July 2022 Reading Challenge Suggestions

July 2022 Reading Challenge Suggestions

Welcome to the seventh month of the Unlocking the Past 2022 Reading Challenge: Around the World. This month focuses on books that take place in the Middle East. While I will generally focus on Historical Fiction novels, I have included plenty of contemporary options as well. The majority of recommendations come from https://inspirationalhistoricalfiction.com/, other readers, or other authors. Especially don’t forget to check out my partner’s website, http://amongthereads.net/. The books aren’t broken down by country, but you can find all sorts of wonderful reads. If none of these suggestions appeal to you, I highly recommend joining the Avid Readers Facebook Group and asking for their recommendations. They are AMAZING and your TBR pile will never be the same.

Add your suggestions in the comments, and/or tell me what you are reading. Have you read any of these below?

Monthly Reminders:

*If you read a book for December, don’t forget to go to yesterday’s post to comment and get your name entered for your chance to win a print copy. (You’ll also earn your entry for the end of the year giveaway.)

*You can also join the Facebook Group. for more interaction and suggestions, or if you’d like a bookmark to remind you of the monthly challenges, fill out this Google Form.

The Esther Paradigm (A Contemporary Christian Romance)

The Esther Paradigm (A Contemporary Christian Romance) by [Sarah Monzon] Old Testament history meets Twenty-first Century tensions in this compassionate, tender inspirational romance.

The daughter of missionaries, Hannah Pratt dreams of starting a school for the Bedouin clan with whom she spent her childhood. After completing her education in the United States, she returns to the desert to pursue that dream—only to learn her parents have been receiving threats from within the community they serve. As the danger escalates, Hannah must decide how far she’ll go to stay faithful to a calling that could cost her everything.

Karim Al-Amir feels the weight of responsibility as the leader of his people. When a mysterious illness ravages the clan’s flocks and threatens to destroy their centuries-old way of life, some of his people believe the American doctors and their daughter, his childhood friend, are to blame. Karim must do something to keep Hannah and her parents safe—even if the only solution to be found is within marriage vows. In a society where the line is drawn between us and them, where Christianity is outlawed and foreigners suspect, will Karim and Hannah’s union heal wounds . . . or inflict a final, fatal blow?

Giver of Wonders by Roseanna M White

giverofwonders3rd Century – Turkey

A miracle once saved her life ~ will another give her a future?

Cyprus was little more than a child when a fall left her paralyzed…and when the boy known as the wonder-worker healed her. Ever since, she has wondered why the Lord spared her, what he has in store for her. But her pagan father thinks she was spared solely so she could be introduced to the wealthy wonder-worker, Nikolaos.

Nikolaos has never questioned that his call in life is to dedicate himself to the church and to God. Never, that is, until he and his cousin Petros meet the compelling Cyprus Visibullis. For years he struggles with the feelings she inspires…and with the sure knowledge that Petros loves her too.

Petros knows he will never be good enough for Cyprus’s father to consider him as a match for his favorite daughter not as long as Nikolaos is there. But when tragedy strikes the Visibullis family, he will do anything to save his beloved. Unfortunately, his beloved is determined to do anything to save her sisters ~ even at the cost of herself.

As the festival of lights bathes their Greek city in beauty, Cyprus, Petros, and Nikolaos celebrate the miracle of their Savior s birth together one last time. And in remembrance of their Lord’s greatest gift, one of them will make the ultimate sacrifice for the others…and a centuries-long tradition will be born.

Byzantium by Stephen Lawhead

1000s – Turkey

Born to rule

Although born to rule, Aidan lives as a scribe in a remote Irish monastery on the far, wild edge of Christendom. Secure in work, contemplation, and dreams of the wider world, a miracle bursts into Aidan’s quiet life. He is chosen to accompany a small band of monks on a quest to the farthest eastern reaches of the known world, to the fabled city of Byzantium, where they are to present a beautiful and costly hand-illuminated manuscript, the Book of Kells, to the Emperor of all Christendom.

Thus begins an expedition by sea and over land, as Aidan becomes, by turns, a warrior and a sailor, a slave and a spy, a Viking and a Saracen, and finally, a man. He sees more of the world than most men of his time, becoming an ambassador to kings and an intimate of Byzantium’s fabled Golden Court. And finally this valiant Irish monk faces the greatest trial that can confront any man in any age: commanding his own Destiny.

The Power and the Glory Clint Kelly

WWI – Turkey

Finding themselves in Istanbul in the midst of Turkey’s massacre in World War I, Tatul and Adrine feel obliged to take a stand and fight for their homeland.


Swords and Scimitars by Linda Chaikin

1095 – Byzantine Empire (Ancient Turkey)


FRAMED FOR A MURDER he didn’t commit, Tancred Redwan is a knight torn between his father’s Norman blood and the Moorish blood of his mother. Forced to flee for his life, Tancred journeys from the golden hills of Palermo, Sicily to the seven jeweled hills of the Byzantine capitol, Constantinople. As both scholar and warrior, Tancred is caught up in the turbulent events surrounding the First Crusade, until he is suddenly forced to choose which path to follow as Christian Europe arms for the First Crusade to rescue Jerusalem and the Holy Lands from the Muslim infidels.

Helena of the Greek Nobility holds the key to his decision. Ensnared in a web of intrigue and political maneuvering within the Emperor’s Sacred Palace, Helena is proud and vulnerable—a woman Tancred longs to both rescue and win.


Ismeni by Tosca Lee

ismeni989 BC – Middle East/Yemen

A mysterious beauty, a destiny set in the stars. Born under an inauspicious sign, young Ismeni is feared by her own people. The single thing she prays for: to live an invisible life. But that is not to be for the young woman who has captured the attention of the king’s youngest son. A story of love, passion, and twists of fate through the eyes of the woman who will one day give birth to the legendary Queen of Sheba.

RCR: Daughter of Rome by Tessa Afshar

RCR: Daughter of Rome by Tessa Afshar

We’ve finished the sixth month of the Unlocking the Past 2022 Reading Challenge: Around the World. This month we traveled to the Mediterranean, and I leaned on Among the Reads for this month and reviewed Daughter of Rome by Tessa Afshar. Once you read her review, don’t forget to comment to be entered for your chance to win a copy. Don’t forget to check out her full review and all the awesome quote images she made here.

*Want more interaction and/or suggestions each month? Join the Facebook Group. Want a bookmark with the monthly themes? Fill out this Google Form. Need a reminder on the details of the challenge? Go to the Unlocking the Past Reading Challenge page.*

Daughter of Rome

by Tessa Afshar

Genre: Biblical Fiction

Plot Overview:

A woman with a devastating secret. A man bent on proving his worth. A chance encounter that catapults them into the heart of history.

When the daughter of a prominent Roman general meets a disinherited Jewish immigrant, neither one can dream of God’s plan to transform them into the most influential couple of the early church. Nor can they anticipate the mountains that will threaten to bury them. Their courtship unwittingly shadowed by murder and betrayal, Priscilla and Aquila slowly work to build a community of believers, while their lives grow increasingly complicated thanks to a shaggy dog, a mysterious runaway, and a ruthless foe desperate for love. But when they’re banished from their home by a capricious emperor, they must join forces with an unusual rabbi named Paul and fight to turn treachery into redemption.

With impeccable research and vivid detail, Daughter of Rome is both an emotive love story and an immersive journey through first-century Rome and Corinth, reminding readers once again why Debbie Macomber has said that “no one brings the Bible to life like Tessa Afshar.”

Daughter of Rome is an intriguing account of what the lives of Priscilla and Aquila could have been like. I was very interested in seeing the research that the author did to determine what type of environment they likely grew up in based on what we know from Scripture.

Aquila experienced firsthand the consequences of choosing to follow Yeshua. Not willing to deny his faith, he was disowned and lost his earthly inheritance.

Despite having been treated abominably by her brother, Priscilla treated others with kindness and compassion. One of my favorite moments in the story was when Marcus, a young boy Priscilla and Aquila took in, was helping minister to a woman who had come to them in terrible condition. When Priscilla questioned him about where he had learned to take care of someone like that, he replied “Don’t you know? I learned from you.”








I especially loved the way Priscilla was always caring for those in need, even at great cost to herself. She was constantly taking in “strays” and sharing all she had with them.

Another part I really enjoyed was when Aquila was getting ready for their wedding. He was so sweetly funny as he stressed over details and was so absent-minded!

There were many spiritual lessons learned along the way. Aquila had to learn to set aside his pride several different times. Priscilla learned forgiveness – for herself and for her enemies. Salvation was boldly proclaimed.

If you enjoy Biblical fiction, you are bound to enjoy Daughter of Rome.


Amazon     Baker Bookhouse       Barnes & Noble      Books-a-Million      Book Depository      Bookshop.org      Christianbook.com     Indiebound.org


For your chance to win a print copy, comment with what book YOU read for this month and you will also be entered into the year-end Grand Prize Reader Basket. Use the Rafflecopter below for extra entries and to mark that you left a comment. Entries end on July 7th at midnight EST, and the winner will be drawn sometime that week and notified by email. The winner will be announced don’t the Rafflecopter widget. *Open to all residents of the contiguous USA, legally able to enter, and an e-book format or Amazon Gift Card will be awarded to those outside that range who are legally able to enter.

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What did you read for June’s Challenge? What do you hope to read in July?

Meet Sadie Stewart from Home Where She Belongs

Meet Sadie Stewart from Home Where She Belongs

It’s my joy and honor to bring to you not an author interview but a fun character interview. Penny Frost McGinnis released her debut novel Home Where She Belongs recently and is excited to present to you Sadie Stewart.

Before we meet Sadie, allow me to introduce you to her story.

Home Where She Belongs by Penny Frost McGinnis

Tired of being a pawn for her father and an emotional punching bag for her ex-boyfriend, Sadie Stewart runs away. She leaves behind a lucrative job, at her father’s financial company, and narcissistic, abusive ex-boyfriend, Bryce Shaw. Her heart longs for a peaceful, simple life on beloved Abbott Island in Lake Erie, Ohio where she spent magical summers with grandparents she adored.

On the island, Sadie takes over her grandparents’ small island home and her gram’s rental cottages. With a fresh start on the island, she tries to push the past behind and dig in to make the rental business thrive. As Sadie and her dog, settle into her new home, her thoughts wander to Joel Grayson, her teen crush. As soon as he crosses her mind, she dashes the thought away. Not ready to share her heart with anyone, she pushes herself to finish her tasks.

Joel Grayson left the island long enough to train at the Police Academy. The folks in the community trust him, even with his failures. Before Sadie’s grandpa died, Joel had promised him he’d look after their cottages, with a secret hope Sadie might return. When he’s on patrol and finds a woman on his friend’s property, he bristles until he realizes his dream girl has come home.

Sadie recognizes Joel and immediately guards her heart. Her experience with Bryce left her untrusting and hesitant. Even handsome and kind Joel won’t tempt her to open her heart.

When someone is set on sabotaging Sadie’s future, she seeks Joel’s help. As they are drawn together, Joel wants to protect Sadie as a police officer and a friend. Sadie begins to trust Joel and allows the wall around her heart to crumble, just a little. As Joel tries to find the person behind the menacing, Sadie fights to build her rental business and latch on to the peace she longs for.

Even as Joel and Sadie grow closer, a dark cloud hangs over them. Ugly graffiti, a fire, and threats cause Sadie grief. She wants to believe in God, the way her grandparents did and longs for the peace that passes understanding, but her heart hesitates to trust anyone.

Joel needs to place his past behind him and allow God to work in his heart. In his attempts to protect Sadie, he falls for her all over again, even though she keeps her distance.

Will Joel and Sadie overcome their fear and lack of trust? When they discover who is sabotaging Sadie’s future, can they stop them? Will two broken people find their path to love?

Home Where She Belongs is a romance with a dash of mystery and the promise of hope, as Joel and Sadie discover what it means to trust in the God who loves them.

CC: Hi Sadie! It is so great to meet you. Would you please introduce yourself to my readers?

SS: Hi, I’m Sadie Stewart. I moved to Abbott Island recently to resurrect my gram’s cabin rental business. Grandpa and Gram both passed away and left me their home and two cabins. I haven’t been back for a while, but it’s time for me to leave my old life behind and start fresh.

CC: New beginnings are so hard but always needed. So what’s your role in this story?

SS: I’m Sadie, the heroine of the story. After a heart-wrenching experience, I finally claim the property my grandparents left me after Grandpa’s death. On Abbott Island I work to revive my grammy’s cabin rental business while trying to break ties with my ex-boyfriend and ignore my father’s pleas to return to his company to work. There is a hero for my heroine, sweet Joel. I knew him from visiting my grandparents every summer, but haven’t seen him in years. Kind of makes you want to find out what happens, doesn’t it?

CC: Who is your least favorite person to deal with? Why?

SS: My ex-boyfriend. After we dated for awhile, he showed his true colors, and let’s say, they were ugly. I no longer want anything to do with him, but he won’t give up.

CC: Discovering who we are after we return to our faith, or even start our faith, can be a difficult road to walk. How would you describe the hero of the story?

SS: The hero, Joel, is a police officer. We met when we were kids and kind of grew up together in the summers. After I went to college, we lost touch. He’s a kind-hearted man who cares about the community, is loyal to his friends, but keeps his hurts to himself. Did I mention he’s handsome with beautiful eyes? I have to call on him for help, way more than I want. His sister Lucy is one of my dear friends, and she loves to give her brother a hard time.

CC: What is your biggest fear?

SS: My biggest fear is failure. I was raised to succeed, and I don’t always feel I can.

CC: What’s one of your happiest memories?

SS: One of my happiest memories is sitting on the porch with my grandpa while he whittled and I sketched.

CC: What is your favorite holiday? Why?

SS: My favorite holiday is the fourth of July because I spent the summers with my grandparents on Abbott Island and got to be part of the celebration. We had an island-wide picnic, swam, and watched fireworks. Two of my best friends, Lucy and Joel, lived on the island.

CC: Do you enjoy family gatherings? Why/why not?

SS: Not with my family. As a child they amounted to making a good appearance for the sake of my dad’s business. On the other hand, I loved being with my grandparents. They were the best people I knew.

CC: If you could have anything in the world, what would it be?

SS: I long for peace and people I can trust.

CC: How do you view God in your life?

SS: I know God is real, and I learned about His love through my grandparents. I’m not sure about my own beliefs yet, but I sure hope He hears my prayers.

CC: What the worst thing that every happened to you?

SS: My ex-boyfriend abused me. You’ll find out more about that in my story.

CC: Do you have a pet?

SS: I do. Rosie is my Golden Retriever. Grandpa gave her to me just before he died. She’s the sweetest animal, loving and loyal.

About Penny Frost McGinnis:

If Penny Frost McGinnis could live in a lighthouse or on an island, she would. Instead, she and her husband are content to live in southwest Ohio and visit Lake Erie every chance they get. She adores her family and dogs, indulges in dark chocolate, enjoys fiber arts, and grows flowers and herbs in her tiny garden. She pens romance novels with a dash of mystery and the promise of hope. Her life’s goal is to encourage and uplift through the written word.

Connect with Penny: Website | Facebook | Goodreads | BookBub | Amazon

Meet Dani Sango from Love’s Fortress by Jennifer Uhlarik

Meet Dani Sango from Love’s Fortress by Jennifer Uhlarik

I absolutely love character interviews. There is just something so fun in getting to know the characters you read and love in a whole different way. Today’s character interview comes from the duel-time novel Love’s Fortress by Jennifer Uhlarik. Dani Sango is the heroine of the contemporary timeline. Before we dive in getting to know her, let’s take a moment to get familiar with the story.

Love’s Fortress by Jennifer UhlarikAmazon  |  Barnes and Noble  |  Books-A-Million  |  Christianbook

An Epic Love Story From the Past Brings Closure to Dani’s Fractured Family Root

When Dani Sango’s art forger father passes away, Dani inherits his home. Among his effects is a book of Native American drawings, which leads her to seek the help of museum curator Brad Osgood to decipher the ledger art. Why would her father have this book? Is it just another forgery?

Brad Osgood’s four-year-old niece, Brynn, needs a safe home, and Brad longs to provide it. The last thing he needs is more drama, especially from a forger’s daughter. But when the two meet “accidentally” at St. Augustine’s 350-year-old Spanish fort, Castillo de San Marcos, he can’t refuse the intriguing woman.

Broken Bow is among seventy-three Plains Indians transported to Florida in 1875 for incarceration at ancient Fort Marion. Sally Jo Harris and Luke Worthing dream of serving God on a foreign mission field, but when the Indians arrive in St. Augustine, God changes their plans. Then when friendship develops between Sally Jo and Broken Bow and false accusations fly, it could cost them their lives.

Can Dani discover how Broken Bow and Sally Jo’s story ends and how it impacted her father’s life?

CC: Hi Dani! I’m so excited to meet you. Would you please introduce yourself to my readers?

DS: I’m the contemporary heroine of the novel. So what does that mean in terms of the story? Well, I am the estranged daughter of an art forger. I haven’t seen my dear ol’ dad since the day he was arrested when I was two years old. But here we are, twenty-six years later, and I get contacted by an attorney who regrets to inform me that my father has died and left me some kind of an inheritance in St. Augustine, Florida. When I drive up here from my home in Tampa, the attorney hands me a set of keys and an address and tells me Franklin Sango left me his house as part of that inheritance. Needless to say, I’m really confused and more than a little gun shy! Franklin never gave me the time of day, and now he leaves me his house? As if that’s not enough, he’s decorated the place with tons of his forgeries—and he’s got some weird ancient book of Native American artwork in his studio, and an odd message on his answering machine from a museum curator asking about that artwork. I think he was up to no good! The official reading of the will won’t be for a few days yet, so I’m stuck here to poke around the creepy place, ponder why the jerk finally decided to acknowledge my existence, and wonder whether this Native American artwork is his next big con or what. Oh joy!

CC: Oh my! Talk about complicated family relationships. I take it family gathers were not your favorite thing? 

DS: Oh, goodness, no! My family is a hot mess. With me being the daughter of a convicted art forger, I’m pretty much treated like an outsider by my mom Jessica, step-dad Neil, half-siblings, and especially my grandfather. Somehow, they all overlook the half of my DNA that comes from Mom and see only the half that comes from Franklin, so they all make me feel like I’m somehow less than them. Family relationships have been hard, and get-togethers are not fun or emotionally healthy for me.

CC: Ugh. That is so hard and heartbreaking. Is it just your family? Or how do you think others view you?

DS: You’d think being raised in the home of my well-respected neurosurgeon step-father and my socialite mother, I’d have had all the benefits that such an upbringing could afford. But my life wasn’t quite so neat and tidy. If you’re talking to my rich, elitist family’s inner circle, who all know I’m the daughter of Franklin Sango, I’m either pitied or treated like a pariah. Growing up in that kind of an environment led me to make some out-of-the-box choices. In order to get away from the toxic private prep school environment, I made the choice to transfer to a public school and make a new circle of friends. I worked in preschools during high school and college, turned down Mom and Neil’s offers of expensive cars and a private university education so I could live the life I wanted to, without their strings attached. Yeah, I’ve got school loans to pay off, but at least I can look myself in the mirror and know I’m being true to myself. I hope, with all of that, that people who aren’t aware of the specter of my questionable parentage see me as a kind, hard-working, semi-responsible woman who’s trying really hard to hold her life together…and managing to succeed some of the time.

CC: That is so hard, but you have achieved much to be proud of. Who is your least favorite person to deal with?

DS: Okay, so this one’s really hard to answer, because nothing and no one in St. Augustine is as they seem at first. Obviously, my family is a problem, as already stated. Beyond that, I could say my least favorite is the tattooed biker dude who sneaked up on me when I first entered Franklin’s house to look around. The guy scared the bejeebers out of me and threatened to call the cops when I had every right to be in Franklin’s house, per the attorney who gave me the keys. Or I could say it was the even bigger Viking wannabe guy who called the biker dude off just a minute later. But then, it turns out, they’re both former business associates of Franklin’s who were just watching over his house since his passing. Good night! They both scared the tar out of me. And that Viking wannabe—Matty Joie—he’s too persistent for my comfort! I mean, he was Franklin’s boss… Not exactly the person I feel like cozying up to. I don’t know if I can trust him, given he was Franklin’s friend. But at least he seems helpful…not exactly the creeper type, even if he does look a little terrifying! In case I didn’t mention it, the guy is huge, tattooed, and looks pretty rough…but like I said, he seems helpful, even if I don’t know whether to trust him.

CC: Yikes! That is definitely an uncomfortable situation. But certainly, not everyone’s questionable. What about the hero of the story? How would you describe him? 

DS: Well, there’s the bright spot in all of this. Brad Osgood. He’s…amazing! Tall, sweet, good-looking. He’s the art museum curator I mentioned, and we met in the most unusual way, but you’ll have to read the book to find out how. What I really like about Brad is—he’s got a beautiful heart. His younger brother and sister-in-law got themselves in a bunch of trouble, and Brad’s four-year-old niece, Brynn, needed a safe place to live. Someone to love and raise her. Without batting an eye, Brad stepped up to the plate. He’s so sweet with her, and she trusts him completely. My heart melts every time I watch them together. Yet in spite of all their own turmoil, Brad has taken time to help me ferret out the truth behind some of Franklin’s forgeries—including that Native American art I mentioned. He’s really patient with me, a non-art lover. Well, I shouldn’t say I’m a non-art lover. I’ve always avoided fine art because of Franklin. Never set foot in an art museum and took very few art classes in high school or college because I didn’t want anyone associating me with my father’s crimes. But Brad took all that in stride and is slowly helping me understand and fall in love with art in ways I never thought I could. What can I say, he’s an all-around wonderful guy!

CC: Awwww. He does sound like a wonderful guy. With such a challenging childhood, I’m curious, do you have any happy memories? What’s your favorite one?

DS: Contrary to how I’ve made my life sound so far, it hasn’t been all bad. My best friend, Rachel, and her parents have helped make it bearable. I met Rach after I transferred to the public high school, and we’ve been friends ever since. As stupid as it sounds, going over to her house, spending the night in her middle class neighborhood, binge-watching movies, and just dishing with a girlfriend…it was so deliciously normal! I’ve loved hanging with people who didn’t treat me like I was a leper because of my father’s crimes. Rachel’s family accepted me for exactly who I am and let me be a normal person for a little while. Their place quickly became a safe haven, a place of unconditional acceptance, and their house is one full of good memories.

CC: They sound like a really great family, and I look forward to finding out all the mystery behind these creepy men, the art forgeries, and that Native American journal. 

Readers, head over to your favorite retailer to check out Love’s Fortress and what is the truth behind the strange inheritance.

Jennifer Uhlarik discovered the western genre as a pre-teen when she swiped the only “horse” book she found on her older brother’s bookshelf. A new love was born. Across the next ten years, she devoured Louis L’Amour westerns and fell in love with the genre. In college at the University of Tampa, she began penning her own story of the Old West. Armed with a B.A. in writing, she has finaled and won in numerous writing competitions, and been on the ECPA best-seller list several times. In addition to writing, she has held jobs as a private business owner, a schoolteacher, a marketing director, and her favorite—a full-time homemaker. Jennifer is active in American Christian Fiction Writers, Women Writing the West, and is a lifetime member of the Florida Writers Association. She lives near Tampa, Florida, with her husband, electrical engineer son, and four fur children.

Connect with Jennifer: Website | Newsletter  | Facebook | Instagram | BookBub | Twitter | Pinterest | Goodreads

Meet Sam Mattas from Shadows in the Mind’s Eye by JanyreTromp

Meet Sam Mattas from Shadows in the Mind’s Eye by JanyreTromp

It’s my joy and honor to bring to you a character interview from one of my most recent reads, Sam Mattas from Shadows In The Mind’s Eye by Janyre Tromp. Janyre released her debut novel last month, and I am so excited to introduce you to  the hero of her book.

Before we meet Sam, allow me to introduce you to his story.

Shadows In the Mind’s Eye by Janyre TrompAmazon  |  Bookshop  | Baker Book House

Charlotte Anne Mattas longs to turn back the clock. Before her husband, Sam, went to serve his country in the war, he was the man everyone could rely on–responsible, intelligent, and loving. But the person who’s come back to their family farm is very different from the protector Annie remembers. Sam’s experience in the Pacific theater has left him broken in ways no one can understand–but that everyone is learning to fear.

Tongues start wagging after Sam nearly kills his own brother. Now when he claims to have seen men on the mountain when no one else has seen them, Annie isn’t the only one questioning his sanity and her safety. If there were criminals haunting the hills, there should be evidence beyond his claims. Is he really seeing what he says, or is his war-tortured mind conjuring ghosts?

Annie desperately wants to believe her husband. But between his irrational choices and his nightmares leaking into the daytime, she’s terrified he’s going mad. Can she trust God to heal Sam’s mental wounds–or will sticking by him mean keeping her marriage at the cost of her own life?

Debut novelist Janyre Tromp delivers a deliciously eerie, Hitchcockian story filled with love and suspense. Readers of psychological thrillers and historical fiction by Jaime Jo Wright and Sarah Sundin will add Tromp to their favorite authors list.

CC: Hi Sam! It is so great to meet you. Would you please introduce yourself to my readers?

SM: My name is Samuel Mattas. I was born on a peach orchard just north of Hot Springs, Arkansas. I was a coxswain for a Higgins boat. Despite what you may think of me now, Mama raised me right. I’m a good man. I ain’t afraid to work hard, I’m loyal, and I want good things for my family and the world.

CC: How do you think other’s view you?

SM: Used to be that folks thought I was reliable, stable. Now they’re pretty sure I’m crazy. But I ain’t and I aim to prove it.

CC: It’s hard to come back from war. I’m sure you will prove yourself to them. You’re married to Annie. How would you describe her?

SM: Annie was always the Judge’s princess, and I was little more than riff raff. Respectable enough, I suppose, but trouble nonetheless. And she was royalty. You know? So I always knew her—always dressed in lace and patent leather shoes. Her mama must’ve spent hours a week washing the dresses and polishing those shoes because Annie was always finding some way to smudge dirt on herself. Course she’d want to be clean the next second, “How dare that dirt cling to me!”

But the first time Annie met me, she was still a little tike. Me and my best friend, Doc, were out on the little pond north of the soldier’s hospital. Wasn’t far from the Judge’s house, but enough away from the springs that the pond froze clean across. The whole world was white, even the breaths puffing from our lungs. We was all wrapped in woolen sweaters, ours underneath and Pop’s on top. I’d pulled off branches for everybody and we were hitting a ball of fabric scraps across the ice, hootin’ and hollerin’ like the devil himself was after us. Having the best time we’d had in I don’t know how long.

She come sneaking out of her house a little red cardinal hopping where she wasn’t supposed to. I’d already started across the ice to warn her about the soft edges when she went through the ice. I must’ve been thirteen maybe fourteen. She was still a near baby. Blue as anything by the time I fished her out and sputtering, too. Back then, there wasn’t no way I was going to the Judge’s house. So I wrapped her up in one of my layers and hoofed it home. All the while praying she didn’t die of exposure before I got there.

Mama fixed her up and sent my sister to the Judge’s to let Mrs. Layfette know we had her little girl safe and sound. Annie had the grandest time playing paper dolls with Mary. I do think Mary was Annie’s first ever friend. I don’t know why Mrs. Layfette started letting Annie come to our place. I suppose it might have been Mary was painfully polite and Mama always had a soft spot for Annie’s Ma. I think she saw what was going to happen even back then.

I was still helping up at Papaw’s orchard then so I didn’t see her much after that. And then one day this drop-dead gorgeous woman walked through the door while I was stuffing myself with one of Mama’s sandwiches and I regretted that I hadn’t taken the time to brush my hair, shave, or even change my clothes yet that day. But Annie, she didn’t even seem to notice. Still looked at me like I set the moon in the sky. I just want to do right by her. And I don’t know if I ever will. So much has changed. I don’t even know who I am no more let alone who Annie is.

CC: My heart just rends for you both. I feel like I’ve gotten an extra bonus story just in your answer. While we saw some of in the book, this really paints the full picture. I can see why Annie looked at you like you set the moon in the sky. 

What’s your biggest fear?

SM: There’s a part of me that wishes I could go back to before…to be “normal.” But that feels like I’m betraying everyone I left buried on some beach in the Pacific. I want to be what Charlotte Anne wants, what my daughter Rosie needs. I just don’t know if I got it in me anymore. And that scares the daylights out of me. I’m used to being able to do everything.

But I don’t want to be nobody’s charity case either—least of all Annie’s dad, the Judge. There’s too many strings attached to that. I’m strong. I can work.

Still I see Annie looking sideways at me. She knows who I was, who I want to be. But the good Lord knows I ain’t what she expects no more.

Course there ain’t nobody who can tell me what I should feel unless they’ve been in a place where it was kill or be killed. Honestly, I want to forget what happened over in the Pacific. Everything the good book says makes a good person a good person is blown to smithereens in war. You go in one person…and come out something different. Sometimes I wonder if the Sam Mattas that used to be is dead and gone, sucked under the waves. All that’s left of me is some ghost haunting the people that mean the most. Ain’t no way to live. That much I’ll tell you. All I want is I protect my girls…keep them safe. How am I supposed to keep them safe when their greatest danger is me?

CC: I just want to hug you, Sam. That is all so relatable, and I wish I could make it all better for you.

On a happier note, what is one of your happiest memories?

SM: There wasn’t much extra growing up, but Mama always made sure Christmas was something special . . . even if the only present we had was the shoes we got the month before. Karo nut pie, peach preserves and fresh bread, and usually Pa would carve up one of the hogs. Meemaw and Papaw would stay the whole day in the big house, but we’d decorate the grandparent cottage up right too. My siblings, Mary and Peter, and I, we’d sometimes take an old barrel out on the pond and row it like a rich man’s boat. Only the good Lord knows how we didn’t drown in that thing. Life on the farm wasn’t easy, but Mama always made sure it was good.

CC: I really think it’s the simple things in life that make us the happiest, and I can see why those Christmases were your most cherished memories.

Do you enjoy family gatherings? 

SM: My family’s together most all the time. A farm up in the Ouachitas ain’t the easiest way to make a living so we help each other out. Annie’s family . . . what’s left of it anyway, can stay in Hot Springs where he belongs. The Judge chose his family a long time ago and we’re safer without him in our lives.

CC: I understand what it is to have everyone living together, and on having family members that it would be better to be without. Thank you so much for joining us. I really can’t wait for people to read your story and find out exactly what is truth, what is fiction, and how your family survives all that is thrown at you.

More about Janyre Tromp:

Janyre Tromp is a historical novelist whose loves spinning tales that, at their core, hunt for beauty, even when it isn’t pretty. She’s the author of Shadows in the Mind’s Eye and coauthor of O Little Town (releasing Fall 2022) and It’s a Wonderful Christmas. She’s also a book editor, published children’s book author, and lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan with her family, two crazy cats, and a slightly eccentric Shetland Sheepdog.

Connect with Janyre Tromp: Website (grab a copy of the FREE novella, Wide Open) | Facebook | Instagram | BookBub | Twitter

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