Random Reviews

I keep a file called Book Notes for Posts in my reviews and articles Scrivener project, and now and then it fills up with thoughts on totally unrelated books. Time to clean it out, so here are a few random reviews.


between-home-heartbreakWho is Eldorado Jane? The heroine of Jacqui Nelson’s Between Home & Heartbreak (second in her Gambling Hearts series) is the star of Calhoun’s Wild West Show, but is she also Jane Dority, who disappeared as a child eighteen years ago after Gypson’s Medicine Show visited the tiny town of Juniper Flats, Texas? She says she is, and she’s laying claim to the Dority homestead.


But Lewis Adams, Jane’s childhood friend and current owner of the Dority property, doesn’t believe her. She seems to have Jane’s memories, but she doesn’t have Jane’s eyes. But she does know horses, and Lewis needs help with the herd he’s contracted to train for the Texas Rangers.


The bet Eldora and Lewis make for ownership of the homestead turns out to be the least of their worries, as deception, blackmail, old enemies, and even the weather combine to thwart their plans.


Readers of Nelson’s Old West adventures first met Lewis in Between Love and Lies. Also reappearing from that novel are Noah and Sadie Ballantyne and a few other unexpected visitors. Between Home and Heartbreak is a very satisfying follow up to Between Love and Lies. You don’t have to read them in order, but why not?


Susan M. Boyer’s Lowcountry Book Club is the fifth entry in the Liz Talbot Mystery series, and just as good as its predecessors. This time Liz and Nate, back from their honeymoon, are investigating the murder of a locallowcountry-book-club socialite/volunteer who seems to have been loved by everyone around her, including the husband accused of pushing her over the balcony (and possibly another man—but who?). With the help of her ghostly friend Colleen, Liz narrows down the suspect list and discovers just how much turmoil can develop in a very prestigious Book Club.


As always, the city of Charleston and the island community of Stella Maris contribute essential aspects to the story and Liz’ family members make cameo appearances. I’ve enjoyed this series from Henery Press since it began with Lowcountry Boil—worth reading in order.


I’ve loved Elaine Viets’ Dead End Jobs series from the beginning, and The Art of the-art-of-murderMurder is an excellent entry. Helen doesn’t actually have to work a terrible job in this one (although Phil does time as a condo security guard), but she does join a painting class (for which she has no aptitude at all) to solve the murder of one of the students. Margery is back, of course, as well as Peggy and the parrots, Thumbs the cat, and Valerie the reporter. Definitely a fun read.


For science fiction written in 1968, The Goblin Reservation holds up fairly well. I read pretty much all of Clifford Simak’s work back a few decades ago, although I didn’t remember this one. It involves a man who has accidentally been duplicated in a transporter accident (shades of Star Trek), a genetically the-goblin-reservationdesigned pet saber-tooth tiger, a Neanderthal time traveler named Alley Oop, William Shakespeare (who insists he never wrote anything), a Ghost who doesn’t know whose ghost he is, transport reminiscent of Heinlein’s “The Roads Must Roll,” and of course goblins, fairies, and trolls. Set, by the way, in Wisconsin about five hundred years in the future, with mention of phones but not of computers. A fun, rather nostalgic reminder of classic science fiction.


The Girl on the Train, by Paula Hawkins, has been on the best seller lists for more than a year the-girl-on-the-trainnow, and I understand why. I’m not a fan of first person present tense narration, and there are three such narrators in the book, all of them undependable. The characters spend the entire book lying, cheating, and fantasizing. Terrible secrets are revealed and hearts are broken. This is not a feel-good book. But it is fascinating and difficult to put down, and I recommend it.

Recent Reading: Western Romance

Two Western American romances, both set largely in brothels (not the most romantic of settings!): very different books, but I enjoyed both.

Between Love & LiesJacqui Nelson’s Between Love & Lies is the first in her new Gambling Hearts series, set in the wild cow town of Dodge City. After her small farm is destroyed by a cattle drive, Sadie Sullivan finds herself working at the Northern Star saloon, sold into servitude there by her alcoholic father, just before he took off with all their money. Sadie has avoided prostitution by faking syphilis, but the medicine of the day may be killing her instead. She’s not about to give up, though—she has a mission to accomplish.

It was Noah Ballantyne’s cattle that wrecked the Sullivan farm, and Noah has been haunted by worry for Sadie ever since. When he drives another herd north from his Texas ranch, he’s determined to find out what has happened to her. When he does, his guilt keeps him in Dodge, determined to rescue Sadie from the brothel, not realizing that his good intentions threaten to upset all her plans.

Nelson does a great job with her western setting, filling it with interesting characters (including Bat Masterson and Wyatt Earp!), the action is exciting, and the romance is deep and moving, as Sadie learns she may have found a man she can trust.


 I read and enjoyed a number of Margaret Brownley’s light-hearted historical romances years ago. More recently she has been writing for the inspirational market, not my subgenre of choice, but I couldn’t resist Petticoat Detective—she had me at “female Pinkerton detective.” I don’t know how many writers could pull off a humorous inspirational historical romance set in a brothel, but Brownley has done a fine job of it.

Petticoat DetectiveWhen Pinkerton Agent Jennifer Layne arrives at Miss Lillian’s Parlor House and Fine Boots in Goodman, Kansas, hoping to follow a lead involving one of the ladies of the house, Miss Lillian mistakes her for a “fancy lady” seeking work. The next thing Jennifer knows, she is undercover, and underdressed, as Amy Gardner, and worse, nearly witness to a murder.

When ex-Texas Ranger Tom Colton arrives at Miss Lillian’s, he is looking for the same prostitute, known as Rose, who may have been engaged to his late brother.

Tom wants to know if his brother was murdered. Amy wants to know if he was the Gunnysack Bandit, the man she’s tracking. And they soon realize they both want to know more about each other. But that’s hopeless. Tom is an upright rancher who could never fall for a hooker, and Amy is an independent Pinkerton detective with no interest in settling down.

Petticoat Detective is funny, suspenseful, and gently inspirational without being preachy. If you enjoy sweet western romance, give it a try.

Romance in the Old West

Between Heaven & HellHannah, the heroine of Jacqui Nelson’s Between Heaven & Hell, can’t remember her last name. When she was a child she watched from beneath a bramble bush as her parents were killed and her home burned to the ground by rogue militiamen. Rescued by a band of Osage Indians who call her Blue Sky, Hannah finds herself a decade later on the run from Eagle Feather, the warrior she once called brother. Desperate to travel west, she applies for a scout position with a wagon train about to leave Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, for far-off California.

Paden Callahan, a former Texas Ranger who lost his wife to a Comanche raid, has taken on the job of wagon master as a favor to his father-in-law, General Sherwood. He’d much rather be back at his new home in Oregon, building his lumber business. Hiring a female scout may be unthinkable (after all, it’s 1850), but keeping the man she would replace, a drunken boor named Dawson, is an even worse prospect.

Paden’s caution is not unjustified. With both Eagle Feather and Dawson seeking vengeance against Hannah, she may be a danger to the wagon train. But Paden is harboring secrets of his own, and an enemy from his past is waiting at Fort Laramie.

Nelson paints a believable and moving picture of the hardships of the mid-nineteenth century, as settlers leave precious possessions behind to lighten their wagons and bury lost loved ones along the side of the trail. While Hannah and Paden do their best for the wagon train, they are drawn to each other and begin to imagine a future together. But with so many forces working to keep them apart, can they make that dream a reality?Between Love & Lies

Jacqui Nelson is also the author of the novella Adella’s Enemy, in the Romance and Rails anthology Passion’s Prize, and the forthcoming Between Love & Lies, set in Dodge City.

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