Review: “The Secret Life of Sarah Hollenbeck” by Bethany Turner

Review: “The Secret Life of Sarah Hollenbeck” by Bethany Turner

You know those books that seem to release with a blog and social media craze equivalent to a 7-year-old piñata frenzy? Yes? Well, The Secret Life of Sarah Hollenbeck debut novel by Bethany Turner is one such novel that lives up to its hyped expectations. One search or visit to any of Bethany’s social media channels can result in hilarious interviews, videos, and quotes all showing her refreshing style (I highly recommend doing so). Now, I’m extremely happy to be a part of Revell’s blog tour featuring my own gushing review of this little story.

About the Book

The Secret Life of Sarah Hollenbeck

Isn’t this one of the cutest covers of the year?!

Becoming a Christian is the best and worst thing that has ever happened to Sarah Hollenbeck. Best because, well, that’s obvious. Worst because, up to this point, she’s made her very comfortable living as a well-known, bestselling author of steamy romance novels that would leave the members of her new church blushing. Now Sarah is trying to reconcile her past with the future she’s chosen. She’s still under contract with her publisher and on the hook with her enormous fan base for the kind of book she’s not sure she can write anymore. She’s beginning to think that the church might frown on her tithing on royalties from a “scandalous” book. And the fact that she’s falling in love with her pastor doesn’t make things any easier.

With a powerful voice, penetrating insight, and plenty of wit, Bethany Turner explodes onto the scene with a debut that isn’t afraid to deal with the thorny realities of living the Christian life.

 

 

Goodreads | Amazon | Bethany’s Website

 

Review

This story is a literary TREAT! I was seriously laughing and crying in the span of paragraphs. It’s a new take on Christian fiction and a close look at the whirlwind which life (and romance 😉 ) can be through the eyes of a recently redeemed heroine. At times, her character’s perspective as a new Christian could be a little eye-opening for someone “used to” churchy norms. And I love that.

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A part of this is “book inception”: character Sarah is a writer. Her own intent to write a Christian fiction novel appealing to the masses to candidly address attraction in a way not common in the genre is, in fact, what Bethany has accomplished with Sarah’s story. Bethany is not afraid to include the realness of physical attraction and how Sarah’s newfound convictions can be upheld while not altering her core (feisty) personality. (Ben is amazingly sweet and all the more #swoony because of his role in all of this.)

Apart from the romance storyline, The Secret Life of Sarah Hollenbeck explores the deeper ripple effects of the lifestyle change Sarah is pursuing. From self-worth to forgiveness, jealousy, and even deception, deep truths are delivered in this story that starts out as perky but quickly turns serious and rooted in a journey to understanding LOVE in manifestations of family, commitment, choice, and even instant attraction.

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Perhaps my favorite part of this story is the pop culture references!!! (You all know I love some good movie/TV references in story). Especially the rabbit trails of 1980s miniseries. Multiple situations referenced AND connected plot points to The Sound of Music  —- they left me giggling more than once. And the chapter titles alone are hilarious —– “ethical and professional leprosy”, for example, and it makes perfect sense. If you finish the very last page and are left searching for a Dr Quinn, Medicine Woman episode on YouTube, let me know, I can direct you to the right one because I found it! At like 2am. Immediately. 😉

Thank you to Revell Publishers and Netgalley for the complimentary review copy of this novel. This is my honest review.

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Review & Author Interview: “All This Time” by Melissa Tagg

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Somehow, with every new story, Melissa Tagg manages to tap into her vein of talent to entertain, amuse, and encourage. Plus, she regularly works in pop culture references and words like wee, romantical, nom de plume. AND, she relates to my caffeine obsession. TODAY SHE IS JOINING ME FOR AN INTERVIEW! I’m terribly excited — read on for my thoughts on her 4th and final (indie-released) book in the “Walker Family” series, All This Time, plus her delightful answers to my bubbly questions!

About the Book

Bear McKinley’s past refuses to let go. 

Ten years ago, Bear gave up everything—his freedom and his reputation—for his mess of a family. All This TimeBut after years of distance and too many attempts at starting over, he finally has a new life doing noble work in Brazil . . . until his past catches up to him once again. Suddenly he finds himself back in Maple Valley, charged with the care of his missing brother’s children, convinced he’s out of second chances to make his life count. And yet, with every day that passes, these kids, this quirky town and the woman he never stopped missing help patch the holes in his heart. Maybe this is the fresh start he’s been longing for all along. But as his newfound hope grows, so does the mystery surrounding his brother’s activities—and when the threat reaches into the lives of those he loves, it’s clear he can’t run away this time.

Fear holds Raegan’s future captive. 

Raegan Walker is fine. She’s happy working a slew of part-time jobs, still living in her childhood bedroom and rarely venturing from her hometown. At least, that’s what she tells everyone . . . and herself. But she can’t help wondering what might’ve happened if she hadn’t abandoned her art so many years ago—and if Bear McKinley had never left. When Bear returns and she’s commissioned for a painting that just might revive her artistic ambition all in one week, it’s time to finally reach for more than fine. But doing so means facing the fears that have held her back all this time, including admitting the secret she’s kept from Bear and her family. With her dream and her heart on the line, how much will Raegan have to risk to finally chase her happy ending?

Amazon | Goodreads

Review

If I had to choose one word to describe All This Time, it would be: Perfect. It’s an absolutely perfect story of small town quirkiness, family dynamics, laugh out loud antics, a nail-biting tiny thread of suspense, and the sweetest friendship-turned-love relationship, with GRACE binding it all.

Raegan and Bear’s story has been a long time stewing… and delightfully so. With All This Time, we readers finally see the depths of their characters — both their histories, struggles, and respective adorable and swoony personalities. Their romance is framed with the quirkiness of a small town and Melissa’s signature humor and general wit — and even a bit of suspense that heightens the mysterious past of Bear. It’s not all fireflys and sunflowers, though. The gravity of some of its subject matter — anxiety, estranged relatives, forgiveness, and HOPE — is wonderfully woven with a lightheartedness that makes the characters accessible and the message an arrow to the heart of the reader.

More than a story of the relationship between Bear and Raegan, this story is a picture of FAMILY. Of the crazy dreams and distinct personalities, of the support system and encouragement, and, even of the dysfunction and pain caused by someone’s decisions. It shows the contrasts and possibilities and how choices rooted in Love will endure.

The Walker family is a favorite fictional family of mine….the type one can almost believe is real. Or wants and hopes is real, if only for a dynamic to exist in the world that mirrors the shared ups and downs of life with a group of people that LOVES and CARES and finds JOY amidst all the heartaches and challenges.

Reader friends, you will not want to miss out on the perfection that is All This Time. From the caffeine obsessed characters to the endearing kids that show up on the page to the resonating message of hope and family, this story is one that works its way into your heart and memory like an honest friend.

AND, because Melissa and I are obsessed with NEEDTOBREATHE (ok, Melissa probably more so), here’s a song that matches Bear’s character arc wonderfully. Melissa manages to work in a “tiny” reference to this song somewhere in All This Time. If you’ve read the book, did you spot it?

My reviews of the rest of the series:

#1 From the Start | #2 Like Never Before | #3 Keep Holding On

Interview with the Author

Melissa, thank you for graciously agreeing to this interview!

What was the inspiration behind the town of Maple Valley?

Great question! When I first started the Walker series, I knew I wanted to come up with a fictional town…because when you set a book in a real town, anyone who lives there loves to get picky about how accurately you portray it. LOL! And I knew I wanted it to be a quirky, small town.

Maple Valley was most inspired by Boone, Iowa. It’s funny—I’ve only been to Boone a few times, but every time, I just think it’s a cute little town. There’s a heritage railroad just like the one in Maple Valley. But I also drew inspiration from my hometown of Webster City, Iowa‑—the library in Maple Valley, especially, was inspired by my hometown library—and Little Falls, Minnesota, which is steeped in Charles Lindbergh history!

What theme or spiritual message do you want to communicate to readers with this story?

I hope this story leaves readers thinking about what it means to truly be vulnerable…to be in real relationships. There’s a spot in All This Time where Raegan and her dad are finally getting honest with each other about some things and Raegan makes the remark, “Why do we keep anything from the people we love?” Raegan’s whole journey is about learning to live authentically with the people she loves, to stop letting fear hold her back from true relationships. Personally, that’s a hard thing for me. Even with the people I love most, I’m not always willing to bare my heart. I heard someone say once that most people are willing to go 90% of the way in relationships, but that even with the people we’re closest to, we leave 10% unsaid. That’s stuck with me ever since he said it. Raegan’s journey is about being brave enough to go that last 10%…and I hope that’s something that impacts readers as much as it impacted me.

I think that’s one of the deeper points of this story —- it definitely impacted me!

What was most challenging about writing the final Walker novel?

Probably the thing that was hardest was simply knowing it was the final book in the series! I know I joke a lot about how much I love my fake people, but I’m really not exaggerating when I say that writing these books changed me. Every one was a personal, vulnerable journey. I kept putting off writing “The End” on this last one simply because I wasn’t ready to be done.

The other challenging thing was simply finding space for each Walker to sort of have their moment in this last story! I really wanted it to be a satisfying ending for readers, but giving each character a proper send-off without the book turning out to be a thousand pages long was quite the challenge.

I believe you achieved that balance! Reading this last book was bittersweet but wonderful… it was so good to see everyone in a “happy” place of their lives.

Which character was your favorite to write?

Logan! Oh wait, we’re talking about All This Time. But still…Logan! I don’t know if it’s obvious, but I looked for every excuse to bring him back into this book even though it wasn’t his story.

*jumping in* ❤ ❤ Logan!!!! ❤ ❤

But when it comes to the main characters of All This Time, I’d probably have to say Bear for two reasons: 1) I loooooved writing scenes in which he’s basically the cutest and greatest uncle ever and 2) In all the previous Walker books, Bear was like this elusive little mystery. He’d randomly show up, but we never knew much about him. So I loved getting to finally dive into his backstory and discovery who he really is.

And what a history he had! 🙂

For fun: Do you have any hobbies (besides coffee and being a Needtobreathe roadie)?

Haha! You listed two of my very favorite hobbies!

Other hobbies include reading (of course—I’m a bookworm to the core), traveling, spoiling my nieces and nephew and, as of late, racquetball. Not that I’m any good at it. But man, I love it!

If you could live in any other time period in history, which would it be and why?

Either the Gilded Age because, honestly, it just looks fun…or right in the late 1930s…before we dove into WWII and right when some of my verrrry favorite Golden Era Hollywood movies were making their way into the world.

What interesting choices!! Yay for the Golden Era, too!

What are you currently reading (or reading next)?

I’m a huge Sarah M. Eden fan and she just released the latest book in her Jonquil series and it was fantastic. And it made me want to reread her other books, so I went back and reread The Sheriffs of Savage Wells and died laughing/swooning all over again. Up next is Lady Jayne Disappears, which I’ve heard is an a-ma-zing debut!

Finally, you have another Christmas novella set to release this year. Tell us about it!

I do indeed and oh my, I haven’t laughed this much while writing a story in a long time. One Enchanted Noel is the story of Leigh Renwycke and Seb Pierce…or Sebastian Parker Pierce III if you want the full spiel. Seb comes to Maple Valley to renovate an old theater and he is not excited to be there. Leigh is a restless single mom struggling to leave her past in the past. And I had a crazy amount of fun writing their meet-cute!

Oh, that sounds amazing! Yay for another Tagg story in 2017! 🙂 Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me about your books. I know my readers will love getting this peek into your brain, too!

About the Author

Melissa Tagg

Melissa Tagg is a former reporter, current nonprofit grant writer, and total Iowa girl. She’s the author of the Walker Family series, the Where Love Begins series, and the Enchanted Christmas novella collection. Her books have made both the Publisher’s Weekly Top Ten and Amazon.com bestselling lists. When she’s not writing, she can be found hanging out with the coolest family ever, watching old movies, and daydreaming about her next book. Melissa loves connecting with readers on her website.

Website | Facebook | Instagram  | Twitter

Review: “Crown of Souls” by Ronie Kendig

Crown of Souls, book 2 in Ronie Kendig’s “Tox Files” series, has been called an Indiana Jones-type adventure by other bloggers AND by the characters themselves (ahem, Cell and his crazy sense of humor!). I’m going one step further and saying it’s a potent combination of National Treasure, Act of Valor, and The A-Team (high-five if you are familiar with all those movie references!). It’s an adrenaline rush from start to finish, accompanying a brave team on a quest to bring justice and stability to a tumultuous situation—- one increasingly relevant today with all of the current events actually worked into the storyline.

Though this book *could* be read on its own, it will be enjoyed infinitely more read in sequence with the prequel novella (The Warrior’s Seal) and book 1 (Conspiracy of Silence),

About the Book

Crown of Souls

Six months after stopping a deadly plague, Cole “Tox” Russell and his team are enjoying a little rest. That peace is short-lived when a sniper shot hits Tox. The enemy is discovered to be one of their own, a rogue Special Forces team operator. 

Alec King is perhaps the only person as skilled as Tox, and he’s out for justice. Furious with orders that got his men killed, he intends to make those responsible pay. And he insists Tox join him, believing they are the same breed of soldier. 

Afraid his old friend is right, Tox battles a growing darkness within himself as he and his team engage in another deadly encounter with antiquity. It appears Alec is cheating–he’s using a mysterious artifact, a crown that history has linked to some of the worst slaughters in humanity. Racing to stop Alec before his vengeance is unleashed, Tox must fight the monster without becoming one.

Review

Oh my goodness!! This is a riveting action-filled thriller like no other. From the first line, I was hooked into the whirlwind mission of Tox and company as they worked to thwart calamity and solve an ancient puzzle of sorts. The crazy adventure of traveling the globe like they do is fascinating in itself! Oh, and there’s a romance and family secrets entwined, too!

IMG_20170917_153621_807.jpgOn top of the location changes, the team is dealing with the mental fallout of betrayal and uncanny parallels with the motives of a friend-turned-enemy. Who can Tox believe? Is he lying to himself about his true nature?!! Ah! He grapples with reconciling motives of good vs. evil vs. justice. The perilous situations and tasks Tox and the team are up against are the perfect catalyst for showing subtle lessons of forgiveness, justice, and trust —- a faith element often missing in today’s portrayals of the military or government personnel in pop culture. Bravo, Ronie!

Speaking of the romantic relationship…. I like Haven even more in this second book. She’s not afraid to stand firm in her opinions or actions. Her personality lends a grounding to Tox’s character and serves as a reality check for the whole team— especially in bringing Tox down a notch or two, when needed. 🙂 And the moments of interaction between them are so fun to read! They range from banter to protectiveness to almost-hostile to wonderfully swoony and real. There’s a connection between them that’s visceral and even plays out in stressful situations. Tox’s tactical precision is impressive on its own, but when he applies that same skillset to his romantic relationship with Haven…. let’s just say it’s wonderfully executed ;).

I CANNOT WAIT to see what’s next for this team in Thirst of Steel (book 3).

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

Cover Reveal: “Charming the Troublemaker” by Pepper Basham

Cover Reveal: “Charming the Troublemaker” by Pepper Basham

 

Welcome to my blog!!! Today, author Pepper Basham is revealing the cover for her upcoming release, Charming the Troublemaker. It’s book 2 in the “Mitchell’s Crossroads” series, an Appalachian romantic comedy that promises plenty of drama, family, and per Pepper’s usual style, a sweet romance.

The first in the series, A Twist of Faith, is an adaptation of sorts of the classic tale My Fair Lady. This second book, Charming the Troublemaker, began as a loose modernization of Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South (AKA 1 of my FAVORITE classics, along with the BBC series presentation!!!!!). However, as Pepper herself says, “the characters had their own ideas”! I’m excited to see exactly what that means!

About the Book

When Dr. Alex Murdock is demoted to a university in rural Virginia, the last thing he expects to find is a future. But country charm never looked as good as it did on Rainey Mitchell.

Rainey Mitchell does not need a high-class flirt in her wounded world, but trouble and temptation wafts off the new professor as strong as his sandalwood-scented cologne.

When circumstances thrust them together to save her tutoring clinic, can the troublemaker find the hero inside and encourage the reticent Rainey to open her heart again?

Releases November 1, 2017

Add to Goodreads Now!

And now, what you’ve all been waiting for………..

Charming the Troublemaker

Isn’t it such a sweet cover!? I love how it conveys the Blue Ridge setting and matches the “fun” theme of the previous book. Here’s another view of the whole jacket design:

Charming the Troublemaker full cover

About the Author

Pepper BashamAs a native of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Pepper Basham enjoys sprinkling her Appalachian into her fiction writing. She is an award-winning author of contemporary and historical romance, mom of five, speech-language pathologist, and a lover of Jesus and chocolate. She resides in Asheville, North Carolina with her family. You can learn more about her on her website, www.PepperDBasham.com or connect on Facebook or Twitter.

 

 

 

Start the series today with A Twist of Faith!7311818_orig

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads 

Review: “Just Look Up” by Courtney Walsh

Review: “Just Look Up” by Courtney Walsh

A few weeks ago, I was privileged to host author Courtney Walsh for a book spotlight and interview all about her latest contemporary release, Just Look Up. After all the fun and wonderful comments I saw around the blogging community about this story, I decided I had to read it for myself! Everyone was right: this is a “keeper” of a romance that touches on a deep and VERY RELEVANT message for today.

About the Book

After tirelessly climbing the ranks of her Chicago-based interior design firm, Lane Kelley is about to land her dream promotion when devastating news about her brother draws her back home–a quaint tourist town full of memories she’d just as soon forget. With her cell phone and laptop always within reach, Lane aims to check on her brother while staying focused on work–something her eclectic family doesn’t understand.

Just Look Up

Ryan Brooks never expected to settle down in Harbor Pointe, Michigan, but after his final tour of duty, it was the only place that felt like home. Now knee-deep in a renovation project that could boost tourism for the struggling town, he is thrilled to see Lane, the girl he secretly once loved, even if the circumstances of her homecoming aren’t ideal.

Their reunion gets off to a rocky start, however, when Ryan can’t find a trace of the girl he once knew in the woman she is today. As he slowly chips away at the walls Lane has built, secrets from his past collide with a terrible truth even he is reluctant to believe. Facing a crossroads that could define his future with Lane and jeopardize his relationship with the surrogate family he’s found in the Kelleys, Ryan hopes Lane can see that maybe what really matters has been right in front of her all along–if only she’d just look up.

Review

Just Look Up is both emotionally touching and relevant, with Courtney’s balanced and lighthearted storytelling style. The themes in this story are serious but all presented in a personal and heart-to-heart manner. From the importance of noticing the blessings in front of you to recognizing the freedom in choosing forgiveness even when someone else doesn’t, this story is a beautiful example of the power of grace.

Lane’s character and her endless stress over little things show how even the best intentions (whether for achievement, career, or even family) can distract from important things right in front of you. Lane is blissfully unaware of her inherent worth, too, which made me just want to hug her. And take her out for coffee. (Thankfully she has Ryan Brooks for that). AKA Brooks to those close to him, he’s the perfect counterpart to her personality because he knows how to gently draw her out from behind her self-imposed fortress (with a lovely sense of humor!). He shows her that she is loved just as she is, by both him and her family.

The colorful secondary characters all have a hand in Lane and Brooks’ relationship or in prodding them to face reality at one time or another. They were a fun part the story… most of the time. I wanted to whomp a couple of them a time or two for hurting Lane or Brooks. Ha!

The thread of romance in this story is of the vest variety, the kind naturally born of friendship (and a years-old camaraderie). Brooks is relentless and unashamed in his pursuit of Lane, and I loved him for it. His subtle (and sometimes not-so-subtle) flirting was a way to break through Lane’s walls, but it was his protectiveness and genuine, selfless care for her that makes him endearing hero material. His journey is one of forgiveness and releasing bitterness, too, which mirrors Lane’s in some ways.

This is a story of family and home, of roots and forgiveness and the comfort found when someone accepts you for who you are — no strings or expectations attached. It is a gentle reminder that you have one shot in life with your family and people you encounter every day, so make the most of it. Embrace the quirks and differences. Bond over the similarities and joys. Choose to forgive. Recognize the blessings in front of you. Choose to love.

Thank you to Tyndale House Publishers and Netgalley for the review copy. This is my honest review.

Review: “His Steadfast Love” by Julie Lessman + Book Snippet & GIVEAWAY ~Blog Tour

Review: “His Steadfast Love” by Julie Lessman + Book Snippet & GIVEAWAY ~Blog Tour

1_160_origWelcome to my stop on this fun tour leading up to author Julie Lessman’s independent release AND the last book in her “Isle of Hope” series, His Steadfast Love! Julie might be more familiar to fans of the historical romance genre, with multiple series anchoring her as a talented author when it comes to family dramas and swoony romances. In the last couple years, though, Julie has proven her talent once again within a new realm: contemporary stories.

If family drama threaded with spiritual lessons rooted in Scripture and plenty of romance is your thing, read on for more about this series, my gushing review, a chance to win fun prizes, and a book snippet that *might* require a fan!

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his-steadfast-love_origSeries: Isle of Hope
Genre: Contemporary, Romance, Christian
Publisher: Indie
Publication date: August 1. 2017

She’s bent on fun.
He’s bent on faith.
Till true love bridges the gap.

Cat O’Bryen is the prodigal daughter unhappy with God. First, the father with whom she reconciled dies of cancer and now her twin sister and best friend marries, leaving Cat at home with a newlywed mother, her new husband, and a little brother. But when Cat moves in with a roommate of questionable morals, her family is worried, certain she’s on a path that could damage her faith forever.

Reluctant to get involved with a woman like the one who destroyed his life, ex-Navy SEAL Pastor Chase Griffin steers clear of the attraction he feels for Cat O’Bryen. Until her family begs him to take her under his wing, hoping he can draw her back into the fold. But when the draw she has on him proves too strong to resist, he must rely on the strength of God to offer a friendship as steady and strong as the God whose love is wooing her home. ​

GOODREADS | AMAZON

The Books in the Series

My reviews:  Isle of Hope |  Love Everlasting

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julie-turquoise-in-chair_origJulie Lessman is an award-winning author whose tagline of “Passion With a Purpose” underscores her intense passion for both God and romance. A lover of all things Irish, she enjoys writing close-knit Irish family sagas that evolve into 3-D love stories: the hero, the heroine, and the God that brings them together.

Author of The Daughters of Boston, Winds of Change, and Heart of San Francisco series, Julie was named American Christian Fiction Writers 2009 Debut Author of the Year and has garnered 18 Romance Writers of America and other awards. Voted #1 Romance Author of the year in Family Fiction magazine’s 2012 and 2011 Readers Choice Awards, Julie was also named on Booklist’s 2010 Top 10 Inspirational Fiction and Borders Best Fiction list.

Julie’s most recent novel, Isle of Hope was voted on Family Fiction magazine’s Best of 2015, and Surprised by Love appeared on Family Fiction magazine’s Best of 2014. Her independent novel A Light in the Window is an International Digital Awards winner, a 2013 Readers’ Crown Award winner, and a 2013 Book Buyers Best Award winner. Julie has also written a self-help workbook for writers entitled Romance-ology 101: Writing Romantic Tension for the Sweet and Inspirational Markets. You can contact Julie through her website and read excerpts from each of her books at www.julielessman.com.

GOODREADS | FACEBOOK | TWITTER GOOGLE PLUS

PINTEREST | INSTAGRAM | AMAZON | WEBSITE

​NEWSLETTER | THE SEEKERS | JOURNAL JOTS

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This time he was ready for her, and with an easy twist, he scooped her up and launched her high in the air, her squeals bouncing off the water before she did.
Ker-splash!
A gush of water plumed, and Chase grinned outright when she shot from the surface, mouth going strong as usual. “Chase Griffin, you are the lowest, sneakiest, most diabolical—”
His laughter rang over the water. “Sorry, Catfish, but ‘diabolical’ belongs to you, kiddo, so I wouldn’t be throwing pitchforks if I were you.”
“And a p-pastor too!” she sputtered, still spitting water out of her mouth.
He cocked a hip on the edge of the board, thumbs hooked into the back pockets of his wet jeans. “That’s right, Catherine,” he said, his grin definitely ‘diabolical,’ “anything you need to get off your chest?”
“Come into the water, Rev, and I’ll show you ‘diabolical.’” She delivered a sweet smile that was anything but, paddling in place with a glint of dare in her eyes.
“Oh, no doubt about that,” he said with a grin, loosely crossing his arms. “But I’ll pass, if you don’t mind, and work on my tan while I fish.”
“Chase Griffin, you are nothing but a wet blanket!” she snapped.
“Yep, thanks to you,” he said with a chuckle, fetching his rod and tackle box and settling into his chair.
Nose in the air, she spun around in a swoosh to head to the neighbor’s dock, her strokes deft and sure like his demise would be if he got into the water with Cat O’Bryen. He was tempted to take a quick dive just to cool off because that minx sure had a way of heating him up, and they were just friends, for pity’s sake. God help him, he couldn’t imagine dating the woman, subject to temptation day in and day out. Those teasing eyes, that sexy smile, her flirtatious ways.
Those come-on kisses …
Heat engulfed him that had nothing to do with the sun beating down and everything to do with the vamp in the water. Although his mind was made up, Cat O’Bryen was too much of what his body and soul craved, and he wasn’t going there again. Ever. Especially not with a woman whose faith was as weak as water.
“Oh!”
He glanced up from his tackle box, heart constricting when he saw Cat freeze in the water. “What’s wrong?” He shot to his feet.
“Cramps.” It was a strained response as she maneuvered to a dead-man float.
“Where?” His heart rate took off in a sprint, memories of a SEAL buddy dangerously compromised on a mission from severe abdominal cramps.
“Left leg.” Her voice matched the grimace on her face. “I’ll be fine … I’ll just wait it out.”
“Grab your toes on the cramped leg and pull toward you,” he ordered, gaze pinned to her body for any sign of distress, “then straighten your leg.”
Face pinched, she did as he instructed, her groans hitching his pulse. “Never this bad before …”
That’s all it took. The tackle box hit the weathered wood with a hard clunk as Chase dove from the dock, arriving by her side in mere seconds. “Any better?” He watched while she continued pulling and stretching, his breathing heavy as he hovered close, finally catching his breath.
“I’m not sure …” she said in a weak voice.
And then she lunged, stealing his air all over again when she brought him down, submerging him with a power that belied her small size. “No, wait …” She bolted away when he hit the surface, coughing up water. “Yes, definitely better now.” Her giggles bounced off the lake as she swam for the shore, arms slicing through the water with an efficiency that would outdistance most people.
But he wasn’t most people. He was a seasoned professional.
With a store of adrenalin usually reserved for workouts at the gym, work days at Lake Loon, or dangerous missions overseas, Chase easily overtook her mere feet from the sandy shore, clamping onto her foot to reel her in hard. One arm latched to her waist, he handily dunked her with the other, her shrieks and giggles lost in a tide pool of bubbles and foam. Quickly lurching her back up, he chuckled low in her ear as she kicked and squealed in his arms. “I thought I told you never to mess with an ex-Navy SEAL, Catfish,” he said with a husky chuckle, soundly dousing her all over again.
He released her, and she literally exploded from the water, twisting in the air like some headstrong sea nymph, taking him down with a grunt as she clung stubbornly to his head.
And didn’t let go.
They burst from the water as one, her body welded to his as she death-gripped his hair, obviously intent on one more plunge.
But the only thing that plunged was his gut when their eyes locked, the laughter in her face dissolving into something far softer and warm while her ragged breathing mated with his. Her gaze dropped to his mouth, and a tidal wave of want surged through his body, taking him down as easily as Cat had done with her well-placed dunking.
She absently licked her lips, and his stomach cramped with need as he fought the pull of her parted mouth, her shallow breathing in dangerous sync with his own. His eyelids felt as heavy as if he were drugged, arms slowly curling around her waist like they had a mind of their own. And God help him, they did, because he had little control as they drew her close, luring his mouth to hers with a low, aching moan.
She tasted like sheer heaven as he nuzzled the lips he’d dreamed about since the night she had kissed him in her room. Forcing himself to take it slow, he caressed her mouth with all the tenderness that swirled inside for a lost, little girl named Cat. But the moment a soft mew left her lips, he was a goner, his groan hoarse as he delved in to explore with a passion too long denied.
And that’s when he knew.
He was dead in the water.
Literally

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Yes, a large portion of this story develops the main romance in Julie’s signature “passion with a purpose” style, with a few scenes that might require a freezer (as evidenced in the snippet above), as Carrie likes to say. It’s always tastefully presented. Always pointing to a Christ-centered marriage or leading the characters to see what real Love should be like.

But it’s so much more than a story to quicken your pulse, it’s a story to quicken your spirit and encourage your heart. At least it did mine, in ways I didn’t know I needed. But that’s the awesome power of honest and Biblical-truth-filled story: sometimes it speaks to your heart in a personal way.

While I don’t have the history and same problems these characters face, I CAN relate to their very real, human struggles. I can relate to harboring unforgiveness and the bitterness it brings. I can relate to running from something or someone (God) I should run toward. I can relate to fearing rejection and hurt. In Chase’s (and even Tess’s) case, to the point it challenges trust and interferes with their walks with God. This story fleshes out these themes with a refreshing directness not often found in the Christian fiction genre, addressing topics such as sin, jealousy, and physical attraction through a lens of faith and hope.

Following the O’Bryens and Carmichaels through 3 books and 1 novella has earned them a big place in my reader heart. Seeing them overcome, accomplish, and embrace a restoration that could only be orchestraed by God has been a fun journey that came together even more with this final story. (insert sad whines because this is the last book) BUT, I was thrilled with the swoony happy moments included from the perspectives of Shannon and Tess that fit into the story and showed a little of what their happily-ever-afters look like.

Cat and Chase’s story has been a long time coming, but it was SO worth the wait! Chase has been a present and active character in the whole series. With this book, I was happy to finally learn his whole story and see him grow and be surprised by God’s plan. And when he and Cat are together on the page, talk about chemistry! I loved her spunky personality even when I wanted to talk some sense into her about her rebellion. But oh, her journey back to faith spurred on by Chase and his beautiful frienship was amazing to witness. It is an honest reminder of the strength of God’s love, how He reveals himself through his people (in this case, Chase and Cat’s whole family), and how He loves each of us through our running and floundering, just waiting for us to turn back and embrace Him.

 

Reminds me of lyric “Don’t hide your face from me, for My love won’t be undone.” God is waiting for her to turn back, loving her through her floundering and loving her through her people.

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Enter the rafflecopter giveaway HERE.

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July 23–Singing Librarian Books

July 24–Faithfully Bookish

July 25–Remembrancy | Reading Is My SuperPower

July 26–Paulette’s Papers | Encouraging Words from the Tea Queen

July 27–Flowers of Quiet Happiness | Faery Tales Are Real

July 28–The Green Mockingbird 

July 29–Radiant Light | Cafinated Reads

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Review: On Love’s Gentle Shore by Liz Johnson

With the final book in the Prince Edward Island Dreams series, On Love’s Gentle Shore, author Liz Johnson returns to the picturesque Canadian setting with a fresh story of love and forgiveness.

About the Book

On Love's Gentle ShoreFifteen years after she left Prince Edward Island, Natalie O’Ryan had no plans to return. But when her fiancé, music producer Russell Jacobs, books their wedding in her hometown and schedules a summer at Rose’s Red Door Inn, she sets out to put the finishing touches on the perfect wedding. But she can’t possibly prepare for a run-in with Justin Kane–the best friend she left behind all those years ago after promising to stay.

Justin’s never forgotten Natalie or the music career he always dreamed of pursuing. He’d been prepared to follow her off the island until his dad died and he was left to run the family dairy farm. He’s done the best he can with the life that was thrust upon him–but with Natalie back in the picture, he begins to realize just how much joy he’s been missing.

After Natalie’s reception venue falls through, she must scramble to find an alternative, and the only option seems to be a barn on Justin’s property. As they work together to get the dilapidated building ready for the party, Natalie and Justin discover the groundwork for forgiveness–and that there may be more than an old friendship between them.

Review

On Love’s Gentle Shore continues the sweetly romantic style of this series with a final story bringing some previous characters full circle and new ones a hard-won joy. One thing I’ve really enjoyed about this series is that each novel has been vastly different — the first having a hint of suspense (The Red Door Inn), the second a unique story of happiness (Where Two Hearts Meet), and this third one a new twist on a romantic trope with deep roots of friendship. While each can stand independently, overall they encompass themes of joy and belonging — and all have fun moments of humor.

Author Liz Johnson presents the “voice” of the characters with her smooth style, balancing lighthearted moments with those of import and gravity. Sometimes a line penned hit me in the heart with its clarity and truth. Other times, the humor and wit of a situation made me almost laugh! (Particularly when involving Justin’s POV, especially with the dairy, cake, or his sweet Mama Kane.) Or, the subtle romantic moments naturally born of friendship between Justin and Natalie had me smiling or swooning over the littlest things, like plaid shirts. And lighthouses. And a kitchen party.

With this story, Johnson employs a common romance trope that I’m not usually an advocate of: an almost-love triangle with an already-engaged heroine returning to her hometown only to reconnect with an “old friend”. HOWEVER, Johnson implements it with such care and plausible ease I can’t help but be impressed. The context of this situation serves as the necessary catalyst for Natalie’s growth and, subsequently, Justin’s own small realization of joy. Without the trope setup, the depth of characterization and fully realized arc of the characters would not be possible. It has the potential, with this feature, to be a top-notch Hallmark production with its plot and endearing cast, which would be just fine with me ;). (hint, hint, Hallmark)

Speaking of the journey these characters take, its complexity surprised me in a few ways, particularly concerning Natalie. It’s a deeper story of forgiveness and letting go of bitterness, of the importance of honesty in all relationships. Natalie’s character shows how events or people from the past can influence who you become and your choices in the present. Though Justin grew as a character and experienced his own life lessons, this story is Natalie’s transformation. She comes to terms with so much, especially the idea of her own self-worth. Witnessing her growth as a result of her circumstance and the love of friends who shield and support her is an experience not to be missed!

Thank you to Revell Publishers for the complimentary review copy of this novel. This is my honest review.