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 

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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. 

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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.

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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?

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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.

Review + Book Tour: “Daughters of Northern Shores” by Joanne Bischof

On Tour with Prism Book Tours

About the Book

Daughters of Northern Shores (Blackbird Mountain #2) By Joanne Bischof

Christian Historical Romance from Thomas Nelson publishers

“The Norgaard brothers and their families will steal your heart.” —Catherine West, author of Where Hope Begins

Heartache and regret, boldness and sacrifice. What will restoration cost the beloved Norgaard family?

Aven Norgaard understands courage. Orphaned within an Irish workhouse, then widowed at just nineteen, she voyaged to America where she was wooed and wed by Thor Norgaard, a Deaf man in rural Appalachia. That the Lord saw her along the winding journey and that Aven now carries Thor’s child are blessings beyond measure. Yet while Thor holds her heart, it is his younger brother and rival who haunts her memories. Haakon—whose selfish choices shattered her trust in him.

Having fled the farm after trying to take Aven as his own, Haakon sails on the North Atlantic ice trade where his soul is plagued with regrets that distance cannot heal. Not even the beautiful Norwegian woman he’s pursued can ease the torment. When the winds bear him home after four years away, Haakon finds the family on the brink of tragedy. A decades-old feud with the neighboring farm has wrenched them into the fiercest confrontation on Blackbird Mountain since the Civil War. Haakon’s cunning and strength hold the power to seal many fates, including Thor’s which is already at stake through a grave illness brought to him as the first prick of warfare.

Now Haakon faces the hardest choice of his life. One that shapes a battlefield where pride must be broken enough to be restored, and where a prodigal son may finally know the healing peace of surrender and the boundless gift of forgiveness. And when it comes to the woman he left behind in Norway, he just might discover that while his heart belongs to a daughter of the north, she’s been awaiting him on shores more distant than the land he’s fighting for.

From Christy Award–winning author Joanne Bischof comes Daughters of Northern Shores: the highly anticipated sequel to her moving novel Sons of Blackbird Mountain.

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Review

I have come to expect a story from the pen of Joanne Bischof to be one that slices straight to the heart with its truth and tenderness. Daughters of Northern Shores is no exception. With its return of beloved characters and a message of trust at its center, it is one I will cherish upon recalling (and REREADING!).

With a balance of poignancy and vivid life, the story unfolds as one tentatively hopeful yet confronting pain, broken trust, trials, and jealousies of life. The rift left unsettled at the end of Sons of Blackbird Mountain is brought to light with Haakon’s wanderings and, eventually, steps to mend it. And oh, what a heart-trial that is!!! His prodigal journey is aided with wisdom from beloved women and the hesitant restoration of his brotherly relationships.

While Haakon seeks his place on Blackbird Mountain, Thor and Aven contend with fears and joys of their own. Again, Joanne Bischof handles subjects such as Thor’s Deafness, prejudice, and even childbirth with a delicate and reverent approach, honest when necessary and revelatory in manner with others. Reading this story is like witnessing the lives of the Norgaard family, being a part of their sorrows and sharing in their hope – most importantly, their trust in a Savior to see them through even the hardest of battles.

Daughters of Northern shores is a novel to treasure and one to make you think of the impact just one person can have. It is an encouraging story that reminds the reader to hope when there is no clear path ahead. And, to hold family and friends dear, always extending grace.

Thank you to Prism Book Tours and Netgalley for the review copy. This is my honest review.

Other Books in the Series:

Sons of Blackbird Mountain (Blackbird Mountain #1) by Joanne Bischof

From the bestselling award-winning author of The Lady and the Lionheart

“Beloved author Joanne Bischof doesn’t disappoint with her latest beautifully written, heartrending tale . . . a quick favorite for historical romance readers.” —Elizabeth Byler Younts, author of The Solace of Water

A Tale of Family, Brotherhood, and the Healing Power of Love

After the tragic death of her husband, Aven Norgaard is beckoned to give up her life in Norway to become a housekeeper in the rugged hills of Nineteenth-Century Appalachia. Upon arrival, she finds herself in the home of her late husband’s cousins—three brothers who make a living by brewing hard cider on their three-hundred acre farm. Yet even as a stranger in a foreign land, Aven has hope to build a new life in this tight-knit family.

But her unassuming beauty disrupts the bond between the brothers. The youngest two both desire her hand, and Aven is caught in the middle, unsure where—and whether—to offer her affection. While Haakon is bold and passionate, it is Thor who casts the greatest spell upon her. Though Deaf, mute, and dependent on hard drink to cope with his silent pain, Thor possesses a sobering strength.

As autumn ushers in the apple harvest, the rift between Thor and Haakon deepens and Aven faces a choice that risks hearts. Will two brothers’ longing for her quiet spirit tear apart a family? Can she find a tender belonging in this remote, rugged, and unfamiliar world?

A haunting tale of struggle and redemption, Sons of Blackbird Mountain is a portrait of grace in a world where the broken may find new life through the healing mercy of love.

Praise for Sons of Blackbird Mountain:

“Sons of Blackbird Mountain is a quiet gem of a historical romance. Refreshingly real and honest in its depiction of flawed but lovable individuals, it introduces characters readers will want to meet again.” – CBA Market

“. . . the novel provides an interesting glimpse of the time period and some complex social issues among neighbors in an area still recovering from the Civil War.” – Historical Novels Review

“VERDICT Christy- and Carol Award-winning author Bischof (The Lady and the Lionheart) creates endearing characters and a heartwarming story line in this unforgettable novel about the power of family, love, and the true meaning of home. Fans of Kristy Cambron, Julie Klassen, and Susan Meissner will love this one.” – Library Journal

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About the Author


Picture courtesy of https://joannebischof.com.

Joanne Bischof is an ACFW Carol Award and ECPA Christy Award-winning author. She writes deeply layered fiction that tugs at the heartstrings. She was honored to receive the San Diego Christian Writers Guild Novel of the Year Award in 2014 and in 2015 was named Author of the Year by the Mount Hermon conference. Joanne’s 2016 novel, The Lady and the Lionheart, received an extraordinary 5 Star TOP PICK! from RT Book Reviews, among other critical acclaim. She lives in the mountains of Southern California with her three children.

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Review: “In the Shadow of Croft Towers” by Abigail Wilson

I am always excited about finding new authors to love. Debut author Abigail Wilson is one I am extremely happy to have discovered — she is a gracious person and a wonderful storyteller! Her debut, In the Shadow of Croft Towers, recently released from Thomas Nelson. It is an exciting historical mystery and romance, complete with spies, a grand country estate, questions of inheritance, and a likable heroine.

About the Book

From debut author Abigail Wilson comes a mysterious Regency tale of secrets and spies, love and treachery.

Orphaned Sybil Delafield jumps at the opportunity for a position at the mysterious Croft Towers. She believes she was hired to act as companion to a dying woman, but a highway robbery and a hostile welcome from the Chalcroft family cause her to wonder if she was actually hired to help someone spy for France.

An unsolved murder adds intrigue to this already secretive family, and Sybil recognizes Mrs. Chalcroft’s handsome grandson as one of the infamous highwaymen who robbed her. Sybil must determine if this man’s charming smile and earnest eyes speak the truth or if he is simply using her like others in the house. Everyone seems to have something to hide, and Sybil must decide who to trust while also coming to terms with the truth about her own past.

Goodreads | Amazon

Review

In the Shadow of Croft Towers is an engrossing escape to the countryside of Regency England. With a web of mystery (and highwaymen!), Sybil Delafield navigates the secrets of the inhabitants of a grand estate, all the while searching for her own answers. The rare first person POV enhances the swirling secrets and makes Sybil’s character endearing. The mystery itself is a brilliant web with some elements that kept me guessing until the very end, and a couple I saw coming — but nonetheless, I enjoyed the reactions of the characters as they discovered the true answers and reasons for certain characters’ behavior. The hero of the story, Mr. Sinclair, is as dashing, chivalrous, and witty as one could hope for — and a smart match to Sybil, treating her as an equal yet being wonderfully protective when the situation required.

This is a debut novel worthy of your time, especially if you are a fan of historical romance and mystery. I look forward to the next book in the series, Midnight on the River Grey, and anything else Ms. Wilson plans to write!

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

Series Review: “Blue Ridge Romance” by Denise Hunter

It’s always fun to binge-read a series, especially when it’s by an author I always enjoy. The “Blue Ridge Romance” series by Denise Hunter is one I worked through in the past couple weeks. It was a fictional getaway, of sorts, with its peach and honeysuckle moments in the middle of my winter season. I’m reviewing the series today! Each book can stand on its own, though it reads well as a series.

About the Books

Blue Ridge Sunrise

Former free spirit Zoe Collins swore she’d never again set foot in Copper Creek or speak to the man who broke her heart. But return she must when her beloved Granny dies, leaving the family legacy to Zoe—a peach orchard nestled at the base of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

When Zoe returns home with her daughter and boyfriend Kyle, she finds that she’s the only person in town who doesn’t expect her to give up the life she’s established far away from Copper Creek. Everyone believes she was born to run the orchard, but how can she make it her home after so many years?

Cruz Huntley never quite got over his first love, Zoe Collins, the little sister of his best friend Brady. Not when she cheated on him during their “break,” not when she took off to parts unknown with good-for-nothing Kyle Jenkins, and not even now—five years later.

As life-changing decisions and a history with Cruz hang over Zoe’s head, tensions rise between her and Kyle. Even as she comes to terms with the shifting relationships in her life, Zoe still isn’t sure if she can remain in Copper Creek with her new responsibilities . . . and her first love.

Honeysuckle Dreams

After Brady Collins’ ex-wife dies, he receives devastating news—his nine-month-old son Sam isn’t his son at all. And Sam’s wealthy maternal grandparents want custody of the child. Brady knows he’s in for the fight of his life. But regardless of what any blood test says, Sam is his son, and Brady will go to any lengths to keep him.

Brady’s attorney tips him off that one major life change would virtually assure him of winning guardianship of baby Sam at the final hearing: an impending marriage. And his friend Hope is willing to step in as the loving and devoted fiance.

Local radio celebrity Hope Daniels has been driven by a solitary goal her entire life, and after a happy accident she’s finally offered her dream job. But if the truth comes out about her arrangement with Brady, she may miss the chance of a lifetime and stand in the way of a dear friend’s dreams.

As Brady and Hope make sacrifices to help each other in their times of need, they risk uncovering a truth neither of them expects to find.

On Magnolia Lane

Falling in love with Daisy was easy for Jack. But finding the courage to tell her becomes problematic when his secret feelings lead to even bigger complications.

After two years of counseling sessions with Daisy Pendleton, Pastor Jack McReady has earned a permanent spot in her life as a spiritual leader—and nothing more. Jack would never risk losing her trust by exposing the depths of his heart, but he’s hopelessly in love with her.

Daisy loves her southern small-town life and her job at her family-run flower shop, but she doesn’t have the thing she longs for most: someone to share it with. Her recent foray into online dating has been a disaster—until she meets TJ.

Jack could kill his friend Noah for using his initials and some indistinct photos to set up a profile on the dating app Daisy is using. But when he’s finally afforded the opportunity to show her a different side of himself, he’s sucked into the plan before he has time for second thoughts.

Online, Daisy shares some of her greatest fears with TJ, but in person, Jack and Daisy are spending more time together. When a devastating family secret surfaces, Daisy knows that only her trusted friend and counselor can bring her comfort. Jack wants nothing more than to be both men for Daisy, but revealing his secret will prove to be the ultimate test of Daisy’s grace.

My Reviews

The “Blue Ridge Romance” series is thoroughly entertaining. Through various tropes (reunion, marriage of convenience, and a You’ve Got Mail-esque setup), overarching themes of HOPE and grace tie together this group of characters and friends in a delightful southern setting. All 6 of the main characters play prominent roles in each story, so their dynamic is expected from the beginning.

What I enjoyed most about Blue Ridge Sunrise was its second-chance romance that had a foundation from the start of the story.

I really liked Cruz and found his character arc to be important and heartfelt, I liked the dynamic he had with Zoe, and all the emotions (and chemistry) that went with their reconnecting. In my opinion, Zoe wasn’t always likable, or at least she didn’t stir as much empathy as I hoped she would as the story progressed. I understand her viewpoint and the mistakes she made that cause her current circumstances, but I felt like some of her decisions, even toward the end of the story, were lacking the amount of wisdom her arc required (and therefore felt a little contrived). 

A section of chapters are devoted to a flashback that comes at a key moment in establishing the characters’ depth. This was a device that added layers to the story and explained the history in a way that memories or shorter explanations would not have described. It worked well!

Honeysuckle Dreams is a delightful romance that explores the ties of family, the necessity of hope, and the risk (and faith) it takes to love deeply. A marriage of convenience trope is one of my favorites — and hard to pull of in a contemporary setting. But Brady and Hope exceed any expectations I had, committing for selfless reasons and growing from friendship into a relationship that’s swoony and tenderly romantic.

A few threads of the story could have been predictable, but they worked out early or in a different way than I expected, which was a pleasant surprise. The themes of this novel encompassed love, faith, and even delved into the personal insecurities and anxiety of Brady and Hope that stemmed from their past. This made the story even more meaningful and impactful for its resonant message of truth and bravery, of speaking up and honestly sharing your heart. It’s my personal fav of the series!

On Magnolia Lane was probably the sweetest romance of the series because it involved unrequited love and a growth from friendship. When I heard this story would be a spin on a “You’ve Got Mail” situation, I was intrigued! Pastor Jack’s relationship with Daisy on a dating website is the setup for a deeper relationship and the story’s complications.

In this case, Jack is aware he’s deceiving Daisy. I normally wouldn’t buy in to this setup so readily, but the lovelorn Jack and his consideration in being as honest as possible, even while not revealing his identity yet, just works. When the truth comes to light, it is a very important moment of growth and lesson for both Jack and Daisy, bringing to light how the best intentions can still result in hurt if they are not grounded on complete truth. Another large part of this book involved some life-altering family secrets Daisy contends with. This discovery matched with Daisy and Jack’s evolving relationship to challenge Daisy to see beyond herself in new ways, requiring her grace and strength.

Thank you to BookLook Bloggers and the publisher for the review copy of book 3. This is my honest review.