Saturday, April 17, 2021

Bookshop by the Sea by Denise Hunter


Bookshop by the Sea by Denise Hunter

Another bookshop novel! I love this trend! And isn't that a charming cover? 

Here’s the summary:

Sophie Lawson should be enjoying her sister’s wedding day. But nothing could have prepared her to see the best man again.

After her mother became bedridden and her father bailed on the family, Sophie found herself serving as a second mother to her twin brother, Seth, and younger sister, Jenna. Sophie supported her siblings through their college years, putting aside her own dream of opening a bookshop in Piper’s Cove—the quaint North Carolina beach town they frequented as children.

Now it’s finally time for Sophie to follow her own pursuits. Seth has a new job, and Jenna is set to marry her college beau in Piper’s Cove. But the destination wedding reunites Sophie with best man Aiden Maddox, her high school sweetheart who left her without a backward glance.

When an advancing hurricane strands Aiden in Piper’s Cove after the wedding, he finds the hotels booked to capacity and has to ask Sophie to put him up until the storm passes. As the two ride out the weather, old feelings rise to the surface. The delay also leaves Sophie with mere days to get her bookshop up and running. Can she trust Aiden to stick around? And will he find the courage to risk his heart?

And now, my review:

Our heroine is a dedicated, giving, maternal older sister who saw her family through some tough hardships. I liked her strengths but it was tough watching her family members take advantage of her willingness to help them. The hero saw through their manipulation but our heroine needed to learn to set boundaries. It was a little hard to believe she would parent/nurture her twin, but since he let her, that makes it more believable. Age isn't always a factor where need and roles are concerned.

The bookshop setting is a favorite, both to write and to read!

The hero’s sense of humor and sarcasm were fun and once again, Denise delivers a strong story. She includes insightful nuggets about how to treat others and how God sees us, which I highlighted. I'd quote them, except I read the ARC and the wording may have been changed in the editing phases.

Our hero is trying to outrun abandonment, which was a theme throughout, and an issue for each. Overcoming it will take courage and honesty and even transparency. Readers will relate if they’ve had to overcome a past wound.

Another theme was how the heroine gave herself in the care for others, but neglected herself, even putting her own life at risk to do something for them that they could learn to do for themselves. People often take the easy way out if you let them.

I liked how Denise tackled relatable issues in a delightful, seaside bookshop location. This is a charming and enjoyable read.

Thursday, April 1, 2021

Hope Between the Pages by Pepper Basham

Hope Between the Pages

I love books about bookshops and libraries! (No wonder there’s a trend. I’m even writing one myself!)

Let’s begin with the summary:

Uncover the story behind a one-hundred-year-old love letter.

Walk through doors to the past via a new series of historical stories of romance and adventure.

Clara Blackwell helps her mother manage a struggling one-hundred-year old family bookshop in Asheville, North Carolina, but the discovery of a forgotten letter opens a mystery of a long-lost romance and undiscovered inheritance which could save its future. Forced to step outside of her predictable world, Clara embarks on an adventure with only the name Oliver as a hint of the man’s identity in her great-great-grandmother’s letter. From the nearby grand estate of the Vanderbilts, to a hamlet in Derbyshire, England, Clara seeks to uncover truth about family and love that may lead to her own unexpected romance.

And now, my review:

Readers will relish this bookish story. We get to watch our heroine fight to retain her family’s bookshop. We also get to travel both in time and place. In the historical thread, we reside in the famous North Carolina mansion, the Biltmore, and work in its library. Yum! There’s even a pen pal element, which I adore in fiction.

Like bookshop-set novels, dual-time (split-time) novels are also a trend, and Pepper does a great job managing the story lines. We watch two romances develop, and we care about the main characters in each place. Their lives intersect across time. It was a little tricky to discern which timeline we were in without dates as headers, but the historical is written first-person, which solved that problem. Also, I read the ARC, and the headers may have been added later for clarity.

One of the themes is seeing others for who they are inside, and another theme is being seen. One of the characters is scarred but that doesn’t disqualify him from love and a full life. This aspect was meaningful to me, and I believe readers who may have worried about being disqualified for whatever reason will resonate with the truth, hope, and promise of unconditional love. In our superficial society, it’s a comfort to know unconditional love exists and the truly exceptional people will see past "flaws" to the hidden heart. God does. 

Another, related, theme was class distinctions, particularly in the historical story line. But in this thread, the roles of acceptance were reversed—a clever way to mirror a poignant theme of looking past the exteriors to the interior. Well done, Pepper!

Such an enjoyable story! Recommended! I'm already looking forward to book two in this new series.

Check this out! You can read a FREE e-book preview, available on Amazon.

Monday, March 22, 2021

The Words Between Us by Erin Bartels


The Words Between Us

Here’s a bookish novel I borrowed electronically from the library. What a great cover!

Let’s begin with the summary:

Robin Windsor has spent most of her life under an assumed name, running from her family's ignominious past. She thought she'd finally found sanctuary in her rather unremarkable used bookstore just up the street from the marina in River City, Michigan. But the store is struggling and the past is hot on her heels.

When she receives an eerily familiar book in the mail on the morning of her father's scheduled execution, Robin is thrown back to the long-lost summer she met Peter Flynt, the perfect boy who ruined everything. That book—a first edition Catcher in the Rye—is soon followed by the other books she shared with Peter nearly twenty years ago, with one arriving in the mail each day. But why would Peter be making contact after all these years? And why does she have a sinking feeling that she's about to be exposed all over again?

With evocative prose that recalls the classic novels we love, Erin Bartels pens a story that shows that words—the ones we say, the ones we read, and the ones we write—have more power than we imagine.

And now, my review:

I loved the setting of this book: both Michigan and a bookstore. I was sympathetic to the heroine right away. Her need for sanctuary made me care for her. I wanted her privacy protected, and I was glad she had supportive friends surrounding her as secondary characters.

First person is one of my favorite narrative styles, and this author’s descriptions, prose, and personifications kept the writing interesting. I loved the talking parrot, so much like my Pearl. I loved the connection to Peter and watching their relationship develop through flashbacks. It was enjoyable watching him reach out in a bookish way in the present.

The heroine’s preoccupation with death and the lack of hope early in the story weren’t a good match for me in this season. The novel didn't serve as an escape as the story was a bit heavy, so I only finished to 17%. I think I might enjoy it when life is calmer. I may pick it up again later. I wish the author and publisher all the best.

Thursday, March 4, 2021

The Prince of Spies by Elizabeth Camden

The Prince of Spies by Elizabeth Camden

Ah, the final book in a great series! 

Let’s begin with the summary:

Luke Delacroix has the reputation of a charming man-about-town in Gilded Age Washington, DC. In reality, he is secretly carrying out an ambitious agenda in Congress. His current mission is to thwart the reelection of Congressman Clyde Magruder, his only real enemy in the world.

But trouble begins when Luke meets Marianne Magruder, the congressman's only daughter, whose job as a government photographer gives her unprecedented access to sites throughout the city. Luke is captivated by Marianne's quick wit and alluring charm, leading them both into a dangerous gamble to reconcile their feelings for each other with Luke's driving passion for vital reforms in Congress.

Can their newfound love survive a political firestorm, or will three generations of family rivalry drive them apart forever?

And now, my review:

We finally get to experience Luke’s story! He’s been a secondary cast member of the earlier two books in this series where readers came to care for him. He’s a risk-taker and has a noble heart and mission. He’s willing to sacrifice his own comforts for the sake of the people he’s serving. We root for him while he inspires us.

The family feud aspect of this novel provided a perfect backdrop for conflict and romantic why-nots. How in the world will these two bridge an age-old distrust between their families? That question will keep readers hooked.

Our heroine is a successful, somewhat independent photographer working in DC in the early 1900s. I loved that she was a trusted government employee and how her job gave her access. Her world of brownie cameras and darkroom film development interested me.

Each of the MCs has a challenging weakness or difficulty to overcome. Luke can be a bit reckless in his pursuit of justice. But now he’ll have to humble himself and consider others in a new way. If he dies, how will Marianne feel? He also faces down the trauma of being locked up in a Cuban prison for fifteen months prior to this book’s start.

Our heroine is exceedingly na├»ve—a great contrast to her independence and career woman status. At times this flaw grated, but it made her growth interesting to read/watch. She is also brave and we watch her take stands in her own life, as Luke does, and we cheer for her.

I had recently seen a PBS special about the Poison Squad and the scientific study of toxic food additives in the early 1900s. This novel’s exploration of that early study interested me.

Honest journalism was a theme and because the story was set in the early 1900s and news reporters were held accountable to the truth, nationally, we were rewarded with this satisfying element.

I recommend you read the Hope of Glory series in order to fully appreciate the stories’ through lines. Personally, I enjoyed the earlier books in the series more. But this was a satisfying conclusion to a strong series. 

Friday, February 12, 2021

Glory Falls by Janine Rosche

Glory Falls by Janine Rosche

The Madison River Romance series is such an enjoyable collection! One of my favorites in a long, long time.

Here’s the summary of book three:

Two people scarred by past trauma have a chance to write a new chapter in their lives, overcome loss, and find love in the third entry in the Madison River Romance series.

Screenwriter Cecilia "Blue" Walker is victim to life's worst plot twists. Having lost her daughter to the depths of the Madison River and her husband to the arms of another woman, she finds herself yearning for something to restore her brittle faith and once-vibrant career.

Hope arrives in the form of her childhood friend, Thomas Beck, a firefighter with a legacy of larger-than-life rescues who doesn't see himself as a hero. Haunted by his past, Thomas only agrees to a movie adaptation of his story if Blue, his longtime crush, is the screenwriter.

However, as Blue and Thomas work together to bring his heroism to the big screen, the glitz and glamour of Hollywood threaten to shed light on secrets that could tear their fragile relationship and their lives apart.

And now, my review:

I loved so much about this book: finally reading Thomas’s story, the heroine’s profession as a screenwriter, the hero and heroine’s history together as childhood neighbors. The author once again delivers strong prose and excellent characterization while weaving a skillfully layered plot.

Thomas is willing to sacrifice a lot in order to help Blue who helped him so often as he grew up an abusive home. He’ll give up his privacy and let himself be depicted as a hero, though it makes him so uncomfortable. Loved these conflicting values.

Janine is excellent at dropping backstory breadcrumbs and tying story elements together. Nothing feels wasted or unintentional. Their childhoods aren’t the only elements tying these characters together, and as their other history is revealed, we feel for each of them. These overlaps made for great conflict on top of the others. But it never felt overwhelming, only intriguing. I was hooked for the entire story, highlighting, chuckling, savoring.

This reunion romance is like a hug from an old friend—warm and comforting and delightful. I read the whole series in order. I recommend you do the same, so you can track the characters. But you could read this book as a stand-alone. You won’t be lost because Thomas and Blue’s story is best explained (and mostly contained) within this novel.

Book two was by far the toughest read as it included mental health issues and violence. I mentioned in my Net’s Book Notes review of Wildflower Road that I skimmed some flashback scenes. I didn’t have to skim anything here in book three.

I love how Thomas is awkward and humble. He’s not the typical book hero. He broods, but he’s not prideful; he’s broken but he’s strong and capable. Heroic. He thinks in terms of protectiveness and action. I loved this unique and genius element of his characterization.

Another great element is the way Janine weaves faith into her stories—gently and without preaching. Themes in this story include forgiveness, restoration, and redemption. Christian readers will delight in faith-filled values.

His self-sacrificing nature will endear readers to him. The heroine hopes to help him too. It’s two-sided and because she’s competent, giving, and compassionate, we root for her too.

There were a few plot twists, and I loved how the author didn’t settle for predictable events.

Their project (the movie she’s writing about him, see summary) keeps them together and it’s the perfect “call” for Thomas to face his self-image and the buried pain. And all of it overlaps. So well done.

Again, one of my favorite reads and series lately. Loved it! I’ll watch for Janine’s next book, even if this series is over.

Highly recommended!

Saturday, February 6, 2021

Promised by Leah Garriott

Promised by Leah Garriott

Oh, what a lovely cover. I can feel the dew and smell the morning air. Love it!

Let’s begin with the summary:

Margaret Brinton keeps her promises, and the one she is most determined to keep is the promise to protect her heart.

Fooled by love once before, Margaret vows never to be played the fool again. To keep her vow, she attends a notorious matchmaking party intent on securing the perfect marital match: a union of convenience to someone who could never affect her heart. She discovers a man who exceeds all her hopes in the handsome and obliging rake Mr. Northam.

There’s only one problem. His meddling cousin, Lord Williams, won’t leave Margaret alone. Condescending and high-handed, Lord Williams lectures and insults her. When she refuses to give heed to his counsel, he single-handedly ruins Margaret’s chances for making a good match—to his cousin or anyone else. With no reason to remain at the party, Margaret returns home to discover her father has promised her hand in marriage—to Lord Williams.

Under no condition will Margaret consent to marrying such an odious man. Yet as Lord Williams inserts himself into her everyday life, interrupting her family games and following her on morning walks, winning the good opinion of her siblings and proving himself intelligent and even kind, Margaret is forced to realize that Lord Williams is exactly the type of man she’d hoped to marry before she’d learned how much love hurt. When paths diverge and her time with Lord Williams ends, Margaret is faced with her ultimate choice: keep the promises that protect her or break free of them for one more chance at love. Either way, she fears her heart will lose.

And now, my review:

I love the premise for this story: our heroine has made herself a promise. She will protect her heart in the future. She’s suffered a broken heart. So, Margaret will go into a relationship with her eyes wide open. And she’ll avoid love. She thinks. The Proper Romance novels are often so delicious. I hadn’t read this author before (later I learned this is her debut novel), but I knew with that cover, and since it was from that line, I had to give it a try. So glad I did. The story kept me hooked. Just when I thought the plot might wind down, it picked up momentum again and I was more delighted than before.

The author is adept at including symbolism, and I relished the hidden messages and dialogue subtext. Her descriptions immersed me in the setting and helped me experience the story with the characters. I loved the setting of the English countryside and the manors. Mentions of lakes and rivers and trees and gardens.

Our hero is a mystery. Since the story is solely first person from the heroine’s POV, and we never have the advantage of another’s point of view, we are left wondering what he’s thinking and what his motives are.

Once we understand what the hero is about, we love him. He’s determined and honorable and gentle. There were a few confusing moments because again, we’re only in her POV. And at times, though overall the romance threads were enjoyable, the heroine's internal monologue felt a little juvenile. The narrative was a bit redundant while the heroine ruminated. It’s believable that someone would deliberate over and over, but it isn’t always engaging. I read the ARC, and this element may have been worked out in the editing and rewriting stage. Still, I didn’t skim very often.

Overall, a very enjoyable debut by a promising author! I’ll watch for her next book.

Sunday, January 31, 2021

Things We Didn’t Say by Amy Lynn Green


Things We Didn't Say by Amy Lynn Green

Let’s begin with the summary:

Headstrong Johanna Berglund, a linguistics student at the University of Minnesota, has very definite plans for her future . . . plans that do not include returning to her hometown and the secrets and heartaches she left behind there. But the US Army wants her to work as a translator at a nearby camp for German POWs.

Johanna arrives to find the once-sleepy town exploding with hostility. Most patriotic citizens want nothing to do with German soldiers laboring in their fields, and they're not afraid to criticize those who work at the camp as well. When Johanna describes the trouble to her friend Peter Ito, a language instructor at a school for military intelligence officers, he encourages her to give the town that rejected her a second chance.

As Johanna interacts with the men of the camp and censors their letters home, she begins to see the prisoners in a more sympathetic light. But advocating for better treatment makes her enemies in the community, especially when charismatic German spokesman Stefan Werner begins to show interest in Johanna and her work. The longer Johanna wages her home-front battle, the more the lines between compassion and treason become blurred--and it's no longer clear whom she can trust.

And now, my review:

This is an epistolary novel (one that is told entirely through letters). I enjoy this second-person storytelling style. And though we don’t get to explore deep POV in the traditional way, we still get a sense that the heroine is strong, opinionated, and highly intelligent. We respect her. We cheer for her even as we wish she’d mature.

We revisit WWII in this novel as well, which is both interesting and at times heavy.

I liked the secondary characters, whom we learn about via their own letters or how they’re described by the letter writers. I related with the heroine’s love of languages and desire to expand her experience, not return to what she used to know. I liked how she sought to move forward and not be dragged backward. Yet the circumstances gave her no choice. I also liked this approach to a WWII novel—from the POW’s point of view.

Hats off to the author for writing a full historical in this genre. Unfortunately, when my attention started to wane at about 13 percent into the book, I gave up in favor of the dozens of books in my TBR pile. Readers who enjoy a new approach to the WWII historical genre will likely love the subtleties and history of this book. I am interested in the German-American’s experience of that time period and may return to this novel in the future when I’m not under deadline with other reviews and library turnaround.

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Wildflower Road by Janine Rosche

Wildflower Road by Janine Rosche

Madison River Romance series; book two I recommend you read book one first, but you won’t be lost if you don’t. Book one is called This Wandering Heart. You can read my review for book one here.

Let’s begin with the summary for Wildflower Road:

A young widow is tempted to love again after her heartbreaking loss in this new Madison River Romance.

After her husband's tragic death, Ryann Marie Ashcroft's only remaining dream is to save her family's struggling mountain resort. And the last person she wants to rely on is a brooding stranger with secrets of his own.

Nicknamed America's rock-and-roll pastor, Shane Olson arrives in Montana after a viral video destroys his marriage, his ministry, and his reputation. Working side by side on the banks of the Madison River, he and Ryann get a second chance at love. But not everyone wants to see their happily ever after.

And now, my review:

After reading This Wandering Heart, I was curious about this character. She was the hero’s sister, and she made interesting choices in book one. So, getting to read her story and learn more about her motives helped satisfy my curiosity.

Ryann is a complex character. She’s a young widow (see summary) and has suffered a lot. We saw a bit of that in book one. But here we learn the whole story. I appreciated the author’s note explaining that this book deals with “sensitive issues including harassment, depression, and suicide.” As a reader who is sensitive to content, this was fair warning that I would likely be skimming some scenes, and I did. I felt the author handled these subjects well, and again, the author letter at the beginning of the story helped prepare me. I’d say the story is well worth reading, but only if those issues will not cause more harm for the reader.

Shane, the story’s hero, is also complex. He’s a former pastor who is hiding from his past. But he’s honorable and noble, gentle and kind. I loved this pastoring aspect to his character every time we got to explore it on the page with other characters. In fact, there wasn’t quite enough of this aspect for me.

After reading book one, I delighted to find Janine’s trademark prose and description style in book two. She writes insightfully, using her descriptions to take us into the character’s experience in profound ways. Like this excerpt from page 147 when the hero finally opens up to the heroine:

“She wouldn’t dare move. Not even breathe. This moment had the fragility of winter’s first blanket of ice atop the lake. One misstep and they’d both fall through.”

Grace is one of the book’s themes. I loved exploring this. A pastor should understand grace, and yet Shane struggles with this. He’s in agreement with shame and condemnation at the beginning of the story. It was enjoyable watching God woo Shane back to Himself and into freedom. The author again includes God speaking within the narrative. Yay!

Another positive ingredient is the friendships in this story and how Ryann’s community surrounds her, and eventually Shane as well. Ryann’s fiercely protective and hasn’t learned to trust God to protect her family and friends. She has a martyr’s mentality, but without wisdom it’s a messiah complex that is detrimental and even dangerous.

Another of Janine’s skills is dropping breadcrumbs without leaving readers feeling too lost or worse, frustrated. She also includes humor, so readers won’t feel the story line is too heavy.

Overall, a very good read. I can’t wait to dive into book three.

Sunday, January 17, 2021

This Wandering Heart by Janine Rosche


This Wandering Heart by Janine Rosche

Madison River Romance series: Book One

A fellow reader recommended this book to me. So glad my library had it in e-book format.

Let’s begin with the summary:

In the first entry in the Madison River Romance series, Keira Knudsen gets the traveling opportunity of a lifetime, but when she reunites with her first love, Robbie, she learns that even a wandering heart needs a home....

No one in the quaint town of West Yellowstone, Montana, knows that unassuming geography teacher Keira Knudsen moonlights as sensational travel blogger Kat Wanderfull. No one, that is, except for her first love, Robbie Matthews, who has just discovered the woman he is falling for online is the same one that broke his heart five years ago.

But Robbie has another problem: the mother of his daughter, Anabelle, has resurfaced after a three-year absence determined to rip Anabelle away from him. Robbie needs a steady paycheck for a chance at custody, and now, on the eve of a grand adventure that could give Keira a chance to flee her old, troubled life once and for all, she is in need of assistance.

With so much broken trust between them, Keira and Robbie must keep an arms-length away to make this partnership work. But the more time they spend together, exploring majestic places and sharing new experiences, the closer they get—until their secrets and dreams threaten to cost them everything.

And now, my review:

Oh, I loved this book! I haven’t read this author before (that I recall). We have a travel blogger who serves as a product influencer. A very interesting, trendy career. Loved that. She’s nomadic and troubled by her past. But she's also looking for a good relationship.

The hero is a great single father to his young daughter. This aspect was so well written. He sacrificed and protected, and their interactions were adorable. 

I loved that this was a reunion romance. These two were once in love. They share a pen pal relationship, which I really enjoyed. 

The author’s prose and descriptions helped immersed me in the story. I felt I was in the locations Kat Wanderfull visited. 

Here’s an example of the author's prose: “…before finding his eyes, which still lingered on her mouth. A dreamy expression flickered across his face. If she had to guess, he found his way to the same memory, but he set up a picnic there.” (page 43)

Or this: “Just like that, a portion of her fortress crumbled. And Keira had no immediate plans to rebuild.” (page 84)

These two had fun banter! Their jobs force them together, leading to some great romantic tension. From what I could find this isn’t a Christian publisher, but the story is “clean” or wholesome. (You won’t find nudity, profanity, or sex scenes.)

My favorite part of this book, on top of all the other things I loved about it, was the way the author included God in the story. She added a touch here and there. Two-way dialogue, God directing the imperfect characters. So good! 

The book deals with some heavier material, but it’s not overly so. I found a ton to love about it and looked forward to reading opportunities throughout the day. I could barely put it down to tackle life stuff.

The overall feel is that of hope as light comes into the circumstances. A great story. A great romance. Imperfect characters who grow and find hope. Excellent prose. I loved it. 

Looking forward to checking out the next books in this series.

Highly recommended!