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    A Lovely Debut!

    3.5 stars "Soon enough she'd be back to merely surviving, but for now, in this moment, the world felt brighter." Sleeping in a barn and working for non-existent wages, the past seven years have not been kind to Em ("a mighty plain name for a mighty plain girl"), but it seems that a near death experience has totally changed her life. Nearly bleeding to death from a gunshot wound, and terribly malnourished, Em is found unconscious by residents of Azure Springs, Iowa. When the local sheriff begins to unpack Em's story, " . . his gut (tells) him that this was no usual crime"; Caleb Reynolds is a determined man, and the waif like victim has quite the story to tell. Living with a gracious, esteemed family in the community during her convalescence, Em struggles to find her place; uneducated and rather ordinary in appearance, she wraps herself in their kindness; the likes of which she has never known. When her friendship deepens with the handsome sheriff, uninvited trouble appears on the horizon. And her future remains rather murky; for Em is determined to find the younger sister that she was forced to leave behind. "Sometimes the steepest roads lead to the grandest views." A lovely debut with some inevitable predictability, but also sprinkled with glimpses of life's uncertainties and a beautiful ending. I received a copy of this book from the publisher through the book review program associated with the web site "Interviews and Reviews".
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    Debut novel by Rachel Fordham

    The Hope of Azure Springs by Rachel Fordham takes us back to 1881. Em Cooper has been shot and left for dead. She was lucky to be found and transported to Azure Springs, Iowa where the Howell family has taken her into their home. Sheriff Caleb Reynolds is responsible for keeping the law in Azure Springs and the surrounding area. He wants to catch whomever harmed Em and her guardian George. Em was taken in by George seven years prior when the orphan train came through the area. She has been living in a dilapidated barn and scrounging for food since then. Three men came to the farm and proceeded to tear it apart looking for something. When they did not find it, they shot George and Em. She can provide Caleb with a description and it matches that of men who recently robbed a stagecoach. While Caleb works the case, he finds himself drawn to Em with her kind nature and generous heart. Em is eager for the bandits to be captured so she can begin her search for her sister, Lucy. They became separated when Lucy was adopted, and Em has worried about her ever since. Em is grateful her prayers were answered, and she was freed from George, but she has yet to realize that she is the answer to others prayers. The Hope of Azure Springs is well-written story with a gentle pace and a beautiful cover. I liked the main characters of Em and Caleb. The supporting characters of the Howell family and Margaret Anders (I like her attitude) helped enhance the story. Em has had a difficult life, but she does not let it get her down. She has a positive attitude and a grateful heart. Em has a different way of looking at things and she helps others with their grief. The romance was sweet, and it focused on the individual’s character (what is inside the person) instead of their physical appearance (though Caleb is handsome). I like the Christian elements present throughout the story. The presence of God in our lives, having faith in God, God’s grace and prayer. Other themes are hope, self-reliance but also knowing when to accept help from others, friendship, enduring love, and the value of self-worth. The road to a happy future is a bumpy one, and Em’s journey will be an emotional one. I like how the story goes full circle. My rating for The Hope of Azure Springs is 4 out of 5 stars (I liked it). I hope the author gives Eliza and Margaret their own books. I would like to see their stories play out. Readers who enjoy clean western romance novels will be delighted with The Hope of Azure Springs.
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