Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The "PRAIRIE HEARTS" Series from author Caroline Fyffe--wonderfully realized characters and touching historical romance

 
Before the Larkspur Blooms (Prairie Hearts, #2)
 
 
 
Caroline Fyffe returns to the windswept prairies of Wyoming with a beautiful story of rekindled love…

Thomas Donovan spent eight long years in prison, convicted of a crime he didn't commit. Finally released, he returns home to Logan Meadows, Wyoming, to discover his parents long buried and his neighbors wanting nothing to do with him. Suddenly the fresh start Thom longed for seems downright impossible until a spirited beauty from his past becomes his unlikely champion, and the walls around his injured heart begin to crumble?

Hannah Hoskins was brokenhearted when Thom Donovan was sent away. While the rest of the town was quick to brand him a no-count thief, Hannah always knew better. Now the boy she once loved has returned home a man ? a man whom Hannah's suitor, the town's deputy sheriff, is determined to destroy. When a crime spree starts anew, suspicion immediately falls on Thom, and it's up to Hannah to prove his innocence, earn him a second chance at life ? and win them both a second chance at love.
 
 
MY REVIEW:
 
 
For me, storytelling is all about how the characters are portrayed. I must care about the people and want to follow their story and find out what happens to them. Even the supporting players, the not so nice people, and especially the villains should be well-drawn and multi-layered. Minor characters, sharply etched in a few well-chosen words, add such rich flavor to a story line. Characters are the elements which capture and hold my interest in whatever I am reading. To my joy as a reader, I found such well-written characters in "Before the Larkspur Blooms", my first read by author Caroline Fyffe. In the very first chapter, the description of Thom Donovan's elation at being released from prison is sorrowfully tempered when he learns that his parents and his brother have all passed away while Thom was in prison. His sister has married and moved away, and the family farm now belongs to someone else. Eight years in prison for a crime he didn't commit have changed Thom in many ways, but one thing hasn't changed, and that is the emotional bond between him and Hannah Brown. Hannah had been his neighbor and the best friend of his little sister, Anne Marie. She had often tagged along after Thom and his best friend Caleb Hoskins, showing hero-worship in her eyes each time she looked at Thom. Returning to Logan Meadows, and seeing Hannah again is both joyful and surprising for Thom. She is now Hannah Hoskins, and a widow, having married Caleb while Thom was in prison. She is also the mother of a young son, Markus. Hannah runs a small restaurant, The Silky Hen, that she inherited when Caleb passed away. A sweet childhood friendship between a girl and a boy finally comes into full bloom as an even sweeter love between a deserving young man and a young woman who has waited for him all her life. However, there are old issues which haunt them, including the prejudices against Thom's time in prison and his Irish heritage. Thom also has a very personal secret, one which threatens not only the happiness between him and Hannah, but may also take his very life. I so enjoyed "Before the Larkspur Blooms", and I look forward to reading "Where the Wind Blows", the first book in the wonderful "Prairie Hearts" series from author Caroline Fyffe.

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Where the Wind Blows (Prairie Hearts, #1)
 
 
 
Winner of RWA’s Golden Heart Award and Write Touch Readers Award 2010.


Chase Logan is content. He’s free as a clear mountain stream and that suits him just fine. When he’s mistaken for Jessie Strong’s husband, he’s shocked, but her imploring gaze has him agreeing to play along—for three days—just until the adoption papers for darling three-year-old Sarah are finalized.

“CHARMING.” –RT BOOKREVIEW

Jessie knows Chase’s sense of chivalry is the reason he’s stepped in, but her imagination can’t help but pretend what life might be like with a man like Chase. He’s handsome and kind—and a bit dangerous, too.


The love that grows between Chase and Jessie defies the wildness of the land, the danger outside the door—but the secret between them is hurtful enough to shatter Jessie’s heart. Will it rip them apart? Or will their dream of being a real family come true at last, no matter… Where the Wind Blows


“AN ABSOULTELY DELIGHTFUL TALE PENNED BY AN AUTHOR SURE TO MAKE A NAME FOR HERSELF.” –Pamela Britton, Bestselling Author

"The love that unfolds in this tender and emotional story will touch your heart. Caroline Fyffe has created a cast of endearing characters who will live in your imagination long after you turn the last page. Don't miss this breathtaking debut." -Patti Berg, USA Today Bestselling Author
 
 
CAROLINE FYFFE
 
Caroline Fyffe
 
 
USA Today Bestselling Author Caroline Fyffe was born in Waco, Texas, the first of many towns she would call home during her father's career with the US Air Force. A horse aficionado from an early age, she earned a Bachelor of Arts in communications from California State University-Chico before launching what would become a twenty-year career as an equine photographer. She began writing fiction to pass the time during long days in the show arena, channeling her love of horses and the Old West into a series of Western historicals. Her debut novel, Where the Wind Blows, won the Romance Writers of America's prestigious Golden Heart Award as well as the Wisconsin RWA's Write Touch Readers' Award. She and her husband have two grown sons and live in Kentucky.

Visit Caroline at www.carolinefyffe.com
See her photographs at www.carolinefyffephoto.com
http://facebook.com/caroline.fyffe
Twitter @carolinefyffe
Write to her at caroline@carolinefyffe.com. She loves hearing from readers!

Book Review: TRAINS AND LOVERS: A NOVEL by Alexander McCall Smith

 
Trains and Lovers: A Novel
 
 
 
In the words of Alexander McCall Smith: "You feel the rocking of the train, you hear the sound of its wheels on the rails; you are in the world rather than suspended somewhere above it. And sometimes there are conversations to be had, which is what the overarching story in this collection is all about. It is a simple device: people brought together entertain one another with tales of what happened to them on trains. It takes place on a journey I frequently make myself and know well, the journey between Edinburgh and London. It is best read on a train, preferably that one.''
 
 
MY REVIEW:
 
 
Have you ever ridden a train for a journey of several hours or more and had time to observe those around you and speculate on their lives? Perhaps you have actually engaged in conversation with a stranger or two, and in the process you have revealed as much about yourself as you have learned about your fellow travelers. Such is the premise for author Alexander McCall Smith's "Trains and Lovers", an appealingly astute observance of the many versions and variations of love. Being in love and being loved in return is not limited to gender or generation. On this train journey, there are four quite different people who are drawn together by the closeness of the railcar and the isolation it offers from the outside world. During the almost five-hour ride that draws a line on the map from Edinburgh to London, each person will tell a love story. Their thoughts are as intriguing and involving as the words they say out loud. David is an immaculate fortyish American. Kay is an imaginative fifty-something Australian. Hugh is an athletic-looking Englishman who believes love is a matter of luck. David is a young, dark-haired Scotsman whose compelling and unusual eyes are noted by women and men alike. After their brief time together, despite the intimacies they have revealed, they will go their separate ways--strangers once more. As the author gently reminds us through this well-crafted tale, it is sometimes easier to connect with someone we have just met, and will never meet again, than it is to bare our true emotions to our family and friends.

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ALEXANDER MCCALL SMITH
 
Alexander McCall Smith
 
 
 
Alexander McCall Smith is the author of the international phenomenon The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series, the Isabel Dalhousie Series, the Portuguese Irregular Verbs series, and the 44 Scotland Street series. He is professor emeritus of medical law at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland and has served on many national and international bodies concerned with bioethics. He was born in what is now known as Zimbabwe and he was a law professor at the University of Botswana. He lives in Scotland. Visit him online at www.alexandermccallsmith.com, on Facebook, and on Twitter.
 
 

Book Review: CITY OF WOMEN by author David R. Gillham


City of Women

Whom do you trust, whom do you love, and who can be saved?

It is 1943—the height of the Second World War—and Berlin has essentially become a city of women.
Sigrid Schröder is, for all intents and purposes, the model German soldier’s wife: She goes to work every day, does as much with her rations as she can, and dutifully cares for her meddling mother-in-law, all the while ignoring the horrific immoralities of the regime. But behind this facade is an entirely different Sigrid, a woman who dreams of her former lover, now lost in the chaos of the war. Her lover is a Jew.

But Sigrid is not the only one with secrets.

A high ranking SS officer and his family move down the hall and Sigrid finds herself pulled into their orbit.  A young woman doing her duty-year is out of excuses before Sigrid can even ask her any questions.  And then there’s the blind man selling pencils on the corner, whose eyes Sigrid can feel following her from behind the darkness of his goggles.

Soon Sigrid is embroiled in a world she knew nothing about, and as her eyes open to the reality around her, the carefully constructed fortress of solitude she has built over the years begins to collapse. She must choose to act on what is right and what is wrong, and what falls somewhere in the shadows between the two. 

In this page-turning novel, David Gillham explores what happens to ordinary people thrust into extraordinary times, and how the choices they make can be the difference between life and death.


MY REVIEW:

"City of Women" is a big book, but then again, author David R. Gillham has a big story to tell. World War II Berlin has sent away its men to fight, leaving behind women of all ages and social standing to cope and continue a shell existence. Nothing can be right until the cruel conflict is over, but will it ever really be over? As Sigrid Schroder's husband wages war on the Eastern Front, Sigrid goes through all the expected motions. She goes to her job, manages to sustain with rations and other deprivations, and dutifully suffers her mother-in-law's attitude and opinions. All outward appearances suggest Sigrid is loyal and true to the German regime. However, her dreams of her dangerous involvement with her Jewish former lover begin to unravel the wool over her eyes. Sigrid recklessly shelters a woman and her children whom she believes to be the family of her lost lover. The choices Sigrid is forced to make will no longer allow her to ignore the atrocities of the war around her. David R. Gillham is an extraordinary storyteller, creating imperfect, unforgettable characters. Most of all, he paints exquisitely intimate portraits of women who live with the face of death beside them in their mirrors. David R. Gillham, what will be your next gift to your readers?

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DAVID R. GILLHAM
David R. Gillham
David R. Gillham was trained as a writer at the University of Southern California, where he moved from screen writing into fiction. After relocating to New York City, he spent more than a decade in the book business, and now lives with his family in western Massachusetts.

MOTHERLAND--sweeping saga of romance, war, human drama from accomplished author William Nicholson



Motherland


You come from a long line of mistakes, Guy Caulder tells his daughter Alice. My mother married the wrong man. Her mother did the same.

At the end of a love affair, Alice journeys to Normandy to meet Guy's mother, the grandmother she has never known. She tells her granddaughter that, in spite of the troubles her family has faced, there was one true love story in her past.

In the summer of 1942, Kitty is an ATS driver stationed in Sussex. She meets Ed, a Royal Marine commando, and Larry, a liaison officer with Combined Operations under the command of Louis Mountbatten. Kitty falls instantly in love with Ed, who falls in love with her. So does Larry.

Mountbatten mounts a sea borne raid on the beaches of German-occupied Dieppe in northern France. One of the worst disasters of the war, it has a profound effect on both Larry and Ed, and its repercussions will echo through the generations to come.



Accomplished author William Nicholson struck a resonant chord with me as a reader in "Motherland", a sweeping tale of romance, human drama, and survival. I am deeply drawn to the poignancy, passion, and patriotism of the WWII era. I am in my early fifties, and the stories told to me by my mother and her parents of life during this time helped to shape the person I am today. I also had a very dear friend, an older gentleman who had served as a US Navy gunnery sighter aboard a noted WWII battleship in the Pacific. His vivid recollections of his combat experiences are just like photos in my own mind. "Motherland" begins with a young woman meeting her grandmother for the first time. Born out of wedlock to a disinterested father, Guy Caulder, Alice Dickinson is eager to pull the pieces of her disjointed heritage together. Surprisingly, during one of her rare shared moments with her father, he informs her that his mother is very much alive and living in Normandy, France. Alice journeys to meet her grandmother, Pamela Avenell, whose remembrances of her own mother, Kitty Teale, and the two men whom she loved, and was loved by in return: Ed Avenell and Larry Cornford are intertwined with the horrors and heroism of WWII. In Sussex, England, in 1942, Kitty was a young and pretty army driver who met Ed, a Royal Marine commando, and Larry, a liaison officer. Kitty and Ed soon fall in love, but Larry also loves Kitty. The two men go off to war, with Ed returning a war hero and claiming Kitty as his prize. However, the war which changed the world forever has left its mark on Ed, a mark which tragically remained indelible. As the years pass, the darkness which often overcomes Ed casts a shadow upon his life with Kitty, and she is more and more drawn to Larry for comfort. Eventually, after years of yearning, Kitty and Larry will be together, but not without great personal cost. "Motherland" is much more than a complex love story. It is the story of humankind in the midst of a mighty battle against an evil and insidious foe. While one side may eventually surrender the victory to its opponent, a war never really ends. Its effects are widespread and consuming, with spots of hope for humanity rising here and there from the ashes. William Nicholson has written a well-researched, thoughtfully-told tale of heartbreak and redemption. For many survivors of war, their day-to-day lives are ever filled with sights and sounds from a battle fought long ago--their memories never fade.

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WILLIAM NICHOLSON

William Nicholson


Author William Nicholson is also one of the most successful Hollywood scriptwriters, twice Oscar nominated, the go-to man for big characters, big stories and worldwide audiences. From Shadowlands to Gladiator, to the current Les Misérables and next A Long Walk To Freedom — the Nelson Mandela biopic being released later this year.
William Nicholson was born in 1948, and grew up in Sussex and Gloucestershire. He was educated at Downside School and Christ’s College, Cambridge, and then joined BBC Television, where he worked as a documentary film maker. There his ambition to write, directed first into novels, was channeled into television drama. His plays for television include Shadowlands and Life Story , both of which won the BAFTA Best Television Drama award in their year; other award-winners were Sweet As You Are and The March . In 1988 he received the Royal Television Society’s Writer’s Award. His first play, an adaptation of Shadowlands for the stage, was Evening Standard Best Play of 1990, and went on to a Tony Award winning run on Broadway. He was nominated for an Oscar for the screenplay of the film version, which was directed by Richard Attenborough and starred Anthony Hopkins and Debra Winger.

Since then he has written more films – Sarafina, Nell, First Knight, Grey Owl , Gladiator (as co-writer), for which he received a second Oscar nomination, and Elizabeth: the Golden Age. He has written and directed his own film, Firelight; and four further stage plays, Map of the Heart, Katherine Howard, The Retreat from Moscow , which ran for five months on Broadway and received three Tony Award nominations, and Crash.

His novel for older children, The Wind Singer, won the Smarties Prize Gold Award on publication in 2000, and the Blue Peter Book of the Year Award in 2001. Its sequel, Slaves of the Mastery , was published in 2001, and the final volume in the trilogy, Firesong , in 2002. The trilogy has been sold in every major foreign market, from the US to China.

His second sequence of fantasy novels is called The Noble Warriors. The first book is Seeker (2005), the second book, Jango (2006) and the third book Noman (2007).

His novels for adults are The Society of Others (2004), The Trial of True Love (2005), The Secret Intensity of Everyday Life (2009), All the Hopeful Lovers (2010) and The Golden Hour (2011).

His love-and-sex novel for teens, Rich and Mad, was published in 2010.

He lives in Sussex, England with his wife Virginia and their three children.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Recommendation and Review: Two books from acclaimed author CHRIS BOHJALIAN

The Light in the Ruins
From the New York Times bestselling author of Midwives and The Sandcastle Girls comes a spellbinding novel of love, despair, and revenge—set in war-ravaged Tuscany.

1943: Tucked away in the idyllic hills south of Florence, the Rosatis, an Italian family of noble lineage, believe that the walls of their ancient villa will keep them safe from the war raging across Europe. Eighteen-year-old Cristina spends her days swimming in the pool, playing with her young niece and nephew, and wandering aimlessly amid the estate’s gardens and olive groves. But when two soldiers, a German and an Italian, arrive at the villa asking to see an ancient Etruscan burial site, the Rosatis’ bucolic tranquility is shattered. A young German lieutenant begins to court Cristina, the Nazis descend upon the estate demanding hospitality, and what was once their sanctuary becomes their prison.

1955: Serafina Bettini, an investigator with the Florence police department, has her own demons. A beautiful woman, Serafina carefully hides her scars along with her haunting memories of the war. But when she is assigned to a gruesome new case—a serial killer targeting the Rosatis, murdering the remnants of the family one-by-one in cold blood—Serafina finds herself digging into a past that involves both the victims and her own tragic history.

Set against an exquisitely rendered Italian countryside, The Light in the Ruins unveils a breathtaking story of moral paradox, human frailty, and the mysterious ways of the heart.



The Sandcastle Girls
Over the course of his career, New York Times bestselling novelist Chris Bohjalian has taken readers on a spectacular array of journeys. Midwives brought us to an isolated Vermont farmhouse on an icy winter’s night and a home birth gone tragically wrong. The Double Bind perfectly conjured the Roaring Twenties on Long Island—and a young social worker’s descent into madness. And Skeletons at the Feast chronicled the last six months of World War Two in Poland and Germany with nail-biting authenticity. As The Washington Post Book World has noted, Bohjalian writes “the sorts of books people stay awake all night to finish.”

In his fifteenth book, The Sandcastle Girls, he brings us on a very different kind of journey. This spellbinding tale travels between Aleppo, Syria, in 1915 and Bronxville, New York, in 2012—a sweeping historical love story steeped in the author’s Armenian heritage, making it his most personal novel to date.

When Elizabeth Endicott arrives in Syria, she has a diploma from Mount Holyoke College, a crash course in nursing, and only the most basic grasp of the Armenian language. The First World War is spreading across Europe, and she has volunteered on behalf of the Boston-based Friends of Armenia to deliver food and medical aid to refugees of the Armenian genocide. There, Elizabeth becomes friendly with Armen, a young Armenian engineer who has already lost his wife and infant daughter. When Armen leaves Aleppo to join the British Army in Egypt, he begins to write Elizabeth letters, and comes to realize that he has fallen in love with the wealthy, young American woman who is so different from the wife he lost. Flash forward to the present, where we meet Laura Petrosian, a novelist living in suburban New York. Although her grandparents’ ornate Pelham home was affectionately nicknamed the “Ottoman Annex,” Laura has never really given her Armenian heritage much thought. But when an old friend calls, claiming to have seen a newspaper photo of Laura’s grandmother promoting an exhibit at a Boston museum, Laura embarks on a journey back through her family’s history that reveals love, loss—and a wrenching secret that has been buried for generations.


MY REVIEW:

I love history, and that is one of the reasons that I have been a lifelong reader of historical romance. I know that some readers state that they want a romance, not a history lesson, but I think the two go hand-in-hand. The setting of the book, the era, culture, social mores, religious beliefs, fashion, art and literature of the times all affect the way the characters would develop as people. Therefore, they are very important elements of the story line details. I appreciate the amount of research and love of subject an author invests into a well-written historical romance. However, sometimes historical fiction which is touched with romance goes far beyond a personal love story. It brings into focus profound true events which reveal the ugliest, most vile aspects of human nature. Such a book is author Chris Bohjalian's "Sandcastle Girls", a devastating, ultimately rewarding tale told with great skill by a distinctive storytelling voice. Depicting the massive horror of the Armenian Genocide of 1915, the story focuses on Elizabeth Endicott, a young Bostonian volunteer who travels to Syria seeking to provide aid to refugees who survived the slaughter. She meets Armen, a young Armenian man who lost his family in the genocide. Not expecting to fall in love, their surprising relationship eventually leads to marriage and a family of their own. Decades later, their granddaughter, Laura Petrosian is a novelist determined to uncover family secrets and to discover her true familial roots. "The Sandcastle Girls" will leave no reader untouched. The author tears us apart and then patches us back together with the power of his prose. He illuminates the reality of his own heritage with unforgettable characters and a soul-searing, shattering story line that will be impossible to remove from your thoughts.

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CHRIS BOHJALIAN
Chris Bohjalian

Chris Bohjalian's new novel, The Light in the Ruins, arrives in July 2013. It's the tale of two young women in war-ravaged Tuscany in 1943 and 1944, one a partisan and one a noblewoman in love with a German lieutenant. His most recent novel, The Sandcastle Girls, was published in July 2012 to great acclaim. A love story set in the midst of the Armenian Genocide, it debuted at #7 on the New York Times bestseller list, and appeared as well on the Publishers' Weekly, USA Today, and national Independent Bookstore bestseller lists.

USA Today called it "stirring. . .a deeply moving story of survival and enduring love." Entertainment Weekly observed, "Bohjalian - the grandson of Armenian survivors - pours passion, pride, and sadness into his tale of ethnic destruction and endurance." And the Washington Post concluded that the novel was "intense. . .staggering. . .and utterly riveting." The Sandcastle Girls was also an Oprah.com Book of the Week. It was also a Washington Post, Library Journal, a Kirkus Reviews, and a BookPage "Best Book" of 2012.

He is the author of fifteen books, including the other New York Times bestsellers, The Night Strangers, Secrets of Eden, Skeletons at the Feast, The Double Bind, Before Your Know Kindness, and Midwives. Chris's awards include the ANCA Arts and Letters Award for The Sandcastle Girls, as well as the Saint Mesrob Mashdots Medal; the New England Society Book Award for The Night Strangers; the New England Book Award; a Boston Public Library Literary Light; and the Anahid Literary Award. His novel, Midwives, was a number one New York Times bestseller, a selection of Oprah's Book Club, and a New England Booksellers Association Discovery pick. His earlier novels have been selected as "Best Books of the Year" by the Washington Post, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the Hartford Courant, Publishers' Weekly, and Salon. His work had been translated into over 25 languages and three times become movies (Secrets of Eden, Midwives, and Past the Bleachers).

He has written for a wide variety of magazines, including Cosmopolitan, Reader's Digest, and the Boston Globe Sunday Magazine, and has been a columnist for Gannett's Burlington Free Press since 1992. Chris graduated from Amherst College, and lives in Vermont with his wife and daughter.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

BOOK REVIEW: REDEMPTION MOUNTAIN from author Gerry Fitzgerald

 
Redemption Mountain
 
 
 
In this emotional debut, a NY executive, restless in his success, is sent to W. Virginia and meets a small-town woman and her son who open his eyes to a richer life than he could have imagined.

On the surface, Charlie Burden and Natty Oaks could not be more different: She, the daughter of many generations of rural farmers; he, an executive at a multi-national engineering firm. But, in each other, they find the new lease on life they both so desperately need.

Natty dreams of a life beyond her small town. She is unhappily married to her high school crush (who now spends more time at the bar than at home) and passes the time nursing retired miners, coaching her son, The Pie Man's, soccer team and running the mountain trails she knows by heart, longing to get away from it all. Charlie has everything he ever thought he wanted, but after 25 years of climbing the corporate ladder, he no longer recognizes his own life: his job has become bureaucratic paper-pushing, his wife is obsessed with their country-club status, and his children have grown up and moved on. When he is sent to West Virginia to oversee a mining project, it is a chance to escape his stuffy life; to get involved, instead of watching from the sidelines. Arriving in Red Bone, though, he gets more than he bargained for: his new friends become the family he was missing and Natty, the woman who reminds him what happiness feels like. When his company's plans threaten to destroy Natty's family land, his loyalties are questioned and he is forced to choose between his old life and his new love in a fight for Redemption Mountain.
 
MY REVIEW:
 
Author Gerry FitzGerald's "Redemption Mountain" is a beautifully told tale, one that is nuanced and involving, taking the reader in unexpected directions. Natty Oakes and Charlie Burden are both runners, moving toward a point where their paths will cross, and their lives, and the lives of those around them, will be forever changed. Natty is a wife and mother, living in a trailer deep in the coal country of West Virginia. Married to her high-school sweetheart, Buck, a lazy, abusive drinker, Natty still has her dreams. She also has her two children, her daughter, Cat, and her son, known as "Pie Man", who was born with Down Syndrome. Natty coaches Pie's soccer team and works as a home health aide, caring for the elderly in the community. Charlie, a corporate executive for a global engineering company in New York City, is restless and reaching back for the beginnings of his career, when he was enthusiastic and useful. His wife, Ellen, is ever more submerged in the endless circling of social status. His children are grown and on their own, and he greatly misses the early years of their family life, when the children were young, and they shared so much. The change that Charlie longs for comes his way when he is sent to Red Bone, WV to oversee the construction of a power plant that will bring much-needed jobs to an economically-deprived area. It will also destroy the natural beauty of an ancient, mountainous region, and not all residents will be better off with the construction of the plant. What Natty and Charlie find in each other is renewal, revelation, and hope for the future. However, the hand of Fate can be a harsh master, and heartbreak is often entwined with happiness. A future awaits that neither of them imagined, but is that a future where they will be together? Will the community of Red Bone not just survive, but somehow find a way to thrive through all the changes to come? Take a trip to Redemption Mountain, and enjoy the storytelling of author Gerry FitzGerald. You will be glad that you made the journey.

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