Monday, December 28, 2020

Reviewer's Bookshelf: "A Castaway in Cornwall" by Julie Klassen


Book Summary (Amazon): Set adrift on the tides of fate by the deaths of her parents and left wanting answers, Laura Callaway now lives with her uncle and his disapproving wife in North Cornwall. There she feels like a castaway, always viewed as an outsider even as she yearns to belong.

While wreckers search for valuables along the windswept Cornwall coast--known for its many shipwrecks but few survivors--Laura searches for clues to the lives lost so she can write letters to next of kin and return keepsakes to rightful owners. When a man is washed ashore after a wreck, Laura acts quickly to protect him from a local smuggler determined to destroy him.

As Laura and a neighbor care for the survivor, they discover he has curious wounds and, although he speaks in careful, educated English, his accent seems odd. Other clues wash ashore, and Laura soon realizes he is not who he seems to be. Despite the evidence against him, the mysterious man might provide her only chance to discover the truth about her parents' fate. With danger pursuing them from every side, and an unexpected attraction growing between them, will Laura ever find the answers she seeks?

My thoughts... Cornwall provides a unique backdrop for this novel with its steep cliffs, rocky shores and colorful residents. As ships often find themselves adrift and cast headlong into danger, the same is true for Laura Callaway. Without close family to call her own, she often feels a bit lost. As she searches the shores for treasures, she witnesses a shipwreck and plays a part in rescuing one of its few surviving inhabitants. She finds a new purpose in taking care of him, which leads to a shift in life as she knew it. 

    This novel was a very enjoyable read, including interesting characters in a variety of settings, romantic tension, and light suspense. There was a clear villain, who was especially nasty to the hero, and it was contrasted with moments of redemption in the story for several of the main characters. Julie Klassen always does an especially great job in creating romantic tension, which I love. I felt like the romantic tension was high in the beginning of the book when the mysterious castaway was found and they were in Cornwall, then dipped some as the plot shifted. At that time, the romantic tension dropped some as the suspense increased. I found it to be a shift that helped build up to more romantic tension in the future. Nicely done! This book really does have a little bit of everything. I will say, though, if you're a fan of Poldark, the beginning of the book reminded me SO MUCH of some of those characters and plot. Even so, there were enough differences that it kept me engaged 'til the end.

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

Saturday, December 26, 2020

Reviewer's Bookshelf: "Sacred Tears: Simple Reminders That God Sees You and Loves You" by Lindsey Wheeler


My thoughts...This book is a beautiful combination of Lindsey Wheeler's personal story and ministry, meaningful quotes, and eye-catching images. Lindsey's message of love from God, even through difficult circumstances, is especially meaningful to me. As someone who has gone through the hardships of losing loved ones in the midst of broken relationships, financial struggles, and personal health battles, it's easy to retreat into oneself for protection and remain isolated. It's been especially hard for all of us as we're in a season of a pandemic and have been forced to become less engaged with people. Lindsey's message of hope, along with her encouragement to walk with others through the messy parts of life, has sparked a personal word from God in my heart to not let my own personal struggles paralyze me. God wants to use us, in the middle of our pain, to bless and walk with others through theirs. What a picture of what Christ does for us! I'm so grateful to have an opportunity to read this book and be inspired to live a life of courage and love for others!

**I was given a complimentary copy of this book in order to share my honest opinions, which I did.**

Sunday, November 29, 2020

Reviewer's Bookshelf: "Her Secret Song" by Mary Connealy


Book Summary (Amazon): After a rough winter spent alone, Ursula Nordegren realizes she must overcome her fears of the outside world and begins a trek down Hope Mountain. Along the way she finds a badly wounded stranger and realizes God may have used her decision to leave as a way of saving the man. 

Wax Mosby was climbing Hope Mountain in part to atone for his terrible choices. He was hired to drive out the Warden family and now knows he was duped. But when he's wounded during the climb, the last person he expects to rescue him is a beautiful blond woman with the voice of an angel. 

As both Ursula and Wax weigh the costs of living new lives, the two find an unlikely bond. And they're joined by Ursula's sisters and the Warden family as the final showdown over the family ranch looms with the coming of spring. 

My thoughts....The Brides of Hope Mountain series has featured three interesting sisters, this book being about Ursula, the oldest of the trio. Each sister has unique survival talents, Ursula's being the ability to throw a small axe. I am a big fan of Mary Connealy's female characters, most of which show a lot of grit and sass. I loved that the three Nordegren sisters not only had strengths, but weaknesses, which gave room for their characters to grow. At the beginning of the novel, Ursula was stricken with fear concerning the dangers of life beyond Hope Mountain. The mountain represented safety most of her life, but with the arrival of the Wardens, she had to face her fears...which led to guilt and shame when she faltered. Then the grit kicked in...and she rescues a stranger.
    The beginning of this novel was probably my favorite part. When Ursula meets Wax, she transforms. She finally meets a man that she has no choice but to connect with, and the romantic tension escalated. I never get tired of the rescue then nurse someone to health storyline. As the novel continues, the middle section dipped a little for me as far as tension goes, but picked back up, with an action packed ending. The characters' personalities really came out with an added punch of that grit, sass, and humor I really enjoy. 
    While this could be read as a stand-alone novel, I would definitely recommend starting with the first book in the series, "Aiming for Love," and read them in order. If you're a fan of western Christian romance, you won't be disappointed! 

**I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via Netgalley in order to share my honest opinions, which I did.**

Saturday, November 21, 2020

Reviewer's Bookshelf: "A Portrait of Loyalty" by Roseanna M. White


Book Summary (Amazon): Zivon Marin was one of Russia's top cryptographers until the October Revolution tore apart his world. Forced to flee to England after speaking out against Lenin, Zivon is driven by a growing anger and determined to offer his services to the Brits. But never far from his mind is his brother, whom Zivon fears died in the train crash that separated them.

Lily Blackwell sees the world best through the lens of a camera and possesses unsurpassed skill when it comes to retouching and re-creating photographs. With her father's connections in propaganda, she's recruited to the intelligence division, even though her mother would disapprove if she ever found out.

After Captain Blackwell invites Zivon to dinner one evening, a friendship blooms between him and Lily that soon takes over their hearts. But both have secrets they're unwilling to share, and neither is entirely sure they can trust the other. When Zivon's loyalties are called into question, proving him honest is about more than one couple's future dreams--it becomes a matter of ending the war.

My thoughts...My thoughts begin with this beautiful cover! It reminds me of not only what the heroine, Lily Blackwell, does as her work and her hobby (photography), but it actually looks like a photo that Lily would take herself. I loved the details that described every step of this part of her story, from the actual taking of a picture to its development. I had no idea that altering photos played a role in warfare that early in time. 

The depth of both main characters, Lily and Zivon, kept me intrigued the whole time. Zivon's Russian background held personal interest as I have traveled to Russia and have read other books on Russian history. Zivon's background was complicated, but seeing it unravel as the story went on was very satisfying. Lily's innocence paired with a profession that involved espionage created a great contrast and moral dilemma. 

Each book in the Codebreakers series has had elements of romance, espionage, wartime drama and suspense. I would highly recommend not only this book in the series, which could be read as a stand-alone novel, but all three! 

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

Saturday, October 31, 2020

Reviewer's Bookshelf: "The Love Note" by Joanna Davidson Politano


Book Summary (Amazon): Focused on a career in medicine and not on romance, Willa Duvall is thrown slightly off course during the summer of 1865 when she discovers a never-opened love letter in a crack of her old writing desk. Compelled to find the passionate soul who penned it and the person who never received it, she takes a job as a nurse at the seaside estate of Crestwicke Manor.

Everyone at Crestwicke has feelings--mostly negative ones--about the man who wrote the letter, but he seems to have disappeared. With plenty of enticing clues but few answers, Willa's search becomes even more complicated when she misplaces the letter and it passes from person to person in the house, each finding a thrilling or disheartening message in its words. 

My thoughts...I was delighted with the progression of this newest novel by Joanna Davidson Politano. I was intrigued by the cover and the book summary, but as I started reading I will confess I was kind of disappointed. I thought, "this isn't the romantic story I thought it would be." By the end, it became one of my favorite reads of 2020. I loved that the entire story is cleverly crafted around a mysterious love letter and how it impacts each person whose hands it falls into. Based on their individual perspectives, the love letter means something different. Willa believes she knows from the beginning who the original author was, but her search is for who it was written to. She is also using the love note as a direction for where she should go so that she can avoid an arranged marriage. I loved the twists and turns in the story as each person takes on their own journeys of discovery. I loved the relationship that developed between Willa and her patient. I don't want to give any spoilers, so I will conclude with saying that this book addresses expressions of love in many forms: romantic love, love for family and friends, and the love of God. I would definitely recommend this book!

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

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Reviewer's Bookshelf: "The Peasant's Dream" by Melanie Dickerson

Book Summary (Amazon)...In this reverse Cinderella story, a poor farmer’s son, who dreams of using his talent as a woodcarver to make a better life for himself, falls in love with a duke’s daughter and must fight for a chance to win her heart.

Adela is the youngest daughter of Duke Wilhelm of Hagenheim and is never allowed outside of the castle walls. She loves her family, but she sneaks away one day to the market in the town center. There she meets a handsome young man and wonders what it might be like to fall in love with a poor farmer with a kind heart instead of marrying the man her family is suggesting for her.

Frederick earns the income for his family and defends his mother from his father’s drunken rages. He also uses his talent and creativity to carve figures, animals, and scenes into wood, and he's asked to carve these scenes into cathedral doors when his talent is noticed. Frederick is inspired by the sweet and beautiful Adela, but he has no knowledge of her true identity. When he gets swept up into a plan to kidnap the duke’s daughter, both are shaken by what they learn about the other.

With the heartbroken Adela resigned to an arranged marriage with her noble suitor, Frederick must decide what he’s willing to risk for love.

My thoughts...I am sad to see this book series end! My daughter and I have enjoyed all of the stories of Duke Wilhelm and his family, starting with "The Healer's Apprentice". The amount of action and romance is appropriate for Young Adult readers, with a touch of more "grown up" topics such as child abuse and having a child out of wedlock. I felt comfortable with my 13 year old reading it as these topics were not presented in heavy detail and led to redemptive parts of the story. As always, I love the new take on a fairy tale and appreciate the way that it includes not just a plot twist but a spiritual aspect that most fairy tales do not have.

Adela and Frederick were such sweet characters. I loved their pure hearts and desire to see each other be happy, even if it meant personal sacrifice. They also have to show courage in facing physical and emotional challenges. I really appreciate authors like Melanie Dickerson, who write clean books for Young Adults that adult readers can enjoy as well. Can't wait to read the next one! 

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

Friday, July 31, 2020

Reviewer's Bookshelf: "The Crushing Depths" by Dani Pettrey

Book Summary (Amazon): When an accident claims the life of an oil-rig worker on the first drilling platform off the North Carolina coast, Coast Guard investigators Rissi Dawson and Mason Rogers are sent to take the case. Tensions surrounding the oil rig are high and the death has everyone on edge. Environmental activists are threatening to do whatever it takes to stop the structure from being completed, while rumors are being whispered about ancient curses surrounding this part of the ocean.

Mounting evidence shows the death may not have been an accident at all. Was he killed by one of the activists or, perhaps more frighteningly, a member of his own crew? Rissi and Mason have to sort through not only a plethora of suspects, but also their own past and attraction to each other.

Just as the case seems like it'll break open, worse news arrives. A tropical storm has turned their way and soon they're cut off from any rescue--and right where the killer wants them. It's a race to discover his identity before he eliminates the threat they pose.

My thoughts...I enjoyed the overall plot of this second book in the Coastal Guardian series. There were two mysteries/suspenseful story lines. With two separate plot lines that intertwined the characters, there was a heightened level of action. The continuous pace made the book hard to put down. The romantic tension among the cast of characters was great and added a softer element to the story. I particularly loved Mason and Rissi's story. You learn a little bit about these two characters in the previous book in the series, and book two picks right up at the end of book one. As expected, "The Crushing Depths" has a large cast of characters, some with similar names ("Chase" and "Jayce") and at times it was a mental work out to keep up with them all. This was not a surprise to me (all of the books I've read by Pettrey are like this) and didn't keep me from wanting to read the book, but I was definitely tempted to grab a piece of paper and jot down who was who. Throughout the story there were questions I wanted to know the answer to: Who was the killer? What was the motive? These questions were answered, but not in the way I anticipated. That made for an interesting ending. But it was wrapped up rather quickly. All of the tension, excitement, and quick pace came to a halt with a somewhat undramatic ending, in my opinion, and when I finished I thought, "Did I read that right?" I may go back and read it again, just to see if I missed something. Overall, though, I would recommend the novel for those that like this genre and I plan to continue reading the rest of the books in the series as they come out. 

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

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Reviewer's Bookshelf: "Under Scottish Stars" by Carla Laureano

Book Summary (Amazon): Recently widowed Serena MacDonald Stewart focuses on her children to the exclusion of her career, her art, and her sanity. When her brothers ask her to oversee the family guest house on the Isle of Skye, it’s a chance to dust off her long-ignored business skills and make a new start. But her hopes for a smooth transition are dashed when the hotel manager, Malcolm Blake, turns out to be irritating, condescending . . . and incredibly attractive.

Malcolm Blake gave up everything—his home, his girlfriend, and his career—to return to Skye and raise his late sister’s teenage daughter. With few job opportunities available on the island, he signs on as the manager of the MacDonald family hotel, which he’s soon running successfully without interference from the owners. That is, until Serena shows up, challenging his authority and his conviction that there’s nothing missing from his new life on Skye.

Before long, Serena and Malcolm have to admit the spark between them is more than mere irritation. But as single parents, there’s more on the line than their own hearts. Will their commitment to family be the thing that draws them together or the only thing that could keep them apart?

My thoughts...The much anticipated third book in Carla Laureano's Isle of Skye novels is here! I really enjoyed Serena and Malcolm's story. I would describe Laureano's style as real life drama with a faith perspective. The characters in this story go through difficulties that many readers can relate to. The romantic tension was great as well, and the characters acknowledged the temptations that come with romantic attraction in a way that still keeps it a clean read. I appreciated that these aspects were written into the story because it's frustrating at times to read characters deal with situations with a less than realistic response. I appreciated the way each main character's backstory complimented the other. Serena is a widow with two young children who has been through a lot of difficult circumstances in her previous life. Malcolm has never been married, but is raising his niece and learning the aspects of fatherhood. Through his experience with his niece, he has learned what it means to sacrifice his own desires for the needs of others, particularly when it comes to the needs of the children in his life. It created a lot of sweet moments in the story that I enjoyed. And last, but not least, the story takes place in Scotland. And the hero is Scottish. Enough said : ). 

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

Saturday, July 11, 2020

Reviewer's Bookshelf: "Love's Mountain Quest" by Misty M. Beller

Book summary (Amazon): Young widow Joanna Watson is struggling to make a new home for her five-year-old son, Samuel, in the little mountain town of Settler's Fort. When she returns home from work to find Samuel and the woman watching him missing, with no lawman in town, she enlists a man she prays has enough experience in this rugged country to help.

Isaac Bowen wants nothing more than a quiet, invisible life in these mountains, far away from the bad decisions of his past. But he has a strong suspicion of who's behind the kidnapping, and if he's right, he knows all too well the evil they're chasing.

As they press on against the elements, Joanna fights to hold on to hope, while Isaac knows a reckoning is coming. They find encouragement in the tentative trust that grows between them, but whether it can withstand the danger and coming confrontation is far from certain in this wild, unpredictable land.

My thoughts...From page one, this novel was action packed. The plot centers around the perilous "quest" the two main characters go on to rescue Joanna' son and friend. There's some good backstory connection between Isaac and the kidnappers that added a lot to the story and the hero's faith journey. I like the way that Misty doesn't shy away from writing more intense details, whether it be romantic or dangerous circumstances. She didn't sugarcoat the experiences of the two young people taken captive, which helped build the plot's intensity. This also helped make the story stand out among other novels that have similar plot lines. This is only my second book by Misty M. Beller, my first being the first book in this series, and I have been really impressed by her originality and style of writing. I look forward to reading more of her books and have already started building a collection of some of her previous novels on my Kindle. 

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

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Reviewer's Bookshelf: "A Bride of Convenience" by Jody Hedlund

Book Summary (Amazon): Unemployed mill worker Zoe Hart jumps at the opportunity to emigrate to British Columbia in 1863 to find a better life and be reunited with her brother, who fled from home after being accused of a crime.

Pastor to miners in the mountains, Abe Merivale discovers an abandoned baby during a routine visit to Victoria and joins efforts with Zoe, one of the newly arrived bride-ship women, to care for the infant. While there, he's devastated by the news from his fiancee in England that she's marrying another man.

With mounting pressure to find the baby a home, Zoe accepts a proposal from a miner of questionable character after he promises to help her locate her brother. Intent on protecting Zoe and frustrated by his failed engagement, Abe offers his own hand as groom. After a hasty wedding, they soon realize their marriage of convenience is not so convenient after all.

My thoughts...This series just keeps getting better and better! I really enjoyed Zoe and Abe's story. Something that particularly stood out to me was the inner conflict between the two of them as they build a relationship from a marriage of convenience. Abe's position as a pastor had a personal connection as my own husband is a pastor. A lot of the things Abe struggled with are relevant struggles today. I also liked that from the beginning you get to see that Abe is a man of God, but he's also a man with real desires and struggles. It made his character much more believable and helped with the development of the tension.The things that Zoe struggled with related to Abe's position I could very much connect to. I loved the way that Zoe doesn't waste time judging others but shows God's love to everyone. 
The romantic tension between the two main characters almost made me I would consider romantic tension one of Jody Hedlund's writing specialties. But it doesn't stop there. The detailed descriptions of every person and place helped me visualize every part of the book so clearly. A few twists and turns in the plot rounded out an enjoyable reading experience. While you can read this book as a standalone, I would highly recommend the other books in the series. 

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

Friday, June 12, 2020

Reviewer's Bookshelf: "A Gilded Lady" by Elizabeth Camden

Book Summary (Amazon): Caroline Delacroix is at the pinnacle of Washington high society in her role as secretary to the first lady of the United States. But beneath the facade of her beauty, glamorous wardrobe, and dazzling personality, she's hiding a terrible secret. If she cannot untangle a web of foreign espionage, her brother will face execution for treason.

Nathaniel Trask is the newly appointed head of the president's Secret Service team. He is immediately suspicious of Caroline despite his overwhelming attraction to her quick wit and undeniable charm. Desperate to keep the president protected, Nathaniel must battle to keep his focus fully on his job as the threat to the president rises.

Amid the glamorous pageantry of Gilded Age Washington, DC, Caroline and Nathaniel will face adventure, danger, and heartbreak in a race against time that will span the continent and the depth of human emotion.

My thoughts.... This series has, first of all, provided some of the most beautiful covers! The first book, "The Spice King," has an equally beautiful and intriguing cover. "A Gilded Lady" is a new favorite of mine! Elizabeth Camden's books are always historical Christian fiction, and at times it has seemed like the historical content has upstaged the characters. In this novel, however, the historical content, plot, and character development beautifully meshed together. I loved the visuals Camden painted of the Gilded Age, the extravagance of the time, but also of life in the White House during the presidency of William McKinley. I personally did not know much about him, his wife, or his term in office. True to her form, Camden intertwined historically accurate events and people with fictional characters to shed light on this time in American culture. Another aspect of the historical content was the beginnings of the secret service and presidential protection in the White House. As someone who likes "protect and serve" themes, this was also appealing. There were other intrigue aspects regarding Caroline's brother, which affected the build of romantic tension. I also appreciated that even though Caroline was a "lady", she still had a bit of a rebellious streak. Overall, I would highly recommend this novel! While you don't have to read "The Spice King" to follow along, I would recommend it. It offers some insight into some of the events happening in this book. And right now it happens to be on sale for less than $ get it while you can! 

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

Thursday, June 4, 2020

Reviewer's Bookshelf: "The Heart of a Hero" by Susan May Warren

Book Summary (Amazon): Jake Silver may not be able to put the memories of his time as a sniper and Navy SEAL behind him, but at least he can put his skills to use as a part of the Jones Inc. rescue team. Saving the life of pediatric heart surgeon Dr. Aria Sinclair on Denali helped too. Now he can't get her out of his head, and when he hears she is in the path of a hurricane down in Key West he can't help but jump on a plane to rescue her.

Aria has dedicated her life to helping children born with defective hearts. After all, she was one of those children. Now driven to succeed, she lives a lonely, stressful life. One she would have lost on Denali if it hadn't been for Jake. Jake is exciting and handsome, but he's also dangerous, and she's already lost one person she loves. She can't bear it again.

It's not until she finds herself trapped in the middle of a category 4 hurricane that she can admit she needs Jake desperately. With their very survival in the balance, can they hope for a second chance at life . . . and love?

My thoughts...The title of this novel really captures the theme of the whole book. Both of the main characters, Jake and Aria, struggle with issues of the heart. Aria not only has to come to terms with her physical heart transplant, but also the trauma of losing her sister and her identity as she continues to live life. Jake struggles with the trauma of PTSD after a particularly difficult mission as a Navy SEAL and a childhood event that impacted his whole family. In the midst of the soul searching, there is a hurricane wreaking havoc in the south of Florida where Aria and Jake are located. This creates several life and death situations. The action and drama in this novel is non-stop, making the pace steady throughout. I loved all of the action elements as nature was not the only villain in the story. Jake and Aria go through a good bit of spiritual warfare, which I appreciated as part of their character development. The romantic tension between Jake and Aria began in the first book of this series and continued into this book. Quite the build up! I always enjoy that part of a novel ; ). This is my first series by Susan May Warren and so far I'm enjoying it. Looking forward to book 3!

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

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Reviewer's Bookshelf: "At Love's Command" by Karen Witemeyer

Book Summary (Amazon): Haunted by the horrors of war, ex-cavalry officer Matthew Hanger leads a band of mercenaries known as Hanger's Horsemen who have become legends in 1890s Texas. They defend the innocent and obtain justice for the oppressed. But when a rustler's bullet leaves one of them at death's door, they're the ones in need of saving.

Dr. Josephine Burkett is used to men taking one look at her skirts and discounting her medical skills. What she's not used to is having a man change his mind in a heartbeat and offer to assist her in surgery. Matthew Hanger's dedication to his friend during recovery earns Josephine's respect, and when she hears of her brother's abduction, he becomes her only hope for rescue.

Matt has stared down ruthless outlaws, betrayal, and injury, but when a bossy lady doctor crawls under his skin, his heart is tempted to surrender. And when she is caught in the crossfire, he may have to sacrifice everything--even his team--to save her.

My thoughts... Karen Witemeyer is one of my go-to authors as I've been reading her books for several years. I'm proud to say I've read all of them! If you're new to Karen's books, some things you can expect are a western setting, strong character development and dialogue, romantic tension (sweet, clean romance), and a balance of external and internal conflict. I am loving this new band of brothers that are introduced in "At Love's Command"! Matthew Hanger is the hero in this novel, the leader of the famous Hangar's Horsemen, and former Civil War officer who struggles with the aftermath of his part in the bloody massacre at Wounded Knee. I love the additional battle that rages in him as his tough, soldier side is met head on with smart and beautiful Dr. Jo. I also liked that the male and female lead characters were a little older and more mature. Dr. Jo is a fun character as well. Strong physically and mentally, "Josie" she is nicknamed...can be ready to perform medical procedures or jump on the back of of horse at a moment's notice. I love that her character is strong but also makes wise choices. A few plot twists were included but the reader is not denied the aspects of the genre that we know and love. As a Christian fiction novel, the main characters experience spiritual encounters and growth throughout the story. The hard part is going to be waiting for the next book in the series to come out! 

**I was given a free copy of this novel from the publisher via NetGalley in order to give my honest opinions, which I did.**

Monday, May 25, 2020

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

Book Summary (Amazon): Murphy Shepherd is a man with many secrets. He lives alone on an island, tending the grounds of a church with no parishioners, and he’s dedicated his life to rescuing those in peril. But as he mourns the loss of his mentor and friend, Murph himself may be more lost than he realizes.
When he pulls a beautiful woman named Summer out of Florida’s Intracoastal Waterway, Murph’s mission to lay his mentor to rest at the end of the world takes a dangerous turn. Drawn to Summer, and desperate to find her missing daughter, Murph is pulled deeper and deeper into the dark and dangerous world of modern-day slavery.
With help from some unexpected new friends, including a faithful Labrador he plucks from the ocean and an ex-convict named Clay, Murph must race against the clock to locate the girl before he is consumed by the secrets of his past—and the ghosts who tried to bury them.
My thoughts...I just finished this book last night and wow...Charles Martin has left me with questions and thoughts that I'll continue pondering for a while. The Water Keeper is a complex and multi-layered story, combining action, danger, romance, love, and redemption. At its center is the parable of the lost sheep. "Tell me what you know about sheep..." is asked of the main character, Murphy Shepherd, more than once. "Sheep need a shepherd..." is his reply. "Murph"'s calling is to leave the 99 to search for the 1...the 1 lost sheep. It's not only his calling, but he is willing to lay down his life for the 1, often putting himself in danger to try to save men, women and children from the horrors of human trafficking while also battling his own personal devastating heartbreak. Spirituality is woven into every aspect of this novel, in an allegorical style. The novel is told from Murph's first person perspective, which adds to the complexity, yet I couldn't imagine it written any other way. Martin has a way of giving you just enough of the story to keep you fully engaged, yet there is a lot that lies below the surface that you either have to figure out for yourself, or accept that you may not completely know all of the answers. Beyond all of these aspects of the novel, I loved Murph's character. Strong, lethal, yet so vulnerable and longing to love and be loved. I also appreciated the variety of "sheep" that come into his care: an elderly ex-convict, a loyal pet, two young girls, and a woman who is in search of her daughter. I feel like I need to read this book again someday to fully digest it all. And there definitely needs to be a sequel!  
One of my favorite podcasts, "That Sounds Fun" with Annie F. Downs, has two interviews with Charles Martin. I would highly recommend them. To hear the heart of this author, his love for God and writing, is really special. 
**I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in order to share my honest opinions, which I did.**

Monday, May 18, 2020

Reviewer's Bookshelf: "Hadley Beckett's Next Dish" by Bethany Turner

Book Summary (Amazon): Celebrity chef Maxwell Cavanagh is known for many things: his multiple Michelin stars, his top-rated Culinary Channel show To the Max, and most of all his horrible temper. Hadley Beckett, host of the Culinary Channel's other top-rated show, At Home with Hadley, is beloved for her Southern charm and for making her viewers feel like family.
When Max experiences a very public temper tantrum, he's sent packing to get his life in order. When he returns, career in shambles, his only chance to get back on TV and in the public's good graces is to work alongside Hadley.
As these polar-opposite celeb chefs begin to peel away the layers of public persona and reputation, they will not only discover the key ingredients for getting along, but also learn the secret recipe for unexpected forgiveness . . . and maybe even love. In the meantime, hide the knives.

My thoughts...I kept seeing this title pop up on social media so I thought I'd give this new-to-me author a try. I read the summary (I initially thought it was some kind of murder mystery for some reason) and was even more convinced. My family LOVES to watch Food Network, so the thought of a fun, foodie romance was right up my alley. And it doesn't hurt that we also love Nashville (where most of the story takes place) and are about as southern as they come. I felt an instant connection with Hadley's character and could visualize her almost instantly. I loved her southern mannerisms (again, I can relate) and the contrast she created with her counterpart, Max. This book was just what I wanted: believable behind the scenes moments of food tv, food talk, romantic tension, unpacking of past hurts that impacted the relationships of the characters, and fun banter. I wouldn't necessarily categorize this book as Christian fiction as there was only a slight reference to spirituality, but I would consider it a clean read. I would definitely recommend this book and would now consider myself a new fan of Bethany Turner! 

**I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in order to share my honest opinions, which I did.**

Thursday, May 7, 2020

Reviewer's Bookshelf: "Stay With Me" by Becky Wade

Book Summary (Amazon): A mysterious letter alluding to a secret in her parents' past brings Genevieve Woodward back to her Blue Ridge Mountains hometown, but she's also in need of a break from a high-profile career that has left her dangerously burned out and concealing a powerful secret of her own. When she wakes inside an unfamiliar cottage to find the confused owner staring down at her, she can no longer ignore the fact that she needs help.  

Sam Turner has embraced his sorrow and his identity as an outsider. The solitary, disciplined life he lives on his historic farm is the life he's chosen for himself. The last thing he wants is to rent his cottage to a woman as troubled as she is talkative. Yet, he can't force himself to turn her away right when she needs him most. 

As Genevieve researches her family's history and her and Sam's emotions deepen, they will have to let go of the facades and loneliness they've clung to and allow light to illuminate every hidden truth.

My thoughts...There was great anticipation with the release of a new book, in a new series, by Becky Wade. She is undoubtedly one of my favorite contemporary Christian fiction authors. She balances great romantic tension among the characters with real-life struggles. These characters are relatable...their feelings expressed on the pages are relatable. As this is Christian fiction, there are also moments in every book that the characters come to a point of their faith impacting the choices they make. In "Stay With Me," I loved Genevieve's character. She's a Christian author, Bible study writer, and speaker, but the book isn't really centered around that. Her character is presented as primarily a young woman who is in the midst of a critical point in her life, struggling with her past and trying to recover from it. Even though this is fiction, it reminded me that everyone has issues that they struggle with...even those that may be able to present to the outside world that everything is going great. Sam is definitely a swoon worthy hero! First of all...Australian. Thank you, Becky. Second, he's the broody type that I just can't get enough of. He's also very wounded from his past and doesn't really judge Genevieve, but offers her support and accountability. These two compliment each other really well. 
Other interesting elements of the story were the side plots. Genevieve was a survivor of a terrible earthquake when she was in middle school. I loved that sprinkled throughout the book, there were a few pages of each survivor's thoughts as they were trapped in a building due to the earthquake. It helped give some backstory without overwhelming the rest of the plot. I thought that was very clever. There's also a mystery element involving Genevieve's family that was another side plot. There's a lot going on in this book, so there's never a dull moment! It was very hard to put down! 

I'm SO looking forward (already) to seeing how this series is going to go! Book one, along with a prequel novella ("Take a Chance on Me"), have gotten things off to a great start!

Here's a fun little style up I did with "Stay With Me"! I love Genevieve's style in the book...especially the earrings! 

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

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Reviewer's Bookshelf: "The Joy of Falling" by Lindsay Harrel

Book Summary (Amazon): It has been fifteen months since Eva and Angela lost their thrill-seeking husbands in a scuba diving accident. Both women are trying to navigate their way through the grief, but neither one is making much progress. Angela is barely making ends meet, angry at her husband for leaving her to raise three children on her own. Meanwhile, Eva is stuck, unable to move forward after losing the love of her life and her source of inspiration.
But then Eva gets a life-changing phone call. Before Brent and Wes died, they had signed up for a race of a lifetime—an ultra-marathon in beautiful New Zealand. Eva begs Angela to run the race with her in their husbands’ place, and Angela finally agrees, hoping to finally understand her husband's choices.
Training is exhausting, and the race is even more demanding. Their journey grows more complicated by the presence of two men—Marc is Brent’s best friend who is running the race with Eva and Angela, and Simon King is a writer who is covering their inspiring story. With every step, Eva and Angela must ask themselves questions that they haven’t had the courage to ask before. As the women literally put one foot in front of the other, they wonder: Is it possible to find their way forward in hope?

My thoughts...The timing of my reading this book was providential. This book is about grief. How different people deal with grief and how it affects us and our loved ones. Angela and Eva dealt with the grief of losing their spouses in very different ways. Some were healthy, some were unhealthy. It's also about joy...and hope. Hope that even though loss can devastate us and paralyze us, healing can happen. It can happen with the help of the Healer, who is the Lord. It can also happen with the love and support of friends and family. I can relate so well to this story as I've been dealing with the grief of losing several family members, including both of my parents, over the last several years. Some parts certainly brought back memories and also gave me a renewed sense of hope. That aspect of the book was beautiful and life-giving. Here are a few of my favorite quotes:
"It took Eva a moment to form the words in her heart, 'You know, when you've loved deeply and lost deeply, it's okay to feel deeply.'"

"When some people have so much grief inside of them, it's hard to figure out how to release it. And it's easy for the rest of us to only see the prickles--the thorns--that happen as a result. But don't forget there's a rose there too. You sometimes just have to wait for it to bloom."

"Because joy isn't dependent on you or even the good things in life, like a wonderful husband. It's dependent on God, and on you being reconciled with him. It's rooted in a deep knowing that no matter what happens in life, you have someone you can hold on to even when you're drowning."

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

Monday, April 13, 2020

Reviewer's Bookshelf: "The House at the End of the Moor" by Michelle Griep

Book Summary (Amazon): What Can a London Opera Star and an Escaped Dartmoor Prisoner Have in Common?

Opera star Maggie Lee escapes her opulent lifestyle when threatened by a powerful politician who aims to ruin her life. She runs off to the wilds of the moors to live in anonymity. All that changes the day she discovers a half-dead man near her house. Escaped convict Oliver Ward is on the run to prove his innocence, until he gets hurt and is taken in by Maggie. He discovers some jewels in her possession—the very same jewels that got him convicted. Together they hatch a plan to return the jewels, clearing Oliver’s name and hopefully maintaining Maggie’s anonymity.

My thoughts... This book had my attention from page one! There was a very unique aspect to this novel in that it was written in first person when Maggie "spoke", but switched out of first person with the other characters. It was the first time I'd read a book quite like that. When I've read novels that were only in first person, I've missed some of the details and thoughts from the other characters' perspectives. This had to best of both worlds in that sense. Maggie's character also loved the book Jane Eyre, which is a favorite of mine, so I was instantly drawn in. Maggie's story parallels Jane's in some ways, in that both encounter dark, mysterious men that have a past that haunts them. As Maggie and Oliver's worlds intertwine in unexpected ways, the intensity of the plot increases. The bad guys are well-written, evoking the creepy feelings along with my personal desire to see them brought to justice. Even that didn't end the way I anticipated. Michelle Griep also writes some great romantic tension, which I always appreciate.
I loved this line at the beginning of the novel as Maggie compares herself to her pet dog that she found on the Moors:
"I fancy we are a lot alike; Wounded but not overcome. Braver than anything life throws at us. But that's a lie."
Again, much like Jane Eyre, Maggie develops from someone who has been abused and left to fend for herself to a woman of courage and determination, even through the heartache. I love Michelle's books and this one did not disappoint! 

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

Friday, April 10, 2020

Reviewer's Bookshelf: "Selah" by Lisa T. Bergren

Book Summary (Amazon): Selah Banning has come of age on the West Indies island of Nevis, shaped by experiences far beyond the typical upbringing of a young British lady in 1776. She never anticipated that the most tumultuous time of her life might await her in the year ahead.

Jedediah Reed, a young Methodist preacher with a call to serve the slaves of Nevis, has settled at Selah's family's plantation, the Double T. As Selah's heart is drawn to the same people, their shared purpose brings them together--despite her guardians' concern with a romance that promises little security for the future.

As Jedediah's faith and Selah's abolitionist leanings lead to changes on the plantation, the Revolutionary War continues to build in the States. With the threat of starvation and the conflict with island mogul Angus Shubert growing ever stronger, the future of the Double T and its people hangs in the balance.

My thoughts... The three book Sugar Barons series by Lisa T. Bergren, ending with this book, have been so intriguing to me. I had little to no previous knowledge of these islands and the role they played in the sugar trade or history, particularly as it related to the Revolutionary War. I know the author, based on notes at the end of the books, has fictionalized some of the characters and events, but Nevis and the surrounding islands are real places that were active in sugar production and trade. I also loved this trio of sisters, each having their own book in the series. They are each unique in their convictions, but all three are strong and courageous. Selah is the "baby" of the three, yet in this book she is a grown woman trying to make a stand for what God has given her a conviction for, which is the mistreatment of slaves. All of the Banning sisters are trying to make a better life for their slaves, whom they free and help to find jobs as freed men and women, unlike most of their fellow plantation owners on the islands.
This book has a great pace, moving from one interesting event in Selah's life to the next. These events vary from helping runaway slaves, encounters with the evil Angus Shubert, and the building of romantic tension between herself and Jedediah Reed. I would definitely recommend this entire series. The portrayal of women in a male-dominated society was well done, showing the challenges, but also the way that honorable men and women can work together in faith to overcome the prejudices of that time period. 

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

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Reviewer's Bookshelf: "The Runaway Bride" by Jody Hedlund

Book Summary (Amazon): Wealthy Arabella Lawrence flees to British Columbia on a bride ship still wearing the scars of past mistakes. One of the few single women in the boomtown, she immediately has suitors, but she is determined not to find herself trapped again by a poor choice.

Vying for her hand are two very different men. Lieutenant Richard Drummond is a gentleman in the Navy and is held in high esteem. Peter Kelly is the town's baker and has worked hard to build a thriving business. He and Drummond not only compete for Arabella's affections, but clash over their views of how the natives should be treated in the midst of a smallpox outbreak.

As Arabella begins to overcome her fears, she discovers someone in dire need--a starving girl abandoned by her tribe. Intent on helping the girl, Arabella leans on Peter's advice and guidance. Will she have the wisdom to make the right decision or will seeking what's right cost both her and Peter everything?

My thoughts...It took me a few chapters to really get into this second story in the Bride Ships series, but as the tension began to build I could hardly put it down! In the first book, the heroine was fleeing poverty in order to have a better life for herself. A lot of book one was set on the ship voyage over. This book begins as the upper class Arabella is coming off the ship and beginning her life in a new land, looking for a husband of her status. Part of the tension was learning Arabella's story, particularly what she endured before boarding the bride ship, and how that impacted her as she formed relationships in her new home. Even though Arabella's choices frustrated me at times, her character went through a beautiful transformation. As she saw her worth through God's eyes, and put her trust in Him to love and protect her, it freed her up to make choices based on truth as opposed to what the world told her was right. Even though Pete (Peter Kelly) finds himself in a variety of tempting and trying situations, he relies on his young faith in God to guide him through. The spiritual journey portrayed by both characters was encouraging and inspiring. And last, but not least, the fantastic (clean) romantic scenes did not disappoint! It was the icing on the cake! I have really enjoyed this series and look forward to the next two books that are coming soon!

*I was given a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. The opinions expressed are mine alone.*

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Reviewer's Bookshelf: "Woman of Sunlight" by Mary Connealy

Book summary (Amazon): After years of isolation on top of Hope Mountain, Ilsa Nordegren may finally be ready to leave. Raised to fear the world, Ilsa and her sisters never planned on coming down, but when the Warden family arrived in need, they had to help. And it may cost them everything.

Having made his fortune, Mitch Warden returned home and found the family homestead abandoned. In a land grab, a ruthless cattle baron had forced his family to escape up the mountain, and when he follows, the last thing he expects is to fall smitten to a black-haired woman who dresses like Robin Hood.

Warden is intent on helping his family reclaim their land, but doesn't realize the risks his past has brought. Dangerous men have tracked him, and rather than risk innocent lives, he's determined to end the danger. But that means a journey to the city--and when Ilsa insists on joining him, the mismatched pair suddenly find themselves on a venture they'll never forget.

My thoughts...Living in the quarantine era, I'm actually enjoying a little slower pace of life and those quiet moments in the evening when I'm able to read. In light of all that's happening in our world right now, this book was just the escape I needed! "Woman of Sunlight" is about love, courage, loyalty, and trusting God in the face of evil and uncertainty. Mitch is not going to sit around and wait for head hunters to take him down...he's going to fight back. In one of those heated battles, he sees the fairy-like Ilsa turn into a force to be reckoned with. She isn't afraid to fight, and is quite good at it, too. I loved the way that Mitch and Ilsa were a pair of warriors, complementing each other in their fierceness and skill. The action scenes were fantastic! I also appreciated how Mitch let go of any reservations he had about trusting Ilsa and learned to work with her as an equal teammate. The romantic tension in Connealy's novels are some of the best there is. The fun banter between characters, their thoughts about the woman or man they are attracted to, little tidbits here and there that hint at what's going on after the "fade to black" it all! Connealy really captures the passion perfectly. Ilsa's journey is probably my favorite. Due to her isolation, she hasn't had the opportunities to learn about things most people take for granted. Her determination to keep learning and understanding, and Mitch's patience in teaching her, really made me think. I'm a teacher, and sometimes it is easy to get frustrated when my students (and now my own children who I'm doing homeschooling with during the quarantine) don't understand things easily. Taking a humble and patient approach is the best, and most effective, way. Appreciated how that was portrayed in this novel.

I loved this book and would also recommend the first book in the series, "Aiming for Love." Click here to see my review!

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