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

Stuart Brannon

This is not a review I'm excited to write, and the only reason I am going ahead and doing so is because I just reread and reviewed the six original Brannon novels, mentioning several times that I was looking forward to this one. This isn't easy for me, so I'll try to keep it short and make the most of it.

First of all, I have huge respect for the Bly family for finishing this novel after Stephen's death in 2011. This blog post talks about why they decided to do it and how they accomplished the task, and I would encourage you to read it. This was an amazing labor of love.

I've been reading Stephen and Janet's books for 25 years, and I wanted this to be another wonderful journey with Stuart Brannon. I loved the fact that we got to spend time with Edwin and Harriet again, and thought it a stroke of genius to bring Hawthorne Miller and the Lazzard twins back for this story. Brannon himself seemed rather reactionary and less likeable, which struck me as at odds with the character we've known and loved for so long. Obviously some changes were to be expected, but it seemed like too much for me.

To briefly sum up my other feelings towards the story, it felt like there was too much action and not enough set-up or explanation as to what was going on. That and the fact that there were so many characters with little description or development left me feeling confused and disjointed. The writing was clunky and awkward, like this sentence from Chapter 42: "In the grasses he rubbed with his boots, a minty scent almost choked him." I had additional complaints as well, but these were the ones that bothered me the most.

I thought "Son of an Arizona Legend" did a better job bringing Stuart's story full circle and giving readers closure. Please don't let my disappointment in "Final Shot" keep you from checking out the original series. Once you do you can decide for yourself if you want to read this one. There are so many Bly books that I list among my personal favorites, and while this one might not rank up there, I look forward to revisiting those that do and enjoying them over again in the years to come.

Son Arizona Legend 2

Picking up seven years after the events of the previous novel, friends from all over the country come together to throw Stuart Brannon a surprise 40th birthday party. It's a trip down memory lane as many major characters from the series come to visit. But the party comes to a screeching halt when it is crashed by a 12-year-old Indian boy claiming that Stuart Brannon is his father. Knowing the child is the baby who was born in "Hard Winter at Broken Arrow Crossing," Brannon doesn't know why Elizabeth has told her son he's his father, but after years of trying to find Elizabeth after the government has relocated her tribe numerous times, Stuart intends to keep up the ruse until he can see his friend and ask her himself.

Brannon and Littlefoot begin the dusty journey to find Elizabeth in Utah and soon realize they are being followed by an old nemesis from Stuart's years in Colorado. After more than a little danger and a few bouts of misdirection they reach Elizabeth, and Littlefoot goes a little crazy when he discovers that not only is Stuart not his father, he's actually the man who killed his outlaw parent. Elizabeth's weakness from late stage tuberculosis is a major consideration as they attempt to evade the gunfighter still hunting their trail and make their way back to Brannon's Arizona ranch.

Through battles, mistaken identity, the help of friends, and deep sorrow, Brannon and Littlefoot begin forming a bond that brings the past 14 years of Stuart's life full circle. It is in Littlefoot that Brannon begins to see some of the pain of his past redeemed and his lonely days made hopeful. This original ending of the Stuart Brannon series is full of adventure, retrospection, and musings on how God works in the lives of His children.
Final Justice at Adobe Wells

Stuart Brannon's name is beginning to be recognized everywhere, thanks to the dime novels which have been written about his adventures. Brannon's quest is still to settle down to a quiet ranch life, but his trip down to Mexico to buy cattle from his friends Senor and Senora Pacifica is complicated when he arrives to discover the Senora a widow and her entire herd stolen. Attempting to regain the cattle, Brannon takes off across the Sonoran Desert in search of the ruthless marauders.

Not one to give up easily, the disgruntled leader of the outlaws begins taking Brannon's friends captive in hopes that Stuart will choose to save human lives and let him keep the herd. But Brannon has never let any challenge stop him from pursuing what is right, and he's not about to start now. Not against cattle thieves, and not against the Apache Indians which are in the area.

All the while Brannon's heart is being drawn to Senora Pacifica in a way he hasn't felt in a long time. She understands him, even the deep pain of loss which has been kept so close inside him. Will Brannon finally choose to open himself up to love again? Will he even have the opportunity to make that choice when this latest whirlwind settles?

On a personal note, I think this is my favorite cover out of the new Greenbrier editions. I just love the beautiful sage green, and the pictures are apropos to the storyline. There's only one of the original Stuart Brannon novels left after this one, and then on to final sequel which was begun by Stephen Bly and finished by his family after his death. This ride will be coming to a conclusion all too soon! It has been a good one.
Standoff at Sunrise Creek

After many adventures in Colorado and New Mexico, Stuart Brannon arrives home in Arizona at last. His first stop is to pick up his mail in Prescott and spend time with friends, including the intriguing Miss Harriet Reed, who has decided that she will be the one to capture this widower's heart. But on Brannon's first night in town the dinner in his honor goes horribly wrong when a young woman named Julie takes a bullet meant for Stuart, and he visits her often in the early days of her recovery. Then it's time to go back to his ranch and begin rebuilding a simple life on the range.

Except Stuart Brannon's life is never simple. When he finally sets foot again on his Triple B Ranch, he is disturbed to find his place occupied as headquarters for the Casa Verde Land Corporation, who claims a right to be there because of a Spanish land grant. Knowing that such a grant has not been approved by Congress, Brannon manages to fight his way to possession of his own property, but the CVL promises it will be back with more men to evict him for good.

While awaiting the CVL's return and healing from injuries sustained during the reclaiming of his home, Brannon becomes host to several visitors, including a small troop of soldiers who are in the area to look for suspicious Apache activity, as well as friends from Prescott, Harriet and Julie among them. With dangers from Indians and the threat of a siege by the CVL, Brannon and company must outwit and outmaneuver them all if they hope to stay alive and make sure the ranch is still standing when all is said and done.

He's spent years fighting battles for other people, and now Brannon has a fight that is all his own. His ranch holds all his dreams for the future, as well as the heartbreak of the past. He longs for the quiet rancher's life and believes he is not a violent man, but trouble seems to follow him everywhere. Soon this conflict attracts the attention of the whole territory, and everyone is watching to see if Stuart Brannon will be able to win the Yavapai County War and the freedom to rebuild his life on his own property. Find your copy of this adventure to see for yourself how Brannon's home and heart fare through this latest set of challenges.
Last Hanging at Paradise Meadow

All Stuart Brannon wanted to do was ride into town, deliver something to Peter Mulroney, and finally head back to his ranch in Arizona. Instead he arrives at Broken Arrow Crossing, now renamed Paradise Meadow, to find Peter in jail for a murder he didn't commit and the city about to implode under corrupt leadership. Unable to stand by when there are good people in need of help, Brannon soon finds himself in the middle of the conflict.

A point of view character in this novel is Rose Creek, a schoolteacher of Cherokee descent trying to make her stand in Paradise Meadow. Ever since she spoke out publicly against the town's self-appointed mayor, Rose has been losing students and being pressured to move on. When Peter Mulroney is jailed, he asks Rose to take care of his three children and to try to find Stuart Brannon for help in this unjust situation. When Rose does meet Brannon for the first time they get off on the wrong foot, and she thinks he is a heedless, irresponsible man more likely to add to the problem than aid it.

As the decent citizens in Paradise Meadow begin banding together to fight against Mayor Rutherford, Brannon fears vigilante justice will result. Good people are so upset at the mistreatment they have suffered that they are more set on revenge than doing what is right. Brannon, Creek, and a few others try to remain impartial and hold things together, but as events unfold their lives and safety may just be threatened by the very people they are trying to protect.

When right and wrong turn upside down a lot of bad choices can be made, and eventually any good outcome becomes questionable. This novel puts our humanity into check and reminds us that our values must align with God's or they will lead to destruction. Can Paradise Meadow survive? Eventually the citizens themselves will be the deciding factor.

This third Stuart Brannon novel is full of memorable characters and page-turning action. Riding the trail with Stuart Brannon is never, ever boring!
False Claims at the Little Stephen Mine

Stuart Brannon tries his hand at prospecting in the second book of the series that bears his name. After the events of the first book, Brannon and his British friend Edwin Fletcher are still in the Colorado mountains, working hard to dig out a little gold from their mine. While Brannon's simple goal is to make enough money to finance a return to his Arizona ranch, little do they suspect their quiet location will soon be the center of multiple disputes and battles.

Challenging Brannon and Fletcher's claim to the land is Abner Cheney, who says the government gave him the right to the whole mountain because of the railroad he intends to put in. Cheney's former clerk Waldo Vance has also taken it into his head to usurp Cheney and take over the mine for himself. The warring factions come against each other as well as Stuart and friends, bringing in both lawmen and gunfighters to help persuade Brannon and Fletcher to desert their post.

Meanwhile Brannon strikes up an unexpected alliance with three Ute Indians, and faces another challenge when Velvet Wendell inherits one-fourth of their mine after Everett Davis's death. Brannon doesn't think that prospecting is any kind of life for a woman, but Velvet insists that she can pull her weight and that she deserves the chance to find some security after a life full of heartache.

The question Brannon must ask himself over the course of these struggles is what is right in any given situation. Is their claim on the mine legitimate? How do you avoid revenge while seeking justice? Is his own stubbornness and greed getting in the way of the truth? It's a time of growth for the man who so newly found his faith.

The fast-paced adventure will keep you turning pages until you reach the unexpected conclusion. Be watching out for more reviews from the Stuart Brannon Series in the near future!
Hard Winter at Broken Arrow Crossing

When cold weather comes and the holidays arrive, I find myself drawn to reread favorite books from my youth. This was especially true this year, as I ran across my copy of Stephen Bly's final book, the one that he was writing when he died and which his family finished and published for him posthumously. Up until now I hadn't been able to bring myself to read it, but this time when I saw the cover I realized I was ready for another Bly adventure. But you can't just pick up and read Book 7 in a series which you have revisited in years, so back to the beginning I went. Back to where Stuart Brannon first met the literary world.

A broken man after losing everything he held dear, Brannon leaves his Arizona ranch to accept an invitation to join his friend Charley in the Colorado goldfields. During a blizzard he stumbles into the remote stage station at Broken Arrow Crossing, which has been all but abandoned for the winter, just as a claim jumper attacks the place looking for a map to Charley's mine. His horse stolen by the less than scrupulous fellow, Brannon finds himself a stranded nursemaid to old propsector and station manager Everett Davis, who was injured in the conflict. Davis informs him that Charley has died after spreading word around the area that he had struck it rich. With no way out of the mountains, Brannon settles in for what he figures will be a quiet winter at the station.

He couldn't have been more wrong. On Christmas Eve a pregnant Indian girl finds herself on their doorstep, having run away from the man who mistreated her. Soon her baby arrives, bringing both hope and reflection to the isolated cabin. Just a few days later their world is again interrupted, this time by a group who was traveling through the area in hopes of being the first settlers in a goldfield community. As they were dangerously turned around during the snowstorms, Brannon must help locate and recover all members of the party. It won't be easy, as there is an Indian hunting party nearby, as well as a gang of outlaw brothers who are also seeking to find the gold mine.

While fighting for the survival of the whole ragtag group, Stuart struggles to come to terms with his own past and the way he feels about God. Having always kept his distance from the Almighty, especially after the tragedies in Arizona, Brannon finds it hard to believe that God could truly care about him and the others stranded at Broken Arrow Crossing. As the long winter unfolds into an early spring showdown, Brannon's understanding of an all-wise, merciful God is opened.

It's a joy to revisit this series, first published in the early 1990s by Crossway and reprinted by Greenbrier in 2012. I can still hear my father's voice reading these books aloud to my siblings and me many years ago. Stuart Brannon is an old friend and it feels good to be back in the saddle with him again!
My choice for my personal memorial to Stephen Bly was what I consider one of his funniest books. Identity theft was alive and well in the Old West... who needed a computer or the internet in those days?

Tap Andrews is on the run for a crime he didn't commit. Catching a stage out of Arizona seemed like a good idea, until they were ambushed in an Indian attack. Among the wounded was Zachariah Hatcher, a man with a bright future ahead of him. He had just bought a ranch in Colorado and was on his way to meet his fiancee, whom he only knew through the letters they had exchanged. When it becomes clear Zach isn't going to make it, he asks Tap to deliver the news to his Miss Cedar. But when Tap gets mistaken for Zach on the trail, he begins to think it might not be a bad thing to slip into Hatcher's identity. It has to be worth a shot, at least.

Pepper Paige is fed up with life. Tough breaks required her to work in a dance hall and she's never been able to escape. Finding herself the favorite of a rough outlaw is pushing her over the edge. She is forced out of work one evening to care for a woman badly injured in a stage accident. While watching over her unconscious patient, Pepper looks through her things in order to discover her identity and finds out that Suzanne Cedar is on her way to meet her fiance, whom she has never met. When Suzanne does pass away, Pepper decides that they look enough alike that assuming Miss Cedar's life might just be her ticket out of her living nightmare.

When Tap and Pepper meet, they are both pretending and both worried that the other will see through them. They're in a rush to get married and officially start their new lives. When circumstances arise to push the wedding off for a while, the Lord starts working on both of their hearts about the deception they find themselves in. They are in for encounters with an Almighty God which may turn their lives around even more than that which they are seeking.

There are horseback rides, gun fights, romance, humor, faith, and unexpected turns. Just what every good western needs! Stephen Bly brought us the west in a unique way, as it seems all of his stories are related to the other. You never know when heroes or heroines from other series are going to pop up or be mentiond in conversation. It's a whole world within a world kind of thing.

If you'd like to check out other books by Bly but aren't sure where to start, I'd say with the Stuart Brannon Westerns. If you're looking for young adult fiction, I absolutely love the Lewis & Clark Squad stories. For something contemporary and with a female lead, try the Horse Dreams Trilogy. Those are the ones that I always come back to and do not leave disappointed. May you have happy reading adventures as well!
Stephen Bly was my first favorite author. I was very sad when I heard recently that he passed away last summer. I have so many great memories of turning page after page as Steve led us on adventure upon adventure. It was strange to hear of his death, because I was looking forward to his upcoming release (which I have since found out was finished by his family) and adding some of my favorites among his novels to my personal bookshelf. Since he had been so recently on my mind, it seemed extra sorrowful to realize that he has now penned his last words. My sister and I both decided to read at least one of his novels as our own personal memorial to this noteworthy author.

I have been reading Stephen Bly books for at least 20 years. I can trace part of my love for historical fiction back to those days of reading his novels as a preteen. There's not a shortage of Bly-based memories, either, as I counted on Steve & Janet's website yesterday and the current count of Bly books I've read is 56. Fifty-six! That's a lot of moments laughing out loud, a few tears shed, and innumerable hours on various literary trails.

To honor this man who has been such a part of my reading life, I present to you this list. Some are funny, most are serious, and I hope they will bring a smile to your face.

15 Things Stephen Bly Taught Me

1. Dreams are worth pursuing, no matter how young or old you are.

2. Some things are worth dying or taking a bullet for: your home, you friends, your faith and your family.

3. Children are precocious and need adults to take them seriously.

4. Seek justice. Live justly.

5. God can change even the darkest heart.

6. Every woman is worthy of protection and respect, no matter her background or situation.

7. Something is sure to go wrong on a wedding day.

8. Cowboys and silk shirts do not mix well.

9. True friends will stick with you and be part of your life for years to come.

10. The main men in your life will often be a little sweaty, a little dirty, and in need of a shave.

11. Orange popsicles will always make you feel like a kid.

12. Love does not always happen at first sight -- or first fight!

13. Laughter brightens tough days on the trails of life.

14. A relationship with God can be as natural as breathing.

15. Real heroes are the ones who make a difference in the lives of others.

I had always assumed I'd get to meet Steve in person some day, since I've had the privilege of meeting some others whose written words have inspired me. Now that he's passed on that meeting will have to be postponed until Heaven. There will still come a day when we get to exchange howdies... it will just be a cloudless, perfect day and part of a better adventure than we can ever dream of now!



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