First Line Fridays # 31: "The Jane Austen Society" by Natalie Jenner

It’s time for a new edition of First Line Fridays hosted by the Hoarding Books blog!

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With the new film “Emma” in theaters soon, Jane Austen and her works are on my mind. Ok, they’re never that far from it. With that in mind, this novel I’m featuring today promises Austen AND Post-WWII England delights. The Jane Austen Society by Natalie Jenner releases in May, and it’s on my spring TBR!

Chawton, Hampshire

June 1932

He lay back on the low stone wall, knees pulled up, and stretched out his spine against the rock.

Your turn! What’s your first line?

Book Gush: "The Solid Grounds Coffee Co." by Carla Laureano

Combine books + coffee + Carla Laureano and we have the recipe for a perfect story. The Solid Grounds Coffee Co. happens to be set in my second favorite state, AND ticks off all the boxes: a thread of redemption, amazing chemistry between the romantic leads, and food. I’m skipping the “review” byline and going straight to “book gush” today.

About the Book

Analyn Sanchez can handle the long hours and arrogant clients that come with her job as a crisis management associate at Denver’s largest publicity firm. The high-powered job, expensive condo, and designer wardrobe are all part of her plan to prove to her family that her life choices haven’t been in vain. But when she’s asked to cover up a client’s misdeeds with serious moral and legal ramifications, she can no longer sacrifice her conscience for her career . . . and the cost is no less than her job.

Ever since a devastating climbing accident in South America eight months ago, and a bad decision that dried up his sponsorships, professional rock climber Bryan Shaw has found himself at similar loose ends. When the opportunity to buy a coffee farm in Colombia arises, he jumps on it–only to discover his wandering ways have left him utterly unprepared to run a business.

When Bryan returns home and offers Ana a role in his company as a solution to both their problems, she’s desperate enough to consider working with the far-too-flippant and far-too-handsome climber, even though he’s the polar opposite of her type A nature. As they delve deeper into the business, however, she begins to suspect there’s much more to Bryan than she’s given him credit for . . . and that sometimes the best plans are the ones you never see coming.

Goodreads | Amazon

Review

The Solid Grounds Coffee Co. uses many favorite tropes from contemporary romance and simultaneously presents an original story of romance, redemption, friendship, coffee, and honesty. From a friends-to-lovers trope, a foodie workplace romance, to a redeemed bad-boy hero (and a few more I won’t mention because I’ll save the story surprises for other readers), these seemingly familiar concepts translate to the page through Carla Laureano’s pen with fresh and robust (forgive the coffee pun) insights and relatable emotions.

This character-driven romance impresses with both its structure and maturity. Ana and Bryan approach their friendship sensibly even with undercurrents of attraction every time they are together. While many aspects of this story shine, the conversations between Ana and Bryan are some of the most sparkling elements, whether they are discussing marketing, food, their love for Colorado, or their secrets and personal mistakes. Their banter feels wonderfully realistic and comfortable, even when emotions are on the line.

I love how Ana and Bryan’s strengths and weaknesses compliment each other, and how they are so alike. Bryan brings out a lighter side of Ana that readers haven’t seen in the first two books. And in return, she encourages him and believes him capable of more than even he realizes. I also loved how Bryan readily recognizes Ana’s intelligence and fortitude, demonstrating in multiple situations his respect for her and her independence. Ana’s journey of seeing beyond her own expectations in many was is a beautiful thing to witness.

Which brings me to… Bryan. My new book boyfriend (I don’t bestow that title lightly.) He is constant, even when underestimating himself. He makes life-direction altering choices near the beginning and sticks with them. I love *heart eyes* that he is 100% himself all the time. And his sense of humor is spot on. There is a yoga sequence that’s… well, it’s hilarious and impressive. It had me googling yoga poses for reasons other than exercise 😉

What I appreciate the most about this novel is how the crux of the story isn’t a single silly or misconstrued problem, but as layered and complex as real life. Past hurts, expectations, facades, purpose, friendship, and risk are all factors for Ana and Bryan as they face their biggest challenges. Carla Laureano handles some sensitive subjects with both grace and a rawness that conveys just how serious life can be – and how happiness can be found in unexpected places and second chances.

Though this story can be read alone, it is much more appreciated as the last in the series. This friend group and their relationships are well developed over the course of all three novels. I smiled my way through the epilogue, even though I’m a little sad to see this culinary-centric series end. Good thing I can start again with book 1 and binge read them all now 😉

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

Extras!: Check out Carla Laureano’s website and blog for behind the scenes and some fantastic coffee recipes. Carla’s also a guest on the latest Story Nerds podcast, talking with Jessica Kate and Hannah Davis about workplace romances and more coffee fun!

See my thoughts on the previous books in the “Supper Club” series: The Saturday Night Supper Club | Brunch at Bittersweet Café

Review & Interview + Blog Tour: "The Winter Companion" by Mimi Matthews

I have the privilege of sharing an author interview today along with my review for one of my go-to authors of historical fiction: Mimi Matthews. Her last novel in the “Parish Orphans of Devon” series, The Winter Companion, released this week.

Be sure to check out the giveaway Historical Fiction Book Tours is hosting for this tour!

About the Book

Publication Date: February 11, 2020

Perfectly Proper Press

Series: Parish Orphans of Devon, Book Four

Genre: Historical Romance

A winter reunion for the orphans brings romance for Neville Cross in Book 4 of Mimi Matthews’ USA Today bestselling Parish Orphans of Devon series.

She Needed to be Seen… As a lady’s companion, Clara Hartwright never receives much attention from anyone. And that’s precisely how she likes it. With a stormy past, and an unconventional plan for her future, it’s far safer to remain invisible. But when her new employer is invited to a month-long holiday at a remote coastal abbey, Clara discovers that she may not be as invisible as she’d hoped. At least, not as far as one gentleman is concerned.

He Wanted to be Heard… Neville Cross has always been more comfortable with animals than people. An accident in his youth has left him with a brain injury that affects his speech. Forming the words to speak to his childhood friends is difficult enough. Finding the right things to say to a lovely young lady’s companion seems downright impossible. But Miss Hartwright is no ordinary companion. In fact, there may not be anything ordinary about her at all.

During a bleak Devon winter, two sensitive souls forge an unexpected friendship. But when Clara needs him most, will Neville find the courage to face his fears? Or is saying goodbye to her the most heroic thing he can do?

Amazon | Barnes and Noble | IndieBound

Review

I say Mimi Matthews should write all the Victorian romances forevermore.

The Winter Companion is a FANTASTIC conclusion to this series! Once again, I was swept away by the romance, the atmosphere, and the wonderfully complex character development of the story.

Clara’s character is one I have been anxious to “meet” on the page. The heroine finally worthy of Neville. I was instantly enamored with her care of a little elderly dog — as was Neville upon first meeting. Clara’s role shines a light on women’s opportunities in the Victorian era: often constrictive and limited. However, the combined assertiveness and determination of ladies like Clara forged many paths for their contemporaries. I appreciate how all of the heroines in this series have drawn attention to such details of history in a fair manner. At the same time, their hero counterparts have always seen and encouraged their strength and individuality and acted the gallant heroes when the story calls for it without being portrayed as ideals. Perhaps that is what appeals to me most about Mimi’s books: the balance in the romantic relationships that transcends era and setting.

Now. About Neville. He is a genuine good guy hero! (They don’t get enough credit.) This book finally affords the chance to be inside his head. It tugs at my heart to see how his speech limitations are frustrating while his intellect is fascinating. Reading between the lines, I see a slight thematic discourse on the gift and power of words — it is meaningful and timely.

Neville and Clara are meant for each other. Their romance is unconventional by the era’s standards (complete with livestock!) but that makes it all the more beautiful. At the heart of this story is a tale of identity, the worth of dreams, and the courage it takes to overcome. I turned the last page with a happy smile and maybe a few tears. 🙂

Readers of the previous books in the series will appreciate the just-right updates on the other couples that show their contentment AND personalities. Like Jenny and her sugary tea 😉 . This final novel comes full circle in many ways. The setting has readers back at Greyfriar’s Abbey in Devon with Neville at the center. The last few missing pieces of these friends united by their childhoods fall in place properly, ending with a hopefulness and bright possibilities.

Thank you to the author and HVBT for the review copy. It has in no way influenced my opinion. This is my honest review.

See my thoughts on books 1-3: The Matrimonial Advertisement | A Modest Independence | A Convenient Fiction

About the Author

USA Today bestselling author Mimi Matthews (A Victorian Lady’s Guide to Fashion and Beauty, The Matrimonial Advertisement) writes both historical non-fiction and traditional historical romances set in Victorian England. Her articles on nineteenth century history have been published on various academic and history sites, including the Victorian Web and the Journal of Victorian Culture, and are also syndicated weekly at BUST Magazine. In her other life, Mimi is an attorney. She resides in California with her family, which includes an Andalusian dressage horse, two Shelties, and two Siamese cats. For more information, please visit Mimi Matthews’ website and blog. You can also connect with her on FacebookTwitterBookBubPinterestGoogle+, and Goodreads.

Interview with Mimi Matthews

Mimi has graciously answered my questions in an interview!

What is the best quality of the hero, Neville? The heroine, Clara?

Neville Cross has so many admirable qualities (in my opinion!), but his best quality is his kindness and protectiveness toward weaker creatures. Clara Hartwright’s best quality is that she’s compassionate. This comes into play with animals, as well as with people. 

How did these characters surprise you as you wrote the series? Did they all behave as planned from one book to the next?

The four orphans changed a lot as the books progressed. That’s probably what surprised me the most. They all came from the same place, and experienced many of the same hardships and cruelties, but they had such different ways of dealing with the trauma of their collective past. And when they each met their soul mate, they grew into such different kinds of heroes—but heroes, nonetheless!

Do you have a personal favorite character or couple in this series? (Or is that like asking someone about a favorite child?)

Not so much a favorite, as one that I most enjoyed writing. Alex Archer [of A Convenient Fiction] was a delight. I just loved his roguishness, his daring, and the way he fell so hard for Laura Hayes. 

Animals make an appearance in all of your novels — and they play a special role in The Winter Companion. Were any inspired by your own pets? How do you decide what animals or pets to “give” your characters?

My own animals are a constant inspiration to me. Several dogs in my books—Bertie in The Winter Companion, and Fox in The Work of Art—were inspired by a very elderly rescue chihuahua I used to have named John. He was very frail in his old age and had to be carried a lot. Also, in The Winter Companion, Neville’s big gray horse, Adventurer, was inspired by own big gray Andalusian, Centelleo. 

Some characters really lend themselves to having a lot of pets. Others—like Jenny and Tom in A Modest Independence—don’t have the right sort of lifestyle for animals. I just couldn’t imagine them leaving a beloved cat or dog behind while they went off and traveled the world.

For fun: Do you have a favorite (or three) classic movie?

It’s very hard to narrow it down to three! I’ll go with Gilda, Double Indemnity, and Laura. I love 1940s film noir, and if age has made some of the lines a little campy, all the better.

What are you currently reading?

I have a few things on the go at the moment. I’m currently reading Sonya Heaney’s debut The Landowner’s Secret. I’m also reading an advance copy of Alissa Baxter’s upcoming novel The Earl and the Lady Geologist. And finally, I just got an advance copy of an upcoming anthology (which hasn’t even been announced yet). Now, I just need a little time to finish them all!

Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions! I’m inspired to watch a few more classic movies now 😉 I haven’t seen all of the ones you mentioned!

Praise for the Parish Orphans of Devon series

“For this impressive Victorian romance, Matthews crafts a tale that sparkles with chemistry and impresses with strong character development… an excellent series launch that will appeal to fans of Loretta Chase and Stephanie Laurens.” -Publishers Weekly (The Matrimonial Advertisement)

“Matthews has a knack for creating slow-building chemistry and an intriguing plot with a social history twist.” -Library Journal (The Matrimonial Advertisement)

“As always, Matthews’ attention to historical accuracy is impeccable.” -Kirkus Reviews (A Modest Independence)

“Mimi Matthews is an exceptional story-teller.” -Passages to the Past (The Matrimonial Advertisement)

“Matthews is a bright, shining star in historical romance…” -Austenprose (A Modest Independence)

Blog Tour Schedule

Giveaway

During the Blog Tour, we are giving away a signed copy of The Winter Companion! To enter, please use the Gleam form below.

The Winter Companion GLEAM form for GIVEAWAY

Giveaway Rules – Giveaway ends at 11:59 pm EST on February 18th. You must be 18 or older to enter. – Paperback giveaway is to the US only. – Only one entry per household. – All giveaway entrants agree to be honest and not cheat the systems; any suspicion of fraud will be decided upon by blog/site owner and the sponsor, and entrants may be disqualified at our discretion. – The winner has 48 hours to claim prize or a new winner is chosen.

Review + Blog Tour & Giveaway: "Follow the Dawn" by Rachelle Rea Cobb

Welcome to my stop on the blog tour for Rachelle Rea Cobb’s new book, Follow the Dawn! This is a YA historical romance set in 16th century England, but I think it appeals to any readers of historical romance. Be sure to read my review and enter the giveaway!

About the Book

Anna Emory grew up the invisible younger sister, shy and quiet, and she prefers it that way. But her father’s attempts to arrange an unsavory marriage teach her that courage is sometimes found in adversity.

Then she meets a boy and his father who tip her quiet world upside down.

Captain Mathieu Tudder has run from responsibility, entrusting his young son’s care to another and devoting his Sea Beggar ship to the cause of the Dutch Revolution. After the cause fails, Tudder returns to England for the son he left behind, all he has left of the wife he lost. But Titus prefers a mysteriously quiet nursemaid to his estranged father.

Tudder wants his son back, yet Anna stands in his way. Will these two hearts—the battle-scarred and the broken—ever find true freedom?

Amazon | Goodreads

Review

Follow the Dawn is a sweet romance and story of mercy. I’m so happy Rachelle Rea Cobb has written another book in this setting and era — and one marketed as a YA historical romance with an inspirational thread! Fans of Rachelle’s previous books will be happy to revisit the setting and see cameos of beloved characters, but this book is a standalone with its own complete story.

Lady Anna and Captain Tudder weather many storms during this story, both physical downpours and emotional torrents. Seeing them grow, embrace new friendships, and tentatively find a romance together was a satisfying reading experience. I appreciate the themes of mercy, courage, and redemption deftly threaded throughout. Rachelle has a way of penning faith and characters’ thoughts in a flowing and natural way.

I REALLY liked Titus. The story is centered on him in many ways, with Tudder’s hopeful reunion and Anna’s newfound role as caretaker and friend. The interactions between these three are my favorite. 🙂 I hope this is not the last Rachelle pens in this story world!

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

Enter the Rafflecopter giveaway

Enter using the Rafflecopter form above to win a signed copy of Follow the Dawn. International friends, this giveaway is open to continental U.S. addresses only (sorry!). But do still enter, because an international winner will receive a digital copy of the book.

Rachelle Rea Cobb has history with words. She penned her first short story in middle school, her first novel right out of high school, and signed a three-book publishing contract right after college. Her Steadfast Love series (from WhiteFire Publishing) and 2020 release, Follow the Dawn (Illuminate Publishing) are set during the Dutch Revolution. She is also the author of Write Well, a short writing guide designed to teach the structure of good writing. Rachelle is a freelance editor, an author of six books, and voracious reader. If you’re looking for her, check the bookstore. In 2016, she married a man with the same name as her fictional hero and they live happily ever after in a fixer-upper by the sea. She’s a fan of chai and lemonade (though definitely not together)!

Website | Facebook | Pinterest | Instagram | Amazon Author Page | Goodreads

Although Follow the Dawn is written as a stand-alone for a Young Adult audience, beloved characters from the “Steadfast Love” series do make an appearance. And Letters Home: A Christmas Short Story is actually the prequel!

Check out Letters Home here: Amazon Kindle | Goodreads If you’d like to see my thoughts on the Steadfast Love series, start with this review of book 1: The Sound of Diamonds

Favorite Quotes from "The Blue Castle" by L. M. Montgomery

Last year, in April, I had the privilege of reading The Blue Castle by L. M. Montgomery for the first time. (Shoutout to my friend Rachel McMillan for hosting the readalong!) While this novel is much less well-known than Montgomery’s classic Anne of Green Gables series, it deserves ALL the love for its brilliance and wit. Barney and Valancy are the ultimate couple, making The Blue Castle one of my all-time favorite books now.

Today I want to share some of my favorite quotes from The Blue Castle. I have highlighted my Kindle book and seriously underlined and written notes in the margin of my paperback copy (which I rarely do!), so I have a ton of beautiful lines to choose from. A few of these are more significant in context, but I couldn’t resist including them here. I’ll let Barney and Valancy and John Foster speak for themselves…

Favorite Quotes

‘”The woods are so human,” wrote John Foster, “that to know them one must live with them. An occasional saunter through them, keeping to the well-trodden paths, will never admit us to their intimacy. If we wish to be friends we must seek them out and win them by frequent, reverent visits at all hours; by morning, by noon, and by night; and at all seasons, in spring, in summer, in autumn, in winter.’

‘”Do you want to catch your death of cold again?” Her voice implied that Valancy had died of a cold several times already.’

‘”The greatest happiness,” said Valancy suddenly and distinctly, “is to sneeze when you want to.”‘

‘”Good-evening, Miss Stirling.” Nothing could be more commonplace and conventional. Any one might have said it. But Barney Snaith had a way of saying things that gave them poignancy. When he said good-evening you felt that it was a good evening and that it was partly his doing that it was. Also, you felt that some of the credit was yours.’

‘”John Foster says,” quoted Valancy, “If you can sit in silence with a person for half an hour and yet be entirely comfortable, you and that person can be friends. If you cannot, friends you’ll never be and you need not waste time in trying.'”

‘Once in a thousand years, you know, one cat is allowed to speak. My cats are philosophers—neither of them ever cries over spilt milk.’

‘”Isn’t it better to have your heart broken than to have it wither up?” queried Valancy. “Before it could be broken it must have felt something splendid. That would be worth the pain.”‘

‘After the meal was over they would sit there and talk for hours—or sit and say nothing, in all the languages of the world…’

‘Barney knew the woods as a book and he taught their lore and craft to Valancy. He could always find trail and haunt of the shy wood people. Valancy learned the different fairy-likenesses of the mosses—the charm and exquisiteness of woodland blossoms. She learned to know every bird at sight and mimic its call—though never so perfectly as Barney. She made friends with every kind of tree.’

‘Or they just prowled and explored through woods that always seemed to be expecting something wonderful to happen. At least, that was the way Valancy felt about them. Down the next hollow—over the next hill—you would find it. “We don’t know where we’re going, but isn’t it fun to go?” Barney used to say.’

‘Once they stood in a hesitation of ecstasy at the entrance of a narrow path between ranks of birches. Every twig and spray was outlined in snow. The undergrowth along its sides was a little fairy forest cut out of marble. The shadows cast by the pale sunshine were fine and spiritual. “Come away,” said Barney, turning. “We must not commit the desecration of tramping through there.”‘

‘There are so many kinds of loveliness. Valancy, before this year you’ve spent all your life in ugliness. You know nothing of the beauty of the world. We’ll climb mountains—hunt for treasures in the bazaars of Samarcand—search out the magic of east and west—run hand in hand to the rim of the world. I want to show you it all—see it again through your eyes. Girl, there are a million things I want to show you—do with you—say to you. It will take a lifetime.’

All quotes attributed to Lucy Maud Montgomery, The Blue Castle, Feedbooks. Kindle Edition.

Have you read The Blue Castle? Are you

Review: "A Girl's Guide to the Outback" by Jessica Kate

Today I’m sharing about a cute and charming romcom by Aussie author Jessica Kate. Read on for my experience with her version of the “Outback”…

About the Book

Romance author Jessica Kate explores the hilariously thin line between love and hate in her heartwarming new novel.

Samuel Payton is a passionate youth pastor in Virginia, but beneath the surface, Sam’s still recovering from a failed business. His coworker—start-up expert Kimberly Foster—is brilliant, fearless, and capable, but her mother’s rejection from a young age till now has left her defensive and longing for a family. Two people have never been more at odds—or more attracted to one another. And every day at work, the sparks are flying.

When Kimberly’s ambitious plans for Sam’s ministry butt up against his risk-averse nature, Sam decides that obligations to family trump his work for the church. He quits the ministry and flies home to Australia to help his family save their struggling farm—much to Kimberly’s chagrin. As Kimberly’s grand plans flounder, she is forced to face the truth: that no one can replace Sam. To what lengths will she go to get him back?

Goodreads | Amazon

Review

A Girl’s Guide to the Outback is a humorous “armchair adventure” romance that simultaneously initiates the reader (and heroine Kimberly) in Aussie culture AND shares a story of belonging and purpose. Sam and Kimberly also have All. The. Sparks. and chemistry in their love/hate-romantic relationship. It was just so FUN to see their banter and friendship transforming.

Jessica Kate’s sense of humor shines through in her writing. (If you follow her on any of her social media platforms or podcast, you will find this to be true!) The witty humor and all the pop culture things are interspersed with a serious message of courage and faith. Courage to take risks in many ways, like whether to be vulnerable to heartache or love or to trust God to carry you through your failures. These lessons come along naturally with the story as Kim, Sam, and Jules work (and play) together, argue once or twenty times, and find out what happiness looks like on the other side of trials.

As a reader, I can see Kate’s passion for her culture clearly shining through. Jessica Kate has infused this story with her own personal farm upbringing and Aussie terminology. The charm of rural life — and dedication — it takes to run a farm, are an important part of this story. Australia becomes a setting-as-a-character by the end, making me feel like I’ve visited the outback myself (minus the poisonous snakes and drought conditions, of course).

While Jessica Kate is busy writing her next story for me to devour, I’ll be over here trying to find ways to work the term “fair dinkhum” into my everyday vocabulary!

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

Review: "The Last Shot" by Amy Matayo

I’m happy to be sharing a review today of indie author Amy Matayo’s latest release, The Last Shot, the third book in her “Love in Chaos” series.

Book 1: The Waves | Book 2: The Aftermath

About the Book

It’s the same routine every night, and country music superstar Teddy Hayes wouldn’t have it any other way.

7:00 pm: Arena doors open and fans fill the stands.
7:45 pm: Lights go out and spotlights come on.
7:46 pm: Energy from concert-goers reaches an ear-spitting crescendo.
7:47 pm: Teddy takes the stage and begins to sing.

But tonight, something is off.

It starts when a stage light malfunctions and sends sparks into the air.
It continues when his drummer stops playing and stares slack-jawed in Teddy’s direction.

It dawns on him when a fan doubles-over and a red stain spreads across her shirt.

Something isn’t just off tonight.

Someone in the crowd is shooting a gun.

And it’s up to a female bodyguard he’s never met before to save his life.

Goodreads | Amazon

Review

Amy Matayo has a knack for heart-deep storytelling wrapped in a snarky package. In The Last Shot, that sarcasm and banter comes with a mix of loss and peril as an unthinkable scenario plays out. I appreciate both the candor and the care with which the active shooter situation is portrayed. Much like the characters of the story experience, that is a situation no one expects to be in and no one truly knows how to prepare for. Amy takes the time to show this, and to combine it with the experiences of Teddy and Jane to amplify its immediate and residual complications.

Borne of this life-changing event, Teddy and Jane are drawn together by a shared experience and by an instant rapport. I enjoyed seeing their friendship grow naturally and their dealing with heavy subjects together. This story is one that draws great attention to the importance of friendship, compassion, and courageously dealing with any challenges one step at a time.

I really liked the layers of this story, how Teddy and Jane are complex and common at the same time (that is a compliment). Amy also sprinkles a little innuendo into the humorous side of her stories. It makes them have a more gen-market feel although they have inspirational content and messages. I like the balance she achieves with such a technique. It was fun to see the banter this friend-group has in this third book. I’m SO looking forward to the next (and last) book in this series!

Thank you to Relz Review Services for the review copy. This is my honest review.