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REVIEW:  Summer of Promise by Amanda Cabot

REVIEW: Summer of Promise by Amanda Cabot

Summer of Promise (Westward Winds Series #1) by Amanda Cabot

Though she had planned to spend the summer in Vermont, Abigail Harding cannot dismiss her concerns over her older sister. Charlotte’s letters have been uncharacteristically melancholy, and her claims that nothing is wrong ring false, so Abigail heads west to Fort Laramie, Wyoming. When her stagecoach is attacked, Wyoming promises to be anything but boring. Luckily, the heroics of another passenger, Lieutenant Ethan Bowles, save the day.

Abigail plans to marry when she returns to Vermont, just as soon as she attends to her sister. As the summer passes, she finds herself drawn to this rugged land and to a certain soldier determined to persuade her to stay. When summer ends, will she go back East, or will she find her heart’s true home?

Dear Ms. Cabot,

Jane featured the first book in this series of three sisters as one of our daily deals. After reading the opening chapter, I decided to give it a go. 1880s Wyoming, soldiers, stagecoach robberies and Fort Laramie sounded like something I would enjoy.

Abigail is a practical, calm woman who doesn’t panic when the stage she’s taking from Cheyenne to Fort Laramie comes under attack by bandits. At least it livens things up for the young woman who up until then had been bored senseless by the unchanging prairie. Ethan had been as bored as Abigail but it was the droning of the Widow sitting with Abigail and speculating on his marital status that had him feigning sleep. Abigail and Ethan are impressed with the way the other handles the attempted robbery but thank goodness there’s no instalust here.

Abigail’s plan to do a quickie visit to check on her now married sister is thwarted by the reality Abigail feared. Something isn’t right with Charlotte and Jeffrey’s marriage and it isn’t just the baby Charlotte is now expecting. It doesn’t hurt that a desperate Jeffrey – who confesses that he dislikes his sister-in-law – begs Ethan to eat his meals with them. Something about Ethan intrigues Abigail but her almost engaged state allows the two of them to become friends long before they begin to develop any deeper feelings for each other.

The pace of the romance is slow and though I generally enjoy a bit of space for two people to learn about each other before professing undying love, even I was getting antsy for some action. Since this is an inspirational I wasn’t surprised that it takes a change of not only heart but faith before this occurs. What did catch me off-guard was the means or should I say the creature who brings it about. Discovery of God’s love for you through the successful medical treatment of a canine is a new one on me. This was really the only part of the book I felt was overtly religious in a slightly preachy way.

The mystery of who from the fort has been helping the bandits choose and stage their robberies is the second part of the book. Several red herrings are presented as possible candidates but I had it narrowed down to two fairly early on. Since there are a few loose strings left once the culprits are busted, I wasn’t surprised to read in your author note that this will be carried over into the next book. I would eventually like to read that book but even if I didn’t, I think there is enough closure here to satisfy.

One thing about this book that I liked is that not everyone is having a crisis of faith and that some of the characters reveal chinks in themselves that make them more believable to me. For instance, Jeffrey’s quick reveal that Abigail annoys him and Abigail’s initial belief that Wyoming is the most boring place on earth. I was also startled about the details of the final years of Fort Laramie but enjoyed learning things I didn’t know when the book started.

There are two things that ended up bothering me about the book. The first is the event that precipitates Abigail getting a dog for Charlotte. As a pet lover, I found it saddening and was glad no further mention was made of it. The second is the reaction of one of the main characters to a tremendous loss. The pain and grief I would have expected didn’t seem to materialize but perhaps that’s because this character had already done the grieving, bit by bit along the course of the book.

Overall, I liked this different view of the final days of Fort Laramie and the soldiers stationed there. The book is one I think both religious and non-religious people can enjoy with the caveat that Church, God, faith and prayers are all mentioned plus Ethan has his moments of spiritual doubt which must be answered and his faith renewed. But there are other issues that are not religious in nature. I look forward to seeing what happens next for the sisters, especially since one is training to be a doctor. B-

~Jayne

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REVIEW:  The Double Cross (The Spanish Brand Series) by Carla Kelly

REVIEW: The Double Cross (The Spanish Brand Series) by Carla...

double-cross

The year is 1780, and Marco Mondragón is a brand inspector in the royal Spanish colony of New Mexico. A widower and rancher, Marco lives on the edge of Comanchería, the domain of the fierce Comanche. Each autumn, he takes cattle and wool, and his district’s records of livestock transactions to the governor in Santa Fe. He is dedicated, conscientious and lonely.

This year, he is looking for a little dog to keep his feet warm through cold winter nights. He finds a yellow dog but also meets a young, blue-eyed beauty named Paloma Vega. Paloma is under the thumb of relatives who might have stolen a brand belonging to Paloma’s parents, dead in a Comanche raid. As a brand inspector, Marco has every right to be suspicious of brand thieves. If Marco has anything to do with it, Paloma’s fortunes are about to change.

Meanwhile, Marco has other challenges to contend with. An elderly ranchero named Joaquin Muñoz has set in motion events that involve the ever-dangerous Comanches and threaten the uneasy peace of Marco’s jurisdiction. Set against the mountains and high plains of northeastern New Mexico during the decline of Spanish power in the New World, The Double Cross is a story of loss and love regained, at a time when honor went hand in glove with bravery, and danger was never far away.

Dear Ms Kelly,

When I heard that your latest project was going to be a book set in 1780 in New Mexico, I was excited. I began reading your Regencies first but your westerns have always proved to be among my favorites and since the readers at DA are looking for something other than the usual settings, reading it for my next book seemed a great idea.

Brava for having mainly Latino leads and secondary characters in a setting little used in romances – 1780 pre-gringo New Mexico. There is also a sympathetic Kwahadi Comanche character who is not either a villain or a Noble Red Man stereotype. Lots of the secondary characters are priests which makes sense in a world where religion and faith are inculcated from birth and central in the lives of the inhabitants. Marco and Paloma don’t just give lip service to the Church, they are faithful worshipers who pray daily, adhere to the tenants of Catholicism and really mean it.

There seem to be two kinds of Kelly characters – the good ones and the evil ones. You usually have very little gray. I have to be honest and say that here even when some shading is added to a character, I don’t always truly feel it. Paloma is treated badly by her relations but she confounds her husband and another person when she expresses ultimate sympathy for how poorly her cousin was raised and the challenges this person faces in her new life on the frontier. Paloma has good reason to fear Comanches but after a brief period of hesitancy on her part to help one, she soon seems to become his nurse and advocate. A few references are made about how she wishes Toshua would just leave but they seem more lip service.

Still, I don’t mind that these characters are not too different from your usual ones. They aren’t. But I like reading about nice people who find love amidst their angst and issues. The main difference I find are the settings used and the way they’re used. By that I mean this is a western but not a 19th century American frontier western. The book also focuses on things new to me such as Marco’s position as Juez de campo which earns him the de facto role as lawman of the area. I’m curious as to whether or not the description of Marco’s hacienda matches an actual one of the time. Reading about its construction and the 24/7 safety precautions carried out, I really got a feel for the fear of Comanche raids under which these people lived.

Marco is a man scared by the tragic loss of his wife and children to disease. As such he’s put off remarrying for eight years. When he sees Paloma, he begins to just think about the possibility which I like much better than having him suddenly be ready to jump right into marriage. Paloma has almost given up all hope of a family of her own as she has no dowry and has reached the decrepit old age of (gasp) eighteen. Thank you for making the point that women of this age expected to marry young and including it in the story.

Also bravo that Marco is a man who likes to see a little meat on his heroine’s bones. He’s not all ‘ooh, she’s sylph-ish and slender’ he’s ‘let’s get some weight on her and fill her out.’ There’s lots of sex compared to your old Regencies. These two are like rabbits! The sex though seems to mean something to each of them and serves to bring them closer as a married couple rather than just being perfunctory.

I’m not sure about all the Comanche information. I didn’t think they ever ate dog – not that this happens here. I also wasn’t sure how a warrior would ever remain a slave but the fact that he’s apparently older and has been cast out by the tribe helps me believe it.

I saw somewhere that you hope for this to become a series. When I started it, I hoped that the book would be complete on it’s own rather than ending with untied plot threads. After finishing it, I believe you’ve left yourself some issues to revisit and possibly resolve but that the book can also stand on its own. I would enjoy coming back again to see more of these characters and especially discover if Paloma gets her heart’s wish. B

~Jayne

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