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, 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.

Tuesday, February 1, 2022

Aspen Crossroads by Janine Rosche

Aspen Crossroads by Janine Rosche

I have really enjoyed reading Janine’s work, so I gladly picked up a copy of this story. Because I don’t read summaries first, (always trying to dodge spoilers), I was in for a surprise. 

Let’s begin with the summary:

To protect those most vulnerable, Haven Haviland must trust her heart—and her regrets—to a mysterious newcomer in this moving contemporary romance.

Few in the community of Whisper Canyon have actually met Jace Daring, a handsome recluse who lives at Aspen Crossroads, the farm at the edge of town. But that doesn't stop the rumors about the multiple women who live with him. He must protect the truth—that his farm-to-table restaurant will provide new livelihoods for women rescued from human trafficking—or he risks the safety and futures of those relying on him. But he can't do it alone.

Haven Haviland has always been everyone's safe place to fall until one mistake closes her counseling practice and leaves her open to the town's gossip. Trusting men has gotten her in trouble before. However, accepting Jace's job offer to mentor the rescued women seems like the perfect way to right her wrongs.

When the mayor's campaign to clean up Whisper Canyon targets Aspen Crossroads, the restaurant comes under fire, dangers from the women's pasts are awakened, and Haven's sins are exposed for all to see. Jace would sacrifice himself to save Haven and the women under his care, but his efforts might not be enough. And in the end, it might not be the women most in need of saving after all.

And now, my review:

If authors include their author notes/letters at the beginning of a book, I read them first. As a fellow novelist, I enjoy seeing behind the scenes and learning something about the writer—sometimes it’s about their process, sometimes, their inspiration. (I also read the acknowledgments, just for fun!)

Janine’s author letter provided a warning. She lets readers know the story deals with sexual assault and sex trafficking, but that she handles those topics in a less gritty way than reality. I appreciated this foreknowledge, and because I’m sensitive to some reader topics, I immediately considered letting the publisher know I wouldn’t be reading for review after all.

Instead, I began reading the story, a bit warily. This is book one in a new series, with four siblings’ lives to explore. That’s a great set-up for a connected series. Having read (and loved) Janine’s Madison River series, I thought I was in for more of the same. This book takes on edgier topics than I expected to face.

The heroine longs for a haven. The hero longs to help victims. I sympathized with each of them and rooted for them in their causes. However, given the impending tough topics, I found myself on edge while reading and decided to move on to other books in my TBR pile. 

I’ve read other books with those topics—two titles come to mind. In those, I appreciated how we stayed a bit distant from the darkness. These are timely topics, of course, and there’s value in exploring these issues in fiction. However, the dread of what was possibly coming inhibited my enjoyment.

If the remaining books in this series deal with the same topic, I may need to pass. I don’t mind realism in my fiction, but being on edge robs my enjoyment.

For readers who like edgier topics, this may be the perfect fit. I definitely plan to investigate further work by this author as her novels are standouts.  

Saturday, November 13, 2021

A Cross-Country Christmas by Courtney Walsh


A Cross-Country Christmas

Courtney Walsh is one of my favorite authors right now! Love reading her work.

Let’s begin with the summary:

Lauren Richmond isn’t a fan of Christmas.

Which is why she rarely makes the trip home to the Midwest for the holidays. After all, she has plenty to keep her busy—namely, her duties as a set decorator on a TV sitcom.

But this December, Lauren’s brother and his wife are expecting a baby, so her brother arranges a ride home for her with his good friend, Will.

Unfortunately for Lauren, she’s been trying to forget college baseball coach and childhood crush Will Sinclair for more than ten years.

Now, thanks to her fear of flying, she’s stuck in a car with him from California to Illinois.

She’s circumspect and organized. He’s flirty and spontaneous.

She’s convinced that people don’t change. He’s trying to prove to her (and himself) that he has.

On this cross-country road trip, they’ll both discover that history doesn’t exactly repeat itself. . . but like any good Christmas carol, it does have a second verse.

And now, my review:

One of my favorite reads in 2020 was Courtney’s A Match Made at Christmas, which was a holiday novella. I loved it. (See my review for that novella here.) So, how thrilling to find this full-length novel set at Christmastime released by her this year.

This was one of my favorite reads of 2021! Courtney has a gift for writing wholesome romance. Rom-coms are an ideal medicine in our current world—a chance to escape and laugh and feel good. And this story delivers!

As a self-published novel, the story has some unusual elements, including a couple scenarios and a few unexpected words that readers of trad pubbed Christian fiction may not expect. But nothing vulgar or profane. There were also a few typos, but nothing worth worrying about.

The hero is hiding insecurity and a secret pain, while being noble. And though he can’t forgive himself for his past, he’s still trying to push forward and make a difference. He’s three-dimensional and readers will respect, sympathize with, and connect with him.

The heroine has the hero pegged. No doubt in her mind he is what he always was. That touches on a major theme in the story: people don’t change. Sounds rather cynical, huh? I liked her layers and her competence. She has her own regrets and a well-guarded heart.

I love a romance where one of the MCs attempts to reach through the other’s walls, via kindness and patience, even when it costs them something to try.

Their careers make us respect them. He’s a goofball interpersonally and a flirt, but deep down he’s strong, protective. A leader. A coach and mentor. Seeing those elements makes readers admire him. She’s reading him all wrong.

Her work in the arts as a set designer was interesting, original. She's been successful with more potential, even though she came from a broken home. She’s a Type A personality, and she zeros in on what she wants. We admire her for these strengths. He doesn’t understand her whole story.

One of the themes was that we’re all multifaceted. We each have strengths and weaknesses and hopes and regrets. It takes grace to see each other’s potential and grace to let our pasts go.

I loved their progress toward a relationship, toward forgiveness and love. They’re driving cross-country, but their journey is as internal as it is external. I connected with both the MCs, with their strengths and aspirations, and with their layered-in weaknesses and regrets. Great characterization, pacing, storytelling, and romance!

This book was sooo good, I may read it again this season. Brava, Courtney, thanks for a fantastic ride!

Highly recommended!

Thursday, November 11, 2021

Christmas in a Snowstorm by Lois Richer


Christmas in a Snowstorm

I love reading Christmas books in November and December. This Love Inspired Inspirational Romance released in December 2020. Christmas in a Snowstorm is book three in the Calhoun Cowboys series by Lois Richer.

Let’s begin with the summary:

Can they weather the holidays together?

Will love turn home for Christmas into home for good?

Returning home to his Montana family ranch, journalist Sam Calhoun volunteers to run the local Christmas festival. But as a snowstorm drives him closer to Joy Grainger—the single mom helping him with the project—the last thing he expects is for her children to decide he should be their new dad. Can Sam earn Joy’s trust in time to make all their Christmas wishes come true?

And now, my review:

What a setting! The author immerses readers into a delightful winter wonderland, right from the beginning. We have a blizzard, close to Christmas, and we might get snowed in. There’s something magical about this type of setting: quiet, peaceful (if you’re in a safe place), and hopefully, warm. Add a dash of romance and a strong faith thread, and we have the recipe for a feel-good holiday read.

I was hooked from the opening pages.

The hero feels out of place, like he doesn’t quite belong now that he’s back home. Readers will sympathize and perhaps relate with his longing for acceptance. I also liked that he had a secret we would learn later. The author does a great job of contrasting people's opinions and the truth of this character's nobility. We respect him, even before we learn of his past mysterious choice.

The heroine has a slew of dreams. Though I can relate to having a laundry list of aspirations, I couldn’t connect with her at the beginning of the story. She seemed two-dimensional. She had hopes, but no substance, no relatable mothering instinct in that opening scene. But I liked how driven she was, and I liked watching her receive help and provision right away.

I enjoyed the bakery at Christmas element. Yum. Overall, that sweet Christmas feeling came through.

Unfortunately, I found some grammatical issues in this published book. The story momentum sagged at one point, and I stopped reading in favor of the next book in my to-be-read pile.

Though this novel wasn’t for me, it’s definitely a Christmassy read for relaxing indoors on wintry nights.

I never felt lost even though I hadn’t read the earlier books in this series. Brava to the author! I wish the author and publisher all the best.