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.

Saturday, October 23, 2021

Riverbend Gap by Denise Hunter

Riverbend Gap by Denise Hunter

I’ve long been a fan of Denise Hunter and her work! How exciting to find this first book in her new series. Isn't that a lovely cover?

Let’s begin with the summary:

She came in search of the family she’d always wanted—and found the kind of love she’d never dared imagine.

When Katelyn Loveland’s car veered off a winding Appalachian Mountain road, she thought she was done for. That is until Cooper Robinson, local sheriff’s deputy, came to her rescue. And though Katie narrowly escaped her brush with death, she still fell. Hard.

She wasn’t the only one. But soon Cooper learns that the woman he’s more attracted to than any he’s ever met is his brother’s new girlfriend—and therefore unquestionably off limits. Yet, despite their best efforts, Cooper and Katie can’t seem to avoid running into each other. Or ignore the undeniable chemistry between them.

As they grow closer, Katie shares secrets from her past and the real reason she moved to their small North Carolina town. She also wins over Cooper’s welcoming and bighearted family. But they don’t know that her feelings for Cooper keep growing—all while she’s dating his brother. Soon the stakes of their emotional connection become higher than either could have imagined.

Katie stands to lose the first family she’s ever had, and a scandal could doom Cooper’s campaign for sheriff. Suddenly they find themselves on the edge of another precipice—and they’re forced to make a decision that could change their lives forever.

And now, my review:

Denise is a master storyteller.

From the opening pages of this story, I was hooked by the peril and the main characters’ chemistry. Very compelling opening scene! We learn of the hero’s competence, career, and nobility right away. The heroine’s strength and courage help us root for her, caring for her immediately.

These two had great banter. He’s not a talker, but when he needs to save someone’s life, he rises and even cracks jokes, helping to calm the other person.

I loved that the hero was a sheriff’s deputy. His goal is to overcome his father’s sins, to shine in his own right, to redeem his family’s reputation. A lofty goal for someone in this fictional small town where everyone’s memories prevail almost as assuredly as their commitment to rumors and gossip.

Deputy Cooper Robinson came alive on the page. I loved his courage and will, his determination to help. He’s fiercely loyal to his family, especially wanting to see his brother Gavin thrive after a devastating loss. This element made me respect Cooper’s why-not in this romance.

Kate Loveland wants a family. She’s on a search for answers and longs for a chance to make amends. She’s also suffering from a loss and could use a support system to help her through. She finds that in this small town, with the Robinson family.

I loved the secondary characters, especially Cooper’s step-dad. His two cents method of letting his step-kids choose whether they wanted his input or not was clever.

Some themes include: discovering your own identity, beyond your family of origin; overcoming the past; loss of family members; overcoming addiction; chasing one's dreams; family devotion. 

This was one of my favorite reads this year. Very enjoyable. Compelling issues and relatable emotional conflicts, but not too heavy. I highlighted phrases in my e-reader as I went, and at some points my notes read simply: magic. Such great dialogue!

We also get to learn more about the Appalachian Trail through this novel. As a northerner who has only ever heard about it, I loved this element. I look forward to reading Gavin’s story at some point in this Riverbend Romance series.

Highly recommended!

Friday, September 3, 2021

Love and the Silver Lining by Tammy L. Gray

Love and the Silver Lining by Tammy L. Gray

I’m a fan of this author! She weaves together memorable stories that are engaging and keep me longing for reading breaks throughout my day.

Let’s begin with the summary:

This disaster may be just what she needed.

Darcy Malone's dreams of mission work are dashed on the eve of fulfilling them: The Guatemalan school she was going to teach at has closed, and she's already quit her job and given up her apartment. Stuck in her worst-case scenario, Darcy accepts an unexpected offer to move in with Bryson Katsaros's little sister, despite the years of distrust between her and Bryson, the lead singer in her best friend Cameron's band. But as she meets those close to Bryson, Darcy quickly discovers there is more to him than just his bad-boy persona.

Needing to find a purpose for all her sudden free time, Darcy jumps at the chance to care for and train a group of unruly dogs, with the aim of finding each a home before their bereaved owner returns them to animal control. But it's Darcy herself who will encounter a surprising rescue in the form of love, forgiveness, and learning to let go.

And now, my review:

This story is written in first person, present tense, which I love. Our heroine is a little blind. She’s unaware of her best friend’s crush, though readers will see it right away.

I loved this heroine’s gift for training and relating with dogs. She’s very competent. Lots of symbolism ensues with her efforts on behalf of the animals she tends.

One of the themes is how God answers prayer. Sometimes the end of our world turns into a new beginning—a place we belonged all along. For example, she thought her destiny was extreme poverty, but she ends up living in a very nice condo. (see summary above) Again, symbolic of a very generous and compassionate God who may surprise us with abundance even while we’re aiming for the bare minimum.

Our heroine’s goals are religious, but misguided. She thinks she’s doing the right thing, but hasn’t really asked God if it is. Excellent layering. Readers will relate because people are often motivated by what they think they’re supposed to do, or they’re motivated to choose the least glamorous option because others will more likely approve. But sometimes we fail to account for our God-given gifts. Readers will recognize hers.

Something else motivates her: avoidance. But she won’t have a choice in whether or not to face what she’d rather avoid.

Another area where this author excels is her ability to express male POV. We have Bryson and Cameron in this story, and yet they feel like different people. We’re never in their POVs, but we see them, we get them, nonetheless. Very well done.

An additional theme was that of trying to manipulate God into giving us the answer we want through good behavior.

With all of these insightful layers, you’d think the romance would suffer. It does not. Very well done.

The band elements, the music scenes, were so well written. It’s difficult to take readers into a concert, but this author does it very well. Readers are immersed.

By far my favorite novel this year. So enjoyable. I didn’t want it to end, but I couldn’t wait to indulge in reading another chapter whenever I got the chance.

Highly recommended!

Friday, August 20, 2021

This Time Around: a novella collection by Denise Hunter, Melissa Ferguson, and Kathleen Fuller

This Time Around

Love this cover! This Time Around is a compilation of three novellas by well-loved authors of Christian contemporary romance. Helpful hint: read the other books by these authors, just in case they tie in to their current series. (I was a little lost at times.)

Let’s begin with each novella’s summary:

In A Summer Detour by Denise Hunter, you’ll meet free-spirited Allie Adams, who undertakes a road trip to deliver her grandparents’ newly restored ’57 Chevy in time for their fiftieth anniversary party . . . along with Luke Fletcher, the former boy-next-door who callously crushed her heart.

Pining for You by Melissa Ferguson invites you to a cozy Virginia mountain town where Christmas tree farm owner Theo Watkins III has the opportunity to drop everything for one weekend to play farmer and potentially win back the heart of his childhood best friend, Skye Fuller. Only problem? He’s the kind of man who drives a Tesla, not a tractor.

Last but not least, He Loves Me; He Loves Me Not by Kathleen Fuller will transport you to a small town in Arkansas where thirty-five-year-old Sophie Morgan has spent years making her flower shop a success. But when this workaholic decides she’s ready to make time for dating again, she finds herself with two handsome men vying for her attention.

Whether your perfect romance involves rows and rows of Fraser firs and white pines glinting in the moonlight, childhood love that never ends, or a second chance at a happily ever after, you’re sure to find a story within this collection to warm your heart any day of the year.

And now, my review:

These are each reunion romances, thus the collection’s title. I enjoy watching characters have a second chance at love.

The heroine in A Summer Detour must prove herself to herself and to her parents. She takes on a too-big task and of course runs into tons of trouble along the way. A humorous and light summer read. The heroine can’t let her family down, and the hero can’t either, as they are his honorary family. That tie-in compelled these two to work together, which led to the romance. A couple of unfortunate ingredients: predictability, shaming, a rushed romance. However, this was my favorite novella in the group.

In Pining for You, our hero is a “fish out of water,” which was a fun twist. Plenty of humor making for another light read. One of this novella’s themes was the heroine learning to do what she chose, without letting other’s opinions paralyze her. Readers may relate as many of us worry about what others think. Another theme was facing one’s regrets with courage and hopefully, victory. I like that element. A touch of critique: Seattle isn’t on the coast, it is not oceanfront. Seattle is on Puget Sound and Lake Washington. There were several POV missteps in the advanced reader copy that may have been addressed in rewrites. I also felt I was missing something from not having read an earlier series, maybe?

I found more humor early in He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not. Sometimes it’s the random elements that make readers chuckle. I’ll be honest and say I didn’t get too far into this third story. Juvenile and contrived aspects kept me from engaging. Perhaps her full-length fiction connects to this novella? 

Overall, a light, romantic summertime collection. Well-read fans will likely connect easily with these novellas.

I wish these authors all the best.

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Beyond the Tides by Liz Johnson

Beyond the Tides by Liz Johnson

Isn’t that a gorgeous cover? I love books set on or near an ocean. We’re visiting Prince Edward Island in Canada for this novel.

Let’s begin with the summary:

When Meg Whitaker’s father decides to sell the family’s lobster-fishing business to her high school nemesis, she sets out to prove she should inherit it instead. Though she’s never had any interest in running the small fleet—or even getting on a boat due to her persistent seasickness—she can’t stand to see Oliver Ross take over. Not when he ruined her dreams for a science scholarship and an Ivy League education ten years ago.

Oliver isn’t proud of what he did back then. Angry and broken by his father walking out on his family, he lashed out at Meg—an innocent bystander. But owning a respected fishing fleet on Prince Edward Island is the opportunity of a lifetime, and he’s not about to walk away just because Meg wants him to.

Meg’s father has the perfect solution: Oliver and Meg must work the business together, and at the end of the season, he’ll decide who gets it. Along the way, they may discover that their stories are more similar than they thought . . . and their dreams aren’t what they expected.

And now, my review:

Great setting! The author’s extensive research about the world of lobster fishing was obvious, and it was enjoyable learning more about the occupation. I sure don’t think I’d be cut out for those pre-dawn sails and frigid weather conditions. Not to mention handling the bait they use in the traps or seasickness. But what fun to read about it.

Our heroine is very strong. I respected her career and know-how, the fact that she was an engineer. She could rewire engines or convert electrical appliances to battery powered. It was refreshing to see her save the day. She also wants to give back to her family, to help, to be strong for them. She’ll need to learn that they can each support the others. She doesn’t have to carry everything on her own shoulders and deny her true emotions. This may be relatable for some readers who’ve felt burdened by family stresses.

The hero is a competent fisherman who is determined to prove himself, to rise above his family’s reputation, to secure his future. I respected him. He’s also honest and noble, along with that competence. I rooted for him as well.

One of the lessons in this story was making lasting memories with loved ones. So touching and relatable. Great advice for readers to take away from the experience. Another theme was family legacies. This was skillfully handled when the author mirrored a positive inheritance against the negative reputation of an ancestor.

The spiritual theme was that of leaning on God for strength and help during hard times as He is the believer’s anchor. The process of learning that will be very relatable for Christian readers. The emotional theme, that love is worth any cost, played out in several areas of the story as the author expertly displayed contrasts in a variety of relationships and situations.

I like novels where the MCs set out to prove their competence or nobility, where characters rise above their own self-doubt or family circumstances to achieve their potential. I believe readers will cheer these characters on.

I received a complimentary copy of this novel in exchange for my honest opinions.

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Under Scottish Stars by Carla Laureano

Under Scottish Stars by Carla Laureano

I'm glad to revisit Scotland with this author. Her first book was one I still haven’t forgotten. If you haven’t read Five Days in Skye, check it out! Find my review here.

Here’s the summary:

Recently widowed Serena MacDonald Stewart focuses on her children to the exclusion of her career, her art, and her sanity. When her brothers ask her to oversee the family guest house on the Isle of Skye, it’s a chance to dust off her long-ignored business skills and make a new start. But her hopes for a smooth transition are dashed when the hotel manager, Malcolm Blake, turns out to be irritating, condescending . . . and incredibly attractive.

Malcolm Blake gave up everything—his home, his girlfriend, and his career—to return to Skye and raise his late sister’s teenage daughter. With few job opportunities available on the island, he signs on as the manager of the MacDonald family hotel, which he’s soon running successfully without interference from the owners. That is, until Serena shows up, challenging his authority and his conviction that there’s nothing missing from his new life on Skye.

Before long, Serena and Malcolm have to admit the spark between them is more than mere irritation. But as single parents, there’s more on the line than their own hearts. Will their commitment to family be the thing that draws them together or the only thing that could keep them apart?

And now, my review:

The author does a great job of immersing us into the Scottish culture with their vocabulary. 

Our story is set in a luxury hotel, which provides escape for readers who'd like at least a fantasy vacation if they can't take a real one. Our heroine is a widowed single mother who is determined to take good care of her children and meet their needs, but she is tasked to help at the family's hotel. She must find a way to balance her obligations amidst the challengesa relatable pursuit and noble goal. Her son's mental and emotional health need attention. Professionally, she's a strong and capable business woman. She simply needs a fresh start, and some help.

Our hero is doing his best to prove himself a competent hotel manager. He has a knack for administration, and like most people, he doesn't want his abilities questioned. I think readers will find that relatable. But he's hiding his insecurities. I loved that before he worked at the hotel he was an accomplished astronomer at Johns Hopkins. Thus the tie-in to the title. 

It's refreshing to read novels with competent heroes and heroines. 

Their relationship is muddied as she is his boss, but he is her landlord. Great why-nots provided tension between them as their attraction grew. 

Carla does a great job with their developing romance, male POV, and the setting. An enjoyable read.