Posted in Book Reviews

Book Review: The Heart Between Us by Lindsay Harrel

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Lindsay Harrel presents a powerful story of healing, adventure, and learning how to live life to the fullest.

Megan Jacobs always wished for a different heart. Her entire childhood was spent in and out of hospitals, sitting on the sidelines while her twin sister Crystal played all the sports, got all the guys, and had all the fun. But even a heart transplant three years ago wasn’t enough to propel Megan’s life forward. She’s still working as a library aide in her small Minnesota hometown and living with her parents, dreaming of the adventure she plans to take “once she’s well enough.” Meanwhile, her sister is a successful architect with a handsome husband and the perfect life—or so Megan thinks.

When her heart donor’s parents give Megan their teenage daughter’s journal—complete with an unfulfilled bucket list—Megan connects with the girl she meets between the pages and is inspired to venture out and check off each item. Caleb—a friend from her years in and out of the hospital—reenters her life and pushes her to find the courage to take the leap and begin her journey. She’s thrown for a loop when Crystal offers to join her for reasons of her own, but she welcomes the company and the opportunity to mend their tenuous relationship.

As Megan and Crystal check items off the bucket list, Megan fights the fears that have been instilled in her after a lifetime of illness. She must choose between safety and adventure and learn to embrace the heart she’s been given so that she can finally share it with the people she loves most.

What I Loved: This was an adventure from page to page! But more than an adventure, it was a story with real heart. I loved watching Megan and Crystal evolve and their relationship deepen as the story unfolded. I also enjoyed witnessing their own personal love stories as well.
Harrel did an amazing job describing the various countries. There was enough info to feel as if you have left the states, but not too much that it slowed the story down. And there were so many tidbits sprinkled throughout, that I couldn’t help wondering if Harrel had been on this trip herself.
Aside from all the traveling and romance, there was a solid story centered around some very important themes. Turning to Christ, letting go of a painful past, learning not to worry, and forgiveness was among the spiritual highlights.

Rating and Recommendations: I happily give The Heart Between Us 5 stars and recommend it to Contemporary Christian fans or for those looking for a good vacation read.

~ I received a copy from the Fiction Guild. I was not compensated for this review. All thoughts are my own.

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Posted in Book Reviews

Book Review: Another June With You by Krista Noorman

101Shannon McGregor never expected to run into her high school sweetheart, especially not as the best man of the wedding she’s photographing. But Micah’s back, as handsome and charming as she remembered, and pressing her for the truth about why she ended their relationship—a truth she’d rather keep to herself. 

Life is good. Micah Shaw has a job he loves, great friends, and a wonderful girl by his side. But seeing his first love again opens his eyes to the charade he’s been living without her. He never really got over Shannon or the dreams they had for their future—dreams she seemed to casually brush aside when she broke things off a decade ago without much explanation.

As wedding events unfold, avoiding Micah is impossible, and with their connection as strong as ever, Shannon finds herself battling the desire to tell him everything. How long will they circle the truth before Shannon admits defeat? And what does it matter when he’ll be gone by Sunday?

A sweet, clean second chance romance. The first book in the McGregor Family series.

What I Loved: Another June With You was great friction-filled romance! It was an endearing cat and mouse game of former sweethearts who have allowed secrets, hurt, and even a bit of pride and insecurity to stand between them. After reading other novels along this theme, I walked in thinking I knew what to expect, but Noorman threw in some unexpected twists and turns along the way … not to mention a few laughs.
The reader is also treated to spiritual themes such as relying on God to find your true happiness and trusting Christ when things don’t go as planned.
Fans of Noorman’s previous Cornerstone series are in for a treat when previous characters step in for a cameo. It’s not strongly connected so don’t feel bad if you hadn’t read the other series yet. In Another June With You, we’re introduced to the Shannon and her siblings, and we catch a glimpse at what the upcoming novels have in store for us. The McGregor Family is already promising to be a fantastic series!! I can’t wait to get my hands on the next two books!!

Rating and Recommendation: I’m giving it 5 stars and I recommend it to Christian Contemporary fans.

~ I was given a copy from the author. But all thoughts are my own. And I was not obligated to review or love the book. 

Here’s a bonus for you!! It’s .99 RIGHT NOW on Amazon! 

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Quote from the author: She’s the wedding photographer. He’s the best man. They were high school sweethearts, but she suddenly walked away. He wants the truth, but will it keep them apart forever?

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Posted in Book Reviews

Book Review: Falling For You by Becky Wade

231Famously beautiful model Willow Bradford is taking a temporary break from her hectic schedule to work as the innkeeper at her family’s small-town bed-and-breakfast. She was enjoying the peace of her hometown, Merryweather, Washington, right up until she came face-to-face with Corbin Stewart, the man she loves to hate. A thoughtful rule-follower by nature, Willow threw caution to the wind four years ago when she entrusted her heart to Corbin–and suffered the consequences when it all fell apart.

Former NFL quarterback Corbin is forceful, charming, and accustomed to getting what he wants . . . except where Willow Bradford is concerned. Unable to forget her, he’s never stopped regretting what happened between them. When their paths unexpectedly cross again, he’s determined to make her give him a second chance.

When a decades-old missing persons case finds Corbin and Willow working together, they’re forced to confront their past and who they’ve become–and whether they can risk falling for one another all over again.

My Thoughts: There was a lot here that I really, truly enjoyed. But sadly there were some things but bugged me more than I expected. I was excited to revisit the Bradford sisters, and I look forward to hearing Britt’s story next. I can’t count the number of times I laughed out loud while reading Willow’s snarky comments and then melting at something charming that Corbin said. Overall, I really liked their story and their relationship. Wade brings a lovely message about forgiveness and the consequences of sin.
However, I struggled when the story hit a lull shortly after the opening chapters. Solving the mystery, which was fantastically written, kept me coming back. There was a plot twist toward the end of the novel that felt forced and, quite frankly, frustrating. But Wade pulled it out in the end and brought something beautiful out of it. I was very glad I stuck with it.

Rating and Recommendation: I’m giving Falling For You 4 stars and recommend it to fans of Christian Contemporary Romance.

~ I received a copy from Bethany House. I was not compensated for this review. All thoughts are my own.

Posted in Book Reviews

Book Review: Engaging Mr. Darcy by Rachel John

233“Angry people are not always wise.” – Jane Austen

After a standoff in the pizza parlor, Elsie Bennet has decided Fitzwilliam “I-Throw-Fitz” Darcy is the worst customer she’s ever encountered. Also the best looking, but that’s beside the point. She’s horrified to discover Will is not just passing through her small town, he’s her new neighbor.

Will Darcy has all the money and time he could ask for, and yet life never seems to meet his expectations. When his best friend, Charlie, starts dating Jane Bennet, Will becomes their unhappy third-wheel. The solution? Bring along Jane’s sister, Elsie, a girl who challenges him, makes him laugh, plagues his thoughts, and unfortunately, hates his guts.

Will might control a lot of things, but he won’t control her. Elsie’s already been warned away by her new friend, Jeff Wickham, who found out the hard way that Will is not someone to be crossed. Things would be so much simpler if she was attracted to Jeff. But she’s not. She’s attracted to Will, and the tug-o-war between her mind and her heart is going to drive her mad.

A modern day take on Pride and Prejudice with all the characters you know and love.

What I Loved: I was first smitten with the cover, then the concept. But from page 1, I was taken in by Rachel’s world and writing style. Rachel John was a new author to me. I found her to be refreshing and thoroughly enjoyable.
As for the story … Engaging Mr. Darcy is the best contemporary retelling of Pride and Prejudice that I’ve read. Her translation of the events and characteristics of Austen’s infamous story were spot on. They were creative, yet natural. While I’m familiar enough with the original story to know what to expect, the story wasn’t completely predictable.
This is slightly different from my normal read in that it wasn’t a Christian novel. But it IS a clean novel. There wasn’t anything offensive here.

Rating and Recommendation: I loved Engaging Mr. Darcy and recommend it to Jane Austen fans or those looking for a clean contemporary read. I’m giving it 5 stars.

 

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Book Review: First Impressions by Debra White Smith

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First Impressions: A Contemporary Retelling of Pride and Prejudice

Lawyer Eddi Boswick tries out for a production of Pride and Prejudice in her small Texas town. When she’s cast as the lead, Elizabeth Bennet, her romantic co-star is none other than the town’s most eligible–and arrogant–bachelor.

My Thoughts: It was interesting to see how the story could have played out in the 21st century. And I really enjoyed the angle Smith brings to the story by having them act out the Pride and Prejudice play. There were some elements of the original story that I felt like were very creatively translated into the new story. But I also felt like there were some elements that were either forced or flat out uncomfortable. For me, one of the more disappointing areas were the characters’ view of marriage. I know in the original, Mr. Bennet has a great deal of disdain for his silly wife. But for me, to have Mr. Boswick have such open and unrepented disdain for his wife while claiming that the only reason he isn’t divorced is because he’s a Christian had me feeling like a Christian’s responsibility in marriage was misrepresented.
First Impressions was a solid retelling of Pride and Prejudice. It was a light, entertaining read whether you’ve read Austen’s famous novel or not.

Rating and Recommendation: I’m giving First Impressions 4 stars and recommend it to Contemporary Fiction fans or those who enjoy Austen retellings.

~ I received a copy from Net Galley. I was not compensated for this review. All thoughts are my own. 

 

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Book Review: No One Ever Asked by Katie Ganshert

204Challenging perceptions of discrimination and prejudice, this emotionally resonant drama for readers of Lisa Wingate and Jodi Picoult explores three different women navigating challenges in a changing school district–and in their lives.

When an impoverished school district loses its accreditation and the affluent community of Crystal Ridge has no choice but to open their school doors, the lives of three very different women converge: Camille Gray–the wife of an executive, mother of three, long-standing PTA chairwoman and champion fundraiser–faced with a shocking discovery that threatens to tear her picture-perfect world apart at the seams. Jen Covington, the career nurse whose long, painful journey to motherhood finally resulted in adoption but she is struggling with a happily-ever-after so much harder than she anticipated. Twenty-two-year-old Anaya Jones–the first woman in her family to graduate college and a brand new teacher at Crystal Ridge’s top elementary school, unprepared for the powder-keg situation she’s stepped into. Tensions rise within and without, culminating in an unforeseen event that impacts them all. This story explores the implicit biases impacting American society, and asks the ultimate question: What does it mean to be human? Why are we so quick to put labels on each other and categorize people as “this” or “that”, when such complexity exists in each person?

What I Loved: From page one, you’re pulled into this real-to-life story. Everything from the situations to the characters to Ganshert’s writing style came across as real. It’s almost hard to explain. But there’s something about her writing style that makes you feel like you’re coming home. It’s relatable. And there’s such a natural atmosphere on the page that is both enchanting and consuming.
I don’t believe this is a novel that you can pick up and read in one sitting. Or at least it wasn’t for me. It was something more solemn. Something that deserved more time and contemplation as you read. Oh, it’s entertaining to be sure. But it’s not the sort of fast-paced entertainment that leaves you feeling light and airy. It’s the kind that sticks to your ribs and changes you from the inside.
Ganshert has done an amazing job and I think this will be a lasting favorite for me.

Rating and Recommendation: I highly recommend it to those who enjoy Christian Contemporary Fiction or those who are looking for fiction that deals with real-life issues. I’m giving it 5 stars.

~ I received a copy from the publisher. I was not compensated for my review. All thoughts are my own.

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Book Review: The Austen Escape by Katherine Reay

191Falling into the past will change their futures forever.

Mary Davies finds safety in her ordered and productive life. Working as an engineer, she genuinely enjoys her job and her colleagues—particularly a certain adorable and intelligent consultant. But something is missing. When Mary’s estranged childhood friend, Isabel Dwyer offers her a two-week stay in a gorgeous manor house in England, she reluctantly agrees in hopes that the holiday will shake up her quiet life in just the right ways.

But Mary gets more than she bargained for when Isabel loses her memory and fully believes she lives in Jane Austen’s Bath. While Isabel rests and delights in the leisure of a Regency lady, attended by other costume-clad guests, Mary uncovers startling truths about their shared past, who Isabel was, who she seems to be, and the man who now stands between them.

Outings are undertaken, misunderstandings arise, and dancing ensues as this company of clever, well-informed people, who have a great deal of conversation, work out their lives and hearts.

My Thoughts: Hands down, one of my favorite Austen inspired stories of the year!! I LOVED this fresh plot. Kudos to Reay for her creativity with this one. It wasn’t a retelling and yet all the Austenish things someone could hope for were present. The references were always explained so you don’t have to be a life-long Austen fan to understand the story at hand . . . and, yet, being an Austen fan makes it all the sweeter.
The setting was easy to visualize. The characters were richly layered. I enjoyed watching Mary and Isabel come to a deeper understanding of themselves and each other.
I’d like to point out that I really believe this novel falls into the Clean Fiction category instead of Christian Fiction. The difference is that in Christian Fiction, any lesson the characters learn is learned through or attributed to Christ. In The Austen Escape, the characters didn’t appear to have any religious affiliation whatsoever. The novel is, however, very clean. There was no language. Nothing overly passionate or graphically unnecessary or vulgar. As a dry Baptist, I didn’t appreciate the social drinking scenes. But even in this, the social drinking felt more like a backdrop and not a focal point. I’ll admit that I was a tad bit lost in the first chapter when the focus is on Mary’s work and the drama surrounding it. I don’t have a scientific brain so a lot of the info was over my head. However, Reay’s depth of research is awe-inspiring. If anyone else gets off to a rocky start like I did, just keep going. Things will smooth out in a couple of chapters and you’ll capture what was most important from those scenes.
At the end of the day, The Austen Escape was a delightful novel and has earned a place on my reread list.

Rating and Recommendation: I’m giving The Austen Escape 5 stars and recommending it to those who enjoy Clean Contemporary Fiction or for Austen fans of any age.

~ I received a copy from the publisher. All thoughts are my own. I was not compensated for this review.

Posted in Book Reviews

Book Review: One Enchanted Noel by Melissa Tagg

193Secrets, Sparks and Second Chances…a Heartwarming Holiday Romance

Seb Pierce isn’t exactly a cowboy, but after fifteen years on a ranch in Texas, he might as well be. And he’d do just about anything to keep the rancher who took him in so many years ago from losing his land…including returning to the wealthy roots he’s long since abandoned. Seb agrees to work for his stern grandfather for one year in return for an early draw on his inheritance. But he never expected the agreement to land him in a quirky small town in Iowa at Christmas-time, renovating a dilapidated theater…and running into a woman he never thought he’d see again. She might not remember him, but he remembers her.

After too many years away from her hometown—and too many failures to count—Leigh Renwycke is finally back in Maple Valley and living the stable life she used to wish for. If only she could shake the old restlessness that used to get her into trouble. When Seb Pierce waltzes into her world and begs for her help planning the theater’s holiday reopening, it could be the solution to her discontent. If she pulls it off, it might be enough to jumpstart a new career…and to prove once and for all that the new-and-improved Leigh is here to stay. 

But between old secrets and new sparks, restoring a town treasure in time for Christmas may not be as easy as it seems…especially once Leigh learns the truth about Seb. 

What I Loved: There’s nothing like coming to a satisfying ending to a beloved series. One Enchanted Noel was one of those moments.
Once again, we find ourselves watching a previous “bad girl” pull her act together. By the time we meet Leigh, she’s done with her drug abuse but her past sins still haunt her and steal away her joy. It was refreshing to walk alongside Leigh as she discovered just how forgiving our Lord and her friends and family can be.
One Enchanted Noel is a warm Christmas story just perfect for curling up with during your downtime. And if you haven’t read the first two books of the series, I recommend you start at the beginning. One Enchanted Noel can be understood as a standalone, but I have a feeling you won’t want to miss a moment with the Renwycke family.

Rating and Recommendation: I give it 5 stars and recommend it to those who enjoy Christmas novellas or Christian Contemporary.

Posted in Book Reviews

Holly, Ivy, and Intrigue: A Christmas Novella Set

189Christmas Murder Mix-Up

“I have to get rid of her now.”

After four months of a blissful marriage, Paige is devastated to overhear her husband, Cooper, say those words to his best friend. Because of a suspicious Christmas gift, a gas leak, and a home invasion, Paige’s love for Cooper is tested to the limit. Will their marriage survive the Christmas Murder Mix-up?

Holiday Pursuit

When Brianna Rockwell’s brother finds himself in danger and disappears three days before Christmas, she does everything to rescue him. Brianna dodges bullets, escapes fire, and even turns to her longtime crush for help. But the closer she gets to solving the mystery and finding her only sibling, the more desperate someone gets to silence her forever…

A Holiday Intruder

Kelsey Jordan prefers upcycling junk and refinishing antiques for her store in a Georgia mountains town to being the center of attention. When a robbery and an unknown benefactor shove her in the middle of a decades-old mystery, and a real estate developer and a former baseball star compete for her attention, Kelsey isn’t sure who to trust.

My Thoughts: All together, this was a cozy read. The first two stories start off with a bang and include lots of fast-paced action and even some shootouts. The third one carried more of a family mystery. Each story brought a little romance to the table. As well as a sound Christian message. The novellas are not connected so it makes it easier to pick up or set aside during the busy holiday season.

Christmas Murder Mix-up: This starts off in an almost comical way, but things turn deadly pretty quickly. This was a very interesting, original story.

Holiday Pursuit: Wow! Talk about starting off with a bang. Bullets are flying on the very first page and the story doesn’t slow down much from there.

A Holiday Intruder: This one was more relaxed in terms of action. The love triangle made it a favorite of mine.

Rating and Recommendation: I’m giving Holly, Ivy, and Intrigue 4 stars and recommending it to those who enjoy a bit of action with their Christmas novellas.

~ I received a copy from the publisher. I was not compensated for this review. All thoughts are my own. 

Posted in Book Reviews

Interview and Book Review: 18 Hours To Us by Krista Noorman

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When Natalie Rhodes left her house early that fateful morning to catch the bus to her senior class trip, she never expected to end up in a car with Colton Daynes – the guy she’s had a crush on since first grade, the guy who has no idea who she is. But when Colton’s irresponsible driving causes them both to miss the bus, the unlikely pair set off on a road trip from Michigan to Virginia Beach to catch up with their classmates.

From the little village of Middleville, the popular football star and the quiet gymnast will navigate back roads and highways, travel from lake towns to waterfalls to mountaintops and beyond, all the while fielding texts from Colton’s friends and mean girl, Lexi, who also happens to be Colton’s girlfriend and Natalie’s former best friend.

Hours spent together on the road will lead them to places they’ve never been, discovering hidden talents, revealing secrets and fears. And they just might realize they have more in common than they know.

What I Loved: 18 Hours To Us is fun and flirty. There is this tension and chemistry between Colton and Natalie that keeps the pages turning. But what I really liked was the message Krista was able to bring to the table about sex, love, and teenage relationships. We see Natalie dealing with temptation and the struggle to the right thing, which I found very realistic. The characters felt authentic, they acted, reacted, and talked much like teens. Over and over again, I kept thinking back to my teenage years. There’s something about the overall feel of the story that kept bringing to mind the old movie, She’s All That, or the newer, Geek Charming. 18 Hours To Us isn’t a remake of either but it is a classic teen story with a classic teen feel.

Rating and Recommendation: I give 18 Hours To Us 5 stars and I recommend it to anyone who enjoys YA fiction or a romantic journey story.

~ I was given an early copy by the author. I chose to review it and all thoughts are my own. I was not compensated for this review.

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krista_4x6highresInterview:

Grab a cup of coffee and sit a spell as I talk with Krista about her latest novel.

Where did the idea for 18 Hours to Us come to mind?

Last spring, my daughter went on a trip to Cedar Point Amusement Park with her 8th grade class. We had to get her to the school super early in the morning, and while waiting for the buses to arrive, my mind wandered and I thought, “What if someone missed the bus?” I kept thinking about the teenage drivers who squeal their tires out of the parking lot every day after school and that led me to the idea for the book–two teens on their way to catch the bus to their senior class trip and one of them causes the other to get in an accident, making them miss the bus and have to ride together to get there. Two unlikely people stuck in a car for two days. And the road trip fun and romance ensue. 😉

What is your goal for the novel?

There are some more serious topics within this story (depression, bullying, suicide) that I’ve touched on. They are hard topics, and I hope some people will relate to the struggle. My daughter dealt with some bullying in her middle school years (not to the extent that Natalie did in the book), but it’s a very real problem, especially if you’re the one being targeted. I tried to show the reasons behind the bullying in this particular case as well, and there’s also a good lesson in forgiveness. While this book is pretty sweet and light for the most part, I hope that I did this particular part of the story justice.

What scene was a favorite to write?

Oh goodness. I’m not sure. I loved writing the dialogue and cute banter between Natalie and Colton. It came pretty easily to me, and they are pretty adorable. I think one of my favorite scenes is when they finally make it to Virginia Beach. They are standing in the water after splashing each other and he hugs her and tells her that he’s glad he got to see the look on her face when she saw the ocean for the first time. “He hugged her. So tight she felt like crying.” That part brings tears to my eyes. I don’t know why. It’s just sweet, and it’s also when they are about to part ways and go back to their own little friend groups when the buses arrive. They are both confused after the bond they developed on their trip.

What do we have to look forward to from you in the future?

I have a couple projects in the works right now. One is a contemporary/historical romance set at an amusement park that once existed here in Michigan. Another is a contemporary second chance romance–a wedding photographer and her first love are reunited when he’s the best man at the wedding she’s photographing.

Eeek!! Sounds exciting! Will you ever return to YA fiction?

For sure. I have a YA dystopian trilogy in the works. The first two books have been written. The first is in the editing process, but I have no solid release plans for those yet.

Having 2 teens, do you see either of them in any of the characters?

Natalie definitely has some of my daughter’s personality. She’s kind-hearted and loyal and forgiving. She loves her friends and gymnastics and Jesus. There might even be a little of my son in Natalie’s personality–more on the quiet side with a few close friends. My daughter is the opposite–loud and outgoing with a lot of friends (maybe more like Colton). 😉