Sheila's Books Read

Sheila's bookshelf: read

The Best Intentions
Scotland's Melody
The Secret Society of Salzburg
Secret of the Sonnets
20-40-60-Minute Dinners: Meals to Match the Time You Have
Through the Wilderness: My Journey of Redemption and Healing in the American Wild
Secret Santa Claus Club: A Tool to Help Parents Unwrap the Secret of Santa
Mr. Pudgins
Revenge Never Rests
The Best Mistake
Meriden Park
More Inspirational Stories for Young Women
The Great Tree: A Christmas Fable
To Capture His Heart
The Call of the Sea
Livvy and the Enchanted Woodland
Come, Gentle Night
The Bad Boy Theory
Guide To Smart Wedding Planning: What You want to know and everything you haven't thought of yet.

Sheila's favorite books »

2024 Goodreads Reading Challenge

2024 Reading Challenge

2024 Reading Challenge
Sheila has read 4 books toward her goal of 100 books.

Friday, May 17, 2024

The Orchids of Ashthorne Hall: Proper Romance By Rebecca Anderson-Historical Gothic Romance

 Book Synopsis

A ghostly estate. A handsome caretaker hiding a secret. And the intrepid Hyacinth Bell who is set on solving the mystery of both.

1887, the Cornwall coast

For years, rumors have flown through the village of Suttonsbury about Ashthorne Hall—that its occupants hoard pirate treasure, that a ghost walks its halls—but botanist Hyacinth Bell only cares about the estate’s extensive, one-of-a-kind orchid collection. As an independent woman, she is eager to focus on her career, even if it means waiting to pursue a romantic relationship. After all, love—like an orchid—must be nurtured and tended before it can bloom.

What she doesn’t expect is to be swept away by Lucas Harding, the manor’s caretaker, upon their first meeting. He is handsome and charming, and the connection between the two is nearly instantaneous. Hyacinth is certain this autumn will be the season that everything good in her life takes root.

But then strange things start happening in the seemingly empty halls of the estate: unexplainable noises, items appearing then disappearing from her room, threatening messages, and glimpses of a woman in white who vanishes into the dark. Lucas dismisses Hyacinth’s worries, insisting that there is no ghost at Ashthorne Hall, but she suspects he is withholding information and decides to investigate the mystery herself.

Armed with little more than her instincts and her courage, Hyacinth must venture deep into the shadows of Ashthorne Hall to uncover the truth Lucas is keeping secret before she herself falls victim to the dangers hidden in the estate.

Book Details

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Shadow Mountain (April 2, 2024)
  • Genre: Historical Romance
  • Series: Proper Romance
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 272 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1639932356
  • ****I received a complimentary book from publishers, publicists, NetGalley, book tours, and or authors.  A review was not required and all opinions and ideas expressed are my own.****

My Review

 The Orchids of Ashthorne Hall is set in 1887 along the Cornwall Coast. This book is a surprising Proper Romance with its mysterious and haunting atmosphere. It offers a refreshing change as the main characters are not from the nobility. Hyacinth Bell and Lucas Harding both work at Ashthorne Hall, located on the estate of the Whitbeck family, who are living in India. Hyacinth, a botanist, is tasked with caring for Mr. Whitbeck's prized orchid collection, while Lucas serves as the manor's caretaker.

 The mystery at Ashthorne Hall begins with peculiar events within the house and its surroundings. Hyacinth suspects the presence of ghosts haunting the hallways, adding a Gothic feeling. Her investigation of the ghost was heart-thumping at times. 

As far as the romance, there was an immediate attraction that sparked between Lucas and Hyacinth, leading to a thrilling and unexpected first kiss. I wish there had been more interaction and development of their romance, especially since they had excellent chemistry. 

As Hyacinth discovers surprising information about her mysterious ghost, the story becomes even more gripping.

Including discussion questions by the author truly improves the reading experience for book clubs or buddy reads.

Readers who are fans of Jane Eyre and enjoy mysteries set in eerie locations will find this clean romance with a chilling atmosphere and a hint of romance, very appealing.

****Meet Author Rebecca Anderson****

 Rebecca Anderson is a High school English teacher by day, writer by night (or very early morning), she loves hiking, Broadway shows, food, books, and movies. She is happily married and a mom to four above-average kids.

~*~*~*~*Purchase The Orchids of~*~*~*~*

Ashthorne Hall




Thursday, May 16, 2024

Hidden Rooms By Kate Michaelson-Mystery Book Review

Hidden Rooms by Kate Michaelson Banner

Hidden Rooms

by Kate Michaelson

April 22 - May 17, 2024 Virtual Book Tour

Book Synopsis:

Hidden Rooms by Kate Michaelson

When murder hits home.

 A Quiet little life. A perfect little lie.

Long distance runner Riley has been fighting various bewildering symptoms for months, from vertigo to fainting spells. Worse, her doctors can’t tell her what’s wrong, leaving her to wonder if it’s stress or something more threatening. But when her brother’s fiancée is killed—and he becomes the prime suspect—Riley must prove his innocence, despite the toll on her health.

As she reacquaints herself with the familiar houses and wild woods of her childhood, the secrets she uncovers take her on a trail to the real killer that leads right back to the very people she knows best and loves most.

For readers who enjoy Deer Season by Erin Flanagan, All Good People Here by Ashley Flowers, and A Flicker in the Dark by Stacy Willingham.

Praise for Hidden Rooms:

"With a fresh voice and gorgeous writing, Hidden Rooms by Kate Michaelson is a stunning debut mystery that sweeps the reader along until the surprising conclusion."
~ Connie Berry, USA Today bestselling author of the Kate Hamilton Mysteries

"This remarkable debut novel expertly combines a compelling mystery with a richly drawn cast of characters and a strong, beautifully portrayed sense of place. An engaging, gripping read."
~ Andrew Welsh-Huggins, Shamus, Derringer, and International Thriller Writers award-nominated author

"Michaelson’s witty eye, sharp portrayal of illness, and twisty case make for a standout debut!"
~ Erin Flanagan, Edgar-Award winning author of Come with Me

"Hidden Rooms is a suspenseful tale full of interesting characters. This well-told story with its unexpected ending will leave the readers begging for more."
~ L. C. Hayden, award-winning author of the Bronson Thriller Series and the Aimee Brent Mystery Series

Book Details:

Genre: Mystery
Published by: CamCat Books
Publication Date: April 30, 2024
Number of Pages: 320
ISBN: 9780744310153 (ISBN10: 0744310156)
Book Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | | Goodreads | CamCat Books

 ****I received a complimentary book from publishers, publicists, NetGalley, book tours, and or authors.  A review was not required and all opinions and ideas expressed are my own.****

My Review

Kate Michaelson's debut novel, Hidden Rooms, unfolds in a small rural community in Northern Ohio, narrated through the eyes of main character Riley. The story digs into secrets, family dynamics, addiction, and a mysterious illness that afflicts Riley. 

The story kicks off with the murder of Riley's best friend and her brother Ethan's fiancée, Beth. Naturally, Ethan becomes the prime suspect, motivating Riley and her sister Audra to take on the role of amateur sleuths to uncover the truth behind Beth's death. 

The plot thickens with many potential suspects and motives, leading to unexpected revelations that will keep readers on edge. 

The novel also explores Riley's perplexing illness and shows a realistic portrayal of chronic illness and how it can change someone's life.  

Hidden Rooms concludes with a surprising revelation of the murderer, tying up loose ends and delivering an intriguing conclusion. Hidden Rooms is full of suspense and surprising twists, and this novel offers a fascinating and engaging read.

Read an excerpt:

I grew up inside a lightning bolt, in a family of pure momentum. My siblings and I were young, stupid, and fearless in our white gingerbread house, surrounded by dark earth, green shoots, and wild woods—untamed beasts running loose from morning to night. We snarled and bucked, more a pack than a family.

Born less than a year apart, my brother Ethan and I spent most of our lives scrapping after the same few things, pinching each other where we knew it would hurt the most. But we also protected each other. When Trevor Paltree shoved Ethan off the tall metal slide the first day of preschool, I kicked Trevor’s little ass, and I’d do it again.

Only, now, I didn’t know what protecting my brother looked like, though I felt fairly certain that kicking his fiancée’s ass was not it. Besides, I couldn’t even say what exactly Beth was up to, which (admittedly) undermined my argument. Putting my head down and going along with the wedding might feel cowardly, but it also seemed like the least destructive path forward.

So, that’s how I found myself pulling up to Ethan and Beth’s house to pick up my puce monstrosity of a bridesmaid’s dress with Beth’s recent words still replaying in my mind: Riley, you know I’d never do anything to hurt Ethan. The problem was that she also once said with a wink and a smile that what Ethan didn’t know couldn’t hurt him. I parked in the shade of a lowlimbed oak and got out, lifting my hair off my neck to catch the breeze. The autumn sun had built throughout the afternoon into the kind of fleetingly gorgeous day that makes up for Ohio’s multitude of weather sins: one last warm postscript to summer. Rain loomed in the low shelf of clouds to the north. I crossed my fingers that it would hold off until I could get home to walk Bruno. Maybe I could even get a run in if my energy held out.

My phone buzzed, and I knew without looking it would be Audra. She called most days and knew that just the previous night, I’d finally worked up the nerve to have a conversation with Ethan about Beth. She would want the details. I was amazed she had waited this long.

“How’d it go with Ethan?” Her melodious voice skipped along briskly. People usually went with what she said simply because they were so swept up with how she said it. As her sister, I was an exception.

“Hello to you too.” I continued toward the house but slowed my pace. “I’ll give you one guess how it went.”

“Hello, dearest Riley. I guess he got mad.”

“Not just mad. He guilt-tripped me. I asked him if he’d noticed anything wrong with Beth, and he acted all injured about it. He told me, ‘She thinks you’re her friend.’” I mimicked Ethan’s self-righteous tone. The jab still stung. “I told him I think of her as a friend too, which is how I know she’s hiding something.” Granted, I couldn’t untangle what it was. It was something I sensed more than saw—a shift in posture or flicker behind an expression. The past few weeks she’d become more self-contained than ever, which was saying something for her.

“Yeah, but can you really be friends with someone who has no personality? It’s like being friends with a mannequin. I don’t know how you can tell if she’s hiding something when she never shares anything—”

“Look, I can’t talk about it now.” I lowered my voice as I neared the house. “I’m at their place getting my dress. I’ll call you later.”

I climbed the porch steps, the front of their house looking so Instagram-perfect that I wondered whether I’d been seeing problems that weren’t there. The afternoon light slanted across the pumpkins and yellow chrysanthemums that Beth had arranged just so. Dried bundles of corn rattled in the breeze. Beneath the pale-blue porch swing, Beth had set out a matching ceramic bowl full of kibble for Bibbs, the half-feral cat that had adopted her and Ethan.

The only thing amiss was the open door of the old-fashioned cast-iron mailbox nestled amid the pumpkins and flowers. Beth would kill the mail carrier for ruining the ambiance. I grabbed the few pieces of mail in the box and shut the little door obligingly, like a good future sister-in-law.

Careful not to disturb a precarious wreath of orange berries, I knocked on the screen door and tapped my foot, ready to grab my puffy dress and go. I had been a whirl of motion all day, zipping through work and crossing items off my to-do list. I worked for Wicks, an oversized candle company that sold overpriced candles. Today was my last day in the office before a trip to England to set up the IT network at our new British headquarters.

For months, I’d been fighting some kind of long-term bug my doctors couldn’t figure out, but today I felt a glimmer of my former self, twitchy with energy and moving at a clip to get everything done.


Excerpt from Hidden Rooms by Kate Michaelson. Copyright 2024 by Kate Michaelson. Reproduced with permission from CamCat Books. All rights reserved.



Author Bio:

Kate Michaelson

Growing up in rural Ohio, Kate Michaelson simultaneously developed a love of nature and a strong desire to live closer to a mall. Pursuing the latter, she attended Ohio State, where she studied English and Psychology. After earning her MFA in Creative Writing, Kate worked as a technical writer and taught English at St. Petersburg College in Florida and, later, at the University of Toledo in Ohio. Over the years, she has published academic articles, creative nonfiction, poetry, and short stories. Her debut novel, Hidden Rooms, follows a distance runner who returns to her rural Ohio hometown and must clear her brother of murdering his fiancée while also seeking answers to her own medical mystery. As someone with Lyme disease and dysautonomia, Kate’s writing uses humor and suspense to explore the experience of coping with chronic illness. Ultimately, she wants to portray the reality of the challenges that invisible disabilities pose while also demonstrating that “ability” is not a binary concept—that illness does not equal a loss of self or agency.

Kate enjoys traveling, hiking, and trying (fruitlessly) to tire out her Labrador mix. She works in curriculum design and holds a Ph.D. in Educational Psychology. She lives with her husband and pets in Toledo, Ohio, only ten minutes from a mall she now avoids whenever possible.

Catch Up With Kate Michaelson:



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Sunday, May 12, 2024

Finding Marianne: A journey of self-discovery, romance and a wee bit of magic By Sarah Louise Smith-Contemporary Romance Book Review

 Book Synopsis

Finding Marianne: A magical feel-good romance set in Scotland

A marriage that's fallen apart, friends who’ve drifted away, and a job she doesn't love… Marianne has realised she wants a fresh start in life.
Determined to heal, work out what she wants and find herself, she sets off on a road trip. She’s always felt called to go to Scotland, the homeland of her Grandmother.
The only thing she knows for sure is: She's never falling in love again.
When she meets Finn, she’s determined they’ll only be friends, or a fun fling, at best. Their worlds are too different, and they want different things.
The universe, however, has different plans…
Back in 1960, Nora, Marianne's grandmother, has grown up on a Highland farm. When she falls in love with handsome Tom, she leaves all she knows behind to go and live in England.
Discover the story of two generations of women, with a whole lot of romance and a wee bit of magic…

Book Details

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ J and S Romance Ltd (May 8, 2024)
  • Genre: Contemporary Romance
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 249 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1068603208
  • ****I received a complimentary book from publishers, publicists, NetGalley, book tours, and or authors.  A review was not required and all opinions and ideas expressed are my own.****

My Review 

“I’d just lost my way a bit. I needed to find myself again.”This sentiment hit home deeply with me in Finding Marianne. The novel is genuine, candid, and sometimes raw at times. It addresses mental health in a way that will touch many readers, particularly those who can relate to the experiences of Marianne and Finn. 

Marianne's journey through Northern Scotland, following her Grandfather Tom's footsteps with his old journal as her guide, was heartwarming. The vivid depiction of Scotland's beauty made me feel as though I had visited the place myself while using my five senses.

The romance in the story is magical in how the characters find each other, all because of a darling, red-headed little girl. While there is an open door scene with a low level of spice, the rest is not overly explicit but rather filled with so many emotions. I appreciated Finn's description of their relationship, "We haven’t known each other long, Marianne, but this has been an intense getting to know each other. I know we skipped past a few steps, but I know you. And you know me." 

The interwoven stories of women from two generations within the same family were compelling. The novel felt like an emotional journey for both women, and I found the flawed yet resilient portrayal of the main non-perfect characters very inspiring. The author deserves praise for writing characters with mental health challenges and showing them seeking and receiving necessary support to heal from trauma. Marianne shared with Finn, “My therapist helped me a lot. She gave me some mindfulness techniques. She helped me to slowly start changing my behavior and getting on with living, instead of wallowing. It’s hard to force yourself to get help, and harder still to put the advice into action.” The theme of learning to love and accept oneself was shown prominently throughout the story. 

I devoured this book in almost one sitting, entirely captivated until the early morning hours. This engaging novel has a brilliant blend of feel-good romance, genuine friendships, loving family dynamics, and the journey toward happiness and healing from the past. Sarah Louise Smith showcases a remarkable ability to captivate readers from the beginning and lead them on a touching voyage of love and renewal.

****Meet Author Sarah Louise Smith****

Sarah Louise Smith writes feel-good, modern romance stories. She lives in Northamptonshire, England and loves being outdoors and visiting new places. She loves to hear from readers, so follow her on most social media channels @iamsarahlsmith.

"A hidden gem, she really should be up there with Sophie Kinsella & Marian Keyes. Just a perfect read."

Sarah also writes and vlogs about mental well-being, personal growth, and spiritual topics, visit sarahlouisesmith .com.

~*~*~*~*Purchase Finding Marianne~*~*~*~*




Thursday, May 9, 2024

Handling Grief: A Guide to Understanding and Coping with Loss by Dr. Ann B. Rhodes-Non Fiction Book Review

 Book Synopsis

Have you found yourself grappling with the anguish that accompanies a deep absence, desperately seeking a way to navigate through the heartache?

Handling Grief: A Guide to Understanding and Coping with Loss is more than a guide; it’s a compassionate companion for those intricate emotions and challenges that accompany loss. From the separation of a loved one to the emptiness accompanying a divorce or career disruption, this guide offers strong insights. By adopting these strategies from this book, you will soon start on the path of healing.

In Handling Grief: A Guide to Understanding and Coping with Loss, you’ll discover:

  • Strategies to manage your emotional turmoil and find hope in the midst of despair
  • How to make sense of complex emotions and challenges of grief
  • The different facets of grief, including anticipatory sorrow and unacknowledged heartache
  • The essential role of support networks in your healing journey
  • Practical advice on self-care during grief

This is highly recommended if you need help navigating complex emotions and challenges that will accompany grief. Don’t miss out on an opportunity to move forward with hope and resilience. Order your copy today and get ready to learn ways to be calm and stay encouraged.

Book Details

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Rhodes (December 31, 2023)
  • Genre: Non-Fiction
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 100 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1733322299
  • ****I received a complimentary book from publishers, publicists, NetGalley, book tours, and or authors.  A review was not required and all opinions and ideas expressed are my own.****

My Review

I often find myself gravitating towards specific books and I appreciate Dr. Ann B. Rhodes' book, "Handling Grief: A Guide to Understanding and Coping With Loss." Life has been tough for me since my mother passed away 16 months ago. This book has been essential in helping me navigate my grief. Dr. Rhodes' genuine approach makes it feel like you're having a heartfelt conversation with a close friend, given her own significant struggles after losing her mother. 

At the beginning of the book, Dr. Rhodes outlines the different types of grief and shares her own grieving process after her mother's death to assist others. The guide stresses the significance of self-care and seeking support, areas often neglected by those mourning. The book is filled with practical strategies, personal anecdotes, and a hopeful tone, and I feel the book eases the burden of navigating through grief. It also covers various types of losses beyond death, such as divorce, job loss, and the loss of a pet, offering valuable advice for each. Additionally, it provides tools for supporting someone experiencing grief and a section devoted to how to help grieving children. 

Whether you or someone you know is struggling with grief, this author's comforting words and support in the book are invaluable. This book is a helpful resource for individuals dealing with the challenging journey of grief, whether it be for themselves or a family member.

****Meet Author Dr. Ann B. Rhodes****

Dr. Ann Rhodes was born in a very small town located in West Georgia. She started writing at the age of 8 years old. It was the encouragement from her mother and her 6th-grade language arts teacher that helped her to discover her talent in writing. Her first book was published in 2016 is titled "From the Beginning Until Now".

Dr. Ann Rhodes is the author of several poetry books, devotional books, and children’s books. Her poetry has been featured in anthologies, news publications, and on television. She is currently an educator with a doctoral degree in elementary education. She enjoys writing and encouraging others.

~*~*~*~*Purchase Handling Grief~*~*~*~*




Wednesday, May 8, 2024

Knife River: A Ty Dawson Crime Thriller By Baron R Birtcher-Book Review

KNIFE RIVER by Baron R Birtcher Banner


by Baron R Birtcher

April 15 - May 10, 2024 Virtual Book Tour

Book Synopsis

KNIFE RIVER by Baron R Birtcher

A sheriff fighting to keep the peace in 1970s Oregon faces a shocking secret from his town’s past, in this crime thriller from the author of Reckoning.

There are rules in the West no matter what era you were born in, and it’s up to lawman Ty Dawson to make sure they’re followed in the valley he calls home. The people living on this unforgiving land keep to themselves and are wary of the modern world’s encroachment into their quiet lives.

So it’s not without some suspicion that Dawson confronts a newcomer to the region: a record producer who has built a music studio in an isolated compound. His latest project is a collaboration with a famous young rock star named Ian Swann, recording and filming his sessions for a movie. An amphitheater for a live show is being built on the land, giving Dawson flashbacks to the violent Altamont concert. Not on his watch.

But even beefed up security can’t stop a disaster that’s been over a decade in the making. All it takes is one horrific case bleeding its way into the present to prove that the good ol’ days spawned a brand of evil no one wants to revisit . . .

Book Details

Genre: Crime Thriller
Published by: Open Road Media
Publication Date: April 23, 2024
Number of Pages: 338
ISBN: 9781504086523 (ISBN10: 150408652X)
Series: The Sheriff Ty Dawson Crime Thriller Series

          ****I received a complimentary book from publishers, publicists, NetGalley, book tours, and or authors.  A review was not required and all opinions and ideas expressed are my own.**** 

My Review

I enjoy reading crime thrillers, and Knife River: A Ty Dawson Crime Thriller by Baron R. Birtcher quickly became a favorite of mine. Despite not having read the first three books in the series, I found myself immediately engrossed in the characters, the small-town setting, and the storyline. The main character Ty Dawson is a sheriff in a small Oregon town in the mid-70s. He's a genuine character who is relatable, honest, and tough,  and reminds me of the sheriff in the TV show "Longmire." 

Sheriff Dawson, a humble and well-liked man, juggles his duties as a lawman, husband to his beloved wife, father to his daughter, and manager of the family cattle ranch. He radiates authority and ensures that strangers in town are aware of his position. The emotionally charged novel showcases Sheriff Dawson's ability to anticipate and address trouble in his town. 

The plot centers around two cases being investigated by the small sheriff's office: one involving illegal eagle poaching and the other concerning a young rock star and his entourage who have set up a studio and stadium to record an album and host a concert for free with 10,000 attendees. As the story unfolds, an unsolved murder mystery from the past resurfaces, with flashback chapters from 1964 providing additional layers to the storyline. 

The author, Baron R. Birtcher, masterfully intertwines these plotlines, gradually merging them as Sheriff Dawson uncovers more details. Birtcher's descriptive writing brings the town and its inhabitants to life. The seamless writing style maintains a riveting pace, making it a hard-to-put-down read for fans of action-packed thrillers. If you are looking for a new thriller author, Baron R. Birtcher is definitely worth exploring. This book is filled with action, suspense, and intrigue and I promise it will hold your interest until the final page.

Book Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | | Goodreads | Open Road Media

Read an Excerpt



SOME SAY THAT to be born into a thing is to be blind to half of it. Oftentimes, the things we seek and discover for ourselves are those we hold most dear.

Any cattleman will tell you that a ranch is a living thing. Not only the livestock that graze the meadowland, but the blood that nourishes the hungry soil, the trees that inhale the wind, and the rain that carves runnels into the hardpan that, in time, grow into rivers. The Diamond D is no different in that respect, some would even say it was the beating heart of Meriwether County, Oregon.

As both a stockman and the sheriff of this county, I believe this to be true.

But the events that unfolded in the autumn of 1964 cast a cloud across that land. Not just across my ranch, but the entire valley, though they didn’t bear their terrible fruit until nearly a dozen years later, in the spring of 1976. The incidents still haunt me, though others paid a steeper price than I; some with their lives, or the lives of their loved ones, while some forfeit their sanity, and still others with their souls.

That is where this story begins.



LAMBS AND LIONS hold no sway over the springtime here in Meriwether County. Some years it will snow through mid-May, other times the golden sun rides high and bright, and the river flows fast, clear and deep with high-country melt on the first day of March. Most years, it’s both, with Mother Nature keeping her whims to herself until she alone decides to turn them loose upon us.

But this particular Saturday morning was unusually quiet, not even a breath of breeze stirring the leaves of the cottonwoods that grew thick and untamed along the creekbank. I was standing outside on the gallery, sipping my coffee as I leaned on the porch rail, watching my wife, Jesse, hammer the last nail into a birdbox she had made. She must have felt my eyes on her, as she looked up from her work and smiled. A few moments later, she stepped up the stairs to where I stood and kissed me on the cheek, smelling of sawdust and lemongrass tea.

“The bluebirds are back,” she said. “I just saw them.”

“You haven’t lost your knack for building those things.”

“Plenty of practice. You got home late last night.”

I had spent the previous day transporting a man all the way from Lewiston up to the Portland lockup to await his trial. He stood accused of murdering his own wife and young child. It had been a long, depressing day, and by the time I completed the intake paperwork, locked up the substation in Meridian, and finally drove home to the ranch, Jesse was already asleep.

But this morning, everything in her expression seemed overflowing with hope and expectation. Springtime was her season and always had been.

“Want a hand putting that thing up?” I asked.

She replied by handing it to me, together with the hammer.

She watched me hang the birdbox on a post beside the vegetable garden, outside the kitchen window where I knew she’d spend her quiet mornings secretly observing the bluebirds as they built their nest and reared their brood.

“You plan on helping Caleb pick the new cowboys today?” She asked me when I came back inside.

It was the time of year when we hired a few temporary hands for Spring Works, when we’d round-up the cattle and calves from every corner of the ranch; we’d vet, brand and sort the livestock, and mend a perpetual string of breaks in the wire along miles of fenceline before we turned the herd out to the pastures for summer grazing. The Diamond D employed three permanent cowboys in addition to me and old Caleb Wheeler—our foreman for more than three decades—but with 63,000 deeded acres and another 14,000 under a Land Management lease, Spring Works was more work than the five of us could handle in the short span of time required to get it done. Every year a couple dozen hopeful itinerant riders, ropers, rodeo bums and saddle-tramps would answer the call for a temporary employment opportunity, and every year Caleb Wheeler got more riled up about what he viewed as the eroding quality of the contemporary American cowboy. He’d cuss and grump and holler about it, but he’d end up settling on three or four hands he reckoned could help us get the job done with a minimum of aggravation.

“I’m staying out of it this year,” I said, and Jesse grinned. “Figured I’d lay in a cord or two for the woodshed instead, before the weather gets too hot.”

“I saw some deadfall down by Corcoran’s,” she said.

“That’s where I was headed.”

“Make you some lunch to take with you?”

“I don’t intend to be out that long.”

“Good to hear,” she said, and winked at me before she turned, and stepped inside the house.


* * *


HALF AN HOUR later I was straddling a fallen spruce, angling the chainsaw to buck the trunk into three-foot rounds that I’d later split into quarters with the long-handled axe. The solitary labor, the sweat staining my shirt, and the burn down deep inside my muscles were a welcome balm after the week I’d had, and the air was rife with the smell of pine tar, sap and chain oil. I looked up and caught some movement in the distance, where the BLM forest gave onto an open range already knee deep with wildflowers and whipgrass. I recognized Tom Jenkins’ roping horse moving hellbent-for-leather across the flats, with young Tom leaning across her withers, one hand on the reins and the other holding his hat in place on top of his head. His mount was an admirable animal, a grullo Quarter Horse that stood nearly seventeen hands, fast and thick through the chest. Tom Jenkins handled her well, and he was beelining in my direction like he had something on his mind.

I killed the power on the chainsaw and set it in the bed of the military surplus jeep I use when I do ranch work, stepped over to the fence and took a splash of water from the canteen I’d hung in the shade of a young cedar. I didn’t have to wait long before Tom pulled up in a skidding stop inside a cloud of dust, throwing a cascade of torn earth and pebbles through the barbed strands of the wire.

“Mr. Dawson,” he said and touched a finger to his hat brim, sounding nearly as breathless as his horse. “I was hoping that was you.”

“What are you doing out here all by yourself?” I asked, but suspected I already knew the answer.

When I’d first met Tom Jenkins, he was nothing but a kid with a limp handshake, no eye-contact, and the familiar slope-shouldered gait and posture of the typical aimless teenaged slacker. At that time, he’d been well on his way to serious trouble, the variety and scope of which would have landed him in a six-by-eight jail cell where the other inmates would have eaten him alive.

He is the nephew of my neighbor to the south of me, Snoose Corcoran, whose sister had sent the kid up here from California’s central valley to his uncle’s ranch in southeastern Oregon in hopes of putting some distance between young Tom and his unquestionably poor choices of acquaintances. Ill-equipped to deal with the boy himself, Snoose begged me to take the kid on as a maverick, and I’d reluctantly agreed. After six months working side by side with trail hardened cowboys on the Diamond D young Tom Jenkins’ attitude had been readjusted, straightening both his spine and fortitude. Now, at barely 18 years of age, Tom had assumed the reins of the floundering Corcoran cattle operation from his uncle Snoose, who had been gradually disappearing into a bottle.

“Cow and a calf went missing from my place,” Tom answered. “Fence busted by the westward line, and I figured them two mighta headed for the water.”

My ranch hands ended up nicknaming the kid “Silver,” after he’d astonished us all by stepping up and winning a silver buckle for the Diamond D in the team roping event at the annual rodeo. I knew Tom secretly treasured the handle they’d bestowed, wore it like a medal, but I never spoke it; that was between my men and him.

“Where’s your uncle?” I asked.

His shrug spoke sorrowful volumes.

“So, what set you hightailing over here to see me, son?” I asked. “What’s the trouble? Besides the missing beeves.”

“I was up there on the other side of the tree line,” he said. He twisted sideways in his saddle, took off his hat and gestured with it toward a distant stretch of blue sky. “There was an eagle making low passes over the meadow, so I stopped to watch it for a minute. It was so still and quiet out there, I could hear the eagle calling out while it was gliding on the thermals.”

“You don’t see something like that every day,” I said. “Not even out here in the boondocks.”

“No sir, that’s a fact,” Tom said. “But, while I sat there watching that creature flying, all of a sudden and out of nowhere, a helicopter come buzzing across the ridge, you know the one…”

“Big stone bluff, looks like somebody cut it down the middle with a KA-BAR knife.”

“That’s the one,” he said. “Well, that chopper came in fast, and went straight toward that bird…” The young man’s voice trailed off, his face contorted like he’d encountered a foul odor. “They circled it as it flew, like they were teasing it. Two men inside the—whattaya call it?”


“Yeah, the cockpit. Then they started closing in on him, chasing it. The guy in the passenger seat had a rifle in his hands. I could see the barrel sticking out.”

What Tom was describing to me was not only a despicable and loathsome act, it was a serious crime. The mere harassment of a protected species is a federal offense; hunting and killing one merely for the sick thrill of it was another matter entirely.

“What happened, Tom?”

He swallowed drily, shook his head and looked down at the ground between us.

“He shot that bird right out of the sky, sir,” he said. “That eagle wasn’t even doing nothing, just gliding circles on the wind, and those assholes—sorry, sir—they shot him cold dead.”

I could imagine the creature’s confused and lonely cry as it spiraled down, bleeding, terrified and helpless, to the earth.

“You pretty sure about the location, Tom?”

“About four, five miles thataway, near the bluff, where the river makes that sharp bend to the south.”

“Did you get a look at either of the men?”

“Naw, they were too far away and moving pretty fast. But I got a good look at the whirlybird.”

I asked him for a description of the helicopter, and I knew right away he was referring to a Bell H-13, known to soldiers as a “Sioux.” They’d been in common use as scouting and medical evacuation aircraft by the military. I’d seen them every day when I was stationed in Korea.

“Like the choppers on that TV show?” I asked.

“Yes, sir. Exactly like on M*A*S*H.”

“Big glass bubble on the front? No doors? Looks kinda like a dragonfly?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Did you see any numbers written on it? On the tail? Or maybe on the underside?”

Tom Jenkins pressed his hat back on his head and gazed up at the empty sky beyond the forest, like he could return that beautiful animal to where it rightfully belonged through sheer force of his will. The high peaks beyond the meadow were streaked with deep blue shadows in the sunlight, their cloughs and gorges washed in purple and topped with snow so white it hurt your eyes.

“I’m sorry, sir,” he said. “I don’t remember seeing numbers or anything like that.”

His face took on the aspect of defeat, as though some personal failure had cost the animal its life.

“You did good, Tom. You did the right thing coming to me straight away. There was nothing else you could have done.”

He nodded once, his lips pressed tight, and he leaned down to adjust a stirrup that needed no adjustment.

“You want some help finding your cows?” I asked, thinking he might appreciate the company.

“I can do it, sir, but thank you. I can haze ’em back home on my own.”

“You gotta get eyeballs on the critters first. I can help you, son.”

“Thank you just the same, Mr. Dawson… Sheriff… Hell, I don’t even know what to call you.”

His expression softened for the first time since he’d showed up, a brief and fleeting smile, then his focus drifted far away again.

“Something else, Tom?”

“Just wondering.”

“Wondering what?”

“Do you think you can catch those guys who shot that bird?”

“I’m going to try my damndest.”

His eyes remained fixed on the horizon.

“What’ll happen to ’em if you do?”

I drew a bandana from the back pocket of my jeans, removed my hat, and dried the sweat that had been leaking from beneath the band.

“It’s been against the law to kill an eagle since the 1940s. If you’re not an Indian, you can’t even possess a single feather. If you get caught, you pay a steep fine and then they send you off to jail. If you’re a rancher, you could lose the leases on your land.”

Tom turned his gaze back on me, and I noted for the hundredth time that this young man no longer bore any resemblance to the person he had been on the day he first arrived here from California.

“That punishment don’t seem tough enough,” Tom said. “Not for what I seen ’em do.”

“No, it doesn’t.”

He clucked softly to his horse, and reined her back in the direction from which they’d come.

“I’d better get a move on,” he said.

“Be careful out there, son,” I said to his retreating back, but my words were lost in the distance.


Excerpt from KNIFE RIVER by Baron R Birtcher. Copyright 2024 by Baron R Birtcher. Reproduced with permission from Baron R Birtcher. All rights reserved.



Author Bio

Baron R Birtcher

Baron Birtcher is the LA TIMES and IMBA BESTSELLING author of the hardboiled Mike Travis series (Roadhouse Blues, Ruby Tuesday, Angels Fall, and Hard Latitudes), the award-winning Ty Dawson series (South California Purples, Fistful Of Rain, Reckoning, and Knife River), as well as the critically-lauded stand-alone, RAIN DOGS.

Baron is a winner of the SILVER FALCHION AWARD, and the WINNER of 2018's Killer Nashville READERS CHOICE AWARD, as well as 2019's BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR for Fistful Of Rain.

He has also had the honor of having been named a finalist for the NERO AWARD, the LEFTY AWARD, the FOREWORD INDIE AWARD, the 2016 BEST BOOK AWARD, the Pacific Northwest's regional SPOTTED OWL AWARD, and the CLAYMORE AWARD.

Baron's writing has been hailed as "The real deal" by Publishers Weekly; "Fast Paced and Engaging" by Booklist; and "Solid, Fluent and Thrilling" by Kirkus.

~ Don Winslow, NYT Bestselling author

~ Reed Farrel Coleman, NYT Bestselling author

~ Shots Magazine (UK)

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Monday, May 6, 2024

The Better Man: A Silver Buckle Brides Romance -Book Two By Laurie Lewis-Contemporary Romance Book Review

 Book Synopsis

Two strangers arrive on a snow swept Colorado Ranch.
For Laramee Stone, it's a long overdue return home.
For Jamie Cannon, it's a chance to prove he's become a better man.

After tragedy broke her family, Laramee fled her family’s once beloved Colorado ranch. But the news that her ailing parents are considering selling the place lures her home after five bitter years.

Jamie Cannon spent a decade redeeming himself from the mistakes of his youth. As a successful partner in his family's real estate business, he's back on solid ground. If only his worried parents believed it too.

When Jamie needs an escape from the Denver social scene, the Stone’s request for an appraisal of their remote ranch gives him the perfect excuse to get away. But Laramee Stone is as determined to drive this paper pusher off her family’s property as Jamie is dedicated to fulfilling his assignment. The two eventually agree to a truce for the sake of the Stone’s financial future, but as Laramee and Jamie work together, they reveal glimpses into the tragedies that destroyed their pasts. In one another’s company, old hurts heal, and they feel whole.

But ex-fiancé Sutton is back. This man, who saved Laramee and her parents after tragedy struck, wants Jamie gone and Laramee back. Sutton discovers Jamie’s past and reminds him of his failings, leaving Jamie with two critical questions he must answer before he can tell Laramee how he feels—

Could Jamie’s past baggage threaten Laramee’s happiness?
And is he the better man for Laramee Stone?

Book Details

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ L.C. Lewis (February 9, 2024)
  • Genre: Contemporary Romance
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 292 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1733823670
  • ****I received a complimentary book from publishers, publicists, NetGalley, book tours, and or authors.  A review was not required and all opinions and ideas expressed are my own.****

My Review

Can two broken people mend each other's hearts?  Laramee and Jamie have both faced adversity in their lives, leading to an interesting encounter when they cross paths unexpectedly. Laramee has returned to her hometown in Colorado to safeguard her parents' ranch with many uncertainties surrounding its future. Laramee left the ranch following a devastating family incident, she needs to cope with difficult decisions as her parents contemplate selling the property. 

On the other hand, Jamie, at the request of Laramee's parents, arrives to assess the ranch's value, as he works to distance himself from his turbulent teen years that were full of addiction and emotional turmoil. Jamie is tormented by feelings of remorse and inadequacy, and he becomes the target of Laramee's apprehension. She suspects that he has ulterior motives for being there. The situation escalates with the involvement of Laramee's former jealous and overbearing fiancé, Sutton, who only adds extra conflict to the situation.

Along with the turmoil, there are themes of tragedy, resilience, hope, and reconciliation woven throughout the novel. There are also elements of family bonding, renewing friendships, dealing with betrayal, and finding love. 

The relationship between Laramee and Jamie grows as they are both dealing with forgiving themselves and a strong desire to move forward in their lives. There are also many humorous and heartfelt moments between the couple.

You can't help but root for the main characters as their journey unfolds in this well-written story. While The Better Man is part of the Silver Buckle Bride series, this book stands on its own, and characters from the first book do make appearances. 

This modern love story provides an ideal backdrop to showcase the beauty of second chances leading to new beginnings.

****Meet Author Laurie Lewis****

Laurie (L.C.) Lewis is a multiple-award-winning novelist of inspirational fiction. She's also a weather-whiner who loves God, family, crabs, nesting boxes, twinkle lights, sappy movies, and the sea. It’s documented that she’s craft-challenged and particularly lethal with a glue gun, so she set her creative juices on writing, which was less likely to burn her fingers.

Born in Baltimore, Laurie will always be a Marylander at heart, but a recent move to a house overlooking Utah Lake makes Utah her new love. Her Maryland years, spent within the exciting and history-rich corridor between Philadelphia, Baltimore, and D.C., made her a politics and history junkie. During a seven-year stint as a science-education facilitator, Laurie honed her research skills, eventually turning to writing full time.

The Letter Carrier is Laurie’s fourteenth published novel and the winner of The 2023 Whitney Awards for "Novel of the Year," and

"Best General Fiction, Adult Category." Laurie’s next book, “Revenge Never Rests,” released in December 2022 by Covenant Communications is currently a Whitney Award nominee.

Laurie writes in multiple genres, penning her women’s fiction and romance novels as Laurie Lewis, and her historical fiction novels as L.C. Lewis.

She’s also a RONE Award Winner (The Dragons of Alsace Farm) and was twice named a New Apple Literary Award winner in 2017 (The Dragons of Alsace Farm) and in 2018, winning Best New Fiction (Love on a Limb). She is also a BRAGG Medallion honoree, and she was twice named a Whitney Awards and USA Best Books Awards finalist.

Laurie loves to hear from readers, and she invites you to join her VIP Readers’ Club or contact her at any of these locations.

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