Monday, December 1, 2014



    Sometime back, a friend and I were discussing my upcoming novella, State of Matrimony, to be included in the Oregon Trail Romance Collection from Barbour--release date April 2015. Since my great-grandparents came west on the Oregon Trail, my friend asked me what Christmas on the Trail would have been like. I replied that most emigrants traveling west made every effort to reach their destinations long before Christmas. Typically, families would depart from Missouri in April or May, and allow six months for the journey. Thus, they'd arrive in the fall, hopefully well before snow fell in the mountains.
    However, my great-grandparents, William and Harriet Kirk, weren't typical emigrants. They had limited funds to cover the entire journey--think ferry charges, food supplies, animal feed, etc.--so they stopped along the way to allow my great-grandfather to find work. He was an expert at handling horse teams, and most often sought jobs with the railroad lines that were pushing westward at a rapid pace.  They left Missouri on May 12, 1882, as part of one of the last great wagon train migrations. Their family consisted of themselves and their six children, who ranged in age from 14 (my grandfather, James) down to a two-year-old. 
    When the fall of 1882 arrived, instead of hastening west they turned north into Montana. Here's their story, taken from my grandfather’s memoirs:

    In September they arrived in Missoula, Montana, where the Northern Pacific Railroad was under construction. William Kirk stopped the family at a railroad construction camp about twenty miles northwest of Missoula, just inside the Flathead Indian Reservation (now called the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes). William did team and scraper work grading the roadbed for three or four weeks, then moved to another railroad site in October for a few more weeks.
    In November, they packed up and moved farther northwest to another grading job. The family set up camp on the Clark Fork River, not far from the Idaho line and about sixty miles from Missoula, still on the reservation. William and James worked on railroad construction in a narrow valley following the river until the grading was finished, well into the winter. William then spent the rest of the winter hauling freight from Missoula to railroad camps where rock work was being done along mountainsides. My grandfather remembered the temperature dropping to as much as 40 degrees below zero part of the time.
    And where was the rest of the family--Harriet and the five younger children--while husband and eldest son were on the road? They were living in a tent on the Flathead Indian Reservation. I'm assuming it was a canvas wall tent, similar to those used during the Civil War. At most, it probably would have measured 12 x 14 feet. To give you an idea, although the snow isn't as deep, above is a photo of our tent taken during one of my husband's elk hunting trips.  Picture six to eight people living inside for five months during a Montana winter.

      They had a little camp stove for cooking and heat, which kept them warm until the fire went out during the night. James remembers waking some mornings to find that water left warming on the stove when they went to sleep had frozen solid.
    My grandfather's memoirs are filled with events he witnessed during that winter. Perhaps in another blog I'll share more of his story. Unfortunately, he didn’t mention Christmas at all, which leads me to believe it was a very limited celebration.
    Under these conditions, Harriet would have done what she could to create a Christmas celebration for her family. Since William and James had access to supplies from Missoula, she had necessary staples to supplement the wild game her husband and son furnished. Perhaps their Christmas dinner consisted of a venison roast, or a roasted wild turkey. Given what she had to work with, there would have been potatoes, biscuits, gravy, and perhaps a precious orange or two from Missoula. This photo from Sunset Magazine helps me to picture my great-grandfather returning to the family tent with Christmas supplies.    

What if Harriet brought carefully packed jars of canned mincemeat or berry jam from home? Spices also travel well--cinnamon, cloves, or nutmeg would flavor sugar cookies. She may have stayed awake after the children were asleep to knit mittens or hats for them. Would William have brought any toys or books from Missoula as gifts? I wish I knew.

    For the sake of this different Christmas story, we'll picture the family together, warm, and well-fed in their tent on that special day, and let our imaginations fill in the gaps.

    What do you think they may have done to make the day special? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Review of Siri Mitchell's THE MESSENGER

In 1778 Philadelphia, Hannah Sunderland is torn between her Quaker faith, which advocates non-involvement in military issues, and the knowledge that her brother is being held in a squalid prison for dissenters against the British crown.

    Jeremiah Jones nurses a bitter enmity against the British forces--blaming their treatment of him during his time as a Colonial soldier for the loss of his arm.

    When Hannah decides to try to sneak food to her brother in prison, Jeremiah seizes on her plans as a way to get secret messages to another prisoner involved in an escape plan, Hannah's Quaker faith will not allow her to lie. How will she be able to aid Jeremiah's plan to free the prisoners without compromising her principles?

    The Messenger is a richly-detailed look at life in Colonial America during our country's war for freedom from British rule. Mitchell’s characters have enough flaws to make them believable--and likeable.

    I enjoyed this story. The historical details are meticulously researched, always a big plus. The Messenger is top-of-the-line historical fiction. I read the story sometime back, and just finished a re-read. Don’t miss this one. It's a great book to curl up with in front of a cozy fire, with a hot beverage nearby.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

My review of WHEN NIGHT COMES, by Dan Walsh

    Successful author Jack Turner returns to Culpepper to work on a new book and to serve as guest lecturer on World War II topics for his former history professor at the local university. By coincidence, Jack hits town on the same day a university student is found dead under disturbing circumstances.

    On his first evening in Culpepper, Jack has dinner with his former professor, then returns to his apartment--and experiences a shattering and inexplicable event. Forces beyond Jack's imagining are at work on the formerly peaceful campus.

    Dan Walsh's unique plot twists keep the surprises coming at breath-taking speed. When Night Comes had me in suspense with every turn of the page.  There’s much I'd like to add to this review, but I don't want to post any spoilers.

    When Night Comes is a must-read for suspense lovers. The official release date is November 1, but it's available for pre-order on your Kindle right now. Don't miss this one!

Monday, October 20, 2014

My review: BECOMING BEA, by Leslie Gould

  Bea Zook is a homebody who has few friends. Although she's of marriageable age, she's decided she'll never marry, which is an anomaly in her Amish community.

When near neighbors are overwhelmed by the birth of triplets, Bea decides to step out of her comfort zone to answer their call for help in dealing with the new babies.
After Bea goes to stay with the family, her confidence grows to the point where she begins to make friends with the other young people in her community. One person she can't stand, however, is Ben Rupp. They've been rivals ever since their school days. Ben knows all the ways to rile Bea, and she responds accordingly. Yet, they have more in common than they realize.

    Becoming Bea is an appealing story on many levels. The way the birth of the triplets impacted the family is a fascinating segment of the plot, as are Bea's own family issues.

   Readers of Leslie Gould's previous novels in The Courtship of Lancaster County series will enjoy updates on characters from Courting Cate, Adoring Addie, and Minding Molly. However, it’s not necessary to have read the previous books to enjoy Becoming Bea. I loved Bea--and Ben! This novel is one you don't want to miss.

My thanks to the author and Bethany House for my review copy.

 (As an aside, Bopplis is the Amish term used for babies. I think it's a darling name for little ones!)

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Review: WHERE TREETOPS GLISTEN, by Cara Putman, Sarah Sundin, and Tricia Goyer

In Where Treetops Glisten, the authors have written three Christmas novellas featuring one family, the Turners. In addition to the continuing family connection, the stories are further intertwined by their setting--Lafayette, Indiana--and the time period--World War II.

Cara Putman, Sarah Sundin, and Tricia Goyer are each known for their skill in writing stories set during World War II, and nowhere do these skills shine brighter than in these novellas.

 I loved the fact that the stories followed one family through the war, so when I finished reading the first novella I could pick up the continuing thread in the second and the third.

In Winter Wonderland, Cara Putman tells the story of Abigail Turner, whose beau was killed at Pearl Harbor. Abigail has vowed never to allow herself to suffer loss again. However, a hard-working young man who is struggling to support his widowed mother tempts her to soften her stance.

    I'll be Home for Christmas, Sarah Sundin's delightful novella, features Abigail's brother Pete Turner, Grace Kessler--an over-burdened young mother, and Grace's handful of a daughter, Linnie. This story is a delight on many levels. Pete and Grace each have issues to overcome, while Linnie persists in running away with the story.

    Tricia Goyer takes readers near enemy lines in Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas. Merry Turner is a nurse serving in the Netherlands, close to the German border. Merry became a nurse in order to serve her country. She hopes by her service and the distance from home that she can heal her broken and betrayed heart. Sometimes gritty, but always gripping, Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas brought me to tears a time or two.

    This is the most enjoyable Christmas collection I've ever read,,and I recommend Where Treetops Glisten highly. This book would make a wonderful gift for the readers on your list, but be sure to buy a copy for yourself.  You won’t be sorry.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

IN PERFECT TIME, by Sarah Sundin

    Lt. Kay Jobson is a flight nurse in the Army Air Force. She's beautiful, competent, and a tireless flirt. When C-47 pilot Lt. Roger Cooper crosses her path, she decides to make him another conquest. The only problem is, Roger wants nothing to do with her. His life plan is to be a drummer with a Big Band when WWII is over.
    As the two of them work together during flights between Italy and France, they each struggle to overcome the attraction that draws them to one another. Sarah Sundin is a master at writing believable wartime action scenes, and she outdoes herself with In Perfect Time. If you love heart-gripping historical fiction, don't miss this one!
    This novel is the final book in the Wings of the Nightingale series, although it's not necessary to have read the first two books in order to enjoy In Perfect Time. However, if you haven't already read With Every Letter and On Distant Shores, I highly recommend them as well.

    My thanks to the author and Revell for providing my review copy.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

LOVE COMES HOME, by Ann Gabhart

 Love Comes Home drew me in right from the beginning. It was a joy to catch up on the lives of the Merritt sisters of Rosey Corner at the end of World War II. Ann Gabhart has done a masterful job of showing the reader how residents of a typical small town reacted when their servicemen returned.  
 On the other side of the issue, the reader also experiences the feelings of those same servicemen when they attempt to integrate what they've experienced overseas with the expectations of those who've waited at home.
    Kate, Evangeline, and Victoria Merritt each have their place in the story, as does Lorena Birdsong. How these sisters learn to trust the Lord's leading over their own plans makes for a heart-warming novel. Even though these characters were introduced in Angel Sister, the first book in the series, Love Comes Home can be read as a stand-alone.
    However, after reading this one I’m sure you'll want to go back and read Angel Sister and Small Town Girl as well. Personally, I'm hoping there will be more Rosey Corner stories to follow Love Comes Home.
    I give Love Comes Home two enthusiastic thumbs up.

    My thanks to the author and Revell for providing my review copy.

Monday, September 1, 2014


  I've been invited to take part in the Writer's World Blog Tour by my super-talented author friend, Lori Benton. Here's a look at her bio and a link to her blog post from last week:

    Lori Benton, author of Burning Sky (a double Christy winner and 2014 Book of the Year) and The Pursuit of Tamsen Littlejohn, was raised east of the Appalachian Mountains, surrounded by early American and family history going back three hundred years. Her novels transport readers to the eighteenth century where she brings to life the Colonial and early Federal periods of American history. When she isn’t writing, Lori enjoys exploring beautiful Oregon with her husband.

  On this tour, each writer is invited to answer the same four questions, so here are my answers:

1. What are you working on?
    I'm in the editing stage for State of Matrimony, a novella to be included in the Oregon Trail Romance Collection from Barbour. The collection is scheduled for release in April of 2015. Stories about the Oregon Trail are of particular interest to me, since my great-grandparents came west over the trail. When he was in his eighties, my grandfather, their son, wrote a memoir of the trip.

2. How does your work differ from others in its genre?

    My novels and novellas are all set in the 1800’s. I attempt to include little-known facts from the particular time period in each book. Romance plays a part in my stories, but my chief goal is to communicate to my readers a feeling of being present in my novels. After reading Where Wildflowers Bloom, one reader said she felt she could time-travel to 1866 Noble Springs, Missouri (the setting for the story), and find her way around the town. I loved that comment!

3. Why do you write what you do?

    All of my fiction is inspired in one way or another by the lives of my ancestors. I’m blessed to be descended from generations of memoir writers dating back to pre-American Revolution times. When I compiled a narrative family history, I realized that all of our collected memoirs were written by men. That sparked a desire to know what the women’s lives were like. Since my female ancestors were silent on the subject, I turned to fiction to fill in the blanks. Learning about women’s lives in the 19th Century has certainly made me grateful to live in the here and now.

4. How does your writing process work?

    One word: Convoluted. Once I’ve decided on the characters for a story, I sketch a story arc and write a brief summary of the tale. I attempt to write every weekday afternoon, and my usual goal is 1,000 to 1,500 words. I print out what I’ve written, then the next day go back over the pages and do a light edit. That primes the pump to continue with the story line. Things change as I write, and usually the completed project isn’t quite the same as the initial summary. That’s the fun part!
    I’m also part of an online critique group. We share a chapter once a week, and when the critiques come back to me I do another edit of the material, then move on. Before a book is turned into the publisher, I print out the whole thing and read through it, doing a deeper edit as I go. By the time a novel is finally submitted (via email), I’ve been over the material a number of times.
    Then, of course, the work comes back from my editor with suggested changes. The publisher of my novels goes over my manuscript three times. The first time it’s a global edit—looking for obvious mistakes and asking questions to deepen the plot. The second edit is line-by-line, giving me a chance to revise and change things once more. Third time around, I receive the page proofs. By now the book has been typeset. This time I receive the manuscript in final form, except it’s on regular size paper. Now I proof-read with an eagle eye to find every last tiny error. After returning the corrected pages, I sit back and wait for UPS to deliver the finished product two or three months later. It’s always a thrill to hold my “baby” in my hands for the first time.

    So, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

    On September 8, please look for author Bonnie Leon’s contribution to the blog tour. Bonnie and I have been friends for many years, and in addition to being a talented story-teller she’s an encouraging mentor. Her wisdom helped me progress from novice writer to published author.
Bonnie Leon is the author of twenty novels, including the recently released Where Eagles Soar and the popular Alaskan Skies series. 
She enjoys speaking for women’s groups and teaching at writing seminars and conventions. These days, her time is filled with writing, being a grandmother, and relishing precious time with her aged mother.
Bonnie and her husband, Greg, live in Southern Oregon. They have three grown children and eight grandchildren.

You can find Bonnie’s blog at

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Review: DEATH TAKES A RIDE, by Lorena McCourtney

Assistant PI. Cate Kincaid has a knack for finding trouble. In Death Takes a Ride, she arrives at an auto restoration shop just in time to hear gunshots and discover a dead man in the business owner's office. She's drawn into the case when the co-owner of the shop asks her assistance in finding a young man who has a rare motorcycle to sell.             

But with Cate, nothing is ever simple. Her investigation goes further than she planned, with sometimes frightening--and sometimes humorous--consequences. This third book in the Cate Kincaid Files series is a true page-turner of a whodunit. The addition of Cate's uncertainty about her motorcycle-riding boyfriend's future plans adds to the fun.

I thoroughly enjoyed Death Takes a Ride. Lorena McCourtney is a master at writing cozy mysteries. Be sure to add Death Takes a Ride to your summer reading list. You'll be glad you did.

My thanks to the author and Revell for providing my review copy. My opinions are my own.

Saturday, April 19, 2014


For nearly a year, Scott and Gina Harrison have been hiding the fact that their marriage has crumbled. Although they're living in separate houses, they attend church and family functions as though they are still together. To keep up the deception, they've instructed their sons, Colt and Timmy, to lie for them.
    After a time, the boys have had enough. Colt hatches a scheme to force their parents back together and one morning he and Timmy launch their plan. Then everything goes horribly wrong.
    The extent of the disaster had me reading compulsively to learn how What Follows After would resolve the crises involving not only the boys, but of course, their parents as well. Fans of Dan Walsh's novels will love this one. I certainly did. Walsh did a superb job with setting the story in Florida in 1962. The many telling details from that era added immensely to the narrative.
    I give What Follows After two thumbs way up!    My thanks to the author and Revell for a review copy of this book.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

A SKY WITHOUT STARS, by Linda S. Clare

The year is 1951. Frankie Chasing Bear and her son, Harold, left the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota following the death of her husband. Her luck doesn't get any better when they find themselves stranded in Phoenix after their rattletrap pickup breaks down. Her plan was to go to Los Angeles as part of an Indian relocation program. Instead, she battles heat, poverty, and prejudice in a town that has little sympathy for Indians.
 She's determined to help her son survive the bullying he receives by sewing a Lakota Star pattern quilt to remind him to be proud of his heritage. But Harold is having none of it. He decides he wants to return to Pine Ridge, where at least he had friends.
 Nick Parker is a federal agent assigned to the Bureau of Indian Affairs. He’s attracted to Frankie's determination to survive in her hostile environment. For her part, Frankie believes Nick already has two strikes against him--by her definition he's a half-breed (part Lakota, part white) and he works for a Bureau that has never had the Indians' best interests at heart. She wants to trust Nick, but can she?
 Sky Without Stars really grabbed my attention. Linda Clare has done a wonderful job of reminding us how poorly Indians have been treated, while at the same time she's crafted a suspenseful story of a mother's love for her son.
 Readers will feel the heat, dust, and fear that Frankie experiences as she tries to make a life for herself and Harold. Her determination had me cheering her on as I read.
 I highly recommend Sky Without Stars.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

MINDING MOLLY, by Leslie Gould

To say Molly Zook is a controlling woman is an understatement. Her days consist of making lists and plans, not only for herself but for her sister and for Mervin Mosier, a neighbor who helps on their family farm. In the Biblical story of Mary and Martha, Molly identifies with Martha. Somebody's got to do the work, right?
 With her father recently deceased, and her mother ailing, Molly's not far off the mark. If she can't keep their farm profitable, her mother wants her to marry Mervin Mosier to solve their financial problems. Then Molly meets handsome horse trainer Leon Fisher, who has come from Montana to Pennsylvania to work with a horse breeder--and not incidentally to find a bride.
 Molly jumps into full "control" mode to arrange things so that Mervin will fall in love with someone else, and Leon won't want to go home to Montana. But the harder she tries to manipulate the lives around her, the more her plans fail. Readers will find the book hard to put down. Will Molly ever give up control and wait to see what God has planned for her? Or will she control herself into a lonely spinsterhood?
  On a personal note, reading Minding Molly was a bit of a nudge for me, since I, too, have always identified with Martha in the Mary and Martha story in the Bible. Minding Molly is a novel that will keep readers entertained as they follow Molly while she learns that "the course of true love never did run smooth."

 My thanks to the author and Bethany House Publishers for my review copy of Minding Molly.

Monday, February 3, 2014

RESOLUTE, by Martin W. Sandler

An absolutely fascinating story of Great Britain's obsessive search for a Northwest Passage through Arctic waters in the early-to-mid 1800's. Martin Sandler relates history with a story-teller's skill. Some non-fiction can be a slow read, but not "Resolute." I couldn't put it down--the images of the explorers' hardships stayed with me long after I finished the book. If you enjoy history, you'll love "Resolute."

Wednesday, January 15, 2014


  Elizabeth Harding arrives in Cheyenne, Wyoming, with a brand-new medical degree in her possession, certain that her practice will be an instant success. Instead, she sits in her office day after day awaiting her first patient. If it weren't for the friendship of Gwen, from whom she rents a room, Elizabeth's days would be bleak indeed. It seems the entire population of Cheyenne is skittish about accepting a woman doctor.
 Jason Nordling, an attorney in the office next to hers, has problems of his own after his defense of a high-profile murderer backfires. When Jason meets Elizabeth, his attitude is the same as that of the other citizens--a woman cannot be a capable doctor. As the days pass, the two of them form a shaky friendship, but previously-held opinions on both of their parts prevent them from becoming more than casual friends.
Cabot has included secondary plots involving characters from the two previous books in this series--Summer of Promise and Waiting for Spring. As each plot twist arises, With Autumn's Return ramps up the suspense. This book kept me guessing until the final pages.
Although With Autumn's Return is the third book in the Westward Winds series, it isn’t necessary to have read the first two novels in order to enjoy this one. I suggest you add With Autumn's Return to your must-read list for 2014. And if you haven't already read the first two books in the series, by all means put them on the list too!


My thanks to the author and Revell for providing my review copy.