Sunday, December 1, 2019

The Dating Charade - Melissa Ferguson

Cassie has had so many bad blind dates that she has a full escape plan in place.  She is ready to walk away from the dating scene when Jett Bentley shows up and decides to pursue her, the girl who he admired from afar in high school.  Each has stated up front that they're not interested in having kids, but it's not quite the whole truth for either of them.  When complicated situations leave each of them with 3 kids in their individual custody, they must decide how to, or whether to, fill the other one in, with the risk of scaring them away for good.

This is one of those cases where I almost let a cover and title keep me from reading a good book; I was expecting the whole book to read like the introduction - a woman running from disastrous dates, a firefighter rescuing old ladies.  While that beginning was humorous, and would have made for a fun light-hearted book, but instead, the story got much much deeper.  Touching on infertility, foster care, child abuse and neglect, and unmet dreams and expectations, Jett and Cassie traveled a very emotional path both separately and together.  With well-placed revelations about each of the characters, the story blended past hurts and current struggles.  My one disappointment was that when Jett and Cassie came to a seemingly impassable argument, there was no real work to resolve it; somehow, it magically became a non-issue. 

I give this book 3.5 stars, rounded up to 4.  I loved this book for all of the tough topics it tackled, but I did wish that the characters would have reflected a little more on how to work through some of them.  I have not been closely involved with foster care, but I did appreciate that the book didn't make it all seem perfect and peachy, for either the parents or the children.

You can find The Dating Charade HERE.
You can find the author's website HERE.
(This is her debut novel, and I'm looking forward to more from her!)

I received a digital copy of this book, via NetGalley, from the publisher, in exchange for my honest review.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Lake Season - Denise Hunter

Molly, Levi, and Grace Bennett choose to band together after their parents' tragic death, and put their life plans on hold to open the inn that was their parents' dream.  During the last stages of construction, Molly discovers an unsent letter stuck in the walls, and becomes obsessed with tracking down the writer and intended recipient to try to provide healing or closure.  Meanwhile, Adam Bradford, whose pseudonym is the bestselling author Nathaniel Quinn, comes to Bluebell to find inspiration for his next novel.  With no other rooms available during the busy Lake Season, Adam ends up at the Bluebell Inn, and strikes up a friendship with Molly.  Finding himself drawn to both Molly and the mysterious letter, the two of them work closely together to delve into the small town's past to find what they can about this couple that has stolen their hearts.  How close can Adam get to Molly without revealing his secret identity, who just happens to be Molly's favorite author, or without her feeling deceived if he does reveal himself?  Can he trust her with his insecurities that he doesn't measure up to his own heroes?

This book had all the makings of a great summer read - the lake town, the small inn, the tragic beginning, and an author crush, but it fell just a little shy for me.  I wanted the townspeople, or side characters to play a larger part in filling out the feel of the town and story.  The book was entirely focused on Adam and Molly, with a minimal dual timeline addition to give a bit more weight to the letter plot.  Molly's best friend Skye had so much potential, as did Adam's friend Jordan, and Molly's siblings Levi and Grace.  I believe this is intended to be a series, with each sibling getting their turn at a book, so maybe their stories will start to feel more developed.  However, I spent most of the book feeling like I was missing a prequel, or maybe this wasn't meant to be book one, and that I was supposed to already know these people. 

Since Adam and Molly were the focus of the story, I did feel connected to them, and Adam's battle with his father's memory and the insecurities that stemmed from that, as well as Molly's grief and guilt over her parents' death were heartwrenching.  Lizzie and Ben's story was also very emotional, and while I wished for it to be fleshed out a bit more, I did appreciate how well everything tied together in the end.  Some might say too much so, but I didn't mind the coincidences, when attributed to God's sovereignty.

I give this book 4 stars.  November is an odd choice for a beach-y book to release, but maybe you'll want to hold onto it for next summer!  I do plan to read the siblings' stories as they are available, because I think this family set-up is rich for a good tale.

You can find Lake Season HERE.
You can find the author's website HERE.

I received a digital copy of this book, via NetGalley, from the publishers, in exchange for my honest review.

Friday, November 1, 2019

In the Cradle Lies - Olivia Newport

The Tree of Life series is set in the small town of Canyon Mines, and centers around Jillian Parisi-Duffy's work as a genealogist.  Besides her steady paycheck work of hunting down next-of-kin for insurance companies, she can't help but be curious about the strangers who wander into her town with mysterious backstories.  The Inn at Hidden Run introduces Jillian to Meri, who has run away from her family and doesn't want to talk about it.  In the Cradle Lies brings Tucker Kintzler to town, with his piles of cash and crazy dream to find the Inn's Hidden ski run namesake.  In both novels, Jillian works with her father, a lawyer skilled in mediation and getting people to open up to him, as well as a cast of small-town characters, to dig out enough information to piece together the history these folks need to find peace with their pasts and a path for their futures.

This is such an interesting theme for a series of novels; I love that the small town people we meet continue to tie them together, but a new puzzle for Jillian to solve makes each novel unique.  If you can suspend the question of whether Jillian should be looking into people's pasts who haven't asked, it's engaging to watch the story come together, utilizing a dual timeline to bring their past and current stories together.  Tucker's family history was darker than I anticipated, and I had trouble reconciling the quick tying up of ends with the slow reveal of the atrocities. 

I give both books in this series 3 stars; I enjoy the idea of the genealogical mysteries, and I will likely continue to read the series, but I don't see myself reading these again.

You can find The Inn at Hidden Run HERE.
You can find In the Cradle Lies HERE.
You can find the author's website HERE.

I received a digital copy of this book, via NetGalley, from the publishers, in exchange for my honest review.

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Aiming for Love - Mary Connealy

Jo Nordegren and her sisters have lived on Hope Mountain their whole lives, having only each other for company once their grandparents have passed on.  They know nothing of the real world, except that their grandmother was terribly afraid of it and told them it was full of sickness and death.  Now, Dave Warden and his family have appeared on their mountain, and the sisters must decide how to handle these strangers from below.

This book was just not for me.  I found the characters to be unbelievable and bordering on preposterous.  Jo and her sisters did not ring true as women who'd lived sheltered from real life their whole lives; their naivete felt forced, convenient to the plot in some sections, yet oddly missing in other situations.  The most interesting character for me was Wax Mosby - the hired gun whose men ran the Wardens off their ranch and into the mountains.  His determination to finish out the job, while not crossing his own pre-determined lines regardless of his ruthless boss, and begin a new life for himself was intriguing, and I wish he hadn't disappeared from the storyline halfway through the book.

So, while I found the idea of this book interesting, and I am curious to know how Wax extricates himself from his situation, I do not foresee myself reading the rest of this series.  I have read other works by this author, however, and I would likely pick up something else of hers in the future.

You can find Aiming for Love HERE.
You can find the author's site HERE.

I received a digital copy of this book, via NetGalley, from the publishers, in exchange for my honest review.

Monday, September 2, 2019

Christmas in Winter Hill - Melody Carlson

Krista Galloway and her daughter have packed up their lives and moved to Winter Hill, in order for Krista to take a job as their city manager.  Once there, Krista realizes that this small town may not be a good fit for her; they center much of their city life around Christmas, a holiday that has always seemed to bring catastrophe to Krista's life.  She also finds that the city government has several unrealized problem areas, making her seem like the bad guy who moved into town and started cleaning house.  Can Krista and her daughter make a life here, or will this be one more Christmas disappointment for Krista?

This was a sweet little Christmas novella, perfect for wintry days by the fireplace.  Krista's rough background serves to fuel her disappointment in life, but she gives it her best to give her daughter, Emily, a better shot at a hopeful life.  There is a good mix of villainous characters and helpful, honest ones to balance out the story.  As with most novellas, the reader doesn't get very deep views into any of the characters, but it was enough to want to root for Krista and to feel the pull of the town against her. 

I give this novella 4 stars.  I think this town and its Christmas-loving people would make for a sweet series of Christmas novellas, filling in the story of Christmasville and the people who bring it together every year.

You can find Christmas in Winter Hill HERE.
You can find the author's website HERE.

I received a digital copy of this book, via NetGalley, from the publisher, in exchange for my honest review.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

The Spice King - Elizabeth Camden

Annabelle Larkin has traveled to Washington D.C. to give her sister, Elaine, a chance to find purpose in her life as a blind woman.  She's been given a temporary job with the Smithsonian, with the understanding that if she can convince Gray Delacroix to give up some of his botanical secrets, there may be a more permanent position in store for her.  Gray Delacroix, while reluctant to give anything away for free, and especially reluctant to give anything to the government, finds himself drawn to Annabelle.  When Annabelle is required to search out more than botanical secrets, will she choose Gray or her country? 

I have always enjoyed Elizabeth Camden's penchant for uniquely employed heroines that give an unusual look into her particular periods of history.  Annabelle is no exception; as a botanist working within the Smithsonian and then the Department of Agriculture, the reader is given a peek into the period of time where food additives were not monitored by the government.  I found this setting to be very intriguing and the interplay between Gray's world of food production and the government's growing interest in food safety was an engaging setting for a novel.  The side stories were woven into the larger picture fairly seamlessly, and I am looking forward to finding out how those play out as this series continues!

I give this book 4 stars.  I enjoyed the characters, and I enjoyed the perspective from this view of history.

You can find The Spice King HERE.
You can find the author's website HERE.

I received a digital copy of this book, via NetGalley, from the publisher, in exchange for my honest review.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Shades of Light - Sharon Garlough Brown

Having battled depression and anxiety for most of her life, Wren hits a point where she can't continue to cope on her own.  Taking a leave of absence from her emotionally draining job as a social worker, she seeks help, from professionals, from loving extended family, and from those within her faith.  Making progress, she reaches out to help a struggling friend from her past, but can she help him recover without jeopardizing her own fragile healing?

I don't know that I've ever seen a book this gut-wrenchingly open and vulnerable in regards to mental illness, depression, and anxiety.  Sometimes the intensity and the darkness the characters were experiencing was too much, and I needed to step away to catch my own breath.  However, I've never seen a book take on the heaviness of depression and call out and dash all of the typical "Christian" responses of "you just need more faith," or the belief that Christians shouldn't experience depression.  Those aren't Christian answers, they're lazy answers.

There were themes in this book that I am not personally well-acquainted with, such as the stations of the Cross, and while it didn't detract from my reading experience, I think it would make the book an even richer read for those who are familiar with a more mystical approach to Christianity, with some possibly Catholic rituals added in.  (I apologize if I have mis-categorized the rituals in the book)

I have not read any of this author's previous works, and this book stands alone just fine.  However, I did read somewhere that there are some character crossovers, which I think would enhance the background support of this story if the reader were familiar with them.

I give this book 4 stars.  I don't quite know what else I could wish for from this book, and maybe it's the dark subject matter that leaves me feeling too heavy to say I loved it.  That would be through no fault of the author's writing.  But I know that I could not personally pick up this book back up to read again.  At least not anytime soon.

You can find Shades of Light HERE.
You can find the author's page HERE.

I received a digital copy of this book, via NetGalley, from the publisher, in exchange for my honest review.