Wednesday, February 15, 2023

Love and Lavendar by Josi S. Kilpack

Love and Lavender

The books in the Proper Romance series are some of my favorites!

Let’s begin with the summary:

Hazel Stillman is a woman of rare independence and limited opportunities. Born with a clubbed foot, she was sent away as a child and, knowing her disability means a marriage is unlikely, she devoted herself to scholarship and education.

Now working as a teacher in an elite private girls’ school, she is content with the way her story has unfolded. When her uncle Elliott Mayfield presents her with the prospect of a substantial inheritance if she marries, Hazel is offended. What kind of decent man would marry for her money? Besides, she loves her freedom as a professional, respected woman. When she hears rumors of the school possibly being sold, however, she knows she must consider all her options.

Duncan Penhale has a brilliant mind and thrives on order and process. He does not expect to marry because he likes his solitary life, shared only with his beloved cat. When Elliott Mayfield, his guardian’s brother, presents him with an inheritance if he marries a woman of social standing, Duncan finds it intrusive. However, with the inheritance, he could purchase the building in which he works and run his own firm. It would take an impressive and intellectual woman to understand and love him, quirks and all.

Hazel and Duncan believe they have found a solution to both of their problems: marry one another, receive their inheritances, and then part ways to enjoy their individual paths. But when Uncle Mayfield stipulates that they must live together as husband and wife for one year before receiving their inheritances, Hazel and Duncan reluctantly agree. Over time, their marriage of convenience becomes much more appealing than they had anticipated. At the end of the full year, will they go their separate ways or could an unlikely marriage have found unsuspecting love?

And now, my review:

Such an interesting and unusual story! The romance is a subtle slow burn, but it is worth the journey.

We have some epistolary elements, but it's not 100 percenta nice balance. And I highlighted some instances of great prose.

Each of our main characters has a central limitation, a handicap of sorts. Hers is physical, affecting her mobility. It also affects her belief that she could one day marry. Who’s going to want an imperfect woman? I loved that she was entrepreneurial, highly intelligent, a leader in her circle. She’s resourceful, independent, competent, and struggling. We root for her.

Our hero’s special needs, though unnamed, were fascinating. At times they were so relatable, at others I could understand other characters’ frustration with him. But to him, he was perfectly comfortable thinking and living as he had done. Incredibly intelligent, he learns from everything and everyone around him. He demands routines and feels safest within them. The author skillfully expressed his undiagnosed condition. This historical setting doesn’t lend itself to diagnoses of Asperger's or autism. I felt she handled this element very, very well.

The characters meet at their place of need and intelligence. They can discuss challenging topics together. I liked how this author subtly tackled gender limitations for a modern audience. I.e., our heroine is a top teacher, highly intelligent, capable of intense conversations, surpassing the intelligence of male peers. That approach in historicals is satisfying for today’s audience. There's also the element of helping other females rise through education as well. 

Each of the MCs is either able to overlook the other’s limitation or work with it. What used to be a deal breaker no longer stands in the way, but love is still out of the question.

I liked the arranged-marriage, fake-relationship, and marriage-of-convenience tropes. I enjoyed the unusual characters and their limitations. I found the autistic element interesting and well portrayed.

The whole novel is getting them to see themselves differently, to reconsider what’s possible, to dare to redefine themselves, their world, their perspective. Using their outward limitations to mirror this is a fascinating approach, and one that may have readers rethinking their own assumptions and self-imposed limitations.

Monday, November 21, 2022

Authentically, Izzy by Pepper Basham


Authentically, Izzy by Pepper Basham

I’ve enjoyed epistolary novels in the past. They’re challenging to write because we don’t see the actions as they happen. Without narration readers may get a little confused. They require more concentration, in some ways.

Let’s begin with the summary:

Dear Reader, My name is Isabelle Louisa Edgewood—Izzy, for short. I live by blue-tinted mountains, where I find contentment in fresh air and books. Oh, and coffee and tea, of course. And occasionally in being accosted by the love of my family. (You’ll understand my verb choice in the phrase later.) I dream of opening my own bookstore, but my life, particularly my romantic history, has not been the stuff of fairy tales. Which is probably why my pregnant, misled, matchmaking cousin—who, really, is more like my sister—signed me up for an online dating community.

The trouble is . . . it worked. I’ve met my book-quoting Mr. Right, and our correspondence has been almost too good to be true. But Brodie lives across an ocean. And just the other day, a perfectly nice author and professor named Eli came into the library where I work and asked me out for a coffee. I feel a rom-com movie with a foreboding disaster nipping at my heels.

But I’ve played it safe for a long time. Maybe it’s time for me to be as brave as my favorite literary heroines. Maybe it’s time to take the adventures from the page to real life. Wish me luck.


And now, my review:

I liked the characters, quirks and all. I really enjoyed the sibling dynamic. The author lost her brother before this novel was published, and my heart went out to her as I read her character “Luke’s” dialogue and saw his personality very clearly on the page through his words. I like to think this was a tribute from the author to her brother, and if it was, brava, my friend. Beautiful.

This story centers around books, with multiple literary references. It’s fun watching the heroine and hero relate via online chats. Relatable, in this era to meet someone online and “date” them though the characters live continents apart. Well-read bookworms will relish the references and delight in the subtext.

Fittingly, one of the themes was authenticity. Communicating online gives Izzy license to be real, which is refreshing. At times I could hear Pepper (a fellow ACFW member) defend Christian fiction through the characters’ words. Jesus used parables—stories—to touch hearts. Loved this aspect.

Given it’s epistolary format, readers may struggle to recall who’s who if they step away from this novel for any length of time.

This novel will especially appeal to readers who might enjoy a less formulaic romance.

Tuesday, September 6, 2022

Harvest Moon by Denise Hunter


Harvest Moon by Denise Hunter

It’s release day for this final book in the Riverbend Romance series.

Here’s the summary:

She thought he was arrogant. He thought her walls would never come down. Then they fell in love.

Forever walking the line between passion and conflict, Laurel and Gavin’s relationship ended in divorce after years of miscommunication and unmet expectations. Now pursuing their own separate lives and careers, the two are content . . . though not completely happy.

When their best friends, Mike and Mallory, are killed in a plane crash, Laurel and Gavin are stunned to learn they’ve been named guardians of their friends’ young daughter, Emma. Putting their differences aside, the estranged couple search for a suitable guardian as they care for Emma and manage Mike and Mallory’s apple orchard.

Soon tempers flare—as does the passion they both remember so well. And Laurel and Gavin find themselves working through their past—their mistakes, their miscommunications, and ultimately the tragedy that ended their marriage.

Will the seeds of love, still growing inside them, thrive and flourish? Or will grief and regret strangle the feelings before they can fully blossom?

And now, my review:

I was so excited to read this third book in the series because I knew it would focus on Gavin—the most mysterious family member. This novel reads fast!

I liked that this was a second-chance (reunion) romance. I recommend reading the earlier books in the series to get a clear picture of the family, though you may not be too lost if you begin here. Also, now that they are all out, you could read them back to back.

The hero and heroine’s shared mission brings out their loyalty to mutual friends, their nobility to care for the needy, and their protectiveness. They’re forced into close proximity, and motivated, at certain times, to let their guards down—something they’ve avoided for fifteen years. This helps them see each other differently. Because they have a painful past, they’ll need a different perspective in order to overcome the lies that caused division back then.

They haven’t admitted it to each other, or anyone really, but each of them has missed the other one. Being together in this season brings up both good and bad memories, and some of the good memories are full of their shared romance.

There’s a lot of pain to process, both in the present story and from the past, but the story doesn’t get too heavy.

Distrust, shame, guilt, and regret keep them apart, plus the pestering of Gavin’s nosy family. They’re trying to protect him from the severe brokenness he has only recently begun to overcome. This couple will have to recognize and battle their lies in order to envision a different future where they aren’t imprisoned by their baggage.

The heroine once dreamed of working at the Biltmore Estate’s gardens. I liked this setting and her interest in trees, orchards, plants. The hero has recently joined up with a fellow contractor to grow a new business, and his competence and recovery from the state he was in in books one and two was rewarding to watch.

There were tender moments and well-written characters. I loved it!

Highly recommended!

Monday, August 8, 2022

Love and the Dream Come True by Tammy L. Gray


Love and the Dream Come True by Tammy L. Gray

Tammy is one of my favorite authors these days. This is the third book in her State of Grace series.

Let’s begin with the summary:

Their faith will face its toughest test yet.

Four years after getting the biggest break of his life, Cameron Lee's music career has taken a nosedive, leaving him two options: become a sellout or give up on his lifelong dream. He reluctantly returns home for his sister's wedding, hoping to avoid his past and find his love for music again.

Single mom Lexie Walters has suffered her fair share of tragedies and setbacks, but she has finally scraped together the money to achieve her dream of going into business with her cousin as an interior designer. When Lexie’s life is at an all-time high, she runs into her teenage crush, Cameron Lee.

Lost in the emotional turmoil of failure, Cameron is immediately drawn to Lexie and her infectious smile and optimistic spirit. Moreover, he adores her mouthy, no-holds-barred daughter. But fantasies only last so long, and soon Lexie and Cameron must face the real world, the one fraught with heartbreak, disappointment, and questions that sometimes can only be answered by a leap of faith.

And now, my review:

I’ve read this entire series, so what fun to see familiar characters and to learn their story. Before this, these two had been on the outskirts of the previous novels. It was satisfying to see them take center stage in first person. One of the themes is what to do after the dream comes true. Where to next? Especially if it wasn’t as fulfilling as one would like.

I loved that Lexie has had a crush on Cameron for-ev-er. This was a fun aspect as they reunited. Lexie’s daughter is such a great “cast member” in the novel.

This heroine is wordy! She rambles, and I admit I skipped her pages at times. We’ve all known people like that, though, haven’t we? If only we could skip ahead in those conversations. Heh.

There were some poignant lines, like: “What is it about coming gome that makes all the masks disappear?” (location 362 in the ARC)

As a musician and songwriter, I enjoyed the music aspect of this story.

The hero’s anxiety manifests itself in a tough challenge. This may be relatable for some readers.

Overall, an enjoyable read.

Monday, May 2, 2022

What Matters Most by Courtney Walsh

What Matters Most by Courtney Walsh

Courtney is one of my favorite authors.

Let’s begin with the summary of her latest novel:

Emma Woodson is hoping the cobblestone streets of Nantucket and the charm of her late husband’s family cottage will be the fresh start she and her young son, CJ, need. Securing a dream job at an art gallery is one more step along the path to a new life . . . and away from a piece of her history she hopes will never be revealed. Falling in love with the kind and handsome guy she hires to clean out the rental apartment above the garage wasn’t part of the plan.

Jameson Shaw came to Nantucket for one reason: deliver his letter to Emma and never return. But when he sees an opportunity to help her, he takes a chance, desperate to atone for his past. He never planned to keep his connection to her husband a secret or to fall in love with her. After all, he knows that their new relationship might not survive the discovery of who he really is.

And now, my review:

We get to return to the island in this latest Nantucket Love Story book. Courtney’s bio on Amazon mentions she’s a playwright and as I read this novel, I could see this story playing out in a movie or TV series. It’s a very visual experience.

We care for the hero immediately. He has come to town with big secrets and a heavy burden. He considers himself disqualified from happiness in life. His arrival has one purpose, but life intervenes. I loved how kind, artistic, compassionate, and nerdy he was while at the same time he was strong and competent and loyal. This type of hero doesn’t appear in novels very often, and there was something tender about him that I really liked.

I enjoyed his artistic side, which I found relatable—how he sees beauty in the world and how he longs to both capture it and share his perspective with others. For a long time now he has disqualified himself from pursuing or noticing beauty. This novel’s journey brings him back in touch with that innate side of himself. The author captured this element very well. Artists can only avoid beauty’s draw for so long before we have to give in.

Our heroine has suffered a devastating loss. Mirroring the hero, she’s disqualified herself from joy in life as well, but for other reasons. She’s attracted to the faith of a family member, but isn’t sure how to get there herself. And she can’t ever see a way to forgive herself for past mistakes. She’s also finding her way back to herself after that loss. It’s a long journey, and without accepting forgiveness, she’s in an infinite loop, distanced from healing. Readers who’ve suffered such a loss may relate with this element of trying to get “back to normal” or finding themselves again. The heroine wonders where her previous strengths are now. She’s also trying to return to a sense of wholeness. Recovering readers will likely see themselves in her.

There are many secrets in this novel, and the author leaves hints along the way. Some of the themes include: forgiveness of self and peace with God; all-consuming shame; making personal, penalizing vows in the wake of mistakes; owing penance; misguided understanding of God and His merciful grace.

Courtney is such a pro at writing romance. She keeps things G-rated. With a subtlety that readers will love we are drawn into the romance between these two characters. You may find yourself rereading sections just for fun.

I loved the seaside setting and the artistic elements in this novel. Another great book by this gifted author. Can’t wait for her next one!

Tuesday, April 19, 2022

Mulberry Hollow by Denise Hunter


Mulberry Hollow by Denise Hunter

Denise has done it again! Her books are consistently well-written, romantic, and engaging.

Let’s begin with the summary:

When a handsome handyman faces a medical emergency on the Appalachian trail, his sudden appearance in town challenges an ambitious doctor’s plan to remain single for life.

Avery Robinson decided to be a physician after helplessly watching her mother lose a battle with a terrible disease. Now at risk of developing the same illness, Avery guards her heart from love. She’s driven to protect her loved ones as a workaholic doctor in the tiny mountain town of Riverbend Gap, North Carolina.

Contractor Wes Garrett is hiking the Appalachian trail, in memory of the man who died saving his life, when an illness racks his body. After an agonizing fifteen-mile hike to Avery’s clinic, he collapses on her doorstep. He recovers to find himself in debt again—but this time to a beautiful doctor.

When he decides to help her renovate a rundown carriage house, the obstacles to their attraction sprout like weeds—starting with the woman waiting for Wes at the end of the trail. Will he be able to relinquish the debt he owes his best friend? And will Avery find the courage to risk everything for love?

And now, my review:

Denise is such a pro at story telling. You know you’re in good hands, reading her books. Her method of short chapters keeps the pacing very strong.

I liked the Appalachian trail tie-in—very interesting for someone who’s never seen any part of it. Still wigs me out a little that total strangers sleep side by side in the periodic shelters, but again, the trail is foreign to me.

The story’s hero chafes at the idea of owing any more debts to anyone. He’s committed to paying off one so personal he’s sacrificing a lot to do so. We’ll see his debt aversion a few times in the story. I like his noble cause and could immediately sympathize with him, even though his reasons slowly unfolded.

Our heroine lives under a large shadow. She fears the future, in a way, and that’s relatable to readers I think, no matter what their personal issues may be. Her private concerns were a great why-not, which, paired with the hero’s, gave us solid tension and conflict.

I love that we revisited previous characters from this Riverbend Romance series. An enjoyable book! I can’t wait to read the next novel in this series, which centers, I’m guessing, around the most wounded of this family of siblings: Gavin.

Highly recommended.  

Friday, February 18, 2022

Meet Me in the Margins by Melissa Ferguson


Meet Me in the Margins

A light-hearted read is ideal sometimes, don’t you think? And what's not to love about a book about writing and editing books?

Let’s begin with the summary:

You’ve Got Mail meets The Proposal—this romance is one for the books.

Savannah Cade’s dreams are coming true. The Claire Donovan, editor-in-chief of the most successful romance imprint in the country, has requested to see the manuscript Savannah’s been secretly writing while working as an editor herself—except at her publishing house, the philosophy is only highbrow works are worth printing and commercial fiction, particularly romance, should be reserved for the lowest level of Dante’s inferno. But when Savannah drops her manuscript during a staff meeting and nearly exposes herself to the whole company—including William Pennington, new publisher and son of the romance-despising CEO herself—she races to hide her manuscript in the secret turret room of the old Victorian office.

When she returns, she’s dismayed to discover that someone has not only been in her hidden nook but has written notes in the margins—quite critical ones. But when Claire’s own reaction turns out to be nearly identical to the scribbled remarks, and worse, Claire announces that Savannah has six weeks to resubmit before she retires, Savannah finds herself forced to seek the help of the shadowy editor after all.

As their notes back and forth start to fill up the pages, however, Savannah finds him not just becoming pivotal to her work but her life. There’s no doubt about it. She’s falling for her mystery editor. If she only knew who he was.

And now, my review:

The heroine is an assistant acquisitions editor at a publishing company, as well as an aspiring author. What fun roles! I found these jobs relatable, and I think readers will like the behind-the-scenes elements of a writers’ life.

Her family is a passel of overachievers, so she cannot fail. Their opinions push her to try to measure up. Of course she can’t. Part of her never wanted to. That contradiction sabotages her. Readers may find themselves relating: do we be ourselves or try to be what we think others want? 

I loved the author’s fun voice. We’re in first person, present tense—my favorite. We get some snark, lots of humor, and an unfortunate opening situation, (which tone I’m glad didn’t carry forward into the rest of the book).

The hero is icy and all business, authoritative. What's behind his fa├žade? If he ever opens up, what will we find? How fun it will be to watch him melt. Also, can he champion her? And what will it mean to her if he ever does?

The setup for this novel’s mystery is delicious. They grow closer by passing notes. We have an editor who gives honest, even blunt, feedback. You gotta respect someone like that. After her defensiveness wears off, she does. She’s lost and earnest. He’s experienced and willing to help. A perfect team.

I laughed aloud several times while reading this novel. Just what I needed during the pandemic. A treat. I’ll watch for more books by this author.