ever happened to her writing, that and a pretty wonderful group of beta readers. Kim’s Motto: It’s All About A Cowboy and the Woman He Loves.

Sawyer’s Rose was a 2014 Maggie finalist and a 2015 Golden Heart Finalist.

You can connect with Kim at: www.kimturnerwrites.com * ~ * Facebook * ~ * Twitter * ~ * Blog

Sawyer’s Rose (The McCades of Cheyenne #1) by Kim Turner

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As if he doesn’t have enough to handle between running outlaws out of Cheyenne, keeping his brothers out of trouble, and avenging his father’s death, Sheriff Sawyer McCade’s meddling mother just dumped a mysterious mail-order bride on his doorstep. One woman can be more trouble than a band of renegades, and while this one has him all stirred up, he’d rather get to the bottom of the story she isn’t telling.

Rose Parker had it all—until a web of danger and deceit sends her running to Cheyenne posing as a mail-order bride. Escaping the evils of New York seems sensible until she meets the unsuspecting sheriff who didn’t ask for her, has no intention of marrying her, and won’t rest until he uncovers her secret and sends her back home.

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Publisher and Release Date: The Wild Rose Press, 18 March, 2016

RHR Classifications:
Time and Setting: Cheyenne, Wyoming Territory, 1878
Genre: Western Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 4 stars

Review by Jill

When Sawyer McCade was seventeen years-old, his father was killed by an unknown assailant. As the eldest son, he was riding with his father – a lawyer and entrepreneur – and a small group of surveyors and investors, to interest them in the development of cities and railroads on the Great Plains. His father’s last words instructed him to look after his three younger brothers, and keep the family together. Sawyer vowed to avenge his father.

Fifteen years later, Sawyer is sheriff in Cheyenne, Wyoming Territory. It’s 1878 and the era of the Wild West; and Sawyer is busy maintaining law and order in the town. He also has his hands full as head of the family keeping his brothers in line: Wyatt, the bounty hunter, Dawson, who helps as translator and negotiator with the government for the Cheyenne, and Evan, the ranch manager. When his mother decides that he’s too busy to find himself a wife, she sends for a mail-order bride without his knowledge, only adding to Sawyer’s headaches.

When attractive and well-educated Rose Parker arrives from New York City, alarm bells start to ring for Sawyer. This lady could easily snare a husband; she did not need to become a mail-order bride and Sawyer figures out pretty quickly she must be running from something or someone. Despite how attracted he might be to Rose, he still doesn’t want a wife. When Rose refuses to return to New York, she takes a job with the local newspaper. Sawyer is soon to realise that Rose isn’t the only one with a past that’s going to catch up with them.

Overall this is an impressive début. At more than 300 pages the author has allowed the story to develop and the romance to blossom. The writing is solid and suits the western story with its pragmatic prose. What carries this story though, is the terrific action scenes, the historical western setting, and the brothers – their love for each other, their rivalry, their interactions and dialogue.

The story is fast-paced, with a lot happening: a brewing feud with a neighbouring rancher, Sawyer’s duties as sheriff keeping the peace and bringing down outlaws, hunting his father’s killer, the brothers’ different personalities rubbing against each other, the family’s interactions, and of course, the developing romance between Sawyer and Rose. It’s pretty much non-stop action from start to finish.

This is the first book in The McCades of Cheyenne series. With four brothers, I suspect there will be more stories, with possibly second brother, Wyatt and Cheyenne’s doctor getting their story next. Altogether, Sawyer’s Rose is an exciting and enjoyable read, and recommended to readers of western historical romances.

RETRO REVIEW: Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers

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California’s gold country, 1850. A time when men sold their souls for a bag of gold and women sold their bodies for a place to sleep.

Angel expects nothing from men but betrayal. Sold into prostitution as a child, she survives by keeping her hatred alive. And what she hates most are the men who use her, leaving her empty and dead inside.

Then she meets Michael Hosea, a man who seeks his Father’s heart in everything. Michael obeys God’s call to marry Angel and to love her unconditionally. Slowly, day by day, he defies Angel’s every bitter expectation, until despite her resistance, her frozen heart begins to thaw.

But with her unexpected softening comes overwhelming feelings of unworthiness and fear. And so Angel runs. Back to the darkness, away from her husband’s pursuing love, terrified of the truth she no longer can deny: Her final healing must come from the One who loves her even more than Michael does…the One who will never let her go.

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Publisher and Release Date: Multnomah Books, July, 2009

RHR Classifications:
Genre: Inspirational Romantic Historical Fiction
Setting: 1850s, California
Heat Level: 1.5
Reviewer Rating: 4 Stars

Review by Jill

Redeeming Love is one of those must-read romances worth reading at least once and is based on the Book of Hosea from the Bible, where God tells the prophet Hosea to marry the prostitute, Gomer. Here we have Michael Hosea, a farmer being told by God to marry Angel, a local whore in the 1850s goldfields of California.

Author Francine Rivers wrote historical romances and historical fiction before she became a Born-Again Christian. Originally written in 1991, Redeeming Love bridges the gap between the writing of her original romances and her later Christian fiction and it exists in two versions. The 1997 version is basically the same as the original, but was edited to remove any descriptive love scenes and coarse language to make it suitable for the Christian market. The original does contain some coarse language (for instance, “son of a bitch”, “damn”, “bastard”, etc.) and some descriptive love scenes, not contained in the second version. Nevertheless, both versions contain the same plot. For those who prefer a ‘clean’ read, then the edited, or Christian version, may be preferable.

Although the story is peppered throughout with Bible verses I don’t think they’re intrusive. It is, after all, a Christian story, based on a book of the Bible and written by a Christian. But it is one of those rare novels that though based on a story from the Bible, manages to captivate an audience who may not claim any Christian beliefs.

Redeeming Love is a widely read and hugely successful novel and is Ms Rivers’ most popular work. However, the prose is average at best, the historical setting adequate. The stubbornness of Angel in refusing to accept Michael’s love and her consequent running off is overdone and tiresome. Michael himself often forces Angel to do his bidding, believing as he does that it’s for her best, and so their relationship comes across as patronising and paternalistic at times.

Some of his thoughts and reactions are not those of a Godly man. Some of the tragedies that beset Angel’s wretched life seem gratuitous. Francine Rivers seemingly wanted to heap mankind’s collective sin onto the head of this poor woman. Some of the scenes are unnecessarily explicit. The conclusion is way too neat with its fairy-tale ending.

It can be at times depressing, heart-wrenching, horrifying and preachy. Yet, it is also uplifting, glorifying, hope-filled and romantic.

Despite some reservations, Redeeming Love is still a worthy read for lovers of Christian fiction and for lovers of romance. This book is so popular, so highly rated and reviewed that it’s worth reading just the once, even if you don’t end up loving it. Because despite its flaws, for me it still manages to resonate with the ideal of true love and the romantic notions that love conquers all.