Book Review | An Uncommon Protector

An Uncommon Protector
(A Lone Star Hero's Love Story #1)
Shelley Shephard Gray

Publisher:  Zondervan
Genre:  Christian Fiction, Westerns, Historical Fiction
Released:  February 7th, 2017

Overwhelmed by the responsibilities of running a ranch on her own, Laurel Tracey decides to hire a convict—a man who’s just scary enough to take care of squatters and just desperate enough to agree to a one year post.

The years following the war have been hard on Laurel Tracey. Both her brother and her father died in battle, and her mother passed away shortly after receiving word of their demise. Laurel has been trying to run her two hundred acre ranch as best she can.

When she discovers that squatters have settled in her north pasture and have no intention of leaving, Laurel decides to use the last of her money to free a prisoner from the local jail. If she agrees to offer him room and board for one year, he will have to work for her to pay off his debt.

Former soldier Thomas Baker knows he’s in trouble when he finds himself jailed because he couldn’t pay a few fines. Laurel’s offer might be his only ticket out. Though she’s everything he ever dreamed of in a woman—sweet and tender-hearted, yet strong—he’s determined to remain detached, work hard on her behalf, and count the days until he’s free again.

But when cattle start dying and the squatters damage a barn, Thomas realizes more than just his freedom is on the line. Laurel needs someone to believe in her and protect her property. And it isn’t long before Laurel realizes that Thomas Baker is far more than just a former soldier. He’s a trustworthy hero who’s survived a terrible past. He needs more than just his freedom, he needs her love and care too.

WARNING: Possible Spoilers

{The Basics}
Former Confederate sergeant Thomas Baker has endured a hard life.  Orphaned at eight years of age, he's been on his own ever since.  Eventually, he joined the Confederate Army and served with bravery and honor until he and a few more men of his company were imprisoned in a POW (prisoners of war) camp on Johnson's Island in Ohio.  After acquiring freedom a couple years later, he finds himself once again imprisoned in a small town jail in Sweetwater, Texas for gambling.  Only when the pretty and sweet Miss Laurel Tracey comes to bargain for his hired freedom to work on her endangered ranch, does his life take a new turn and a new purpose.  

Laurel Tracey has had to survive many trials, most of them on her own.  The Red Roan Ranch, property left to her by her deceased parents, is all she has left and she is determined to keep it, no matter what it takes.  Usually a rather compliant and gentle lady, she finds herself being bold and brave in hiring a convict to help save her ranch.  His contract is for one year, but as the days go on and their relationship grows, she discovers a wish he could stay forever.  

I admire Laurel's gentle and kind temperament.  Never once does she complain about the burden she carries in managing her ranch.  Even with the lack of help she receives from her two stepsiblings and the insults and discouragement to her person and pressure to sell her beloved land, she refuses to back down.  

Camaraderie and friendship is highly valued, especially among that of Thomas's fellow soldiers.  They make promises to look out for one another, and they keep them. 

When her stepsiblings move out from her ranch house she is left alone.  And with the threats and danger to her ranch and person, she asks her hired hand, Thomas, to move into the house a few rooms from her own.  [While this is completely improper, especially with no one else present in the home, I would most likely have done the same.  I can't imagine being alone in a big, creaky house with squatters threatening my way of life and skulking around my property leaving dead calves on my doorstep. . . (more on that in a minute)]

A note relays a threat to poison a portion of the water supply that her ranch runs on.

Laurel's stepsiblings, Bess and Jerome, are a rather high and mighty pair and expect Laurel to see to their every need.  They look down upon her, discourage her, and insult her appearance and wisdom.  

{Spiritual Content}
Both Laurel and Thomas have relied on their Lord for the past few years.  And they pray continually and before every meal.

A man is brutally whipped while in jail.  We learn he has sustained many more scars.  A story is told where that same man's family was slaughtered in an Indian attack many years before.

A calf is found dead on Laurel's front step.  She opens the door to find it there and staring open-eyed.  (Pretty disconcerting for sure. . .)  We learn that it, among other cattle, have been poisoned with kerosene.  

A man is killed, shot between the eyes, in cold blood.

Two characters, who are surveying the ranch's property, are nearly gunned down.  I don't believe they were in danger too deeply as the gunmen only meant to scare them, despite their boss's orders. . . 

A man punches another in the face.

{Language, Alcohol & Drugs}
None.  Saloon's are mentioned and the spending one's wages on drinks.  

Nothing too sensual at all.  There is obvious attraction between Laurel and Thomas from the start, of course.  (Which makes the moving into same house all the more inappropriate. . . regardless of any necessity--but nothing happens!! I assure you.  I just know it to be extremely unwise.)

They embrace a time or two.  He brushes a strand of hair from her face.  They have a longing to feel how the other's lips feel. . . Wonder how it would be to care for the other, permanently.  Etc., etc.   

Overall, this was a sweet story.  And I love westerns!  I only gave a four-star rating due to the quality of writing (just seemed a little under par, in my opinion) and development of characters.  They were not wholly exciting, just rather a little dull and so-so.  Laurel, especially.  She did what she felt was right, but was very dependent--which, don't get me wrong! there's nothing wrong with that--I just found her to be a bit wimpy.  But, if I'm honest, she reminded me of myself and how I would most likely act if put in her situation. . . So. . . to conclude!  I enjoyed this tale and didn't want to put it down.  It was a refreshing read, and a great reminder that one doesn't need foul language and sensuality.  As one of my all-time favorite authors puts it:

"I've written all these stories [well over 100] without any pornography, without any obscenity.  I grew up among sailors and miners and lumberjacks and the roughest kind of men in the world, but I never found it necessary to use all that in the stories. I can make them real without that.  I think much of that kind of writing is a cover up for lack of real skill."
- Louis L'Amour -

Ms Gray's story here was an incredibly clean, goodly enjoyable Western adventure where one woman, realizing she cannot fight on her own strengths, enlists the help of others and relies heavily on her Lord to see her through.  Would definitely recommend to any who enjoy a good Western.  :]

Recommended ages: 16+

Have a lovely day, dearies!

What's in a Name?

Welcome back, my friends!  Happy Monday!
How was your weekend?  Today is the start of a new week and [HOPEFULLY] Evan and my last week at our little country cabin. . . Which means [HOPEFULLY] we will be moving in to our brand new duplex at Overland!  I can hardly wait!  I've already begun moving some things into the cabinets. . . ^_^

So, what is on your agenda for the week?  My days will be packed, I'm sure, but I'd love to hear your goals and plans!  Writing anything exciting?? Going somewhere new?  Trying a new recipe or two?  

Seriously, I've really missed the blogging world and once my world starts to settle down into its new normal, I hope to hop back in.  With that said, what would you like to read here on Plain & Average?  I hope to keep up my thorough book reviews, along with the Name and A+A posts.  But I'd also like to add one more post every week, whether its about life, new lessons I've learned, writing--I dunno.  Got any ideas?  What do you enjoy reading about on your favorite blogs?

In the meantime, my week begins with laundry and a Name post.  :]


M | Scottish
yoo-EN, EE-wan (possibly)

Anglicized form of Eoghan (pro. "O-in" or "YO-in"), which possibly means "born from the yew tree" in Irish, though it could be derived from Eugene meaning "well born." 

F | Czech, Serbian, Croatian
STAH-nah, sta-NAH (possibly)

Short form of Stanislava, and other Slav names beginning with stani, meaning "stand, become."

For fans of the TV show Castle (2009-2016), this is the given name of the Canadian-American actress who portrays homicide detective Kate Beckett. 

M | English, Lithuanian, Romanian, Biblical, Biblical Latin
dǝ-RIE-ǝs , DER-ee-ǝs, DAR-ee-ǝs (English)

Roman form of Dareios, which was the Greek form of the Persian name Dārayavahush, composed of two elements meaning "to possess" and "good."  This was the given name of three ancient kings of Persia, including Darius the Great, who expanded the Achaemenid Empire to its greatest extent.

F | Persian

Means "fairy" in Persian.

Photos via Pinterest.
Names & Meanings via

These posts, as I've mentioned before, are for your benefit.  :]  As a (wannabe) writer, I know how hard it is to find the PERFECT name for your character(s) and I have found it helps tremendously to know the meanings and even the history of names.  If you find yourself struggling, I hope these posts will aid you in writing your stories!  And if you need some recommendations for a character or two, or have a question on names (be it Russian, Biblical, Historical, etc), I'd be more than happy to help you as best I can.  Please don't hesitate to contact me!

Fairfarren, for now!

A+A Friday!

  • Watching old home videos in which you are performing in children's plays from church and you're all knobbly-kneed and sound like a little Southern country girl. . .
  • When you pour what you think is just one more swallow left in your glass, but it turns out to be far more than you anticipated. . .  :P
  • When you FINALLY take down your (very dry and brittle needles-falling-EVERYWHERE) Christmas tree and your dear brother comes over to help drag it away.   After he leaves and you've cleaned up the mess, you send him this picture:

  • This could probably be an "awesome". . . but finding a lady's purse sitting in an abandoned buggy in the PARKING LOT of Walmart and taking it inside to customer service all the while thinking someone's gonna see you and think you're stealing. . . O.O
  • Finding scrap pieces of wood at the job to "up-cycle" (is that a word?) and make pretties (when in reality they will probably stay in the craft box for AGES before I remember them again).

  • Learning that one of your blogger friends has just released the first publication of her debut novel!!!
  • When your planned, romantic Valentine's dinner goes beautifully and your meatloaf and veggies are absolutely delicious--especially when your husband gushes about it so!  And when you surprise him with an explosion of Post-Its in your little house bearing words and sayings: "Hug Me," "Hot Stuff," "Yoda One For Me!", etc. etc. 
Instagram - @sarahpenmaiden

  • When you're able to start moving in some of your stuff into your new kitchen cabinets at the Overland duplex aaaaaannnnd decorate!  [My Willow Tree "Journey" was the first piece of decor!]
Instagram - @sarahpenmaiden

  • Shopping dates with your man.
  • Surprise chai tea lattes from your husband and a Dragon tree for Valentines!  Why have a bouquet of flowers that will eventually die when you can have a growing plant?
Instagram - @sarahpenmaiden

How was your week, m'dears?  :]  
March is nearing!  Are you ready for Spring?


What's in a Name?

Tomorrow is Valentine's Day!  So in honor of this holiday of love, the following names have "love" in their meanings in some way or other.

M & F | Southern African, Shono

Means "love" in Shono.

F | Hebrew

Means "love" in Hebrew.

M | Welsh

Means "blessed love" from the Welsh elements caru "love" and gywn meaning "fair, white, blessed."

F | Japanese

From Japanese mana meaning "love, affection" combined with mi meaning "beautiful" or "sea, ocean."

Photos via Pinterest.
Names & Meanings via

A+A Friday!

Welcome, welcome!  I can't believe it's already time for another A+A post. . . These Fridays keep flying by!
  • Leaving Walmart and walking through the parking lot to your car when you pass by a guy sitting in his own car picking his nose AND eating it too!  O_O Then your husband says, "Yep, that's what guys do!"
  • Trying out a new restaurant and standing there looking at the menu above the registers FOREVER before finally deciding what you want.  I mean, a burger's a burger, right?? Or in this case, a BBQ char-broiled chicken sammich with fries AND onion rings. Yum!
  • Sitting at a stop light waiting for green and you catch the eye of the chubby passenger kid in the vehicle on your left.  You give a half-smile, not wishing to seem weird in any way, but also not wanting to be rude, and fervently wish you had never looked.  O_o
  • Putting lotion on your legs when you're COLD.  (Too much info? I sorry!)
  • Discovering all of these awesome writing prompts and getting so inspired to write something for some kind of story or WIP (work-in-progress) then sitting down with pad and paper, and NOTHING COMES.  >.<
  • Punny-ness!! I'll probably have a cheesy joke/quote/phrase every week now. . . xD
  • This cute comic! That's exactly what I do:
  • Operation Overland UPDATE:  Carpet was installed yesterday!!!
  • Inspirational quote:
  • Heading the plans and preparations for my sister's wedding shower. . . So much to do!  But it's fun and most certainly exciting.  :D
  • Trying out a new fast-food restaurant--Cookout!--with your husband and a sister and really liking it!  Then going to Overland to check out the new carpet and talking for a couple hours about EVERYTHING: vacation ideas, camping, hiking, house planning, decorating colors, etc.
  • Requesting a couple movies from the library: The Prince of Egypt and Kiki's Delivery Service. [And because they are inter-library loans, I have them for THREE weeks instead of one!!!]
  • Slowly getting my Etsy shoppe together. . . And finding new ideas to add to it!
  • Going to my parent's house to watch Hawaii 5-0 on Friday evenings.  Awesome show!
  • Planning a lovely Valentine's dinner. . . :] <3  Our first as husband and wife!!!
  • When you've married a "Yankee" (my husband is from Massachusetts), you're loyalties may change--or find a new favorite!  So guess which team I rooted for at Super Bowl 51??  :D  And AMAZINGLY they won!!!
So, how was your week?  Any awkwards for you?  Have a punny joke you'd like to share??
Fairfarren, for now!

What's in a Name?

Sooooooo. . . I'm attempting to post my normal posts again!  Here's a list of names, as I still love 'em.  Enjoy!!  And if you've any requests, I'll be happy to research them!

M | English

This given name hails from a surname, which was derived from the Old English Ealdwine, made of the elements eald "old" and wine "friend."

F | Greek Mythology (Latinized), Roman Mythology

Latinized form of Greek Rheia, meaning is unknown, possibly related to the words rheo "to flow" or era "ground."  In Greek Mythology, Rhea was a Titan, the wife of Cronus and mother of Zeus, Hades, Poseidon, Hera, Demeter, Hestia.  And in Roman mythology, it is the given name of Rhea Silvia, mother of Romulus and Remus, the legendary founders of Rome.

This is also the name given to one of the moons of Saturn, named after the Greek Titan.

M & F | Irish, English (modern)

From an Irish surname, an Anglicized form of Ó Ruadháin, meaning "descendant of Ruadháin."  This name may also be referenced to the rowan tree.  [Ruadháin is a Gaelic byname meaning "red," and was often a nickname for someone with red hair.]

F | English

Short form of Henrietta (the feminine version of Henry, which ultimately means "home ruler."), and other names ending with etta.  A famous bearer of this name was the American singer Etta James (1938-2012), whose given name was Jamesetta. 

Photos via Pinterest.
Names & Meanings via

Returning. . .

Awkward and Awesome posts are back for good!  (hopefully. . .)  :D We'll see.  It may be hit and run regarding whether or not they'll be on each Friday.

We're still in the process of finishing Operation Overland (which I hope to have more pictures soon! we're soooo close!!!), the transition of moving in the next few weeks, and there's the little matter of no internet where we are currently staying. . .  heheheh. Just a teensy thing, really! It's been rather nice to not be on my computer every day.  But pah! I'm rambling.  On to the funnies!


  • When a young acquaintance of the family stops by after 10:00 at night for a friendly visit, but you're already in your jammies, and the living/dining/kitchen area is completely open with a rather large window in the front door.  As you go to your suitcase--currently beside the armchair and couch in said living area--to grab a shirt to change into out of your tank top, you hear a knock, whip around to front door, look back down to your fuzzy lounge pants with cute cupcakes all over, yell out "Oh my goshhh!!" and run slipping and sliding to nearby bedroom. . . (Later, after your dear husband takes care of everything, he comes in laughing at your reaction and poking fun at your earlier, anxious exclamation.)  -_-  
  • When someone asks if there's anything they can pray for you about, you stammer and try to find words. . . and when you do they're usually jumbled.  (Does anyone else do this??)
  • ADULTING    . . .    'Nuff said.
  • When you and husband meet some old family friends at a store one evening and it's difficult at first to begin a conversation, but once past the small talk and asking about different things, it's nice to chat and catch up a little.  ^ _ ^
  • When you laugh at cheesy jokes because you enjoy them and EVERYBODY knows:

  • I'm SOOO far behind in keeping you up to date regarding Operation Overland, which is the duplex my husband and I are building (we'll be living in one side and renting the other), but the recent awesome-ness regarding it: appliances were delivered this morning!! Thank you, Lord! Countertops are in (or right nearly completed), flooring is finished--with exception of carpet (to be installed next week), and we're simply moving right along!  Hoping to move in by the end of February--Lord willing.  :]
  • My sister Julia is engaged!!! and the date is set for May.  It's nice for Evan and I to tease her and Walker (her fiance) instead of it being the other way around--my whole family gave us a "hard" time!  Haha! Her turn!!
  • When your husband reads the books you've read and loves them. :D (For Darkness Shows the Stars and Across a Star-Swept Sea by Diana Peterfreund; and Samara's Peril by Jaye L. Knight)
  • When your sister buys you a dress that you REALLY REALLY liked but couldn't purchase at the time.
  • The newest trailer for Disney's Beauty & the Beast!!!

  • When you go through a dark valley, it's always there you see just how much you are loved and where you realize you take for granted so many things and so many people.  Lord, thank you for my husband, my family, my friends, and my church.  

Happy weekend, my friends!
Fairfarren, for now,