January 15, 2013

Ridley Cooper

Take everything you know about the Southern Gentleman, distill it down to its purest form of gallant integrity and infuse it with a single drop of roguish determination and you will begin to understand the sort of hero Ridley Cooper is. Due to an email difficulty there were about ten days where I was unsure if I would be able to feature Ridley and those were some of the most tension filled of 2012. I so much wanted to be able to share Ridley with you all. Thankfully when his author Tamera Alexander and I were able to get in contact she accepted right away. I seriously did the happy dance. Ridley is going to win you over with zero help from me, so let's get to it.

About Ridley Cooper's novel To Whisper Her Name (released October 23, 2012):

Olivia Abderdeen, destitute widow of a man shot as a traitor to the South, is shunned by proper society and gratefully accepts an invitation from "Aunt" Elizabeth Harding, mistress of Belle Meade Plantation. Expecting to be the Harding's head housekeeper, Olivia is disillusioned when she learns the real reason Elizabeth's husband, Confederate General William Giles Harding, agreed to her coming. Not finding the safe haven she expects, Olivia is caught off guard by her feelings for Ridley Adam Cooper, a Southern man who seems anything but a Southern gentleman.

Branded a traitor by some, Ridley Cooper, a Southern son who chose to fight for the Union, is a man desperate to end the war still raging inside him. Determined to learn "the gift" that Belle Meade's head horse trainer and former slave, Bob Green, possesses, Ridley harbors secrets that threaten both their lives.

As Ridley seeks to make peace within himself for "betraying" the South he loved, Olivia is determined to never be betrayed again.

Set at Nashville's historic Belle Meade Plantation, the most influential thoroughbred stud farm in America's history, To Whisper Her Name weaves the struggles of real people of the post-war South with the journeys of a man and a woman scarred by betrayal.

From To Whisper Her Name by Tamera Alexander:

          The flush of Mrs. Aberdeen's cheeks told him she was upset. But for the life of him, Ridley didn't know why. He wasn't about to take the advertisement back though. Not without her telling him the truth, which he sensed simmered just below that prim and proper exterior.
          "You're mistaken, Mr. Cooper." Her voice teetered on the edge of calm. "I am grateful to you, sir. But for reasons I'd rather not discuss, I simply cannot apply for this position."
          She gave him a polite smile that made him want to climb over the fence. "Why can't we at least discuss your reasons?"
          "Because I told you just now that I'd prefer not to. It's my prerogative, as a lady, to--"
          "Is it because I spoke with Uncle Bob about the position first? Is that what has you all riled up?"
          "I'm not riled up, Mr. Cooper."
          "Surely it's not the comment about teaching boys to climb through a window."
          Her jaw clenched tight. "As I said, I'd prefer not to discuss my reasons, Mr. Cooper."
          "Fine, Mrs. Aberdeen. But would you be kind enough to at least tell me what I said that upset you?"
          "I'm not upset." Her mouth formed a tight curve.
          "Please." He held up a hand. "Don't smile at me like that. It doesn't have the desired effect, I assure you."
          Her politeness flattened. "And just what, may I ask, do you think is the effect I desire?"
          Finally, something he knew the answer to. Only, she wasn't going to like it. "Your desire, Olivia Aberdeen, is that everything appear the way it should be, ma'am, instead of how it actually is."
          Her mouth slipped open. "You have no right to--"
          "For instance," he continued before she could protest, knowing she wouldn't like being interrupted. Maybe if he got this woman angry enough, she'd let down that blasted guard of hers and he'd get a glimpse of who she really was. "When you're asked a question, you respond in the way you think a 'lady' should, instead of honestly speaking your mind, which I believe you're quite capable of doing, by the way. And," he added, when she opened her mouth again, "you refuse to accept my assistance when climbing through a window, yet you'll willingly climb through that same window yourself, as long as you think no one is watching."
          Her eyes flashed, and he saw the sharp tip of truth hit its mark. He also knew if looks were fire, he'd be burned to a crisp right now.
          "As I was saying, Mr. Cooper--"
          "I'm not done yet, Olivia."
          Her eyes widened.
          "I don't know why you didn't get the position of head housekeeper here, but from what I've seen in you, ma'am, you're smart and you've got spunk, which counts for a lot these days. And if I were over there right now..." He glanced at the fence separating them, hoping she'd hear the 'olive branch' in his tone. "I'd help you close that polite little mouth of yours." He smiled when she clamped her pretty mouth shut. "That is, if I wasn't afraid of losing a finger."
          The hurt that slipped into her eyes told him the peace offering had floated right past her, and he felt bad now for trying to egg her on.
          She moistened her lips. "I'm pleased you find my predicament so amusing."
          "No, ma'am." Ridley looked at her straight on. "I never said that. All I said was--"
          "Let me be clear on a few things, Mr. Cooper."
          Ridley felt his own eyes widen and closed his mouth with pleasure.
          "You have no right to speak to me in so casual a manner, sir." Her voice, barely higher than a whisper, was tight with anger. "Our lack of acquaintanceship does not afford you the liberty to tell me what you think I should or should not do. To even suggest that you think you know what is best for me is beyond the definition of absurdity. And arrogance." Her chest rose and fell in quick succession. "I am more than capable of determining the course of my life, and I do not require your assistance in that regard." She lifted her chin. "Nor do I desire it."
          Proud of her in ways he couldn't begin to describe and intrigued by her all the more, Ridley took a step back from the fence to give her room. He had some idea about the kind of man her late husband had been from what Green had told him, and he'd pretty much drawn his own sketch from there. So even though it was only him and Olivia Aberdeen standing here, he couldn't shake the feeling she was fighting with someone else.

To Whisper Her Name
Copyright 2012 by Tamera Alexander

Excerpt used with permission. All rights reserved.

Amazon     Barnes & Noble     Christianbook.com

Gallant Score:
There's just so many reasons he deserves all these. I'm going to balance informing you with spoiling the reader experience, but Ridley always does the right thing. Unfortunately sometimes the right thing isn't an obvious choice and I have never, ever read a hero who was put between a rock and a hard place as often as Ridley. His manners with Olivia were always impeccable, even when he was "breaking the rules" of convention for her own good. The secrets he harbors are both born of pain but also to protect others. Late in the novel there is a moment Ridley's integrity shines like runway lights where his honesty will cost him dearly. Because of the man he is, with nothing to be gained and much to lose, his honor demands he tell the truth. Historical hero or not, the world needs more men like Ridley Cooper.

Wounded Score:
There's this wonderful moment where Ridley is attempting to help Olivia overcome her self-consciousness and playfully asks her "If I show you my scar, will you show me yours?" She actually had no idea at that point he'd been shot during the war, or any of the horrible things he experienced afterward. That's one orange head and the other is the reason he comes to Belle Meade after the war. It's more than what the summary above tells you, and is heart-breaking on its own. Every time he talks about home or his seashell, my heart hurt right there with him.

Softie Score:
There's a way some men have about them when they're around young people that screams "I will be a great father one day" and Ridley has it in spades. The fact the young man that becomes Ridley's shadow the way kids will was a former slave didn't bother Ridley in the least, though it certainly bothered others. He also has so many moments of tenderness and compassion with not only Olivia, but a very special horse named Seabird. When I think about it I want to hit my knees again and ask God to fill the world with more men like Ridley Cooper.

Stupid Strike:
Not a chance. He's not that kind of hero. He does do some things that aren't exactly well-thought out sometimes, but they aren't poor choices in themselves. The closest he gets to a stupid strike is in the excerpt above when he's calling Olivia on the carpet and that wasn't enough for a strike.

Swoon Score:
That wasn't a mistake. And I've got a hunch most of you are already here too and you haven't even read the book yet! Let me be clear in that Ridley gets these on personality and actions alone. I don't mind telling you however when he decides to "throw the switch" and pursue Olivia, he gets a long overdue shave and well... there's a whole lot of handsome under there.

About Ridley Cooper's author Tamera Alexander:

Tamera Alexander is a bestselling novelist whose works have been awarded and nominated for numerous industry-leading honors, including the Christy Award, the RITA Award, and the Carol Award. After seventeen years in Colorado, Tamera and her husband have returned to their native South and live in Nashville, Tennessee, where they enjoy spending time with their two grown children, and a ten pound silky terrier named Jack.


The FHF exclusive directly from the author:

During the final draft, we ended up cutting a paragraph of Ridley's internal thoughts that had to do with the men he'd killed in the war. After all was said and done, as they say, we decided that Ridley had enough to deal with without introducing "possible links" to men he'd killed in the war in relation to the people in his current life. Here's the paragraph of him reflecting back on a dinner where he'd sat by a woman whose son (a Confederate soldier) had been killed in a battle where Ridley had fought:

But even more sobering was remembering the woman seated beside him at dinner, and imagining how he could have been the one to have fired the shot that killed her son. He'd heard people say before that Heaven would hold the answers to all the questions they had here. But Ridley prayed that if he had fired that fatal shot, God would never let him know.

The giveaways:

1 copy of To Whisper Her Name, just tell me somewhere in your comment specifically why you want to read this book and that you would like to be in the book drawing.

For readers who have already read To Whisper Her Name, please throw your praise in and give me a name of a character (and it can be a horse!) that wasn't used anywhere in the excerpt or the feature. That will get you in the drawing for a $10 Amazon or Barnes & Noble giftcard--winner's choice. Once that character is used, you need to select another one.

Best wishes to all and we'll randomly draw winners on January 31st.

And while you'll want to go watch all of these videos on Tamera's official website, here's my favorite.

Now let's play!

January 1, 2013

Samuel "Shade" Blackledge

If you'll permit me, I'm reasonably confident that if Shade had been around in AD 30, he could have been the 13th disciple. Jesus has an amazing way of drawing to Himself the things the world has corrupted and/or thrown away to turn them around and change the world and accomplish His purpose. To that end, Shade has a permanent home in my heart and Unlikely Praise, a fitting title, on my keeper shelf. He is a quintessential redeemed hero and a wonderful way to kick off 2013.
As I write this feature, I'm picturing Shade in this moment as described by the heroine, Candi, on page 147... He wore his usual white tee and holey jeans, but today's look was topped off with a classic charcoal gray Fedora and contrasting black band. She had to admit it was a pretty sharp look for him even if it defied all proper use of a Fedora. When he touched the brim and greeted her with a charming, but mysterious smile, her stomach took an unexpected dip.

Mine still does! I'm pretty sure that by the time this feature posts, I'm going to own a grey Fedora with a black hat band that has "I (heart) Shade" embroidered on it in white thread. Pretty sure.

About Shade Blackledge's novel Unlikely Praise (released March 2, 2012):

A tattooed rocker and an uptight music teacher-who says God doesn't have a sense of humor? Candi Canaberry has been the worship leader at Cornerstone Fellowship since the doors opened. Candi has dedicated her life to praise and worship, so when Cornerstone explodes into mega-church territory, Candi is sure she'll be the one to take her team to the next level-isn't she the obvious choice?
Apparently not. Church leadership has other ideas. She's given a partner to share her duties.

But a one time rocker with zero praise and worship experience? Recently saved Samuel "Shade" Blackledge is new to Cornerstone Fellowship. He's convinced a strong church family is what will help keep his head above water as he turns from things of the past and builds a new life. The Ex-Dead-Lizard rock guitarist is shocked when the pastor suggests he might be just what the worship team needs. But could God really want a tattooed veteran of the club scene? And what about his less-than-Godly lifestyle to this point-not the least of which is a baby girl he's never seen?

Worship practice has never been this interesting as Candi and Shade work their way toward each other-and Unlikely Praise.

From Unlikely Praise by Carla Rossi:

     He looked around as if to somehow make sense of why she was sitting in the near-empty lot. "What are you doing here?"
     The leather squeaked again. "I came here to pick up some music and I saw your truck. I went looking for you."
     "Oh," he replied. That made sense. Then it hit him. "Ohhhhh."
     So much for the progress they'd made. He'd already sensed she had issues with his appearance. Finding him at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting had probably finished her off.
     She looked up at him. Scattered beams of light illuminated her perfect skin and sea-green eyes. She pushed a lock of chestnut hair away from her face and secured it behind her ear. Another came loose and fell across her forehead. She brushed it away. "Can you get in a minute?"
     "Uh...sure." He slid in and closed the door. "Nice car."
     "Thanks." She twisted to face him and tugged the sleeves of her hoodie down to trap them in her hands.
     He fumbled with the controls on the side of the seat until he found the one that moved it backward. "You could have come in, you know."
     "Come in where?"
     "To the meeting."
     "Oh, no, I couldn't." She flinched when she said it.
     He couldn't stop his expression of disappointment.
     "No, it's not like that," she rushed to add. "I'm just sorry I invaded your privacy. First I thought you were cheating on me with Brett, then I thought you might be working, so I was going to find you and say hello but--"
     "What?" His voice squeaked like an adolescent boy. He tried again. "What?" He set his coffee in the cup holder. "You're not making any sense."
     "I am so making sense."
     "On this planet?"
     Anger flashed in her eyes, but what did she have to be mad about? He wondered if he should push it. She glared at him. Oh, yeah, he was gonna push it.
     "C'mon, Candi, you caught me at an A.A. meeting and went ballistic. But rather than just deal with it, you sit in your car like a control-freak-stalker and think of ways to make me squirm. You can't even form a whole coherent sentence." He picked up his cup. "If you want to talk, I'm an open book. Otherwise, I need to see about possibly pushing my truck home. I don't have time for games." He shoved open the door and got out. "And who is Brett?" He slammed it before she could answer.
     He headed for his truck. What had he been thinking? He liked Candi more every day. Especially the Candi from the pond. But though it was clear she could handle worms, catfish, and tadpoles, it was painfully obvious she couldn't handle tattoos, ponytails, and A.A. meetings.
     A door slammed behind him. "C'mon, Shade, get back in the car and we'll talk."
     He spun around. "Why can't we talk out here?" He waved his arms toward the dark and cloudy sky. "Are you afraid someone will hear us and it will embarrass you?"
     "Of course not," she said. "Get in the car."
     He caught her looking over her shoulder and toward the entrance of the building. "That's it, isn't it?" he shouted back across the lot. "You don't want anyone to know we're fighting."
     "I don't even know why we're fighting," she shouted back.
     "I don't either," he said and scuffed the ground with his boot. "But maybe it's because I'm an alcoholic, or have long hair. Or maybe," he said and tossed his cup in to the bed of his truck, "it's because I'm covered with demonic tattoos." He paused when her shoulders sagged and her mouth fell open. "Yeah, that's right; I know what you said about me."
     He punched the left front fender of his truck.
     Bad idea.
     It hurt like crazy and wasn't the wisest thing to do with his already nerve-damaged right hand. The woman just made him nuts. And it wasn't over yet. He caught a glimpse of a pink and denim streak as she raced toward him.

Excerpt used with permission. All rights reserved.

Amazon   Barnes & Noble   Christianbook.com

Gallant Score:
The way Shade navigates the situation with his daughter, and his former lifestyle of sin are really something to be proud of. But Shade isn't proud. Quite the opposite. What really impressed me about this man was how he remains steadfast in his new faith in Christ, even when people can't see past what he was instead of who he is.
Wounded Score:
It's more than just the nerve-damaged right hand. Shade has known some pain. Physical & Emotional. But rather than define him, it transformed him and gave him a transparency in his walk with God and his relationship with others beautiful in its depth of honesty. The tattoos on his arms, well, they're something to behold alright, but it's the secret one over his heart and why he got it that is part of why this hero-girl can't help but love him, tattoos and all.

Softie Score:
Truthfully, I'm having a hard time defining these orange heads without giving you spoilers for some beautiful moments with his daughter. One in particular that involved a styrofoam cup that melted my heart. Some of this orange is also Shade just being Shade--kind, thoughtful of others, and being completely humble in spite of plenty of reasons not to be. Don't get me wrong. Shade is no cream-puff, and his softer side rounds out a very nice pure male persona. Example, one of my favorite lines of his from the whole book is "you had me at bottomless taco bar."

Stupid Strikes:
That jab to the truck isn't stupid-strike worthy. Not considering what Candi had already put him through with more to come. Not that Candi's mean or hateful, even with her "big fat daddy-issues" as Shade would say (and well, did say, but I can't give him one for that either), she has an understandable uphill battle to overcome that God's plan for Shade, and for her, are going to force her to put control back where it belongs, in God's hands instead of her own.

Swoon Score:
It's not just the fedora--though that's an orange head by itself. When Shade woke up, figuratively and literally, he had a choice to make. He chose Christ and works hard to stay the course, in spite of prejudices and his old life beckoning when things get bad again, and I love him for that. Of course in addition to that, he can rock a t-shirt and fedora as easily as a starched white oxford and leather blazer with equal awesomeness.

About Shade Blackledge's author Carla Rossi:
Carla Rossi has written everything from Christmas Pageants and school newsletters, to poetry, stage plays, and Christian music. After another thousand pages of humorous essays about friends and family, she completed a novel. In 2004, she joined RWA and her local chapter, and set about the business of learning to write romance. When she's not squirreled away in her office with her writing partner - a Maine Coon cat - she's teaching Bible study or adding piano, bass and vocals to a worship band. Carla has three grown children, one grandson, and lives north of Houston with her husband and the muse cat. You can visit Carla at her website www.carlarossi.com.

The FHF exclusive directly from the author:
Throughout Unlikely Praise, it is clear Shade is a gifted musician and talented lead guitarist. Many assume Shade's background in music theory is not as extensive as our heroine, Candi's. That's not exactly true... While Shade may not have studied or majored in music in college, he did spend several years in private music lessons (at his mother's insistence) and even played the trumpet for a while in the school band. He obviously does not broadcast this information since rock star and band nerd are usually not synonymous. At present, Shade teaches beginning guitar to aspiring young rockers. His class is the most popular at the local YMCA - and has the longest waiting list.

The giveaways:

Great news! I have successfully learned to gift ebooks now, so the copy of the novel can be in the format of the winner's choice (nook, kindle, or print). Just tell me in your comment you'd like to be in the book drawing.

Gift Card
For Unlikely Praise readers new to the blog, this part is easy. Just name a character from the novel not used in the excerpt. Once that character has been used in the comments, you need to use a different one. Whoever gives the name of the truck gets a double entry. =) The prize is a $10 Amazon or Barnes & Noble giftcard, winner's choice.

That awesome Fedora
Yes, you read that right. We're giving away Shade's signature grey fedora with black band. To enter this drawing I want you to tell me why you're Shade's biggest fan and deserve the fedora. And it needs to be good because I really, really want to keep it. =)

Now let's play!
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