Book Review: Ice by Lauren Carr @TheMysteryLadie @BooksbyAcorn @iReadBookTours

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Title: Ice
Series: A Chris Matheson Cold Case Mystery #1
Author: Lauren Carr
Narrator: Mike Alger
Publication Date: April 25, 2018

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Purchase Links:
Audible // iTunes // Amazon

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Ice
A Chris Matheson Cold Case Mystery #1
Lauren Carr
Narrated by Mike Alger
Acorn Book Services, April 2018
Downloaded Unabridged Audiobook

From the author—

When Sandy Lipton and her unborn child disappeared, the court of public opinion found young Chris Matheson guilty. Decades later, the retired FBI agent returns home to discover that the cloud of suspicion cast over him and his family has never lifted. 

With the help of a team of fellow retired law enforcement officers, each a specialist in their own field of investigation, Chris Matheson starts chipping away at the ice on this cold case to uncover what had happened to Sandy and her baby and the clues are getting hot!

When Chris Matheson’s wife was killed, he was left with three young daughters to raise, a difficult thing to do under any circumstances but much worse when you’re an active FBI agent. Chris retired and moved the family home to Harper’s Ferry, WV, to live with his mom, director of the town library. A few months later, his mother, Doris, decided he needed something to do with his time, to get him out and about, and the perfect thing for him is the mystery book club that meets at the library. Reluctant at first, Chris finally succumbs to the pressure and, once again, his life takes a significant turn.

This is not your normal mystery book club, you see, but a group of retired law enforcement who, on their own, look into cold cases. Known as the Geezer Squad, they’re reluctant, at first, to accept Chris into their ranks because, well, he’s not qualified because he’s not a geezer so he doesn’t have the experience needed to ferret out the truth of long-dormant cases. That irritates Chris, of course, but they work out their differences and set out to solve some cases. One of them is the case of the pregnant Sandy Lipton who went missing years ago and Chris was initially a prime suspect.

Multiple murders, truly appealing characters, cunning investigating, and sly humor, not to mention a bunch of highly entertaining animals (including a retired law enforcement canine), make this a terrific piece of crime fiction. It’s made even better by the narration by Mike Alger who does a wonderful job with various voices and intonations. I actually listened to the second book in the series before this one — https://cncbooksblog.wordpress.com/2019/05/28/book-review-winter-frost-by-lauren-carr/ — and my high opinion of Mr. Alger has only been solidified. Ice will be on my list of best books read in 2019 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, October 2019.

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ICE is a strong start to a new series that will have fans of
Lauren Carr thrilled to be introduced to another set of memorable
and entertaining characters. Carr’s Geezer Squad has brought
sexy back to mature men and women, whose kickass attitude
and smarts sizzle as they melt the clues to those cold cases!”
Laura Fabiani, Library of Clean Reads

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About the Author

Lauren Carr is the international best-selling author of the Thorny Rose, Mac Faraday, Lovers in Crime, and Chris Matheson Cold Case Mysteries—over twenty titles across four fast-paced mystery series filled with twists and turns!

Book reviewers and readers alike rave about how Lauren Carr seamlessly crosses genres to include mystery, suspense, crime fiction, police procedurals, romance, and humor.

Lauren is a popular speaker who has made appearances at schools, youth groups, and on author panels at conventions. She lives with her husband, and two spoiled rotten German shepherds on a mountain in Harpers Ferry, WV.

Connect with the author:
Website  ~  Twitter  ~  Facebook  ~  Instagram

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About the Narrator

Channel 2 Meteorologist Mike Alger joined KTVN-TV in May, 1989. Prior to that Mike had worked at KNDU-TV in Washington. Mike has provided northern Nevada “Weather Coverage You Can Count On” during the 1990 President’s Day Blizzard, the drought in the mid- 1990s, the New Year’s Flood of 1997 and the historic Snowstorms of 2005.

Mike has been married for more than 30 years and has two grown children. His hobbies include golf, music, biking, tennis, scuba diving, writing. He has written and published one novel and is working on a second. He is also a narrator of several audio books, and his work can be found on Audible.com.

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Giveaway

Win a $50 Amazon gift card courtesy of
Lauren Carr, author of the
The Chris Matheson Cold Case Mysteries.

Enter here.

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“For the whodunit mystery buff who loves ever-increasing
suspense and danger, Lauren Carr’s newest series offers up
a big dose of both. Murder and mayhem seem to be Chris’s
new companions after returning home following the loss
of both his wife and his father. Juggling the parenting
responsibilities of his three daughters with his mother is not
something Chris was expecting at this point in his life,
but life isn’t something that goes as planned.”
5-Star Review at Blooming with Books

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Book Review: Primary Target by John Billheimer

Primary Target
An Owen Allison Mystery Book 6
John Billheimer
The Mystery Company, September 2019
ISBN 978-1-932325-59-1
Hardcover

Properly performing the duties of almost any job means acquiring, and often retaining, information. Perhaps creating possession of something, that in the worker-role, is simply par for the course. But, to someone else, ensuring that this little nugget of knowledge is never made public is of the upmost importance. And, of course, time is of the essence.

So, when the one partner from Owen Allison’s defunct consulting firm dies unexpectedly, it is odd, but not suspicious. At least initially. Of course, Owen does have a lot on his mind.

His return to his home state of West Virginia, to care for his elderly mother, is fortuitous for the county sheriff. It’s an election year. Reporter Tom O’Day has made it crystal clear that he is on the scene to ensure a fair election. This is the state, after all, that sees vote-buying as a boost to local economy.

Sheriff Thad Reader runs a tight ship in Raleigh County and if any of his citizens still support the old-fashioned way of rigging elections, one vote at a time, he will be the one to handle it; not some big-city reporter. The sheriff knows that the collapse of Owen’s consulting firm was political, not a result of poor performance. Personally, he knows that Owen won’t let that cloud his judgement. Particularly imperative here, because the family that crushed the consultants is the very same one campaigning to become a presidential candidate.

While poll-watching may not have been his specialty, Owen was grateful for the income and was happy to be of assistance. He wanted to put his full focus on the voters, which proved difficult due to the tragedies that kept coming from his old business. Not one to believe in coincidences, Owen begins to suspect that the Davison family has several more skeletons in the closet and at least one of them is buried in the old files that were divvied up among the partners.

Until recently, it would be difficult for me to imagine a political plot that could be fast-paced, provocative and down-right compelling. Today, in these Not-So-United-States though, Mr. Billheimer’s Primary Target, his sixth story featuring Owen Allison, does not seem at all far-fetched. In fact, I enjoyed it so much, I’m going back for the first five.

Reviewed by jv poore, September 2019.

Book Reviews: Ink by Alice Broadway and Back Roads by William Bitner, Daniel Boyd and Jason Pell

Ink
The Skin Books #1
Alice Broadway
Scholastic Press, January 2018
ISBN 978-1-338-19699-3
Hardcover

In Saintstone, the destiny of the soul is determined not by a deity, but by the government. From birth until demise, the body is marked to illustrate the life being lived. At death, the skin is flayed, then bound into a book. If the soul is worthy, the book goes home with the family. If not, it is obliterated by fire and the person is forgotten forever–as if everyone’s collective memories merge with the smoke, dissipate, then disappear.

Leora easily understands this definitive divide and especially embraces it when she loses a loved one. An absence so overwhelming can bring even the staunchest believers to rock bottom. Surfacing secrets shove the bottom away, resulting in a figurative free-fall of uncertainty and doubt.

Hearing something often, particularly from people most admired, certainly makes that thing seem true. Perhaps Leora has been purely parroting the comfort and confidence contrived by her firm trust in her faith. As Obel’s new intern, she is shaken when she attempts to answer his apparently innocuous questions, but finds herself floundering.

His queries feel bold, almost blasphemous. Leora has never had reason to doubt the separation of the despicable blank people from the marked, but when called to support her stance with facts and logic, she is speechless, then stunned. Seeing every single thing in a new light can be disconcerting. No longer knowing who to trust or what to believe, terrifying.

Looking at life through Leora’s eyes is humbling. As she adamantly, albeit ignorantly, explains why the evil White Witch, the first blank, does not deserve to be remembered; it begins to be easier to see what actually is, as opposed to what Leora has always been told. Accepting that real knowledge is indeed power, Leora learns, then she plans. The young girl’s tremendous growth, against all odds is enlightening and empowering.

Reviewed by jv poore, January 2018.

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Back Roads
William Bitner, Daniel Boyd & Jason Pell
CreateSpace, March 2017
ISBN 978-1544194806
Trade Paperback

Definitely distinct, yet stitched with a common dark thread, these short stories flow with an inexplicably familiar feel while featuring fresh frights.  Each author seems to settle back and spin yarns with a natural knack for story-telling that evokes an avalanche of emotions. A strong, soft, somber voice speaks.  Instinctively, I am in.  I felt the crisp cold of the mountain air instantly freeze the inside of my nose, heard the ripples and rush of the rivers and felt my heart in my throat and my body tense as turning the page felt like taking a hairpin curve at high speed on a steep mountain road.

Creatures creep from the dark, formative…to spark a spooky image, while monsters mangle with brilliantly bold detail that may make you squeeze your eyes shut.   Substance makes these shorts stand out, as if the writer has wrung a bit of his soul into the words to sneakily seep into the reader.  In some instances, real-life-right-now social, environmental and health issues blur the line between sci-fi and reality, bringing a chilling sense of foreboding along with the ugly, unfiltered view of cruelty and corruption.

I love that these stories show scenic, wild, West Virginia and portray the people honestly; quietly quashing inaccurate stereotypes; humbly highlighting the genuine good.  To me, this book is a treasure chest filled with rare, remarkable jewels that will bring me pleasure every single time I open it.  I enthusiastically recommend it to voracious readers, as well as reluctant ones.  In merely minutes, engage in a tumultuous, terrifying escape….and I mean that in the best way possible.

Reviewed by jv poore, May 2017.

Book Reviews: A Study in Charlotte by Brittany Cavallaro and Summer of the Dead by Julia Keller

A Study in CharlotteA Study in Charlotte
Charlotte Holmes Novel #1
Brittany Cavallaro
Katherine Tegen Books, March 2016
ISBN 978-0-06-239890-1
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Jamie Watson has always been intrigued by Charlotte Holmes; after all, their great-great-great-grandfathers are one of the most infamous pairs in history. But the Holmes family has always been odd, and Charlotte is no exception. She’s inherited Sherlock’s volatility and some of his vices—and when Jamie and Charlotte end up at the same Connecticut boarding school, Charlotte makes it clear she’s not looking for friends.

But when a student they both have a history with dies under suspicious circumstances, ripped straight from the most terrifying of the Sherlock Holmes stories, Jamie can no longer afford to keep his distance. Danger is mounting and nowhere is safe—and the only people they can trust are each other.

I’ve never been a huge fan of Sherlock Holmes (cue the gasps of horror) even though I’ve read all of the original canon during my reading lifetime. I’m not sure why I’m sort of ambivalent about Sherlock but there it is and my lack of enthusiasm has carried over into all the subsequent work by other writers as well as the movie and tv adaptations (although I have a soft spot for Basil Rathbone’s films and for the first Robert Downey, Jr. movie). Then, I threw caution to the wind and jumped into A Study in Charlotte because I wanted to see how Ms. Cavallaro would handle the concept of a female Sherlock and both Sherlock and Watson being teens.

On the whole, I really enjoyed this and the boarding school setting was just right. I liked Jamie Watson a tad more than Charlotte Holmes but, as a pair, they were effective, amusing and better than average sleuths which is as it should be since this is Holmes and Watson we’re talking about. Charlotte is every bit as annoying, intellectually arrogant and obsessed with scientific endeavors as her great-great-great-grandfather and Jamie’s concern for her reflects nicely on his forebear. Together, they become a formidable team in investigating the death of a classmate when they become prime suspects and they’re not intimidated by the ensuing dastardly things that happen or the appearance of another name from the past, Moriarty.

The only real concern I have with this interpretation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s work is Charlotte’s use of drugs. That follows with Sherlock’s use of cocaine, of course, and in itself is not objectionable but I was uneasy with the perception that she can take it or leave it and it doesn’t have much of a deleterious effect on her. I know that’s harking back to the original detective but I could have wished for a bit more cautionary aspect to it because this is a story that will appeal to younger and more impressionable teens.

Brittany Cavallaro‘s debut is intriguing and a lot of fun with a good deal of attention paid to both plot and characterizations. There’s no doubt in my mind that the author has a terrific concept here and has carried it out quite successfully and I’ll definitely be looking for the next book.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, March 2016.

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Summer of the DeadSummer of the Dead
Bell Elkins Novels #3
Julia Keller
Minotaur Books, August 2014
ISBN 978-1-250-04473-0
Hardcover

From the publisher—

High summer in Acker’s Gap, West Virginia–but no one’s enjoying the rugged natural landscape. Not while a killer stalks the small town and its hard-luck inhabitants. County prosecutor Bell Elkins and Sheriff Nick Fogelsong are stymied by a murderer who seems to come and go like smoke on the mountain. At the same time, Bell must deal with the return from prison of her sister, Shirley–who, like Bell, carries the indelible scars of a savage past.

In Summer of the Dead, the third Julia Keller mystery chronicling the journey of Bell Elkins and her return to her Appalachian hometown, we also meet Lindy Crabtree–a coal miner’s daughter with dark secrets of her own, secrets that threaten to explode into even more violence.

Acker’s Gap is a place of loveliness and brutality, of isolation and fierce attachments–a place where the dead rub shoulders with the living, and demand their due.

I first read Summer of the Dead as a selection for one of the book clubs I’m in and the woman who suggested it spoke of it with such high praise I couldn’t not read it. The book lived up to her comments, I’m happy to say.

West Virginia lends itself, fairly or not, to rather depressing stories what with its coal mining, lack of education in some areas and levels of poverty that would crush many of us not accustomed to what can be a bleak outlook. I hasten to add that all of this truly lovely state is not like this but it’s unfortunately true that there’s some validity in such a perception.

Bell Elkins returned to her hometown, Acker’s Gap, and took up the position of county prosecutor. When an elderly man is killed in his own driveway, she and the sheriff, Nick Fogelsong, are really puzzled about what would have prompted someone to take a sledgehammer to him. At the same time, Bell is coping with her sister, Shirley’s, release from a lengthy incarceration. Shirley is most definitely not in a peaceful frame of mind but the past these sisters share weighs heavily on Bell, causing her to feel unusually obligated to Shirley.

On another front, we meet Lindy Crabtree, a woman whose only relief from her dreary existence is her love of books and science. Her father is, to my mind, one of the most compelling characters in the book; a former coalminer, he represents all the terrible things that can go wrong in such a life and the scene that is riveted in my brain is of him crouching under a table because he needs the enclosed space and the dark and is unable to stand erect because of all the years spent bent over in the mines.

There’s an intelligent plot here and the characters are vivid but it’s the region and the residual effects of coalmining that really stand out. Ms. Keller has gotten my attention and I’ll be seeking out the previous Bell Elkins books.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, March 2016.

Book Review: The Dead Days Journal by Sandra R. Campbell

The Dead Days JournalThe Dead Days Journal
Volume 1
Sandra R. Campbell
CreateSpace, March 2015
ISBN 9781506100401
Trade Paperback

From the author—

The daughter of a radical doomsday prepper, Leo Marrok spent her entire life preparing for the end. A skilled fighter and perfect marksman, Leo is her father’s second-in-command when Armageddon comes to pass. Together, they lead a group of survivors to a secure bunker deep in the Appalachian Mountains.

Vincent Marrok is willing to take extreme measures to repopulate their broken world. Leo’s refusal marks her as a traitor. With father and daughter at odds for the first time, their frail community is thrust into turmoil. Until the unthinkable happens, a blood-thirsty horde arrives. The impending attack will destroy all that they have worked for.

To protect her home and everything she believes in, Leo puts her faith in the arms of the enemy-a creature only rumored to exist-the one she calls Halloween. An alliance born out of necessity evolves into feelings Leo is ill-equipped to handle.

The Dead Days Journal is a post-apocalyptic story of love and family told through Leo Marrok’s first-hand account and the pages of Vincent’s personal journal, giving two very different perspectives on what it takes to survive.

Mature themes, adult language, sexual situations, violence and gore. 18+

The problem with many post-apocalyptic stories, whether book or film, is that there is frequently a strong feeling of unreality in the sense that it’s hard to believe that such a scenario could come to pass. Something about the story itself feels like pure fiction rather than the kind of science fiction that opens a window on what our future could be. There’s almost a feeling of adventure.

Then there is the kind of post-apocalyptic story that Ms. Campbell has crafted in which you feel immersed in the darkness of spirit that surely must develop when the world you know has come to an end. The brutality of survival is what we really should expect and it’s what makes The Dead Days Journal so believable from the start.

Leo is a young woman who has lived nearly four years in a fortified cave in the Appalachians built to give a handful of people a chance to survive. The 22 members of this small band have learned what it takes to live under perilous circumstances and with dangerous shortages and the tale focuses largely on the leader, Vincent Marrok, and his daughter, Leo.

Personalities become intensified during such stressful times and Vincent has become very controlling, generally feeling that his opinion is the only right one. His wish to repopulate is certainly not surprising but, unfortunately, Leo is the only female likely to be able to bear children. Imagine what it must feel like to know that your father is so “invested” in your sex life—it gives new meaning to having a desire for grandchildren, doesn’t it?

I liked Leo a great deal, partly because she’s such a strong woman in every way that matters and partly because she’s subject to normal emotions that any of us might feel in her situation. Vincent, on the other hand, raised my hackles and, although I understand his motives, I couldn’t like them. The character I thought was least well-developed was Lincoln. No 11-year-old boy in our own time would be so childish and it’s even less likely that he would be so living in a world of such hardships. And then there are Ben, the man who seems to be the perfect match for Leo despite all her misgivings and Orrin, an enigma who has an undeniable effect on Leo.

As post-apocalyptic fiction, this is a good, strong story but I did not care for the introduction of a supernatural element even though certain characters are quite memorable. Don’t get me wrong, I like supernatural and I usually like it blended with other genres but it just didn’t work for me in this case. Still, I’ll be interested to see what lies ahead for these people who have managed, so far, to survive the unimaginable though they apparently have no idea that they have not yet encountered the worst. Sandra R. Campbell knows how to craft a tale and I look forward to more from her.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, April 2015.

Book Review: The Doomsday Kids #3: Amaranth’s Return by Karyn Langhorne Folan

Amaranth's ReturnAmaranth’s Return
The Doomsday Kids Book 3
Karyn Langhorne Folan
K Squared Books, December 2014
ISBN 978-0990804345
Trade Paperback

From the author—

Rod Wasserman is dying of radiation poisoning. His last wish: to return to the Wasteland of Washington DC to see if there’s any hope that his mother has survived the nuclear blast.

Amaranth Jones has a wish, too: for the chance to redeem herself. To do that, she must leave Liam Harper and her friends at the Mountain Place and never return. When she discovers Rod packing to leave, she insists on joining him, whether he wants her company or not.

As they make their way back to ground zero, the two teens confront the horrors of their post-apocalyptic world. Food and water are scarce; nuclear winter has killed both plants and animals. Human life has little meaning and some desperate survivors have surrendered to the ultimate inhumanity: cannibalism. Threatened by weather, other survivors and their own demons, Amaranth and Rod must learn to trust each other if they have any hope of making it through hell and back. As Rod grows weaker, Amaranth is forced to make difficult choices to ensure their survival. How far will she go to help Rod achieve his last wish? And if they find Rod’s mother, can the three of them make it back to the Mountain Place alive?

Heartbreak. That’s what Amaranth’s Return is all about at its core.

Whew. I’m a big fan of post-apocalyptic fiction and of this series in particular but this episode is as gut-wrenching as anything I’ve read in this subgenre and, yet, I’m not the least bit sorry I read it. Amaranth and Rod have so very much going against them but they still manage to keep their goals in mind. Rod’s goal is to find out if there’s enough left of Washington, DC, that his mother might have survived the nuclear attack. Amaranth’s goal is much simpler—to help Rod achieve his.

The interesting thing about these two teens is that, for long stretches of the story, their ages were irrelevant. The horrible experiences they have would have been no better if they’d been adults and they have the shared bond of being in high school together, not that those years were a wonderful time for Amaranth. We learned much about these kids in the first two novels but now is when we get a much clearer picture of who they were and, more importantly, who they are now.

Ms. Folan has created a post-nuclear holocaust world that is entirely realistic and frightening and I frequently found myself wishing Rod would die because the author’s depictions of his radiation sickness are so intense and devastating. The journey Rod and Amaranth have undertaken is a quest but is also their time to come to a hardwon acceptance of past and present. They’ll meet others along the road who are suffering in their own ways and two will have a real impact on them but, in the end, this is the story of a pair of young people trying to accomplish something truly important even if it only matters to them.

My only criticism of Amaranth’s Return is that I felt the conclusion was rushed but the fourth book, Amy’s Gift, is about to come out; believe me, I’ll be on it like white on rice 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, April 2015.

 

 

Book Review: The Reluctant Midwife by Patricia Harman

The Reluctant MidwifeThe Reluctant Midwife
A Hope River Novel #2
Patricia Harman
William Morrow Paperbacks, March 2015
ISBN 978-0-06-235824-0
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Nurse Becky Myers is a reluctant midwife. She’s far more comfortable with tending the sick than helping women deliver their babies. For these mothers-to-be, she relies on an experienced midwife, her dear friend Patience Murphy. But the Great Depression has hit West Virginia hard. Men are out of work; women struggle to feed hungry children. And sometimes Becky is called upon to bring new life into the world.

Though she is happy to be back in Hope River, time and experience have tempered Becky’s cheerfulness— as tragedy has destroyed the vibrant spirit of her former employer, Dr. Isaac Blum, who has accompanied her. Patience too has changed. Married and expecting a baby herself, she is relying on Becky to keep the mothers of Hope River safe.

Becoming a midwife and ushering new life into the world is not Becky’s only challenge. Her skills and courage will be tested when a calamitous forest fire blazes through a Civilian Conservation Corps camp. And she must find a way to bring Isaac’s spirit back to life and rediscover the hope they both need to go on.

Much has been written and studied about the Great Depression and its devastating effects and West Virginia was certainly one of the states hit hardest. Already lagging behind other states economically, the Depression made things much worse and true poverty became commonplace. Such is the setting for the tale of some wonderful and resilient people told in The Reluctant Midwife.

Technically speaking, this is the second book in a series but it’s really more of a companion novel to the first. The main character from The Midwife of Hope River, Patience Murphy, is present in the second book but the focus is on a different character, Becky Myers. I enjoyed Patience in this story (not having read the first book yet) but Becky is the one who really caught my attention.

Becky is a nurse but is every bit as terrified as any layman would be at the thought of attending childbirth and it’s this facet of her personality that tells us who Becky is, the fortitude and compassion that imbue her personality. Oddly enough, I was reminded of the James Herriot books in the type of person Becky is, doing what needs to be done even when she really doesn’t want to, and also in the style of the story, with vignettes of medical scenarios forming the heart of the tale.

Becky is a woman I’d love to know in reality even while I’d be a little intimidated by her essential goodness. She takes on the burden of caring for her nearly catatonic employer, Dr. Isaac Blum, and does so just because that’s the right thing to do. Her compassion towards him in the face of impending starvation is remarkable and, yet, it fits the mold of those people who live in Appalachia and other economically stressed areas. They are people who recognize that community and caring for one’s neighbors is how they rise above their conditions.

Becky, like them, is full of heart and resilience and I love her story. I’ll be picking up the first book while wiondering where Ms. Harman will take us next.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, March 2015.

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Purchase Links:

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About the Author

Patricia HarmanPatricia Harman, CNM, got her start as a lay midwife on rural communes and went on to become a nurse-midwife on the faculty of Ohio State University, Case Western Reserve University, and West Virginia University. She lives near Morgantown, West Virginia; has three sons; and is the author of two acclaimed memoirs.

Find out more about Patricia at her website, and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

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Follow the tour:

Tuesday, March 3rd: West Metro Mommy

Wednesday, March 4th: Bibliotica

Thursday, March 5th: Broken Teepee

Friday, March 6th: Kritter Ramblings

Monday, March 9th: Peeking Between the Pages

Tuesday, March 10th: A Novel Review

Thursday, March 12th: Life Between Reads

Monday, March 16th: Unshelfish

Tuesday, March 17th: A Patchwork of Books

Wednesday, March 18th: Buried Under Books

Thursday, March 19th: FictionZeal

Friday, March 20th: A Chick Who Reads

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