Wednesday, September 19, 2018

A Rumored Fortune by Joanna Davidson Politano ~ Lone Star Book Blog Tours Promo, Giveaway, and Author Top 5!


  Genre: Historical Romance / Christian
Publisher: Revell
Date of Publication: July 31, 2018
Number of Pages: 416

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Welcome to Trevelyan Castle, home of the poorest heiress in Victorian England. Tressa Harlowe’s father kept his vast fortune hidden somewhere on his estate in the south of England and died suddenly, without telling anyone where he had concealed it. Now Tressa and her ailing mother are left with a mansion and an immense vineyard and no money to run it. 

It doesn’t take long for a bevy of opportunists to flock to the estate under the guise of offering condolences. Tressa knows what they’re really up to. She’ll have to work with the rough and rusticated vineyard manager to keep the laborers content without pay and discover the key to finding her father’s fortune—before someone else finds it first.

“Everyone loves a treasure hunt—pair it with a heroine you can’t help but love, a hero you can’t help but swoon over, and a family mystery that’ll keep you on the edge of your seat, and you end up with A Rumored Fortune. This book is a treasure in itself and one you won’t be able to put down!”
— Roseanna M. White, bestselling author of the Ladies of the Manor series and Shadows Over England series

“Politano combines romance and mystery with great skill to create plot twists that will keep readers captivated until the very end.”— Publishers Weekly

“The author has done a great job, offering up a plot filled with wit, charm, action, and a lot of female strength.”— Suspense Magazine


The Top Five True Stories That Made It into My Novels
By Joanna Davidson Politano

1. Hidden money

My friend once told me about her grandfather who buried his entire fortune because he didn’t trust banks (or even his family, apparently). He promised to tell his wife where it was before he died, but of course he died suddenly, leaving his wife and four children with a vast mansion and sprawling vineyards… and no money. This became the central mystery for A Rumored Fortune, but in real life the family ended up abandoning their mansion and living penniless, the fortune never found.

2. The secret writer

As a kid, I used to write little stories that included the people around me. I brought justice to their characters and highlighted the kids who were always overlooked, making superheroes out of them. It appeased the sense of justice in my little heart, but when the stories started getting around the classroom, it caused a lot of chaos as people recognized themselves. My heroine in Lady Jayne Disappears did the same thing, writing about her family under a pen name and then letting chaos ensue as they tried to guess who was writing about them.

3. A writer in debtor’s prison

Like the heroine in Lady Jayne Disappears, Charles Dickens was a Victorian era serial novelist who spent part of his childhood in debtor’s prison because of his father’s debts.

4. Marriage of opposites

The romance in A Rumored Fortune is a pairing of total opposites, which resulted in immediate dislike for the heroine. This entire dynamic, and the trajectory of the characters’ relationship, is based on meeting my own husband and eventually falling hard for him, even after saying an immediate “no” to a second date. My marrying him later surprised everyone—including me!

5. Bronte sisters approach the publisher

My opening scene in Lady Jayne Disappears was inspired by an intriguing image that is believed to be the Bronte sisters, a shy trio all huddled together in their worn and high-necked gowns, approaching their publisher to inform him that they were the bestselling authors Acton, Currer, and Ellis Bell.

Joanna Davidson Politano is the award-winning author of Lady Jayne Disappears. She freelances for a small nonfiction publisher but spends much of her time spinning tales that capture the colorful, exquisite details in ordinary lives. She lives with her husband and their two babies in a house in the woods near Lake Michigan and shares stories that move her



GRAND PRIZE: Copy of A Rumored Fortune + Novel Teas
         (box of 25 tea bags) + $25 Barnes & Noble Gift Card

2ND PRIZE: Copy of A Rumored Fortune
$10 Starbucks Gift Card

3RD PRIZE: Copy of A Rumored Fortune
+ $10 Barnes & Noble Gift Card
  September 11-20, 2018


Notable Quotable
Author Interview
Notable Quotable
Character Interview
Author Top Five

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Wednesday, September 12, 2018

WWW Wednesday - Sort of!

I'm pretty exhausted this week. Very busy at work and at home, and the dog keeps stealing the covers and waking me up at 4am! I am also pretty behind on my reading and haven't taken the time to do any blogging. But....I can do WWW Wednesday - abbreviated, at least!

What I Finished Reading

I heard about this one in a Twitter galley chat before it was published and was just able to finish it recently. It's a debut by Caz Frear, and there have been some great reviews for this book. So good that I'm a little intimidated to review it myself! 

Sweet Little Lies is a very well-written police procedural set in and around London. The main character, DC Cat Kinsella, is recovering from witnessing the aftermath of a horrific crime, and her superiors aren't sure she's ready to work another murder scene. Stuffing down her memories, as she has done many times over the years, Cat begins to investigate a puzzling crime that turns out to be connected to her childhood. The tension on whether Cat will, and should, reveal what she knows about the victim drives this story. With excellent character development, dialogue, pace and descriptive writing, I completely fell under its spell, and did not want to stop reading. Will happily recommend this one!

What I'm Currently Reading

Shooting its way to the number one spot on the NYT Best Seller List the second week of publication, Daniel Silva's latest spy novel starring art restorer and Israeli spy Gabriel Allon is his best one yet, according to many, many readers of the series. Although HarperCollins sent me an ARC, which is resting prominently on my bookshelf, I waited for the audiobook, narrated by the amazing George Guidall before diving in. I had a little trouble figuring out how to listen to eAudiobooks in my older car (auxiliary outlet, blue tooth, etc.) but boy am I glad I stuck it out and conquered that technology! If I forget to turn it down when I unplug the cable, the volume of the radio about launches me out of the car, but other than that, it's been a nice addition to my commute.

I've been a fan of this series since its inception, and this one does not disappoint, with a Russian mole at its center that Gabriel and his crew must ferret out to save the world, once again.

After finishing the amazing door-stopper Foundryside by Robert Jackson Bennett, I decided to check out the first book in his Divine Cities Trilogy, City of Stairs, another excellent fantasy novel with elaborate world-building and characterization. When I put down all my digital devices (phone, computer, tablet) at night due to the insomnia they cause me, I read a few chapters of this one. It will take me some time to get through, as it requires focused attention to follow the plot.

Set in a world where the old gods have been killed by a new technology, and miracles no longer exist, an accomplished female spy is sent to investigate an unusual murder and discovers that the divine gods may not be as dead as everyone believes. Filled with well drawn characters, magic and a setting that is a character all its own, City of Stairs is worth checking out if you enjoy fantasy novels with complex worlds.

What I Plan to Read Next

I really want to read Louise Penny's new Inspector Gamache and Craig Johnson's new Longmire, but I am saving them for a special occasion! I will probably read The Spaceship Next Door, though, as I want to see about adding it to the SFF collection that I manage at the library. It's a coming-of-age tale about a spaceship that arrives in a quiet mill town in Massachusetts, and....just sits there. Sixteen year old Annie Collins may be the key to unraveling the mystery of this uninvited and unwelcome guest. It's an adult book with YA cross-over appeal that just came out last week. More will be revealed....

Happy Reading!!

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Review: The Grand Duke from Boys Ranch ~ Lone Star Literary Blog Tour

foreword by Bill Hobby

  Genre: Memoir / Texana / Politics / Eastern European History
Publisher: Texas A&M University Press
Date of Publication: April 16, 2018
Number of Pages: 336 pages w/50 B&W photos

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As a boy in Houston, Bill Sarpalius, his brothers, and their mother lived an itinerant life. Bill dug food out of trashcans, and he and his brothers moved from one school to the next. They squatted in a vacant home while their mother, affectionately called “Honey,” battled alcoholism and suicidal tendencies. In an act of desperation, she handed her three sons over to Cal Farley’s Boys Ranch north of Amarillo.

At the time, Bill was thirteen years old and could not read. Life at Boys Ranch had its own set of harrowing challenges, however. He found himself living in fear of some staff and older boys. He became involved in Future Farmers of America and discovered a talent for public speaking. When he graduated, he had a hundred dollars and no place to go. He worked hard, earned a scholarship from the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, and obtained a college degree. After a brief career as a teacher and in agribusiness, he won a seat in the Texas Senate. Driven by the memory of his suffering mother, he launched the Texas Commission on Alcohol and Drug Abuse in an effort to help people struggling with addiction.

Sarpalius later served in the United States Congress. As a Lithuanian American, he took a special interest in that nation’s fight for independence from the Soviet Union. For his efforts, Sarpalius received the highest honor possible to a non-Lithuanian citizen and was named a “Grand Duke.” The Grand Duke from Boys Ranch is a unique political memoir—the story of a life full of unlikely paths that is at once heartbreaking and inspirational.


“The autobiography of Bill Sarpalius reads like a 20 -century version of the American dream – equal parts heartbreak and inspiration, culminating in an unlikely political career capped by three terms in the U.S. Congress.” -- University of Houston Hobby School of Public Affairs

“The Grand Duke from Boys Ranch is an inspiring tale of perseverance and personal courage.” -- Si Dunn, Lone Star Literary Life


I normally only read fiction, and I can’t remember the last time I read a biography or autobiography. But as someone whose life has been affected by alcoholism, I was grateful for the opportunity to read The Grand Duke from Boys Ranch and learn about the life of Bill Sarpalius, a survivor who didn't let a difficult childhood hold him back from living a meaningful life.

At first, I wasn't sure how to approach reviewing a memoir. In a fiction review I might talk about the setting, the voice of the characters, and the tone and pace of the narrative. As it turns out, however, most of these elements apply to Bill’s story as well. In addition, there are a number of photographs included in the book that provide visual support for the text and show all the ages and stages of Bill’s life, including most of the family, friends and other important people who had an impact on his life. The photos also provide a backdrop for the various places described in the book. I was also surprised and pleased to note how few grammatical and editing issues I encountered as I was reading, considering this is a first-time author. These types of errors will usually catch my eye, but in The Grand Duke from Boys Ranch, I was happy to overlook the few I encountered and just enjoy the book for the story it told.

Written in plain, everyday language, Bill tells his life story to the reader in a way that is well-paced and engaging. It flows well and is written, for the most part, in chronological order. One gets a real sense of the author's personality in his writing - his distinct voice - which grants an intimacy to the reading experience. The other characters introduced in the narrative are less distinct, which makes sense as the focus is on how all the experiences affected the author's life. What we are given, ultimately, is a story of a life hard-fought and well-lived. Bill Sarpalius overcame very significant obstacles in his life, but also experienced deep love, true friendship, the honor of public service and the Providence of God.

When Bill was 13 years old, he and his brothers were removed from the care of their mother, Honey, who was an alcoholic, and were sent to live at Cal Farley’s Boys Ranch outside Amarillo, Texas. Bill’s father had abandoned their family, and Honey was not able to support her children. Even though there were many instances of abuse while Bill and other boys lived there, the author gives much credit to Boys Ranch for the lessons he learned about hard work, overcoming obstacles and not giving up on one’s dreams and goals. I was saddened by reading about the level of abuse that occurred at Boys Ranch, for all the children who suffered at the hands of older bullies, and even some staff members. Bill claims it made him stronger, but I'm sure many of the boys were damaged irrevocably by those experiences.

Although illiterate when he arrived at Boys Ranch, Bill went on to graduate high school in five years, after many failed classes. When his high school counselor told him he would have a hard time passing college courses, Bill writes:

“It was clear to me that the school counselor didn’t understand what was in my heart and how hard I was willing to work to become successful. I knew God had a plan for me to help people, and I would just follow His guidance.”

This quote is is indicative of the rest of Bill’s life: he had a heart for service, a deep faith in his God, and a strong desire to improve his life and the lives of others. After high school, with no plans and barely any money, Bill ran his first campaign, on a shoestring budget, and became the president of the Future Farmers of America. This achievement provided him a scholarship to attend college, during which he worked six different jobs to make ends meet. He also managed to obtain a Master’s Degree, and went on to run very successful campaigns for the Texas Senate and the U.S. Congress. I won’t go into a lot of detail about Bill’s political life, as I hope many people will read this story and see the impact he had as a public servant during his political career. But a few are worth mentioning.

Bill was instrumental in changing the penalties for drunk driving offenses and changing the legal drinking age in Texas, with much opposition by a powerful lobby. He was involved in revising the laws to allow adopted children to locate their biological parents, and vice versa. He also found a clever way to convince lawmakers to make dog fighting a felony, after which Bill received severe backlash, including death threats. The laws he changed to provide more regulations for ambulance services would, ironically, end up saving his life after an accident in which he broke his back. Finally, and perhaps most significantly, he played an important role in the historical freedom of countries stifled by the oppression of Soviet rule, beginning with Lithuania, from which Bill’s ancestors originated.

One thing that radiates throughout this book is Bill's belief that God would provide him with opportunities to make a difference in other people's lives. Ultimately, what resonated the most with me upon finishing the book is this: every time someone reached out a hand in need, Bill reached back to help.

The Grand Duke from Boys Ranch is a deeply personal story, and I feel my own life is richer having read it.

BILL SARPALIUS represented the Texas 13th Congressional District from 1989 to 1995, and from 1981 to 1989 he served in the Texas State Senate. He currently is a motivational speaker and serves as CEO of Advantage Associates International. He divides his time between Maryland and Houston, Texas.

BARNES & NOBLE, #2665 2:00 PM
2415 Soncy Road
  Amarillo, TX 79124

Notable Quotable
Video Interview, Part 1
Scrapbook Page
Video Interview, Part 2

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Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Magic Triumphs by Ilona Andrews - The End of the Road....

Magic Triumphs (Kate Daniels) by [Andrews, Ilona]Magic Bites (Kate Daniels, Book 1) by [Andrews, Ilona]

Magic Slays (Kate Daniels Book 5) by [Andrews, Ilona]Magic Rises: A Kate Daniels Novel by [Andrews, Ilona]

I was fortunate to get early access to Magic Triumphs (thank you Bridget at Berkley!), with the caveat not to reveal any spoilers or do any promotion prior to publication, upon pain of death, or worse! But since today is the publication day, I can finally talk about this final book in the Kate Daniels Urban Fantasy series, and my history with these great books which began with Magic Bites in 2007. I've also loved seeing the evolution of the main character over the years through the cover art. The authors, a husband and wife writing team, are signing books in my city tonight, but, alas, I will not be able to make it. I'm sure they will have a large crowd eager to meet them and get the new book signed. 

I've reviewed other books in this series over the years, and you can find the reviews by doing a keyword search for "magic" in the box at the top. A summary of the series follows:

In their long-running Kate Daniels series, the husband and wife writing team known as Ilona Andrews, has created a truly unique world – an alternate Atlanta unlike anything we’ve seen before.  In this world, magic existed for millennia, but the rise of technology caused an imbalance in the world and magic disappeared for a long time. When magic returned to the world, it did so with a vengeance, destroying buildings and releasing all kinds of creatures and dead gods back into the world.

Kate Daniels is a mysterious character with a magic sword who works as a bounty hunter of sorts, and responds to requests to capture dangerous creatures in order to keep the citizens of Atlanta safe.  In this world, the magic and technology shift back in forth without rhyme or reason, and when the magic ascends, all technology, including guns, phones, lights, and cars ceases to work.

It’s a great world, filled with the Pack, shapeshifters who hang on to their human sides very carefully, the People, who are Masters of the Dead and control vampires created by an immortal being named Roland, as well as witches and all sorts of other magical beings, including old mythological gods. Kate and other characters in the novels have many action-packed adventures, some light romance (which gets steamier over the course of the series), and their share of triumphs and tragedies. 

In the final book, Magic Triumphs, Kate receives a mysterious box that is a threat, combined with a courting attempt, from a powerful god from another realm. Of course, Kate is happily married now to Curran and attempting to be a loving mom to her son, Conlan, a toddler who isn't quite human and is manifesting some interesting powers of his own. I don't want to give away any spoilers to those who have been anticipating reading this final book, but will say that all the characters get a chance to shine. It's a bittersweet feeling that the series has ended, as I've been reading about one book a year for over 10 years, including some novellas, too.  But I'm so happy to have been a part of this world from the beginning, and the authors have assured their fans that they are not finished writing books, just finished with this series.

I recommend this series to anyone who likes Urban Fantasy, and most of my patrons come back for more.  Do start at the beginning, with Magic Bites. It's not the best of the bunch, but it does lay the groundwork and world-building very well.

Happy Reading!

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

The Liar by Steve Cavanaugh - Eddie Flynn Book 3


I have been a fan of legal thrillers since reading Scott Turow’s Presumed Innocent many years ago. I can still remember where I was sitting, in a 70's era rental house in Indianapolis, when I got to the end of that book, with its  big, twisty ending. In fact, that is probably when I became a fan of big, twisty endings in books! Steve Cavanaugh has taken Turow’s knack for such an end and put it to good use in The Liar, another book with an ending I did not see coming.

The Liar is the third book in the Eddy Flynn series, after The Defense and The Plea, but only the latter two titles are available in the U.S. right now. When I found out that the author had written more books in this series, but couldn’t get them here yet, I ordered The Liar and TH1RT3EN from the UK, and waited impatiently for them to arrive.  There is also a novella, The Cross, you can only get it as an ebook in the UK right now.

Eddie Flynn is a former con-man and hustler turned lawyer who retired from courtroom work after a disastrous case. In the first book, The Defense, he gets pulled back into trial work after his daughter is kidnapped by the mob, who expect Eddie to defend them in order to get his daughter back. It all works out, of course, after lots of misdirection and twists by the author.

In this third book, The Liar, Eddie is contacted by an old family friend named Leonard Howell whose own daughter has been kidnapped. Lenny is about to take an action for which he will need legal representation, and Eddie is drawn in over the memories of his own situation in the past. The kidnappers have contacted Lenny for a ransom, and he’s planning to go around the FBI to make a secret ransom drop in order to save his daughter’s life. Eddie uses his old con-man skills to switch the ransom cases, and after that all hell breaks loose.

There is so much that happens in this book that you almost get whiplash reading it. I stayed up until 2:30 in the morning, ON A WORK NIGHT, to finish it because I had to see what happened at the end! I can’t give away too many details of this expertly plotted legal thriller, but there are several courtroom scenes that have jaw-dropping surprises for everyone, even Eddie.

The book has a non-linear aspect, in that several chapters are written in italics discussing events that have happened in the past to characters who seem to have no bearing on the current case. But gradually the author reveals the connections, and it all comes together with an explosive ending.

There are a few, very few, plot holes, and a bit of suspension of belief is required at the end, but it was such a fun ride that I happily overlooked those minor hitches. I just wish that I knew when The Liar would be published in the U.S. so that I could purchase copies for my library. I'm so ready to begin recommending The Liar to my customers who love legal thrillers and intriguing mysteries.

Happy Reading!