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Friday, November 30, 2018

Book review: Mr. Christmas Elf by Stephanie Burkhart


Christmas is on the way, but Jules isn’t in the mood this year. She and her dad are barely making ends meet, and with extra bills piling up, how can they afford Christmas? Jules needs a new muffler for her car, and school tuition is looming—but the peppermint on top? Her boyfriend has just dumped her in a text message!

When her boss at the coffee shop insists that all employees must write a letter to Santa and post it on the window, Jules decides to be painfully honest about what she needs—but is there any hope she will get it?

When Elvis, a handsome hunk, shows up to visit with her about her car muffler, she begins to have an inkling of hope that this Christmas will be one to remember, after all. Claiming to be one of Santa’s elves, Elvis tells her all the magic the Christmas season has to offer can be hers, if she only believes. Is that too much to ask for?

My Review:

EEK! I just felt like I lived out a Hallmark Christmas movie - with all the sweet, heart-warming cuteness you expect!

Jules is where we all have been -- things are weighing heavy on her and she just can't seem to catch a break. But then finally, with just a bit of faith in Christmas magic and the help of Elvis and his elf friends, more than her Christmas wishes gets answered.

This is the best kind of story that if you're in a mood for a feel-good Christmas movie but don't really want to have the tv on. Mr Christmas Elf is an easy and sweet read, and even includes the token life-lesson. Definitely a cute and fun story to dive into.

Purchase Links:

Thursday, November 29, 2018

New Release —The Viking's Yuletide Woman by Cynthia Breeding

866 A.D.

Ruthless Viking Prince Ivar is determined to avenge his murdered father—even if it means marrying a Saxon princess who will do whatever she can to escape him. Ivar and his men take over the Saxon stronghold of York, England, in the hope of forcing King Aelle to surrender. He holds Princess Aethelthryth, King Aelle’s daughter, as a prized hostage---or so he believes.

But the “princess” captive, Ella, is a lowly maid who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. She bears a striking resemblance to Princess Aethelthryth who has been spirited away to safety. Ivar’s captain, Bronwolf, mistakes her for her mistress. Though he is attracted to Ella, Bronwolf turns her over to Ivar, as is his duty…but the fires of desire have already been kindled between the captain and the maid.

Ella continues her pretense of being the true princess in order to protect herself from the brutish Viking prince and his men, but her plan is turned on her when Ivar decides to make her his bride to seal the alliance between their people.

When Bronwolf learns her true identity, there is only one thing he can do to save her from Ivar’s fury at being duped—he must find a way to get her to safety. Can he protect Ella from the barbaric Prince Ivar, or will it cost both of them their lives? Will Ella consent to his plan and become THE VIKING’S YULETIDE WOMAN?


     Behind her, the solid door splintered, pieces flying as the blade of a sharp axe protruded through the wood. In another second, the bolt tore loose and then the hinges shattered. The heavy plank landed on the floor with a thud that resounded through Ella’s body as she looked up at the Viking framed in the empty doorway.
     His height and massive shoulders took up most of the space. His face was grimy and all hard angles. With the deadly axe in one hand, his wild mane of hair more bronze than blond, and eyes that glittered silver-blue, he looked every inch the fierce berserker she’d heard about.
     He dropped the axe and stepped through the doorway. She inched back as he advanced, his gaze as intent as his movement. “Who…who are you? What…what do you want?” Even to her ears, the questions came out nearly as a squeak.
     “My name is Bronwolf.” An incongruous dimple flashed in his left cheek as he grinned, showing very white teeth. “And I want you, Princess Aethelthryth.”


Tuesday, November 27, 2018

This Sod House

Interior of one of the last remaining sod house located in The Badlands of South Dakota (author's photo)

I've always been fascinated by houses built in strange places or out of strange material. When I was in grade school a bunch of us got together daily in a vacant lot, and armed with shovels, we dug a large underground clubhouse. We carved tables and benches into the walls and hung out there every day...until the fire department came and caved in the whole thing before our horrified eyes (my father and grandfather were on the fire department, by the way).

Hence my interest in sod houses. Who and why would someone build a house out of sod?

In 1862 the Homestead Act was passed and so began the great Westward Expansion. For the cost of a filing fee, anyone could stake out 160 acres. All the new landowner had to do was farm and live on the land for five years and it was his or hers (By the way, twelve percent of homesteaders in Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, North and South Dakota were single women). People came from all over the world to grab their piece of America. What a deal! What could go wrong?

Homesteaders were to find Conditions on the prairies were extreme. Summers where the temperatures could reach 120 degrees. Winters so cold your livestock might die because their breath froze in their noses. Then there were the tornadoes, droughts, rain storms, and swarms of grasshoppers. Grass so tall mothers feared losing their children in the Sea of Grass.

And the treeless plains were not that giving. There was hardly a stick or stone to build a house, and did I mention the other requirement was that the homesteader had six months to build a house? What to do?
Early homesteaders followed the example of the Native Americans, who built their lodge houses out of sod. Special blades were fitted to plows to rip off the top layer of ground. The roots of the grasses were so deep, they made a loud ripping noise when pulled from the earth.

Living inside a cramped sod house and keeping clean must have been a challenge for these sisters 

The blocks of sod, called "Nebraska marble," were then cut into bricks to build walls. If the sod dried, it would crumble and be impossible to work with, so the homesteader could only dig up as much sod as he (or she) could work with. The moist bricks were stacked on one another so the roots continued to grow into the layer beneath it giving added strength to the structure. The typical dwelling constructed would be a simple one-room house.  A roof was made by layering branches, straw, and twigs across the top on which more sod was placed.

The sod proved a good insulator, keeping the house warm in the winter and cool in the summer. And a sod house was cheap, costing less than $5 to build. The area of bare earth left around the house once the sod was cleared acted as a protective shield, keeping varmints away from the dwelling.

The downside: the bare-earth practice kept some varmints outside the house, while bringing others in. There are stories of rattlesnakes coming out of their dens in the walls and heading up to the roof to sun themselves during the day. Mice, fleas, snakes, and insects, oh my! One woman "sodbuster" complained that there were so many rats around the house looking for corn, that she had to kick them out of the way each time she left the house.

And if insects and snakes falling on you weren't enough to put you off--and I'm put off at this point already--the sodbuster waged a constant war against dirt, because if you live in a house made of dirt....One settler complained she needed an umbrella in the house to keep dirt from falling on her while she prepared dinner. Canvas could be fixed across the ceiling to combat falling dirt, leaks, and insects. The floor was usually dirt as well, though the walls were often plastered or whitewashed. Sod houses required maintenance, and the threat of a roof collapsing was a reality.

Note in this old print the family taking their activities outside of the house

Windows could be installed for an expense, but the sod house was generally a dark, cramped space. Any activity such as sewing, socializing, or other tasks that could be taken outside, were. There wasn't much room for furniture, and so much like my childhood underground fort, tables and beds were carved into the walls.
Typically, a house made out of sod was seen as a temporary residence. Maybe a family would live in the one room "soddy" for seven years or so until they were able to gather together enough funds to build a wood frame house. But it could be made more habitable by adding wood slats for flooring and papering the walls.

Making a sod house a home by adding windows and papering walls

As cozy as the above picture is, I don't think it represents the norm. Scratching together a day to day existence as a homesteader must have been hard beyond anything most of us today can imagine: the isolation, the grueling work, battling the elements to only face the random follies of nature such as losing your crops to a swarm of grasshoppers as you sit in the comfort of your leaky, varmint-infested sod house.

Less than half the homesteaders withstood the test. I don't know if I would've made it, but it's hard to pit the modern me against a me that had been raised without the comforts I enjoy today. Still, I like to think I would have been one of the success stories. There are some cheerful accounts from optimistic sodbusters, and I wonder at their resilience.

So, what do you think? How would you and your family have fared living in a sod house?

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Book Review: The Bank Robber's Lament by Sara Barnard



With his troubled past never far from his mind, the once-handsome Smith heads out to lose himself in the anonymity offered by the American West. When he arrives in Gabriel's Settlement, Texas he succumbs to the lifestyle of quick money and adventuresome living offered by a gang of wily bank robbers. It isn't until he crosses paths with Johanna Johannsen and her daughter Sadie that Smith discovers he isn't the only person in Texas with a looming past, and some people's devils are much closer to home than his own. When he learns of the Dalton Gang's plans to stick up the bank in Gabriel's Settlement, Smith must make a choice. But is he strong enough to face his past and be the man his own father couldn't be? **SWEET**

My Review:

This is a cute (very) short story with alot of sweet. A troubled, lost man and a hurting woman find their way to a start of a hea through a precious child and a few bad choices turned surprisingly not so bad.

Purchase Links:

Monday, November 19, 2018

First Transcontinental Telegraph & a Family Connection

The American Civil War started in early 1861. Later that same year on October 24th, the workers of the two companies working under the Western Union Telegraph Company linked the eastern and western telegraph networks of the nation at Salt Lake City, Utah, completing a transcontinental line that for the first time allows instantaneous communication between Washington, D.C. and San Francisco. Stephen J. Field, chief justice of California, sent the first transcontinental telegram to President Abraham Lincoln, predicting that the new communication link would help ensure the loyalty of the western states to the Union during the Civil War.

With the passing of the Pacific Telegraph Act of 1860, Congress authorized a subsidy of $40,000 a year to any company building a telegraph line that would join the eastern and western networks. The Western Union Company won the bid. A milestone in electrical engineering, the line connected an existing network in the eastern United States to a small existing network in California by a link between Omaha and Carson City via Salt Lake City.

The newly created Overland Telegraph Company of California built the line eastward while Sibley's Pacific Telegraph Company of Nebraska built westward. The lines met in Salt Lake City, Utah. Construction began in 1861. The line moving westward from Omaha, Nebraska reached Salt Lake City on October 18th 1861. The line coming east from Carson City, Nevada reached the city and completed the line on October 24, 1861.

There were many other challenges to building the telegraph line. Wire and glass insulators had to be shipped by sea to San Francisco and carried eastward by horse-drawn wagons over the Sierra Nevada. The largely treeless Midwest and the Great Basin country meant poles needed to be transported east from the western mountains.

Indians also proved a problem. In the summer of 1861, a party of Sioux warriors cut part of the line that had been completed and took a long section of wire for making bracelets. Later, however, some of the Sioux wearing the telegraph-wire bracelets became sick, and a Sioux medicine man convinced them that the great spirit of the “talking wire” had avenged its desecration. Thereafter, the Sioux left the line alone.

From my personal family history, my great-grandfather, Edwin Brown, was called up to serve in the Civil War. To set the stage, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints still dominated the Salt Lake City region. Four years before the beginning of the Civil War, upon being convinced by enemies of the Church that the Mormons (the nickname given to the church by its enemies; the members referred to themselves as Saints) were in revolt against the United States, President Buchanan authorized a large Army to march to Utah Territory to subdue the people. Word got back to the people in Salt Lake City the intent was to annihilate the members of the church—genocide.

The Saints fought back and prevented Johnston’s entry into the Salt Lake valley during the winter of 1857-58—enough time for the citizens to temporarily relocate elsewhere. It ended up that the church president, Brigham Young, recognized the new governor sent by Washington D.C. However, he made it clear to Johnston that if he came to Salt Lake City, he must march his men through the city without stopping, or the Saints would torch Salt Lake City and burn it to the ground. The members of the church were done with building up cities only be driven out by mob violence so others could come in and inhabit what they had built. Johnston did just that and set up Camp Floyd to the west.

Yet, in 1861, at the outbreak of the Civil War, President Lincoln sent messages to the leaders of all the territories to the west to know if they intended to stand with the Union. Anyone who knew anything about Utah Territory knew, no matter who ran the civil government, to get the cooperation of the majority of the population, they must go through Brigham Young.

There remained an uneasy truce between the soldiers who came to quell a rebellion that did not exist and the Saints. When the Civil War broke out, Sidney Johnston had already been transferred to California to head the Pacific Division of the Army. The soldiers at Camp Floyd left for the East to join the war effort. Yet, Brigham Young was the first in the territories to send the message back to President Lincoln that the Saints would stand with the Union.

After that, Utah was asked to raise a company, which it did. Brigham Young asked for each family to send one man to serve under Lot Smith (who led the resistance against Johnston’s Army a few years earlier). Brigham Young himself came to the Brown family with his request.

The Brown family had immigrated to the United States from England in 1853 and believed in the practice of primogeniture where the oldest son inherits the bulk of the estate upon the father’s death. Because my second great-grandfather died many years earlier, his oldest son, Henry, inherited and had the responsibility for providing for his mother and younger siblings in addition to his own wife and children. It fell to the second son, my great-grandfather, to serve.

As with most volunteer units of the day, the men were called up for a six month enlistment. Their assignment was to protect the newly-completed telegraph line between Green River, Wyoming and northern Utah from both Indians and Confederate saboteurs intent upon disrupting communications between Washington D.C. and California—the source of gold President Lincoln counted on to help finance the Union Army. Strung out along the route of the telegraph and far from civilization, the men suffered from the elements and the lack of a consistent food supply.

At the end of the six months, it was decided this unit did not need as many men. Those who owned their own horses were re-enlisted for an additional six months. Those like my great-grandfather who were on foot were mustered out to return home.

With the completion of the transcontinental telegraph, the Pony Express became obsolete overnight. It would be another nine years before trains crossed the vast Prairie. The transcontinental telegraph served as the only method of near-instantaneous communication between the east and west coasts during the 1860s.

Family history of Robyn Echols


Bridgeport Holiday Brides, my fifth and final book in the series, Eastern Sierra Brides 1884 takes place in November. It wraps up the remaining romances in the series. You may read the book description and find the purchase link by CLICKING HERE.

The following is one of my favorite excerpts from the book. It takes place during the wedding reception for Val and Beth:

         "And your sister is delightful." A twinkle entered her eye and a grin lit her face. "And I understand she soon may also be joining the family in an even closer capacity very soon."
         Beth's eyes twitched with suspicion. "Who told you that?"
         Barbara's eyes widened and she brought her fingers to her lips. "Oh! I hope I didn't let the cat out of the bag. Luther made a special trip up to Carson City to buy Hazel a ring. He stopped by and stayed with us coming and going. It's a beautiful ring, Beth. Haven't you seen it yet?"
         "No, I ain't. And Hazel ain't of age. Luther finagled his way into courtin' her, but he ain't said nothin' to me about askin' for her hand."
         "Oh. I'm sorry, Beth. I thought you knew."
         "No need apologizin'. Right glad you spoke up."
         Beth's gaze roamed over the crowd until she located Luther with Hazel on his arm while he chatted with friends.
         Once Luther caught the eye of his newest sister-in-law and realized she was glaring at him, he straightened to his full height then froze in place, like prey hypnotized by a snake. As soon as Beth started toward him with a resolute stride, he turned to Hazel and whispered in her ear.
         Three long strides on his part, and Luther and Beth stood face to face.
         Beth spoke first. "You and me need to talk, Luther Caldwell. Somewhere private."
         Hazel followed Luther, standing behind him. She looked on with concern. "Bethie?"
         "Luther'll be right back, Hazel. Him and I got a bone to pick over."
         Luther followed Beth outside the barn. Although most of the wedding guests were in the barn where it was relatively warm, there were enough in the yard that Beth had to search for a spot where she could speak to Luther in relative privacy. She finally spotted a tree on the far side of the yard next to one of the corrals. She strode in that direction, knowing Luther followed close behind her. Once she was far enough away from everyone she spun on the ball of her foot to face her brother-in-law. Luther almost toppled over in the effort to keep from running into Beth.
         Her arms akimbo, Beth glared at Luther. "Heard you done bought Hazel a ring."
         Luther's expression of consternation turned to a mischievous grin. "Has Barbara been talking to you? She never could keep things like that to herself."
         "Good she did, because you sure ain't been talkin' to me. You give that ring to Hazel yet?"
         Luther turned serious. "No, Beth. I haven't said anything. I wanted to get past yours and Val's wedding. I didn't want to say anything too soon and have the news of it take away from yours and Val's big day."
         "That's right thoughtful of you, Luther, but you know she ain't of age. You need to get my say-so before you go askin' her."
         Luther gave another sheepish grin. "That was another reason I planned to wait. I figured once you were happily married, you would settle down and be apt to be more agreeable to our engagement. I had planned to ask her so we could announce it at Thanksgiving dinner."

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Anthology Book Review: Lassoing A Mail-Order Bride



A woman would have to be loco to become a mail-order bride...wouldn't she? Leaving everything behind and starting fresh in the untamed west is the answer to a prayer for these ladies! A beautiful socialite needs a husband fast —but her husband wants a bride for life. A pregnant young lady becomes desperate —almost as desperate as her soon-to-be husband, who just inherited his sister's kids. A man is in love with a woman he can’t have —or can he? A woman’s reputation is tarnished and professional career compromised —she runs, but she can't hide. Will they all find love with strangers they've never met who are set on LASSOING A MAIL-ORDER BRIDE?

A pregnant mail order bride. A groom with three orphaned children. Some dreams get a rough start

A beautiful socialite needs a husband fast —for just one month —but the rancher wants a wife for life!

He needs a wife to get custody of his grandchildren. She needs a fresh start and a new reputation. Desperate men —and women —sometimes take desperate measures...but can she be A PERMANENT WOMAN?

THE BIG UNEASY—Kathleen Rice Adams
A man in love with a woman he can’t have. A woman engaged to a man she doesn’t love. A secret in common could destroy them all.

My Reviews:

This is a perfect weekend read. All 4 stories are easily read in an hour or two, so you can have time to fit in a full story and get all the feel goods out of it!

These Rough Dreams by Cheryl Pierson
Oh!!! I think I have a new favorite Cheryl Pierson short story!!!! (I say this often! lol) Johnny Rainbolt swept me away just like any worthy hero should.

I adored how Gabby and Johnny found each other, and by taking advantage of the situation given, determined to give each other the best of themselves. Their relationship was an answer to prayer neither even knew to ask for. They were both open and accepting and honest from the start with each other, which allowed for some easy moments before greater trials arrived.

I happy-sighed alot through this story and couldn't have wished for a better way for their dreams to come true.

Her Hurry up Husband by Tanya Hanson
What happens when best laid plans get tossed out the window and a better future is waiting to be claimed? Well, you get to experience Elspeth and Hezekiah's storybook ending.

Elspeth thought she lost her happily ever after and was just hoping for some sort of respectable solution. She had the grit and determination to do what she believed was best. Hezekiah was feeling pressured to start a family of his own, and decided he's gonna do it his way and sent off for a mail order bride. He had such a gentle heart to go with his protective nature.

Both have their own ideas of what the future holds, but maybe there could be something better then they could have ever planned for. Themes of trust, honesty, and acceptance make this a story to enjoy and fall on love with.

A Permanent Woman by Kaye Spencer
I absolutely love A Permanent Woman!! Tessa and Simon both had some unique circumstances they were dealing with and found the ideal solution with each other. Their meeting had me laughing and smiling and falling in love with them. Simon and Tessa quickly figured out how much they needed each other and built a new family together. When the storms came that should have destroyed their world, they instead discovered their love and need for each other could survive the past. I also love that being older characters (in their 40s) brought a refreshing point of view and proves that a happily-ever-after can come at any age.

The Big Uneasy by Kathleen Rice Adams
Secrets, secrets, and more secrets!! Boy did those skeletons rattlin' in everyone's closets make a racket! I loved watching how everything unfolded and the sweet attraction between Amon and Josephine grow into something from sparks to meant-to-be. With the mystery behind Josephine's past so carefully hidden and the Dumont's family secrets quickly unraveling, you're left wondering what's really going to happen. One of my new favorite short stories!!

Even if you're not a fan of anthologies, or even if you just want to read one of these stories and skip the rest (but... they're all beautiful, so hopefully you don't!) you don't want to miss out on this collection of stories!

Purchase Link:

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Book Review: Kidnapping Kalli by Cheryl Pierson


Texas Ranger Shiloh Barrett loses his hotheaded older brother to a gunfight over a hand of cards. Now the “winner”—a wealthy landowner who’s coveted the Barrett homestead—finally has what he wants. But could there be something Seamus O’Connor desires more than the Barretts’ land?

O’Connor has not seen his beautiful daughter, Kalli, for thirteen years. He knows that she's living with her mother’s Cherokee people in northeastern Indian Territory. Determined to have her kidnapped and brought to him, Seamus uses the deed he holds to the Barrett homestead to get what he wants. Even though it goes against everything Shiloh Barrett believes is right, O’Connor’s blackmail cannot be ignored.

But beautiful Kalliroe White Dove O’Connor has some tricks up her sleeve as the handsome ex-ranger spirits her away into the nearby San Bois Mountains. The tables turn when Shiloh is bitten by a rattlesnake their first day on the trail. Though Kalli tells herself she has no other choice but to stay with Shiloh—and she does want to reunite with her father—deep down, she knows there is another reason she can’t leave the handsome lawman. Could it be she’s falling in love with him?

In a final showdown with a cutthroat outlaw gang, Shiloh heads straight into the pit of vipers to buy some time for the man he despises—Kalli’s father. No matter how this all plays out, KIDNAPPING KALLI has been the best thing Shiloh Barrett’s ever done—if he only lives to see it through…

My Review:  

Kidnapping Kalli is an adorably sweet Christmas story that warms your heart and gives you all the warm-fuzzy-feels. I love how Kalli and Shiloh meet under some rocky circumstances, and experiencing how quickly they come to depend on each other after some danger strikes. Their attraction grows and solidifies quickly, which is good considering what they have to face in their future. Shiloh proves himself to be just the man for Kalli, and Kalli is the perfect missing piece to fill a spot that Shiloh didn’t realize was empty.

Shiloh and Kalli’s story gives me all the adventure and sweet love story I love to read, all wrapped up in a short-escape-from-reality story. 

Purchase Link:

Thursday, November 15, 2018

New Release — KIDNAPPING KALLI by Cheryl Pierson

Texas Ranger Shiloh Barrett loses his hotheaded older brother to a gunfight over a hand of cards. Now the “winner”—a wealthy landowner who’s coveted the Barrett homestead—finally has what he wants. But could there be something Seamus O’Connor desires more than the Barretts’ land? 

O’Connor has not seen his beautiful daughter, Kalli, for thirteen years. He knows that she's living with her mother’s Cherokee people in northeastern Indian Territory. Determined to have her kidnapped and brought to him, Seamus uses the deed he holds to the Barrett homestead to get what he wants. Even though it goes against everything Shiloh Barrett believes is right, O’Connor’s blackmail cannot be ignored.

But beautiful Kalliroe White Dove O’Connor has some tricks up her sleeve as the handsome ex-ranger spirits her away into the nearby San Bois Mountains. The tables turn when Shiloh is bitten by a rattlesnake their first day on the trail. Though Kalli tells herself she has no other choice but to stay with Shiloh—and she does want to reunite with her father—deep down, she knows there is another reason she can’t leave the handsome lawman. Could it be she’s falling in love with him? 

In a final showdown with a cutthroat outlaw gang, Shiloh heads straight into the pit of vipers to buy some time for the man he despises—Kalli’s father. No matter how this all plays out, KIDNAPPING KALLI has been the best thing Shiloh Barrett’s ever done—if he only lives to see it through…


     Kidnapping Kalliroe White Dove O’Connor had been easier than Shiloh Barrett had believed possible. And he was glad of it. He’d never been one to take ‘dirty’ jobs—and this one barely bordered being just that.

     But, he figured, right was right. Kalliroe had two parents—a Cherokee mother and an Irish father—and her father had as much right to her as her mama did. Mama had had her for thirteen of the last eighteen years, now—all to herself. Papa just wanted a fair shake before the girl ended up getting herself married or—something.
     The pay had been good—and vital, in many ways. Shiloh hadn’t made that much money for one single job such as this in quite some time. Yeah, taking Miss Kalliroe had been the easy part—but she was not, by any means, going to cooperate, now that he had her.