Review: “If For Any Reason” by Courtney Walsh

I’m sharing a review today of a book by one of my favorite must-read authors! This time, Courtney Walsh is kicking off her Nantucket Love Story series with If For Any Reason, a contemporary romance with slight threads of what I consider “women’s fiction”, exploring deep themes of belonging alongside a charming love story.

About the Book

Emily Ackerman has traveled the world, her constant compass and companion a book of letters her mother left for her when she died. With no father in the picture, her mom’s advice has been her only true north. But when professional failure leads Emily back to Nantucket to renovate and sell the family cottage she inherited, she wonders if her mom left advice to cover this . . . especially when her grandmother arrives to “supervise.” And especially when her heart becomes entangled with Hollis McGuire, the boy next door-turned-baseball star who’s back on the island after a career-ending injury.

As sparks fly between her and Hollis, Emily is drawn to island life, even as she uncovers shocking secrets about the tragic accident that led to her mother’s death. With her world turned upside down, Emily must choose between allowing the voices from her past to guide her future or forging her own path forward.

Goodreads | Amazon

Review

If For Any Reason is a story of belonging and changing dreams told through a romance and friendship in the ideal setting of Nantucket. Themes of grace and honesty permeate the world Emily and Hollis find themselves in — literally and figuratively. As they deal with some hard things life has thrown at them, they must find the grace to work out their faith and relationship with God while a tentative connection grows between them.

Courtney Walsh excels at writing stories that blend one part women’s fiction with two parts romance and charm! She manages to include deep themes with endearing characters that stir empathy and thought in the heart of a reader. This story is another prime example, with the spark-laden friendship between Emily and Hollis developing naturally. And, Courtney takes a delicate situation and portrays it with compassion and grace, yet still depicts it appropriately with its consequences and fallout.

The romance between Hollis and Emily feels so realistic. They are simply captivated by each other, but it’s not a superficial connection — both characters are mature, both are intentional in their friendship, even if it scares them to be so vulnerable. I especially like one of the decisions Hollis makes (insert heart eyes HERE) at a moment when Emily needs space for clarity.

This review would not be complete without a paragraph devoted to Hollis’s daugther, Jolie, AKA JoJo. This girl steals every scene she’s in! She has so much spunk and acts exactly her age. I liked that she has a voice and an opinion that matters to the adults around her. It’s great to see a bright character like her add such pivotal value to a story.

One more thing I really enjoyed about this story was its inclusion of letters and a few short flashback scenes. These fill in some blanks of the deeper themes and relate things like grief, family, and the resounding impact of choices in a wonderful story device.

I’m looking forward to more stories in this series set on Nantucket, a place I have just added to my must-visit travel list!

Thanks to Tyndale for the review copy. This is my honest review.

Review: “Always You” by Jennifer Rodewald

Author Jennifer Rodewald’s new novel, Always You, is a part of “The Potter’s House” novel series by various authors. It’s a shorter novel at just under 200 pages, one that can be read over a couple of days (if your schedule is like my kind of crazy). It’s a contemporary romance not to be missed, especially if you like the friends-to-more trope!

About the Book

They made a pact of friendship. Love was not supposed to be part of the deal.

Lauren is desperate to escape the massive shadow of her father’s and sister’s political careers.

Matt is running from the biggest disappointment of his life.

After a messy meeting in a snowbound airport, they launch a new friendship, founded on a mutual love for the Lord and an agreement of respect. They find themselves working together at the Lake Shore Resort, thankful to have each other as they each carve out a fresh start. But as the winter season wears on, and through a few interesting predicaments, one begins to feel more, and the other…well. Maybe neither knows what they really want. Already wounded from the things they’ve left behind, Matt and Lauren wrestle with what comes next. Afraid to move forward. Not wanting to go back.

Each must face a dilemma that only the hand of the Potter can smooth into a hopeful, promising future. Can they surrender past hurts, as well as their future hopes and plans and trust the good intentions of the God they both love?

Goodreads | Amazon

Review

Always You by Jennifer Rodewald is a memorable contemporary romance that begins with one of the funniest meet cutes (ever!) and grows into a sweet friendship-to-more story.

With moments of wonder at the splendor of creation (hello Lake Tahoe setting!) and the ups and downs of a daily walk of faith, Matt and Lauren find deeper purpose in their lives and understanding with each other. I like how the friendship is developed so naturally, as is the reality of a daily surrender to God’s will. Both Matt and Lauren learn some hard lessons on their own through this new season, but find a sweet assurance in their relationship with refreshing honesty and humor.

This story is on the lighter side compared to some of Jennifer’s novels, yet just as impactful and skillfully written. I’m looking forward to more FUN with the Murphy brothers (hopefully Jackson!).

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

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

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

About the Book

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

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

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

Goodreads | Amazon

Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review: “The Last Shot” by Amy Matayo

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

Book 1: The Waves | Book 2: The Aftermath

About the Book

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

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

But tonight, something is off.

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

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

Something isn’t just off tonight.

Someone in the crowd is shooting a gun.

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

Goodreads | Amazon

Review

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

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

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

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

Review: “When I Come Home Again” by Jennifer Rodewald

I’m happy to be sharing a review today for Jennifer Rodewald’s new novel, When I Come Home Again, the first book in her new “Big Prairie” series!

About the Book

When a family crisis calls him back to Big Prairie, will Craig Erikson be able to work through past mistakes and the tragedy that had sent him searching for a new place to call home?

Brenna Blaum had been sure of three things in her life—her brother, her running, and her dad’s star receiver. But in a matter of a year’s time, everything she’d counted on fell apart, leaving her devastated. Seven years later, she’s stable again. She has a supportive boyfriend, fulfilling career, and close friends. She keeps her past heartache where it belongs—in her rearview mirror. Until the man who broke her heart finds his way back to Big Prairie.

Craig Erikson had it all—popularity, success, and the love of his high school coach’s daughter. But after a year of mistakes that ended in a tragic accident, he’d left Big Prairie—the place he’d thought to always call home—hoping that without his antagonizing presence, Brenna would be able to heal. Now his mother desperately needs him, as do two young boys in her care. Craig has little choice but to return for good.

Unsure that she can forgive him, Brenna does her best to avoid him. Irritated that she ignores him as if they’d never meant anything to each other, Craig becomes determined not to allow it.

Life in a small town forces their interaction, making them confront their unresolved issues and igniting emotions that have smoldered for seven years. As Craig and Brenna are pushed together, can they endure the hard places still littering their lives? If so, is it possible to find their way back to love and home again?

Goodreads | Amazon

Review

Insightful wisdom about grief: “You move forward, but you do not move on. You do not get over it. You do not just forget the people  you have loved because things have changed.”

-When I Come Home Again by Jennifer Rodewald

When I Come Home Again has all the charm of a small midwest town, much like its setting of “Big Prairie”, Nebraska. With a beloved cast of characters and homecoming theme, it also explores a VERY emotionally impactful romance balanced with slight humor. One thing I always enjoy about Jennifer Rodewald’s novels is that her stories have this resonance and complexity — and they aren’t afraid to deal with the “whys” and hard things in life, too.

This story has a unique POV voice that tells from 3rd person (as most novels) but functions sometimes as a 1st person narrative with direct thoughts and feelings of the hero and heroine. This allows for a more intimate view of their emotions and personalities, which works really well for the reader to understand the characters. It makes Brenna likable from the very beginning, and Craig someone to root for.

I didn’t expect the history of Brenna and Craig’s relationship to be so heartbreakingly bittersweet, but it is appropriately so and allows for some deep issues to be brought to light — thought provoking things for the reader, to. The emotional progression of both Brenna and Craig felt very real and authentic: a slow transition from pain to hope, the processing of grief and anger, and the way regrets can lead to bitterness or to repentance.

At the same time, this story is filled with the HOPE of second chances, the joy of friendships, and the opportunity for God to use seemingly insurmountable things for good and His glory. This masterful story is one I will revisit and see more layers and depth to, I’m sure. I’m looking forward to more Big Prairie stories from Jennifer!

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

Review: “The Perfect Christmas” by Bell Renshaw

It’s been a bit since I read this little novella, but I never got around to sharing my review! TODAY is the day, ya’ll!

About the Book

Will the perfect Christmas be enough to convince Beau that a life with Ansley could be equally perfect?

Born and raised in Winter, Montana, Beau Bradley can’t imagine life anywhere else. During the holiday season his coffee shop, Mountain Grounds, is as busy as ever and now that his girlfriend is back in town, things finally seem to be lining up—until he gets a call that could change it all.

Ansley Strauss is back in Winter after a nine-month art intensive in Canada and she’s ready to celebrate the Christmas season in the tried and true Winter-style. There’s only one problem: her boyfriend lacks Christmas spirit. Her solution? Make this Christmas perfect to remind Beau just how special this time of year is.

Set on a course for ultimate Christmas joy, Ansley and Beau find that life doesn’t always work out the way they hope it will. Beau faces the reality that plans can’t account for everything and Ansley will have to come to the realization that no matter how perfect things are, it’s the imperfections in life that make it worth living.

It’s another Christmas in Winter, Montana where the coffee is always hot and the mistletoe beckons lovers to share a kiss.

Goodreads | Amazon

My review of the first “Winter” novella, One Christmas in Winter

Review

With The Perfect Christmas, readers return to the picturesque setting of “Winter”, Montana for another cute novella.

The story picks up after a time apart in a dating relationship between Beau and Ansley. While they have their share of communication problems (some of the plot problems centered on this issue), they try to resume a more understanding relationship in the midst of a busy holiday schedule.

The Christmas-y things in this story are the cutest! The Christmas tree picking, molasses cookie mamas, peppermint mocha lattes (the coffee! SO FUN), the cabin in the snow and more. All of them made this story an escape into a wonderland with two characters that have real-life problems and depth.

I really liked the little themes of this novella: finding a place/purpose/happiness, living life to the fullest every day, TAKING RISK and fighting for something of worth, being honest and sometimes spontaneous.

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

Novella Review: “Like a Winter Snow” by Lindsay Harrel

It’s almost that time of year!!! Time for hot cocoa and all things peppermint, Hallmark movies and trimming the trees. I know it’s still October, but I’m excited to read alllll the Christmas stories this year — I’ve already read three! The one I read this week, Like a Winter Snow by Lindsay Harrel, is a charming novella that takes readers on a journey across the ocean to England. It releases on Tuesday (10/29), so add it to your TBR now!

About the Book

In this standalone holiday novella, return to the charming Cornish village readers fell in love with in The Secrets of Paper and Ink.

Women’s counselor Joy Beckman has always been a friend and helper to all. That’s why she’s given up everything to be with her parents as her mother suffers through Alzheimer’s. Joy may not have a thriving career or a love life at the moment, but she’s doing what she does best—taking care of others. And even though it’s difficult, she knows it’s where she is supposed to be.

But life throws a curveball when she has to leave her parents temporarily to travel to Cornwall, England, for the Christmas-time wedding of her best friend. While there, Joy helps Sophia tackle her last-minute to-do list, and in the process, finally meets a man who turns her head—and her heart. The only problem? He lives in snowy London, and her life is with her parents back in sunny Florida.

She tries to resist Oliver Lincoln’s charms, but it’s harder than it should be. With her heart torn in two, Joy is forced to choose between a life she knows she’s meant for and the one she didn’t see coming.

Goodreads | Amazon

Review

Like a Winter Snow takes readers to a picturesque Cornwall, England for Christmas AND a wedding! Readers of Harrel’s novel The Secrets of Paper and Ink will be delighted to revisit the characters and see the spotlight on Joy Beckman now, the bride’s best friend.

Amidst all the festivities both quaint and beautiful, a story of romance and surrender unfolds. I appreciate that Lindsay always balances romance with “women’s fiction” themes that are very realistic and often serious. For Joy, her newfound friendship quickly (and delightfully!) grows into more with the charming and good-hearted Oliver, but she thinks her burdens and responsibilities have to hold her back from a happily ever after. The female friendships Joy has in her life are a great encouragement to her. This, combined with Oliver’s own life-wisdom and some insightful parental advice, all help her see her life in a new light. I also liked that this central couple was slightly older than average (40s) for typical romance novels, adding a maturity and hopefulness to the whole story.

This novella has just the right amount of sparkle, humor, and poignancy for the season, and a sweet friendship-to-romance. I LOVE the cute cover and the scene it depicts. Also, I adore the setting (Let’s start a send Courtney to Cornwall campaign, too, ok?!) and the slight nods to classic movies and stories.

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