Thursday, November 7, 2013

Snow on the Tulips by Liz Tolsma

Welcome to the Litfuse Blog Tour for Snow on the Tulips by Liz Tolsma!


A stranger's life hangs in the balance. But to save him is to risk everything.

The war is drawing to a close, but the Nazis still occupy part of the Netherlands. After the losses she's endured, war widow Cornelia is only a shadow of the woman she once was. She fights now to protect her younger brother, Johan, who lives in hiding.

When Johan brings Gerrit Laninga, a wounded Dutch Resistance member, to Cornelia's doorstep, their lives are forever altered. Although scared of the consequences of harboring a wanted man, Cornelia's faith won't let her turn him out.

As she nurses Gerrit back to health, she is drawn to his fierce passion and ideals, and notices a shift within herself. Gerrit's intensity challenges her, making her want to live fully, despite the fear that constrains her. When the opportunity to join him in the Resistance presents itself, Cornelia must summon every ounce of courage imaginable.

She is as terrified of loving Gerrit as she is of losing him. But as the winter landscape thaws, so too does her heart. Will she get a second chance at true love? She fears their story will end before it even begins.

Wow. I could not put Snow on the Tulips down – I read it in just a few hours, finishing the book at 1 in the morning!

I can't ever resist a WWII story, and Liz's was impressive. She successfully portrayed the struggle between doing wrong...or obeying God. Or is some wrong right when it goes against evil? Is lying ever ok when it protects someone from a murderer? With God-fearing husbands and members of the Dutch Resistance, Liz artfully told both sides of the coin.

Snow on the Tulips was also a very emotional story. I had a hard time reading in several spots as my tears blurred the words on the page. I can't imagine going through the same difficulties many of those men and women had to endure. What choice would I make? Would I react passively...or would I get involved?

I most enjoyed that Liz was inspired to write her story from true accounts in her own family's history! I love historical fiction for that very reason!

If you enjoy riveting page-turners, Snow on the Tulips will not disappoint!

That's what I thought! Click HERE to see what other reviewers are saying!

Thank you to Liz and Thomas Nelson through Litfuse for sending me a copy to read and review!

Did you find my review helpful? Please rate it on Amazon and Christianbook.

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**DISCLOSURE: I was given a free product in exchange for an honest review. Please read my full disclosure policy HERE.**

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Gunpowder Tea by Margaret Brownley

Welcome to the Litfuse Blog Tour for Gunpowder Tea by Margaret Brownley!

In a case that could change her career, Miranda uncovers a love that will change her life.

When Miranda Hunt sees the classified ad for an heiress to the legendary Last Chance Ranch, she knows assuming the identity of Annie Beckman is the perfect cover. As one of the finest agents for the Pinkerton Detective Agency, Miranda has been tasked with apprehending the Phantom---an elusive and notorious train robber thought to be hiding on the sprawling ranch.

But she isn't the only one at the ranch with something to hide. Wells Fargo detective

Jeremy Taggart is working undercover as well. Their true identities may be a secret, but it is impossible for Jeremy and Miranda to hide the sparks flaring between them.

Neither is about to let romance interfere with such a huge case. Besides, Miranda hasn't removed Jeremy from her list of suspects yet. The closer they get to uncovering the identity of the Phantom, the more dangerous he gets---and no one on the ranch is safe.

The longer Miranda and Jeremy spend working together, the harder it becomes to keep their feelings in check. Their careers-and their lives-depend on solving this case. Love will just have to wait.

I'm not a huge fan of comedic fiction (I prefer the serious side of things), but I've enjoyed the stories I've read of Margaret's. She has just the right balance of sobriety and humor.

Gunpowder Tea is the last book in her Brides of Last Chance Ranch series...and I thought it was the best one! I've always liked stories involving detectives, especially Pinkertons!, and when the first chapter involved a woman Pink, a thief, a stray shot at a funeral, and an overreacting, hysterical widow, I knew Margaret had done it again. I suspected Gunpowder Tea would be delightfully dangerous.

It was great! Gasps and giggles... with an ending (and criminal) I didn't expect.

If you haven't read books 1 and 2, you should! You don't have to, but it makes the ending of Gunpowder Tea all the better!

That's what I thought! Click HERE to see what other reviewers are saying!

Thank you to Margaret and Thomas Nelson through Litfuse for sending me a copy to read and review!

Did you find my review helpful? Please rate it on Amazon and Christianbook.

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**DISCLOSURE: I was given a free product in exchange for an honest review. Please read my full disclosure policy HERE.**

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Treasures of Norway SWEEPSTAKES by Lauraine Snelling!

To celebrate the release of her new novel, An Untamed Heart, author Lauraine Snelling and Bethany House Publishers are pleased to present the TREASURES OF NORWAY Sweepstakes, and your chance to win one of three spectacular prizes, all closely connected to the story.

Read on!!

Twenty-year-old Ingeborg Strand is certain she is destined to be an old maid.

She’s had several suitors but none she deemed worthy of spending her life with. That is, until she meets a university student from Oslo, and feelings stronger than friendship begin to develop between them. But tragedy strikes, and the future begins to look bleaker than ever.

Grief settles heavily over Ingeborg, and her mother suggests that she leave Norway and start afresh in America, as so many others have done before her. But how will she accomplish that with little money and no one to accompany her?

It isn’t long before she meets Roald Bjorklund, a widower who has been planning to go to America for some time, lured by the promise of free land. He’s a good man, a hard-working man–and he has a young son who desperately needs a mother. He’s clearly interested in Ingeborg, but is he the answer to her prayers? And what about love? This isn’t how she’s always imagined it.

Ingeborg Strand has a heartrending decision to make…

(Click on the book cover to read an excerpt!)

TO ENTER, click the banner below and complete the entry box, anytime between October 5 and October 24.

Check out these amazing prizes!!

In An Untamed Heart, young Ingeborg Strand is tasked with cleaning her Onkel Frode's house, an ominous task indeed! But Ingeborg never backs down from tough tasks, and the result is a house so clean, any woman in Norway would be proud to call it home.

We might not have the luxury of a housecleaning visit from Ingeborg, but our Grand Prize winner will win the next best thing: a $200 housecleaning gift card to, plus a handmade Tokheim Fjordhorse Mug and a bag of Ingebretsen's Viking Coffee so you can brew a cuppa, sit back, and relax while your house is transformed.

Ingeborg and her cousin Gunlaug are some of the best cooks in the in the mountain village of Valdres, Norway. Cookies, cheeses, flatbreads, jams...their cooking and baking is a culinary-lover's dream!

Our Second Prize winner will have Gunlaug's and Ingeborg's favorite Norwegian foods delivered right to their door with this $120 Norwegian gourmet prize pack.

This package includes fresh Norwegian lefse, cheeses, flatbread, Nordic butter, jelly, Romme Grot cream porridge, Gjende shortbread, Uff Da chips, Fattigman cookies, and Norwegian chocolate.

Ingeborg and the Strand family prepare for Christmas with music and handmade decorations, while secretly weaving and carving special gifts to give each other in celebration of Gott Jul.

Our Third Prize winner will have the chance to bring Gott Jul to their home this holiday season, with this $100 Christmas In Norway prize pack.

This prize includes a Norwegian Christmas CD, a set of 2 Norwegian wood spool candle holders, and a woven, 14" wide x 43" long, Åttebladrose Christmas table runner, perfect for dressing your dining table in the warm colors of Norway.

This giveaway starts October 5, 2013 and ends October 24, 2013 @ 11:59 pm (PST). Entry is open to US residents only, age 18 and over. Winners will be selected Friday, October 25, 2013, and announced at

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**DISCLOSURE: Lauraine shared a thank you gift with me in exchange for sharing this giveaway with my readers. Please read my full disclosure policy HERE.**

The Journey of Josephine Cain by Nancy Moser

Welcome to the Litfuse Blog Tour for The Journey of Josephine Cain by Nancy Moser!

When a socialite from the nation's capital embarks on a journey to the Wild West, her life is changed forever.

A setting populated by hundreds of laborers, outlaws, and Indians is hardly the place for a wealthy general's daughter. But Josephine Cain is determined to visit her father, who supervises the day-to-day work involved in the grandest ambition of post-Civil War America: the building of the Transcontinental Railroad. Life with the railroad is far from the proper life Josephine is used to, and she faces deadly gunfights, harsh weather, and vigilante uprisings. She is torn between the West and the East; between her privileged upbringing and the challenges of a new frontier; between the pull of the suitable beau her parents approve of and an attraction to a rough but charming Irish railroad worker. But if Josephine is willing, she just might find a new life, a unique purpose . . . and true love.

I've read a couple of Nancy's books, and some have taken more effort to 'get into' than others. I felt that way with Josephine's story.

The words just didn't grab and hold my attention. It was easy to set the book down, and I wasn't anxiously awaiting a moment where I could pick up the story again.

Josephine herself was a bit hard for me to like. She's a bit spoiled, rash, and bull-headed, and though she grows and changes as the story progresses, I had a hard time connecting with her through most of the book.

I enjoyed learning about the progress of the railway after the Civil War, but overall, The Journey of Josephine Cain wasn't a 'keeper' book for me.

That's what I thought! Click HERE to see what other Litfuse reviewers has to say!

Thank you to Nancy and Summerside Press through Litfuse for sending me a copy to read and review!

Did you find my review helpful? Please rate it on Amazon and Christianbook!

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**DISCLOSURE: I was given a free product in exchange for an honest review. Please read my full disclosure policy HERE.**

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

A Bride for Keeps by Melissa Jagears

This week, CFBA introduces A Bride for Keeps by Melissa Jagears!


A Tender Tale of Love on the Prairie!

Although Everett Cline can hardly keep up with the demands of his homestead, he won't humiliate himself by looking for a helpmate ever again--not after being jilted by three mail-order brides. When a well-meaning neighbor goes behind his back to bring yet another mail-order bride to town, he has good reason to doubt it will work, especially after getting a glimpse at the woman in question. She's the prettiest woman he's ever seen, and it's just not possible she's there to marry a simple homesteader like him.

Julia Lockwood has never been anything more than a pretty pawn for her father or a business acquisition for her former fiance. Having finally worked up the courage to leave her life in Massachusetts, she's determined to find a place where people will value her for more than her looks. Having run out of all other options, Julia resorts to a mail-order marriage in far-away Kansas.

Everett is skeptical a cultured woman like Julia could be happy in a life on the plains, while Julia, deeply wounded by a past relationship, is skittish at the idea of marriage at all. When, despite their hesitations, they agree to a marriage in name only, neither one is prepared for the feelings that soon arise to complicate their arrangement. Can two people accustomed to keeping their distance let the barricades around their hearts down long enough to fall in love?

I've always loved a good mail-order bride story, and A Bride for Keeps did not disappoint. Often the bride or groom have some sort of painful past to overcome, resulting in a struggle to let go and love the other.

Melissa's story was unique in that both Everett and Julia are hurting. One fears rejection, the other feels worthless. When one finally begins to let the emotional walls crumble, the other is still not ready to accept true and honest love.

A Bride for Keeps was warm and sweet, and I really enjoyed it! I look forward to more books by Melissa!

AND FOR YOU, a peek into the book:

Thank you to Melissa and Bethany House through CFBA for sending me a copy to read and review!

Also reviewed on Amazon and Christianbook.

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**DISCLOSURE: I was given a free product in exchange for an honest review. Please read my full disclosure policy HERE.**

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Wishing on Buttercups by Miralee Ferrell

Releasing after the New Year, I had an early chance to look at Miralee Ferrell's second book in her Blossoms in Oregon series: Wishing on Buttercups.

Can Love Survive When Secrets Collide?

She’d kept her secrets safely hidden—those from her past, and those in the present. Some things, Beth Roberts knows, a lady simply doesn’t share, even in the 1880’s West. The townspeople would never understand. No one ever has. 

Jeffery Tucker, a handsome young writer, has kept his own secrets. He doesn’t have a right to pry into Beth’s affairs but finds himself strangely drawn to her and intrigued by the whiff of mystery surrounding her. 

Beth knows that one day someone will unravel the threads of her past. And when two men from her past arrive, the truth might just hurt... Beth’s future and her heart. As shadowy memories surface, Beth sketches the scenes she sees and is shocked by what—and who—her illustrations reveal. Dare she risk her heart again?

I really enjoyed Miralee's first book in this series, Blowing on Dandelions, so I couldn't wait to read Wishing on Buttercups. You don't have to read Dandelions first, but it is helpful to be acquainted with the other people in the boardinghouse (and it was good, so do)! ;-)

Once again, Miralee weaves an important topic into her story – this time, trust and past scars, both physical and emotional. The characters were great – couldn't help enjoying Mrs. Cooper and Aunt Wilma's interactions – and the whole paint incident was downright humorous (even funnier that it was based on facts)!

It's so hard to imagine searching for a loved one in that day and age. Nowadays, it's almost impossible NOT to be found, thanks to the internet! The strain of both Beth and Mrs. Mason's search was palpable and I couldn't help turning the pages, hoping the impossible would right itself! The tension of romance and trust was also real in regard to Brent and Jeffery.

Wishing on Buttercups was a very enjoyable read, and I can't wait to hear Steven's story in Dreaming on Daisies!

Preorder your copy HERE!

Thank you to Miralee and David C. Cook through NetGalley for sending me a copy to read and review!

Also reviewed on Christianbook.

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**DISCLOSURE: I was given a free product in exchange for an honest review. Please read my full disclosure policy HERE.**

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

A Home for My Heart by Anne Mateer

Thanks to NetGalley, I had the opportunity to read Anne Mateer's newest book, A Home for My Heart.

Sadie Sillsby works as the assistant to the matron at the Raystown Home for Orphan and Friendless Children, pouring all her energy into caring for the boys and girls who live there and dreaming of the day she'll marry her beau, Blaine, and have children of her own. But when the matron surprises everyone by announcing her own engagement, Sadie is suddenly next in line for the esteemed job of running the orphanage.

There's one glitch. The matron cannot be married. She must focus her attention on the financial, legal, and logistical matters of the Home. Sadie's heart is torn. Should she give up her plans for a life with Blaine in order to continue serving these children who have no one else? Does she, a young woman who was once an orphan herself, have what it takes to succeed in such a challenging career? And when the future of the Home begins to look bleak, can Sadie turn things around before the place is forced to close forever?

It's been a long time since a book made me cry...and A Home for My Heart gave me a case of the sniffles! This is the second book I've read by Anne – I read and loved Wings of a Dream (which also made me cry)! In A Home for My Heart, Anne captures the struggle between duty and love in a realistic and tender way.

I empathized with Sadie, because I've got a pride problem, too! It can be so difficult to humble yourself and give up jobs that you are capable of doing to others who are God-gifted in the task, despite their appearance or background.

The entire story flowed so well and the characters were genuine and easy to love (or be frustrated with, depending on the moment). I read it in less than a day and loved it!

AND FOR YOU, a peek into the book HERE.

Thank you to Anne and Bethany House through NetGalley for sending me an ebook to read and review!

Also reviewed on Amazon and Christianbook.

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**DISCLOSURE: I was given a free product in exchange for an honest review. Please read my full disclosure policy HERE.**

The Courier of Caswell Hall by Melanie Dobson

Litfuse Blog Tour: The Courier of Caswell Hall by Melanie Dobson


An unlikely spy discovers freedom and love in the midst of the American Revolution.

As the British and Continental armies wage war in 1781, the daughter of a wealthy Virginia plantation owner feels conflict raging in her own heart. Lydia Caswell comes from a family of staunch Loyalists, but she cares only about peace. Her friend Sarah Hammond, however, longs to join the fight. Both women's families have already been divided by a costly war that sets father against son and neighbor against neighbor; a war that makes it impossible to guess who can be trusted.

One snowy night Lydia discovers a wounded man on the riverbank near Caswell Hall, and her decision to save him will change her life. Nathan introduces her to a secret network of spies, couriers, disguises, and coded messages---a network that may be the Patriots' only hope for winning the war. When British officers take over Caswell Hall and wreak havoc on neighboring plantations, Lydia will have to choose between loyalty and freedom; between her family's protection and her own heart's desires.

As both armies gather near Williamsburg for a pivotal battle, both Lydia and Sarah must decide how high a price they are willing to pay to help the men they love.

Part of the American Tapestries™ series: Each standalone novel in this line sets a heart-stirring love story against the backdrop of an epic moment in American history. This is the fifth book in the series.

I was enjoying the Early American time period of The Courier of Caswell Hall as well as the intrigue of spying (women, especially!) for the war.

However, I was sorely disappointed to encounter swearing halfway through the story. The word was not used in a biblical manner, like a preacher referencing judgment. I could not see any reason why the word had to be used.

Unfortunately, one word ruined a whole book for me and despite my past enjoyment of Melanie's books, I could not finish or recommend The Courier.

That's what I thought. Check out what other Litfuse reviewers had to say HERE.

Thank you to Melanie and Summerside Press through Litfuse for sending me a copy to read and review!

Also reviewed on Amazon and Christianbook.

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**DISCLOSURE: I was given a free product in exchange for an honest review. Please read my full disclosure policy HERE.**

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Born of Persuasion by Jessica Dotta

This week, CFBA introduces Born of Persuasion by Jessica Dotta.

The year is 1838, and seventeen-year-old Julia Elliston’s position has never been more fragile. Orphaned and unmarried in a time when women are legal property of their fathers, husbands, and guardians, she finds herself at the mercy of an anonymous guardian who plans to establish her as a servant in far-off Scotland.

With two months to devise a better plan, Julia’s first choice to marry her childhood sweetheart is denied. But when a titled dowager offers to introduce Julia into society, a realm of possibilities opens. However, treachery and deception are as much a part of Victorian society as titles and decorum, and Julia quickly discovers her present is deeply entangled with her mother’s mysterious past. Before she knows what’s happening, Julia finds herself a pawn in a deadly game between two of the country’s most powerful men. With no laws to protect her, she must unravel the secrets on her own. But sometimes truth is elusive and knowledge is deadly.

I must say: Jessica is an amazing writer. I was drawn in from the very first page, and felt like I could picture everything. In fact, it seemed as if I was watching a BBC period drama unfold. One of those movies that has you leaning forward to figure out what is going on, because only pieces of the puzzle are given in each scene, leaving you a bit confused, but knowing that by the end of the series, everything will click and you'll want to watch the whole thing again.

So, as a secular film, I would probably enjoy it. However, as Christian fiction, well, I thought Born of Persuasion was lacking. Again, amazing writer, truly!; but I really didn't have any sense of a Christian worldview. Oh, yes, there's a vicar who struggles between his duty (the 'church,' ie: faith) and love...and a woman who lacks faith in God, but the dark, mysterious feel of the book takes precedence over any spiritual theme. Mr. Macy's advances that bordered on inappropriate didn't help my opinion either.

Bottom line for me: riveting story if watching a secular movie, but poor spiritual application or edification when classified as 'Christian' fiction.

If you like Jane Eyre and Pride and Prejudice, you'll likely relish Born of Persuasion. Be warned, though, that book one leaves you hanging, and you'll have to wait for the continuation of Julia's story. Mark of Distinction, book 2, doesn't release until Summer 2014.

AND FOR YOU, a peek into the book:
Born of Persuasion
Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. (September 1, 2013)
Jessica Dotta

Chapter 1

LATER, when I allowed myself to confront the memories, to dwell on the particulars, I realized my arrival at Am Meer marked the beginning.

Not the mysterious letters that drained the life from Mama.

Not her suicide.

And not the two men arriving at dusk, stomping mud from their boots in the foyer, bearing ill tidings. Nay—not even the disconcerting news that I had a guardian, one who intended to keep me sequestered. For those happenings were not my story. I was sinless there.

They were the end result of events set in motion long before I arrived at the cottage. I could no more have stopped their unfolding than I could have prevented my own birth.

Those of you who were alive that year might well remember the early frost of 1838. My arrival coincided with the hardship faced by the farmers that August. Though harvest hadn’t quite begun, an overcast sky stretched over the rolling farmlands bringing a reminder of winter’s cruel bite. How well I remember the carriage jostling down the familiar lane, its wheels grinding through the familiar ruts. I felt no premonition of danger, only relief, sharp and undefiled. At Am Meer, home of my dearest childhood memories, I hoped to find that which I needed most—a respite between the past and my uncertain future.

The cottage stood beautiful as ever at the end of the pebbly drive. A thick, thatched roof covered grey stone walls with Breton blue shutters. Sleepy sunflowers nodded over amethyst larkspurs. Ivy and roses cambered over the sides of the house, rambling into holly bushes. For the first time in months, happiness swelled within my breast as I spied Mrs. Windham bustling about her herb garden.

Above her, Elizabeth pushed open wooden shutters and leaned over the planter boxes filled with begonias. Her reddish- blonde hair glinted in the sunlight as she watched the carriage. Uncertainty passed over her features before she disappeared, leaving the window open.

There was scarce time to notice her dismay, much less interpret it, for the carriage braked, swaying me forward. Without waiting for the coachman, I attempted escape and ended up clinging to the nickel-plated handle as I tripped upon layers of petticoats. I hastily wiped away the tears that wet my cheeks.

“Oh, Julia! Oh dear!” Mrs. Windham tottered down the stone pathway, holding scissors aloft. Beneath the crook of one elbow she clutched an oversized basket, and with her free hand, she clutched an apron full of clippings. Breathless, she reached over the wooden gate and unlatched it. Scatterings of rosemary and lavender fell about her feet, scenting the air. “Julia dear, what on earth?Tomorrow, tomorrow, not today. Depend upon you to come early. Oh, and I had such a lovely dinner of stewed pigeon planned, too. Now we shall have to eat rabbit pie and cold beef. Oh, it’s all been ruined.”

Talc filled my senses as she clutched me to her overlarge bosom. I shut my eyes and forced back tears. Too soon, she held me at arm’s length and surveyed me. Wrinkles creased her forehead and her mouth pressed into a firm line. While I had never fulfilled her ideal of beauty—only Elizabeth, a younger version of herself, measured up in that regard—I knew why she frowned. Months of pacing empty rooms stagnant with grief had taken their toll on me.

Since Mama’s death, I’d warded off callers, withstood Sarah’s fears that our crime would be discovered, and endured endless hours with the parish vicar, who gobbled up a day’s worth of food in one sitting as he lectured me on the danger of my eternal damnation.

“Shame on you, Elizabeth.” Mrs. Windham twisted and looked over her shoulder as Elizabeth approached. “Hiding Julia’s intentions to arrive today. I thought you had outgrown such pranks.”

“Mama, surely you don’t think I had an idea of this?” Elizabeth laced her fingers together.

I gripped Mrs. Windham’s sleeve and silently entreated Elizabeth for news. Words were unnecessary. She knew the information I sought.

Her gaze, however, shifted downwards and focused on a clump of woundwort, which she bent to harvest.

“But, what on . . . ? Julia, where’s your carriage?” Mrs. Windham pulled me close and glared at the coachman untying the cords which held my trunks, as if he were to blame for my humble arrival. “Mercy! Tell me you haven’t travelled alone. And by coach! I cannot conceive it. Where is Sarah?”

I shook my head. A lump in my throat rendered me unable to speak. Earlier that week, my guardian had discharged the woman who’d first been Mama’s nursemaid and then mine.

Elizabeth noticed and took my hand. “How selfish we are. Poor Julia must have travelled through the night. You must feel exhausted.”

“Selfish?” Mrs. Windham’s chest swelled. “I’ll have you know that I instructed Hannah just today to air my best wedding linens for her room and—”

The driver approached, removing his hat, clearly expecting a tip. Color rose through my cheeks. Though I’d managed my fare yesterday, I had nothing left.

“Harry,” Elizabeth called to the manservant who arrived to carry my trunks. “Run along and fetch a crown for the driver.” Her eyes widened with questions she did not ask. “Come, dearest.”

“I am quite vexed with you.” Mrs. Windham placed a slice of lard cake on a plate. She eyed my dress hanging loosely over my frame, then added another sliver alongside a gooseberry tart. “Why did you not tell us your mother was ailing? Had I knowledge, I would have visited before she passed; indeed, I would have.”

My hand faltered as I reached for the plate. While I’d known the topic of Mama’s death was unavoidable, I had not expected it so soon.

“Mama.” Elizabeth cast her mother a disapproving look over the rim of her teacup. “You can scarcely blame Julia for it.”

“Blame Julia?” Mrs. Windham dabbed her eyes with the corner of her gardening apron. “What a notion, child.” Then to me, “Did she linger in much pain? Did she send me remembrances? Did she call for me in her deep despair?”

Tightness gathered in my chest as I sought for an explanation, knowing full well the Windhams wouldn’t be fooled into believing Mama had pined herself into an early grave over my father’s death.

I placed the plate on my lap, then set about tearing the cake into bite-sized pieces. “She called for no one. The cholera took her quickly.”

Elizabeth froze, midsip, as if detecting my lie. Mrs. Windham frowned, but I wasn’t certain whether she sensed deception or simply disliked being robbed of the notion that Mama had died crying out for her.

Mrs. Windham turned toward the window, pressing her lace handkerchief against her mouth. “Well, if you’re going to try to spare me, I am sure there is nothing I can do.” Her voice trembled. “I have lost my dearest friend, but why should anyone consider me?”

A long silence ensued, during which Elizabeth frowned and I twisted my cup in its saucer. We both knew trying to start a new conversation would be useless until her mother had been properly indulged.

After a minute, Mrs. Windham’s mouth puckered. “Humph. Well, do not think yourself cleared on all accounts. I am even more outraged you agreed to have this . . . this guardian. I scarcely believed my own ears when I heard the tidings. Nothing, no, nothing, could have made me believe you would choose this person over me. Whatever are you thinking?”

I tore the cake into yet smaller pieces.

Elizabeth darted an apologetic look at me, wrapping her hands about her cup. “Mama, you can scarcely blame Julia for whom her parents selected as her guardian.”

“What else am I to think? Especially when Lucy wrote me a mere month before her death begging me to care for Julia should this very thing happen. Well, all I can say is that Julia has certainly made it clear whom she prefers. Surely this person has no tie, no claim over you. I never heard of such an odd thing in all my life. Not give a name, indeed! And that man who came. That rude man! Is it so unreasonable to assume your guardian would have taken it into account that I have a daughter, and as such made allowances? See if I merit approval. Of all the insults.” She snorted into her half-empty cup.

I shot Elizabeth a questioning look. She’d not written anything about my guardian sending someone to Am Meer. Instead of meeting my eyes, her gaze drifted to the open windows.

“I never met such a rude man as that Simon.” Looking at my untouched food, Mrs. Windham fluttered her handkerchief at it. “Indeed, I wish we’d begun dining amongst higher spheres before I listed our acquaintances. That would have swept the smug look off that Simon’s face.”

Elizabeth let out a short sigh. “His name was Simmons, not Simon.”

“I think I should remember better than you, missy. I tell you it was Simon, and I cannot imagine a more disdainful or trying butler.”

“Butler?” I asked, more perplexed than ever. “Are you saying my guardian’s butler came here?”

“He was no butler; trust me,” Elizabeth said. “He dressed the part of a gentleman. I think he was a solicitor.”

“You can hardly expect a butler to wear his black tie when travelling. Take my word, the man is a servant, one who holds much too high an opinion of himself.”

“But, Mama, think upon it. What sort of person sends a servant to make those types of inquiries? Who would run the household during his absence?”

“Are you never to tell me of what you are speaking?” I finally said. “What does this man and his lists of acquaintances have to do with my guardian?”

Elizabeth gave her mother a look that plainly asked if she was satisfied now that I was upset. “Well, we were not supposed to mention the visit.” She glared a second longer at her mother. “Three months ago he arrived, stating he’d come to make certain Mama was a suitable chaperone for a visit.”

“Very rude, he was, too. I should not have thought there was such a rude man in all of England.”

Elizabeth took a sharp, annoyed intake of breath. “He gathered the names of all our acquaintances—”

“He dared to ask what we required as compensation for keeping you here for a month or two. The very idea, expecting to be reimbursed for keeping Lucy’s child! He made it sound as though you were living on—” Mrs. Windham stopped suddenly and eyed the patch on my threadbare dress. The tinkling of the wind chimes was the only sound filling the space for a half minute.

“I heard nothing about this visit,” I said, forcing an even tone. “Pray, did he happen to mention the name of my guardian?”

“No, indeed. This is all very strange.” Mrs. Windham spooned more sugar into her tea. “I think your guardian must be very ill-mannered. What sense can there be in keeping one’s identity hidden, I ask?”

She paused, eyeing me for all she was worth. But I had no suitable answer. I no longer even wanted to know about the man who’d been sent here. His visit only increased my unease, making it harder for me to find the nerve to do what I must. If I succeeded in accomplishing my goal, then this Simon or Simmons person mattered little.

A soft knock on the door interrupted us.

“Yes?” Mrs. Windham sank back into her chair, glaring. “What now?”

“I beg pardon.” Their stout housekeeper managed to open the door and curtsy at the same time. “Only the room’s ready, and Miss Lizbeth asked me to come fetch her.”

“Thank you, Hannah.” With undisguised relief, Elizabeth stood. “Mama, poor Julia must be exhausted. Surely you will excuse her.”

Mrs. Windham waved me away with her handkerchief. “I have no wish to talk further regardless, what with her upsetting the household. My poor heart is pounding after such a distasteful tea. When you wake, I insist you write your guardian. Tell him this whole affair upsets my digestion, and that you wish to be transferred into my care. For I cannot conceive he wishes such vexations upon me. And—”

“What shall we do about a lady’s maid for Julia?” Elizabeth had the mercy to interrupt. “Betsy scarcely has time in the mornings to arrange our toilette, much less someone else’s. What about that girl Nancy?”

“Yes, yes, anyone will do,” agreed Mrs. Windham, picking up her teacup. “I am quite certain Julia shall not mind.”

That night, I startled from my dreams to the sound of rain slashing against the window. I blinked at the tall furniture casting long shadows over the bed, trying to reorient myself. Then recalling I was safe at Am Meer, I turned over. I’d slept long past the hour of dinner, evidenced by the plate of food next to my bedside. My stomach soured as I evaluated its contents. The hare had dried and shrunken from the bone. Granules of fat clung to the potatoes, and what looked like a petrified lump of dough served for bread.

I wrinkled my nose, sliding from the crumpled bed linens. My nightgown and hair were damp from perspiration, so I took up the heavy, woollen shawl draped over the end of the bed.

The dreams were always the same—wraithlike visions of Mama, tortured and frenzied in the netherworld, trying to warn me from across a vast chasm.

I sank before the expiring coals and rested my head against the cool fireplace tiles. Though I never heard what Mama was trying to tell me, I didn’t need to. I tightened my shawl recalling my last visit to Am Meer, three years previous.

And how very different that trip was.

Mama had been with me, head high and erect. I suffered no anxiety for my future then, no fears or rejection. Instead, I felt certain of what was to come. I’d begun wearing stays, which decreased my waist size, enhancing my femininity. My hair was swept up and coiled in glossy, thick locks. At fourteen, I was old enough to be wed. Certainly old enough to enter a betrothal, which had already been promised me when I reached this age.

Poor Mama never suspected my exhilaration had little to do with Am Meer. How placidly she watched the sheep grazing over the windswept hills, her eyes seemingly fixed, her thoughts spreading far from me.

Our carriage had scarcely arrived before Elizabeth tore from the cottage and sprinted down the flagstone path. Crimson ribbons freed themselves from her hair as she ran.

“Julia! Julia! Oh, Julia!” She grabbed my hands, knocking me off balance, then swung me around and back to my place. Excitement flushed her cheeks as she bounced up and down on her toes. “Oh, you’ll never guess. You cannot guess!”

With a slight smile, Mama shook the dust from her skirts.

My heart pounded, for I knew by the gleam in Elizabeth’s eyes her news had to do with our favorite topic—Lord Auburn’s sons. I gave her a slight, panicked shake of my head, which she failed to note.

“Edward . . . learned of your arrival.” She paused to catch her breath, and as she did, she grinned—a grin only achieved by youth unaware of how quickly hopes can be blighted.

With a look of horror, Mama froze. Until that moment, I’d taken great pains to keep her from suspecting my attachment to Edward, the younger son. Our lazy afternoons had been kept far from prying eyes in leafy, cool coppices. The hours had been private ones, dwindled away chatting, safe within haystacks, or with our bare feet dipped in the icy waters of gushing brooks.

Elizabeth pumped my hands to bring my attention back to her. “Edward postponed a visit to his aunt—and she’s a viscountess, too—simply refused to go, to make certain he saw you. He said to tell you he had something important to discuss.” Her voice rose with excitement as she said the last line. “Had you seen the look on his face, there can be no doubt, none whatsoever, what he intends to ask. If we go now, right now, I bet we can find both Henry and Edward in the village.”

Doubtless, Elizabeth would have riven me from Am Meer and had me flying down the lane had not Mama’s hands clutched my shoulders.

“My word,” she said, sounding as if she’d been struck and could scarcely breathe.

The weight of my betrayal increased as I drew my eyes up to her, but she was not looking at me. Her face, emptied of color, turned toward Mrs. Windham. Though Mama kept her voice pleasing, an intense shudder rippled through her arms as she tightened her grip on me. “Edith, surely you knew nothing of this. The girls are far too old for such antics. There might be rumors, misunderstandings.”

I could scarcely draw breath. My only hope lay with Mrs. Windham, which did not promise much. Poor Mrs. Windham. At that time, her highest ambition was to keep Elizabeth’s name linked with the Auburns’. She looked nearly as dismayed as I felt.

“Well, upon my word, Lucy,” was all she managed at first, tottering to join us. “Surely no one would mistake children . . .” Ill- advisedly, she gestured to Elizabeth, whose panting chest filled out her dress rather well. Mrs. Windham must have thought so too, for she frowned and quickly turned in my direction. Her eyes darted up and down my flat bodice before fluttering the lace she clutched in her hand toward me. “They are mere children. Who could possibly mistake their capers for more than that?”

“Mr. Henry Auburn is nineteen now, is he not?” Mama’s voice was steel.

Elizabeth, impatient to be off, rolled her eyes. Mama had never stood in her way; therefore she could not perceive the storm gathering above us.

“Well . . . as I breathe,” Mrs. Windham said, “I am sure I cannot recount Master Henry’s age. Certainly he cannot be—” her face drooped—“as old as all that.”

“Elizabeth?” Mama’s voice took on a crisp tone.

The impatience drained from my friend’s countenance as realization sank in. Her face turned scarlet. “Ma’am?”

“How old is Master Henry?” Mama did not ask Edward’s age, for I think even then she could not bring herself to speak his name.

Elizabeth glanced at me for help. I felt like crying. Our perfect afternoons were ending, and there was nothing I could do.

“He is nineteen, ma’am.”

“Ah.” Mama fixed her stony gaze on Mrs. Windham. Her disapproval chilled even the misty air. “Surely you knew nothing of this scheme.”

Mrs. Windham blinked as her mind absorbed the abrupt change. When Mama arched her eyebrows, Mrs. Windham seized her only chance of separating herself.

“Upon my word, Elizabeth.” She grabbed Elizabeth’s upper arm and walloped her through her thick petticoats, propelling her toward the house. “Such notions! Such carrying on! Such a thing I would not have imagined from you.” She looked over her shoulder at Mama. “I had not thought she would suggest such a brazen act. Go find the Auburns in the village, indeed.” She raised her hand and larruped Elizabeth’s backside. “Get in the house! Do not let me hear one peep out of you. Of all the indecent, bald-faced . . .”

Elizabeth wore too many petticoats to be much disturbed. She cast me a determined look that promised we would see Henry and Edward this summer, no matter what.

Mama caught her meaning too, for her hand stopped trembling on my shoulder. From that moment forward, she became my jailor. Gone were my afternoon walks and Elizabeth’s and my trips to the village, where we wove through the merchant stalls and cried out greetings to those amongst our class.

Mama found excuses not to visit Am Meer thereafter. The horse had clubfoot. The rain made it too muddy for safe passage. We needed to tend our garden. Her excuses were as lame as she claimed our horse was.

Mrs. Windham faithfully sent her yearly invitation, and pain creased Mama’s face as she read each missive. Not even a stranger would have mistaken Tantalus’s hunger in her eyes. To this day I ache when I consider the cruelty she endured to keep me from Edward—the drunken rages, the swift, savage hand of my father. She could have escaped, spent her summer afternoons sewing in peace amongst Mrs. Windham’s roses. But Mama held firm to her belief that Edward would devastate my life. Of all people, Mama should have known that we have no control over fate, not even our own.

Her efforts were vain, regardless. For despite her keeping me under lock and key during our last visit to Am Meer, Edward had managed to find me.

My faith in Edward had been so strong that even the afternoon I learned I had a guardian, I scarcely listened to his terms. That afternoon, I still had not been able to weep over Mama’s death, as it was self-inflicted. I walked in a blur. Thus when Mr. Graves, my solicitor, informed me I had a guardian who intended to send me to Scotland as a widow’s companion, I sat expressionless as he read my guardian’s instructions.

My calm must have disturbed him, for when he finished he looked over the page and frowned. “Did you understand any of what I just read?”

“I understood.” I kept my hands folded on my lap, refusing to change expression.

He clearly hadn’t expected this, for he paused, looking annoyed.

I swallowed hard, wondering what a normal response was. Did he expect me to object to my lower status? Was I supposed to weep and wail? Or was he waiting for me to thank my guardian profusely for overseeing my future?

Twice Mr. Graves cleared his throat, an indicant he wished me to speak. Tugging his cravat, he stared, waiting. “Well, haven’t you anything to say?” he finally demanded.

A slow smirk crept over my lips as I fought the urge to shriek with laughter. Say? I mused. When had it ever mattered what I said? My words were as empty as air. No one consulted me about concealing Mama’s suicide, addressed the cost of the funeral, or even bothered to tell me that should my parents die, I’d have a guardian. No, I would not speak. I’d learned early that women did not escape their bonds. But neither would I thank my guardian. I would do nothing except sit here, hands folded.

Mr. Graves was not a particularly insightful personality. Instead of recognizing someone worn down from grief, he saw a girl who smirked when he didn’t want her to. He wrinkled his nose in disgust. “Well—” he stood, stuffing papers back in his bag—“I’ll take my leave, then.”

I remained motionless until his footsteps died. Even as fear slowly curled through my body, a ray of sun sliced through the dust and landed near my feet. It was as warm and shining as my last hope—Edward.

The smattering of rain on the panes recalled me to Am Meer. I shook off the shawl and pattered to the bed, where my satchel lay. Stashed within the first compartment was the portrait of the life Mama had left me.

The page had come to me during the last meeting with Mr. Graves. When he stood to leave, it fluttered unnoticed to the floor. It had taken all my effort not to stare at it as he turned and walked from the room.

I opened the paper that I had folded and refolded so often the words had rubbed clean in the creases and could only be read from memory.

As far as I could tell, the letter was written to my guardian and discussed the conditions of my going to Scotland. It read:

. . . for if she’s unused to Scotland’s damp air, I daresay, she’ll suffer without proper wool, boots, and cape.

Also, it is imperative the girl remains in full mourning. Mother and I are most severe upon this point. Your charge likely expects to make the transition into second mourning before her arrival. But such frivolity will little suit her life with us.

You wrote that you are concerned about whom the girl associates with. Allow me to assure you, neither Mother nor I tolerate intermingling amongst the classes. I do not encourage those beneath our station to look above their rank. In the rare event of guests, Mother will especially require the girl’s presence in the sickroom. Naturally, the same level of expectation shall continue where the staff is concerned—no mingling shall be tolerated. When Mama is sleeping, I personally shall make certain the girl’s free time is filled with useful employment lest she grow lazy and idle.

While I’m on this topic, Isaac wrote that she’s to be given a small allowance at your expense—enough to content the feminine mind. Sir, I cannot disagree more heartily with him upon the matter, and implore you trust my opinion as a woman over his. He is much deceived as to the nature of females. Not a single woman amongst my acquaintance defines her happiness as stemming from the substance of things. It would be a dangerous precedent to set.

Your protégé would needlessly spoil the girl, and with it, give her an air of discontentment. If she is penniless, work alone secures her future. If she is friendless, let discipline structure her thoughts. She must be taught that only through usefulness shall she find security. This offers her far greater contentment than mere baubles. Indeed, I have often observed—

Whatever had been observed, I thankfully was spared from learning. The page ended.

I clutched the note against my stomach, glad for the lingering hours before dawn. Every time I read the letter, fear assailed me. Much depended upon the next few weeks of my life. My guardian had given me two months before I left for Scotland. If I were to find a husband first, I needed to act quickly.

My summers at Am Meer had always been interludes of peace, golden drafts of mead. The halcyon summer days blended with country dances, laughter, and girlish dreams. And Edward had always occupied the center.

Now he was all I had left. A child’s whimsy.

One that I desperately needed to make real.

Thank you to Jessica and Tyndale through CFBA for sending me a copy to read and review!

Also reviewed on Amazon and Christianbook.

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**DISCLOSURE: I was given a free product in exchange for an honest review. Please read my full disclosure policy HERE.**

Monday, August 26, 2013

What Once Was Lost by Kim Vogel Sawyer

Thanks to Blogging for Books, I get to share Kim Vogel Sawyer's newest book with you: What Once Was Lost.

A woman meant to serve, a child in the dark, a man standing apart—can these three souls embrace a God with new plans for them?

On a small Kansas farm, Christina Willems lovingly shepherds a group of poor and displaced individuals who count on her leadership and have come to see the Brambleville Asylum for the Poor as their home. But when a fire breaks out in the kitchen leaving the house inhabitable, she must scramble to find shelter for all in her care, scattering her dear “family.” - Read more HERE.

You can always count on Kim for a tender, sweet story. What Once Was Lost blended tragedy and hope into an enjoyable read.

My favorite characters were 'Pa and Ma' Creeger and Cora. I would have loved even more focus on them...or another book! I know that not all characters have their ends tied up in a story, but I did wonder what happened to a few of the residents, and felt a bit disappointed that I didn't know.

Although I had a difficult time finding time to sit down with her newest book (read: abundant garden harvest and canning, start of homeschooling, etc!) and it took me longer than usual to finish, Kim delivered what I've come to expect from her: appropriate Biblical application woven into a pleasing storyline.

AND FOR YOU, a peek into the book:

What Once Was Lost

Chapter 1

Brambleville, Kansas
Mid-February 1890

"Amen.” Her prayer complete, Christina Willems raised her head. Even after a full year of leading the residents of the poor farm in saying grace, she gave a little start as her gaze fell on Papa’s empty chair at the far end of the table. Loneliness smote her, as familiar as the smooth maple tabletop beneath her folded hands. Would she ever adjust to her dear father’s absence?

To cover the rush of melancholy, she reached for the closest serving bowl, which was heaped with snowy mashed potatoes, and forced a smile. “Herman, would you please carve the goose? Louisa did such a beautiful job roasting it. I’m eager to see if it tastes as good as it looks.”

Louisa McLain, one of the two widowed sisters-in-law who had lived beneath the poor farm’s roof for the past four years, tittered at Christina’s compliment. “Now, Christina, you know roasting a goose is a simple task. But bringing one down so we can all enjoy such a treat? We owe Wes our thanks for his skill with a shotgun.”

Wes Duncan’s wide, boyish face blushed scarlet, and he ducked his head but not before he flashed Louisa a shy grin.

Herman Schwartz took the carving knife and fork and rose slowly, his arthritic joints unfolding by increments. Light from the brass gas lamp hanging above the table flashed on the knife’s blade as he pressed it to the goose’s crispy skin. While Herman carved, the others began passing around the bowls of potatoes, gravy, and home-canned vegetables grown in their own garden.

Young Francis Deaton watched Herman’s progress with unblinking eyes, licking his lips in anticipation. He nudged his sister, Laura, with his elbow. “Lookit that, Laura. Finally get somethin’ ’sides pork for supper! Ain’t it gonna be good?”

His mother set down the bowl of boiled carrots and gave the back of Francis’s head a light whack. Francis yelped and rubbed the spot as Alice shook her finger in her son’s face. “Shame on you. We should be thankful for every bit of food the good Lord sees fit to give us, whether it be goose, pork, or gruel. Now apologize to Miss Willems for complaining.”

Francis, his lips set in a pout, mumbled, “Sorry, Miss Willems.”

Christina accepted the boy’s apology with a nod and a smile. She well understood Francis’s delight in the succulent goose. The poor farm residents consumed a steady diet of pork because pigs were the most economical animals to raise and butcher. They hadn’t enjoyed a meal such as this in months—not since she’d evicted a ne’er-do-well named Hamilton Dresden for trying to sneak into Alice’s room one night. The man had been lazy, shirking jobs rather than contributing to the poor farm’s subsistence, but he’d been handy with a rifle, and their table had benefited from his good aim. Yet she didn’t regret sending him packing. She’d rather eat beans and bacon seven days a week and feel that her charges were safe than enjoy wild game and have to worry about illicit shenanigans.

Their plates full, everyone picked up their forks and partook of the feast. While they ate, easy conversation floated around the table, covering the whine of a cold wind outside. It sounded as if a storm was brewing, but Christina had no concerns. The sturdy limestone construction of the towering three-story house could withstand Kansas wind, rain, hail, and snow. How she loved this house and the security it provided her and the needy individuals who resided beneath the roof of the Brambleville Asylum for the Poor. And what a unique group of needy now filled the chairs.

Louisa assisted Tommy Kilgore, the little blind boy who’d been deposited on the poor farm steps two years ago, and her sister-in-law, Rose, saw to the seven-year-old orphaned twins, Joe and Florie Alexander. Their newest arrival, a quiet young woman named Cora Jennings, who claimed her mother had cast her out, slipped from her chair and circled the table, refilling coffee cups.

On the opposite side of the long table, Wes helped himself to a second serving of corn and then ladled more gravy on Harriet Schwartz’s plate. Observing the simple-minded man’s solicitude for the elderly woman, Christina couldn’t help but smile. Then she swallowed a chuckle when Francis stole a piece of meat from his sister’s plate, earning a reprimand from his mother.

Christina held her fork idle beside her plate and simply basked in the feeling of family represented by this ragtag assortment of discarded humanity. Love swelled in her breast for every one of the people sharing her table, from chubby little Joe to gray-headed Herman. Oh, Father… A prayer formed effortlessly within her heart. Thank You that even though Mama and Papa are with You now instead of with me, I am not alone. I will always have my residents who bring me such joy and fulfillment.

“Miss Willems?” Wes’s voice pulled Christina from her reflections. “Ain’t there no bread? Need it to soak up my gravy.”

Christina gave a rueful shake of her head. “No. We used the last of it at lunch. But don’t worry. I mixed dough this afternoon, and before I retire this evening, I’ll bake enough loaves to carry us through the coming week. We’ll have bread with every meal tomorrow.”

Rose turned her pert gaze in Christina’s direction. “Would you like my help with the bread baking?”

The residents shared the operations of the poor farm to the extent their age and abilities allowed. Despite Rose’s perky tone, her shoulders drooped with tiredness from dusting furniture and mopping the oak floors of the rambling house that afternoon. Christina squeezed the older woman’s hand. “Bless you for your willingness, but I’ll see to the bread making myself. And I’ll see to the supper cleanup, as well.” A soft mutter of protests rose, but Christina waved her hands and stilled the voices. “No, no, you’ve all done more than enough work today.”

The others returned to eating with no further arguments. Satisfied, Christina pressed her fork into the mound of potatoes on her plate. Ultimately, the Brambleville Asylum for the Poor was her responsibility, just as it had once been her father’s. She would honor his memory by meeting the needs of her charges as well as Papa had.

“Miss Willems. Miss Willems, wake up…”

The persistent voice cut through Christina’s dreams, rousing her from a sound sleep. She blinked into the gray-shrouded room. A small shape in a white nightshirt, giving the appearance of an apparition, leaned over her bed. One of the children. Although weary, Christina chose a kind tone. “Yes, who is it?”

Hands pawed at the edge of the mattress. “It’s me, ma’am.”

Tommy… He no doubt needed someone to escort him to the outhouse. “Couldn’t you rouse Francis?” Although Christina had assigned Francis the task of being Tommy’s eyes, the nine-year-old often shirked his duty. Especially at night.

“No, ma’am. C’mon. We gotta hurry.” Urgency underscored Tommy’s tone.

Tossing aside her covers, she swung her bare feet over the edge of the mattress. The boy danced in place as she tugged on her robe over her nightgown and pushed her feet into her unbuttoned shoes. Regardless of Tommy’s need, the February night was cold. Finally she took his arm. “All right, Tommy, let’s go to the outhouse.”

He pulled loose, stumbling sideways. “No! We gotta get everybody out!”

Fuzzy-headed from exhaustion—she’d plodded up the two flights of stairs to her attic room and tumbled into bed well after midnight—Christina caught hold of Tommy’s shoulders and gave him an impatient shake. “Tommy, you aren’t making sense. What—”

“I smell smoke! There’s a fire.” Hysteria raised the boy’s pitch and volume. He clutched at her hands with icy fingers. “Please, ma’am, we gotta get everybody an’ get out!”

Frowning, Christina sniffed the air. Only a slight hint of charred wood teased her nostrils. Tommy’s sense of smell was heightened—certainly a result of his inability to see. She’d kept the stove burning late. In all likelihood the boy smelled the leftover coals and mistakenly believed a fire raged. She adopted a soothing tone. “Calm down, Tommy. I’m sure—”

“Miss Willems, please…” The boy began to sob, his body quivering. “We gotta get out, ma’am. We gotta get out now!”

As Christina began to offer more assurance, a screech rent the air, followed by a shout. “Fire! Fire!” The clatter of footsteps sounded on the stairs. Then Cora burst into the room and threw herself against Christina. “Kitchen’s on fire!” she gasped.

Chills exploded across Christina’s body. Curling one hand around Tommy’s thin arm and the other around Cora’s shoulder, she aimed both of them toward the gaping door. At the top of the narrow stairway leading to the second floor, she pressed Tommy into Cora’s care. “Take him out and stay outside. I’ll get the others.” Trusting Cora to follow her directions, she hurried down the stairs. Papa’s silver watch, which hung on a chain around her neck, bounced painfully against her chest, and she paused to tuck it beneath the neck of her gown before proceeding.

Her worn soles slid on the smooth wooden steps, but she kept her footing and charged through the upstairs hallway, banging on doors and hollering, “Fire! Grab whatever you can and get out! Everyone out!”

Doors popped open. Panicked voices filled the air. The pounding of feet on pine floorboards competed with cries of alarm. Assured that everyone was alerted and moving, Christina hurried to the ground floor. Smoke created a murky curtain, but she fought her way through it and flung the front door open. Frigid night air swept in, blessedly sweet, but a whoosh sounded from the opposite side of the house. Flames exploded behind the kitchen doorway, then attacked the wooden frame, taking on the appearance of dancing tongues. Would the floorboards catch fire and carry those hungry flames to the front door?
- See more at:

Thank you to Kim and Waterbrook Multnomah through Blogging for Books for sending me a copy to read and review!

Also reviewed on Amazon and Christianbook.

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**DISCLOSURE: I was given a free product in exchange for an honest review. Please read my full disclosure policy HERE.**

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Whispers on the Prairie by Vickie McDonough

Today's featured author from FIRST is:

and her book:

(Pioneer Promises Volume 1)
Whitaker House (June 17, 2013)

The last thing Sarah Marshall wanted was to leave Chicago and travel the dusty Santa Fe Trail, but when her uncle demands she help her feeble aunt, she can’t refuse. Her aunt had taken Sarah in after her parents died. She becomes stranded at the Harper Stage Stop in Kansas, one of the first stops on Santa Fe Trail, and her presence causes a stir. Ethan Harper’s well-ordered life is thrown into turmoil with his two brothers and every unmarried male in the county lining up to woo Miss Sarah whom Ethan views as an uppity city girl. Is it because she’s the wrong woman for his brother—or the right one for himself?

I've only read one book of Vickie's – The Anonymous Bride, and really enjoyed her style. Books 2 and 3 of the Boardinghouse Brides are on my shelf, but have you ever seen my shelves? My TBR (to-be-read) pile only gets taller and taller by the day (last check...124 books and counting – and that's just on my living room shelves, didn't even bother checking my 'upstairs' books)! Anyway, it's hard to choose when I have breaks between review books!

So...I had a chance to review Vickie's newest book, Whispers on the Prairie, and that meant a book of hers went to the top of the TBR pile!

Vickie's style was as enjoyable as I remember! I didn't really think Sarah was Miss Priss – never felt much of her 'citified' history to make a good foundation for that argument. She seemed willing to pitch in with wagon train and household chores and was a good cook (something sophisticated girls in historical books can't seem to do). She just seemed like a sweet girl who had many things go wrong in her young life.

I loved the tension of the three brothers with one pretty girl in the house. Who will win her heart? And, I loved that Mrs. Harper seemed to know just which son liked Sarah, and encouraged him without being pushy.

I did think the ending was a bit hurried – not in the exciting don't-let-her-get-away way, but I didn't expect Sarah to yell to – I won't say which brother! – and declare her love... She didn't seem the type to be so forward, when she didn't think he liked her!

Regardless, Whispers on the Prairie was sweet and tender, with some fun and seriousness – just the kind of western-wagon-train-prairie-settlers romance I enjoy! I hope the rest of Vickie's Pioneer Promises series deals with the other 2 Harper brothers! I liked that whole family and want to hear more!

AND FOR YOU, a peek into the book:

March 1870

The toddler’s whimpers rose to an ear-splitting scream as the little girl pushed against the chest of the woman holding her captive.

“Here, let me have her, Abigail.” Sarah Marshall reached for Mary, and her friend handed over the fussy child. The girl persisted in her cries, so Sarah crooned to her, swaying in time to a waltz playing in her mind as she rubbed circles on the toddler’s back.

“I don’t see how you can have such patience with her. That obstinate child cries more than all the others in this orphanage combined.” Abigail bent down and reached for a handsome three-year-old boy, who came rushing toward her with a big smile that showed his dimples. “Personally,” Abigail raised her voice over Mary’s ruckus, “I prefer the quiet ones.”

Sarah smiled. “I prefer the needy ones.” She leaned her cheek against Mary’s head. “All is well, little one. All is well.”

After a few more minutes, the wails finally subsided, and the girl began to relax. She sniffled, her whole body shaking as she finally fell into an exhausted sleep.

“Poor little one.” Sarah’s heart nearly broke for the child, recently orphaned by the death of her mother. At least, at such a young age, she stood a chance to adapt more easily than Sarah had when her parents died. Though the accident that claimed their lives had happened over a decade ago, she still missed her father’s big smile and her mother’s comforting arms.

“You’ll make a good mother one day.” Mrs. Rayburn leaned against the door frame, looking tired.

“Are you sure you don’t want to move in here?”

Sarah smiled. “If my aunt was in better health, you know I would take you up on your offer. And I do hope to be a mother someday. If I’m good, as you say, it will be only because I learned from the best.”
Mrs. Rayburn swiped her hand in the air, but Sarah could tell the comment pleased her. If not for the generous care of the well-to-do widow, the six orphaned children who resided under her roof would most likely still be out on the cold Chicago streets, begging for scraps to eat, working for some cruel taskmaster—or worse.

Abigail glided to the center of the bedroom that had been converted into a nursery, holding Tommy on her hip, and pretended to dance with him. “Sarah may take a giant step in the direction of motherhood this very night.”

“Abigail!” Heat marched across Sarah’s cheeks as she thought of Walt and how he’d hinted at proposing—again—at her birthday dinner tonight. “I don’t want that news getting out.”

“Why not?” Abigail spun the boy in a circle, eliciting a giggle. “You aren’t going to turn the poor fellow down again, are you?”

Sarah glared at her best friend, wishing she would learn when to hush. She hoisted Mary higher on her chest and carried her to the adjoining bedroom. Stopping beside Mary’s bed, she rocked the girl from side to side to make sure she was asleep. Though she would never admit it to Abigail, the toddler’s wails did grate on her nerves from time to time, especially when she hadn’t slept well the night before. Holding her breath, she lowered Mary into her bed and then pulled the small quilt over her.

Sarah kept her hand ready to pat Mary’s back, should she stir. Thankfully, she didn’t. Straightening, Sarah checked on the two napping babies. She then tiptoed across the big room to adjust the blanket covering Ian, the six-month-old whose father had deposited him on Mrs. Rayburn’s doorstep last fall. The poor man had lost his wife and couldn’t care for an infant. Sarah’s heart ached for each one of the youngsters. She knew how hard life could be without parents. Still, she counted herself among the lucky ones—she’d been taken in by family, though she hadn’t lived in a house as fine as Mrs. Rayburn’s mansion.

Bending, Sarah filled her apron skirt with rag dolls, balls, and other toys, then deposited them in the toy basket as the mantel clock in the parlor chimed two o’clock. She tiptoed out of the nursery and back into the playroom.

“Time for you girls to head home.” Mrs. Rayburn crossed the room and clapped her hands. “Tommy, would you like to hear a story?”

The three-year-old lunged into the older woman’s arms. She hugged him and then set him down. “My, but you’re getting heavy.”

“Too much porridge, I imagine.” Grinning, Sarah turned to Abigail. “Are you leaving now, too?”

“Yes, Papa is sending his driver for me. See you tomorrow, Mrs. Rayburn.” Abigail waved good-bye as she walked from the room. She stopped in the doorway and faced Sarah. “Do you want a ride to your uncle’s shop?”

“Thank you, but I’ll walk.”

Tommy ran out of the nursery, lifted his little hand, and waved. Mrs. Rayburn followed him into the upstairs parlor and took hold of his hand. “I don’t know how I’d manage without you girls and your friends who volunteer in the evenings. I fear I’m getting too old to manage so many young children.”

Mrs. Rayburn had said the same thing for the past two years, and yet she hadn’t turned Mary away when a neighbor had brought her last week. Still, Sarah couldn’t help wondering if the day would come when the kind woman would feel it necessary to close her door to the orphans. What would happen to them then?

She and Abigail donned their cloaks and left the warmth of the cozy home behind as they stepped out into the blustery chill of March. The gusty wind off Lake Michigan whipped at Sarah’s skirts, and the gloomy sky released a light drizzle. Abigail’s driver stepped out from under the shelter of a nearby tree and opened the door of her carriage.

“Are you sure you won’t let us give you a ride? It’s a miserable day to be out.”

“Thank you, but I’ll be fine. I’m headed home, anyway, and that’s the opposite direction for you.”

“So, you’re not clerking for your uncle this afternoon?” Abigail accepted her driver’s hand and climbed into the buggy. “How did you get out of doing that?” She sat, leaning toward Sarah, her eyebrows lifted.

“I’m going home to help Aunt Emma get things ready for my birthday dinner.” Sarah turned so the wind was at her back and wrapped her fist around the edges of her cloak to hold it closed. “You’re still coming tonight?”

Abigail nodded, grinning. “I wouldn’t miss seeing Walt propose again. I don’t know why you don’t just accept. Your uncle will probably throw you out one of these days, and then where will you be?” She motioned to her driver, who closed the door and scurried up to his seat.

Sarah walked quickly toward State Street. She hadn’t missed how Abigail had poked her with her barbed comment about her uncle casting her out. That very possibility had been in the back of her mind. Uncle Harvey had barely tolerated her presence all these years. He’d never wanted children and wasn’t happy when his wife’s only sister died, leaving behind a daughter. It was a miracle the stingy man had agreed to let her live with them in the first place.

She blew out a sigh of relief at the sight of the horse-drawn trolley, just a block away. Hurrying to the middle of the street, she waited until it drew near, then grabbed the rail and stepped aboard. The sides of the carriage blocked the wind, to a degree, but the chilly air still seeped inside, bringing with it the aromas of baking bread and roasting meat.

The rain picked up, and she was glad she’d decided not to walk home. She stared out the window at the Chicago city streets, teeming with horses and buggies, fancy carriages, freight wagons, and even a man pulling a handcart. Busy people bustled up and down the boardwalks. She loved this town and hoped never to have to leave it.

If she married Walt, most likely she wouldn’t. Yet she struggled with the notion of being his wife. He was a good friend, yes, and she’d hate to disappoint him. Still, shouldn’t a woman have stronger feelings than friendship for the man she married?

Her uncle would be beside himself if she turned Walt down again. Maybe she should just say yes this time. At least then she’d be assured of having a home of her own—and of freeing herself from the heavy sense of owing her uncle. One would think the hours she’d spent doing chores in his home and clerking at his watch repair shop would be sufficient to cover any debt she owed, but she could never do enough to please Uncle Harvey. Still, she was grateful to have lived in his home these last twelve years. She should be satisfied and not wish for more.

And yet she did. She longed to marry a man who made her laugh like her papa had, one whose broad shoulders were strong enough to protect her. But she hadn’t yet met that man. Maybe she never would. Maybe she needed to give up on wishing and just be satisfied with Walt.


Sarah sat back and rested her hands in her lap, smiling in satisfaction with the meal. She stole a glance at the sideboard loaded with food she’d helped her aunt and the cook prepare—roast leg of mutton and currant jelly, mashed potatoes, creamed spinach, fried parsnips, and glazed carrots. Just the thought of it all made her stomach ache, and they had not even served dessert yet.

Walt wagged a finger at the servant standing at attention.

The servant hurried to the table from his post in the corner of the room. “Sir?”

“Bring me some more of those parsnips.”

Sarah winced at his commanding tone, then looked to the head of the table. Uncle Harvey was seated next to a stranger—Mr. Gibbons—who’d appeared at the door just before they’d sat down to dinner. The two were having a private discussion, but Sarah had overheard enough to know it was about the benefits of living on the western frontier. She couldn’t imagine what anyone found interesting about the untamed prairie, with its wild Indians and abundance of dust.

At the other end of the table, Lizzie Monahan and Betty Phillips engaged her aunt in a lively chat about the latest styles in fashion, while Abigail sat infatuated with Howard Shibley, Walt’s best friend, who babbled on about a recent report that the population of Chicago had reached 300,000. Sarah nearly rolled her eyes.

“What was that look for?” Walt dabbed his lips with his napkin.

Sarah leaned closer to him, so not to be heard. “If Howard has any hope of winning Abigail’s heart, he should find a more interesting topic of conversation.”

“I doubt romance has even entered his mind.”

“Obviously.” Sarah shook her head.

Walt rested his chin in his palm and caught her gaze, his hazel eyes gleaming. His ash-blond hair had been slicked down and combed back from his forehead. “Speaking of romance, are you ever going to agree to marry me?”

She sucked in a sharp breath and glanced around the table once more. Nobody cast an odd look her way, so she assumed that no one had overheard the oh-so-unromantic proposal. She had pretty much made up her mind to say yes, but his casual manner of asking made her want to shake her head. Schooling her features and straightening her posture, she replied. “I don’t know.”

Walt blinked, obviously taken aback. Seconds later, he scowled, then glanced across the room and motioned to the servant again. The man rushed to his side. “I seem to be out of parsnips again.”

Why couldn’t Walt have just kept quiet? She liked him well enough, but his frequent proposals were producing the opposite of their intended effect; they made her more inclined to avoid him than marry him. She snuck a glance at Abigail, still trying so hard to get Howard to notice her, while the man, clearly oblivious, just kept spouting his knowledge.

Sarah peeked at Walt again. He wasn’t particularly handsome, but he wasn’t ugly, either. He would be a good provider, being the sole heir to his father’s shoe factory, but she had a feeling that life with him would be just as boring as their evenings together. She wanted to marry—to finally be free from her uncle’s overpowering presence and stern glare—but she wanted a man who thought she was the only woman in the world for him. Yes, Walt seemed to feel that way, but something held her back. Was there something wrong with her?

An hour later, she stood at the door to see Walt on his way. Everyone else had already gone.
Walt hung his head and twisted his hat in his hands. “I…uh, won’t ask you again.” He lifted his gaze to hers, pain evident in his eyes.

She’d hurt him, and that was the last thing she’d wanted to do.

“I’m twenty-nine, Sarah. I’m ready to marry and start a family. I need to know if there’s any hope that you’ll say yes one day.”

“And I just turned nineteen—today.”

He closed his eyes and exhaled a heavy sigh. “All right. I’ll give you a few more months to make up your mind.”

Sarah bristled. What if she still didn’t have an answer? “And then?”

He stared at her with a serious, no-nonsense expression she’d never seen before. “And then I’ll be forced to look elsewhere. I mean to be married before I turn thirty.” He slapped his hat on his head and stepped out into the blustery evening wind.

She watched him jog down the steps with more purpose than usual. He wanted to get away from her, and that was just fine, as far as she was concerned. She shut the door. Some birthday party that had been.

The sound of raised voices drew her to the parlor. Her aunt and uncle rarely argued, mainly because Aunt Emma’s chronic illness made her too weary to fuss over trifles.

“Harvey, please. You can’t be serious about this.”

Sarah held her breath, all manner of ideas racing through her mind.

“You might as well come in here, Sarah. I know you’re out there.”

She jumped at her uncle’s stern command and was tempted to slither away, but her curiosity forced her to do as bidden. “I was just saying good night to Walt,” she explained as she entered the room.

“Sit down. I have something to tell you.”

Aunt Emma didn’t look up from the sofa but anxiously wrung her hands.

Sarah sat next to her and laid a steadying hand over her aunt’s.

Her uncle paced in front of the fireplace, where a cozy blaze heated the front half of the room. Still, a shiver clawed its way down Sarah’s spine. Whatever news she was about to hear, it wouldn’t be good, from the looks of it.

Uncle Harvey stopped in front of the hearth, rested one hand atop the mantel, and stared into the flames. “You met Gibbons tonight.” He straightened and stared at her, an unreadable expression in his brown eyes. “He’s a wagon master. Been leading wagon trains down the Santa Fe Trail for the past twenty years.”

Sarah’s thoughts whirled. Again she wondered about her uncle’s interest in such a rugged man as Mr. Gibbons. He hadn’t even worn proper attire for a dinner party.

“Oh, dear. Oh, dear.” Aunt Emma fanned her face. “I fear I’m not feeling well.”

Sarah’s uncle narrowed his gaze at his wife. “You may be dismissed as soon as I’m done.”

Aunt Emma gave him a meek nod, keeping her head down.

Uncle Harvey cleared his throat, drawing Sarah’s gaze again. “The truth of the matter is that my brother has written me from Kansas City to inform me that he’s moving his family to the New Mexico Territory, by way of the Santa Fe Trail.”

“New Mexico?” Sarah pressed her lips closed, knowing her uncle wouldn’t appreciate her outburst. She sidled a glance at her aunt. Why was she so distraught? Turning her attention back to her uncle, she voiced the question that wouldn’t go away. “Why would your brother want to move to such an uncivilized place?”

Uncle Harvey’s nostrils flared, and Aunt Emma uttered a pitiful moan.

“Because there is great opportunity there,” her uncle insisted. “Bob says that one day, the New Mexico Territory will become a state. He has been to Santa Fe and plans to return to open a mercantile there.”
Sarah blinked as she absorbed the information. The truth finally dawned, and she gasped, staring wide-eyed at her uncle. “Surely, you don’t mean to go there, too.”

He lifted his chin, revealing his wrinkled, white neck from its hiding place beneath his beard. “I most certainly do. Chicago has dozens of watchmakers. According to Bob, Santa Fe doesn’t have a single one. I plan to set up shop next to his store. We’ll build a door between the two, so that we can assist each other when things get busy.”

Sarah could see her well-ordered life spiraling out of control. She’d already lost her parents. How could she stand to lose Aunt Emma, too? Sarah stood and started pacing the room. “You already have as much business as you can handle. And how could you expect Aunt Emma to endure such a difficult trip?”

“I’ve talked to the doctor, and he says the warmer climate will be much better for her. Lydia will be there to take care of her if she falls ill.”

Falls ill? Didn’t he realize his wife was nearly always unwell? She’d been sickly ever since she’d survived a bout of scarlet fever a year before Sarah had come to live with them. The sickness had left her frail and had robbed her of her hearing in her right ear.

Sarah doubted Aunt Emma could survive such a rugged journey. “Won’t you reconsider, Uncle?”
He shook his head. “My mind is made up.”

“And what about me?” Could she stay in this big house alone? He’d always expected her to pay her own way, and she could hardly afford a place as nice as this two-story brownstone.

He shrugged. “I expect you to marry Walt, and then you’ll be his responsibility. I’ve already sold the house, so you can’t stay here.”

Her aunt gasped and stood. “How could you do such a thing without consulting me?”

Sarah’s heart ached for her aunt. How could Uncle Harvey be so insensitive?

“Now, Emma. It’s my place to make such decisions. You’ll see once we arrive in Santa Fe that this move was for the best.”

Emma screeched a heart-wrenching sob and ran from the room, her dark green silk dress swishing loudly.

Sarah had never once stood up to her intimidating uncle before. This time, concern for her aunt stiffened her spine, and she turned on him. “How could you be so selfish? Such a trip will probably kill Aunt Emma! Is that what you want?”

His nostrils flared. “She is no concern of yours.” He walked to the dark window and stared out through the panes. “I never wanted you to come here, you know. I never wanted children. They’re nothing but a nuisance. I will concede that you’ve been good for Emma, but she needs to learn to get along without you.” He turned back to her, his eyes narrowed. “Marry Walt. He’s a decent fellow.”

She’d always known her uncle hadn’t wanted her, but hearing the words spoken out loud pained her as badly as if she’d been stabbed in the heart. Out of respect for her aunt, she didn’t lash out at him as she wanted to. “I’m not ready to marry yet.” Uncle Harvey may have housed her all these years, but that didn’t give him the right to force her to wed a man she didn’t love. “I…I can find a boardinghouse to stay in.”

He smirked. “And how do you intend to pay for it?”

A wave of panic washed over her. She had a few coins her aunt had given her—nowhere near enough to live on, even for a short time. “I’ll find another job. Since I’ve worked for you for so long, I’ve honed my office skills and have plenty of experience.”

“Hmpf. What employer would hire a female clerk when he can so easily find a man to do the task?”
Sarah dropped back onto the sofa, realizing the truth of his statement. What would she do? Where would she live? How could she manage without her aunt’s loving guidance? The last time she’d felt as empty and confused as she did now was when she’d learned that her parents had died.

Quick footsteps sounded outside the room, and Sarah and her uncle both looked to the door. Her aunt had returned, her eyes damp, her face red and splotchy. With a trembling hand, she held a handkerchief below her nose. Sarah longed to embrace her aunt, but she would wait until her uncle left them alone.
“I see it’s too late to change your mind,” she said, her voice quavering. “You’ve wounded me deeply, Harvey. I hope you know that.”

He started toward her, his expression softening, and took her hands. “Haven’t I always taken care of you, darling? Have you ever lacked for anything?”

Her aunt didn’t respond, but Sarah could tell by her expression that she didn’t share her husband’s perspective. Steeling her gaze, Emma stared up at him with rare determination in her eyes. “I won’t go without Sarah.”

“What?” Sarah and her uncle exclaimed at once.

“I won’t go unless she goes, too.” Emma hiked her chin.

Sarah didn’t know what to say. This was the first time she had seen Aunt Emma stand up to her husband, and she couldn’t bear to tell her that her efforts were wasted. But the last thing Sarah cared to do was leave Chicago and travel on a wagon train to Santa Fe.

Even marriage to Walt would be preferable to that.

Thank you to Vickie and Whitaker House through FIRST blog tours for sending me a copy to read and review!

Also reviewed on Amazon and Christianbook.

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**DISCLOSURE: I was given a free product in exchange for an honest review. Please read my full disclosure policy HERE.**
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