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!

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!