Monday, November 15, 2021

An Alleged Rogue by Sian Ann Bessey

An Alleged Rogue by Sian Ann Bessey

Isn’t that an intriguing cover?

Here’s the summary:

Lord Adam Dunsbourne is a tyrant. At least, that’s what everyone says. The tales are shocking: accounts of a man who gambled away the family fortune and keeps his younger sister, Emily, captive in their home at Dunsbourne Manor. So when Adam and his sister make an unexpected appearance at a dinner party, the scandalized whispers cannot be contained.

New to the town, Phoebe Hadford hears the condemning rumors and determines to do all she can to help the baron’s oppressed sister. Upon entering Dunsbourne Manor, however, she quickly discovers that all is not what she has been led to believe.

Adam, unsure of whether he can trust the intentions of his beautiful neighbor, is quickly drawn in by Phoebe’s genuine nature. But even as Adam and Phoebe’s connection deepens, a dangerous enemy from Adam’s past reemerges. For years, Adam has hunted for the man who betrayed him, not realizing he had only to wait. His foe has returned, and this time, he will threaten everything Adam cherishes most—including the woman he loves.

And now, my review:

I admit I was a little lost as this story opened, without a date. But my interest kicked in when I realized that both the hero and heroine have preconceptions about the other that are untrue. Of course, the plot throws them together, which means we got to watch them begin to unravel those falsehoods. I liked this aspect.

The hero runs an orchard, so we get to learn more about apple varieties. This was interesting as well. I’d rather focus on the relationships, and this apple preoccupation at times got in the way. We discover he’s likable and earnest, a noble nobleman.

The heroine is gracious socially. She takes the hero’s sister under her wing and eases her way into society. This made the sincere and kind heroine even more likable.

Admittedly, too, I read the ARC so these elements may have changed, but the plot occasionally meandered from a true course. There were a few places where I was no longer hooked into the story, and I ended up giving up about halfway through.

That said, I wish the author all the best. This is book three in the Georgian Gentlemen Series, but it seems to stand alone.

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!

Monday, October 11, 2021

Mistletoe Countess by Pepper Basham

Mistletoe Countess by Pepper Basham

Such an enjoyable Christmas read!

Here’s the summary:

Will the magic of Christmas bring these two newlyweds closer together, or will the ghosts of the past lead them into a destructive discovery from which not even a Dickens’s Christmas can save them?

Mistletoe is beautiful and dangerous, much like the woman from Lord Frederick’s Percy’s past, so when he turns over a new leaf and arranges to marry for his estate, instead of his heart, he never expects the wrong bride to be the right choice. Gracelynn Ferguson never expected to take her elder sister’s place as a Christmas bride, but when she’s thrust into the choice, she will trust in her faithful novels and overactive imagination to help her not only win Frederick’s heart but also to solve the murder mystery of Havensbrook Hall before the ghosts from Frederick’s past ruin her fairytale future.

And now, my review:

Pepper’s rich storytelling and strong prose immersed me into the story from the beginning. And that premise: the wrong bride is (somehow) the right choice! What a hook.

According to the hero, the heroine has "no reserve whatsoever." Ha! That’s enough to make him uncomfortable. She’s lively and unpredictable. He’s burdened by regrets and has allowed “the past to attach weights to the future.” Insightful lines like that pop up now and then like Christmas gifts to the reader.

The romantic thread is enjoyable, centered around books and fiction, and being the heroine or hero of your own story. The newlyweds' relationship must begin at the beginning, and it's fun watching their intimacy grow.

I appreciated how Pepper included symbolism throughout. Our heroine is very intelligent and strong. She’s courageous. Our hero carries the burdens of his role as a nobleman, but he’s kind, which draws her. She can see his heroic side, even if he can’t. She supports him in a beautiful way, and that thread felt like a takeaway for married readers.

One recurring thought moved me often as I read: I want to see this book made into a movie. The rich setting and prose, the characters, the romance—this story begs to be shown, played out.

I loved this novel! Highly recommended!  

Monday, September 13, 2021

The Gold in These Hills by Joanne Bischof


The Gold in These Hills

I’ve really enjoyed Joanne’s work in the past and was excited to read this novel.

Let’s begin with the summary:

When mail-order bride Juniper’s husband vanishes, she writes to him—but fears she's waiting for a ghost in a ghost town. A century later, Johnny Sutherland discovers her letters while restoring her abandoned farmhouse. Can her loving words from the distant past change his present?

1902: Upon arriving in Kenworthy, California, mail-order bride Juniper Cohen is met by the pounding of the gold mine, an untamable landscape, and her greatest surprise of all: the kind and charming man who awaits her. But when the mine proves empty of profit, and when Juniper’s husband, John, vanishes, Juniper is left to fend for herself and her young daughter in the dying town that is now her home.

Juniper pens letters to her husband but fears she is waiting on a ghost. Perhaps worse, rumors abound claiming the man she loves could be an outlaw. Fighting for survival, she befriends the few people left in Kenworthy and refuses to leave, resolving to be exactly where her husband left her in case he comes home. Surviving in a ghost town requires trusting the kindness of a few remaining souls, including the one who can unlock the mystery of her husband’s disappearance.

Present day: Trying to escape the heartache of his failed marriage, Johnny Sutherland throws himself into raising his children and restoring a hundred-year-old abandoned farmhouse in what was once known as Kenworthy in the San Jacinto Mountains. While exploring its secrets he uncovers Juniper’s letters and is moved by the handwritten accounts that bear his name—and as a love story from the past touches his own world, Johnny might discover yet that hope and resilience go hand in hand.

And now, my review:

Joanne’s strong prose hooks readers from the first line: It’s paramount that my daughter and I survive the coming winter, yet ghost towns are not for the living. Epic, right? I loved that we’re in first person, my favorite narrative choice.

This split-time novel is unpredictable and inventive, elements I liked.

The historical heroine’s life is a challenge for survival, and she’s raising her daughter alone, suddenly, which raises the stakes.

One of the themes, as the MC (main character) fights with her community to keep her townspeople alive, is that of restoration. Some towns just die. Will hers?

We bounce back and forth between the past and the present. In the past we’re in the heroine’s POV, fighting to carry on. In the present, in a very strong male POV voice, we’re doing a bit of the same while restoring a farmhouse. He’s a contractor, who also must overcome and raise his children. Each MC is sympathetic and likable.

Another theme was that unknowns can paralyze us in place, but there can be treasures in the darkness. We have to go through the challenges to find those riches. The characters have to face the pain of love and loss, the deserts of life. There's a choice to hope, or not. Very relatable.

Unfortunately the story lost me near the end. I ended up skimming. Perhaps it was the season of the pandemic, but life was already heavy enough and I gave up on this story. I felt there was a lot of potential, but it didn’t play out the way I’d hoped.

Still, I wish the author and publisher all the best. I will definitely watch for more novels by this author.

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 27, 2021

The Merchant and the Rogue by Sarah M. Eden


The Merchant and the Rogue

Sarah’s historical romances are some of my favorites!

Let’s begin with the summary:

London, 1865

Vera Sorokina loves reading the Penny Dreadfuls and immersing herself in tales of adventure, mystery, and romance. Her own days are filled with the often mundane work of running the book and print shop she owns with her father. The shop offers her the freedom and income to employ and protect the poverty-stricken Londoners she’s come to care about, and it gives her father something to do other than long for their hometown of St. Petersburg. She is grateful for the stability in their lives, but she often feels lonely.

Brogan Donnelly was born and raised in Ireland, but has lived in London for several years, where he’s built a career as a Penny Dreadful writer. He has dedicated himself to the plight of the poor with the help of his sister. His membership in the secretive Dread Penny Society allows him to feel he isn’t entirely wasting his life, yet he feels dissatisfied. With no one to share his life with but his sister, he fears London will never truly feel like home.

Brogan’s and Vera’s paths cross, and the attraction is both immediate and ill-advised. Vera knows from past experience that writers are never to be trusted, and Brogan has reason to suspect not everything at her print shop is aboveboard. When the growing criminal enterprise run by the elusive and violent Mastiff begins targeting their area of London, Brogan and Vera must work together to protect the community they’ve both grown to love. But that means they’ll need to learn to trust each other with dangerous secrets that have followed both of them from their home countries.

And now, my review:

Oh, this series! Once again, I applaud the author for writing stories within these novels as she includes the Penny Dreadfuls written by her characters.

Our hero is an earnest member of the Dread Penny Society, as one of their authors and a sort of vigilante in town. He’s competent, and the others believe in him, but he's unaware of his own strengths. He’s also undercover, which means, he can’t tell the heroine he writes the books she loves so much. What a fun element!

Our heroine is a strong shopkeeper who longs for adventure and love. She’s loyal to her father and helpful to her community. And she doesn’t trust liars.

The hero comes across as lonely and kind, someone readers will root for. He has sacrificed a lot, been misunderstood, and faces more of the same—with all of its pain. We want to see him happy and repaid for all his losses.

As we follow their story, the author treats us to lilting language. Each secondary penny dreadful has its own unique voice as well.

I liked the hero’s savvy sister. There were nuggets of wisdom throughout the novel that I highlighted as I read. The tricks of speech and jargon were fascinating as well, like these: “I’d not pour rumor broth in your ear…” and “spill your budget.” (both from location 2340 of the ARC, which may vary from the final published version) You can almost hear the characters’ varied accents while you read.

I recommend beginning with the first book in this series, so readers are less lost in this unusual story world.  

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.

Saturday, July 17, 2021

NEW COLLECTION: Finding Love In... Romantic Collection

Finding Love In... Romantic Collection

Hey friends! 

My publisher has grouped together four of the books from her Finding Love In imprint, including my Finding Love on Bainbridge Island, Washington, novel. That story won the 2019 Selah Award!

You can pick up the set for only $0.99 here.  

This collection includes four full-length novels, two by author and publisher Miralee Ferrell and one by Angela Ruth Strong, plus mine. 

Finding Love In... Romantic Collection

Finding Love in Sun Valley, Idaho by Angela Ruth Strong

Actress Emily Van Arsdale has returned to her Idaho hometown - with an entire film crew in tow! With its stunning scenery and reputation for hosting celebrities, Sun Valley is the perfect setting for Emily’s newest romantic comedy. 

Tracen Lake is happy to work as a stunt consultant for the movie but not as thrilled to deal with a bunch of high-maintenance Hollywood types. But Tracen is surprised to discover in Emily a down-to-earth Idaho girl who does all her own stunts and loves the outdoors. As filming wraps up and Emily heads off to her next gig, will she be able to leave Sun Valley and Tracen behind?

Finding Love in Last Chance, California by Miralee Ferrell

It's 1877 and Alexia Travers is alone in the world. Her father has died unexpectedly, leaving her burdened with a heavily mortgaged horse ranch. Marrying one of the town’s all-too-willing bachelors would offer an easy solution, but Alex has no interest in marriage.

Instead, she dons men’s clothing and rides the range, determined to make the ranch a success on her own. Help arrives when Justin Phillips, an acquaintance of her father’s, comes to Last Chance with his young son. Justin's and Alex’s combined effort to save the ranch quickly turns into a fierce competition between cowboy and tomboy.
But when disaster threatens Travers' Ranch, they must work together to save someone they both love. Can these two independent people learn to depend on God —and on each other?

Finding Love on Bainbridge Island, Washington by Annette M. Irby

Selah Award winner 2019!

Neither of them is ready for a relationship, but love may not give them an out. 

Jenna-Shea Brown considers herself a broken therapist. Years ago, she witnessed something that caused PTSD. She can’t let her boss or her patients know about her battle. Who would want to trust her to help them, when she can’t help herself? She’s finally able to find a fresh start in her family’s beach cabin, but the renovations aren’t complete. Her parents have hired her ex-boyfriend to finalize them, but his negligence led to her being in the wrong place at the wrong time all those years ago. 

Liam Barrett is trying to prove he’s nothing like his deadbeat dad. He’s working hard, yet still failing. Adrenaline and adventure offer him a diversion, but maybe he can’t escape his genes. He’d like to make things right with Shea, but he’s unsure if she’ll forgive him. Meanwhile, he’s challenged to forgive his father. He’s also worried about Shea and all these episodes she won’t explain. Now that they’re back in close proximity, he’s falling for her again. But can anything heal the past? 

Finding Love in Tombstone, Arizona by Miralee Ferrell

Love and second chances aren’t easy to come by in a town named Tombstone.

When Christy Grey receives an urgent summons to Tombstone, Arizona, she reluctantly leaves her new life in California. The trip goes from bad to worse when four masked men hold up Christy’s stage. She finally arrives in Tombstone to find her mother ill and her brother trapped in a life of gambling. Desperate for money to support her family, will Christy bow to pressure from the local saloon owners and return to the life she thought she’d given up for good?

Nevada King has problems of his own. He’s been dodging bullets for years and wants nothing more than to settle down and get married. But he’s on the run from outlaws bent on revenge, and the one woman who captures his interest recognizes him from the stagecoach holdup. Will Christy turn Nevada in to the authorities, or will the outlaws on his trail catch him first?

Finding Love In... Romantic Collection

Monday, June 21, 2021

Paint and Nectar by Ashley Clark


Paint and Nectar by Ashley Clark

Paint and Nectar is book two in the Heirloom Secrets series. Book one is called The Dress Shop on King Street.

Here’s the summary:

In 1929, a spark forms between Eliza, a talented watercolorist, and William, a charming young man with a secret that could ruin her career. Their families forbid their romance because of a long-standing feud over missing heirloom silver. Still, Eliza and William's passion grows despite the barriers, causing William to deeply regret the secret he's keeping . . . but setting things right will come at a cost.

In present-day Charleston, a mysterious benefactor gifts Lucy Legare an old house, along with all the secrets it holds--including enigmatic letters about an antique silver heirloom. Declan Pinckney, whom Lucy's been avoiding since their disastrous first date, is set on buying her house for his family's development company. As Lucy uncovers secrets about the house, its garden, and the silver, she becomes more determined than ever to preserve the historic Charleston property, not only for history's sake but also for her own.

And now, my review:

Oh, goodness! Following three timelines (the prologue included) is a feat. Generally timeslip novels have two timelines. Readers miss out, I think, when there are two many main characters to follow. We don’t get the advantage of a deep dive into any one character’s life/story/emotions. We stay at a surface level, which was a sacrifice that didn’t help me engage with this story or care about these characters. Thankfully the author/publisher (at least in the ARC) included dates at the opening of new scenes. But I felt like I needed a chart on hand. 

Perhaps if I’d read book one in this series, that would have helped me not feel so lost. (I have no idea how tied together they are.) Having given up trying to track everyone and every time frame, I broke my rule and read an online review about this book as I was formulating my own feedback. As a general practice, I avoid doing that because I like sharing my own opinions without being swayed. Here's what I found: another reviewer mentioned being confused by the characters and she said, in her opinion, the timeslip element didn’t quite work in this novel. Perhaps I wasn’t the only reader to feel that way. I also admit, this author is new to me, so I was unfamiliar with her voice. That fact doesn’t always keep me from connecting with a work, but perhaps that played a part here.

Though this book wasn’t for me, I wish the author and publisher all the best. 

I received a complimentary copy in exchange for my honest review.

Friday, June 18, 2021

The Lacemaker by Laura Frantz

Let’s begin with the summary:

When colonial Williamsburg explodes like a powder keg on the eve of the American Revolution, Lady Elisabeth "Liberty" Lawson is abandoned by her fiancé and suspected of being a spy for the hated British. No one comes to her aid save the Patriot Noble Rynallt, a man with formidable enemies of his own. Liberty is left with a terrible choice. Will the Virginia belle turned lacemaker side with the radical revolutionaries, or stay true to her English roots? And at what cost?

And now, my review:

Sometimes reading historicals feels like embarking on a long, intensive journey. It’s immersive, or can be, because some of the terms, locations, and certainly the timelines are foreign to us. If you’ve hung out here at my blog very long, you’ve probably noticed I most often read and review contemporaries. A lot of my close writing buddies enjoy historicals, and they highly recommend this author, so I gave this book a try. Unfortunately, it didn’t grab me.

Even now, trying again to read it, I checked Amazon to see if this is book two or later in a series and perhaps that was why I wasn't connecting with these characters. From what I saw, there aren’t earlier books. I definitely felt at a disadvantage, like I was missing earlier character development. 

I liked the occupation of lace making. My great-grandmother was a tatter. Thankfully, she taught my older sister how to tat before she passed. The skill lives on. Very intricate work, and a fascinating choice for our heroine.

The political conflicts were also interesting, as this was a key historical season in American history.

Since I couldn’t get into the story, I’m going to move on with my TBR pile and let this one go. I wish the author and publisher all the best.

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Is It Any Wonder by Courtney Walsh


Is It Any Wonder by Courtney Walsh

Courtney is an excellent writer! As you can see here at my blog, I've been on a kick lately, reading her work. This is book two in her Nantucket Love Story series.

Let’s begin with the summary:

Can a promise made as kids bring them back together as adults? In this Nantucket-set beach read, “master of the genre” (Midwest Book Review) Courtney Walsh delivers a sparkling inspirational romance about first love and second chances.

Twelve years ago, Cody Boggs and Louisa Chambers made a pact that no matter where their lives took them, they’d return to Nantucket Island’s Brant Point Lighthouse on July 30, their shared golden birthday, and continue their tradition of exchanging birthday wishes. But that was before a tragic accident upended both of their lives, irrevocably pulling them apart.

Their worlds collide just months before that particular day when Louisa’s fledgling event planning company is hired by the local Coast Guard station, where she discovers Cody has recently returned to the island as the second in command. As they plan a regatta fundraiser, hoping to promote positive PR in the community, neither can deny the fireworks each encounter ignites. But working together also brings up memories of the day Cody’s father died, revealing secrets that have Cody and Louisa questioning everything they thought they knew and felt about their families and each other.

And now, my review:

I really enjoyed book one of the Nantucket Love Story series, which is called If for Any Reason. See my review here. It’s no wonder (ha!) that Courtney is known as a “master of the genre.” She writes an excellent romance, book after book.

Our hero is quiet, but feels things deeply. He carries huge regrets. The heroine’s conflict intersects  because she carries the same regret. I loved that the hero is a Coastguardsman. He’s courageous and strong and noble as he faces the force that took his father.

I admired the heroine’s strength. She’s a competent business owner who knows her niche and pursues her dreams. But not without insecurities. She’s a people person, so she wants to see folks get along, especially her favorite folks—even if they’re all carrying the same burden from the past. Every character in the story is layered and flawed, and I rooted for most of them. The author kept me hooked the whole time, though this is a long book. So worth it.

I loved that this was a reunion romance—one of my favorite types. The hero and heroine share a birthdate and their golden birthday (the birthday that matches the day of the month they were born—the 30th) carries extra weight. I liked this original aspect. It was also very interesting to see two intuitive main characters (Myers-Briggs personality category). I haven't seen that element often enough. 

Courtney uses sarcasm and humor to keep things from getting to heavy. So well done.

One of the themes was how truth impacts lives—whether kept or shared. Truth can set you free, but it can also hurt. I felt for these characters.

Beaches are my favorite setting, so that aspect really appealed to me. The way Courtney wrote this story, I could see it playing out as a movie. It’s very cinematic. I could not only see the scenes unfolding, but they felt "big"—movie worthy. Courtney's A Match Made at Christmas, which came out last fall, is being made into a movie and I really hope her Nantucket books get the same opportunity. (Read my review for that Christmas novella here.)

(A side note: I noticed several similarities to my 2017 Friday Harbor novel, which I’m sure is a coincidence. There were multiple differences as well, of course.)

My TBR (to-be-read) pile is overflowing, but I could definitely read this novel again. Very enjoyable!

Highly recommended!

Monday, May 24, 2021

Just Look Up by Courtney Walsh

Just Look Up by Courtney Walsh

Let’s take a little trip back to 2017 for today’s review. I’m enjoying getting caught up with Courtney’s backlist. Just Look Up is book one in her Harbor Pointe series, set in Michigan.

Here’s the summary:

After tirelessly climbing the ranks of her Chicago-based interior design firm, Lane Kelley is about to land her dream promotion when devastating news about her brother draws her back home—a quaint tourist town full of memories she’d just as soon forget. With her cell phone and laptop always within reach, Lane aims to check on her brother while staying focused on work—something her eclectic family doesn’t understand.

Ryan Brooks never expected to settle down in Harbor Pointe, Michigan, but after his final tour of duty, it was the only place that felt like home. Now knee-deep in a renovation project that could boost tourism for the struggling town, he is thrilled to see Lane, the girl he secretly once loved, even if the circumstances of her homecoming aren’t ideal.

Their reunion gets off to a rocky start, however, when Ryan can’t find a trace of the girl he once knew in the woman she is today. As he slowly chips away at the walls Lane has built, secrets from his past collide with a terrible truth even he is reluctant to believe. Facing a crossroads that could define his future with Lane and jeopardize his relationship with the surrogate family he’s found in the Kelleys, Ryan hopes Lane can see that maybe what really matters has been right in front of her all along—if only she’d just look up.

And now, my review:

I love reunion romances, even more so when we learn that one of the two had a crush on the other person earlier in their lives. It’s like a built-in chemistry boost, especially if the object of affection had no idea.

Our heroine struggles with insecurities, and she has never felt she belonged, even with her family. When her family members favor forgiveness for the sake of unity, she’s left out. She’ll either have to choose forgiveness too or continue to be an outsider.

She feels most secure at work, where she hides from everything else. Some readers may relate. She also hides behind her phone, and I liked the double entendre of looking up from her phone as well as looking up toward God. Great themes.

We got to know Ryan a little, not nearly like we dove into Lane’s psyche. But I was glad. Given he was a war vet, his contribution to the story could have been violent or heavier. What we do learn of him is his nobility. He’s an excellent big brother, and he fits right into the community the heroine left behind. He knows how to accept grace, despite his rough childhood.

Because the heroine’s entire strength lies in her work, she lets it rule her. She doesn’t set boundaries. She works too many hours, never has downtime. But the beachy setting of Harbor Pointe interferes with that, along with her family and Ryan who can clearly see how unhealthy her compulsions are.

She rebuilt herself from her childhood years. This was relatable and made her respectable, even as we watched her struggle to change, to let go. I felt the story needed a little smoothing over, and the last quarter felt rushed. But generally, I enjoyed the novel. And I recommend it! Courtney has a way of inserting profound statements that are relatable and poignant like few authors I’ve read lately. I’m working my way through all her books!

Monday, May 17, 2021

If for Any Reason by Courtney Walsh


If for Any Reason by Courney Walsh

This is book one in the Nantucket Love Story series.

I am a Courtney Walsh fan. Love her writing style—profound insights without preaching plus great storytelling.

Let’s begin with the summary:

Emily Ackerman has traveled the world, her constant compass and companion a book of letters her mother left for her when she died. With no father in the picture, her mom’s advice has been her only true north. But when professional failure leads Emily back to Nantucket to renovate and sell the family cottage she inherited, she wonders if her mom left advice to cover this . . . especially when her grandmother arrives to “supervise.” And especially when her heart becomes entangled with Hollis McGuire, the boy next door–turned–baseball star who’s back on the island after a career-ending injury.

As sparks fly between her and Hollis, Emily is drawn to island life, even as she uncovers shocking secrets about the tragic accident that led to her mother’s death. With her world turned upside down, Emily must choose between allowing the voices from her past to guide her future or forging her own path forward.

And now, my review:

Our heroine grew up without her father, which has left a void in her life and a determination that any man who would abandon or avoid his family isn’t trustworthy. She hasn’t taken into account reasons a man might do that. This was a great conflict between the characters. Loved this tension as it unfolded, and I enjoyed the fatherhood theme throughout.

This is a reunion romance, which is one of my favorites. I saw some of the vignettes Courtney describes as movie scenes; they were so well written. Here’s an example from page 32:

As he strode toward them, Emily felt her shoulders straighten. It was almost as if he were moving in slow motion, as if her past were unraveling right in front of her. Her heart quickened. She hadn’t counted on this—on him.

The vision unspools in your mind, doesn’t it?

Security is another theme. The heroine protects herself with guards and always leaves herself an out. I think this will be relatable to readers who’ve ever felt unsure while visiting their hometown and facing down their pasts, especially those whose pasts are messy. Emily’s past is messy. She doesn’t feel she belongs—another relatable theme for readers.

Oh, the chemistry between these characters. I highlighted several places where Courtney paired their history and their conversational game that builds intimacy with their chemistry. These two will only let the other person in, even while Emily keeps Hollis at arm’s length. A great romantic tension, believable. Well crafted.

Our heroine is an actress, which was a fun career. She manifested the talent from childhood. I loved this aspect of her life. She’d been a child star, someone our hero could grow up crushing on. Yummy, right?

Though she has passed, Emily’s mother offers advice to her through letters. This was an interesting element as well. We tend to elevate the words of those who've passed, don't we? I don't blame her. This ingredient was well handled.

There are family secrets to discover in this well-woven novel. For all those reasons and more, I loved this book.

Highly recommended.

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Hooked on You by Kathleen Fuller

Hooked on You by Kathleen Fuller

New release!

Look at that gorgeous cover! A different take on the bookshop craze—a knitting/yarn shop!

Let’s begin with the summary:

She never wanted to come back. He never wants to leave. The town of Maple Falls has plans for them both.

Riley McAllister is living the dream in New York City . . . if the dream means being a struggling mixed-media artist, part-time food delivery driver, and having a carefully curated social media to hide all of the above. She refuses to admit defeat and move back to small-town Maple Falls, but when her grandmother breaks her leg sliding into third base during a softball game (she was safe, by the way), Riley reluctantly agrees to go home and help the woman who raised her—while secretly hoping she can convince Mimi to sell her house and yarn shop and move in with a good friend. Then Riley can return to her new life in NYC, on her own and for good.

But Mimi has her own plans, which include setting Riley up with local baseball star Hayden Price, who returned to Maple Falls after an injury ended his major league career. Now he works at his father’s hardware store, coaches the church softball team, and worries about the declining town. It’s not the life he dreamed of having.

With a little meddling and a lot of kindness from the town, Hayden and Riley find themselves unexpectedly falling for each other as they discover the true meaning of home.

Welcome to Maple Falls, where everyone knows your name and your business.

And now, my review:

Our heroine is an artist, which is an interesting career to read about. She’s struggling to achieve her dreams, and I think readers will relate with that. I enjoy story lines that include a character chasing their aspirations, working hard, sacrificing. She’s ashamed of the length of time it’s taking. Perhaps she’s looking for validation in the wrong area—again, relatable for readers.

Our hero hasn’t achieved his goals either. He coaches the elderly in their softball team, which brings him in close proximity to the heroine and her grandmother in a unique way. I liked that we shared time in his POV. He’s just as much a victim of Mimi’s meddling, but that adds to the fun. We get to spend time in Mimi’s POV. She’s eccentric and feisty. So many interesting characters.

The small-town atmosphere is a charming setting. I liked the originality of the artist's career and the yarn shop. 

Unfortunately, though, the book plodded along for me. I couldn’t get hooked into the story. To be fair, I read the ARC, but I found so many repeated words and phrases needing tightening. The story pacing stalled in redundancy, and I didn’t find rich layers. It’s possible those elements were addressed in the editing phases. As Kathleen was a new-to-me author and since I loved the cover, I had high hopes for this one. But I gave up at 15 percent. Perhaps the plot and setting felt too similar to other series that without an engaging hook, I couldn’t stay with it.

I have another of Kathleen’s book in my wish-list pile, and I look forward to checking out her work again. I received a complimentary copy of this title in exchange for my honest opinion.

I wish the author and publisher all the best.

Monday, April 26, 2021

A Tapestry of Light by Kimberly Duffy


A Tapestry of Light by Kimberly Duffy

Don’t you love that cover? Gorgeous! This novel is the sequel to A Mosaic of Wings by Kimberly Duffy. See my review of that novel here.

Let’s begin with the summary:

Calcutta, 1886.

Ottilie Russell is adrift between two cultures, British and Indian, belonging to both and neither. In order to support her little brother, Thaddeus, and her grandmother, she relies upon her skills in beetle-wing embroidery that have been passed down to her through generations of Indian women.

When a stranger appears with the news that Thaddeus is now Baron Sunderson and must travel to England to take his place as a nobleman, Ottilie is shattered by the secrets that come to light. Despite her growing friendship with Everett Scott, friend to Ottilie's English grandmother and aunt, she refuses to give up her brother. Then tragedy strikes, and she is forced to make a decision that will take Thaddeus far from death and herself far from home.

But betrayal and loss lurk in England, too, and soon Ottilie must fight to ensure Thaddeus doesn't forget who he is, as well as find a way to stitch a place for herself in this foreign land.

And now, my review:

I enjoyed A Mosaic of Wings, also set in India, so I looked forward to reading this novel as well. I found great prose and rich setting details here, as in book one. But I also found several unfamiliar words in another language without the benefit of translation, which was a bit frustrating.

The theme of racial prejudice seemed timely, even though the novel is set in 1886. A timeless theme. I loved that the heroine was a professional embroiderer. I enjoy that hobby so it was great to read of a woman making an income by embroidering for hire. It seemed a well-researched book. You really feel immersed in that setting as you read.

Once again, as with several novels lately, the heroine’s deepest wound is her mother’s recent death, a challenging ingredient, especially if it's relatable to readers.

Overall, the story felt very heavy. I didn’t find enough light in the opening chapters to keep me reading. Maybe it’s the pandemic or other aspects of life in recent months, but this story's emotional weight didn’t motivate me to keep reading. Also, romance was absent in the opening pages. If the story had been lighter, I may have kept going to find that element. What I couldn’t be sure of was a thick enough Christian thread woven in. A hopefulness or brightness, given the tone of the earliest scenes.

Though this book wasn’t for me, I wish the author and publisher all the best.

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

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 percent. 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 naïve—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!