My Heart Belongs in Castle Gate, Utah: Leanna’s Choice by Angie Dicken ~ Review

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My Heart Belongs in Castle Gate, Utah: Leanna’s Choice by Angie Dicken

I have to say that I have read several of this series, “My Heart Belongs in…” by now and I love all the ones I’ve read. My Heart Belongs in Castle Gate, Utah is another great book. It is a historical fiction book covering a time period about 100 years ago when immigrants coming into America were the Greeks suffering from a drought. Their presence was filled with conflict because they often filled in wherever they were needed, even when that gap was caused by workers on strike protesting poor working conditions. As a result, there were demonstrations and riots protesting these interim workers, and Greeks were looked down upon in disdain.

Leanna McKee was a recent newlywed whose husband was killed in a coal mining accident. She had been raised in Boston as a debutante, but rebelled against her upbringing because she was incensed about the treatment of immigrants and their poor working conditions. As a result she broke away from her family, who gained their wealth from such factories, eloped with an workingman and became a teacher of immigrant children in Utah. Her husband’s death left her in a town filled with male mine workers and few other women. She was determined to leave the area and began looking for employment somewhere else.

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Alex Pappas was a friend of Leanna’s husband, working with him in the mines. He befriended Leanna and employed her to watch his niece and nephew before and after school while their family was busy with work. An attraction began to grow between the two, one a widower and the other a widow. But circumstances and prejudices seem to work against them all the time. The Pappas family enjoyed their friendship with Leanna, but would not approve of anything more because she was not Greek.

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The first part of the book begins slowly. We get acquainted with the history of each of the principle characters and their personalities first before the situation changes. I really enjoyed learning something of the Greek culture. Both Alex and Brianna are haunted by their past failings. Alex has turned his back on God after the death of his wife, to his family’s distress, but remains stalwart in supporting his family’s move to America to begin their lives again. He fights against his attraction to Leanna because prejudice against them being together is very strong and could lead to danger for his family.

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Toward the end of the book circumstances looked bleak, and I began to feel the despair of the characters as they fought against unfair treatment and snobbery. There were some interesting twists in the plot and the tension was well built. The author had me rushing to the very end in suspense to see how it was going to work out.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from Barbour Publishing as part of the Barbour Review Crew program on behalf of the author. I was not required to write a review, positive or otherwise. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

 

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A Miser, A Manger, A Miracle: The First Christmas Carol by Marianne Jordan ~ Review

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A Miser, A Manager, A Miracle: The First Christmas Carol by Marianne Jordan

What a marvelous adaptation of the Christmas Carol by Dickens! I’ve never heard of anyone taking the Christmas story and adapting it this way. Better yet, this book came about as a result of a play written by the author for her church production. What the author has done is to flesh out the story for the readers. She has done this so well that at times I was walking with Ebenezer in his soul searching journey led by three different angels.

Ebenezer was the Inn keeper in the tiny town of Bethlehem. He was delighted at the opportunity to earn a great deal of money when the Romans decreed that the descendants of David register in their home town to be counted and taxed. Ebenezer loved making money. He didn’t care how he accomplished that or who he hurt on the way. He considered himself above the rabble anyway. As people crowded into the small spaces of the Inn, Ebenezer had one room left and he was holding onto it to save it for a rich customer who could afford his lavish rates. One couple he turned away was a man and his pregnant wife.

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Then that night the angel Gabriel appeared to him in his home. He would be visited that night by three more angels, in an effort to redeem his corrupted soul. First he visited his past. Then the present. But nothing touched his heart until he started to get to know a man called Jesus. Even the man’s teaching didn’t touch his heart until he witnessed the scourging and the crucifixion of this innocent one. Finally he was a broken and repentant man. For the first time in his life, he wanted to save this man’s agony by offering his life for Jesus’ life. Then he was told this was Jesus’ choice, to die for him, the wretched, greedy Ebenezer.

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Don’t let the familiarity of the story scheme distract you. The author has done a marvelous job of allowing us to see life from Ebenezer’s eyes. There are many other elements of the Christmas Carol you’ll find familiar when you read this book.

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All of this enhances the experience Ebenezer lived in his one night of revelation. Since we already know the outcome of the story, and even the way it is being told, the joy is in the details. And the author did a wonderful job of telling this story with realistic detail and heart. I thoroughly enjoyed this story. I hope you do too.

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Hang Your Heart on Christmas: A Western Romance Novella by Heather Blanton ~ Review

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Hang your Heart on Christmas: A Historical Western Christian Romance (The Brides of Evergreen Bk. 1) by Heather Blanton

You can enjoy this short, historical novella in just a few short hours. This is a story that only involves Christmas incidentally. Instead, it is a book about struggling within ourselves with our short-comings. Two people are hurting badly. One comes from innocence imposed upon. The other from a thirst for vengeance until life contains no meaning at all. Both are trying to escape their realities. Both hurting parties meet in the most peaceful town in the old West. Will they help each other heal their wounds? Or will those wounds drive the other away?

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Robert “Dent” Hernandez was the son of a US Marshall gunned down by a bad guy. Dent determines he will find his father’s killer and get vengeance for his loss. That sets him on the trail for 8 years, becoming a US Marshall himself, hunting down criminals and bringing them to justice while he searched. In the last leg of his journey, he ended up in his home town of Evergreen, Wyoming when tragedy strikes. The man who had become a substitute father to him, Sheriff Ben Hayes, was shot to death by a low life in Dent’s charge. During the investigation of the sheriff’s death, the judge placed Dent as interim sheriff. He doesn’t want to stay, but he has no choice.

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Amy Tate had come from the East, sent by her doctor to Evergreen. He assured her that she was heading to the West’s most peaceful town where there were more churches than saloons. She was put in old Doc Woodruff’s care for awhile because she was recovering from what we would call PTSD today. And she was to become the town’s new schoolteacher. Unfortunately, the first moment she stepped off the train, she was grabbed by the man who shot the sheriff and fainted dead away. That was not a reassuring beginning to her new life in this small town. And at the center of the trouble was the man called “Dent”.

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This is a fairly quick paced story of the old wild west. It begins with the death of the main character’s old friend in his home town. Dent was beginning to unravel. His story includes a mystery, lots of self searching, a light romance, some old friends, and a ranch Dent didn’t want to settle on. Amy too was going through a transition in her life as she recovers from an attack back East. Both are encouraged and aided by an older couple, the Doctor and Mrs. Woodruff.

Amy has faith in God that He will help her heal. In the meantime, she feels drawn to also help the interim sheriff in his quest for meaning in life. She believes God could help him heal his wounded spirit if only he would let Him. Their romance is the light touch in the book. It pretty much takes a back seat to the main issue of inner healing that Dent needs to move on with life. Overall, this is a great short story with enough action to move it along nicely. The romance is not overpowering, while the spiritual applications are light but significant to the story line. I highly recommend this book if you are looking for a short, powerful holiday read.

 

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Silent Star by Tracie Peterson ~ Review

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Silent Star by Tracie Peterson

Two lonely, hurting persons find each other in the midst of a war-saddened era in American history. What a beautifully written story. This author delves into the psyche of human nature, that when people hurt, they hurt others. Sometimes they don’t even realize they are dumping their hurt on someone else until a turn of events brings it to their attention.

Andy Gilbert was a young man who lived alone in his parents’ house. His mother had recently died of cancer and he missed her. When his father died earlier in a car accident, Andy had had to quit school to earn a living and take care of his mother. He became a telegram delivery boy. At a time when all his friends and schoolmates had gone off to fight in the Great War (WWII), he was forced to stay home, classified as 4F because of a painful foot injury. However, the physical pain was nothing compared to the change of attitudes the townspeople of this small Pennsylvania village had toward him. Sometimes his telegrams brought bad news to families with sons, cousins, and nephews at war. So now he was avoided and shunned, and superstition overtook small town closeness. It was a sad plight all the delivery boys shared. But none felt it as strongly as Andy did. He was truly alone.

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Estella Nelson was a widow who had moved in with her mother after her husband’s untimely and sudden death 10 years ago. Now that her mother had passed on, she had moved back to her hometown. One day she came across a young man who was obviously distressed, grieving at his parents’ graves. This chance meeting became the beginning of a deep friendship where each fulfilled a need the other had for acceptance and companionship.

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All wrapped together is the poignancy, the tragedy and meanness of human loss and sadness, the Christmas spirit in the true sense of the word, and victory in overcoming such human frailty. The very claim that God has overcome the pain in the world is encapsulated in this holiday short story. If Christmas means even the slightest bit of loneliness and sadness to you, I think you will experience the essence of God’s love while reading this book. I highly recommend it.

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Darcy’s Christmas Wish: A Pride and Prejudice Variation by Penelope Swan ~ Review

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Darcy’s Christmas Wish: A Pride and Prejudice Variation by Penelope Swan

From time to time, I enjoy variations of favorite stories. This one is a variation of the time period within Pride and Prejudice. For example, it begins about 15 years before our favorite story by Jane Austin. Elizabeth was visiting with her aunt and uncle Gardiner because Jane, Mary, Kitty and Lydia had all succumbed to a nasty case of the whooping cough. It was winter and cold in London on the day we are re-introduced to a young Darcy and a 7-year-old Elizabeth.

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The Gardiners were visiting Mr. Waverley and having tea while Elizabeth frolicked outside in the snow. She had wandered quite far when she discovered a young boy who had fallen into a small lake while sledding. She helped pull him out and covered him up with pine boughs before running for help. Darcy never forgot that; he remembered her eyes even though he didn’t know her name, and made a wish that Christmas that he would someday find her again to thank her for saving his life.

Decades passed and once again many of Darcy’s family were visiting with Lady Catherine and Anne, including Lord Hargreaves, Colonel Fitzwilliam and his young son George. They were celebrating Christmas with friends: Mr. Collins, his wife Charlotte and Elizabeth who was visiting with her friend. Darcy and Elizabeth had met long before this. When young George slipped outside into the deep snowy night in search of his new puppy, it seemed as if history was repeating itself.

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This is a fun short story, specifically created for the Christmas season. I thought it was a perfect addition to add to my collection of seasonal shorts, a way to remember a favorite story, while none of the added details detracted from the original. The author writes several variations of this type. I enjoyed this one very much and I recommend it to you.

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Dust Between the Stitches by Cleo Lampos ~ Review

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Dust Between the Stitches by Cleo Lampos

I have not read too many pieces of fiction that deal with the Dust Bowl era of the West. This was a welcome change of pace for me. I already enjoy historical fiction, and this book has it in spades. What I find really interesting is how well the author uses her own family’s history including boxes of letters spanning the years from 1930 to 1942. From these family heirlooms and legends, the author has crafted a wonderful work of fiction that places you right there in Colorado, on the edge of disaster, amidst people struggling for their lives. A nearly fogotten slice of history becomes alive.

Addy Meyers has just moved to Colorado from Topeka, Kansas to live with her grandfather and help him raise two young adopted children. Addy’s grandmother had just died recently and her grandfather was getting older and struggling to keep his homestead in the black. So with that in mind, she took a commission to teach in the local one room schoolhouse. She hoped to help pay the bank note with her salary. Addy didn’t know her grandfather very well, since her mother didn’t visit him very often. But she was willing to help the family.

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Jess Dettmann was also in the area for his own purposes. He owned dragline equipment and helped area farmers irrigate their fields and build storage cellars, something that was especially important during this time of drought. Addy discovered that he rents the cabin on her grandfather’s property so she doesn’t trust him at first. Men in her mother’s household were dishonest, rude, and took advantage of her. However, over time she sees Jess as a person that was willing to help her grandfather and others, so she gives him a chance to build a friendship.

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This author writes so well that I felt I was part of the family, living on a small homestead growing sugar beets, irrigating the farm, and being part of the small community, especially in the school. It helps that I had a grandmother who taught in a one room schoolhouse, that I’d lived for awhile in sugar beet country, and had a grandfather who dug his own irrigation ditches with his equipment. I’ve heard the stories and for that reason love historical fiction tales like this one.

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There’s also a touch of politics, issues that caused division among people in the area, bullying, matters of faith, the struggle to find hope and overcome discouragement. Here you beging to understand a depression era point of view. How did they survive? The book is loaded with poignant moments. It really touched my heart and fired my imagination. If this is something you would enjoy I highly recommend it.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the author. I was not required to write a review, positive or otherwise. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

 

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Hamilton Robb by Reg Quist ~ Review

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Hamilton Robb by Reg Quist

The best description of this book I can think of is a Western Plus. What I mean by that is that there is a strong element of historical fiction, focusing on the period where much of the West was still pre-state territories–around the mid-1800’s. If I could tack on a subtitle to this book it might be ‘The Making of a Man.’

Still, that tagline doesn’t quite fit. There are actually two men who come face to face, and the contrast is stark. One is pompous and proud, unfriendly to a fault, arrogant, a cattle rancher from Texas. His name says it all, Big Bob Stanton. His life theme seems to be: trample or be trampled. The main character is from Arizona, a former deputy sheriff, a talented gunman who hung up his belt, invested in a small ranch and lived a life of a good neighbor, helping others handle the hardships of life, hard-working, tough as steel and yet humble and friendly.

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There is a face off, staged by one of the worst blizzards in 1888. In history, this blizzard was known as the Children’s Blizzard or the Schoolhouse Blizzard, because it came on in mild January temperatures while children were just being released from schools across the territory. Winds kicked up 50-foot mountains of drifts and temperatures dropped suddenly to 40 below zero F with nearly no visibility during the high winds. Hundreds died, many of them children on the walk home, with heroic stories of teachers saving some of their children.

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The horrors of this storm is the pivotal point of the story. It’s where the focus is on the character development of two men and their people. This is where the story becomes riveting. While the outcome of this showdown is fairly obvious from the beginning, it’s how it is fleshed out that makes the story worth experiencing while reading. The author is meticulous enough in the details of ranch living in the Old West to make this read fascinating without becoming as dry as sawdust. Those are signs to me of a great storyteller, a great writer.

On top of those characteristics, the story is chuckle worthy. It’s not a funny tale, because the hardships of living in that time period keep out such ill-timed humor, but the book was filled with moments I could chuckle over. Tongue in cheek statements, moments of the ridiculous, sarcastic observations are all appreciated with a bit of dry wit.

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This is a man’s western, written from a man’s point of view and with an intended audience of men who enjoy a good historical fiction. I’m not a man, but I enjoyed this book anyway. There were plenty of serious moments and even tragedies, but it has a great ending, filled with hope for the future, the satisfaction of overcoming a huge obstacle. I think women can enjoy this book too. There is even a hint at a romance.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from CKN Christian Publishing on behalf of the author. I was not required to write a review, positive or otherwise. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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