Monday, November 21, 2022

Authentically, Izzy by Pepper Basham


Authentically, Izzy by Pepper Basham

I’ve enjoyed epistolary novels in the past. They’re challenging to write because we don’t see the actions as they happen. Without narration readers may get a little confused. They require more concentration, in some ways.

Let’s begin with the summary:

Dear Reader, My name is Isabelle Louisa Edgewood—Izzy, for short. I live by blue-tinted mountains, where I find contentment in fresh air and books. Oh, and coffee and tea, of course. And occasionally in being accosted by the love of my family. (You’ll understand my verb choice in the phrase later.) I dream of opening my own bookstore, but my life, particularly my romantic history, has not been the stuff of fairy tales. Which is probably why my pregnant, misled, matchmaking cousin—who, really, is more like my sister—signed me up for an online dating community.

The trouble is . . . it worked. I’ve met my book-quoting Mr. Right, and our correspondence has been almost too good to be true. But Brodie lives across an ocean. And just the other day, a perfectly nice author and professor named Eli came into the library where I work and asked me out for a coffee. I feel a rom-com movie with a foreboding disaster nipping at my heels.

But I’ve played it safe for a long time. Maybe it’s time for me to be as brave as my favorite literary heroines. Maybe it’s time to take the adventures from the page to real life. Wish me luck.


And now, my review:

I liked the characters, quirks and all. I really enjoyed the sibling dynamic. The author lost her brother before this novel was published, and my heart went out to her as I read her character “Luke’s” dialogue and saw his personality very clearly on the page through his words. I like to think this was a tribute from the author to her brother, and if it was, brava, my friend. Beautiful.

This story centers around books, with multiple literary references. It’s fun watching the heroine and hero relate via online chats. Relatable, in this era to meet someone online and “date” them though the characters live continents apart. Well-read bookworms will relish the references and delight in the subtext.

Fittingly, one of the themes was authenticity. Communicating online gives Izzy license to be real, which is refreshing. At times I could hear Pepper (a fellow ACFW member) defend Christian fiction through the characters’ words. Jesus used parables—stories—to touch hearts. Loved this aspect.

Given it’s epistolary format, readers may struggle to recall who’s who if they step away from this novel for any length of time.

This novel will especially appeal to readers who might enjoy a less formulaic romance.

Tuesday, September 6, 2022

Harvest Moon by Denise Hunter


Harvest Moon by Denise Hunter

It’s release day for this final book in the Riverbend Romance series.

Here’s the summary:

She thought he was arrogant. He thought her walls would never come down. Then they fell in love.

Forever walking the line between passion and conflict, Laurel and Gavin’s relationship ended in divorce after years of miscommunication and unmet expectations. Now pursuing their own separate lives and careers, the two are content . . . though not completely happy.

When their best friends, Mike and Mallory, are killed in a plane crash, Laurel and Gavin are stunned to learn they’ve been named guardians of their friends’ young daughter, Emma. Putting their differences aside, the estranged couple search for a suitable guardian as they care for Emma and manage Mike and Mallory’s apple orchard.

Soon tempers flare—as does the passion they both remember so well. And Laurel and Gavin find themselves working through their past—their mistakes, their miscommunications, and ultimately the tragedy that ended their marriage.

Will the seeds of love, still growing inside them, thrive and flourish? Or will grief and regret strangle the feelings before they can fully blossom?

And now, my review:

I was so excited to read this third book in the series because I knew it would focus on Gavin—the most mysterious family member. This novel reads fast!

I liked that this was a second-chance (reunion) romance. I recommend reading the earlier books in the series to get a clear picture of the family, though you may not be too lost if you begin here. Also, now that they are all out, you could read them back to back.

The hero and heroine’s shared mission brings out their loyalty to mutual friends, their nobility to care for the needy, and their protectiveness. They’re forced into close proximity, and motivated, at certain times, to let their guards down—something they’ve avoided for fifteen years. This helps them see each other differently. Because they have a painful past, they’ll need a different perspective in order to overcome the lies that caused division back then.

They haven’t admitted it to each other, or anyone really, but each of them has missed the other one. Being together in this season brings up both good and bad memories, and some of the good memories are full of their shared romance.

There’s a lot of pain to process, both in the present story and from the past, but the story doesn’t get too heavy.

Distrust, shame, guilt, and regret keep them apart, plus the pestering of Gavin’s nosy family. They’re trying to protect him from the severe brokenness he has only recently begun to overcome. This couple will have to recognize and battle their lies in order to envision a different future where they aren’t imprisoned by their baggage.

The heroine once dreamed of working at the Biltmore Estate’s gardens. I liked this setting and her interest in trees, orchards, plants. The hero has recently joined up with a fellow contractor to grow a new business, and his competence and recovery from the state he was in in books one and two was rewarding to watch.

There were tender moments and well-written characters. I loved it!

Highly recommended!

Monday, August 8, 2022

Love and the Dream Come True by Tammy L. Gray


Love and the Dream Come True by Tammy L. Gray

Tammy is one of my favorite authors these days. This is the third book in her State of Grace series.

Let’s begin with the summary:

Their faith will face its toughest test yet.

Four years after getting the biggest break of his life, Cameron Lee's music career has taken a nosedive, leaving him two options: become a sellout or give up on his lifelong dream. He reluctantly returns home for his sister's wedding, hoping to avoid his past and find his love for music again.

Single mom Lexie Walters has suffered her fair share of tragedies and setbacks, but she has finally scraped together the money to achieve her dream of going into business with her cousin as an interior designer. When Lexie’s life is at an all-time high, she runs into her teenage crush, Cameron Lee.

Lost in the emotional turmoil of failure, Cameron is immediately drawn to Lexie and her infectious smile and optimistic spirit. Moreover, he adores her mouthy, no-holds-barred daughter. But fantasies only last so long, and soon Lexie and Cameron must face the real world, the one fraught with heartbreak, disappointment, and questions that sometimes can only be answered by a leap of faith.

And now, my review:

I’ve read this entire series, so what fun to see familiar characters and to learn their story. Before this, these two had been on the outskirts of the previous novels. It was satisfying to see them take center stage in first person. One of the themes is what to do after the dream comes true. Where to next? Especially if it wasn’t as fulfilling as one would like.

I loved that Lexie has had a crush on Cameron for-ev-er. This was a fun aspect as they reunited. Lexie’s daughter is such a great “cast member” in the novel.

This heroine is wordy! She rambles, and I admit I skipped her pages at times. We’ve all known people like that, though, haven’t we? If only we could skip ahead in those conversations. Heh.

There were some poignant lines, like: “What is it about coming gome that makes all the masks disappear?” (location 362 in the ARC)

As a musician and songwriter, I enjoyed the music aspect of this story.

The hero’s anxiety manifests itself in a tough challenge. This may be relatable for some readers.

Overall, an enjoyable read.

Monday, May 2, 2022

What Matters Most by Courtney Walsh

What Matters Most by Courtney Walsh

Courtney is one of my favorite authors.

Let’s begin with the summary of her latest novel:

Emma Woodson is hoping the cobblestone streets of Nantucket and the charm of her late husband’s family cottage will be the fresh start she and her young son, CJ, need. Securing a dream job at an art gallery is one more step along the path to a new life . . . and away from a piece of her history she hopes will never be revealed. Falling in love with the kind and handsome guy she hires to clean out the rental apartment above the garage wasn’t part of the plan.

Jameson Shaw came to Nantucket for one reason: deliver his letter to Emma and never return. But when he sees an opportunity to help her, he takes a chance, desperate to atone for his past. He never planned to keep his connection to her husband a secret or to fall in love with her. After all, he knows that their new relationship might not survive the discovery of who he really is.

And now, my review:

We get to return to the island in this latest Nantucket Love Story book. Courtney’s bio on Amazon mentions she’s a playwright and as I read this novel, I could see this story playing out in a movie or TV series. It’s a very visual experience.

We care for the hero immediately. He has come to town with big secrets and a heavy burden. He considers himself disqualified from happiness in life. His arrival has one purpose, but life intervenes. I loved how kind, artistic, compassionate, and nerdy he was while at the same time he was strong and competent and loyal. This type of hero doesn’t appear in novels very often, and there was something tender about him that I really liked.

I enjoyed his artistic side, which I found relatable—how he sees beauty in the world and how he longs to both capture it and share his perspective with others. For a long time now he has disqualified himself from pursuing or noticing beauty. This novel’s journey brings him back in touch with that innate side of himself. The author captured this element very well. Artists can only avoid beauty’s draw for so long before we have to give in.

Our heroine has suffered a devastating loss. Mirroring the hero, she’s disqualified herself from joy in life as well, but for other reasons. She’s attracted to the faith of a family member, but isn’t sure how to get there herself. And she can’t ever see a way to forgive herself for past mistakes. She’s also finding her way back to herself after that loss. It’s a long journey, and without accepting forgiveness, she’s in an infinite loop, distanced from healing. Readers who’ve suffered such a loss may relate with this element of trying to get “back to normal” or finding themselves again. The heroine wonders where her previous strengths are now. She’s also trying to return to a sense of wholeness. Recovering readers will likely see themselves in her.

There are many secrets in this novel, and the author leaves hints along the way. Some of the themes include: forgiveness of self and peace with God; all-consuming shame; making personal, penalizing vows in the wake of mistakes; owing penance; misguided understanding of God and His merciful grace.

Courtney is such a pro at writing romance. She keeps things G-rated. With a subtlety that readers will love we are drawn into the romance between these two characters. You may find yourself rereading sections just for fun.

I loved the seaside setting and the artistic elements in this novel. Another great book by this gifted author. Can’t wait for her next one!

Tuesday, April 19, 2022

Mulberry Hollow by Denise Hunter


Mulberry Hollow by Denise Hunter

Denise has done it again! Her books are consistently well-written, romantic, and engaging.

Let’s begin with the summary:

When a handsome handyman faces a medical emergency on the Appalachian trail, his sudden appearance in town challenges an ambitious doctor’s plan to remain single for life.

Avery Robinson decided to be a physician after helplessly watching her mother lose a battle with a terrible disease. Now at risk of developing the same illness, Avery guards her heart from love. She’s driven to protect her loved ones as a workaholic doctor in the tiny mountain town of Riverbend Gap, North Carolina.

Contractor Wes Garrett is hiking the Appalachian trail, in memory of the man who died saving his life, when an illness racks his body. After an agonizing fifteen-mile hike to Avery’s clinic, he collapses on her doorstep. He recovers to find himself in debt again—but this time to a beautiful doctor.

When he decides to help her renovate a rundown carriage house, the obstacles to their attraction sprout like weeds—starting with the woman waiting for Wes at the end of the trail. Will he be able to relinquish the debt he owes his best friend? And will Avery find the courage to risk everything for love?

And now, my review:

Denise is such a pro at story telling. You know you’re in good hands, reading her books. Her method of short chapters keeps the pacing very strong.

I liked the Appalachian trail tie-in—very interesting for someone who’s never seen any part of it. Still wigs me out a little that total strangers sleep side by side in the periodic shelters, but again, the trail is foreign to me.

The story’s hero chafes at the idea of owing any more debts to anyone. He’s committed to paying off one so personal he’s sacrificing a lot to do so. We’ll see his debt aversion a few times in the story. I like his noble cause and could immediately sympathize with him, even though his reasons slowly unfolded.

Our heroine lives under a large shadow. She fears the future, in a way, and that’s relatable to readers I think, no matter what their personal issues may be. Her private concerns were a great why-not, which, paired with the hero’s, gave us solid tension and conflict.

I love that we revisited previous characters from this Riverbend Romance series. An enjoyable book! I can’t wait to read the next novel in this series, which centers, I’m guessing, around the most wounded of this family of siblings: Gavin.

Highly recommended.  

Friday, February 18, 2022

Meet Me in the Margins by Melissa Ferguson


Meet Me in the Margins

A light-hearted read is ideal sometimes, don’t you think? And what's not to love about a book about writing and editing books?

Let’s begin with the summary:

You’ve Got Mail meets The Proposal—this romance is one for the books.

Savannah Cade’s dreams are coming true. The Claire Donovan, editor-in-chief of the most successful romance imprint in the country, has requested to see the manuscript Savannah’s been secretly writing while working as an editor herself—except at her publishing house, the philosophy is only highbrow works are worth printing and commercial fiction, particularly romance, should be reserved for the lowest level of Dante’s inferno. But when Savannah drops her manuscript during a staff meeting and nearly exposes herself to the whole company—including William Pennington, new publisher and son of the romance-despising CEO herself—she races to hide her manuscript in the secret turret room of the old Victorian office.

When she returns, she’s dismayed to discover that someone has not only been in her hidden nook but has written notes in the margins—quite critical ones. But when Claire’s own reaction turns out to be nearly identical to the scribbled remarks, and worse, Claire announces that Savannah has six weeks to resubmit before she retires, Savannah finds herself forced to seek the help of the shadowy editor after all.

As their notes back and forth start to fill up the pages, however, Savannah finds him not just becoming pivotal to her work but her life. There’s no doubt about it. She’s falling for her mystery editor. If she only knew who he was.

And now, my review:

The heroine is an assistant acquisitions editor at a publishing company, as well as an aspiring author. What fun roles! I found these jobs relatable, and I think readers will like the behind-the-scenes elements of a writers’ life.

Her family is a passel of overachievers, so she cannot fail. Their opinions push her to try to measure up. Of course she can’t. Part of her never wanted to. That contradiction sabotages her. Readers may find themselves relating: do we be ourselves or try to be what we think others want? 

I loved the author’s fun voice. We’re in first person, present tense—my favorite. We get some snark, lots of humor, and an unfortunate opening situation, (which tone I’m glad didn’t carry forward into the rest of the book).

The hero is icy and all business, authoritative. What's behind his fa├žade? If he ever opens up, what will we find? How fun it will be to watch him melt. Also, can he champion her? And what will it mean to her if he ever does?

The setup for this novel’s mystery is delicious. They grow closer by passing notes. We have an editor who gives honest, even blunt, feedback. You gotta respect someone like that. After her defensiveness wears off, she does. She’s lost and earnest. He’s experienced and willing to help. A perfect team.

I laughed aloud several times while reading this novel. Just what I needed during the pandemic. A treat. I’ll watch for more books by this author.

Tuesday, February 1, 2022

Aspen Crossroads by Janine Rosche

Aspen Crossroads by Janine Rosche

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

Let’s begin with the summary:

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

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

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

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

And now, my review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, January 7, 2022

Sunrise by Susan May Warren

Sunrise by Susan May Warren

The first book in a new series by Susan May Warren!

Let’s begin with the summary:

Coming home was never the plan.

Pilot Dodge Kingston has always been the heir to Sky King Ranch. But after a terrible family fight, he left to become a pararescue jumper. A decade later, he's headed home to the destiny that awaits him.

That's not all that's waiting for Dodge. His childhood best friend and former flame, Echo Yazzie, is a true Alaskan—a homesteader, dogsledder, and research guide for the DNR. Most of all, she's living a life Dodge knows could get her killed. One of these days she's going to get lost in the woods again, and his worst fear is that he won't be there to find her.

When one of Echo's fellow researchers goes missing, Echo sets out to find her, despite a blizzard, a rogue grizzly haunting the woods, and the biting cold. Plus, there's more than just the regular dangers of the Alaskan forests stalking her . . .

Will Dodge be able to find her in time? And if he does, is there still room for him in her heart?

And now, my review:

Oh, you’re going to feel chilly reading this novel set in Northern Alaska, but you won’t feel bored!

I call Susan the queen of first lines. Check this out: “By the time Dodge got to the hospital, he’d already broken his first promise.” So good. Hooks you, doesn’t it?

We have SEALs; hot-headed heroes; strong, independent, survivor heroines. What’s not to love?

The hero had a falling-out with his father a long time ago. This makes for an awkward homecoming, but he faces it. Generally, he’s the type to go into denial, to dodge the truth. A fitting fatal flaw since his name is Dodge.

The heroine’s lie is that everyone you love leaves. That makes her doubt they ever loved her at all. She may feel her voice is an echo back from the expanse, without a response. Fitting since her name is Echo. She’s described as having put herself back together, following a betrayal, with anger. I’ve known people like that. They’re edgy and determined, gritting their way through—just the strength she needs to take on the Alaskan wilderness.

Susie uses symbolism throughout, like how tagging a bear teaches them they’re not quite free anymore, which could symbolize how people’s wounds/traumas rob our innocence too.

As a reader of Susie May’s novels, I liked seeing familiar characters peopling this one. It’s comforting, like visiting old friends. Her descriptions are layered and original. Like this: “The stars came out slowly, arching over the nightscape, the moon an eye, tracking her.” (location: 342 of the ARC) Or this: “A shard of compassion separated him from his frustration.” (location 1876 of the ARK)

There were a couple of melodramatic moments in the early copy I read, and some places lacked transitions, leading to confusion, but overall—a very compelling, well-written story with layered characters, prose, and plot.

This is book one in her Sky King Ranch series.  

Highly recommended!