Karen Witemeyer is one of those authors that you can trust to always deliver a great story, the one whose books you can buy without hesitation. I have yet to meet a Witemeyer story that I didn't thoroughly enjoy. Under the Texas Mistletoe gives readers three great Christmas novellas, one of which, A Texas Christmas Carol, is brand new, never before published, while the other two, An Archer Family Christmas and Gift of the Heart, have been previously published in other novella collections. While two of these novellas have been published before, I've only read one, which was Gift of the Heart, so two of the three stories are new to me.
A Texas Christmas Carol is a fabulous reimagining of the Dicken's classic. I have to admit, I'm not usually a fan of retellings of classic stories as they usually come off too cheesy or poorly executed, but Witemeyer has outdone herself with A Texas Christmas Carol. The story flows naturally, with great nods to the classic while maintaining a fresh and unique feel to it. This is the novella I enjoyed most from this collection. I loved the way Witemeyer created her own Scrooge character, in the handsome but standoffish Evan Beezer, the name itself a fun nod to Dicken's main character. A Texas Christmas Carol is a beautiful story of redemption, as well as finding joy and hope, with a few twists along the way. This is one I plan to revisit during the Christmas season.
An Archer Family Christmas is a festive installment of the Archer Brothers series in which readers familiar with the series get a deeper look into Jim Archer and wife, Cassie's story, which we've seen bits and pieces featured as secondary stories in the other books. Readers learn of the heart break that the couple have endured and how strong of a couple Jim and Cassie are. In An Archer Family Christmas, readers get to celebrate the holiday with the Archers, as well as "watch" a beautiful blessing play out, with some action packed in there as well. I found the novella a delightful and beautiful installment in the series, you really can't get enough of the Archers.
Gift of the Heart was previously published in The Christmas Heirloom novella collection, and is a take on the Bible story of Ruth and Boaz. The story follows widow Ruth Albright and her daughter Naomi as they move to a new town for a fresh start in life. Due to low funds, Ruth ends up using the family brooch as collateral for a loan from the local banker, Bo Azlin. The more she gets to know the kind and generous man behind the stern business man, she hopes for a second chance at love. Another beautiful, well written story under Witemeyer's belt.
Overall, Under the Texas Mistletoe is an enjoyable, festive read, one I'll definitely revisit for the holidays.
This is actually a re-read for me. I read Sarah Smarsh's Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth when it was first released in 2018, and I was honestly on the fence as to whether I liked it or not. The first time around, I enjoyed reading the book and Smarsh's writing style, I also found her overall story interesting enough, but wasn't sure as to whether I agreed with her opinions and politics expressed in the book. Once finished, I placed it on one of my shelves and there it sat for three years, surviving several book overhauls. I couldn't bring myself to pass it along as I did enjoy reading the book and there was a part of me that didn't feel finished with it yet.
Three years later, and I was on a "re-reading spree" when I decided to give Heartland another try. I went into this second reading with a different intention. I wanted to put aside my own beliefs and not get hung up so much on what I disagreed with Smarsh on, and just read what she had to say. I went in with more respect and a desire to understand, and I ended up relating a great deal to her experiences and the emotions tied to them as I also grew up in a lower middle class, rural family.
This time around, I found Heartland fascinating and informative. Smarsh has a writing style that is precise in delivering its message. It flows and is written in such a way that it feels like Smarsh is speaking directly to one person, which may be due to the fact that the book is actually written to an unborn daughter/inner child whom Smarsh has given the name August. I found the approach fascinating, and it made the book more personal. Heartland is written through the lens of a woman who has not only overcome the barriers of poverty and circumstance, but as someone who has broken many dysfunctional family cycles as well. She makes quite a few valid points and provides credible, well-researched information to back them up.
One sentiment in particular that Smarsh shared that I truly related to was that we may have been poor, but we had pride and always tried to look nice and clean, and kept our houses tidy and clean. That's what my family always tried to do, we may not have had a whole lot, but we still had pride in what we did have. People these days have appropriated the country/rural lifestyle, wearing jeans with pre-made holes in them and hats that are merely accessories, and decorating their homes with rustic tools and other "country" items, that real country folk have out of necessity, leaving those who actually live that way of life scratching their heads.
Heartland is often billed as a book about a girl that grew up poor in rural Kansas who rose above it all and "got out", but that's not what this book is really about, and Sarah Smarsh is the first to say this. Her rural home wasn't something to "get out of" or escape. This book isn't about how she rose above it all to be successful, it's about the impact that poverty has had not only on her own life, but also generations of her family. It's about how poverty and the toxic, dysfunctional cycles running through her family lines have impacted her own decisions and actions. Heartland ends up being a fascinating sociological study and an interesting memoir all in one. It was a great read, one I'm glad I gave a second chance to. Sometimes it's not a problem with the book, but rather your own hang ups getting in the way. This book has earned its place on my shelf.
Karen Witemeyer charges out of the gate with the second installment in her Hanger's Horsemen series, The Heart's Charge, which features two heroes and two heroines. That's right, Witemeyer manages to balance four main characters with four different backstories with absolute ease and without making the book feel rushed or too busy. The Heart's Charge follows Horsemen Mark Wallace and Jonah Brooks as they are drawn into a mystery and take on a mission to save missing children. After a forced detour on their way back home from completing a job, Mark and Jonah meet the ladies of Harmony House, a foundling home, one of which is a blast from Mark's past.
Katherine Palmer has dedicated her life to caring for children after refusing Mark Wallace's proposal and breaking his heart in the past. Now, here he is standing in her present and giving her ideas about the future. Katherine's partner in Harmony House, Eliza Southerland, understands how it feels to not fit into society's mold, being illegitimate and mixed race. She's far too serious about her calling to consider a relationship with any man, and finding one that could rise to her expectations would be impossible anyway... Until she finds herself intrigued by taciturn Jonah.
This book is the crossroad where danger meets love. With well written and relatable characters, from the main four to the lovely ragtag bunch of children, and an intriguing plot that will keep you guessing until the end, as well as a little swooning, you won't want to put this one down. Will each couple find a way to work things out and give love a chance? Will the two Horsemen solve the mystery and find the children? As usual with Karen's books, I ended up reading it in one sitting. I'd highly recommend this one, it's such a great and enjoyable read, perfect for a lazy summer day.
I picked up Brandi Carlile's memoir, Broken Horses, out of curiosity more than anything. I have to admit that though I am a fan of Carlile's group, The Highwomen, and her song "The Joke," I am not very familiar with her as an artist. She seemed like an interesting and nice person, and has a killer voice, so I gave her memoir a whirl.
Once I started reading the book, I couldn't put it down. I have to say, Carlile has led quite an interesting life and isn't shy about sharing it. Brandi was born into a musically gifted, poor family on the outskirts of Seattle. Though strange and dysfunctional, her childhood seems to have been just as loving and nurturing. Broken Horses proves Carlile to be smart, interesting, honest, and relatable. She writes in a way that flows and makes the reader feel as though she's telling her life story directly to them over dinner. I learned a great deal about Carlile, her craft, and how her mind works, and left the book with a greater respect for her as a person and an artist. Broken Horses was the first book in a long while that really interested me and engaged me, I found reading it highly enjoyable.
I wanted to bring a bit more of what I used to feature on the now retired Modern Jo March, the book blog that I maintained for a few years, to Writing Just In Case, so I've decided to do a weekly throwback feature called "Throwback to MJM Blog". Each week I will publish a feature/piece from Modern Jo March that I am particularly proud of in an effort to consolidate my writing into Writing Just In Case. If you are curious and want a fuller view of what Modern Jo March was all about, feel free to check it out in the Archives section!
Up first is an interview I conducted with bestselling author, James Donovan, which I consider one of my proudest moments as a writer to date. I originally published this on MJM in April of 2018.
I had the privilege of talking with bestselling author James Donovan about his excellent book, The Blood of Heroes. After reading The Blood of Heroes last month, I really wanted to sit down and discuss it with the author himself, and Mr. Donovan was gracious enough to agree. We discussed his research process, the writing process for the book, and the importance of separating fact and legend.
MJM: I’m wondering what originally drew you to the Alamo? Did you have an interest in it before writing The Blood of Heroes or were you prompted to write about its history in some other way?
Donovan: My previous book was A Terrible Glory, about the Battle of the Little Bighorn (Little, Brown, 2008). That sold well, so my editor wanted to know if I had any ideas about a follow-up along the same lines. I live in Dallas, and I said, “Well, there’s this well-known battle that happened here in Texas a few decades before that one . . .” He loved the idea, and thought it a perfect follow-up.
MJM: I can tell by reading through your Notes and Bibliography sections that a great deal of time, work, and effort went into the research behind the book. How long did the research process take? What did your research process look like? (How did you determine where to start? How did you go about gathering and organizing the information needed?)
Donovan: A Terrible Glory had required a lot of travel to do it right—to many collections at various universities and archives around the country, as well as a few trips to the National Archives. Since the Alamo story did not involve federal archives—Texas wasn’t a part of the U.S. at the time—I thought the research would be more easily handled. In a way it was, since it didn’t involve much air travel. But for about 18 months, I was on the road to San Antonio, Austin, Houston, and other Texas places about every other weekend. A lot of driving and of course that involved delving into lots of collections and archives, and reading old manuscripts, letters, newspapers, etc. That part of it is actually the most enjoyable for me—it’s the closest thing to time travel. But before I do that, I read several broad, comprehensive histories, to get a good feel of the subject and the era, and then I start living in the bibliographies of those books and making lists of their sources. The point is to go back further and further until you’re reading every primary source (written by participants or observers) available. That’s how you get the closest to the truth of what happened. It’s also the only way you’ll find anything new. Most writers don’t dig too deep, but there’s almost always unused material if you dig deep enough. All of that, the background reading and the archival research, took about three years.
MJM: That’s a fascinating process. Wow, three years! I think you have to be dedicated to and passionate about the project to undertake such a task. I also love the researching part of a project. It’s the most enjoyable part for me.
Donovan: I’ve got a full-time job and I also had a young daughter to raise while writing that book, so I did most of my work—outside of the travel—at night and on the weekends.
MJM: I think that’s the picture of dedication right there.
The book’s layout is perfect. The chapters flow and weave into one another beautifully. Each of the key players in the siege of the Alamo receive at least a chapter to themselves. I wondered how you decided on the layout of the book. The Blood of Heroes covers a great deal of ground, both the history surrounding the Alamo and the lives of the people involved in the fight for Texas’ Independence. With such a big undertaking as this one, how did you decide on where to start?
Donovan: Thanks for the compliments. I never jump into the actual event immediately—I think it makes more sense, and the reader will have a much better understanding, if you show how it got to that point, and put it all in context. So with the Alamo, you’ve got to go back to the earliest days of Texas, and discuss its relationship with Mexico, and even Spain. Of course, doing that without sounding like a history textbook is the hard part, because no one reads history textbooks for enjoyment. Whenever possible, I try to focus on the human side of whatever aspect I’m tackling at the time, because if I’ve learned one thing over the years, it’s that people like to read about people. I take it a chapter at a time, and I spend a lot of time deciding how to open a chapter, because I see that as the key to letting a reader into the story in that section. If at all possible, I like to start a chapter talking about a person. That draws the reader in. Then, when you’ve got them interested, you can segue to something else. But of course you can’t make up a single thing, or pretend to know what’s going on inside a character’s head unless that’s known through an account or interview. It’s not easy—probably the hardest part of the process.
MJM: That approach makes sense and as a reader, I thought it worked very well. It’s true that you understand more if you’ve spent a good part of the book reading about all of the events leading up to the siege. Basing it around people rather than the events themselves helps the reader get more invested in the book. You get a feel for these people and develop a better understanding of their mindset.
Donovan: You hope so, anyway.
MJM: You handled the scene of the final battle for the Alamo beautifully. I would imagine that writing that particular scene was a rather daunting task. There’s not a whole lot of information available on the details of that battle. Not to mention the conflicting information and theories surrounding that final battle, Crockett and Bowie’s deaths in particular come to mind. What was your mindset going into writing that particular scene? What were some of your concerns, if any, in handling that scene?
Donovan: You’re a sharp reader. Yes, it was difficult, because we don’t know so many details of what exactly happened to specific people. Any book or story is more satisfying when the main characters are involved in the climax. When that information isn’t known, the writer has to work harder to involve, and to emotionally invest, the reader. But one thing I don’t do—and this is a mistake that too many writers of history make—is stop in the middle of a scene and discuss various theories or conflicting accounts. I call it the Battle of the Footnotes, and if you’re trying to tell the story dramatically, it brings the proceedings to a screeching halt. I’m not saying there aren’t good books that do that, but for a popular history, it’s dangerous. You risk losing your reader. I prefer to write the story based on my conclusions as to the most likely scenario after much deliberation, and discuss that in the endnotes (few publishers use actual footnotes anymore). So in the climactic battle scene involving the predawn assault, I tried to write it as dramatically as possible and as accurately as possible. It was frustrating not to be able to write more about the three main characters, and other prominent ones, because I know the reader also wants to know what happened to them.
MJM: I agree. You handled it beautifully. When reading your depiction of the final battle, I couldn’t help but feel emotionally invested in these people. I knew what the outcome was going to be already, obviously, but I still found myself rooting for them and feeling a sense of pride at their show of bravery and courage. When you recounted De la Peña’s account (on page 286) about admiring “one robust blonde norteamericano as he fired, ran back a few steps while loading, turned, and fired again, until he finally fell,” I could almost feel my heart swell with pride for who we assume was David Crockett in his final moments.
I appreciated the fact that you went with the account/belief that David Crockett died in battle as opposed to surrendering and being executed afterward. You explain your reasoning behind using this account on page 446 in the Notes section of the book, ultimately stating that there is very little evidence to support the “execution scenario”, due to all accounts pointing to that theory having major credibility issues. Your explanation of Crockett’s death, which spans 4 pages front and back, demonstrates the fact that you thoroughly researched the subject and gave it an enormous amount of thought, before going with the “died in battle” account. Have you received backlash for your stance?
Donovan: Yes, that’s the longest endnote in my book. As you point out, I think it’s unlikely that Crockett was one of the prisoners taken alive and executed. There’s certainly not enough evidence to write it as history. There’s been some backlash, but not much. The most interesting was probably the review in an academic periodical, the Southwest Historical Quarterly, by James Crisp, author of Sleuthing the Alamo, whose Alamo celebrity is largely based on espousing the Crockett execution theory. He spent most of the review criticizing my rejection of that theory and the “eyewitness” accounts supporting it, and distorted or misread one of my points. But that comes with the territory, I suppose.
MJM: I was put off by Crisp’ Sleuthing the Alamo. It seemed to me that he was more concerned with pushing and proving his own agenda and bias toward racial equality than digging deep and getting down to the bare bones of the historical record. I also read his review of The Blood of Heroes and to put it simply, it seems to contain an undertone of sour grapes. On the surface, readers may see a man complimenting you on certain aspects of the book, but if you dig deeper, it really seems like he’s whining over the fact that you didn’t side with him (and Kilgore for that matter) on the circumstances of Crockett’s death. Personally, in my humble opinion, I think The Blood of Heroes is far superior in its research, content, and writing style than Sleuthing the Alamo.
Donovan: There’s also the bias that academic historians have against those without doctorates, which is unwarranted. Historians have performed tremendous research in every area of history, and written countless excellent books, but an academic often view them as trespassers in their area of expertise. Crisp, by the way, wrote much of an expanded edition of Dan Kilgore’s book How Did Davy Die?, which of course supports the Crockett execution theory.
MJM: Why do you think people are so fascinated with David Crockett and his death, as opposed to the other key players in the Alamo. I mean, if you take a look at the facts and information on hand, Crockett was actually a small player in the events leading up to the siege of the Alamo and the siege itself, as compared to say Travis or Bowie or Seguín. So why then are we so enamored with Crockett and his death?
Donovan: Crockett was a fascinating character, and he was also one of our first folk heroes. Larger-than-life legends like him who are involved in last stands have to be the last man standing—think about cultural representations of Roland, and Custer, and many others. When there’s a mystery about such a death, myth rushes in to fill the void.
MJM: A quote by legendary director John Ford comes to mind, it was usually his motto when tackling a project where history and legend intersected: “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”
Donovan: Right. I think it’s an innate human tendency, something to do with refusing to accept an ordinary death for a well-known personage.
MJM: What does the process of separating fact and legend look like and mean for you in regards to writing The Blood of Heroes?
Donovan: It’s a large and important part of the process. The farther back you go in history, the less accurate things are, obviously, and the more time you spend weighing all the evidence in primary sources to decide what exactly happened. You’ve always got to keep in mind the three basic tenets of good popular history writing, as laid down by the great historian Samuel Eliot Morison: objectivity, vigor, and accuracy. I’d add a fourth: exhaustive research. You’ve got to constantly remind yourself to be objective, because even the best historians can slip into subjectivity without realizing it—a classic example is the biographer who falls in love with her subject. Another example is the historian who enters into research on a subject with preconceived notions or conclusions, and uses sources selectively—citing those that support his theory and ignoring those that don’t.
MJM: When writing the book, were you at all concerned about the reception it would receive?
Donovan: I never gave it a thought. You can’t, otherwise you’re allowing that to influence what you write. Besides, it’ll just drive you crazy, because you can’t please everyone.
MJM: Are you currently working on another project/book?
Donovan: I recently finished a book about the Space Race and Apollo 11 entitled Shoot for the Moon. It’ll be published sometime next year. I haven’t even thought of another project—I’m just catching up on reading for enjoyment, which I can’t do much of while I’m working on a book.
MJM: Just one more question before I let you off the hook. I’ve spoken to quite a few authors and their stories about how they first got into writing are all quite different. Some of them have loved to write from an early age, others developed the passion later on. According to your bio on your website, you have been a literary agent since 1993. So you were within the “industry” already. I’m wondering, how did you come to be an author? Have you always enjoyed writing?
Donovan: I’m sure my answer is similar to those of most other writers. I’ve loved the written word since my mother read her favorite poems—many of them story poems like “Casabianca” and “The Highwayman” and “Curfew Must Not Ring Tonight” and others—to me and my siblings. I read voraciously after my mother bought me a copy of Tarzan of the Apes when I was nine. I wrote various things as I grew older, and in high school I wrote for and edited the school newspaper. But after that I didn’t think about writing until I became a book editor, and then a literary agent. I wrote a couple of small books—one about Dallas, where I live, and one about the Dallas Cowboys—and I was looking for something bigger. One of my authors—he had written several good history books—wanted to do a coffee table book on Custer and the Little Bighorn, but he was busy finishing something else, so he asked me if I wanted to do it with him. I said yes, and got started researching, and then writing. He never found the time to work on the book, so I finished it and sold it. That led to my first book with Little, Brown, A Terrible Glory. So there you are: from Tarzan to Custer and Crockett and now to Neil Armstrong. Makes perfect sense, right?
MJM: That’s interesting. Each author has their own unique story of how they came to be in their profession. I’ve spoken to several authors who said that they were never interested in writing or reading when they were younger. It wasn’t until they got older that they developed the passion. One even said that the only reason they became a writer was to help pay bills, nothing more.
It does make perfect sense in a poetic sort of way. All four “characters” share the same quality. It’s the one that pushes them to press forward into the “wild”, unseen, untamed world. I can see the connection.
Donovan: A few years ago when I told a New York book editor about the new book I was working on--Shoot for the Moon—he said, “Another book on the same theme.” I said, “What are you talking about?” He said, “Men on the frontier.” He was right.
For July, I decided to dig into three new-to-me books, two of them being fairly new releases, with all three being quite different from each other. I took my time, savoring and processing each book, something that I've focused on this year as I used to just devour books quickly. My new motto for my reading life is quality over quantity, and these three books are definitely quality reads.
My first read for July was World War II veteran, John Henry Meller's The Boy With Only One Shoe, his memoir about serving with the Royal Air Force Bomber Command. While the memoir places the main focus on Meller's service during WWII, this book is written like an autobiography in which, with the help of his daughter Caroline Brownbill, Meller also details his early family and school life, as well as his courtship and marriage to his wartime sweetheart. I was impressed with not only Meller's willingness to share his wartime memories, but also his honesty when discussing the emotions and thoughts that he experienced during that time.
It was interesting reading the point of view of not only someone who served during the war, but that from a soldier serving in a war that was taking place in his own country. I've read quite a few WWII books, but all from soldiers whose home country was not the battleground, so for me, this memoir had an added depth to it because of the fact that he was British and discussed how he felt seeing his country ravaged by war. Meller is engaging and respectful in the telling of his life story, being vigilant in giving credit where credit was due and pointing to the people who had shaped and helped him along the way. I was deeply impressed with the fact that Meller made a point of acknowledging both the USA's and women's role in the war effort and its outcome.
This memoir is an interesting read for anyone interested in a military member's first hand memories of the war, as well as pleasantly delightful for reading it feels as though you're sitting down in a comfy chair one on one with Meller as he looks back on his life. While I thoroughly enjoyed the whole book, especially the details of Meller's service in the Royal Air Force Bomber Command, I think I most enjoyed the little antidotes and photographs sprinkled throughout the memoir, like the schoolboy prayer that Meller would recite to himself when flying on missions to comfort and calm himself, shared at the end of chapter 17. I found them touching and relatable. The Boy With Only One Shoe is one of the best books that I have read in a long while, a definite must read.
The second book I read in July was Lauren Graham's delightful memoir, Talking As Fast As I Can. I've been a fan of Gilmore Girls since it first aired and love Lauren, so I was so incredibly pleased to find that she's just as likable, relatable, and funny in real life as she was on the show. This book is a fast, easy read due to its very conversational structure. Graham details her life with wit and down-to-earth charm, gives behind the scenes commentary on the Gilmore Girls show broken down by each season, and shares notes from her diary from her time filming the Gilmore Girls reboot. If you're looking for a pleasant, witty memoir, Talking As Fast As I Can is the perfect book.
To round out the month, I picked up Regina Jennings' The Major's Daughter, an enjoyable historical fiction novel that rounds out Jennings' Fort Reno series. I enjoyed the first three books in the series, so I was excited to finally read this one, which was released the later part of last year. The Major's Daughter is a pleasant, quick read, though in my opinion, it's not as strong as the other three in the series. I didn't really care for the heroine in this book (Caroline), she seemed a bit too self-absorbed for my liking and I found myself growing more frustrated with her as the book went on. With that said, I still found the book to be overall enjoyable, and a nice change of pace after two nonfiction reads, and I'd certainly recommend Jennings' Fort Reno series as a whole.
And with that, it's on to a new month with plenty of books waiting to be read.... ;)
Is it just me or do the months seem to be flying by? I managed to read four books for June, though I'm still coming to terms with the fact that I can't seem to process nearly as many books as I used to. As you can see by the picture above, I read two physical books, but I also read one on my kindle and listened to another on Audible! The audio book was my first time using Audible and I have to say, I liked it. Definitely opens up another, more accessible way to consume books.
As June marked the anniversary of D-Day, I decided to pick up a book that had been sitting on my shelf, unread for quite some time. George Wilson's If You Survive is a World War Two memoir that takes the reader through Wilson's service during the war, detailing events, as well as his thoughts and emotions surrounding them. I found Wilson's approach to his memoir candid, honest, and raw. He doesn't sugar coat or glorify what he and the men he served with went through. Overall, I found it an interesting and eye-opening account of some of the events and battles of World War Two, and what the men who fought in it experienced, from a man who was actually there and lived to tell.
As I mentioned before, I also had my first Audible experience this month. I signed up for a free trial and listened to Ta-Nehisi Coates' Between the World and Me, as I have decided to make a deliberate effort to read more books by People of Color. The author himself narrates the book, which I believe adds to the listening experience. I found the book interesting and enlightening. It opened my mind and exposed me to a different perspective and different beliefs. While I may not have agreed with some of what was said in the book, I realize that it wasn't important whether I agreed with the message or not. What was important was that I heard it. I believe it is important to expose yourself to differing cultures, views, and beliefs, even if it makes you uncomfortable, to gain a better understanding of what makes people who they are.
The third book I wanted to discuss here is Chess Britt's Seek To Be Wise. I received an advanced copy from GreenLeaf Book Group for the purpose of reviewing it ahead of its release on July 7th. Overall, the book was a quick, easy read with some good commonsense advice and inspiring quotes. As Britt states in the book, "Wise people understand that it is the simple things in life that are extraordinary," and that "the potential for finding wisdom is unlimited."
My only criticism is the issue of not citing others' words and works that Britt used within the book. In the forward, Britt is upfront about it, explaining, "I will give no credit for quotes or ideas," reasoning that "nobody's ego needs to be stroked." To be honest, I found that to be lazy writing, as well as unprofessional. We are taught throughout school (and life) to do the work of researching and citing work/words that are not our own, otherwise it is plagiarism at best, theft at worst.
The majority of the errors and missing citations are easy google searches, so I'm not sure what the real issue was. Honestly, this glaring issue got in the way of my giving the book more than a 3 star review. As a writer (I use that term in the loosest sense of the word) myself, I can't imagine including other people's words and works in my own work without giving proper credit/citation. I can only imagine how I would feel if someone were to claim my work as their own, which is essentially what you're doing any time you use another person's work without citing it. Other than the citing issue, Seek To Be Wise is an enjoyable, worthwhile read.
First off, I've decided to format this feature differently. When I first switched to doing my Books of the Month feature instead of a full time book blog, I would just list off a few of the books I've read with a picture of the cover and a paragraph or two about the book and whether I liked it or not. I've decided that I'd rather just write out a more constructed feature that flowed. I will talk about the books I've read in a more conversational manner, and the header photo for each month will be of the books featured. I think it'll work out better this way and be more enjoyable to read... Hopefully!
I spent most of the month of May, and this year in general, going back to books that I've read in the past. I've rediscovered the joy of rereading great books! For May I found myself returning to the catalog of one of my favorite authors, Karen Witemeyer. I own all of her books and I devoured, once again, a good number of them this month, as well as her latest book that releases in June.
Among the books from Witemeyer's catalog that I reread this month were the first two books in her Archer Brothers series, Short-Straw Bride and Stealing the Preacher. Short-Straw Bride was the first Witemeyer book I had read and, of course, the one that got me hooked. I loved the Archer Brothers series, and was pleased to find that my memory of enjoying both books, which follow the Archer brothers with three books devoted to three out of the four brothers (the fourth brother, Jim's story is given to us as a background story in mostly the first novel, as well as being mentioned in the others), held up.
I also thoroughly enjoyed reading about the adventures of Darius Thronton, a man obsessed with scientific experiments that could change the shipping industry and the fiery shipping heiress, Nicole Renard in Full Steam Ahead, as well as the mystery and dangers surrounding the ladies of Harper's station and Malachi Shaw, the man brought in to help, in No Other Will Do. Witemeyer is an expert weaver of interesting and delightful stories, truly an author readers can rely on to deliver great reads, and her latest release, At Love's Command*, is no exception. I am honored to have been on Karen's launch team for her last three releases, including At Love's Command, and enjoy the privilege of getting to read her books ahead of release.
Another new-to-me book that I read in May was Peter Wohlleben's The Hidden Life of Trees, a truly excellent and eye-opening read. I've always been a tree lover, I can't really explain why, I've just always appreciated their quiet strength and sturdiness, and the fact that you feel like you can rely on them to be there through life. The Hidden Life of Trees made me love and respect trees even more than I already did. Wohlleben writes in a conversational way that draws you in and keeps you interested through to the end as he takes you through the surprisingly intricate and complicated lives of various species of trees and their impact on their ecosystems. I'd highly recommend it.
I have found myself reading less books per month, mainly due to changes in how my brain functions now and the fact that it seems to process information a bit slower than it used to, but really, that seems to be a nice change of pace. I find I'm forced to take my time with them and as a result, I savor books more, rather than devouring them in one sitting (though sometimes I still do that!). It's been an interesting development in my reading journey... I'm looking forward to seeing what June holds for book adventures! ;)
*I wrote a separate review for At Love's Command, click the title (link is embedded) above to read it!
I officially have a new favorite book. Karen Witemeyer gives readers yet another deliciously wonderful read, and a few new swoon worthy heroes, with her latest, At Love's Command. I've been a fan of Witemeyer's books for almost a decade now, and having never met one of her books that I didn't adore, she quickly became one of the few authors of which I'll blindly buy their new releases with full confidence, knowing that it won't disappoint. At Love's Command is absolutely no exception to this rule and certainly delivered above and beyond my already high expectations.
Matthew Hanger is a hero of heroes and could make even the stoniest heart swoon. A seasoned ex-cavalry officer turned mercenary, Matthew has made it his life's mission to defend the innocent and obtain justice for the oppressed. Leading his now legendary band of mercenaries, Hanger's Horsemen, they soon find themselves in need of saving when one of his men takes a bullet and is in need of a doctor...
Witemeyer expertly weaves four distinct personalities in the Horsemen's Matthew Hanger, Luke "Preach" Davenport, Mark Wallace, and Jonah Brooks, to the point where the reader feels as if they are old friends, easily recognizable through mannerisms and speech. I personally found myself drawn to both Matthew and Luke/Preach the most, and am very happy that Luke "Preach" Davenport will be closing out the Hanger's Horsemen series with his story.
The heroine of At Love's Command, Dr. Josephine Burkett is a woman used to men discrediting her skills due to her gender, what she wasn't expecting was for a rugged mercenary to change his mind in a heartbeat and to assist her in surgery. Matthew's dedication to his friend during recovery quickly earns Dr. Jo's respect, and when her wayward brother is abducted, he becomes her only hope for rescue. When things go terribly wrong, placing Josephine herself in the crossfire, Matthew faces having to sacrifice everything, including his men, to save her.
A thrillingly delightful read, At Love's Command is the beginning of another intoxicating series. That's truly been one of only two complaints I have when it came to Karen Witemeyer's novels, you simply cannot put them down. Each novel is so addicting that you simply have to read it in one sitting. There's no walking away from a Witemeyer story before you reach the end. It actually pains me to do so. The second complaint is simply having to wait not-so-patiently for the next.. ;)
Make sure to grab your copy! Out June 2nd!
I decided to combine my March & April book post simply because I haven't done much reading the past two months. In February I read a total of 16 books, but then the COVID-19 pandemic hit (or at least became a huge deal) in March. Since the pandemic and endless uncertainties that it has brought, I haven't been able to really truly focus on anything except manual work. I'm not sure why..... Maybe it's just that I don't have enough energy to process books on top of all the information and concerns surrounding this pandemic. Whatever the reason, I've seen my reading drop off rather drastically, but have no fear, I seem to be getting back on track. Anyway, I'd like to share a few of the books I've read in March and April with you all. :) Hope you find a good read!
John Mark Comer's Garden City: Work, Rest, and the Art of Being Human is now on my list of most profound, enlightening, and enriching books that I've read. I ended up reading Garden City with my Bible open and gel pen in hand, so that I could jot down notes and wisdom from the book in the margins. It is packed with interesting information and will change the way you go about life, work, and rest. This is the kind of book that feeds the soul and opens the mind. I'd highly recommend it!
All Shall Be Well by Catherine McNeil came to me right when I needed a balm to the soul. A sweet person sent me this book as a way to boost my spirits during this anxiety ridden time of the COVID-19 pandemic. They knew it was on my book wish-list. All Shall Be Well is a beautiful booked split into four parts, one for each season. They draws parallels between the annual seasons (Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter) and the seasons in a person's life. Though I particularly resonated with the Spring section, as I feel I'm in the late stages of that season in life AND happen to be experiencing the early stages of the natural season currently, I found each section nourishing and enlightening. I can't recommend this book enough. It is beautiful and simple, soul nourishing and soothing, earthy and tangible. This is one of those books I plan to return to time and again.
This wonderful story couldn’t have come at a better time. I can’t think of a better way to deal with the current events of this season than to get lost in Dwight and Mary’s story, and Linda’s superb way of spinning a tale allows you to do just that. If only for a while, reality fades away, and Dwight, Mary, and the now familiar town of Brownville come into focus. Soon you’re right beside earthy, relatable characters, enjoying a mix of romance and mystery. We look on as Dwight and Mary weather life’s storms, wondering if they’ll be able to ride them out together, all the while trying to puzzle out the identity of the mysterious person who has taken to stalking the town… Ah, yes, you couldn’t ask for a better story to escape headlong into.
Born and raised in Upstate NY, Liz is a freelance writer. She has written for websites, blogs, and magazines for the last 10 years. She also acts as a proofreader and beta reader for several authors, all the while working on her first book.