Review: “Keep Holding On” by Melissa Tagg

img_20160927_205347

Today I’m reviewing a story, Keep Holding On, of which I’m a little late in sharing my enthusiasm. This latest installment in the “Walker Family” series from author Melissa Tagg further establishes her as one of my favorite go-to authors for contemporary romance that is both hilarious and real. She manages to write such depth to characters while maintaining an overall light feel to a story.

About the Book

keep-holding-onSwoon-worthy Romance. Small-town Charm. 
Best friends reunite in Tagg’s latest novel of second chances and enduring love.
Beckett Walker hasn’t stepped foot in Maple Valley in years. There’s no getting past the painful memories, and there’s every chance he’ll be arrested as soon as he shows his face. Which is exactly what happens when he finally returns. Suddenly his dream of adventure as a military lawyer comes skidding to a halt.

Horticulturist Kit Danby has spent too much time missing home and her childhood best friend–Beckett Walker. Now she might have a shot at reclaiming both. After years of living abroad, she returns to run her family’s apple orchard. She has one season to turn a profit and impress the father she barely knows. But she can’t do it alone.Add to Goodreads

It should be simple: Beckett needs community service hours. Kit needs a helping hand. But there’s more at stake than either of them planned. With a tangled past and futures that look nothing alike, they’ll have to find a way to weather the storms of the present… or risk losing everything.

Review

This is yet another quaint and perfect story from Melissa! It’s light and cute on the surface with depths of emotion and faith at its heart.

Fun bits: twinkle lights. Casablanca. Food comas. Baby goats (!). Apple cider. Oh, and a brooding male (with good reason and a long-carried burden) and his subsequent romance with Kit.

*minor demand side note: I need Megan to have her own story! Pretty please, Melissa?*

I’d say the main theme of the story is about finding purpose and a place of belonging, whether it’s a place of work, home, or family. And, about the constancy of God’s faithfulness and trustworthiness. Beckett and Kit are similar in this respect, both trying to prove themselves, in a way. A slight minor story line is worked in with a theme of giving — giving of yourself for others, realizing you might be the only person that can help someone else.

Fans of Melissa’s Christmas novella, One Enchanted Christmas, will be happy and pelased at the lovely cameos and “updates” on Drew Renwycke and Maren.

These characters go through quite the challenges! I loved reading Beckett’s journey, how he had to learn that both his heavenly and earth fathers kept holding on to him, loving him, wanting him “home”. Most striking was the interplay between Case (the dad) and Beckett; the healing, love, and relationship of those two from start to end. I highly recommend this novel to fans of contemporary fiction and I personally cannot wait to see what’s next for the Walker family!

My reviews of the previous books in the series:

From the Start

Like Never Before

 

Review: “Newton and Polly: A Novel of Amazing Grace” by Jody Hedlund

I think it’s safe to say most people are familiar with the hymn “Amazing Grace”. What you may not know, however, is the story of its author, John Newton. He had perilous experiences that led him to a place of redemption and repentance before his time as a pastor and figure of influence in the late 1700s. Exploring this time in his life, Author Jody Hedlund has written Newton and Polly: A Novel of Amazing Grace, a novel adaptation of the early story of John Newton’s life and romance with Polly Catlett. Interestingly, Polly’s influence is not often connected with her husband John (or at least not to my knowledge), yet it is present and important to his legacy. Though the novel is considered an inspired-by-true-life work of fiction, its historical accuracy and detail is astounding and enlightening.

About the Book

newton-and-pollyAmazing grace! How sweet the sound
that saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now am found

Now remembered as the author of the world’s most famous hymn, in the mid-eighteenth century as England and France stand on the brink of war, John Newton is a young sailor wandering aimlessly through life. His only duty is to report to his ship and avoid disgracing his father until the night he hears Polly Catlett’s enchanting voice, caroling. He’s immediately smitten and determined to win her affection.

An intense connection quickly forms between the two, but John’s reckless spirit and disregard for the Christian life are concerns for the responsible, devout Polly. When an ill-fated stop at a tavern leaves John imprisoned and bound, Polly must choose to either stand by his side or walk out of his life forever. Will she forfeit her future for the man she loves?

Step back through the pages of history, to uncover the true love story behind a song that continues to stir the hearts and ignite the faith of millions around the globe.

Review

As I have noted, Jody Hedlund pays magnificent attention to historical detail with this novel. She has skillfully woven the love story between John and Polly over an accurate timeline, no small feat considering the good length of time their relationship spanned before his moment of repentance and their eventual marriage. Along with this realistic relationship, John Newton endures trials and struggles, some of his own doing, while learning the gift of forgiveness and provision of God even in dire circumstances.

Both Polly and John’s personal growth from beginning to end was engaging and interesting. In particular, their spiritual arc was emphasized. It was easy to empathize with them, understanding their doubt and questions amid cultural norms. Both had misconstrued approaches to God; Polly thinking she could earn His favor, John thinking he could prove himself on his own, not in need of a God who has allowed tragedy to become his family in the path. Both of them are similar in this respect, though their distance from God stems from different reasons, yet both find their way to faith and realizations that they are sinners only redeemed by God’s grace.

What I most appreciate about Jody Hedlund is her straightforwardness and elegance in presenting a story — in this case, she doesn’t shy away from tough subjects like the slave trade and lifestyle of seamen during this era. Instead, she presents reality and frames her characters with a hope for redemption. With this book in particular I recognized an emphasis on living with integrity. It takes the little known story of John Newton’s early life and displays it with a bright light on Polly Catlett’s complimentary encouragement. The result is a story of page-turning drama with a sweet romance made all the better for the fact that it’s true.

 

Thank you to Blogging for Books and Waterbrook Mulnomah publishers for the complimentary review copy. This review reflects my honest opinion.

Review: “A Portrait of Emily Price” by Katherine Reay

a-portrait-of-emily-price

Once again, author Katherine Reay has penned a contemporary novel with a complexity of skill not many in the genre can achieve with her newest release, A Portrait of Emily Price. And what a picture its pages holds! I would describe this as a family drama with a whirlwind (though always realistic) romance and a story of finding oneself in the middle of life’s chaos and joy. With a hint of whimsy, the story always stays realistic in a humidity-and-wavy-hairdo, too-much-espresso sort of way. And, in true Reay style, included literary references and nods to classic literature throughout (making this #booknerd very happy!)

About the Book

Art restorer Emily Price has never encountered anything she can’t fix—until she meets Ben, an Italian chef, who seems just right. But when Emily follows Ben home to Italy, she learns that his family is another matter . . .

a-portrait-of-emily-priceEmily Price—fix-it girl extraordinaire and would-be artist—dreams of having a gallery show of her own. There is no time for distractions, especially not the ultimate distraction of falling in love.

But Chef Benito Vassallo’s relentless pursuit proves hard to resist. Visiting from Italy, Ben works to breathe new life into his aunt and uncle’s faded restaurant, Piccollo. Soon after their first meeting, he works to win Emily as well—inviting her into his world and into his heart.

Emily astonishes everyone when she accepts Ben’s proposal and follows him home. But instead of allowing the land, culture, and people of Monterello to transform her, Emily interferes with everyone and everything around her, alienating Ben’s tightly knit family. Only Ben’s father, Lucio, gives Emily the understanding she needs to lay down her guard. Soon, Emily’s life and art begin to blossom, and Italy’s beauty and rhythm take hold of her spirit.

Yet when she unearths long-buried family secrets, Emily wonders if she really fits into Ben’s world. Will the joys of Italy become just a memory, or will Emily share in the freedom and grace that her life with Ben has shown her are possible?

Review

I was fortunate to read this one along with some awesome blogger friends and discuss it on Twitter along the way. You can find our discussions and major fangirling by viewing the hashtag #PofEPRAL

Reay’s style is romantic in many ways, from Emily’s observations, place descriptions, to the overall feel of the story. Not rosy and idealistic, by any means, but sweet in its outlook — the storytelling is cleverly as much about what happens “between the lines” as what’s directly told. Like the family history, the nostalgia, the courtship between Emily and Ben, and the food!

The characters are strong in the sense that their personalities are so established you can almost sense their reactions as much as read them. When Ben and Emily finally make it to Italy, you can feel the tension and belonging of home in how the scenes play out. And the supporting characters!!!!!! I loved them all, the brother, sister, parents, friends, aunts and uncles. It was fun to put the big picture together as the story progressed of how they are each integral, whether in a small or big way, to Ben and Emily’s lives. Connected, if you will, to their story, to influence, encourage, and sometimes pass on valuable wisdom.

Another way the characters are firmly established is through setting and culture. For instance, the “accents” of Ben and his family are expressed specifically, conveying notes on inflection so well it made me feel like I was listening to them. And, the descriptions of all of the different places, from the little Italian restaurant in Atlanta to the sunflower fields and Lucio’s library in Italy and everything in between practically, made me feel immersed in the culture. This book is a true example of the power of written words on a page!

The relationship between Emily and Ben is shown just enough – it’s not overly focused on the romance aspect (though there are plenty of those moments that show just how romantic Ben can be <3) but instead tells just enough you see their closeness and camaraderie. I think it’s safe to say the reader falls in love with Ben, too, from the first chapter’s description (as Rissi quotes here):

Random side note: interestingly, eyes go on to play an important means of communication and meaning in the story.

I could go on further about the intricacies of this story and how it pushes you to think deeply about the impact your choices have on those around you; or even its gentle reminder to seize the moment and find happiness in the little moments of everyday life. But I’ll leave you with the important stuff it showcases: truth, joy, and love (of all kinds…. romance, friendship, family/sibling/parent, even love of your work). With a style only Reay can achieve, this story is polished and engrossing with vivid, heartful characters.

Thank you to Thomas Nelson and Booklook for the complimentary review copy. This is my honest review.

Mini Review: “This Quiet Sky” by Joanne Bischof

Ya’ll might remember my recent longish review of The Lady and the Lionheart by Joanne Bischof. Well, I just needed another helping of her writing so I turned to a novella I’ve had waiting on my ereader for a while, This Quiet Sky. It’s a historical YA romance, though not your typical coming of age or first love type story. Read on for my mini review!

This Quiet SkyThis Quiet Sky by Joanne Bischof (click title for Goodreads page)

Poignant and beautiful! This novella begins as a story of a young woman finding new friendship in a new town and progresses into a story about the enduring strength of love. Sarah and Tucker just melt my heart! The story had its ups and downs, moments of fun and romance, and a few tear-inducing scenes (for me!), but it ended in a good place of peace. It really illustrated a unique picture of true love, all of which pointed to God’s sovereignty and purpose.

Review: “Wild Montana Skies”by Susan May Warren

 

wild-montana-skiesHappy Monday! Today’s featured review is of Susan May Warren’s newest release, Wild Montana Skies, that just so happens to kickoff her new series, “Montana Rescue”, a romantic adventure and suspense series set close to Glacier National Park.
This first book is hard to classify as just one type of story because it really has it all: helicopter rescues, action, hiking adventures, romance, family, and stories of reconciliation and faith.

Small fun fact: if you read her summer indie release Montana Fire series, you might hear a few familiar stories and meet some of those characters. It was set in a nearby town🙂

About the Book

Bestselling Author’s New Series Delivers Romance and Adventure as an SAR Team Searches for Others–and Finds Themselves
Search and rescue pilot Kacey Fairing is home on leave in Mercy Falls, Montana, twelve years after she joined the military to escape the mistakes of her past. With a job waiting for her as the new lead pilot of Peak Rescue in Glacier National Park, Kacey hopes to reconnect with the now-teenage daughter she sees only between deployments. What she doesn’t realize is that someone else is also back in town.
Ben King has been building his country music career since the day Kacey shut him out of her life. Now all of that’s on hold when his injured father calls him home to help run Peak Rescue until he’s fully recovered. It doesn’t take long, though, to discover his father’s ulterior motives as Kacey Fairing walks into the house and back into his heart.
With Mercy Falls in a state of emergency due to flash floods, Kacey and Ben are forced to work together to save lives. But when floodwaters turn personal, can they put aside the past to save their future?

Review

What an adventure this story was! Here are my favorite things about it:

  • The search and rescue (SAR) element ~ always action-packed, compelling drama with plenty of surprises in a neat setting.
  • The music ~ after all, Ben is a country music star! The songs he (ahem, Susan) has written fit so well in the story.
  • The sense of coming home ~ for both Kacey and Ben, their journey is about coming home and finding themselves. With him, it means reconciling part of his past and his relationship with his father. For her, it means dealing with her past, also, and finding a new normal in her role as parent.
  • Friendship and community ~ From the romance rekindled starting with a supportive friendship between Kacey and Ben to their friends who play important roles in encouragement and being “on their team”, the whole cast is boisterous and fun. I’m excited to see where the next book takes us with such a strong cast!
  • Sierra and Ian! ~ you can meet them in the FREE prequel novella If Ever I Would Leave YouWe get glimpses of this duo again in this story — and believe me, I was anxious to get to the little bits from their POVs. I didn’t get quite enough, though! The next book should prove VERY interesting. That’s all I’ll say.
  • Faith is a brave thing ~ it’s an act of faith to trust that God is always in control. This story illustrates that in so many ways. It also weaves in a beautiful story of forgiveness and redemption, showing that God is the only one who can redeem your past mistakes (even though we try to work hard, we aren’t worthy on our own.).

Thank you to the publisher for the complimentary review copy. This review reflects my honest opinion.

 

Review: “Where Two Hearts Meet” by Liz Johnson

Revisiting the quaint setting of Prince Edward Island, Where Two Hearts Meet (Revell) by author Liz Johnson presents a story of realizing dreams, accepting grace, and the joy of love born of friendship. This contemporary romance encompasses serious themes while maintaining a bright bearing on life. Readers will be happy to see returning characters in this second book in the Prince Edward Island Dreams series, though it can be read as a standalone title. (Book 1 was The Red Door Inn, click for my review).

At Rose’s Red Door Inn, chef Caden Holt has found a place to belong, turning out breakfasts and baked goods to treat guests vising the Island. Outside of her kitchen, however, she is less secure in her personal appearance and her accomplishments. When journalist Adam Jacobs arrives, Caden is challenged to leave her comfort zone and show him the wonders of the Island in hopes that his pending article will draw visitors to the Inn through the next season.

Where Two Hearts Meet.jpgAdam’s reasons for visiting the Island are not so simple. His time there is really a forced sabbatical instead of a leisurely vacation. And, his editor has high expectations for his next story – one that’s inexplicably connected to the Red Door Inn. When he begins to face the baggage leftover from the recent turmoil in his life, he finds respite in the beauty of his surroundings. Except maybe the peace he feels is more closely related to the cinnamon rolls, coffee, and unexpected friendship of Caden.

“Sweet” is an apt word to describe this story – from the setting, romance that grows from friendship, slight humorous moments, and to the various pastries Caden bakes up throughout. But Liz Johnson takes these characters much deeper than surface level with many layers to the story and nuances of emotion, dealing with themes such as guilt, bravery, and purpose.

Caden and Adam both face their own insecurities and consequently draw strength and encouragement from one another. While Adam thinks he might be falling in love with more than the island and its charming people, Caden starts to find a new freedom in pursuing her dreams with confidence. The setting itself proves to be an element of the story joining Caden and Adam with a lively cast of supporting characters who add humor and insight to the story.

While the drama and sweet moments unfold, a subtle message of grace shines through. Though none of these characters go through a prominent spiritual transformation, the growth of Adam and steadfast strength of Caden’s faith are key to the story. Each learns important lessons concerning trust and forgiveness.

The romance between Caden and Adam faces the requisite challenges and obstacles but is presented in a realistic manner, highlighting the way our lives intersect sometimes between personal and professional matters. When that definition blurs at the crux issue of the story, the consequences of a key choice show how deeply entwined these characters’ lives have become – a storytelling feat achieved admirably by Johnson. And I’ll leave you by saying the context of their first kiss and emotions of the moment made the scene one of the swooniest (is that a word?) of the year. I’m already looking forward to whatever Johnson has in store for more of this “family” of characters in the next book in the series!

Thank you to the publisher, Revell, for providing a complimentary review copy.  My honest opinion is expressed in this review.

Review: “The Cautious Maiden” by Dawn Crandall + Giveaway

Review: “The Cautious Maiden” by Dawn Crandall + Giveaway

Today’s book review features the latest and my personal favorite in Dawn Crandall’s “The Everstone Chronicles” series: The Cautious Maiden. It features a dramatic — and sometimes suspenseful — historical romance and story of redemption between a couple secondary characters we glimpse in the previous books. (But it can totally be a stand-alone story!) Also, Dawn is hosting a blog tour this month celebrating her recent release with some awesome GIVEAWAYS! Read on for more about the book, my review, and the giveaway info with a Rafflecopter link.

About the Book

Violet Hawthorne is beyond mortified when her brother Ezra turns their deceased parents’ New England country inn into a brothel to accommodate the nearby lumberjacks; but when Violet’s own reputation is compromised, the inn becomes the least of her worries. In an effort to salvage her good name, Violet is forced into an engagement with a taciturn acquaintance; Vance Everstone. As she prepares for a society wedding, Violet learns that her brother had staked her hand in marriage in a heated poker game with the unsavory Rowen Steele, and Ezra had lost. Now Rowen is determined to cash in on his IOU. With danger stalking her and a new fiance who hides both his emotion and his past, Violet must decide who to trust and who to leave behind.

Review

First things first: the romance! “Marriage-of-convenience” goes through a new set of complications with the influence of outside characters. The chemistry between Violet and Vance practically screams from the page. It’s electric while remaining sweet and era-appropriate. Violet’s innocence is endearing, yet she also learns, no matter the best intentions, the importance of accountability and relying on God for strength to resist temptation. While never excusing Vance’s past behavior, this story highlights our sinful nature and our need for forgiveness.

the-cautious-maidenHaving read the first 3 books in the series and knowing the depths to which Vance had fallen, he had to prove himself to me a little bit. And, to Violet. His character showed redemption above and beyond what I expected. (Something tricky to show with a singular POV not from his perspective) For all Vance’s charms, his diligence and determination to show restraint with Violet are what really makes him an attractive hero. And, his obvious pursuit of a personal relationship with God and a fresh start.

The subtle suspenseful plot line added another layer of depth to the story. It offered a few surprises and something else to anticipate. And, it made the climax of the book quite exciting!

The story, like the previous books, is told from the heroine’s perspective. Violet was instantly relatable and interesting from page 1. She is so forgiving, yet she still questions her self-worth because of her belief that her social status/family scandal hangs over her. As she matures in the story, she recognizes that her trust should be in God, her ultimate Protector.

The thing I appreciate most about this series is its common theme through all 4 books: finding true identity and worth in God’s arms. With honest characters facing real struggles, Dawn Crandall has portrayed stories of romance, redemption, and purpose all pointing to the greatest Love, the love of God for his children.

Thank you to Whitaker House publishers for providing a complimentary review copy.  My honest opinion is expressed in this review.

Visit my reviews of the previous books in the series:

The Hesitant Heiress (with interview) | The Bound Heart | The Captive Imposter

About the Author

Dawn Crandall is an ACFW Carol Award-nominated author of the award winning series The Everstone Chronicles, which consists of four books: The Hesitant Heiress, The Bound IMG_3368 (683x1024)Heart, The Captive Imposter and The Cautious Maiden which released October 4th, 2016.
Apart from writing, Dawn is also a mom of two little ones and serves with her husband in a premarital mentorship program at their local church in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

A graduate of Taylor University with a degree in Christian Education and a former bookseller at Barnes & Noble, Dawn Crandall didn’t begin writing until 2010 when her husband found out about her long-buried dream. It didn’t take her long to realize that writing books was what she was made to do.

Dawn is a member of the American Christian Fiction Writers, the secretary for the Indiana ACFW Chapter (Hoosier Ink), and an associate member of the Great Lakes ACFW Chapter. She is represented by Joyce Hart of Hartline Literary Agency.

Dawn’s Website | Facebook | Twitter

Giveaway

cautious-maiden-1There are 2 awesome prize packs available on this blog tour! The giveaway is open until Nov. 4th!

Click here to enter the Rafflecopter giveaway.

cautious-maiden-2