Book Review: “No Way Up” by Mary Connealy

Some days I feel like I could have lived in Victorian England and taken afternoon tea with dainty sandwiches. But most days, I think I could have lived in the old west on a ranch, riding horses in the mountains. Since I live in modern times (and I’m extremely thankful for electricity and indoor plumbing), I’ll have to settle for watching or reading westerns instead.

No Way UpWhen I’m in need of such a reading fix, Mary Connealy is a go-to author for action, romance, and humor in realistic AND historically accurate western settings. Her most recent novel, No Way Up, delivered on all counts. Read on for my review.

About the BookWhen Cimarron ranch patriarch Chance Boden is caught in an avalanche, the quick actions of hired hand Heath Kincaid save him. Badly injured, Chance demands that his will be read and its conditions be enforced immediately.

Without anyone else to serve as a witness, Heath is pressed into reading the will. If Justin, Sadie, and Cole Boden don’t live and work at home for the entire year, the ranch will go to their low-down cousin Mike.

Then Heath discovers the avalanche was a murder attempt, and more danger might follow. Deeply involved with the family, Heath’s desire to protect Sadie goes far beyond friendship. The danger keeps them close together, and their feelings grow until being apart is the last thing on their minds.

Find the book on Goodreads | Amazon | Mary’s Website

Review

Mary sets up her characters’ vivid personalities so well that you can imagine their expressions and reactions when scenes of rapid conversation come around. Her writing style is witty and humorous while never silly. It comes across in her storytelling and delivery so the characters can maintain a necessary seriousness in their dialogue.

Heath Kincaid might be familiar to fans of Mary’s previous series, the “Kincaid Brides” series. He’s the littlest brother of the family who possesses the trademark strength, independence, and stubbornness of that clan. He misses his brothers more than he realizes, and time with Sadie’s own brothers is good for him. The dynamic with Heath and between the brothers, Cole and Justin, was very fun! They challenged each other, both in a badgering and encouraging manner.

Sadie learned more about her family through these adventures. She was reminded of the importance of her relationships with her brothers, and the legacy of love her parents wanted her to value. She was a fierce character who knew herself well. She knew when to behave as a proper female should, AND when to fight against convention (like scaling a mountain in pants or defending her family with rocks. Yes, rocks.).

The geography of the Boden ranch and surrounding land plays a big part in the story. It was fascinating to learn a little bit of the history linking the native Pueblo people to the terrain. (Random personal note: since I’ve seen a tiny bit of this area of New Mexico, it was even more interesting.)

This story is more than an action-packed, adventurous western with a sweet romance, it’s a story of the importance of family and the strength of that bond. It emphasizes God’s provision and recognizes His ultimate power over the plan of our lives. Needless to say, I can’t wait to see what’s in story for this Boden clan in the next book!

Thank you to Bethany House Publishers for the complimentary review copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

 

Bonus note: the prequel e-novella to this series, The Boden Birthright, is FREE right now on Kindle! It was a great story on its own, AND it set up the backstory of the Bodens very well.

Book Review: A Haven on Orchard Lane by Lawana Blackwell

Welcome to my blog! Today’s book review features a recent historical release from author Lawana Blackwell, A Haven on Orchard Lane. Read on for more about the book and my thoughts!About the Book

27066716In difficult circumstances, Charlotte Ward, once a famed stage actress, tries to restart her career–only to experience disaster. Against her better judgment, her estranged daughter, Rosalind, comes to her mother’s rescue and moves her to a quiet English coastal village.

Charlotte is grateful to get to know Rosalind after years apart. As one who has regrets about her own romantic past, it’s a joy for Charlotte to see love blossom for her daughter. For Rosalind, however, it’s time away from teaching–and now she must care for the mother who wasn’t there for her. And what could be more complicated than romance

Together, mother and daughter discover that healing is best accomplished when they focus less on themselves and more on the needs of others.

 

ReviewThis review has been a long time coming, and a bit difficult for me to explain. I *rarely* encounter a book which doesn’t click with me, so writing a review that’s not entirely positive is a challenge, especially when considering you all might not feel the same way. So, please don’t let my opinion sway you entirely, because I admit freely that I skipped large portions of the middle to get to the end once I realized it was not exactly my cup of tea.

While I am a die-hard fan of historical dramas, the Victorian era, and family-centered stories of reconciliation, something about this novel didn’t quite live up to my expectations. It felt like the pace wondered a little instead of propelling the characters in a definite direction. While the beginning set up the backstory of Charlotte thoroughly, I thought it waited overlong to introduce some of the other characters who eventually played prominent roles in the story.

Now let’s talk about its positive elements! The detailed writing style painted a vivid setting, it has a darling cover, and it provides an interesting perspective on prejudices and stereotypical ideas in a small village. Overall, it had a clear spiritual theme of extending grace and emphasizes the importance of second chances.

Thank you to Bethany House Publishers for providing a review copy in exchange for my honest review.

Review: Told You Twice by Kristen Heitzmann

Review: Told You Twice by Kristen Heitzmann

Author Kristen Heitzmann has penned another compelling story of redemption with elements of romance, suspense, and her signature subtle humor with her latest indie release, Told You Twice (“Told You” series #2). She again tackles gritty subjects with class and a refreshing straightforwardness. I think she has found a niche in addressing plot elements not commonly found in the mainstream Christian fiction market in a way that serves as an outreach to mainstream readers (Bravo, Kristen!).

Read my review of Told You So by clicking here!

About the Book

Told You Twice by Kristen HeitzmannFrom the lights of Broadway to the streets of Hell’s Kitchen, winning her heart might cost him everything

Alexis Murphy is done messing with the wrong kinds of men. She could not be happier planning a personalized Grace Evangeline wedding with her fiancé, Jeffrey, who is so…right for her. Or is he?

Stage star and spokesmodel, Bo Corrigan, could be the ultimate disruption. Alexis—Exi—is caught by his talent and sexual magnetism. Yet under the glow, she senses trouble, not only danger from Bo’s past mistakes, but something inside tearing him apart.

From the moment Bo sees Exi, he knows she’s special, but not only that—she’s real. Unlike the theater scene he’s been immersed in, she sees the man he is and won’t stop until she’s reached inside and brought that person from despair to life … if only they have time. With violent forces against them, can they get beyond the damage to love that heals and restores?

Find this book on Amazon | Goodreads | Kristen’s Website

Review

Once more, Kristen has penned a story that goes beyond its classification as a contemporary romance/suspense and instead delves deep into the heart of its characters in a realistic way. With brilliant dialogue and subtle humor, this layered story exposes

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My favorite quote from the book! Bo really needed to hear this bit of wisdom at the time.

everyone’s desperate needs of acceptance and forgiveness.

Exi, for instance, has such a genuine soul. She initially lacks a certain confidence and really needs someone to believe in her, though. While Bo undergoes the most dynamic transformation (and what a journey of healing it is!!!), Exi’s quiet and subtle growth over the course of the story stood out to me as a testament to her character.

It’s hard to talk about Bo’s character with no spoilers! So I’ll be careful.🙂 I’ll just say that he has long believed a lie about himself and his perspective on life needed a major overhaul. It is neat to see how Exi’s personality draws out the real person inside Bo, the one hurting over loss and trying to hide behind his celebrity. Through the combined influence of Exi, Grace, and a few other unexpected characters, he gradually begins to see life through a lens of forgiveness. His eyes are opened in the most unlikely way when the people around him start to break through his walls.

The message of healing this story tells is at times heartbreaking and beautiful. The simplicity of redemption found in its pages is communicated best with this quote:

“…love, trust, forgiveness, and faith can fill the shadows with light and hope.” –Told You Twice, chapter 20, by Kristen Heitzmann

On another note, huge fans of book 1 (ahem, like me), will be happy to see Grace and Devin back and still the same! They are still sparring, flirting, and complimenting each other’s personalities. I was so happy to “spend time” with them as secondary characters and to see that they are important to Bo and Exi in different ways. And that they are still growing, still in love, and still learning lessons on what it means to live out their faith in this crazy world.

 

Thank you to the publisher for a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. All opinions expressed are my own.

 

Top Ten Tuesday: 10 Books Set Outside the U.S.

It’s another Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by  The Broke and the Bookish

Top Ten Tuesday at The Green Mockingbird

Today’s topic sounded like a fun thing to talk about, especially for this native southerner. While I have traveled a bit within the US, I’ve never been out of the country. What better way to learn about another culture or experience another location (without actually going) than books? For today, let’s “pack” our suitcases and talk about books set outside the U.S. For fun, I’m splitting this list up into 2 types: books I’ve read and books on my TBR.

TTT 10 Books Set Outside the US

10 Books Set Outside the U.S.

Books I’ve Read

The Thorn Keeper by Pepper D. Basham

Derbyshire, England during WWII

The Red Door Inn by Liz Johnson

Prince Edward Island, Canada

The Sound of Diamonds by Rachelle Rea

Holland and England during the Protestant Reformation

Valley of Decision by Lynne Gentry

Carthage, Tunisia during the 3rd century

Maggie Bright by Tracy Groot

England and France during WWII

Soon-ish TBR

London Tides by Carla Laureano

London, England and probably a little Scotland because the hero is Scottish❤

A Lesson in Love and Murder by Rachel McMillan

1910s Toronto, Canada (and Chicago). What could be next for these daring girls?

Edenbrooke by Julianne Donaldson

England (Bath and the countryside) during the Regency Era

A Portrait of Emily Price by Katherine Reay (!!!!)

Italy (and Atlanta). It’s by Katherine, so I KNOW it will be good.

Can’t Help Falling by Kara Isaac

Oxford, England. This was first added to my TBR solely because of the cover. Since then, reviews of Kara’s work have completely convinced me I need to read it!

 

What places do YOU like to visit through the pages of a book? What are some of your favorite books set outside the US? 

Review: “You’re The One That I Want” by Susan May Warren

You’re the One that I Want by Susan May Warren is the sixth and final book in the Christiansen Family series, a contemporary drama and romance focused on the family of its namesake from Minnesota lake country. It’s a dramatic conclusion that draws together conflicts introduced in former books. While it’s not necessary to read the previous books to have an understanding of the history of these characters, it is recommended for a richer experience of the story arc.

You're the One that I Want.jpgHave I mentioned how much I love that the series titles are all songs? And fitting ones, too! They are worked into the story with little hints and mentions. Often, they are tied to a specific faith theme, too. So, they work on both a romantic and spiritual level!🙂

The entire series has hinted at the tension between Owen Christiansen and the rest of his family, particularly with his brother, Casper. This story chronicles a parallel with the parable of the prodigal son and explores the emotions and jealously the other brother experienced. While Owen’s personal mistakes threaten Casper’s future happiness, Casper’s own choices propel him into a different conflict with the law.

Owen Christiansen finds himself adrift both emotionally and physically after a stint on a crabbing boat. While he hoped to advance his work relationship with the no-nonsense captain’s daughter, “Scotty” McFlynn, to something of a more personal and romantic nature, his rash decisions come back to haunt him when his brother Casper shows up to wrangle him home. Complicating the situation further, Scotty’s new position with the Anchorage police force inserts her in the middle of the brothers when Casper’s link to a crime is revealed.

While Owen had already contemplated the humbling act of returning home after an injury ended his NHL career, he never anticipated the circumstances that would bring him back to his family’s door. Nor did he expect a police escort in the form of the woman he’s come to care for. But proving himself to Scotty becomes even more of a challenge as her emotional wall and jaded past come to light. Perhaps the refuge of the Christiansen family is just what Scotty needs to heal and learn the power of love.

Susan has a knack for pushing a character to his or her limits, be it physically or emotionally, to test their character and response. And readers experience the ride with them. This story opens with the cold of the Bering Sea; book 5, with Amelia and the intrigue of foreign lands; book 4, with Casper and the adventure of treasure hunting. This story could have been a predictable, brown-paper-package type conclusion to the series, but it goes far beyond the expected in with suspense and surprises.

You're the One that I WantThe family camaraderie of this series is present once again. In particular, the banter between the brothers, Owen and Casper, is unforgettable with scenes of humor and a bluntness reserved for family. These brothers. I think I could read a whole book called “Confrontations Conversations with Owen and Casper”. They know just which buttons to push and how to get beneath each other’s skin, infuriating one another and spurring one another to consider their present situations with unsolicited advice.

This story conveys the importance of not giving up. Not giving up on faith, on a pursuit of purpose, on God’s plan and presence, or on family and its strength. It takes the prodigal son returning to a new level. It shows the viewpoints of both brothers, the bitterness on one side and repentance on the other, with a reconciliation found in grace and the support of family. The contemporary example of Owen makes the story of the prodigal more relatable by showing how all have fallen short of God’s standards, and many run from grace while God is waiting with open arms.

A version of this review also appears on FamilyFiction.com/reviews.

Reviews of previous books in this series

Book 1, Take a Chance on Me

Book 2, It Had to Be You

Book 3, When I Fall In Love

Book 4, Always on My Mind

Book 5, The Wonder of You

 

Review: “The Beautiful Pretender” by Melanie Dickerson

Today’s book review is of Melanie Dickerson’s recent release, The Beautiful Pretender. This was my first experience with a story from Melanie, but from other reviews, I knew she was praised for her retellings and twists on fairy tales. After reading, I can say they were well deserved!The Beautiful Pretender

About the BookWhat happens when a margrave realizes he’s fallen in love with a servant?

The Margrave of Thornbeck has to find a bride, fast. He invites ten noble-born ladies from around the country to be his guests at Thornbeck Castle for two weeks, a time to test these ladies and reveal their true character.

Avelina is only responsible for two things: making sure her deception goes undetected and avoiding being selected as the margrave’s bride. Since the latter seems unlikely, she concentrates on not getting caught. No one must know she is merely a maidservant, sent by the Earl of Plimmwald to stand in for his daughter, Dorothea.

Despite Avelina’s best attempts at diverting attention from herself, the margrave has taken notice. And try as she might, she can’t deny her own growing feelings. But something else is afoot in the castle. Something sinister that could have far worse—far deadlier—consequences. Will Avelina be able to stop the evil plot? And at what cost?

ReviewFrom the beginning, the reader is drawn in to a medieval world and sympathetic of the heroine, Avelina (don’t you love that name?!). Random side thought: Melanie was very creative with inventing names in this novel, both of places and people. Geitbart, Plimmwald, Fronicka, and more! These added to the atmosphere established with candlelight, a mysterious stone castle, and preying wolves to convey the old-world, chivalrous feel of the story.

There were allusions to both the princess and the pea and beauty and the beast. At times, the plot had an Esther-like feeling. These stories combined with Avelina’s disguised identity and a possible plot to thwart Reinhart’s rule very well. I thought the latter half of book more entertaining, with a little more action and movement to the story.

My favorite part of this story was the relationship dynamic between Avelina and Reinhart. I loved how she complimented and encouraged him, sometimes through critique, but always out of true concern and care. She was brave and loyal (and not a ninny). And, he learned to embrace her willingness to help him while fiercely protecting her at the same time.❤ Through all of it, they both learned lessons of how God can work and reveal His love in even the most unexpected or forced circumstances.

Thank you to Thomas Nelson and BookLook Bloggers for a complimentary review copy of this novel in exchange for my honest review.

Review: “The Red Door Inn” by Liz Johnson

An idyllic setting and story of a search for purpose come together in the launch of a new series by author Liz Johnson with the first book, The Red Door Inn, book 1 of the Prince Edward Island Dreams series. This new contemporary romance has a relaxed, old-fashioned feel with nods to L.M. Montgomery’s literary influence on the setting.

The Red Door InnMarie Carrington is running from something, though little detail is first revealed as to what compels her to escape a life of privilege. She finds refuge on Prince Edward Island in Canada with an aspiring inn owner, Charlie. He recognizes a longing in Marie that goes beyond her current penniless circumstances and seeks to honor the memory of his wife by engaging Marie’s talent in interior design to add finishing touches to his inn. And, perhaps, offer a refuge to her wounded soul.

Complications arise when Marie discovers Charlie’s nephew, Seth, is a part of the project, as well. With relational baggage of his own and suspicions of Marie’s motives, his prickly reception of her proves challenging to her future and her heart. With a tourist season deadline and waning budget, these struggling souls must attempt to set aside any differences and unite to renovate the Red Door Inn. Add to GoodreadsIn
doing so, secrets from Marie’s former life cause her to question the impact her presence could make on the lives of the people she is starting to care for.

Against the backdrop of the enchanting setting and quaint B&B in the making, stories of broken pasts intertwine while Marie, Seth, and Charlie each face their own struggles with trust and finding new dreams. Memorable secondary characters offer insight and humor while secrets and romantic tension unfold between Marie and Seth. And, the main character of the second book is delightfully introduced by way of cinnamon rolls and scones.

Woven through it all is a theme of joy — sometimes found in the most unexpected places — and often preceded by struggles and heartache. It begs this question: How can you recognize true joy without experiencing its opposites, pain and conflict? Each character must reconcile this concept in some way, realizing different blessings along the way.

Liz Johnson’s style is easy to read and instantly draws in the reader with her phrasing and moments of subtle humor. She paints a colorful, magnetic community that offers Marie a sense of belonging she’s never experienced. All of this adds up to a full story that leaves the heart eager for the characters to find their own happily-ever-afters.

A few of my favorite things about this book: the best pet name ever, Chapter the cat; a few plot elements that revolve around an antique typewriter; and, the mouth-watering baking of Marie’s friend, Caden. She’s the set main character of book 2, and I’m already excited to see more of her.

Thank you to Revell Publishers for a review ARC in exchange for my honest review. A version of this review also appears on FamilyFiction.com.