Monday, November 21, 2011

Review: TURNABOUT'S FAIR PLAY by Kaye Dacus

What happens when a group of meddling but well-intentioned senior citizens decide to become under-the-radar matchmakers for their single grandchildren? That's the premise behind The Matchmakers series from inspirational romance author Kaye Dacus.

Turnabout's Fair Play is the third novel in this humorous series and even if you haven't yet read the preceding novels (I haven't either!), you won't have any trouble catching on to the story. Once you're in, you're sure to fall in love with the charmingly dorkilicious main characters in this funny romance.

The sitch: Flannery McNeill is a hardworking senior editor at a Nashville publishing house. Tall, blond, and in her mid-30s, Flannery has sworn off dating good-looking men, believing them all to be shallow heartbreakers. Setting her sights on finding a wholesome but dorky guy to marry someday, she dedicates herself to her career. But with her two best friends now happily in love, Flannery is feeling all alone, wondering if her knight in shining pocket-protector will ever appear.

A gorgeous sports advertising hotshot, Jamie O'Connor is everything Flannery despises. But when she and Jamie become the target of their grandparents' matchmaking schemes, she discovers that Jamie might just have enough geek within him to fit the bill. As each uncovers the hidden dorkiness within the other, the attraction between them grows.

The more time Flannery and Jamie spend together, the clearer it becomes that a flirtation has developed between their wannabe-matchmaking grandparents. Suddenly, the matchmaking tables turn and Jamie and Flannery start inventing opportunities for their grandparents to spend time together. After all, there's no expiration date on the ability to fall in love.

Hits & misses: The story begins in the point of view of Jamie's 84-year-old grandmother, Maureen "Cookie" O'Connor. It is clear that Cookie is attracted to Flannery's grandfather, Kirby McNeill, from the moment he walks into the senior center on his granddaughter's arm. I wasn't sure how I felt about reading an octogenarian romance, but Cookie is charming, clever, funny, and believably girlish. I quickly grew to like her, but I was relieved to find the scenes from her point of view to be brief and limited. The many scenes from Jamie's and Flannery's points of view are worth the short side roads between them.

Although the author spends a little bit too much time on minutia in certain sequences of dialogue (driving directions, anyone?), having lived in Music City myself several years ago, I was quite familiar with most of her detailed locale. For me, it personalized the tale; but readers who are unfamiliar with the Nashville metro area might find themselves skimming through some passages. That being said, there's so much to like about this book that I'm smiling just thinking about it. Full of humor and unique, visual characters,Turnabout's Fair Play is just plain fun reading.

What made me squirm: The title.

When I first read the title, the word "Turnabout's" seemed like it should be a possessive proper noun. I assumed it to be a character's (odd) name. But "Turnabout" is not a proper noun, and the apostrophe is not meant to make it possessive. "Turnabout's" is a compound word.


I wasn't crazy about the title before the context of the story explained it to me, but even after my "ahh …" moment, I found it somewhat clumsy, as titles go. The publisher could have easily clarified the meaning by un-compounding the word (Turnabout Is Fair Play) or by letting the word Turnabout stand alone on the cover. Sure, it's a little thing as fiction hang-ups go, but there it is: I really liked the story, but I don't like the title. It made me squirm.

To read or not to read: Kaye Dacus has written a humorous tale of 2-for-1 matchmaking gone right. Turnabout's Fair Play is a sweet, fun, dual romance -- with just the right touch of "dork" to make you smile long after you've turned the final page.

(This review originally appeared at USA Today's Happy Ever After, a romance fiction blog)

Serena's Rating:

Friday, November 18, 2011

Guest blogger Joanne Carter on writing The Floating Palace (and giveaway!)

If I've learned anything through the journey of writing it's that like in life, you never know what (or who) God will use. A few years ago, my husband's family came up for a visit and we went to the Shelburne museum for the first time. As soon as I stepped aboard the S. S. Ticonderoga, I fell in love with it. One fact totally captured my imagination. In 1923, the first female stewardess was hired. It didn't take long for seeds to be planted for The Floating Palace.

Fast forward a few months...
Our family was invited to the home of one of our church members. I don't even think Bob realizes what a blessing this was for me. We went downstairs to see his "toys" when a box caught my eye. He said someone in the family had given it to him, it was a treasure chest of information about... can you guess? Yup, the Ticonderoga and 1923. He let me take this box home and I was able to look through headlines of newspapers and such. That box was like an energy drink for my story. It helped me get a clearer picture of the life and times.

Guess what else I discovered about 1923? Betti Dunkling, also a member of our church, was born this year. When I first started asking her questions about what she might know of this time period, I didn't realize this was the year of her birth. Isn't it just like God to give us sweet surprises like that? In honor of Betti, I used a derivative of her name, Ellie Dunkling. Betti is such a remarkable woman and tremendous role model for me. Although her life experiences varied greatly from the main charter in The Floating Palace, they both share the same spunk. With Betti's help, the rest of the cast was set in motion as I asked her what names were popular in Vermont when she was a girl. After our visit, I sat down with the list and chose the names according to the role they played in the story. It's a special memory for me and I enjoyed working with her on this project.

God's hand has guiding this story since the very beginning. I'm praying that He would continue to do so to accomplish His great purposes... in my life and in the lives of others.

A special treat for someone-- I'll pick a name of one person who comments for a little souvenir from the Ticonderoga. It's a pressed penny with the image of the steamboat! You can also have the pick of a free download from one of the titles I have available. Thanks for stopping by~

What more info? Here's the book blurb:
ELLIE DUNKLING’S life long dream has been to work on one of Lake Champlain’s steamboat, the Ticonderoga. There’s only one problem. Men, not women, are hired to work on ships. Ellie, however is determined to change that. After all, it is 1923 and far from the dark-ages.

Captain PHILIP LAWHORN is a man’s man. When Champlain Transportation Inc. informs him a woman has been hired to work on his ship as stewardess, he’s anything but pleased. First, he doesn’t appreciate the fact someone’s hired on his twenty-eight-member crew without his knowledge. Secondly, how is he supposed to handle this company mandated—sure to be—disaster

JoAnn Carter lives in Vermont with her wonderful husband of 19 years, four children and Ginger, the best dog in the world. She enjoys being with her family & friends, writing, reading, and cooking. In the past JoAnn has worked as a Licensed Practical Nurse, an apple orchard guide and as a substitute teacher. She is available for speaking engagements to book clubs, reader groups, library groups, women's ministry events, school events and church retreats. To find out more about her writing ministry, please visit her webpage.

Purchase your copy of The Floating Palace at Desert Breeze Publishing (Or at Amazon, and other e-book retailers)


"Excuse me, captain?"

Philip whirled on his heel. A petite woman with a creamy complexion stared at him with wide, hazel eyes. "Yes?" The lady hesitated then put one foot into his room. She held out a gloved hand, which he took automatically. No matter how glad he might be for a distraction, passengers weren't supposed to be in his quarters. He made a mental note to have a word with his crew later. For now, he had to find an inoffensive way to get rid of this interloper.

"What can I do for you, miss?"

She withdrew her hand and lifted her chin. Determination sparked in her eyes, and Philip hoped what he'd heard about redheads wasn't true. The last thing he needed right now was a hot-tempered, stubborn woman -- however beautiful she may be -- to upset things even more. He took a step closer and held out his elbow. "Let me escort you back to the purser's desk to find someone to help you locate your stateroom."

The woman frowned as if he spoke a different language. Finally, she smiled. Her whole face radiated warmth that enveloped him. "I don't think you understand. I'm Ellie Dunkling, your new stewardess."

"My... my what?" So much for distracting him, she was the distraction.

"Your new--"

He cut her off with a wave of his hand. "I heard you, but I don't agree." He wheezed, "You are not a steward."

Her arched brows drew together. "There must be some misunderstanding. Mr. Trembley said you were expecting me."

Expecting her? Not hardly.

"Lady." He shook his head. "You have no idea." The situation was so ludicrous he was tempted to pinch himself. However, the only thing he was sure to wind up with was a bruise for his efforts. Before him stood an elegant woman in a long, drop-waist garment, insisting she had a place of employment... here.

If there had to be a stewardess, shouldn't it be a frumpy, gray-haired spinster with thick round glasses and a substantial waistline? At least then he wouldn't feel as uncomfortable about the dirty, difficult responsibilities she would need to carry. Nor would he have half the worry over the reputation of his crew and boat, or even the state of his heart for that matter.

It's giveaway time!

Joanne Carter has offered one lucky reader a free download of one of her titles. Just leave a comment for her between now and November 30. Be sure to include your email address if it's not in your profile.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Review: HIGHLAND SANCTUARY by Jennifer Hudson Taylor

There's something ancient, mysterious and lovely about Scotland. Perhaps it is that mystery that makes it such a frequent setting for medieval romance novels. In Highland Sanctuary, the latest historical romance from Jennifer Hudson Taylor, Scotland's rich beauty sets the stage for a sweet fairytale to blossom between an epileptic servant girl and a handsome future chieftain of the MacKenzie Clan.

The sitch: Serena Boyd is a capable, educated and beautiful peasant, but her past is shrouded in mystery. Although she works in Braigh Castle, she lives in a tiny community known as the Village of Outcasts. Plagued by the fear that someone outside the village will witness one of her strange "fits" and brand her as demon-possessed, Serena avoids spending any more time than necessary outside the village. It is shortly after sustaining a minor injury due to one of these fits, however, that she meets a newcomer to the area, Gavin MacKenzie.

Gavin, the heir to the MacKenzie Clan chieftainship, has been hired to guard Braigh Castle and its new laird, Iain MacBraigh, while his younger brother oversees the restoration of the decrepit castle. The previous laird may have been murdered — and ominous happenings seem to threaten all associated with the holding. Gavin needs to discover the villain behind these attacks and restore peace and order to Iain's new holdings, but in the process of discovering why the Village of Outcasts, in particular, is being targeted, he loses his heart to one of its residents.

In a pseudo-Cinderella tale starring Serena as the servant girl, Gavin easily steps into the role of the prince. But, unlike the fairytale version, this princely fellow is not alone in his pursuit of the beautiful castle servant. Iain MacBraigh, Serena's employer, has taken a shine to the fair maiden, as well. But Iain is far less likely to be affected politically for marrying a peasant girl from the Village of Outcasts than a future chieftain. And his pursuit of Serena does not sit well with Gavin.

Both men declare their affection for Serena, but she refuses their offers. Serena doesn't believe either man would want her if they knew the extent of her disorder or witnessed one of her "fits." Even if they would accept her, she does not wish to bring shame upon either man. Still, it is not easy to deny her heart when it beats so strongly for Gavin.

Hits and misses: There are two main villains wreaking havoc in this story, but the men have unrelated goals. Their paths intersect indirectly, but the earl of Caithness is not nearly as diabolical as his indirect partner-in-mayhem and the scenes in which he appears are not nearly as compelling as those starring his counterpart.

I would have appreciated a bit more direct foreshadowing concerning the object of the earl's greed — even the mention of its existence earlier on in the tale could have made its inclusion seem truer and less device-like. That being said, the twist that brought the other villain (Serena's biological father) into the story was very well done. That dude was totally twisted and while he was on center stage he owned it.

Although I would have liked to have felt the threat of his madness earlier in the book, I felt there was sufficient foreshadowing to know that Daddy Dearest would, eventually, appear. While this villain was on the scene the author held me in the palm of her hand as I tried to guess what redemption or condemnation would be executed by his twisted tongue.

To read or not to read: This novel has a large cast of colorful minor characters and, although few of them get concentrated page time, they are each clearly drawn individuals. When you visit the Village of Outcasts, you leave as a friend. I enjoyed getting to know these characters and hope to see more of them in the future. I also enjoyed the playfulness introduced by Gavin's brother, Leith — a character who I can only assume will star in his own novel soon. I would have liked to have heard more from this plucky-comic-relief character and, if he does get his own book someday, I hope it has a bit less heaviness — and a bit more lighthearted banter — than this more serious story.

Gavin and Iain are both good-hearted, swoon-worthy fellows. When Serena realizes she has unwittingly stepped into a Cinderella triangle, she handles the situation with grace that belies her humble station. Serena definitely has that Cinderella-like shyness going on, but she is an original heroine, despite the comparison.

There is no golden-bow miracle on the resolution of Serena's happy ending. This isn't the sort of Christian romance where everyone's prayers get answered in exactly the way they'd like; it is much more realistic than that. Yes, there is a happy ever after, but it's the kind that makes you look forward to seeing Serena as a minor character in a sequel — just to check in to see how she's doing.

A tale of love, loss, sacrifice and acceptance, Highland Sanctuary is a clean, sweet romance that celebrates the ability to conquer prejudice and fear through love.

(This review originally appeared at USA Today's Happy Ever After, a romance fiction blog)

Serena's Rating:

Monday, November 14, 2011

Interview with Sandra D. Bricker + GIVEAWAY!

A couple of weeks back I promised ya'all an interview with Sandra D. Bricker, author of Always the Wedding Planner, Never the Bride, but... oops. I went to a lovely marriage retreat in Georgia with my True Love and forgot to schedule the post! So, with my deepest apologies for this oversight, here it is (finally!) with a giveaway to boot! Enjoy this sooo cute book trailer, then close it out and learn more about the book's creator right here!

~ Serena

Now let's give a warm, Edgy Inspirational Romance Welcome to author Sandra D. Bricker!

Q: You write about The Tanglewood Inn like you've been there. Is it based on a particular inn you've visited?

Sandra: In all the interviews I've done about the Baker books, no one has ever asked me that question! But YES! There is a place that The Tanglewood is based on. It's in San Diego, and it's called The Horton Grand Hotel. It's a charming little place in the Gaslamp District, and I used to run away from home when Los Angeles got too stressful. I always tried to stay in the same room (Room 210), and I would just dig in. Every room had a gas fireplace and was decorated differently in vintage, with antiques, and there's a journal in every room as well. Guests wrote about their hotel stays, and it was fascinating character research for someone like me. And remember that courtyard where Russell fell from the balcony? That's very real! And the bar is converted to a tea room in the afternoons, a a jazz lounge on Friday nights. I spent so much time there that it started to feel like home. I even wrote most of my first two novels there in Room 210.

Q: Since beginning this series, have you received any thank-you notes from Brides-to-Be for the helpful wedding tips you've included in each chapter?

Sandra: I've heard from several brides since Baker came out. My favorite feedback though was from a bride-to-be who asked if I'd consider planning her wedding!

Q: You did an admirable job keeping characters from Always the Baker true to their voices in Always the Wedding Planner but, with a cast that large -- and several new voices to contend with -- you couldn't keep them all. Who was the hardest character from Book One to leave out of Book Two?

Sandra: It was a challenge to create the sense of community that the book needed. But the saving grace for me was knowing that I would have two more books after Planner, and the characters that didn't have a lot of page time could always make up for it in later volumes. Emma's parents were my favorites from the first book that got much less story in the second one ... but I have plans for them! :-)

Q: I think I gained ten pounds while reading each of your books. Did you find your research to be a challenge to your waistline?

Sandra: Writing these books made me painfully aware of a major character flaw in me. I am REALLY susceptible to the power of suggestion! I write about brownies ... I want one! I mention red velvet cake, creme brulee, even hazelnut coffee ... and the cravings kick in.

Q: Who is more like you: Emma Rae Travis or Sherilyn Caine? Why?

Sandra: Well, Emma and I are both diabetics who are VERY fond of sweets. But I'm really much more like Sherilyn. Red hair, check. Weight problem, check. Detail oriented to the umpth degree, obsessed with chocolate, check and check. I don't think I really realized until I read the final draft how much of me ended up in Sherilyn's character.

Q: If you could invite one character from this series to your Thanksgiving celebration this year, who would it be? What would you ask them to bring?

Sandra: Well, hands down, it would be Emma. Thanksgiving would be appropriate to spend time with her since she's changed my life so much. And she would need to arrive at the door bearing CAKE, of course!!

Q: Describe your favorite of all the theme weddings you've written about or researched.

Sandra: When I was researching really unique, stand-out weddings, I saw one design that knocked my socks off. The theme was diamonds and, despite the fact that there were crystals and bling everywhere, it was so elegant and breathtaking. The only pop of color was sterling lavender. I've never seen anything else that got that kind of reaction out of me.

Q: Will there be a third book in this series? Who will be its main character(s)? And when will it release?

Sandra: There is a third and fourth book in this series! The next one, Always the Designer, Never the Bride, is about a struggling wedding dress designer who comes to The Tanglewood for the wedding of her best friend. The hero was introduced inPlanner -- J.R. Hunt, the tattooed motorcycle buddy of Russell Walker's. Audrey is a cool, edgy, tough-shelled match for him.

Designer will release next spring, and the fourth and final novel (Always the Baker, FINALLY the Bride) will follow in spring of 2013 when I get to give Emma and Jackson their happy ending at last! ... Or will I?? :-) In that final book, a lucky reader will get to help Emma choose her wedding cake, and that reader will be written into the novel as an actual character who has interaction with Emma Rae! Readers who are interested can find the details on my Web site ( from November 1st through the end of this year.

Let's get personal:

Q: What's on your nightstand?

Sandra: My Kindle; my Bible, a pot of silk violets and a round vintage mirror that my mom used to keep near her bed; a bottle of water; Bath & Body Works brown sugar and fig lotion.

Q: If you are stranded in a fully-stocked igloo near the North Pole, you would want to have these three luxury items at your fingertips:

Sandra: My Kindle; my laptop; and my emergency kit that contains Lip Therapy balm, tinted moisturizer and an eyelash curler.

Q: What are you reading now?

Sandra: Sedona Storm by my friend Barbara Scott.

Q: Do you prefer gum or hard candies?

Sandra: I like that dessert gum from Extra. They have flavors like mint chocolate chip, strawberry shortcake and apple turnover. No surprise that I like fake dessert gum, right?

Q: Sherilyn is not a fan of dogs. Are you a cat person or dog lover?

Sandra: I love most animals, but I have a special soft spot for dogs. I volunteer for some dog rescue groups and raise funds for one in particular.

Q: When you were five and grown-ups asked you what you wanted to be when you grew up, you told them you wanted to be:

Sandra: At five, I told them I wanted to be a ballerina. But it wasn't long after that when I decided I wanted to be a writer. At that age, however, that meant I really loved my penmanship class and enjoyed the actual act of WRITING.

Thanks for coming over and visiting with us, Sandra! It's been a treat!


Please leave a comment (below) telling me the colors (or theme) that would be featured in your dream wedding. Leave your comment between now and 11/20/11 and you will be entered to win a copy of Always the Wedding Planner, Never the Bride!
(and make sure to leave your contact info, as well!)

Sunday, November 13, 2011

It's Social Networking Saturday (or Sunday...whatever)!

It's no secret I've been battling a blogging funk. And according to my Google Reader, I'm not the only one. It's comforting in a we're-all-in-this-together sort of way to see some of my favorite book bloggers are dealing with burn-out and reading slumps of their own.

All this down time gave me a chance to do some re-evaluating. It's been a year and a half since Edgy Inspirational Romance went live and if I want this blogging business to be an endurance race instead of a sprint, some things need to change around here.

1. Social Networking Saturdays.

I've reduced the time I spend online. I want to be more present for my kids and that doesn't include sitting in the same room with the computer on my lap. They won't be young forever y'know?

Last year I could spend 2 hours/day reading the 300+ blogs I follow, now I find myself going entire work weeks without even peeking at my feeds. When I do get around to checking, I read them in list view instead of expanded view. So instead of skimming entire blog posts, I'm just skimming blog titles or looking for the names of my homies.

Social Networking Saturday (or Sunday, whatever) is the one day every week I make a point of visiting and leaving comments on my favorite blogs. I might be the last person to your party, but I'm still thinking about you.

2. Email gets answered on Saturdays too (or Sundays, whatever).

My phone dings with every message, so I read them immediately, I just don't have time to respond until the weekend (usually). If you don't hear from me on Social Networking Saturday, please send the message again.

3. The PDF Review Copy Revolt

I'm coming out of the closet to say I despise reading books on my computer screen. It was never my favorite way to review, but these days I find it almost intolerable.

Unfortunately, this puts me in a bit of a bind. Our blog has been a big supporter of small press and epublishers in the past and often the only review copies they send are PDFs. I have one half-read PDF review copy languishing in my inbox right now (it's a great story from an author I LOVE, and the blogger guilt I'm experiencing over this fact could beat mommy guilt in an arm wrestle).

I haven't found the solution to this, but I'm still looking. Does anyone know of a way to convert PDF files into Mobipocket (PRC) files for my Kindle? I know I can email PDFs straight to the Kindle, but I find the print is small and sometimes there are funky page breaks. That method just hasn't been working out.

Alright, enough about me. It's Sunday and I've got some emails to send and some blogs to visit. Happy reading!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Mercy Come Morning by Lisa T. Bergren

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today's Wild Card author is:

and the book:

Mercy Come Morning

WaterBrook Press; Reprint edition (August 16, 2011)

***Special thanks to Laura Tucker of WaterBrook Press for sending me a review copy.***


LISA BERGREN is the best-selling, award-winning author of more than thirty books, with more than two million copies sold. A former publishing executive, she now splits her time working as a freelance editor and writer while parenting three children with her husband, Tim, and dreaming of the family’s next visit to Taos.

Visit the author's website.


There are no second chances. Or are there?

Krista Mueller is in a good place. She’s got a successful career as a professor of history; she’s respected and well-liked; and she lives hundreds of miles from her hometown and the distant mother she could never please. It’s been more than a decade since Alzheimer’s disease first claimed Charlotte Mueller’s mind, but Krista has dutifully kept her mother in a first-class nursing home.

Now Charlotte is dying of heart failure and, surprised by her own emotions, Krista rushes to Taos, New Mexico, to sit at her estranged mother’s side as she slips away. Battling feelings of loss, abandonment, and relief, Krista is also unsettled by her proximity to Dane McConnell, director of the nursing home—and, once upon a time, her first love. Dane’s kind and gentle spirit—and a surprising discovery about her mother—make Krista wonder if she can at last close the distance between her and her mother … and open the part of her heart she thought was lost forever.

“A timeless tale, to be kept every day in the heart as a reminder
that forgiveness is a gift to self.”
—PATRICIA HICKMAN, author of The Pirate Queen

Product Details:

List Price: $13.99
Paperback: 240 pages
Publisher: WaterBrook Press; Reprint edition (August 16, 2011)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0307730107
ISBN-13: 978-0307730107


“She’s dying, Krista.”

I took a long, slow breath. “She died a long time ago, Dane.”

He paused, and I could picture him formulating his next words, something that would move me. Why was my relationship with my mother so important to him? I mean, other than the fact that she was a patient in his care. “There’s still time, Kristabelle.”

I sighed. Dane knew that his old nickname for me always got to me. “For what? For long, deep conversations?” I winced at the harsh slice of sarcasm in my tone.

“You never know,” he said quietly. “An aide found something you should see.”


“Come. I’ll keep it here in my office until you arrive. Consider it a Christmas present.”

“It’s December ninth.”

“Okay, consider it an early present.”

It was typical of him to hold out a mysterious hook like that. “I don’t know, Dane. The school term isn’t over yet. It’s a hard time to get someone to cover for me.” It wasn’t the whole truth. I had an assistant professor who could handle things on her own. And I could get back for finals. Maybe. Unless Dane wasn’t overstating the facts.

“Krista. She’s dying. Her doctor tells me she has a few weeks, tops. Tell your department chair. He’ll let you go. This is the end.” I stared out my cottage window to the old pines that covered my yard in shadows. The end. The end had always seemed so far away. Too far away. In some ways I wanted an end to my relationship with my mother, the mother who had never loved me as I longed to be loved. When she started disappearing, with her went so many
of my hopes for what could have been. The road to this place had been long and lonely. Except for Dane. He had always been there, had always waited. I owed it to him to show. “I’ll be there on Saturday.”

“I’ll be here. Come and find me.”

“Okay. I teach a Saturday morning class. I can get out of here after lunch and down there by five or six.”

“I’ll make you dinner.”

“Dane, I—”

“Dinner. At seven.”

I slowly let my mouth close and paused. I was in no mood to argue with him now. “I’ll meet you at Cimarron,” I said.
“Great. It will be good to see you, Kristabelle.” I closed my eyes, imagining him in his office at Cimarron Care Center. Brushing his too-long hair out of his eyes as he looked through his own window.

“It will be good to see you, too, Dane. Good-bye.”

He hung up then without another word, and it left me feeling slightly bereft. I hung on to the telephone receiver as if I could catch one more word, one more breath, one more connection with the man who had stolen my heart at sixteen.

Dane McConnell remained on my mind as I wrapped up things at the college, prepped my assistant, Alissa, to handle my history classes for the following week, and then drove the scenic route down to Taos from Colorado Springs, about a five-hour trip. My old Honda Prelude hugged the roads along the magnificent San Luis Valley. The valley’s shoulders were still covered in late spring snow, her belly carpeted in a rich, verdant green. It was here that in 1862 Maggie O’Neil single-handedly led a wagon train to settle a town in western Colorado, and nearby Cecilia Gaines went so
crazy one winter they named a waterway in her honor—“Woman Hollering Creek.”

I drove too fast but liked the way the speed made my scalp tingle when I rounded a corner and dipped, sending my stomach flying. Dane had never driven too fast. He was methodical in everything he did, quietly moving ever forward. He had done much in his years since grad school, establishing Cimarron and making it a national think tank for those involved in gerontology. After high school we had essentially ceased communication for years before Cimarron came about. Then when Mother finally got to the point in her descent into Alzheimer’s that she needed fulltime institutionalized care, I gave him a call. I hadn’t been able to find a facility that I was satisfied with for more than a year, when a college friend had shown me the magazine article on the opening of Cimarron and its patron saint, Dane McConnell.

“Good looking and nice to old people,” she had moaned. “Why can’t I meet a guy like that?”

“I know him,” I said, staring at the black-and-white photograph.

“Get out.”

“I do. Or did. We used to be…together.”

“What happened?” she asked, her eyes dripping disbelief.

“I’m not sure.”

I still wasn’t sure. Things between us had simply faded over the years. But when I saw him again, it all seemed to come back. Or at least a part of what we had once had. There always seemed to be a submerged wall between us, something we couldn’t quite bridge or blast through. So we had simply gone swimming toward different shores.

Mother’s care had brought us back together over the last five years. With the congestive heart failure that was taking her body, I supposed the link between us would finally be severed. I would retreat to Colorado, and he would remain in our beloved Taos, the place of our youth, of our beginnings, of our hearts. And any lingering dream of living happily ever after with Dane McConnell could be buried forever with my unhappy memories of Mother.

I loosened my hands on the wheel, realizing that I was gripping

it so hard my knuckles were white. I glanced in the rearview mirror, knowing that my reverie was distracting me from paying attention to the road. It was just that Dane was a hard man to get over. His unique ancestry had gifted him with the looks of a Scottish Highlander and the sultry, earthy ways of the Taos Indians. A curious, inspiring mix that left him with both a leader’s stance and a wise man’s knowing eyes. Grounded but visionary. A driving force, yet empathetic at the same time. His employees loved working for him. Women routinely fell in love with him.

I didn’t know why I could never get my act together so we could finally fall in love and stay in love. He’d certainly done his part. For some reason I’d always sensed that Dane was waiting for me, of all people. Why messed-up, confused me? Yet there he was. I’d found my reluctance easy to blame on my mother. She didn’t love me as a mother should, yada-yada, but I’d had enough time with my counselor to know that there are reasons beyond her. Reasons that circle back to myself.

I’d always felt as if I was chasing after parental love, but the longer I chased it, the further it receded from my reach. It left a hole in my heart that I was hard-pressed to fill. God had come close to doing the job. Close. But there was still something there, another blockade I had yet to blast away. I would probably be working on my “issues” my whole life. But as my friend Michaela says, “Everyone’s got issues.” Supposedly I need to embrace them. I just want them to go away.

“Yeah,” I muttered. Dane McConnell was better off without me. Who needed a woman still foundering in her past?

I had to focus on Mother. If this was indeed the end, I needed to wrap things up with her. Find closure. Some measure of peace. Even if she couldn’t say the words I longed to hear.

I love you, Krista.

Why was it that she had never been able to force those four words from her lips?

Excerpted from Mercy Come Morning by Lisa Tawn Bergren Copyright © 2011 by Lisa Tawn Bergren. Excerpted by permission of WaterBrook Press, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Serena will have the review up for this one shortly!

Monday, November 07, 2011

Review: The Lady's Maid by Susan Page Davis

In a fresh take on the wagon train western, Susan Page Davis takes a titled Englishwoman and her lady’s maid over an ocean, across a continent, and past a few cow pies on their way to find the new Earl of Stoneford – and an unexpected chance at love – along the Oregon Trail.


When the Earl of Stoneford dies, Elise Finster and her young British mistress, Lady Anne Stone, must travel to America in search of Lady Anne’s missing uncle. If Elise and Lady Anne don’t find David Stone, the Stoneford lands will either be claimed and ruined by a ruthless cousin or dispersed at the King’s discretion.

Elise and Lady Anne are ill-prepared for the rigorous journey they must embark upon when they learn David’s American trail leads westward. Even the wagon train’s scout, Eb Bentley, tries to discourage the two from their quest. But the ladies’ uncommon determination, poise, and beauty cause the men of the wagon train, even stodgy widower Eb, to take note of the two British ladies. It isn’t long before Eb himself becomes a frequent visitor at their fireside, seeking the company of a certain Lady’s Maid.

But a spy is close at hand – a man charged with keeping Lady Anne from finding her uncle at any cost. Will two refined English ladies be able to thwart his mischief and survive the westward trip? Or will they, like so many before them, fall victim to the Oregon Trail?


This story was warm and hope-affirming, allowing the trail romance to grow at a tender pace. There’s not much of a heat factor between the two mature romantic leads, but their story is sweet and, as such, was gently played and squeaky clean. This is a novel you can be comfortable sharing with any age of woman – even your ultra-conservative great-grandma.

I found the author’s premise interesting and original. After all, how many tales of the Oregon Trail start in England? And how many romances feature a nearly forty-year-old servant as the heroine? The Lady’s Maid is an enjoyable western romance, if a tad unbelievable at times; but I’ll be honest: the ending was a huge letdown.


You guessed it: the ending.

(SPOILER ALERT! Skip this section if you want to experience this novel without prejudice.)

Throughout this book the reader is led to believe that Elise, Eb, and David will eventually circle their wagons in a climactic love triangle. In that, the reader is bound to be disappointed. David Stone, the expected third corner of the romance, never (did you catch that? NEVER.) makes a physical appearance in the novel.

What?! But I thought I ordered a love triangle!

Well, that’s not what I was served. In fact, the ending had such a lack of resolution concerning the search for David Stone (and Elise’s girlhood crush on him) that I was actually a little bit angry when I finished reading it. My anger wasn’t the anticipatory whine of “Oh, snap! Now I have to wait for the sequel?” either; it was more along the lines of, “That was ridiculously unsatisfying.”

There is a spot of good news amidst my disappointment, however. A sequel is, in fact, in the works and, even though I was a little disgusted at how easily Elise abandoned her long-held attraction to David before even finding him, I am curious to see how Lady Anne’s story will unfold in Book Two.

So lest you think I’m a big meanie, harping on the lack-of-a-love triangle issue, I will say that The Lady’s Maid is a good book. In fact, I liked it a lot -- right up until the end. And, with a sequel promised, we at least have reason to hope that one mystery (whether or not Anne’s Uncle David is willing to assume his role as the Earl of Stoneford) will be solved at some point in this series.


If you’re a fan of sweet western romance, I recommend this novel for the originality of seeing the rigors of the wagon train era through the eyes of an English gentlewoman. But (there’s always a “but”, isn’t there?) my recommendation comes with a caveat: unless you plan to hang your hope on the sequel, you may find the unsatisfactorily-resolved romantic conflict a bit difficult to swallow.

(This review originally appeared at USA Today's romance fiction blog Happy Ever After.)

Serena's Rating:

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Review- Love on the Line by Deeanne Gist

I spent the entire month of October on a non fiction bender. Travel books, memoirs, health and well being, you name it. For more than a month I had no interest in fiction, Christian or otherwise. Ever have a bout like that? It's probably perfectly normal for the average reader, but for an inspy book blogger it's the kind of dry spell that makes you wonder if you've lost your mojo.

I don't know if I'm all back yet, but I do know if anyone can inspire me to read inspy again, it's Deeanne Gist. And Love on the Line is classic Gist. It's got her trademark romantic tension, charming dialogue (my favorite scene was the "Can you hear me now?" conversation that put a turn of the century twist on a popular telephone commercial), and a headstrong hero who's not looking for love, but finds it anyway.

I can't say this was my favorite Gist title of all time (that distinction belongs to The Measure of a Lady), but it was a healthy dose of comfort food in the middle of my fiction famine.

P.S- I have a bone to pick....
One Amazon reviewer claimed Love on the Line wasn't Christian fiction. I beg to differ. There is no conversion experience in this story, but it is most definitely Christian fiction. The inspy isn't heavy handed or didactic, but it's a story about characters of faith. Gist writes their faith as naturally as she writes their character quirks. It's part of who they are and it's the lens through which they view their circumstances. What's wrong with Christian fiction just being a story about Christians?

Want more info? Here's the book blurb:
In 1904 Texas Ranger Luke Palmer arrives in Brenham, Texas, with one goal--to capture the gang of outlaws led by Frank Comer. Undercover as a telephone repairman, he uses his days on the range to search, not realizing there's another pair of eyes watching him.

Georgie Gail, switchboard operator and birder, heads out on a birding expedition, but instead of sighting a painted bunting, her opera glasses capture her telephone man, armed and far away from telephone lines. Palmer is forced to take this alluring troublemaker into his confidence and unwittingly puts her in harm's way. The closer he comes to the gang, the further she works her way into his heart--and into trouble. Soon it's more than just love that's on the line.

My Rating:

And the giveaway goes to:
Thanks for leaving comments on Deeanne's interview last month. The winner of my review copy is Andrea who said, "Thanks so much for the interview. Love to read DeeAnne's books and can't wait to read this one!!" An email is coming your way!

Friday, November 04, 2011

REVIEW: Always the Wedding Planner, Never the Bride by Sandra D. Bricker

Sandra D. Bricker’s 2010 release, Always the Baker, Never the Bride introduced readers to Jackson Drake, owner of The Tanglewood Inn, and Emma Rae Travis, the pastry chef destined to become his main squeeze. In Bricker’s latest novel, Always the Wedding Planner, Never the Bride, Emma Rae takes a side role to welcome her old college roommate to the staff of The Tanglewood Inn.

THE SITCH: Sherilyn Caine couldn’t be happier. Recently engaged to Andy Drummond, a sports physician from Atlanta, she’s poised to step into a dream job working alongside her best friend. Life couldn’t be better – unless she could fit into a smaller size.

Andy and Sherilyn decide to transplant their careers to Atlanta, but just as their professional lives seem to click into place, their wedding plans start to go awry. After a series of comic delays including disappearing wedding dresses, strange allergies, celebrity flirts, the reappearance of old flames, mangy mutts, and alternating cold feet, Sherilyn begins to wonder if her love for Andy is cursed by her past mistakes. And even as she helps each client achieve a perfect wedding, she wonders if she’ll ever manage to pull off a wedding of her own.


There’s a lot to like about this book, even for readers who’ve not previously visited The Tanglewood Inn. Sherilyn is a bouncy, smart heroine with a killer sweet-tooth and an attention to detail that borders on OCD. Her self-deprecating humor, mostly centered around the forty-eight pounds she’s gained since last seeing tiny Emma Rae, makes her an approachable beauty with whom nearly any reader can identify. You can’t help liking her.

Sandra Bricker does a commendable job maintaining the unique character voices from the first novel, but the author improved the pace this time around by winnowing down the page-time given to minor characters. Still, I found some of the physical descriptions in this book a bit lacking. The leads (especially Andy) were more difficult to visualize than some of the minor characters.

The plot moves steadily along, keeping the reader engaged. But whereas the beginning-of-chapter recipe and wedding-tip “interruptions” (I call ’em like I see ’em) in the first novel added a nice quirk to the book’s character, the lengthy lists in Book Two quickly become tiresome and all too skim-worthy. The odd insertion of a few delicious-sounding recipes made my mouth water but, in my opinion, the recipes would have been more appropriate in Always the Baker (Book One) than in Always the Wedding Planner (Book Two). That being said, for those in the midst of planning a marital event of their own, I’d wager those lists will get more than a passing glance. In fact, this series would be a fun gift for a bride-to-be – it might even help her plan her own big day.

Although I found the multiple “announcements” near the end of the book to be a bit over-the-top on my cheese-o-meter, Always the Wedding Planner, Never the Bride is a sweet, enjoyable story filled with southern hospitality, womanly wit, and a whole lot of happy ever after.

(This review first appeared at the USA Today romance fiction blog, Happy Ever After)

PS: Make sure you come back next Wednesday (11/9/11) to check out my interview with author Sandra D. Bricker -- you'll be able to enter to win a copy of Always the Wedding Planner, Never the Bride!


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