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second chances

REVIEW:  Miracle on I-40 by Curtiss Ann Matlock

REVIEW: Miracle on I-40 by Curtiss Ann Matlock

Dear Ms. Matlock,
One of the first books I read when I was getting back into romance was one of yours: “If Wishes Were Horses” which I think helped cement my interest in more working class/down to earth characters. This is another one which starts evocatively with the image of a hard working people at a truck stop restaurant.


“It’s the time of day when the coral sun gives way to a satin starry night. The huge letters of Gerald’s Truck Stop have started to glow bright red in the darkening desert sky along Interstate 40, which cuts right through Albuquerque, New Mexico. The sign serves as a beacon for weary truckers trying to get in as many hauls as possible before Christmas Day, and for frazzled families making the long trek home to Gramma’s house, and for footsore mothers needing respite at the end of a long day of searching out the perfect gifts. Big eighteen-wheelers chug in and out of the wide fuel bays, while minivans and sedans stop at the gas station, and speakers up above each reverberate with Christmas carols.

The fluorescent lights of the restaurant shine out from the wide windows, promising warmth from the scene inside. Steam rises from the coffee maker, and the bubbling punch machines give off a rather cheery yellow and red glow. Lights twinkle on the small plastic green tree at the end of the counter, and brightly colored piñatas hanging from the ceiling sway a bit whenever the front doors are opened.”

miracle_on_i40_largeThis is the world in which Lacey Brant finds herself eleven years after she fled her parent’s house following an argument about her unwed pregnancy. In the time since, she’s gotten married, had two children, discovered the man she thought she loved didn’t have it in him to be a husband and father then found herself alone. But she’s done alright for herself. She has a job, friends, repeat customers who appreciate her efforts to make their meals satisfactory and is managing to raise her children right. But this year she’s planned something daring, something that scares her a little and she’s not sure things will work out as she hopes they will. A trucker friend has offered to take her and the children cross country for a surprise reconciliation with her parents over the Christmas holiday. Only the friend is injured and another man is pressed into the task. A man who has known Lacey in her job for years but who knows little about her personal life.

Cooper drives a big rig and despite his initial hesitation to accept the job his friend Pate asks of him, he finds himself looking forward to not being alone as he usually is. What he doesn’t count on are two young children and the trip begins badly. But somewhere along the way, a bond begins to develop between this quiet, taciturn man who has no family and hasn’t wanted any and a woman and two children who are unsure of the welcome that lies ahead.

It’s only a three day trip there and I was unsure as well that a satisfactory love story could occur but one did. Slowly, gently Cooper thaws in the presence of children he didn’t think he could relate to and a woman who wasn’t looking for anything more than transport. Towards the end of the book, Cooper realizes that he does know Lacey.

“Memories marched across his mind of about the one hundred times over the past few years that he had gone into Gerald’s and Lacey had greeted him and served him his meal. She always smiled at him and asked how he was. He most generally answered, “Fair to middlin’. And you?” She would say, “Better than I ought to be,” in that chipper way and with that smile that lit up the room. She brought him everything just the way he liked it, waiting until his coffee cup was nearly empty before filling it again, telling him how the chili or the steak was that day. He had seen her cut her hair short and grow it out. He had seen her a hundred times plug coins in the jukebox, playing snappy tunes by Alabama and dancing across the room, and when she seemed melancholy, an old ballad by Don Williams to which she would hum. He had seen her habit of tucking her hair behind her ear, and the graceful way she walked, and the extra care she gave people.

It struck him that while he had not known particulars such as about a husband or children, he did know the woman. He didn’t know what to make of that thought.”

But the easy, pat road to a HEA is avoided. There are starts and stops, smooth stretches and icy ones and I like the way the main story ends with both Cooper and Lacey willing to take a chance on what they might have rather than starry eyed and rushing into something too soon. The book is like a gentle sleigh ride through the snow, wrapped in a warm blanket with someone think you might love rather than a roller coaster blitz through smexy to an out of breath ending. It takes me back to the joy I felt reading that book of yours years ago and rediscovering romance novels. B



REVIEW:  Emily (aka Waiting at the Church) by Paula Allardyce

REVIEW: Emily (aka Waiting at the Church) by Paula Allardyce

Dear Readers,

Paula Allardyce has been a favorite author of mine for years. She wrote during the 50s-70s so her style is a bit old fashioned. She also usually clearly spelled out who the villain was early in the story. Another issue is that her books are OOP and haven’t been digitized. Still, if you like books with an older “feel” and are up for the challenge of locating them, give her a shot and see what you think.

n275595Four years ago Emily Stacey was left jilted at the church by the handsome man she was to marry. All that she found waiting there was a letter telling her that the marriage wouldn’t take place. After her father died six months later, having lost all his money in bad investments, Emily left the village and took up employment in London. Now she’s the indispensable housekeeper for the ramshackle Amyas family, quietly doing her job while keeping the mystery of her past to herself.

Saul Amyas has returned from Europe after a number of years abroad and meets up with an old drinking acquaintance for whom he wrote a letter four years ago in an effort to spare the poor bride some of the shame her rogue fiance seemed not to care she would endure when he didn’t show for the wedding. Now he’s headed to his half brother’s London house before going on to his own property. But he arrives to find a mysterious woman who is obviously a lady working as a servant there and is determined to scout out her hidden past. What neither know is that the dastardly former fiance has designs on Saul’s heiress niece and will stop at nothing to see that neither Saul nor Emily stand in his way.

Can they stop him from ruining another poor girl, will Emily be able to forgive the man who is privy to the most humiliating episode of her life and what will they do about their feelings for each other?

This is another one of Allardyce’s books that I read years ago and it has held up well over the years. Allardyce presents a household of family members who sometimes don’t care all that much for each other: a father who prefers to drink himself to ruined health at his club, a silly mother who flutters and gets the vapors and two lost young adults who have to turn to their uncle for advice. You get a clear view of the upper-class London home of the mid 18th century of a family with sometimes more money than sense. And of the few options open to young unmarried women with no fortunes or families. The dialogue might get a teensy bit melodramatic at times but the hero is to die for and the heroine is a woman of strength and resourcefulness. Plus the epilogue is one of the best I’ve ever read.




ISBN: 0340044659