Review: “Everything Behind Us” by Jennifer Rodewald

I’m sharing a review today of Jennifer Rodewald’s latest book in the “Murphy Brothers” series (also a part of The Potter’s House collection), Everything Behind Us. It is quick read that balances a bit of women’s fiction and contemporary romance well.

About the Book

Neither wants to relive the past, but they need each other to face the future.

Connor Murphy lives by a code of honor and service. Dignified, duty-bound, and responsible, he’s spent the past eight years as a single enlisted airman, determined never to mess up another person’s life the way he did Sadie’s. As long as he follows orders, does his job well, and avoids romantic entanglements, he’ll do just fine. Of course, that last part was easier before Sadie rolled back into town.

Sadie Allen never intended to return to Sugar Pine—her hometown hosts too much regret—but she can’t face her health crisis alone. Not with a four-year-old depending on her. Even so, Connor Murphy’s proposal of a marriage of convenience wasn’t exactly what she had in mind. She can’t fault his reasoning—her prognosis is grim and her son could use a father—but her heart aches at the thought of a marriage without romance. Especially to the one man she’s never gotten over.

The day-to-day challenges of Sadie’s illness are enough to strain the strongest relationships, let alone one hastily conceived in the shadow of past mistakes. Will the pressure be too much for their marriage to withstand, or will they allow God to forge something beautiful through their pain?

Goodreads | Amazon

Review

Everything Behind Us celebrates the normal and challenging sides of life (and marriage). With Rodewald’s typical depth, this story has emotional themes balanced with joy and purpose. I was happy to get another Murphy brother story! I am always delighted at their family’s dynamics and practical jokes, along with the balance of wisdom their parents offer in various situations.

I really appreciate the lesson Connor learns in this story, one that is gleaned from reading between the lines: that it’s ok to admit need and depend on God’s provision, yet it is admirable all the same to choose honor and provide for those in your care. Sadie, too, faces some unexplainable challenges and learns to embrace the joy provided each day.

Thank you to the author for the review copy. This is my honest review.

Review + Blog Tour: “Beauty Among Ruins” by J’nell Ciesielski

Beauty Among Ruins is the first novel I’ve read by J’nell Ciesielski, and I am very impressed! I want to go back and read her backlist now 😉

Join me today in celebrating her upcoming novel release with a blog tour and a chance to win a paperback copy in a giveaway at the bottom of this post!

Beauty Among Ruins

Publication Date: January 12, 2021
Thomas Nelson
Paperback, eBook, & Audiobook

Genre: Historical Fiction/Romance/Scottish

In Ciesielski’s latest sweeping romance, an American heiress finds herself in Scotland amid the fallout of the Great War, and a wounded Scottish laird comes face-to-face with his past and a woman he never could have expected.

American socialite Lily Durham is known for enjoying one moment to the next, with little regard for the consequences of her actions. But just as she is banished overseas to England as a “cure” for her frivolous ways, the Great War breaks out and wreaks havoc. She joins her cousin in nursing the wounded at a convalescent home deep in the wilds of Scotland at a crumbling castle where its laird is less than welcoming.

Alec MacGregor has given his entire life to preserving his home of Kinclavoch Castle, but mounting debts force him to sell off his family history bit by bit. Labeled a coward for not joining his countrymen in the trenches due to an old injury, he opens his home to the Tommies to make recompense while he keeps to the shadows. But his preference for the shadows is shattered when a new American nurse comes streaming into the castle on a burst of light.

Lily and Alec are thrown together when a series of mysterious events threatens to ruin the future of Kinclavoch. Can they put aside their differences to find the culprit before it’s too late, or will their greatest distraction be falling in love?

‘A Scottish lord and an American socialite discover love during WWI in this gorgeous historical romance from Ciesielski (The Socialite)…The undercurrent of mystery and Ciesielski’s unflinching approach to the harsh realities of wartime only enhance the love story. Readers are sure to be impressed.’ –Publishers Weekly

Available for Pre-Order

Amazon | Barnes and Noble | IndieBound

About the Author

J'nell Ciesielski

With a passion for heart-stopping adventure and sweeping love stories, J’nell Ciesielski weaves fresh takes into romances of times gone by. When not creating dashing heroes and daring heroines, she can be found dreaming of Scotland, indulging in chocolate of any kind, or watching old black and white movies. Winner of the Romance Through the Ages Award and the Maggie Award, she is a Florida native who now lives in Virginia with her husband, daughter, and lazy beagle.

Learn more at www.jnellciesielski.com. You can also find J’nell on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, and Goodreads.

Review

Beauty Among Ruins is an exquisite romance set against the perils of war and loss. With deep themes of sacrifice and longing, J’nell Ciesielski’s style transports the reader to the idyllic Scottish Lowlands and stirs a longing for tradition.

Through Alec and Lily’s eyes, the struggles of recovering WWI soldiers are spotlighted with the noble sacrifices nurses and homeowners offered to house the convalescing men. A mystery with more than one suspected character, combined with a plot to smear the laird’s name and weigh on his guilt, all deftly intertwines with the day to day work of providing physical and mental care. I was happy to see Lily’s steadfastness and growth through circumstances she did not initially choose.

The romance in this story is one of my new favorites! With subtle hints of beauty and the beast vibes, Alec’s initial brooding and distance disguise a poetic heart that answers Lily’s in a beautiful way. They are wonderful compliments to each other. And when he speaks Gaelic to her, BE STILL MY HEART.

With a full cast of characters that lend a sense of place and family camaraderie to the story, Beauty Among Ruins is a historical drama not to be missed by fans of Scottish settings, WWI homefront stories, or poignant romance.

Thank you to the publisher for the review copy. This is my honest review.

Blog Tour Schedule

Wednesday, January 6
Review at Pursuing Stacie

Thursday, January 7
Review at Read Review Rejoice

Friday, January 8
Review at The Green Mockingbird

Saturday, January 9
Review at Reading is My Remedy

Monday, January 11
Review at Jorie Loves A Story

Tuesday, January 12
Interview at Books & Benches

Wednesday, January 13
Review at Chicks, Rogues and Scandals

Thursday, January 14
Excerpt at Heidi Reads

Friday, January 15
Review at The Lit Bitch
Review at Amy’s Booket List

Saturday, January 16
Review at Nursebookie

Monday, January 18
Review at Books, Cooks, Looks

Tuesday, January 19
Guest Post at Novels Alive

Wednesday, January 20
Review at Novels Alive

Thursday, January 21
Review at Hallie Reads

Friday, January 22
Review at Gwendalyn’s Books

Giveaway

We have 5 paperback copies of Beauty Among Ruins up for grabs!

The giveaway is open to the US only and ends on January 22nd. You must be 18 or older to enter.

Enter the Giveaway here!

Beauty Among Ruins_Blog Tour Banner

Top Ten Tuesday: Most Anticipated 2021 Movies & Shows

It’s another Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl!

Top Ten Tuesday at The Green Mockingbird

Today’s official topic is “most anticipated releases for the first half of 2021”. I’m spinning the topic a bit to cover stories on the big and small screen I’m highly anticipating this year! Some of these were slated for 2020 release, so I’m extra excited to *finally* see them released.

Most Anticipated 2021 Movies & Shows

Top Gun: Maverick This sequel is almost 35 years in the making! I’m all about the nostalgia and anticipated soundtrack of this one.

No Time to Die This James Bond film is Daniel Craig’s last — and I have a feeling it’s going to be my favorite with him. I’m always entertained by the Bond titles but I really liked the story direction of the last one, Spectre, so I’m excited to see how they continue with some of those elements in this one!

Respect Jennifer Hudson as The Queen of Soul.

Black Widow FINALLY we get Scarlett Johansson’s character’s origin story. I hope there’s a nod to Budapest.

Death on the Nile The next Hercule Poirot remake, this highly anticipated period drama/mystery is slated for a late 2021 release. It will (hopefully) be here before we know it!

Dune The classic sci-fi with a fabulous cast. Though I know very little about the story, I am very excited for a new space adventure!

Finding You This Ireland-set romance is adapted from a novel by Jenny B. Jones!!! Hooray! Now, to read it before I watch it…

Luca Disney & Pixar + an Italian setting. I’m in!

On the small screen:

All Creatures Great and Small this promising PBS-Masterpiece slated series follows a veterinarian in 1930s Yorkshire.

Miss Scarlet and the Duke A Victorian mystery with a female lead. ALL things I love!

Your turn! Did you participate in this week’s Top Ten Tuesday? Are any of these shows on your must-watch list? What books are you anticipating this year?

Best Books of 2020

Welcome to my annual “best-of” celebration!

I set a Goodreads reading goal at 100 books! I got close to making it happen at 86 books — and I’m happy with the high number I achieved. With all the bad news and unexpectedness of 2020, I have found books and the online bookish community to be a bright, positive spot in many ways. I hope you have, too.

I’ve included 20 books, 2-3 per genre, in my BEST list this year! If you’d like to see all of the books I read and read more extensive reviews, check out my 2020 Goodreads year in books or browse my blog archives.

THE (self-imposed) RULES: because sometimes I need to keep things brief, I’m choosing to share 3 things that describe each of these stories along with a link to Goodreads and my blog review (if applicable). At the end, I’ll be sharing popular posts on the blog this year.

All titles are inspirational fiction unless noted with *.

Best Books of 2020

Novellas

Fair as a Star by Mimi Matthews* | Review

Sweet romance. Compassion. Hope.

A Pressing Engagement by Anna Lee Huber*

Long-awaited event. Earl Gray the cat. Charismatic criminals.

Christmas in Three Quarter Time by Rachel McMillan | Review

Belonging. Vulnerability. Vienna & the Tyrolean countryside.

Split Time

Set the Stars Alight by Amanda Dykes | Review

LIGHT. Longing. Hope.

Echoes Among the Stones by Jaime Jo Wright | Review

Puzzling mystery. Devotion. Collin O’Shaughnessy.

Whose Waves These Are by Amanda Dykes | Review

Sacrifice. Beauty in the commonplace and extraordinary. Poignant.

Contemporary

The Solid Grounds Coffee Co. by Carla Laureano | Review

Honesty. Complexity. Friendship.

Now and Then and Always by Melissa Tagg | Review

Winsome. Humorous. Faith.

The Fifth Avenue Story Society by Rachel Hauck | Review

Redemption. Relationships. Enchanting concept.

Romantic Comedy

The Cul-de-Sac War by Melissa Ferguson | Review

Frenemies-to-romance. Farm animals. Rivalry.

Hadley Beckett’s Next Dish by Bethany Turner | Review

Wit. FOOD. Healing.

Close to You by Kara Isaac

Adventure. Unexpected love. Hobbits.

Thriller & Suspense

The Wind Will Howl by Sibella Giorello

Immersive setting. Classic-feel mystery. Smart.

Soul Raging by Ronie Kendig | Review

Twists. Revelations. Banter.

Chasing the White Lion by James R. Hannibal | Review

High-tech action. Suspense. Purpose.

Historical

The London Restoration by Rachel McMillan | Review

Reconciliation. Friendship. Selflessness.

An Uncommon Woman by Laura Frantz

Lyrical prose. Strength on the frontier. Riveting romance.

Gentleman Jim by Mimi Matthews*

Daring adventure. Truth. Swoony romance.

Nonfiction

Special mention to a couple of nonfiction titles I enjoyed: Dream, Plan, and Go by Rachel McMillan, an inspirational travel memoir and guide; Everything Beautiful In Its Time by Jenna Bush Hager, a family-centric memoir of love and grief.

Popular #OnTheBlog in 2020

Most popular posts:

Most popular new book reviews:

That’s it for 2020! Happy new year to you all. As always, thank you for being a blog reader and part of this bookish community.

What are your favorite books you read this year? Do we share any favorites? Did you post a list of favorites on your blog or social media? I’d love for you to share in the comments!

Audiobook Review: “The Cul-de-Sac War” by Melissa Ferguson

Melissa Ferguson’s sophomore novel, The Cul-de-Sac War, is as cute and intriguing as its name implies. It’s a contemporary romcom I highly recommend for fans of the genre!

About the Book

All’s fair in love and prank wars.

Bree Leake doesn’t want to be tied down. She’s had more jobs than she can count, and she plans to move as soon as the curtains fall on her less-than-minor stage role at The Barter—the oldest live performance theater in the US. But just when it’s time to move on again, Bree’s parents make her an offer: hold steady for a full year, and they will give her the one thing she’s always wanted—her grandmother’s house. Her dreams are coming true . . . until life at the theater throws her some curve balls.

And then there’s Chip McBride—her handsome and infuriating next-door neighbor.

Chip just might be the only person whose stubborn streak can match Bree’s. She would move heaven and earth to have him off her cul-de-sac and out of her life, but according to the bargain she’s struck, she can’t move out of her house and away from the man who’s making her life miserable. So begins Bree’s obsessive new mission: to drive Chip out of the neighborhood—and fast.

Bree isn’t the only one who’s a tad competitive, and Chip is more than willing to fight fire with fire. But as their pranks escalate, the line between love and hate starts to blur—and their heated rivalry threatens to take a hilarious, heartwarming, and romantic new turn.

Goodreads | Amazon

Review

The Cul-de-Sac War is truly a LAUGH OUT LOUD romcom! I listened to the audiobook and loved every second. I love the pranks and antics of Chip and Bree, their delightful frenemies-to-enemies-to-romance journey, and the little bits of realistic heart-truths in this story. Most of all, I loved the way I couldn’t predict what crazy thing would happen next or how much I would be surprised by the way it comes together. I especially like how it’s centered on two people who have no idea that each is the answer to the friendship and encouragement they are seeking.

So many aspects of this novel line up to result in such perfection. A short list:

  • the cast of supporting characters: Bree’s off-the-grid obsessed roommate, her matchmaking obsessed parents, and Chip’s pretentious family, just to name a few.
  • relatable humor: Subarus. Duct tape and home remodeling.
  • quaint-but-still-real-life setting: just go Google The Barter!
  • random farm animals: I’ll leave this comment a mystery until you read it for yourself 😉
  • a dog named Russell: so prolific, he deserves his own category. His Slim Jim obsession is award-worthy.
  • finding purpose in life: a major theme here!
  • a surprising, heart-tugging story thread with Bree’s family — and the way Chip relates

Thank you to the publisher for the review copy. This is my honest review.

Review: The Right Kind of Fool by Sarah Loudin Thomas

I’m sharing a book review today for a recent historical fiction release: The Right Kind of Fool by Sarah Loudin Thomas. The gorgeous cover (those mountains!) is rightly reflective of the poignant story inside.

About the Book

Thirteen-year-old Loyal Raines is supposed to stay close to home on a hot summer day in 1934. When he slips away for a quick swim in the river and finds a dead body, he wishes he’d obeyed his mother. The ripples caused by his discovery will impact the town of Beverly, West Virginia, in ways no one could have imagined.

The first person those ripples disturb is Loyal’s absentee father. When Creed Raines realized his infant son was deaf, he headed for the hills, returning only to help meet his family’s basic needs. But when Loyal, now a young teen, stumbles upon a murder it’s his father he runs to tell–shaping the words with his hands. As Creed is pulled into the investigation he discovers that what sets his son apart isn’t his inability to hear but rather his courage. Longing to reclaim the life he abandoned, Creed will have to do more than help solve a murder if he wants to win his family’s hearts again. 

Goodreads | Amazon

Review

The Right Kind of Fool is an excellent piece of historical fiction! Blending an intriguing mystery and poignant family drama, its characters are as unique and vivid as its Appalachian setting. Loyal’s point of view, especially, is well crafted and offers a sensitive and authentic-feeling portrayal of a deaf individual, complicated by his status as a boy on the cusp of manhood learning responsibility.

The slight suspense storyline is cleverly paced, with perspective changes and enough unpredictability to keep the reader guessing. All of the turmoil combines with the emotional crux the Raines family is thrown into; one that proves to be a summer of change for everyone involved. Themes of grace, trust, and strength all weave together in this beautiful and highly engaging story I would recommend to fans of historical fiction, drama, suspense, and romance alike.

Thank you to the publisher for the review copy. This is my honest review.

Review: “The Fifth Avenue Story Society” by Rachel Hauck

I’m sharing a review today of one of the best stories I’ve read this year! The Fifth Avenue Story Society by Rachel Hauck is a contemporary inspirational story of redemption, hope, friendship, and restoration.

About the Book

An invitation to join The Fifth Avenue Story Society gives five New York strangers a chance to rewrite their own stories.

Executive assistant Lexa is eager for a much-deserved promotion, but her boss is determined to keep her underemployed.

Literature professor Jett is dealing with a broken heart, as well as a nagging suspicion his literary idol, Gordon Phipps Roth, might be a fraud.

Uber driver Chuck just wants a second chance with his kids.

Aging widower Ed is eager to write the true story of his incredible marriage.

Coral, queen of the cosmetics industry, has broken her engagement and is on the verge of losing her great grandmother’s multimillion-dollar empire.

When all five New Yorkers receive an anonymous, mysterious invitation to the Fifth Avenue Story Society, they suspect they’re victims of a practical joke. No one knows who sent the invitations or why. No one has heard of the literary society. And no one is prepared to bear their deepest secrets to a roomful of strangers.

Yet curiosity and loneliness bring them back week after week to the old library. And it’s there they discover the stories of their hearts, and the kind of friendship and love that heals their souls.

Goodreads | Amazon

Review

I have enjoyed Rachel Hauck’s style of writing enchanting, modern-day fairytales with the slightest hints of supernatural threads. She balances believable situations and characters living out a fateful God-orchestrated situation. I particularly liked The Fifth Avenue Story Society for its unique faith thread which lends to a general market appeal outside of the inspirational genre.

This is one of those rare types of books where I became less aware I was reading a novel and instead fell headlong into the story, especially its vivid depiction of NYC. The multiple points of view tie together wonderfully and always transition cleanly, never feeling confusing or too much. While I enjoyed all of them, I really liked the main romantic couple and their arc of redemption.

While I expected The Fifth Avenue Story Society to be a literature-centric story in some ways, I was pleasantly surprised to see the story society concept taken much deeper. I LOVED this novel and will be counting it as one of my favorites by Hauck!

Thank you to the publisher for the review copy. This is my honest review.

Christmas Reads & Reviews (2020)

Welcome to an installment of little Christmas (romance) reviews for 2020! All three of these stories released this year. You can learn more about each book by visiting their Goodreads page (click on the title text).

A Match Made at Christmas by Courtney Walsh, a novella in her Nantucket Love Story series

A Match Made at Christmas combines all I’ve come to expect from a Courtney Walsh story: a charming setting, a chivalrous hero, a strong heroine, layers and depth to the characters, witty humor, and a wonderfully romantic pairing. It’s the perfect, magical Christmas novella to “escape” into this season!

The best-friends-to-more romance is one to root for between Hayes and Pru. After meeting Hayes in If For Any Reason, I was SO glad to hear he was getting a story of his own with this novella! He’s fun and charming, but there’s way more to his character than what is on the surface. I love that about Courtney’s character development, especially here where Hayes and Pru are safe and fully themselves in each other’s presence.

Like a Christmas Dream by Lindsay Harrel, second in her Port Willis novella series

Like a Christmas Dream is a darling Christmas novella (with an adorable cover)! Lindsay Harrel’s stories always have “girl squad” dynamics– this one explores the connection and reconciliation between sisters. The timeline is depicted in a realistic way, with just chemistry with the romance and the support of friendship established in the short format.

I really love the romance thread of the story and how Michael is accepting of Sarah in a way she hasn’t experienced with her family or her relationships. And, his profession of photography which is introduced to Sarah plays into a great metaphor for seeing the world as she learns more about herself and her trust in God.

Thank you to the author for the review copy of this novella. This is my honest review.

The Little Christmas Shop on Nutcracker Lane by Jaimie Admans, a standalone Christmas novel

This charming little Christmas story is chock full of romance, Christmas traditions, and the magic of a British Christmas. It shows how the hope of the season is meant to be celebrated for more than just one day of the holiday.

The leading couple are absolutely adorable, genuine, and meant for each other. Disney’s-Flynn-Rider-lookalike-James has no clue how much he needs Nia to show him more than the appeal of the season, but to remind him of laughter, kindness, family, and joy of giving. Nia, in turn, learns a thing or two about confidence and trust. 🙂 They BOTH learn that wishes can come true.

Content note for my blog audience: this is a general fiction title. It has very few (I think I could count them on one hand) mild expletives.

Review: “Christmas in Three Quarter Time” by Rachel McMillan

Last week, author Rachel McMillan released a surprise Christmas novella: Christmas in Three Quarter Time! It’s no secret I have LOVED her previous two “Three Quarter Time” novellas set in Vienna. This one explores the city AND the Viennese countryside at the most wonderful time of year.

Christmas in Three Quarter Time cover
About the Book

“Felix Huber told me that the only thing wrong with my love story was that it was in the wrong time signature. That if I didn’t find the rhythm and meter aligning with the romance I deserved, I merely needed to allot a tempo change.”

Christmas in Three Quarter Time Cover

Freelance reporter Johanna Murphy declared war on charming Felix Huber the moment he stole an exclusive interview that cost her a vital promotion. Now, with time ticking to turn her temporary work visa into a permanent one, she needs a scoop that will capture the magic of Vienna at Christmas to entice international press syndication.

Inspired by the delicious lore of Vienna’s famed Sachertorte, she is determined to chase it before any rival reporter. But, the return of an unexpected and unwanted blast from her past drains her determination like a decaf espresso mélange. When Felix proposes they forge an unlikely alliance against this common enemy—for the span of Christmas only—Johanna has no choice but to follow him on a road trip across Austria culminating in the picture-perfect Tyrolean Alps where a buried hurt from Felix’s past is the secret ingredient to the bittersweet truth they find about the torte’s presence in his family history.

As Christmas approaches with the deadline of their temporary truce, Johanna learns to slow the world down and open her heart to a country, its traditions and the last man on earth she ever imagined under the mistletoe.

Amazon | Goodreads

Review

Christmas in Three Quarter Time is an enchanting escape to Vienna at Christmas! Traditions and torte, coffee and the countryside, Christmas markets and carvings all entwine two rival reporters as they navigate connection and explore romance. Rachel McMillan conveys the romance of the setting, too, as the Tyrol region and streets of Vienna find Johanna and Felix stepping in each other’s path toward the next byline.

The pacing of this story is perfection! The first few chapters see Johanna and Felix have a *moment* and near friendship, then time passes quickly as their relationship grows taut. The romance to come is more apparent as the story progresses toward Christmas. ❤ This almost-enemies-to-friends-and-romance spin is new for Rachel McMillan, a trope she applies well with plenty of verbal sparring (I’ve missed her dialog and banter like with Merinda Herringford and Jasper!).

While Christmas in Three Quarter Time has its sparkling moments and an idyllic setting, it is very much propelled by two unique and relatable characters. Johanna experiences personal growth, further lending to the depth of the story. The way she interacts with the world shifts because of her time with Felix. I LOVE how he sees her, calls her out on the emotional walls she’s built, then gives her the space to be herself. (And aren’t those the best kinds of friendships?!) The result is a maturity to the romance I appreciate. The warm fuzzies, Viennese traditions, bunny rescue, and Sachertorte baking are all present, but Johanna’s discovery, the theme of belonging, and the revealing of Felix’s heart are the most impactful.

Speaking of Felix, he is such a romantic. And a beta hero. I love how it’s not initially apparent because the story is in first person POV from Johanna’s perspective (or Murphy, as he always calls her). Instead, he comes off as confident until Johanna peeks behind the curtain and glimpses his vulnerability. *swoon* Now I need to go reread my favorite bunny, niece, and woodshed scenes!

I believe readers of this novella will end it with a new appreciation for family traditions, Austrian confections, European Christmas markets, and a wish to visit Vienna at Christmas. Fans of Rachel’s previous Viennese novellas will be happy to see tiny cameos familiar characters, too!

My thoughts on the previous novellas in this series: Love in Three Quarter Time | Rose in Three Quarter Time