Book Reviews: Journey to a Promised Land by Allison Lassieur and Three Twigs for the Campfire by Joseph Cognard

Journey to a Promised Land (I Am America)
A Story of the Exodusters
Allison Lassieur
Jolly Fish Press, January 2019
ISBN 978-1631632761
Trade Paperback

Hattie has a dream. A far-reaching fantasy, some would say, but she knows she can find a way. She will become a teacher.

The spring of 1879 tried to bring a fresh start to a new world in Nashville, Tennessee. Although each of Hattie’s parents had been born into slavery, both obtained an education immediately following the Civil War. Her father works just as hard today, but for it is himself and his family and in his very own black-smith shop. Her mother happily runs the household and Hattie contributes, too. Not only a stand-out student, she also earns money for her family by mending for Miss Bradford.

It’s a good enough life for Hattie. She knows, of course, that recently, black folks have been joining together to make the journey to Kansas. Tales of towns with nothing but black faces tempt her parents and Mr. Singleton sure has been working hard to convince her family to make the move to Nicodemus, a small town being established and in need of a blacksmith.

It isn’t until her father leaves the house for a meeting about the potential move that it hits Hattie. She’s heard stories of what happens to black men who dare attend these gatherings. And suddenly, she is scared for her father. After seeing him on the receiving end of retaliation—Nat had the audacity to charge a white man for his work—Hattie understands the very real danger they are in.

Loathe to miss school, Hattie could not have imagined the education she would receive during her journey. Seeing the stark differences between the group of black travelers when compared to almost every clump of white men, was a shock. Whereas individual black people intuitively worked towards the greater good of their party, sharing the last crumbs and caring for those in need; the freakish faction of inexplicably angry, willfully ignorant and hella hateful white men appeared to unite solely to terrorize black citizens.

I wish I could put a copy of this heroic historical fiction in every single classroom. It is that good and unquestionably, that vital. Although Hattie’s family may be a figment of the author’s imagination, Benjamin “Pap” Singleton was very real and invaluably instrumental in helping hundreds of African Americans move from Tennessee to Kansas.

Ms. Lassieur shares this story of the Exodusters by popping the reader right into the mule-driven wagon to bear witness to the atrocious, senseless acts against black people. But she also demonstrates the intuitive kindness, generosity and strength of each and every black person, automatically reminding everyone to continue the good fight. Oh, and I can’t wait for you to find out why the emigrants were dubbed “Exodusters”.

Reviewed by jv poore, January 2019.

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Three Trees for the Campfire
Joseph Cognard
CreateSpace, January 2013
ISBN 978-1482320985
Trade Paperback

At first, I want to judge this book by its cover. The campfire calls to me, then captivates as I notice it’s not at simple as it seems. But before I know it, I’m completely caught up in the quintessential summer read.

Three siblings surround the glowing embers to swap stories and sleep under the stars. Billy, being the youngest, is participating (fully) for the first time, so being in his head at the beginning perfectly sets the scene.

“Billy began to worry that, like the fire, he might not make it through the night.”

The eldest, Jack, begins with a fantastic tale featuring a dragon. When Chelsea follows with her own natty narrative, she subtly weaves in bits and pieces from her brother’s story in a sweet (but not corny) kind of way. Billy may be bringing up the rear, but he can spin a yarn as well as his siblings. And he’s pretty slick about bringing in a real-life character.

Authentic and relatable, in a dreamy sort of way, I thoroughly enjoyed this tiny tome that probably fits best in the Juvenile Fiction genre, but I can easily imagine anyone enjoying it.

Huge thank-you to the author for sharing this with me!

Reviewed by jv poore, July 2018.

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Book Review: The Innkeeper’s Sister by Linda Goodnight

The Innkeeper’s Sister
A Honey Ridge Novel #3
Linda Goodnight
HQN Books, July 2017
ISBN 978-0-373-79947-3
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Welcome to Honey Ridge, Tennessee, where Southern hospitality and sweet peach tea beckon, and where long-buried secrets lead to some startling realizations…

Grayson Blake always has a purpose—and never a moment to lose. He’s come home to Honey Ridge to convert a historic gristmill into a restaurant, but his plans crumble like Tennessee clay when the excavation of a skeleton unearths a Civil War mystery…and leads him back to a beautiful and familiar stranger.

Once a ballet dancer, now co-owner of the Peach Orchard Inn, Valery Carter harbors pain as deep as the secrets buried beneath the mill. A bright facade can’t erase her regrets any more than a glass of bourbon can restore what she’s lost. But spending time with Grayson offers Valery a chance to let go of her past and imagine a happier future. And with the discovery of hidden messages in aged sheet music, both their hearts begin to open. Bound by attraction, and compelled to resolve an old crime that links the inn and the mill, Grayson and Valery encounter a song of hurt, truth…and hope.

In a nicely flowing blend of past and present, two stories intertwine after a skeleton is found beneath the old gristmill. Both stories revolve around a missing child, one a slave sold away from his family and white friend, the other Valery’s nephew, abducted years ago. Could these bones belong to that child, Mikey? The possibility sends Valery into a maelstrom of new grief as well as guilt that have lain just under the surface all this time, but it’s just as likely that this is someone else, someone from the farm’s Civil War-era family.

Secrets abound in both times and, in some ways, love is what holds the families together, if only by a thread. To be sure, the mystery of the discovered bones needs to be solved, but the growing connection between Valery and Grayson may very well bring the peace they so need. At the same time, the inn, once a farm, has its own colorful and emotion-wrought history and it’s the past and present of Peach Orchard that caught my attention the most.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2017.

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Purchase Links:

Barnes & Noble // Kobo // Books-A-Million
Amazon // Indiebound

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About the Author

NY Times and USA Bestseller, Linda Goodnight writes novels to touch the heart as well as to entertain. Her emotional stories of hope have won the RITA, the Carol, the Reviewer’s Choice, and numerous other industry awards. A small town girl, Linda remains close to her roots, making her home in rural Oklahoma. She and husband have a blended family of eight, including two teenagers recently adopted from Ukraine. Many of her books are about family and children and rightly so, as she draws her deeply emotional stories from her surroundings, her great love of family, and from personal experiences as a nurse and teacher.

Connect with Linda:

WebsiteFacebook | Twitter

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Follow the tour:

Tuesday, July 11th: Mama Vicky Says – excerpt

Wednesday, July 12th: The Sassy Bookster – excerpt

Thursday, July 13th: Books a la Mode – excerpt

Friday, July 14th: Reading is My SuperPower – excerpt

Monday, July 17th: Book Reviews and More by Kathy – excerpt

Tuesday, July 18th: Black ‘n Gold Girls Book Spot – excerpt

Thursday, July 20th: Dwell in Possibility – excerpt

Monday, July 24th: Reading is My SuperPower

Tuesday, July 25th: Reading Reality

Wednesday, July 26th: Written Love Reviews

Thursday, July 27th: Satisfaction for Insatiable Readers

Friday, July 28th: Broken Teepee

Monday, July 31st: Rebel Mommy Book Blog

Tuesday, August 1st: Patricia’s Wisdom

Tuesday, August 1st: Let Them Read Books

Wednesday, August 2nd: Buried Under Books

Thursday, August 3rd: Just Commonly

Friday, August 4th: Books & Bindings

Monday, August 7th: The Romance Dish

Tuesday, August 8th: All Roads Lead to the Kitchen

Wednesday, August 9th: A. Holland Reads

Friday, August 11th: From the TBR Pile

Monday, August 14th: Ms. Nose in a Book

Tuesday, August 15th: Becky on Books

Wednesday, August 16th: A Chick Who Reads

Thursday, August 17th: Steph the Bookworm

TBD: Books and Spoons – excerpt

TBD: Book Mama Blog – excerpt

TBD: A Chick Who Reads – excerpt

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Book Review: Four Dog’s Sake by Lia Farrell

four-dogs-sakeFour Dog’s Sake
A Mae December Mystery #4
Lia Farrell
Camel Press, December 2015
ISBN: 978-1-60381-246-7
Trade Paperback

Let’s see. Mae December is in a relationship with the sheriff of Rosedale, Tennessee, Ben Bradley. Tammy is having a baby, and she is married to Patrick. Dr. Lucy Ingram is thinking about inviting her boyfriend, Chief Detective Wayne Nichols to live with her, and Rick Willis and Meredith Flynn are about to get engaged. Then there’s Chester Willis and Brooke Piper . . . oh, wait a minute. Chester has been murdered and they think Brooke might’ve done it since she was short of money and stood to inherit a bundle from the Willis brother’s father. Whew! And those are just a few of the featured characters.

This is one book where a cast of characters section at the front might’ve been helpful. I don’t usually have a problem keeping track of who is who, but this story almost overwhelmed. Many characters seemed extraneous. Same for the dogs. The title seems odd to me since the dogs are just there to be cared for and serve no other real purpose.

That said, the mystery part of the plot is solid and law enforcement works hard to bring the right person to justice. The medical parts of the story seem spot on and well done. We can all hope our emergency room physician is as on-the-mark as Dr. Lucy Ingram who discovers Chester has even been murdered. In the end, it takes the entire medical community and a large group of friends to finally solve the mystery.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, July 2016.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder and Four Furlongs.

Book Review: A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd

A Snicker of MagicA Snicker of Magic
Natalie Lloyd
Scholastic Press, February 2014
ISBN 978-0-545-55270-7
Hardcover

Felicity is an intense happiness, a particular kind of joy….a wondrous joy, and the most fitting name for the charismatic main character of this happy, hopeful little tale. Having accepted the gypsy life-style as her mural-painting mom carries her and her young sister Frannie across the country; Felicity was surprised by the tug she felt entering Midnight Gulch, Tennessee, “A Proper Place to Call Home”. Granted, she knew this was her mother’s home and that they’d be bunking with her mother’s siblings, but it was more than that.

While most townsfolk will say that Midnight Gulch “used to be” a magical place, a few insist that a snicker of magic remains. A century-old curse holds that leftover magic dormant, until the riddle that evoked it has been solved. That snicker gently tugs at Felicity, seemingly soliciting her assistance. As she is inexplicably smitten and eager to bring back the Rain Conjurers, Shadow Catchers and families that could turn themselves invisible or bake secrets into pies, that made sense.

The splendiferous town captivated Felicity, but The Beedle mesmerized her. For half of a century, the anonymous do-gooder was a local hero, covering payments when someone fell behind, lifting spirits with kindness and spreading good-will. When The Beedle reveals himself to her, an immediate friendship is formed. Awe-struck and amazed by all of his good deeds, Felicity feels timid because her only talent is “catching poems”.

As some folks see auras, Felicity sees words. Whirling around, captured in thought bubbles, jumbled on top of one another; she collects the most appealing ones, just as someone else may collect marbles or baseball cards. Ironically, the very thing she treasures the most, stays stuck inside of her. When she opens her mouth to speak, her cherished words betray her. Not with Beedle, and certainly not when Uncle Jonah played his banjo, but still often enough for apprehension to envelop her.

Joy is quickly replaced by concern. Felicity spots the signs that warn: her wandering mother isn’t keen on staying. Desperate to establish roots, Felicity resolves to solve the riddle, unleash the magic and make a permanent home. Not just because she feels happy here; but her tiny family, Florentine with her bag of burdens ….every single person and the community as a whole, would benefit greatly. With the sweetest intentions and commendable selflessness, Felicity is utterly inspiring.


Ms. Lloyd
perfectly placed the irresistible Felicity as our narrator and in doing so, gleefully snatches the reader from reality straight into the heart of Midnight Gulch. The faint tinkling of wind-chimes will tease, a whiff of sugar wind tantalizes and the bluegrass music taps toes. Reading A Snicker of Magic is like visiting the grooviest small town you can think of…..noshing local delicacies, dancing “free as a mountain girl”, and discovering a secret….and my favorite part: “It’s possible to have a happy ending, even if the ending isn’t what you imagined.”

While this book is appropriate for and certainly appealing to third/fourth grade readers, it would be more than a disservice to limit the audience. I can’t imagine the reader (regardless of his age) that wouldn’t find this delightful, inspiring story worthy.

Reviewed by jv poore, January 2015.

Book Review: Nora Bonesteel’s Christmas Past by Sharyn McCrumb—and a Giveaway!

Nora Bonesteel's Christmas PastNora Bonesteel’s Christmas Past
A Ballad Novella
Sharyn McCrumb
Abingdon Press, October 2014
ISBN 978-1-4267-5421-0  Hardcover

From the publisher—

When someone buys the old Honeycutt house, Nora Bonesteel is glad to see some life brought back to the old mansion, even if it is by summer people. But when they decide to stay through Christmas, they find more than old memories in the walls.

On Christmas Eve, Sheriff Spencer Arrowood and Deputy Joe LeDonne find themselves on an unwelcome call to arrest an elderly man for a minor offense. As they attempt to do their duty, while doing the right thing for a neighbor, it begins to look like they may all spend Christmas away from home.

Two companion stories that really are not related except that a few of the people know each other and they’re in the same mountain location offer a brief but gentle look at the Christmas season. Sheriff Spencer Arrowood and his deputy, Joe LeDonne, are tasked with arresting a traffic offender on Christmas Eve with snow approaching and the elderly Nora Bonesteel, who has the Sight, is asked by a “snowbird” neighbor to find out why peculiar things are happening with her Christmas decorations.

Both stories, on the surface, would seem to be rather simplistic and they actually are but there’s a kernel of meaning in each that reflects the best of home and hearth, so to speak. At times, the stories drag a little but it’s nice to spend time again with Nora and the Sheriff and Joe (as cranky and cynical as the last might be) and absorb some of the Appalachian sensibility Sharyn McCrumb conveys so well. Is there mystery here or perhaps fantasy? Yes, in a very mild way, but it’s far more about the characters and the setting. The appeal is in these people and their community and I always enjoy returning to Appalachia and, in particular, to Ashe Mountain.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, November 2014.

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To enter the drawing for a hardcover
copy of Nora Bonesteel’s Christmas Past
by Sharyn McCrumb, leave a comment
below. The winning name will be drawn
Tuesday evening, November 25th.
This drawing is open to residents of the US.

Book Reviews: Fangs Out by David Freed, Lies at Six by Sarah Scott, and Dead Wrong by Connie Dial

Fangs OutFangs Out
David Freed
Permanent Press, April 2013
ISBN: 978-1-57962-333-3
Hardcover

From its title, I was largely ambivalent and didn’t know what to expect from this new book by David Freed.  So lest you have the same uncertainty, fear not, dear reader, and allow me to quote from its pages:  “There’s an expression among fighter jocks that described what I was feeling, the adrenaline-fueled determination to close with the enemy and destroy him.  They call it ‘Fangs out.’”  Let me also assure you that what awaits you in those pages is a delightful, very enjoyable novel, which along the way will enlighten you with some obscure facts such as why vultures are bald.

Cordell Logan (just “Logan” to one and all) is many things:  broke, a self-described “Buddhist work in progress . . . striving to become one with the universe,” adding “I had a long way to go before attaining true enlightenment . . . How does a man prone to violence by nature and training embrace a religion that preaches peace above all else?”). A recovering alcoholic, he now runs a flight school as an instructor in his beloved 1973 Cessna, the Ruptured Duck, which looks like “a homeless person with wings,” and is still in love with his ex-wife who years ago had left him for his best friend.  His past includes having played wide receiver for the Air Force Academy; later a National Security “go-to” guy (read “assassin”) whose job was “chasing bad people to the dark corners of the globe in the name of national security.”

Logan is hired by Hub Walker, Lt. Col. USAF Retired, a “living legend” and “one of less than 100 living recipients of America’s highest military decoration, the Medal of Honor,” whose daughter, a beautiful young woman who had been second in her class in Annapolis, had been murdered.  The man convicted of her murder had just been put to death by lethal injection.  The problem was that just before the sentence was carried out, he stated that the actual murderer was a close friend, whose integrity and reputation had suffered greatly as a result.  Hub’s job?   “Validating the innocence of a man falsely accused.”  No easy task.

Thoroughly entertaining, the book is recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, August 2013.

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Lies at SixLies at Six
Sarah Scott
Krill Press, May 30, 2013
ISBN:  978-0-615-82795-7
Trade Paperback

Sarah Scott, formerly a TV journalist in Memphis and Atlanta originally from east Tennessee, follows the maxim to write what you know, bringing us Joanna Leland (“Jolie”) Marston, on-air reporter for fourteen years, working in three newsrooms, ten years in Memphis at WTNW News [apparently now spoken of as the station Where Trash News Wins).  Jolie chafes at what she perceives as a mind-set determined in any way to hold onto their viewers in the desired demographic, “keeping this town more scared than it needs to be,” turning whatever news comes their way into something sensational enough to make their loyal viewers put down their forks and pay attention, thereby keeping the ratings growing.  She feels the effects of constantly having to deal with the content, or lack thereof, of the stories she’s told to cover and making them into something sensational.  Finally unable to deal with what she perceives to be their pattern of “Lies at Six,” she effectively blows up her career with an on-air rant, however justified it may have been.

Divorced at 23, Jolie is now 36.  Fast upon the heels of her firing, a truly sensational event takes place:  The murder of Ellis Standifer, respected former Mayor of Memphis, and a dear friend and mentor to Jolie Marston.  Despite the fact that she is no longer employed, she tries to find out whatever she can about the murder through her contacts at the police department and otherwise, to little avail.  But then some information comes her way, and she determines to try to find the story behind the murder of her friend, with no idea where or to whom it will lead.

Threats start to come her way as well to those who have been assisting her in her investigation.  Despite the fact that she had come to love her riverside city, she feels she must leave, returning to her home town of Singleton, in East Tennessee, where she had first met and come under the influence of her friend, Ellis Standifer (although “she usually described her hometown to people as the place where the fire station had been burned and the sheriff’s department had been busted for bootlegging.”).  Her family welcomes her back into the hearth; she even finds that her mother had become willing to “overlook her [ex-]boyfriend’s Jewishness.”  (The hostility toward inter-marriage raises its ugly head more than once.)   She soon learns more than she had bargained for, as some old secrets come to light, as well as hints at corruption at the highest level, with unexpected sources being a couple of women who were very close to the great man, and one enigmatic old-world gentleman keeping long-held secrets.

The tale initially proceeds at a pace befitting the deep South, but soon amps up that pace with the mounting suspense of trying to find a killer, taking unexpected twists and turns in the process.  A recurring theme seems to be that “there is no such thing as truth. Not when it comes to the past.  Just different versions of it.”  It is amazing how so many disparate situations reveal that to be true.

I was thoroughly intrigued by Jolie and her tale, and her depiction of the old (and new) South (including the old family recipe for mint juleps!), and look forward to where Ms. Scott will take her next.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, September 2013.

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Dead WrongDead Wrong
Connie Dial
Permanent Press, May 2013
ISBN: 978-1-57962-334-0
Hardcover

The author’s bona fides are evident from the first page of this, her fourth novel, and the second in the Josie Corsino series:  Connie Dial had 27 years of varied experience as a member of the LAPD, including undercover work, narcotics detective, Internal Affairs surveillance officer, watch commander and captain.  And her protagonist, Josie Corsino, is an LAPD captain, trying to juggle that demanding job with that of wife and mother, and not always succeeding.  After 20 years in the DA’s office, her husband, Jake, had just made partner in his new law firm, and the friction in their marriage is mounting.  The tension includes her relationship with her 23-year-old son, still dependent on his parents for support, now involved with a woman Josie’s age.

In the opening pages, Kyle Richards, a sergeant Josie had appointed to supervise a burglary task force in Hollywood division, is involved in a fatal shooting.  When it is discovered that the dead man was a fellow police officer, after over 20 years on the job, Kyle is faced with a hearing and a possible suspension until it can be proven that it was a justified shooting.  Added to the fact that the dead cop was a black man, and Richards white, the political implications make every aspect of the investigation more difficult.  With the help of her best friend, vice lieutenant Marge Bailey, and Detective “Red” Behan, Josie goes out on a limb to prove his innocence in the matter. Things only get more complex when another killing occurs, and Josie believes the two events are connected.  The novel elucidates the theme that “perception most of the time was more important than truth in the world of policing.  A good reputation was difficult to tarnish; a bad reputation whether it was deserved or not was indelible.”

This was a well-plotted tale.  I have to admit feeling that the writing could have been more polished, but the novel held my interest throughout, and I will look forward to reading the next chapter in Josie Corsino’s life.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, October 2013.

Book Review: Helen of Troy by Tess Collins

Helen of TroyHelen of Troy
Tess Collins
BearCat Press, January 2012
ISBN: 978-1-937356-00-2
Hardcover

Helen, of Troy Hardware, ends up in the middle of a mid life crisis. Will she stay and work things out with her husband Rudy, the same husband whom she caught kissing her oldest and best friend? Or will she be tempted to give it all up and start a new life with the mysterious but alluring Garland Cookson, a man from her past who stirs up all kinds of memories. Not if Garland’s sister has anything to do with it she won’t.

You know, I read this book a week ago and already I’ve forgotten the exact plot. This title is entertaining, well written and will certainly help you while away a rainy afternoon, but it won’t end up on the English Literature syllabus anytime soon. I’m afraid that it’s another example of a ‘romance’ title that will inevitably be soon forgotten in that oversaturated market. The plot is loosely based on that old epic, Helen of Troy. You know the one. Ended up starting a war involving lots of Greek men and took an age to get home. Well, this book is roughly the same only it’s set in modern day Tennessee and involves Helen, a married woman with a rough and ready husband, various townsfolk and the oft-required mysterious male who strides back into town with a tragic past and has a bitch of a sister.

It’s a gentle enough story that’s very easy to read but I think what let it down for me, was the slightly farcical ending. I just couldn’t believe that most of the town would end up taking sides between husband and wife that often descended into snowball fights and building ice homes. I mean, we do some crazy stuff here in Ireland but basically, if someone is having marital troubles we do the normal thing and talk about it behind their backs. You won’t catch me taking a snowball to the face to defend the honour of two people who should know better. Then again, maybe I’m being too harsh. My idea of a good romance is Jane Eyre or Pride and Prejudice and consequently, very few modern titles live up to those lofty ideals. And after all, the book is well written with a good pace throughout. The characters are well rounded and there is just the right amount of intrigue and high jinx to keep you interested. If romance or chick lit is your thing, then this is a title that shouldn’t disappoint. Or if like me, you prefer your romance to have mad wives locked away in attics and lashings of high class snobbery, then maybe just stick to the classics.

Reviewed by Laura McLaughlin, October 2012.