Review: “Ever Faithful” by Karen Barnett

I have enjoyed all of the novels in Karen Barnett’s “Vintage National Parks” series for their wonderful natural settings and looks at life through varied park inhabitants – rangers, staff, tourists, guides, and artists. This series is more of a collection as each novel has told a unique, standalone story set in a different national park.

About the Book

Vibrant historic Yellowstone National Park comes to life in this romantic mystery about a man hiding the truth, braving the west to become something more–and the woman who must confront his deception.

A man who can’t read will never amount to anything–or so Nate Webber believes. But he takes a chance to help his family by signing up for the new Civilian Conservation Corps, skirting the truth about certain “requirements.” Nate exchanges the harsh Brooklyn streets for the wilds of Yellowstone National Park, curious if the Eden-like wonderland can transform him as well. 

Elsie Brookes was proud to grow up as a ranger’s daughter, but she longs for a future of her own. After four years serving as a maid in the park’s hotels, she still hasn’t saved enough money for her college tuition. A second job, teaching a crowd of rowdy men in the CCC camp, might be the answer, but when Elsie discovers Nate’s secret, it puts his job as camp foreman in jeopardy. Tutoring leads to friendship and romance, until a string of suspicious fires casts a dark shadow over their relationship. Can they find answers before all of their dreams go up in smoke?

Goodreads | Amazon

Review

The setting of Yellowstone comes alive in this “vintage” story of dreaming by Karen Barnett. A well-paced tale of friendship, strength, and a little adventure unfolds in a picturesque setting that makes me want to visit ! I thought it was an insightful and curious look at Depression era events and culture, too, with characters I want to be friends with! 

One small element of this story I really appreciate is the distinction between education as separate from wisdom and leadership abilities. One does not require the other. This is shown through a learning disability of one specific character. The way Karen Barnett presents this situation is considerate while it emphasizes the worth of this individual as a child of God.

I think Ever Faithful is a flowing, easy to read story. Character driven at its heart, it shows the journeys of Elsie and Nate as they experience a season of life with great changes and possibilities. The setting is vivid and wonderfully essential to bringing out the passion in the characters – Elsie’s desire to teach and Nate’s quest to prove himself. When their paths intersect, they develop a friendship that brings out the best in each other and shows them both their worth and God’s plan.

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

Review: “Just One Kiss” by Courtney Walsh

With author Courtney Walsh’s latest release, we return to the fictional town of Harbor Pointe for a story of second chances, family, and romance. Just One Kiss is the third book set in this quaint town and reads as a standalone, though you will delight over learning more about the straightforward and bright teenager, Jaden, who had an important role in book 2, Just Let Go.

About the Book

He broke her heart. Now, he’s back, and he’s determined to show her what they had isn’t over. . . and he can prove it with just one kiss.

Single mother Carly Collins likes predictability. However, when her son Jaden’s health is threatened, her neatly controlled world is tossed into a tailspin. Nothing is certain anymore, especially her feelings for Josh Dixon, Jaden’s father, her first love and the man responsible for shattering her heart sixteen years ago. 

When Josh Dixon walked out of Harbor Pointe, he left behind his only shot at a real family. Now a successful tech mogul, the town rebel has found a cause—ensure his son’s recovery and prove to Carly and Jaden that he’s not the same guy he was back then. 

Carly and Josh are forced to wade through messy emotions and questions that have gone unanswered for years, which would be easier if not for the pesky feelings, every bit as strong and impossible to ignore as they ever were. 

Will forgiveness win, giving Carly and Josh a second chance at love . . . or will the past prove too much to overcome?

A small town romance about first love second chances and how our most beautiful life might look nothing like we planned.

Goodreads | Amazon

Review

Courtney Walsh never fails to make me smile, swoon over the romance, and cry over the deeply emotional moments in her stories. Just One Kiss is further proof! I loved it!

Part rekindled love, part family drama, and part small town charming, this story has no qualms with facing the hard questions of life, likes the “whys” and the challenges of extending grace for second chances.

I have read several reviews of this book noting it is Courtney Walsh’s best yet. While I can’t pick a favorite of her books (I have really loved them all!), I can say that Walsh is at the top of her storytelling game with Just One Kiss. The way it balances serious themes with lighthearted moments, just the right amount of drama and romance, surprises that really deepen the story, and even details like *showing* the backstory of Carly and Josh through flashback scenes all impress me. The combination of hallmark-like moments (dress shop!) with weighty moments in hospital waiting rooms and the vulnerability of opening your heart (letting go of anger) and offering someone a second chance all work to make this an impactful story.

Just One Kiss is a book I will return to and love just as much upon rereading. There is a relatable humanity in all of the characters, through their flaws, dreams, and questions, that makes it memorable and unique. Its message of forgiveness and the simplicity of grace is desperately needed in our world.

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

Review: “The Printed Letter Bookshop” by Katherine Reay

Reay book stack

I’m sharing a review of Katherine Reay’s latest standalone novel, The Printed Letter Bookshop. This novel leans towards character-driven women’s fiction with a gorgeous nod to books and faith and even looks at the roles of women in family, career, and relationships of all kinds. Simply put, is a novel for #booknerds.

Bonus fun: this book has been showing up on all kinds of online bookish lists, like this “8 of the Best Books About Books” list at Book Riot, Goodreads, and more! This makes me happy!

About the Book

Love, friendship, and family find a home at the Printed Letter Bookshop

One of Madeline Cullen’s happiest childhood memories is of working with her Aunt Maddie in the quaint and cozy Printed Letter Bookshop. But by the time Madeline inherits the shop nearly twenty years later, family troubles and her own bitter losses have hardened Madeline’s heart toward her once-treasured aunt—and the now struggling bookshop left in her care.

While Madeline intends to sell the shop as quickly as possible, the Printed Letter’s two employees have other ideas. Reeling from a recent divorce, Janet finds sanctuary within the books and within the decadent window displays she creates. Claire, though quieter than the acerbic Janet, feels equally drawn to the daily rhythms of the shop and its loyal clientele, finding a renewed purpose within its walls. When Madeline’s professional life takes an unexpected turn, and when a handsome gardener upends all her preconceived notions, she questions her plans and her heart. She begins to envision a new path for herself and for her aunt’s beloved shop—provided the women’s best combined efforts are not too little, too late.

The Printed Letter Bookshop is a captivating story of good books, a testament to the beauty of new beginnings, and a sweet reminder of the power of friendship.

Goodreads | Amazon

Review

The Printed Letter Bookshop is part philosophical view of human nature and part love letter to books and stories, all expressed on a journey of three unlikely friends steeped in grace. Katherine Reay is a reader and clearly knows her craft. The love of books is prominent in all of her stories, coupled with a storytelling style that reveals just enough of a complex situation and each character’s plight bit by bit, drawing the reader in to their stories and hearts.

With The Printed Letter Bookshop, three lives intersect because of the legacy of another woman. This legacy impacts them in unforeseen ways, all living through and learning the about life’s challenges, the pain that sometimes accompanies love, how to grow and forgive, and even the joys and laughter found in unlikely kinship.

One of the best parts of this story is the slowly unfurling love story that’s magnetic and unlike anything from Reay thus far. The romance is less prominent in this than her typical style but still integral to the story. When Madeline and a certain someone are in the same scene, it sparkles. Along with the “new” romance of Madeline’s, I appreciate how Claire and Janet’s POVs explore different stages of romance, even complacency and loss, through a lens of relationship and love.

This is truly a book to lose yourself in and yet find the wonder of story again. With nods and references to countless stories (and a lovely reading list at the back!), I found myself adding to my to-be-read list every few chapters. If you’re a return Reay reader, you might spot a few references to her other fictional characters in the pages!

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

Review: “Far Side of the Sea” by Kate Breslin

I LOVE when I learn something from fiction. And, when that’s combined with a riveting story, I’m a happy reader. Kate Breslin NEVER disappoints in this respect. Her latest novel, Far Side of the Sea, takes the reader on a European quest during WWI, complete with spies, tricks, pigeons, and a sweet friendship-to-romance story.

About the Book

In spring 1918, Lieutenant Colin Mabry, a British soldier working with MI8 after suffering injuries on the front, receives a message by carrier pigeon. It is from Jewel Reyer, the woman he once loved and who saved his life–a woman he believed to be dead. Traveling to France to answer her urgent summons, he desperately hopes this mission will ease his guilt and restore the courage he lost on the battlefield.

Colin is stunned, however, to discover the message came from Jewel’s half sister, Johanna. Johanna, who works at a dovecote for French Army Intelligence, found Jewel’s diary and believes her sister is alive in the custody of a German agent. With spies everywhere, Colin is skeptical of Johanna, but as they travel across France and Spain, a tentative trust begins to grow between them.

When their pursuit leads them straight into the midst of a treacherous plot, danger and deception turn their search for answers into a battle for their lives 

Goodreads | Amazon

Review

Far Side of the Sea is an absolutely riveting tale of history, adventure, and romance. Set against the backdrop of WWI, Colin’s story begins as a tentative journey for honor and grows more complex and layered as intrigue and danger heighten. When he meets the “other” Reyer sister, Johanna, his life is turned on end and their quest becomes an urgent and noble one — one that takes them across Europe!

Kate Breslin pens the most vivid character personalities (even side characters we meet)! Colin’s intelligence and seriousness are perfectly matched with Johanna’s wits and fortitude, making them a couple to cheer for – and one whose friendship holds more than a few surprises.

I also loved learning more about history and the use of carrier pigeons in WWI. It was such a daring and interesting tactic! I was delighted by Breslin’s extensive author’s note that shed more light on the historical facts of the story. I love to learn through fiction 🙂

Along with the action of this novel, the characters themselves grow and change through their experiences. I was rooting for Colin to heal and realize his value, something Johanna helps him to see. Likewise, Johanna experiences the beginnings of faith and the peace in knowing she is never truly alone as a child of God.

This novel is definitely on my list of favorite WWI stories! I was delighted with the glimpses of familiar characters from Breslin’s novel Not by Sight. I am eager for whatever era or story Kate writes about next (and I’m hoping we see Marcus again? 😉 ).

Thank you to Bethany House Publishers for the review copy. This is my honest review.

Review: “Knox” by Susan May Warren (Montana Marshalls #1)

It’s been quiet lately in my little corner of the blogging world, but it is NOT for lack of good books! I have been reading some great stories and will be sharing more about them soon.

One novel I finished this week was the first in Susan May Warren’s new independently-published series: The “Montana Marshalls” series. Knox kicks off the family saga with a ‘gallop’ straight into action and drama with more stories to come.

About the Book

He’s not looking for trouble…

Montana rancher Knox Marshall’s danger years are behind him. A former bull-rider, he now runs the Marshall family ranch, raising champion bucking bulls for the National Professional Bullrider’s Expo (NBR-X). Wealth and success are his, but life is stable, expected, and…ordinary.  But he wants more from life… 

But trouble is looking for her…

Kelsey Jones just wants a safe life, a family, a home. Onstage, the beautiful rising star of the Yankee Belles becomes the person she longs to be – vivacious and confident – burying the brokenness she carries from a violent assault. Becoming NBR-X’s next country act is key to outrunning her past and achieving the success and security she craves. 

When trouble finds them both…

Knox and Kelsey’s paths collide when an explosion at an NBR-X event traps them in the rubble and leaves them reeling. Kelsey’s crippling nightmares return, but for Knox, an obsession to find the bomber is ignited. 

What will it cost him to protect her? 

When Kelsey’s past threatens Knox’s family, he’ll have to choose between saving the Marshall legacy or becoming the protector he’s always longed to be. 

Goodreads | Amazon

Review

Equal parts family drama, modern western, and romantic suspense, the first installment in Susan’s new Marshall Family series, Knox, sets the bar and the excitement level high for the rest of the series to come!

Susan May Warren always manages to perfectly balance story, character development, and strong themes all in a fast-paced package. In this case, action, ranching, and life as a rising country band combine with the steadiness of Knox and the strength of Kelsey; likable and supportive (in a friendship and brotherhood way) secondary characters; and themes of compassion and the steadfastness of God’s love.

I was thrilled to encounter cameos and mentions of some favorite characters from Susan’s previous series, some of which I know I still need to read! Also, the references to music, TV westerns, and pop culture (hello, Kevin Costner and Bodyguard) were wonderfully incorporated into the story and just plain fun.

Oh, and since Susan’s stories are all wonderfully connected and layered, the next book is set up well. With the way THIS ONE ENDS, I need Tate’s story NOW!

Thanks to Relz Author Support for the review copy. This is my honest review.

Book Gush: “How the Light Gets In” by Jolina Petersheim

I’m sharing a review today for a book that just blew. me. away: How the Light Gets In by Jolina Petersheim. I have been thinking about it for most of the week, trying to wrap my mind around the story and put into words what it made me feel. I know my words can’t do justice to the beauty of the story and its intricacies, but I will attempt to share my thoughts & argument for why YOU should read it.

About the Book

From the highly acclaimed author of The Outcast and The Alliance comes an engrossing novel about marriage and motherhood, loss and moving on.

When Ruth Neufeld’s husband and father-in-law are killed working for a relief organization overseas, she travels to Wisconsin with her young daughters and mother-in-law Mabel to bury her husband. She hopes the Mennonite community will be a quiet place to grieve and piece together next steps.

Ruth and her family are welcomed by Elam, her husband’s cousin, who invites them to stay at his cranberry farm through the harvest. Sifting through fields of berries and memories of a marriage that was broken long before her husband died, Ruth finds solace in the beauty of the land and healing through hard work and budding friendship. She also encounters the possibility of new love with Elam, whose gentle encouragement awakens hopes and dreams she thought she’d lost forever.

But an unexpected twist threatens to unseat the happy ending Ruth is about to write for herself. On the precipice of a fresh start and a new marriage, Ruth must make an impossible decision: which path to choose if her husband isn’t dead after all.

Goodreads | Amazon

Review

How the Light Gets In is probably the most unique book I’ve ever read. It is a storytelling feat with emotional twists, surprises, and a whiplash ending (which I shall not reveal! No spoilers here!). Peer beyond the expert framework and you will discover a retelling of Ruth that is compelling in its exploration of grief, relationships, and the surrender that comes with letting Love shine through the faults and fallacies of our natures.

The brilliance of this story does not lie in the characters, plot, setting, or genre (all of which are great!) Because of its twist, it lies instead in its purpose. To appreciate this, you do have to read the story start to finish.

But its purpose is not a soapbox or affiliation. It is a message of impact. How tiny choices, whether born of love or selfishness (encouraging words or open communication, negative thoughts or a sharp tongue), can drastically change relationships over time. Even if one means well. This theme is revealed through the lens of marriage and its joys and hardships but I feel it can be applied to any relationship, so it’s a story for all.

How the light gets in quote

Another impressive facet of the novel is the use of the setting. Its simplicity, that of a Mennonite community with little pretense, works to magnify the complications of Ruth’s past (in an urban setting on another continent, no less), revealed in letters and memory segments. Her shift in environments serves to emphasize the universal problems and challenges of any relationship, whatever the circumstance, and shows them to often stem from a heart- or choice-issue, not that of one’s surroundings.

I feel like I could talk for 4 hours about How the Light Gets In. About the vivid characters, the gentle heart of Elam, the virtues of Chandler amidst his seeming faults, the darling children, or the caring family (especially Mabel and Laurie!). Instead, I think everyone should read it! *though I heartily gush and recommend books I love, I am not prone to such hyperbole about just any story. This one is an exception.*

I will be thinking about this story for weeks to come. Especially the ending that left me joyful-and-reeling. It charges the reader to embrace all the messiness of life and to press on when pain inevitably occurs. And, even to hope and trust God to do a new thing when all seems lost.

Sincere thanks to the publisher, Tyndale, for the review copy. This is my honest review.

Author Jolina Petersheim has an awesome book club kit for How the Light Gets In! Book club kit & info on her website here.

Review: “Between Two Shores” by Jocelyn Green

Today I’m sharing my thoughts on Jocelyn Green’s latest historical fiction novel, Between Two Shores. Jocelyn has quickly joined my list of favorite historical authors who pen stories with similar detail, depth, and time periods like Laura Frantz and Lori Benton.

About the Book

The daughter of a Mohawk mother and French father in 1759 Montreal, Catherine Duval finds it is easier to remain neutral in a world that is tearing itself apart. Content to trade with both the French and the British, Catherine is pulled into the fray against her wishes when her British ex-fiance, Samuel Crane, is taken prisoner by her father. Samuel asks her to help him escape, claiming he has information that could help end the war.

Peace appeals to Catherine, but helping the man who broke her heart does not. She delays . . . until attempts on Samuel’s life convince her he’s in mortal danger. Against her better judgment she helps him flee by river, using knowledge of the landscape to creep ever closer to freedom. Their time together rekindles feelings she thought long buried, and danger seems to hound their every mile. She’s risked becoming a traitor by choosing a side, but will the decision cost her even more than she anticipated?

Goodreads | Amazon

Review

Between Two Shores is a riveting and powerful story of restoration, belonging, and courage. Jocelyn Green once again portrays atmosphere and culture in a manner both immersive and informative. In this case, the setting and intriguing facets of what we call the French and Indian War unfold from the perspective of Catherine Duval, a French-Mohawk trader caught in the middle.

The attention to historical detail and vivid characters come to life through a riveting story that surmounts both external dangers and the inner growth and emotional turmoil of Catherine. While the story is told from her singular perspective, the depth of each character’s personality was stunning and constant. This storytelling method impressed me with the way it allowed a slow unfolding of some details (like Samuel and his heart) and an immediate sympathy concerning other characters (like Catherine’s father and siblings).

While this is most definitely a historical fiction piece, a hint of a romantic thread is referenced near the beginning of the story through a series of flashback chapters. For my romance-loving heart, this was satisfying AND important to the deeper themes of the story. Green takes this relationship and goes beyond the draw of romantic love and portrays a more meaningful, yet changing, nature of love: true love is selfless in the face of pain or unknown consequences. And it never fails, even while human imperfections remain.

The action and history in Between Two Shores are fascinating, but the relational transformation and themes are the most significant. Catherine learns her place in the world and where she stands with her siblings (and her father) through the decisions she must make and their consequences. Most importantly, she finds her place as a child of God and knows the forgiveness and grace extended to her — actions she must reciprocate and pass on.

Thanks to Bethany House for the review copy. This is my honest review.