Monday, October 11, 2021

Reviewer's Bookshelf: "Provenance" by Carla Laureano


Book Summary (Amazon): Los Angeles interior designer and former foster kid Kendall Green is in high demand, both for her impeccable eye and for her uncanny ability to uncover the provenance of any piece. But for all her success, skyrocketing costs have put her California home and her business in jeopardy. Then an unexpected inheritance provides a timely solution: a grandmother she never knew has left her a group of historic properties in a tiny Colorado town on the edge of ruin.

To young, untried mayor Gabriel Brandt, Jasper Lake is more than another small town—it’s the place that saved his life. Now, seeing the town slowly wither and die, he’s desperate to restore it to its former glory. Unfortunately, his vision is at odds with a local developer who wants to see the town razed and rebuilt as a summer resort. He’s sure that he can enlist the granddaughter of one of its most prominent former citizens to his cause—until he meets Kendall and realizes that not only does she know nothing of her own history, she has no interest in reviving a place that once abandoned her.

In order to save his beloved town, Gabe must first help Kendall unravel the truth of her own provenance—and Kendall must learn that in order to embrace the future, sometimes you have to start with the past.

My thoughts...The architectural details in the cover of this book are what first caught my eye. I love that there are blueprints snuck into the skyline, which go so well with the storyline. I was also intrigued by the summary and I'm a fan of Carla Laureano, so I was excited about this new contemporary novel. Set in the quaint Colorado town of Jasper Lake, the first half of the book was a lot of ground work. Setting up the dilemma, introducing the characters (Kendall and Gabe), and some backstory made the initial pace a little slow for me. I didn't want to give up, because I knew that in the end, I would most likely finish very satisfied. And I did! By about the middle of the book, the pace began to speed up, the plot thickened, and I appreciated the growth in both Kendall and Gabe. In true form, Laureano offered a more realistic piece of fiction. It's one of the things I love most about her writing. Her characters have real questions, real struggles, and she doesn't shy away from posing these things in a faith context. One of the themes of this book is about understanding your worth, which was beautifully written. I believe that this will appeal to readers with or without a faith background. There is a clear faith message presented, so I would consider this novel to be Christian fiction. I finished this final page with these thoughts: life can be hard, unfair, and messy, but God can redeem it. He can transform us, with all of our scars, into something of worth and beauty. It's a message I needed to be reminded of. 

**I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via Netgalley, and was happy to share my honest opinions.** 

Monday, September 13, 2021

Reviewer's Bookshelf: "The Gold in These Hills" by Joanne Bischof


Book Summary (Goodreads): Two second-chance love stories, hope across the centuries, and the legacy that binds them together.

Upon arriving at Kenworthy, California, mail-order-bride Juniper Cohen was met by the pounding of the gold mine, the rowdiness of its prospectors, and her greatest surprise of all: the love of the kind man who awaited her. But when the mine proves empty of profit, and when Juniper’s husband vanishes, doubt and discouragement are as prevalent as the pioneers fleeing this dwindling boomtown.

As winter blows in, Juniper pens a series of letters to her husband but fears she is waiting on a ghost—or worse, an outlaw. Carving out survival for her and her young daughter in a ghost town requires trusting in the kindness of a few remaining souls, including the one who can unlock the mystery of her husband’s disappearance.

A century later, trying to escape the heartache of his failed marriage, Johnny Sutherland throws himself into raising his child and restoring a hundred-year-old abandoned farmhouse in California’s San Jacinto Mountains. While exploring its secrets he uncovers the letters Juniper wrote to her Dearest John and is moved by the handwritten accounts that bear his name. Having learned that truth and courage go hand in hand, Johnny dares to love again, and armed with lessons from the past, a modern-day romance unfolds in the very same mountains that once held a love story that touched history.

My thoughts...There are rare moments when I read a book and it affects me deeply. Enough to cause a few tears to come as I not only get lost in the story, but feel a deep personal connection. "The Gold in These Hills" was one of those stories. This book was filled with tenderness and heartache that I've felt in my own life, written with a level of descriptive language that painted word pictures on the pages. The loss of a loved one and how it changes you. The tenderness of friendship that brings comfort through the loss. The stench of betrayal and how trust is hard won after being hurt so deeply, yet God can patiently wash the layers of dirt and grime of it away over time, bringing restoration. Embracing humility in some of the most difficult of situations. The love that is found through community. All of these things are what I took away when I finished the final page. I knew I would love this book before I started, having certain expectations based on the author, title, and summary...but this was so much more than I imagined. There's a plaque I've had my eye on for months that says, "There is gold in every piece of your story." This is the perfect summary for this book. I would highly recommend it. Bravo, Joanne Bischof!

**Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this novel from the publisher via Netgalley in order to give my honest opinion, which I did.**

Sunday, September 12, 2021

Reviewer's Bookshelf: "A Man With a Past" by Mary Connealy


Book Summary (Amazon): Falcon Hunt awakens without a past, or at least not one he can recall. He's got brothers he can't remember, and he's interested in the prettiest woman in the area, Cheyenne. Only trouble is, a few flashes of memory make Falcon wonder if he's already married. He can't imagine abandoning a wife. But his pa did just that--twice. When Falcon claims his inheritance in the West, Cheyenne is cut out of the ranch she was raised on, leaving her bitter and angry. And then Falcon kisses her, adding confusion and attraction to the mix.

Soon it's clear someone is gunning for the Hunt brothers. When one of his brothers is shot, Falcon and Cheyenne set out to find who attacked him. They encounter rustled cattle, traitorous cowhands, a missing woman, and outlaws that take all their savvy to overcome. As love grows between these two independent people, Falcon must piece together his past if they're to have any chance at a future. 

My thoughts...To get a full grasp of the plot of this book, I would highly recommend the first book in the series, "Braced for Love". As you can see, the book covers fit together nicely to make one image, and the stories fit together in a similar way. "A Man With a Past" backtracks to the beginning of Falcon's story, before "Braced for Love" begins. You see the different parts that the two stories intersect, but this focuses primarily on Falcon and Cheyenne. I loved the way that this was written. Different inner thoughts and experiences that weren't revealed previously were now clearer and cleverly written. Towards the end of the book, the story moves forward, joining the plot of the previous novel and all of the characters move forward together. The stage is also set for book three, which was given in little hints and moments, just enough to make me curious about what will happen next (and I definitely plan to read book 3!). Mary Connealy is a long time favorite of mine because I love the way she writes her characters. Bad guys are bad and the good guys (and gals) are tough and spirited. Throw in some plot twists and I am here for all of it! I was definitely entertained. I will say that there have been previous novels of Connealy's that the romance was clean...but the tension was sizzling. I like the sizzle. This didn't quite have that, but was still a pleasant campfire level romance, and I like that, too. This book met my expectations and I look forward to reading more! 

*Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for my honest opinion, which I gave.*

Monday, June 28, 2021

Reviewer's Bookshelf: "The Heart's Charge" by Karen Witemeyer


Book Summary (Amazon): Members of Hanger's Horsemen, Mark Wallace and Jonah Brooks arrive in Llano County, Texas, to deliver a steed, never expecting they'd deliver a baby as well. Left with an infant to care for, they head to a nearby foundling home, where Mark encounters the woman he'd nearly married a decade ago.

After failing at love, Katherine Palmer dedicated her life to caring for children, teaming up with Eliza Southerland to start Harmony House. From mixed ancestry, illegitimate, and female, Eliza understands the pain of not fitting society's mold. Yet those are the very attributes that lead her to minister to outcast children. The taciturn Jonah intrigues her with his courage and kindness, but there are secrets behind his eyes--ghosts from wars past and others still being waged.

However, when a handful of urchin children from the area go missing, a pair of Horsemen are exactly what the women need. Working together to find the children, will these two couples find love as well?

My thoughts...Another fantastic western from Karen Witemeyer! This book was unique in that there were two couples featured in the novel. While sometimes one romantic interest can take the spotlight, in this case I felt that equal amount of time was given to both couples. Both were likeable and well developed. I also liked the racial diversity within the main characters. It wasn't the focus of the book, but some aspects of the prejudices these characters were subjected to were addressed. These issues were presented in a mild and respectful way. 

In this series, the members of Hangar's Horsemen are a group of men that banded together to fight injustice. Even though the group has begun pursuing some other things, they can still depend on each other to come when needed. You still see that band of brothers in this book, as tension builds and help is needed. It created some action packed scenes that made a real page-turner. I loved the role that children played in the book as well. They made for some sweet and tough characters that added a lot to the story.

I am looking forward to the next book in the series and would definitely recommend starting with book one! 

**I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in order to share my honest opinion, which I did.**

Reviewer's Bookshelf: "Plot Twist" by Bethany Turner


Book Summary (Amazon): An aspiring screenwriter has a chance encounter with an actor who could be the man of her dreams. Over the next 10 years, she’ll write the story...but will he end up being the star?

February 4, 2003, promises to be a typical day for Olivia Ross - a greeting card writer whose passion project is a screenplay of her own. But after she and a handsome actor have a magical meet-cute in a coffee shop, they make a spontaneous pact: in 10 years, after they’ve found the success they’re just sure they’re going to achieve, they’ll return to the coffeehouse to partner up and make a film together. The only problem? Olivia neglected to get the stranger’s name. But she doesn’t forget his face - or the date.

For the next ten years, every February 4 is marked with coincidences and ironies for Olivia. As men come and go and return to her life, she continues to write, but still wonders about the guy from the coffee shop - the nameless actor she’s almost certain has turned out to be Hamish MacDougal, now a famous A-lister and Hollywood leading man.

But a lot can happen in 10 years, and while waiting for the curtain to rise on her fate, the true story of Olivia’s life is being written - and if she’s not careful, she’ll completely miss the real-life romantic comedy playing out right before her eyes.

My thoughts...Last year I read my first Bethany Turner book, "Hadley Beckett's Next Dish." I loved it! I then began to devour all of Bethany's books. I enjoyed them all. So I saw this book cover (which I love) and decided to get a copy as quickly as possible. This book is not quite what I expected.

Lines in the book that summarize it better than I could (I don't think these are really spoilers, but just a heads up that it does reveal things):

"He sighed, and I could smell the peach from my nambypamby tea on his breath. 'I guess I wish I knew how to convince you that you're as worthy of love and romance as anyone else.'"

 "Turns out Fiona Mitchell and I were actually the loves of each other's lives." (this is not a reference to any homosexuality)

The book summary read to me like a fun romance/romantic interlude that builds over the course of ten years. What it read as was year after year of Olivia's martyrdom and often unhealthy friendship with her best friend, Fiona, and even her other best friend, Liam. It wasn't really funny to me, and I honestly felt kind of sad as I read it. Year after year, until she's 40 years old, Olivia shows how unworthy she feels of anything good, has conflicts with those she's closest to, sacrifices her happiness for Fiona's, all while Fiona is out there living her best life. Fiona doesn't mind doing whatever she wants to, because she knows that Olivia will be right there. I was waiting for the plot twist. When it happened, I was confused. The romantic aspects throughout the book were sabotaged by Olivia's insecurities, so when true romance presented itself, I almost couldn't believe it. 

I rarely write a negative review because I know that authors pour their heart into their books. I respect that. I will say that this book did make me feel things, even if they weren't the things I necessarily wanted to feel, so I give the author credit for that. I will continue to ready Bethany's books, and will probably go back and reread some of her previous ones, but this book just wasn't my cup of tea.

**I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in order to give my honest opinion, which I did.**

Reviewer's Bookshelf: "The Letter Keeper" by Charles Martin


Book Summary (Goodreads): Combining heart-wrenching emotion with edge-of-your-seat tension, Charles Martin explores the true power of sacrificial love.

He shows up when all hope is lost.

Murphy Shepherd has made a career of finding those no one else could—survivors of human trafficking. His life’s mission is helping others find freedom.

But then the nightmare strikes too close to home .

When his new wife, her daughter, and two other teenage girls are stolen, Murphy is left questioning all he has thought to be true. With more dead ends than leads, he has no idea how to find those he loves.

After everything is stripped away, love is what remains.

Hope feels lost, but Murphy is willing to expend his last breath trying to bring them home.

My thoughts...Before you start this book, set aside about two days to do nothing but read because you won't want to put this book down. This has basically been the case with every Charles Martin book I've read, but I absolutely love this series. It's not because it gives me the warm fuzzies or makes me smile, but instead it makes me think. It affects me deep in my heart and mind. I feel so invested in Murphy Shepherd because the story is told completely from his point of view, so the reader is able to dive deep into his thoughts and feelings. I love this hero. He's a mix of a Jason Bourne/Jack Reacher type, but with a heart of faith and love. He's a protector, not only in the process of rescuing those trapped in human trafficking, but after their rescue. 

This book, like the previous one, looks at Murphy's past and how it impacts his present. In the first book it focused a lot on his relationship with his first wife. This book explores that some more, but answers a lot of questions about his relationship with his mentor and how Murphy came to be who he is. The present intersects as this past connection impacts those he loves in the here and now. 

This book, along with The Water Keeper, are two of my favorite books. I can't recommend them enough. After I read both I had to take a step back and just process all that happened. I really want to go back and read them again. Both have plot twists and turns that I didn't fully understand until the end. For me, that equals well written fiction.

*I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in order to give an honest review, which I did.**

Saturday, June 26, 2021

Reviewer's Bookshelf: "Castle of Refuge" by Melanie Dickerson


Book Summary (Amazon)In this Ugly Duckling retelling, New York Times best-selling author Melanie Dickerson brilliantly crafts a high-stakes, encouraging tale about the power of love.

Ever since she was a child, Audrey wanted her life to be extraordinary. But as the daughter of a viscount born in late 14th-century England, the only thing expected of her was to marry - until an act of malice by her sister, Maris, four years ago damaged her face and her prospects. Though Maris was sent away, 20-year-old Audrey is still suffering the scars of her sister’s cruelty. When her father announces his plans to marry off his damaged daughter and bring Maris home, Audrey decides to flee in search of her true destiny.

However, life outside her home is dangerous, and she soon finds herself attacked, sick, and in desperate need of help. She is taken in at Dericott Castle to be nursed back to health. While there, she decides to keep her identity a secret and work as a servant in the castle. But she doesn’t count on falling in love with the young and handsome Lord Dericott, who lost his arm several months earlier and bears scars of his own.

Meanwhile, Edwin - Lord Dericott - is curious about the new, well-educated servant’s identity. All he knows is that he’s quickly becoming smitten with her. When the man Audrey’s father wanted her to marry comes looking for her, she and Edwin must make life-changing decisions about what to believe and whether or not love is truly worth trusting.

My thoughts...This is the second book in the Dericott series by Melanie Dickerson. While you could read it as a stand alone book, the first book offers some helpful background information. I really enjoyed this story and the journey that the main characters went on. Both Edwin and Audrey have suffered physical and emotional wounds, which have scarred them in more ways than one. Both have issues of mistrust and insecurity. While Edwin's wounds occurred in book one while he was defending his family, Audrey's occurred as a result of the cruelty and neglect of hers. That aspect is especially challenging to read and may need some discussion with sensitive/younger readers. I did appreciate that both characters persevered despite their struggles. Melanie expertly provided the contrast of very difficult situations that could lead to hatred and bitterness with choosing a path of love and forgiveness. She did this while still showing that forgiving someone doesn't mean you allow them to continue to abuse you. This is a relevant lesson for young adult readers (and really all readers), even as the book is set in the Middle Ages. Above all, this story shows that trusting in God, even when circumstances seem hopeless, gives us the courage to continue on. 

I would definitely recommend this series to Young Adult and older readers.

**I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in order to share my personal opinion, which I did.**