Everyday Tidbits...

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Friday, May 31, 2013

Doctor Who: Last of the Gadarene...Review by the Doctor

About the book:
'My name is Bliss,' said the newcomer, 'and I bring great news for you all!'

The new owners of a Second World War aerodrome promise a golden dawn of prosperity for the East Anglian village of Culverton. The population rejoices - with one or two exceptions. Former Spitfire pilot Alec Whistler knows the aerodrome of old, having found a strange, jade-coloured crystal there years before...

When black-shirted troops appear on the streets, Whistler takes his suspicions to his old friend Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart. The Doctor and Jo are sent to investigate and soon discover that all is not well in the seemingly idyllic village.

What are the black coffin-like objects being unloaded at the aerodrome? What horror lies behind Legion International's impeccable facade? And what is the monstrous creature growing and mutating in the marsh?

As Culverton gears up for its summer fete, the Doctor finds himself involved in a race against time to prevent a massive colonisation of Earth. For the last of the Gaderene are on their way...

I can honestly say that the third Doctor, amazingly portrayed by John Pertwee, really was my first Doctor. I have vague recollections of watching the last story in which the third Doctor, receiving a fatal dose of radiation, regenerates into the fourth Doctor. I remember being terrified at the spiders, and haunted watching the third Doctor struggle and fight for life.

So imagine my joy when I got to review a book about my very first Doctor, written by Mark Gatiss. If you are unfamiliar with who Mark Gatiss is, go and watch Sherlock, and also watch some of the Doctor Who episodes that were written by him.

I honestly felt like a little kid who had not only managed to find a candy jar, but empty it, put it back on the shelf and have no one notice.

Over the years, the storytelling in Doctor Who has changed, and yet each of the episodes has a familiar flow and timing. The Last of the Gaderene is so well-written and so perfectly balanced that it could easily have been plucked from the early 1970s. The characterizations are fantastic, both in the Doctor, his companion Jo, and the supporting cast of Unit members. Even the non-repeating characters are well-written, with a personality that just flows off the page. I will not spoil your enjoyment by giving away too much of the story, but this is one of those times where, as a child, you would watch the screen, and all of a sudden some creature or some person would be revealed, and your first thought would be ‘damn it – it’s……. again’.

I am grateful to Mark Gatiss for writing such a fantastic story, and for giving me a trip back to my childhood. They say you can never go home again, but in reading this I was back to being a 12-year-old boy sitting in my bedroom with the new Doctor Who book, oblivious to the world, and enthralled as once again the Doctor took me places and expanded my mind in ways that nobody else can, or ever will.

Thanks to Lisa at TLC Book Tours for the opportunity to review this book. Because it's the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who, the BBC is reissuing eleven classic Doctor Who novels.  One for each Doctor. You can learn more about Mark Gatiss here. You can see other reviews and tour stops here. You can purchase your own copy here.

Read 5/13

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5/13

Monday, May 13th  A Bookish Way of Life – Beautiful Chaos, Book 10
Wednesday, May 15th - A Library of My Own – Festival of Death, Book 4
Monday, May 20th – Tiffany’s Bookshelf – Dreams of Empire, Book 2
Monday, May 20th – Black ‘n Gold Girl’s Book Spot  - Who-ology: Doctor Who: The Official Miscellany 
Tuesday, May 21st – No More Grumpy Bookseller – Only HumanBook 9
Wednesday, May 22nd – The Best Books Ever – EarthworldBook 8
Wednesday, May 22nd - Col Reads – Ten Little AliensBook 1
Thursday, May 23rd – Reading Reality – Festival of DeathBook 4 
Friday, May 24th –  The Z Axis – Fear of the DarkBook 5
Friday, May 24th – 2 Kids and Tired – Dreams of EmpireBook 2
Monday, May 27th - More Than Just Magic – PlayersBook 6
Tuesday, May 28th – The Best Books Ever – The Silent Stars Go ByBook 11
Tuesday, May 28th – Bookish Ruth – Remembrance of the DaleksBook 7 
Wed, May 29th – A Library of My Own – Only HumanBook 9 
Thursday, May 30th – Black ‘n Gold Girl’s Book Spot – Last of the GadereneBook 3 
Friday, May 31st – Bookish Whimsy – Beautiful ChaosBook 10
Friday, May 31st - 2 Kids and Tired – Last of the GadereneBook 3
Monday, June 3rd – Book Addict Katie – Beautiful ChaosBook 10 
Monday, June 3rd – No More Grumpy Bookseller – The Silent Stars Go ByBook 11 
Tuesday, June 4th - Bookfoolery – Ten Little AliensBook 1
Tuesday, June 4th – In Bed with Books – Only HumanBook 9
Wednesday, June 5th - Tiffany’s Bookshelf – Last of the GadereneBook 3
Thursday, June 6th – Booktalk & More – EarthworldBook 8 
Friday, June 7th –  Speaking of Books – PlayersBook 6
Monday, June 10th  - The Z Axis – The Silent Stars Go ByBook 11 
Tuesday, June 11th- No More Grumpy Bookseller – Remembrance of the DaleksBook 7
Wednesday, June 12th – A Bookish Way of Life – Last of the GadereneBook 3
Thursday, June 13th - Speaking of Books – Fear of the DarkBook 5 
Friday, June 14th – Bookish Whimsy – Festival of DeathBook 4 
Monday, June 17th – 50 Books Project – Beautiful ChaosBook 10
Monday, June 17th – Black ‘n Gold Girl’s Book Spot – The Silent Stars Go ByBook 11
Tuesday, June 18th – Bookfoolery – Festival of DeathBook 4 
Wednesday, June 19th – Tiffany’s Bookshelf – Fear of the DarkBook 5 
Thursday, June 20th – In Bed With Books – Remembrance of the DaleksBook 7 
Friday, June 21st – Speaking of Books – Only HumanBook 9 
Monday, June 24th – Bookish Whimsy – PlayersBook 6
Tuesday, June 25th – Book Addict Katie – Festival of DeathBook 4 
Wednesday, June 26th – No More Grumpy Bookseller – EarthworldBook 8
Thursday, June 27th – Reading Reality – Ten Little Aliens, Book 1
Friday, June 28th:  Guiltless Reading – Beautiful ChaosBook 10  
Monday, July 1st – 50 Books Project – Dreams of EmpireBook 2
Date TBD– Diary of a Stay at Home Mom – The Silent Stars Go ByBook 11

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Hillbilly Heart...Review

About the book:
Billy Ray Cyrus is an award-winning country music legend whose “Achy Breaky Heart” propelled his debut album, Some Gave All, to the top of the charts for a record-breaking seventeen weeks. He’s also father of Miley Cyrus, one of Hollywood’s most successful young stars, who grew up on stage and on screen, most famously as the lead on the Disney Channel’s “Hannah Montana,” where Billy Ray Cyrus played her father. But sometimes the truth is even better than fiction. Now, for the first time, fans can read about Cyrus’s tenacious and inspiring struggle to find his own way to faith, family, and the power of music.

Hillbilly Heart opens during Cyrus’s turbulent childhood in Kentucky, where he sought refuge in music and sports after his parents’ divorce. He was a troublemaker in training, known more for pulling pranks than for following in his preacher grandfather’s much-vaunted footsteps. But when he heard a voice telling him to get a left-handed guitar and start a band, this rebel found his cause. Ten years later, after tirelessly working the club circuit and knocking on the closed doors of music executives from Nashville to Los Angeles, Cyrus finally made a stratospheric breakthrough, becoming a multi-platinum selling artist and taking his rock-and-roll twist on country music to the world’s stage.

Cyrus fans have always been able to piece together the details of his life through his lyrics—the ups and downs, adventures and disappointments—but Hillbilly Heart gives them a front row seat for his most candid performance ever.

In his memoir, Billy Ray Cyrus talks about his life and his story, mostly in chronological order. He name drops, but only because a particular celebrity was a part of whatever experience or event he is talking about, not because he wanted to fill his book with celebrity names.  He shares his belief that he was guided by the voices of God and others who had died before and who told him where to go and what to do. He is open about his faith, his flaws and his failures and he is also honest about how he got to where is today and why he made the decisions he did.  Billy Ray is proud of his children as any father should be and because he and Miley acted together on Hannah Montana, there is quite a bit about Miley in the book, although I think it was published before she started making some interesting life choices herself.

This isn't flowery or even very well written, but it's honest and straight-forward and interesting.

Thanks to Amazon Vine for the opportunity to review this book.  You can learn more about Billy Ray Cyrus here. You can purchase your own copy here.

Read 5/13

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3/5 Stars

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Problems of a Book Nerd


Truth. I always have a book with me.

Follow the Heart...Review

About the book:
Kate Dearing’s life is turned upside down when her father loses everything in a railroad land speculation and she and her brother are shipped off to their mother’s brother, Sir Anthony, in England with one edict: marry money.

Though their uncle tries to ensure Kate finds matrimonial prospects only among the highest echelon of British society, her attentions stray to the one of the least eligible people at her uncle’s home—the garden designer.

Trying to push her feelings for the handsome—but not wealthy—man aside, Kate’s prospects brighten when a friend of Sir Anthony’s, a wealthy viscount, shows favorable interest in her. But will marrying for the financial security of her family be the right thing to do, when her heart is telling her she’s making a mistake?

Mandates . . . money . . . matrimony. Who will follow the heart?

I loved the Ransome series and so when I saw a new book by Kaye Dacus, I was anxious to read it. Unfortunately, I didn't like it nearly as much as I did the Ransome series.

The book took awhile for me to get into and I finally had to force myself to finish it as I was frustrated more than enthralled with the story and its characters.  I would like to read what happens in future stories because I hope to see Cousin Edith redeem herself, although I'm not sure it's possible and I don't think either of the next two books is about her.  Kate and Christopher ultimately must decide what is more important, marrying for love or marrying for money because of familial obligation.  I was surprised at how little The Great Exhibition actually figured into the story.  I really liked the 4 main leads: Kate and Christopher and Andrew and Nora.  I would have liked more detail about Christopher and Nora though.  Perhaps all of them will make appearances in the future stories.

Overall, pleasant, but not one I would reread.

Thanks to First Wildcard and Whitaker Publishing for the opportunity to review this book. You can learn more about Kaye Dacus here.  You can read the first chapter here. You can purchase your own copy here.

Read 5/13

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3/5 Stars

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Mailbox Monday 5/27

It's time for another Mailbox Monday which was created by Marcia at The Printed Page, and this month is hosted by Abi of 4 the Love of Books.

Mailbox Monday is the gathering place for readers to share the books that came into their house last week... Warning: Mailbox Monday can lead to envy, toppling TBR piles and humongous wish list

This is what showed up at my house last week.



Gone South  by Meg Moseley (for review, from Waterbrook Multnomah)
Slow Moon Rising by Eva Marie Everson (for review, from Baker Publishing)
Deadly Devotion by Sandra Orchard (for review, from Baker Publishing)
The Quarryman's Bride by Tracie Peterson (for review, from Litfuse Publicity)

-----------------------------------

What new books did you receive?  For more Mailbox Monday posts, check out 4 the Love of Books.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Doctor Who: Dreams of Empire...Review by the Doctor

About the book:
Landing on a barren asteroid, the Doctor and his friends discover the final pages of a drama that has torn apart an empire are being played out.

Who is the man in the mask, and how are his chess games affecting life and death in his prison? What is the secret of the knights in armor that line the bleak walls of the settlement. And what is the nature of the alien ship approaching -- and what will it want when it arrives?

Soon the TARDIS crew find themselves under siege with a deadly robotic race and human traitors to defeat -- and the future of an entire stellar empire hangs in the balance: if the Doctor cannot triumph it will become a force not for good, but for evil.

Warning. As a lifelong Doctor Who fan, I have to tell you that this review is somewhat biased. I have nothing against the "new fans" who came in after 2005, but as someone who can honestly say that I remember watching episodes of Doctor Who in the mid-70s, hiding terrified behind my grandmother's chair, I have to confess that I have a soft spot for what is now referred to as "classic" Doctor Who.

Yes it is classic. Even more so, because it did not have the benefits of great special effects and worldwide media exposure. It relied on great stories, great characters, and amazing actors who brought the Doctor and his companions to life with their own personal flair and flavor.

As the second incarnation of the Doctor, Patrick Troughton is one of the hardest doctors to find. Many episodes of his stories are incomplete, or completely missing. Yet those few classic episodes of his that remain allow us a wonderful glimpse of the "cosmic hobo" that was the hallmark of the second Doctor. Always seeming half a step behind, and yet with the calm assurance that he really was the smartest person in the room, by a long, long way.

For me, reading Dreams of Empires was a wonderfully nostalgic trip back into childhood. The hallmark of a great author is in the way that he frames the characters; in their mannerisms, their dialogue, and capturing those indecipherable aspects that make someone who they are.

As I turned the pages, I could honestly hear all of the voices of the characters in my head. I could see the second Doctor standing there with a sandwich, his bow tie and his coat. I could see Jamie in his kilt with all of his Scottish pride. Suddenly I was a young child again, full of wonder and magic.

What makes this book even more special to me is that this is a classic Doctor Who story with its plot twists, strong characters and with the Doctor's amazing way of snatching victory from the jaws of defeat time and time again. This is one of those scripts that takes to make it to the screen, and who knows. Maybe in a few years our computer-generated animation will have reached a point where they can re-create the characters, re-create the landscapes and bring to life a whole new story that can take its place in the library of great Doctor Who stories.

I love this book. It is well written, thoughtfully crafted and took me back to a time of wonder, joy and imagination. I am grateful to have had the chance to read it, and I highly recommend it.

Thanks to Lisa at TLC Book Tours for the opportunity to review this book. Because it's the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who, the BBC is reissuing eleven classic Doctor Who novels.  One for each Doctor. You can learn more about Justin Richards here. You can see other reviews and tour stops here. You can purchase your own copy here.

Read 5/13

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5/13

Monday, May 13th  A Bookish Way of Life – Beautiful Chaos, Book 10
Wednesday, May 15th - A Library of My Own – Festival of Death, Book 4
Monday, May 20th – Tiffany’s Bookshelf – Dreams of Empire, Book 2
Monday, May 20th – Black ‘n Gold Girl’s Book Spot  - Who-ology: Doctor Who: The Official Miscellany 
Tuesday, May 21st – No More Grumpy Bookseller – Only Human, Book 9
Wednesday, May 22nd – The Best Books Ever – Earthworld, Book 8
Wednesday, May 22nd - Col Reads – Ten Little Aliens, Book 1
Thursday, May 23rd – Reading Reality – Festival of Death, Book 4 
Friday, May 24th –  The Z Axis – Fear of the DarkBook 5
Friday, May 24th – 2 Kids and Tired – Dreams of Empire, Book 2
Monday, May 27th - More Than Just Magic – Players, Book 6
Tuesday, May 28th – The Best Books Ever – The Silent Stars Go By, Book 11
Tuesday, May 28th – Bookish Ruth – Remembrance of the Daleks, Book 7 
Wed, May 29th – A Library of My Own – Only Human, Book 9 
Thursday, May 30th – Black ‘n Gold Girl’s Book Spot – Last of the Gaderene, Book 3 
Friday, May 31st – Bookish Whimsy – Beautiful Chaos, Book 10
Friday, May 31st - 2 Kids and Tired – Last of the Gaderene, Book 3
Monday, June 3rd – Book Addict Katie – Beautiful Chaos, Book 10 
Monday, June 3rd – No More Grumpy Bookseller – The Silent Stars Go ByBook 11 
Tuesday, June 4th - Bookfoolery – Ten Little Aliens, Book 1
Tuesday, June 4th – In Bed with Books – Only Human, Book 9
Wednesday, June 5th - Tiffany’s Bookshelf – Last of the Gaderene, Book 3
Thursday, June 6th – Booktalk & More – Earthworld, Book 8 
Friday, June 7th –  Speaking of Books – Players, Book 6
Monday, June 10th  - The Z Axis – The Silent Stars Go By, Book 11 
Tuesday, June 11th- No More Grumpy Bookseller – Remembrance of the Daleks, Book 7
Wednesday, June 12th – A Bookish Way of Life – Last of the Gaderene, Book 3
Thursday, June 13th - Speaking of Books – Fear of the Dark, Book 5 
Friday, June 14th – Bookish Whimsy – Festival of Death, Book 4 
Monday, June 17th – 50 Books Project – Beautiful Chaos, Book 10
Monday, June 17th – Black ‘n Gold Girl’s Book Spot – The Silent Stars Go By, Book 11
Tuesday, June 18th – Bookfoolery – Festival of Death, Book 4 
Wednesday, June 19th – Tiffany’s Bookshelf – Fear of the Dark, Book 5 
Thursday, June 20th – In Bed With Books – Remembrance of the Daleks, Book 7 
Friday, June 21st – Speaking of Books – Only Human, Book 9 
Monday, June 24th – Bookish Whimsy – Players, Book 6
Tuesday, June 25th – Book Addict Katie – Festival of Death, Book 4 
Wednesday, June 26th – No More Grumpy Bookseller – Earthworld, Book 8
Thursday, June 27th – Reading Reality – Ten Little Aliens, Book 1
Friday, June 28th:  Guiltless Reading – Beautiful Chaos, Book 10  
Monday, July 1st – 50 Books Project – Dreams of Empire, Book 2
Date TBD– Diary of a Stay at Home Mom – The Silent Stars Go By, Book 11

Friday, May 24, 2013

Books are more interesting...

I love Pinterest.

Diamond in the Rough...Wildcard!

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!



Today's Wild Card authors are:


and the book:

Whitaker House (May 1, 2013)

***Special thanks to Cathy Hickling for sending me a review copy.***

ABOUT THE AUTHORS:

Veteran authors Jennifer AlLee and Lisa Karon Richardson have combined their considerable skills to create the action-packed historical romance series, Charm & Deceit, for Whitaker House.


Jennifer AlLee is the bestselling author of The Love of His Brother (2007) for Five Star Publishers, and for Abington Press: The Pastor's Wife (2010), The Mother Road (April 2012), and A Wild Goose Chase Christmas (November 2012). She’s also published a number of short stories, devotions and plays. Jennifer is a passionate participant in her church’s drama ministry. She lives with her family in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Visit the author's website.


Lisa Karon Richardson has led a life of adventure — from serving as a missionary in the Seychelles and Gabon to returning to the U.S. to raise a family—and she imparts her stories with similarly action-packed plot lines. She’s the author of Impressed by Love (2012) for Barbour Publishing’s Colonial Courtships anthology, The Magistrate’s Folly, and Midnight Clear, part of a 2013 holiday anthology, also from Barbour. Lisa lives with her husband and children in Ohio.

Visit the author's website.

SHORT BOOK DESCRIPTION:

Grant Diamond is a professional gambler on the run from his past. When he comes across a wagon wreck, the chance to escape his pursuers is too good a gamble to pass up, so he assumes the identity of the dead wagon driver. His plan takes an unexpected turn, though, when heiress Lily Rose mistakes him for the missionary she had asked to come to Eureka, California to work with the local Wiyot Indians. Seeing Eureka as a promising place to lay low, Grant plays along. Before he knows it, he’s bluffing his way through sermons and building a school. But with a Pinkerton on his trail and a rancher rousing fresh hatred against the Indians, Grant fears the new life he’s built may soon crumple like a house of cards.
Genre: Historical Christian Romance


Product Details:
List Price: $12.99
Paperback: 256 pages
Publisher: Whitaker House (May 1, 2013)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1603747427
ISBN-13: 978-1603747424


AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:

April 1861

Eureka, California

“They’re dying, Hodge!” Lily burst through the door of the general store. “I don’t know what’s wro—oomph.” She jerked to a stop as her hoopskirt caught in the door. Again.
A handful of choice phrases leaped to mind, but she settled for inarticulate grumbling as she reached back with one hand to wrench the flexible metallic hoops free. As she staggered forward, her skirts belled out, knocking over a display of stacked baking soda tins. She stooped to prevent the cans from rolling willy-nilly across the floor, only to have the back of her skirt swing in the opposite direction and make contact with something solid.
Hodge wiped his hands on his apron as he hurried around from behind the counter. “Just leave it, Miss Lily.”
Lily straightened, shifting the cumbersome flowerpot she held in the crook of one arm. With her free hand, she swept the loose tendrils of hair from her eyes and tucked them behind her ear. “You really need to widen that door.”
Hodge cocked his head and planted his hands on his hips. “You really need to wear skirts that don’t endanger life and limb.”
Lily narrowed her eyes and opened her mouth to correct him, but she snapped it shut again when she noticed a man leaning against the counter. His dark hair stood up in spiky patches, as if he’d run his fingers through it repeatedly since removing his hat. His craggy complexion was saved from severity by the quirk of a dimple at the corner of his mouth and the glint of humor in his green eyes.
With a barely perceptible nod, Lily turned away from the stranger’s amused glance and squared her shoulders. She wasn’t above arguing with Hodge, but she couldn’t afford to antagonize him right now. She needed his help.
She thrust the flowerpot she carried at the shopkeeper. A feathery purple peony drooped listlessly over the side, its leaves marred by irregular black spots. “Can you tell me what’s wrong with this thing?”
Hodge plucked off one of the saddest-looking leaves and rubbed it between his fingers, then lifted it to his nose and sniffed. “You’ve got blight.” He tossed the leaf back into the pot.
“Blight?” That sounded bad. And pervasive. Whatever it was hadn’t afflicted just this particular plant. Half the peonies in the greenhouse looked the same. Mama was going to have a fit when she got back from San Francisco. “What did I do?”
“Don’t flatter yourself. It’s caused by a fungus.”
“Oh.” That was some small consolation. “Is there any cure?”
“Sure, there is.”
Lily tamped down her irritation, forcing a smile instead. Getting information out of Hodge was more tedious than pulling weeds from the garden. “And what might that cure be?”
“Steep a handful of elder leaves in hot water with some Castile soap, then rub it on the leaves.”
“Castile soap?”
“Yep. I’ve got some in the back.” Hodge held up his hand, halting her attempt to follow him. “Oh no, you don’t. You’ll leave another trail of destruction in your wake.”
Lily sniffed and raised her chin. Hodge didn’t know the first thing about fashion. Granted, she hadn’t quite gotten the hang of these hoops yet. But, when she did, the whole town would be impressed with her grace and style. And Mama would finally be happy.
With great care, she glided across the room, mindful not to knock over anything else. No use proving Hodge’s point. She halted at the counter and picked up a seed catalog. Maybe Mama need never know. Lily could order replacement seeds, or bulbs, or whatever these plants came from. Only, how long did they take to grow?
The black-clad stranger stood only a few feet away, studying a sheaf of paper in his hands. For some reason, his dimple showed. Lily made a pointed flip of the catalog page. If he thought she’d come over here to speak with him, he was sorely mistaken.
“You’ll need root cuttings to plant peonies.” The stranger turned his head and offered her a roguish smile.
Lily nodded once. They hadn’t been introduced, but a lady wasn’t rude without reason.
“I don’t think they’ll carry them in that catalog, though.”
“Where might I get some?” The question crossed her lips before she could frame it in her mind. Her hand jerked to her mouth, as if she could catch her words and snatch them back before they reached his ears.
“Special dealers, horticultural friends, botanical gardens.” The words rolled effortlessly off his tongue.
Lily blinked. He looked so…rough. What did this sort of man know about frivolities like flower gardens?
He pushed away from the counter and turned to face her fully, giving her an accurate picture of just how tall he was. At eye level with her was his neck, which, she now noticed, was encircled by a clerical collar. Her jaw dropped a notch. A clergyman? Mindful of Mama’s opinions on good breeding, she pressed her lips together again, but she couldn’t tear her eyes away from that stark white square.
Hodge bustled back in from the storage room. “Here you go, Miss Lily. Had to open a new crate.” He held out a bar wrapped in paper.
“Thank you.” Lily accepted it, then glanced at the stranger again. The way he looked at her made it feel as if the room were ten degrees warmer. Resisting the urge to press her palms against her cheeks, she fumbled with the clasp of her reticule. “How much do I owe you, Hodge?”
“A dime’ll do it.”
The preacher put on his hat, tipped it at her, and headed outside.
Lily found the coin and handed it over without bothering to quibble about the outrageous price.
“See you were talkin’ to Reverend Crew. He’s fresh from out East. Sent by some missionary society, think he said.”
Lily’s head jerked up. “Missiona—oh, no!” Snatching up her flowerpot and bar of soap, she whirled around and strode toward the door, heedless of the destruction she wrought in her pursuit of the stranger.
***
The smell hit him first. Pinkerton Detective Carter Forbes covered his mouth and nose with his handkerchief. His trusty mare, Friday, hesitated, and he patted her neck. “It’s okay, girl. Whatever caused this should be long gone by now.”
She whickered softly in response, then moved forward with cautious, delicate steps, her muscles bunched and ready to gallop if necessary.
Around the next bend in the trail was a covered wagon toppled on its side. Carter scanned the area. The horses that had been hitched to it were nowhere in sight. Enormous redwoods stood like sentinels protecting the smaller denizens of the forest. One wagon wheel had caught against a tree. Leaves covered the chassis and littered the torn canvas. Nothing moved.
Senses jangling, Carter dismounted and looped Friday’s reins over a nearby tree limb. The birds overhead ceased their chattering, and even the breeze stilled, as if the whole forest held its breath in anticipation. The rustle of his footsteps through dry leaves sounded remarkably loud in the hush. His fingers grazed the butt of his pistol.
He twitched aside the flap of the canvas. The stench redoubled nearly knocked him off his feet. He staggered back, letting the fabric fall closed again. Gagging, he sucked in a gulp of relatively pure air, but the foulness refused to be purged from his lungs. Over and over he inhaled, pressing his nose against his shirtsleeve in a futile attempt to mask the disgusting odor. At last, he clamped one hand over his mouth and, with the other, wrenched the canvas away with a terrible rip.
The dead man lay on his back. Carter swore under his breath. Why did he always give in to his infernal curiosity? A prudent man would’ve ridden on by. Minded his own business. But not Carter Forbes. Oh, no; he had to see. The quality made him a good Pinkerton, but it could be downright inconvenient.
He squatted and moved closer to the man. The scurry of tiny, clawed feet against the wood made him flinch. The corpse had lain exposed to the elements and scavengers long enough to make identifying the fellow impossible. Carter shook his head. The poor man hadn’t had anyone on hand to mourn his loss.
Sighing, he backed away. The least he could do was dig the man a decent grave. A shovel was still tied to the outside of the wagon. He grabbed it and began digging. The rhythmic thump of the blade biting into the earth sounded a primitive lament.
By how much would this set him back? He had made up a lot of time by riding hard. Still, Diamond probably had almost a day on him.
At last, the hole was large enough. Panting, Carter put aside the shovel and scrabbled out of the pit. He removed his coat and vest and slung them over Friday’s accommodating back. Now for the worst of it.
He ducked inside the wagon again. He couldn’t bring himself to touch the body’s decaying limbs, so he grabbed a fistful of pant fabric and another of jacket. The corpse was heavier than he’d expected it to be as he dragged it to the edge of the makeshift grave.
Lord, keep me from such an end. Carter rolled the corpse over so that it lay facedown. A small round hole penetrated the back of the jacket at about the level of the heart. The area around the hole was stained with blood, but death must have been nigh instantaneous.
Murder.
He stood and pushed his hat back from his forehead. Why hadn’t he passed on by when he’d had the chance? Blast. Maybe God was punishing him for leaving his sister alone for so long.
He maneuvered the body so that it was face-up again and then methodically searched the pockets. He needed to figure out who the victim was. Then he would ride to the nearest town and turn the matter over to the local sheriff.
When he reached his hand inside the inner breast pocket of the jacket, his fingers found something hard. He plucked out the item—a locket on a gold chain. Could it be? He opened the tiny silver clasp to reveal the serious-eyed gaze of a striking young woman.
Triumph tasted bitter—too tangled up with the scent of death. Could it be that he’d finally found Grand Diamond, the infamous murderer?
His search intensified, as though the evidence might begin to vanish if he wasted any time. He turned up a pocketknife, a handkerchief, a twist of string, a pencil stub, and a thin packet of letters. No gun. Carter frowned. A man wanted for murder wasn’t likely to travel unarmed. Whoever had killed him had probably stolen his weapon.
Carter sat down on an overturned bucket and took up the packet of letters. He pulled on the end of the faded satin ribbon that bound them together. The pages were fragile and scarred with soft, fuzzy creases, as if they’d been folded and unfolded with great frequency.
Grant, my love, I will wait for you in the conservatory at midnight.
More confirmation that the dead man was Diamond. After three years of near misses, Carter finally had his man. Now he could collect his bonus, return to Emily, and get her started on her new treatments.
Yet he didn’t feel any sense of accomplishment. His fingers caressed the worn paper. These letters would be enough proof for anybody. But it was wrong—all wrong. The body was damp, as if it had been out when it had rained two days ago. The letters weren’t. They were almost entirely dry.
And the body was too far decomposed to have been dead only a day or two. This man must have been killed at least a week ago.
Carter pinched the bridge of his nose. He’d been after Diamond for so long, and he wanted nothing more than to close the case and go home. But he couldn’t. Not yet. There was more to this thing than met the eye, and Carter had to see it through, no matter where it led.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Biking Across America: My Coast-to-Coast Adventure and the People I Met Along the Way...Review

About the book: 
After Paul Stutzman finished hiking the Appalachian Trail, he found himself longing for another challenge, another adventure. Trading his hiking boots for a bicycle, Paul set off to discover more of America. Starting at Neah Bay, Washington, and ending at Key West, Florida, Paul traversed the 5,000-mile distance between the two farthest points in the contiguous United States. Along the way he encountered nearly every kind of terrain and weather the country had to offer--as well as hundreds of fascinating people whose stories readers will love. Through cold and heat, loneliness and exhaustion, abundance and kindness, Paul pedaled on. His reward--and the readers'--is a glimpse of a noble yet humble America that still exists and inspires. Anyone who longs for adventure, who loves travel and stories of travel, and who loves this place called America will enjoy this book. 

After reading Hiking Through, I was anxious for more of Paul Stutzman's adventures.  This time, he biked nearly 5,000 miles across America, from the top of Washington to the bottom of Florida.  He chronicles his journey and the people he met along the way. I enjoyed his descriptions of the landscape and countryside.  Being most familiar with the San Francisco Bay Area, I really enjoyed that portion of his ride.  I'd also love to see the Continental Divide after reading his description.

Shorter and not quite as detailed or in depth as Hiking Through, I really wished for a map that chronicled his path.  I'm very familiar with the geography of America, but it would have been nice to see a graphic representation of the path he took.

Paul's journey is very much his ministry and as he meets people, he is quick to share his belief in God. His message conveyed throughout this book is that God is in control and that walking with Christ is the answer to finding happiness and contentment in life and there are no coincidences. Like I did with Hiking Through, I found insightful passages that I wanted to remember and I once again had the realization that this country is full of truly good people.

Available May 2013 at your favorite bookseller from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group. Thanks to Donna of Baker Publishing for the opportunity to review this book.  You can learn more about Paul Stutzman here. You can purchase your own copy here.

Read 5/13

* * * * *
5/5 Stars

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Undeniably Yours...Review

About the book:
When Meg Cole's father dies unexpectedly, she's forced to return home to Texas and to Whispering Creek Ranch to take up the reins of his empire. The last thing she has the patience or the sanity to deal with? Her father's Thoroughbred racehorse farm. She gives its manager, Bo Porter, six months to close the place down.

Bo knows he ought to resent the woman who's determined to take from him the only job he ever wanted. But instead of anger, Meg evokes within him a profound desire to protect. The more time he spends with her, the more he longs to overcome every obstacle that separates them and earn her love. Just when Meg realizes she can no longer deny the depth of her feelings for Bo, their fragile bond is broken by a force from Meg's past. Can their relationship--and their belief that God can work through every circumstance--survive?

Meg has never been interested in oil and has never desired to lead her father's company.  But, after his sudden death, she's forced to do just that.  Her father's holdings are vast and having no interest in horses, she decides to sell off his thoroughbred horse farm.  Bo Porter, the farm's manager, refuses to accept his severance offer and manages to convince Meg to give him 6 months to come up with the money to make the ranch self-supportive.  Meg soon takes an interest the ranch, and as their friendship deepens, Bo and Meg resist the depth of their feelings.  When Meg's past comes back to haunt her, however, their relationship is forever threatened.

It's not very often you come across such a well written male lead.  Bo Porter is the strong heroic cowboy with a solid faith in God and family.  His family is terrific.  I enjoyed the subplots with Amber and Meg's desire to do something to help others, rather than just run her father's company.  As she finally discovers what her heart truly wants to do, she discovers her true joy.  I did find Stephen frustrating and that Meg could so quickly distrust Bo, but I loved his faith that things would work out and his strength in protecting her.

This is a real, heartwarming story and one that I thoroughly enjoyed.  As it's the first in a series, I am anxious for more and I hope that Amber's story is next and that Jake figures strongly in it!

Thanks to Litfuse Publicity for the opportunity to review this book. You can learn more about Becky Wade here.  You can see other reviews and tour stops here.  You can purchase your own copy here.

Read 5/13

* * * *
4/5 Stars

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Follow the Heart...Wildcard!

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!



Today's Wild Card author is:


and the book:

B&H Books (May 1, 2013)

***Special thanks to Laurel Teague for sending me a review copy.***

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

 Kaye Dacus is the author of humorous, hope-filled contemporary and historical romances with Barbour Publishing, Harvest House Publishers, and B&H Publishing. She holds a Master of Arts in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University, is a former Vice President of American Christian Fiction Writers, and currently serves as President of Middle Tennessee Christian Writers. Kaye lives in Nashville, Tennessee, where she is a full-time academic advisor and part-time college composition instructor for a local university. To find out more about Kaye and her books, please visit her online at kayedacus.com.


SHORT BOOK DESCRIPTION:

Set during the Industrial Revolution and the Great Exhibition of 1851, Follow the Heart is a “sitting-room romance” with the feel of a Regency-era novel but the fashions and technological advances of the mid-Victorian age. Kate and Christopher Dearing’s lives turn upside down when their father loses everything in a railroad land speculation. The siblings are shipped off to their mother’s brother in England with one edict: marry money. At twenty-seven years old, Kate has the stigma of being passed over by eligible men many times—and that was before she had no dowry. Christopher would like nothing better than to make his own way in the world; and with a law degree and expertise in the burgeoning railroad industry, he was primed to do just that—in America. Though their uncle tries to ensure Kate and Christopher find matrimonial prospects only among the highest echelon of British society, their attentions stray to a gardener and a governess. While Christopher has options that would enable him to lay his affections where he chooses, he cannot let the burden of their family’s finances crush his sister. Trying to push her feelings for the handsome—but not wealthy— gardener aside, Kate’s prospects brighten when a wealthy viscount shows interest in her. But is marrying for the financial security of her family the right thing to do, when her heart is telling her she’s making a mistake?

Product Details:
List Price: $14.99
Paperback: 320 pages
Publisher: B&H Books (May 1, 2013)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1433677202
ISBN-13: 978-1433677205


AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


SS Baltic
Off the Coast of England
February 9, 1851

You should come back down to the saloon, where it’s warm.”

Kate did not turn from the vista of gray, choppy water in front of her at her brother’s voice. The last fourteen days seemed as nothing to Christopher—a lark, an adventure, not the exile Kate knew it to be.

An exile that came with an edict: Find someone wealthy to marry.

“I do not see the point in sitting in the grand saloon, pretending as though everything is fine when I know it is not. I have no talent at pretense.” Kate wrapped her thick woolen shawl closer about her head and shoulders at a gust of icy wind. “If any of those other passengers knew we were being sent to England as poor relations, they would shun us.”

Just as everyone in Philadelphia had. Word of Graham Dearing’s financial misfortune spread like last summer’s great fire that consumed the Vine Street Wharf—quickly and with almost as much destructive force. Kate and Christopher’s stepmother had been too embarrassed to come down to the train station to see them off to New York two weeks ago—too afraid she would see someone she recognized on the street and not be acknowledged. Only Father had come with them to New York to say good-bye. And to remind Kate why she was being sent to her mother’s brother: to find and marry a fortune that would save their family. The memory of their argument on the platform before she joined Christopher to board the ship burned through her like the coal that powered them closer to her destiny.

“What’s wrong with enjoying the trappings of money while we can?” Christopher sidled up beside her and leaned his forearms against the top railing. “Besides, from Uncle Anthony’s letter, it doesn’t sound like he plans to treat us any differently than his own children, just because we’re ‘poor relations,’ as you put it.”

“But they’ll know. Sir Anthony and his daughters and whatever house staff they have—they’ll know that we’re completely dependent upon their charity. It will be written in their eyes every time they look at us. Every time we sit down at a meal with them. Every time they take us to a ball or party. We will be creating additional expense for them.” Kate trembled, not just from the cold.

“You had no problem with our creating additional expense for Father when we lived at home. Why start worrying about it now?”

Kate finally turned to look—to gape—at her brother. Certainly he was younger than she, but only by three years. However, he was a qualified lawyer, a man full-grown at twenty-four years old. How could he speak so juvenile? Did he not realize what Father and Maud had done to afford to send them abroad? Had he not noticed the missing paintings, carpets, and silver—sold so Father could afford their passage? Kate had a suspicion that much of their stepmother’s heirloom jewelry had met the same fate. Not to mention Father’s sacrifice of pride in begging his first wife’s brother, the baronet Sir Anthony Buchanan, to take them in.

Christopher’s light-brown eyes twinkled and danced. “Come on, Kate. I’ve heard that wealthy men can be plucked up on every corner in England, so you’ve nothing to worry about. They will take one look at you and be lining up at Uncle Anthony’s door to court you.”

Heat flared in her cheeks. “You can stop that nonsensical flattery right now, Christopher Dearing. It will get you nowhere.” But she couldn’t stop the smile that forced its way through her worry.

“It got me exactly what I wanted.” He put his arm around her shoulders and gave her a squeeze, then turned and forced her to walk back toward the stairs leading down to the grand saloon on the deck below. “We will be docking in a few hours, and you’ve been sulking the entire voyage. I insist you come below and enjoy yourself, just for a little while. Or pretend, on my account.”

Tiny snowflakes floated down and landed on Kate’s shawl and the mittened hand holding it to her chin. “Oh, all right. I will come. But only to get warm before we dock.”

It took her eyes several moments to adjust to the darkness of the stairwell. Reaching the grand saloon, Kate slowed and waited for Christopher to regain her side. Though not yet noon, the candles in the hanging lamps and wall sconces had been lit against the gloomy gray skies outside. The large, etched-glass columns in the middle of the room, which connected to the skylights above, brought in little light to reflect from the mirrors lining the walls between the doors to the sleeping cabins.

Several younger men, playing cards in the corner near the foot of the stairs, called out to Christopher, entreating him to come join the game.

He waved them off with a laugh and then offered Kate his arm. “Come, there are a few people who would like to speak to you.”

At the opposite end of the long room, partially hidden by one of the glass pillars from the card players near the stairs, sat a group of middle-aged women and a few men. The rest of the men, she assumed, were in the smoking room.

“Ah, here is your beloved sister, Mr. Dearing.” An older lady patted the seat of the settee beside her. “Do, come sit, Miss Dearing.” Mrs. Headington’s clipped British accent made Kate more nervous than she usually felt before strangers. That, and learning the woman had been governess to their cousins many years ago. Mrs. Headington was so particular and exacting, Kate worried she and Christopher would disappoint their extended family at every turn.

Kate removed her mittens and shawl and perched on the edge of the sofa. “Thank you, Mrs. Headington.”

“We were just speaking of the Great Exhibition.” The plump former governess waved a fan in front of her flushed, moist face, her more-than-ample bosom heaving against her straining bodice with each breath.

“The Great Exhibition?” Kate folded the shawl and set it on her lap, where she rested her still-cold hands on it.

“Oh, Kate, I’ve told you all about it. Prince Albert’s Great Exhibition. It’s to be the largest display of industry and arts from all over the world.” Christopher’s eyes took on the same gleam as when he talked about laws governing the railroads. “Imagine—delegations are coming from as far as India, Algiers, and Australia and bringing displays of their industry and manufacturing, their artwork. Some are even bringing wild animals.”

He lost the dreamy expression for a moment. “And I have heard there will be agricultural exhibits, Kate. You may find some exotic plants for the garden.”

She smiled at the memory of her garden, her favorite place in the world—but melancholy and reality struck down the moment of joy. She might never see her garden again. For either she would marry some wealthy Englishman and stay in England for the rest of her life, or Father would be forced to sell the house.

Talk continued around her, rumors of fantastical exhibits and inventions supposedly coming to this great world’s fair, which would open in just under three months.

What would she be doing by then? What about Father and Maud and the girls? She shook her head, trying to stave off the unwanted visions of her father, stepmother, and little sisters begging on the streets of Philadelphia.

The steward entered the saloon and called everyone to follow him in to luncheon. Christopher offered Kate his hand. When she gained her feet, he bent over, placing his mouth close to her ear, as if to place a kiss on her cheek.

“I know what you’re thinking about. Don’t let it get you down. Everything will be all right. You’ll see.” He tucked her hand into the crook of his elbow and led her through the steward’s pantry, where the beautiful silver trays and chargers displayed there winked in the candlelight, mocking her with their opulence.

Mrs. Headington invited them to sit at her table for the meal, and Kate sank gratefully into the chair Christopher held for her. Though her brother knew almost all of the hundred or so first-class passengers traveling with them, Kate had kept to herself most of the voyage, unable to laugh and flirt and pretend the way Christopher could.

“You appear sad, Miss Dearing.” Mrs. Headington gave Kate a knowing look. “Is it a young man you have left back home who occupies your thoughts?”

Kate latched on to the question. “I had—have a suitor, ma’am. He courted me for over a year. I believed he would propose before . . . before Christopher and I left for England. But alas, he did not.”

Christopher’s jaw slackened, and Kate felt a kindling of amusement at his astonishment over her ability to spin the story in such a manner. Perhaps she did share some of his abilities, buried deep within.

“I do not know what the fellow could have been thinking, allowing a woman like you to slip away with no firm commitment. Does he realize how easily he could lose you to one of our fine English gentlemen?”

If only Mrs. Headington knew what Devlin Montgomery knew.

“If the blighter is not man enough to propose before you left, you should consider yourself free to accept other suitors, Miss Dearing. Though you must allow me to caution you against those wicked men who want nothing more than to ruin virtuous young women like you.” Mrs. Headington raised her teacup in emphatic punctuation to her warning, though speculation filled her gaze. “There are plenty of lords who will look beyond the lack of a title when it comes to a pretty face, so long as she has a substantial dowry.”

Kate hoped one of them would also look beyond the lack of a dowry. Rather than let Mrs. Headington’s unintentional disparagement send her back into the doldrums she’d been in since that awful discovery on New Year’s Eve, Kate continued smiling and trying to engage in conversation with Mrs. Headington and the other travelers who joined them at the marble-topped table.

It would do her no good to show up on England’s shores dour-faced and hung all around with melancholy. She had little enough to work with as it was—being too tall, with average looks, and angular features. Oddly enough, for Kate, the Old World meant a new life. Here, where no one knew her, where no one could recount the names of the men who had courted her and then decided not to marry her, she could forget the past, forget her failure to find a husband. In England, she could become Katharine Dearing, the woman who could not only carry on a conversation about botany or politics with any man, but who could dance and flirt as well.

For ten years, since her debut at seventeen, she’d turned her nose up at the young women who simpered and giggled and flattered all the young men. Well, most of those young women were now married with families of their own.

She glanced around the table and studied the interactions between married couples and among the few unmarried young women and men. Could she remake herself in the image of the debutante across from her with the blonde ringlets, whose coy, soft eyes and sweet smiles drew the men’s attention like bees to nectar?

To her right, Mrs. Headington argued with Christopher about the politics surrounding the Great Exhibition and the worry of many that Prince Albert would bankrupt the country with the lavish display of agriculture and industry.

Kate Dearing would have joined in the conversation of politics. Katharine Dearing, however, turned to the balding, middle-aged man on her left. “What part of England are you from, Mr. Fitch?”

She lowered her chin and blinked a few times, trying to imitate the blonde’s batting eyelashes. The man beside her almost choked on his wine before setting down the goblet to answer, obviously no more accustomed to being flirted with than Kate was to flirting.

Dowry or no dowry, she must and would find a wealthy husband. And as her stepmother was so fond of saying, practice makes perfect.

~

Andrew Lawton drew his coat collar higher around the lower part of his face and pulled his hat down, wishing it would cover his ears, exposed as they were to the frigid winter air. Beyond the inn’s small front porch, snow blew and swirled on the indecisive wind—first toward, then away; left, then right. White dust skittered this way and that on the cobblestone street.

He closed his eyes and took a deep breath, longing for spring and the orderliness and discipline he would bring to the gardens at Wakesdown Manor. He had the plans all laid out on paper and was prepared to begin construction of the new gardens so they would be ready to burst into bloom when warm weather arrived. But instead, he was in Liverpool. And on a Sunday, no less.

Who would choose to travel by steamship in the middle of winter?

He’d only just managed to get away from Mr. Paxton and the Crystal Palace in time to catch the train from London to Liverpool yesterday. Eleven hours on an unforgiving wooden seat in the unheated third-class car—not wanting to part with his hard-earned wages in order to ride in the warmth and comfort of second class or the luxury of first—followed by a night on a lumpy bed in a freezing inn had done his back and his temper no favors.

Rather than go to the expense of a hiring a cab for the mile walk back to the train station, Andrew adjusted his collar again, hooked the handle of his valise over his left wrist, stuffed his gloved hands into his coat pockets, and leaned into the swirling wind with a brisk pace. The inn’s distance from the station had made it economically attractive for the overnight stay—half the cost of those within a block or two of both the train station and the Mersey River ports, where everything and everyone came in and out of Liverpool.

By the time he reached his destination, the swirling white dust had turned to hard, pelting ice. According to the timetable written on the board in the ticket office, the Baltic had docked ten minutes ago, shortly after one o’clock.

If he caught the two o’clock train, he would arrive in Oxford near eleven tonight. He desperately wanted to sleep in his own bed after so many nights away. He purchased three first-class tickets, as per his employer’s instructions, tucked them into his waistcoat pocket, then went to the telegraph office and wired Sir Anthony so he would know to be expecting his guests to arrive tonight.

Back out on the platform, he noticed the ferry from the steamship had landed at the far end. Passengers disembarked while crew unloaded baggage through a lower-deck portal.

He scanned the passengers coming toward him, looking for a young man and young woman traveling together. Americans. That was all Andrew knew. Dismissing several older people and a couple of women traveling alone, Andrew released his breath in frustration.

“You look lost, young man.” A woman in a dress too tight and juvenile for her ample form and age stopped in front of him.

Andrew doffed his round-crowned bowler hat—and the woman frowned at it a moment. If Andrew had known he would be making this side trip when he left Wakesdown, he would have packed his top hat, since the more serviceable bowler served to emphasize his working-class roots.

“Good afternoon, ma’am.” Andrew tucked the hat under his elbow. “I am supposed to be meeting a Mr. and Miss Dearing. You do not, perhaps—”

“Christopher and Kate. Of course I met them. It is hard not to get to know all the other passengers on a two-week voyage.”

Andrew inclined his head in relief. “Would you mind pointing them out to me?”

“No, not at all.” She squinted at the ferry. “Yes, there they are. Good-looking fellow in the indigo coat. The young woman is, alas, much plainer than her brother.” The woman leaned closer and dropped her voice. “And if what I heard in Philadelphia is true, their father, wicked man, just lost all his considerable fortune in a railway speculation that failed. Poor dear. Only way she would have caught a husband at her age and with her lack of beauty would have been with a substantial dowry.”

Andrew scanned the passengers coming off the boat. There—a young man in a dark blue overcoat. But that could not be Christopher Dearing. For the woman beside the man in the blue coat was anything but plain. Not beautiful like Sir Anthony’s daughters—but far from plain. A straw-brimmed bonnet hid her hair, but her brown cloak and shawl emphasized her bright blue eyes, even from this distance.

“Now, if you will excuse me, I must arrange my travel to London.”

Andrew gave the older woman a slight bow, then stepped forward to meet the Dearings.

Andrew stepped into the man’s path. “Are you Mr. Dearing?”

A smile replaced the look of consternation. He stuck out his gloved hand, which Andrew shook in greeting.

“Christopher Dearing.” He pulled the arm of the young woman in the brown cloak, who’d stopped a full pace behind him. “And this is my sister, Kate—I mean, Katharine.”

Katharine gave a slight curtsy, red tingeing her cheeks.

“Andrew Lawton.” He inclined his head, then dragged his gaze from the woman—whose face was, perhaps, a bit too square for her to be considered truly handsome—back to her brother. “Sir Anthony sends his apologies for not coming to meet you personally. But his youngest daughter fell ill two days ago, and he did not want to leave her.” He glanced back at Katharine Dearing, to keep her from feeling excluded from the apology.

Concern flooded her striking blue eyes. “I hope it isn’t a grave illness.”

Andrew reminded himself that Miss Dearing was Sir Anthony’s niece and, therefore, no one who should garner his interest in any capacity other than as one of the masters—fortune or no. “When last Sir Anthony wired, he did not believe it to be more than a fever due to the wet winter we are having and Miss Florence’s insistence on riding every day no matter what the weather.”

“I am sorry she’s ill, but it is good to know it isn’t dire.” Katharine looked as if she wanted to say more, but at the last moment lost her nerve.

“So . . . did I hear you correctly?” Christopher asked. “The name is pronounced Antony and not Anthony?”

“Yes, Mr. Dearing, you heard correctly.”

Miss Dearing transferred a tapestry bag from one hand to the other.

“May I take that for you, miss?” Andrew pushed his hat back down on his head and reached for her bag.

“Oh, you don’t—” But she let the protest die and handed him the bag with a sudden doe-eyed smile. “Why, thank you, Mr. Lawton. We arranged with the steward to have our trunks transferred directly to the Oxford train. The schedule they had aboard ship indicated there is one that leaves at two o’clock.”

“Yes, that is our train.”

Katharine looked up at her brother. “We should get our tickets now so that we are ready when it’s time to board.”

“No need.” Andrew shifted her bag to his left hand, along with his own, and patted the waistcoat pocket through his frock and overcoat. “I have already taken care of the tickets. The train arrived just moments ago, so we can go find a compartment.” He motioned with his free hand for Christopher and Katharine to join him, and he led them down the platform.

“My, but you have already thought of everything, haven’t you?” Katharine’s flirtatious expression seemed odd, like a daisy growing from a rosebush.

And the look of confusion on her brother’s face only added to Andrew’s. Surely she realized from his humble attire he wasn’t anyone who could offer her the wealth she apparently needed in a husband. So why would she overtly flirt with him?

“How long a trip is it from here to Oxford?” Christopher asked.

“Almost nine hours, so long as the tracks are clear.” Andrew looked past the roof of the station. Snow mixed with the icy precipitation from half an hour before, and it looked to start piling up quickly. Hopefully, traveling south and inland from here would mean away from the snow.

He found a compartment in the first-class car, set his and Katharine’s valises on the seat, and turned to assist her in. She thanked him profusely. Once she was settled, he and Christopher lifted the small valises onto the shelf over the seat opposite Katharine, and then sat, facing her.

Katharine wrapped her shawl tighter around her shoulders and arms. Christopher leaned over and opened the grate of the small heater and stoked the glowing red coal. “I’d hoped maybe to see one of those new heaters I’ve been reading about—where steam heat is pumped from the fire in the locomotive throughout the cars in the train.”

“Have you an interest in the railway, Mr. Dearing?” Though he had no desire to make the sister feel left out of the conversation, Andrew was in great danger of allowing himself to stare at her now that she was in such close proximity. Upon second thought, the squareness of her jaw did not detract from but added to the symmetry of her face. And above all else, Andrew appreciated symmetry.

“Yes—my apprenticeship was with a firm that specializes in railway law. It’s fascinating to see how, in a matter of just ten or twenty years, the railroad has changed our way of life.” Christopher stretched his lanky frame into a position of repose, obviously accustomed to the comforts of first-class accommodations.

“I was twenty years old when the railroad came to Derby—my home—in the year ’40. It has quite changed the way of life for everyone there.” Andrew removed his hat and gloves and set them on the seat beside him.

Christopher’s eyes—brown, rather than blue like his sister’s—flashed with curiosity. “Really? I hardly remember when the first railroad opened in Philadelphia in 1832.”

“That’s because you were not quite six years old when it came.” Katharine’s soft voice reminded them of her presence—as if Andrew needed reminding. “I remember it well. Father took us to the parade and to see the locomotive take off. It was the first time we were all happy since Mother and Emma died.” Katharine’s focus drifted far away along with her voice.

Andrew stared at her. In the space of mere minutes, she had changed entirely. No longer did she seem a vapid flirt, but a woman one might like to converse with.

Katharine’s eyes came back into focus. “I do apologize. I didn’t mean to cast a melancholy pall over the conversation.” The strangely foreign flirtatious smile reappeared. “What is it that you do for Sir Anthony, Mr. Lawton? You must hold quite the position of importance for him to have sent you to meet us and escort us to Wakesdown.” Her long eyelashes fluttered as she blinked rapidly a few times.

“I am a landscape architect. I am redesigning all of the gardens and parks on Sir Anthony’s estate.”

At the mention of gardens, something miraculous happened. A warmth, a genuine curiosity, overtook Katharine Dearing’s blue eyes. Ah, there was the rose pushing the daisy out of its way.

“You’ve done it now.” Christopher sighed dramatically. “One mention of gardening, and Kate will talk your ears off about plants and flowers and weeds and soil and sun and shade.”

Katharine gave a gasp of indignation, but quickly covered it with the flirtatious smile again. “I am certain I do not know what you mean, Christopher. I would never think to importune Mr. Lawton in such a manner.” She crossed her arms and turned to gaze out the window.

The train lurched and chugged and slowly made its way from the station.

Andrew couldn’t tell if Katharine was truly angry at her brother or not, but he determined a change of subject might be in order. “Will you continue to read the law, Mr. Dearing?”

Christopher nodded. “I brought some books with me to study, yes. And I expect I’ll pick up many more on the British legal system while I’m here.”

Andrew opened his mouth to ask if Christopher were joking with him—but then pressed his lips together. Perhaps they had a different term in America for the pursuit of education in the legal system other than read. “Will you seek out a lawyer to apprentice with?”

“If Uncle Anthony doesn’t mind, I might do that just to keep myself busy.”

Katharine made a sharp sound in the back of her throat.

“Oh, right, I’m supposed to call him Sir Anthony until he gives us permission to call him uncle.” Christopher grinned at Andrew. “Though really, in this modern era, why anyone would stand on such formality is beyond me.”

Under the wide brim of her bonnet, Katharine rubbed her forehead with her fingertips, now freed from the mittens she’d worn earlier. Upon first seeing the Dearings, he’d assumed Christopher the older and Katharine the younger—from the way Katharine hovered behind her brother when they first met. Now, however, from Katharine’s memory of something that happened almost nineteen years ago, she was obviously the older sibling. And if Christopher had been six years old in 1832, that meant he was now around five-and-twenty. Meaning Katharine must be in her late twenties, if not already Andrew’s age of thirty.

That was what the woman he’d met at the station meant by “at her age.” Andrew was not certain how things were done in America, but here in England, Miss Dearing would be considered well past the prime marriageable age. And if the rumors that woman heard in Philadelphia were true, without a substantial dowry, Katharine had no chance of marrying well.

For the first time in his life, Andrew felt true pity for another person. The last thing he’d promised his mother before she died of lung rot was that he would not end up like her—condemned to live out her days in the poorhouse. He’d worked hard to get where he was today, and he would do whatever it took to continue bettering himself and his condition.

He thanked God he had not been born a woman.