I recently read three stories from this novella collection, being on a western kick to end 2018, and thought I'd share my thoughts with you.

Witemeyer


"A Cowboy Unmatched" by Karen Witemeyer
Neill Archer left his home two years ago on a quest to prove himself. Now he's almost ready to return, but his trip is delayed when he is hired by an anonymous benefactor to repair the roof of a widow's house. He isn't prepared when the widow is young, very pregnant, part Comanche, and in a heated long-standing battle that may be more than she can win without his help.


Jennings


"An Unforeseen Match" by Regina Jennings

Grace O'Malley's world is disappearing - literally. With blindness encroaching, Grace has had to give up teaching and is trying to settle into the cabin that has been provided for her. Things sure would be easier if she didn't have to live by herself. When a passing cowboy agrees to help with a few things around the cabin, the two find they share a lot in common - including some surprising things that may drive them apart.


Connealy

"Meeting Her Match" by Mary Connealy
Life keeps jerking the rug out from under schoolmarm Hannah Taylor's feet. Hannah has taken great pride in being a discreet behind-the-scenes matchmaker, but now that she's in such a vulnerable place herself, the women of the town turn the tables and try to make sure Hannah is taken care of by someone who has long loved her from afar.
Novellas offer us a chance to see different sides of authors we enjoy. While occasionally I find the short form holds some drawbacks, there are other stories that rise to the top and leave their mark with the depth they are able to achieve. Here are three such that I read this year.

Click on any title for more information on each story.

Bound and Determined


 Bound and Determined by Regina Jennings

She's determined to stop her father from bringing home a train of camels, but the Army officer assigned to assist her father has a lot at stake if the job is not accomplished. Two stubborn people and a group of unique animals - what a great cast of characters!


Unlucky in Love and Lyrics


Unlucky in Love & Lyrics by Tracy Joy Jones

Amelia Mayberry has been gifted with a beautiful singing voice, but the moment she steps on stage she cannot remember song lyrics. Can help come from an unlikely source? A fun story with a St. Patrick's Day theme.


Then Came You


Then Came You by Becky Wade

This was a very different kind of read, as it was written in epistolary form. Containing no traditional dialogue, interaction, or narration, it still captivates one's attention. Though not for young readers due to content, it really stood out for its uncommon approach.
 


Lieutenant Jack Hennessey has found himself thriving as he serves the Indian nations surrounding Fort Reno. He's learning their languages, earning their trust, and helping build bridges between the tribes and the troopers. Though his heart has always pined for his childhood friend Hattie Walker, he knows she has never really taken him seriously.

Pursuing her career as an artist has always been important to Hattie, and when her parents begin insisting it is time for her to leave it behind and find a suitable man to marry, Hattie decides to venture west to improve her scope of experience. Though one might mistake her determination for stubbornness, deep down Hattie is sweet and vulnerable. She is shattered when misfortune befalls her travels, and her only ray of sunshine is the man who is able to come to her rescue - her former schoolmate Jack.

Surprised to see her, Jack senses a chance to make a favorable impression on Hattie, but things go sideways when he finds out that the celebration he initiated ended with an Indian marriage ceremony to which neither of them consented! When he tries to untangle the mess, Jack is dismayed when his commanding officer says that due to his work with the tribes, it would be damaging and disrespectful to annul the vows spoken over them. How can he possibly break the news to Hattie that they are married, and even worse, that there will be no easy release from their union?

The predicament these two find themselves in is quite intriguing, and Regina writes with such a fun style that I often found myself laughing out loud. I liked the fact that Jack and Hattie had grown up together, giving an air of depth to their relationship when they must make a bargain about their unusual marriage. There are threads of mystery and danger woven in, and it was interesting to read about Jack's work with the Indians. I would highly recommend this story to all fans of historical romance. I could hardly wait to find out how it would come together in the end!

I received my copy of this book from the author. All opinions in this review are my own.
 Bound and Determined


Do you love a good adventure with fun and unique angles? "Bound and Determined" checks all the right boxes, and was a pure delight with its originality and wit.

Private Bradley Willis will be familiar to readers of Jennings' Fort Reno series. As someone not always in good graces with his superior officers, Bradley often finds himself needing to prove his merit and worth to the cavalry. After another questionable incident, Bradley is given the task of escorting a retired captain across Indian territory. How hard could that be?

It turns out Major Adams left out a few details about his assignment. The captain has acquired a train of camels and is seeking to travel overland with them to his Texas home. The assignment also didn't mention Captain Herald's daughter Ambrosia, who is along for the journey and is sweetly but stubbornly on the lookout for ways to convince her father to abandon the camels.

Ambrosia is worried about her father's health and she doesn't want to give up their garden to house a bunch of smelly camels. She thought if she couldn't convince her father to change his mind that she'd at least be able to find ways to dissuade anyone who was sent to help them. It turns out she's met her match in Private Willis. As determined as she is to find ways to abort this mission, he's equally as determined to see it through.


The camels add a wonderful amount of personality to this novella. I learned a lot of things about these wonderful animals that I never knew before! I laughed out loud at Bradley and Ambrosia's antics, and there's enough action and danger to keep you glued to the pages. A highly recommended story from Regina Jennings!

 woman holding books


Louisa Bell survived her haphazard upbringing and has managed to stand on her own feet as a dance hall singer. She knows polite society would shun her for being a performer, and even though she has been able to hold on to a measure of respectability in her dark surroundings, it's enough to be associated with that rabble. Louisa finds herself being edged out by younger, prettier, more willing singers, and when she hears that her brother has gotten himself into trouble with his cavalry unit, she decides to head to Fort Reno to give Bradley a straight talking to and also to see if the soldiers could use some entertainment while she decides what to do next.

Major Daniel Adams believes that raising his girls by his side is the right thing to do, even though Indian Territory is a rough location and they are without the care of their late mother. His daughters seem to be turning out okay, if a little wild - but then his former mother-in-law forces his hand by insisting that he either hire a governess or let her take the girls and teach them to be refined young ladies. Daniel grudgingly agrees to send for a stern and staid governess from the nearby Mennonite missionary society.

When Louisa arrives at Fort Reno and is mistaken for the expected governess, she decides to take on this role with all the gusto she's put behind every performance in her past. She doesn't have to stay long, only long enough to talk to Bradley and to figure out where to go next. Surely she can pretend and get out of there before anyone realizes she has no qualifications and is in fact the last person Major Adams would ever choose to instruct his daughters.

Daniel can tell immediately that something is off about Louisa, but he also feels beholden to her after she stumbles across an embarrassing secret about him. He agrees to a trial period of one week, and while he is wary of her unconventional ways, he begins to fall for all the good qualities he can see in her life. She may not be exactly who she says she is, but there's a heart of gold under all the things that don't add up.

I loved this story! There's plenty of humor but also lots of reflection as both characters deal with insecurities about different parts of their lives. The romance is very clean but comes with plenty of swirly feelings that will have you falling in love with the characters yourself. The book packs a good punch with adventure and Louisa's faith journey as well. She is so drawn to Daniel's steadfast belief. I loved this quote from page 265: "Could she afford her new Christian virtues when she was on her own? Could she afford them here, if it meant unburdening herself of her lies?" Louisa and Daniel's story is one historical fans will not want to miss!

I received my copy of the book from the author. All opinions in this review are my own.
A woman in 1800s dress holding a hammer


Katie Ellen likes to keep things orderly and within her control. One thing she can't control - Josiah Huckabee and his strange behavior towards her. Once she thought he must have been sweet on her, but ever since their kiss at the church picnic two years ago he's seemed distant and skittish. A series of Ozark mountain gully washers leaves Katie Ellen stranded while her parents are out of town, but she's not alone. Josiah managed to be on her side of the creek before the bridge washed out, as well as a stranger whose intentions are quite questionable.

Determined that no one is going to hurt Katie Ellen, Josiah tells the stranger that she's his wife. He wants to make her his wife pretty soon anyway, even if she is contrary and stubborn as all get out. Can they manage to keep up the charade of being married long enough for the stranger to be on his way? 

This novella is short and amusing, though I wouldn't say it's the author's best work. It's a fun premise, and it's nice to read Josiah's story after having gotten to know him in the Ozark Mountain Romance series. Those are novels I'd recommend for fans of funny historical fiction.



Betsy Huckabee might have been raised in the Ozark Mountains, but she has dreams to be more than your usual mountain lass. She knows that her imagination is the ticket to getting a cabin of her own so she's not bound to living with relatives forever. So far her stories haven't been picked up by any of the big city newspapers she's submitted them to, but she believes her day is coming. And that day might be here when she meets the new deputy and realizes she has the perfect hero to base her fiction tales around.

Running from a false accusation, Deputy Joel Puckett has taken the job in Pine Gap, Missouri, in hopes of a fresh start. He's heard about the corruption in the mountains and the gang called the Bald Knobbers who are trying to enforce their own brand of justice. With the hope that he can bring law and order to the area and breathe new life into his own career, Joel isn't prepared at the level of apathy and resistance he meets - except for Betsy, who as a female is one person he'd like to avoid more than anyone else!

When her first story about "Deputy Eduardo Pickett" is published and the newspaper asks for more stories, Betsy is thrilled but also knows she must keep it a secret. She'd be embarrassed to death if Joel found out, especially as they develop a friendship. He's realized that she can be a help as they try to figure out who is terrorizing the mountain folks. Is it a bandit or have the Bald Knobbers blurred the lines to become criminals themselves?

There was so much that I loved about this story!! Living in the Ozark mountains myself, I'm familiar with the historical Bald Knobbers and thought Regina Jennings did a great job bringing them to life. I also thoroughly enjoyed the humor in the writing. I was laughing out loud as early as Chapter 2, with gems like this catching me by surprise: "'What made you think he was the deputy?' the cowboy asked, obviously unconcerned with the very important internal discussion going on in Betsy's head." The style of narration made this delightful and captivating.

This is the third book in Jennings' Ozark Mountain Romance Series, although this one is set several years past the other two and works well as a stand alone. I do recommend the previous books on their own merit, however! Here are my reviews for Book One and Book Two.

Thank you to the author my copy of the book. All opinions in this review are my own.



Miranda Wimplegate's family runs a discreet and prestigious auction house in Boston, but when they accidentally auction off the wrong painting they must brave a trip to Missouri to recover it in this second book of the Ozark Mountain Romance Series. Miranda decides to accompany her grandfather on the journey, as his ability to think and reason has been slipping recently, and she's also anxious to avoid Cousin Cornelius and his recent talk of marriage.

The Wimplegates have traced the mistakenly sold painting to its destination in Hart County, and when they find out the local auction house is for sale, they purchase it sight unseen and ask that nothing is sold until their arrival. Nothing could have prepared Miranda and Elmer to arrive and find that Hart County's action house doesn't deal in antiques and art, but rather noisy, smelly, dirty livestock.

The Ballentine family has managed the livestock auction for years, and Wyatt has been attempting to save up enough money to buy it, although his skirt-chasing brother Isaac has found ways to sabotage his dreams. Now Wyatt is frustrated to have a fragile elderly man and his quietly stubborn and highly cultured granddaughter trying to step in to something they know nothing about. Especially since it's clear they are concealing the real reason they are in Missouri, and that they are subtly searching for something specific.

With Elmer's mental troubles causing more problems by the day, mysterious men creeping around the neighborhood, and the distinct lack of the painting they are trying to find, Miranda slowly begins to accept help from the rugged and hardworking Wyatt. But Isaac has told her things about Wyatt that make her uncertain that he is who he presents himself to be. Which brother is trustworthy in this strange backwood country she's found herself in? And where in the world is the missing painting?

This book reminded me so much of the work of the favorite author of my childhood, Stephen Bly. The mix-ups in the plot, the relationship between the main characters, the delightful scene-stealing minor characters, and the humor all brought happy associations to my mind. This was one of the most enjoyable books I've read this year and it thoroughly drew me in and captured my senses. Although it's the second book in a series it works as a stand alone, as it is set 8 years after the first one and only gives a few mentions to the main characters from "A Most Inconvenient Marriage." I'm very much looking forward to the third book in this series!


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I received my copy of the book from LitFuse Publicity in exchange for this honest review. All opinions are my own. If you would like to read what other people are saying about "At Love's Bidding," click here.





At Love's Bidding Regina Jennings



The year is 1865 and nurse Abigail Stuart has no home waiting to welcome her after the War Between the States. When a dying man asks her to marry him and care for his mother and sister in the Missouri Ozarks, Abigail is hoping she can find a new place to belong. She arrives as Jeremiah Calhoun's widow and throws herself into rebuilding the farm, using her personal funds to pay for breeding the fine mare Captain Calhoun left behind. She builds relationships with Ma and the cantankerous chronically ill sister Rachel.

When Jeremiah Calhoun arrives home very much alive and not the man she married, he accuses Abigail of trying to steal his property. The dream of returning home and marrying his sweetheart Laurel has kept him alive through years of war and the pain of an awful wound. How is he supposed to resume courting Laurel with a woman who claims to be his wife hanging around? Abigail is adamant that she will not leave until the new foal is born, since that was her personal investment in the farm, and Jeremiah reluctantly agrees because he can see that Abigail has been good for his family.

Abigail offers to help Jeremiah with his continued recovery from his war wound, and her physical therapy completely restores his leg's range of motion. As the months rolls by Abigail comes face to face with parts of her past, and outlaws threaten the community. Meanwhile their inconvenient marriage continues to foil Jeremiah's plans with Laurel, but is he finds he may not be in such a rush to pursue his old flame after all.

I enjoyed this story, but found the development of the relationship between the characters rather unrealistic. The leap between the initial antagonism and supposedly falling madly in love was too fast and unbelievable for me. It is always fun to read stories set around where I live, though, and I am looking forward to the second novel in this series. 
Caught in the Middle


I was a little hesitant to read this final book in Regina Jennings' debut series, only because I had two very different feelings about the previous books. I'd loved the first one but felt the second one wasn't for me, and I also wasn't sure how Anne Tillerton would be as a main character. However, I'm pleased to report that "Caught in the Middle" captured my heart and it's one I would recommend to all fans of the historical or western genres.

Anne was a secondary character in the first two novels in this series, and her background is full of neglect, abuse, and sorrow. To escape from the public spectacle she had become in Texas and protect herself men who might try to repeat the crimes against her, Anne has left off anything womanly and is surviving as a buffalo hunter in Indian Territory. Thinking she's found freedom and peace at last, her world is turned upside down when an infant is left in her care. At first Anne wants nothing more than to find the boy's father and get back to the open range, but then her heart begins to hope that Sammy might be her chance to have a family of her own after all.

As a social-climbing, appearance-conscious entrepreneur, Nick Lovelace is intrigued when he recognizes Anne, who was friends with his sister back in Texas, while sharing a train ride with her. He's sheepish when Anne ends up saving his life when the train is held up, and offers to help her in any way possible in the future. When Anne shows up at his office in need of a job in town so she can take care of Sammy while searching for his father, Nick's social reputation is put on the line. While he enjoys Anne's unique perspective and keen mind, not everyone is thrilled that this businessman and aspiring politician employs a woman who dresses like a man and has a shady background.

As the story progresses, Nick and Anne must make sacrifices for each other and for Sammy as they work their way through issues that come up. When Nick's business is threatened and he discovers political corruption, there's no one he wants on his side more than Anne. Anne must decide how much she can trust Nick and trust the Lord on this new path she's on. When Sammy's family is finally found, she faces a crisis of will and emotion. Her heart caught in two places, the biggest challenge of her life is set before her.

I'm so glad I decided to give this book a shot. Once I started reading I couldn't put it down. I enjoyed seeing the names of different places in Indian Territory, as I grew up in Oklahoma and was familiar with the towns described. On a spiritual level, my heart beat strong with the theme that God may ask us to give up the things we think we want, but in the end His plans are above and beyond what we can imagine. Anne finds that He is trustworthy, and this is what I have found in my own life as well.
Love in the Balance

Last year I highly praised Regina Jennings' debut novel "Sixty Acres and a Bride." I love it when authors take a twist on a Bible story and breathe fresh life into it. Jennings took the account of Ruth and set it in Texas in the 1870's. If that's not innovative, I'm not sure what is! I'd love to see her do more stories like that in the future. Her second release, "Love in the Balance," is about Molly, the headstrong flirt who tried to steal the hero's attention in the first novel. Molly knows what she wants and is not afraid to go after it. I didn't really like Molly as a secondary character, so I knew going into this story that I was going to need to extend some grace to this woman who probably could not be more unlike me if she tried.

Molly was raised to marry a wealthy man, and her parents will not be happy with anything less. But she's fallen for Bailey, a poor cowhand just trying to get his start in life. Bailey escorts her every week to and from a larger nearby city, where Molly boards on weekdays so she can work at the courthouse. Their intentions are to marry one day. At least it is until the Sunday Bailey stands up in church and confesses that he is being distracted from following the Lord's will by a temptation. Everyone knows he is speaking of Molly. Suffering such public humiliation, Molly decides it is time to seek a new man to sweep her off her feet, or at least make Bailey jealous when he sees how quickly she moves on.

In her effort to find a rich and suitable suitor, Molly gains few friends. Her ambition is too clear. When the wealthy Edward Pierrepont shows up, passing through on his western tour, Molly sees him as a means to an end. He has the family connections her mother desires, the money which could help her father save his business, and he is definitely a way to show Bailey that she won't wait for him. She'd take Bailey back in a heartbeat, but a man who speaks mysteriously and showers her with gifts is just what she thinks she needs to pass the time.

Meanwhile Bailey struggles to find employment and balance his need to provide for a future family with the calling he feels on his heart to minister to those around him. His every heartbeat is torn between desiring Molly and desiring God's will. Is there no way for the two to meet? When sudden hardship befalls Molly's family and she must make a decision, boundaries are tested as to how far Molly and Bailey will go to stay together, as well as how far blind duty might take one.

There's no way I can tell you what happens without giving away too much of the story. It's a tale where things get much worse before they get better. Consequences are faced on both sides, heavy guilt is borne, determination is questioned, and each have chances to grow. This story shows how God can be glorified even in our worst mistakes, and what looks like horrible circumstances can in time bring out His best in us. I wish no one would have to face hardships like those faced here, but I count people my friends who have found themselves in similar circumstances. We make mistakes. People take advantage. Our temptations seem more than we can bear. But when we are truly broken before God, that is when His strength is made perfect.

Due to subject matter, I would caution younger readers from this story. I received my copy from LitFuse in exchange for this honest review. All opinions are my own. Click on the link below for information about an author party and giveaway on April 4th.


Enter Today - 3/18- 4/3!
Love in the Balance Kindle Fire Giveaway
Rosa Garner is a young widow of Mexican descent who is finding her way among a new land and people. Her mother-in-law, also a widow, is returning to Texas in 1878 after ten years away in Mexico. Rosa has embraced the faith of the Garner family and is determined to help Louise reestablish herself. But she hears the whispers. She sees the stares. She's an outsider who is distrusted by the community because of her differences. She must work hard to earn a place among them.

Louise's nephew, Weston, has built a successful ranch for himself. He's still hurting from the loss of his wife five years earlier but he's beginning to feel ready to give society another try. Noticing Rosa's vulnerability due to how unfamiliar she is with traditional propriety, he requests that she find work only on the homesteads of family members. This new cousin is another to seek to protect and provide for.

As summer progresses, Rosa works harder than she ever has before. Louise will lose her home if they do not come up with a way to pay all the back taxes. As the deadline draws near, Rosa is determined not be beholden to anyone... even if it might come down to asking Weston to become involved.

This retelling of the Biblical Ruth account was extremely well done. Regina Jennings has hit a home run with her debut novel and I look forward to seeing more releases from her in the future. The only two complaints I had was that I thought the last third of the book could have used some tightening up in the editing process. The passionate feelings our main characters experienced were also expressed, if I may, rather honestly. It wasn't overly edgy but it was a little more intense than I usually read.

This page-turner is sure to bring in lots of praise. Thank you to Bethany House, who provided me with a copy in exchange for this honest review. All opinions are my own.

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