Review: “Brunch at Bittersweet Café” by Carla Laureano

I probably say this any time a book incorporates food in some way, but ya’ll, I love food. I love reading. And I LOVE foodie fiction! Especially when we’re talking about a favorite contemporary romance author like Carla Laureano who combines food and story with great depth. Her latest novel, Brunch at Bittersweet Café, is a new one for my all time favorites list!

About the Book

From the RITA Award-winning author of Five Days in Skye comes a sweet, romantic treat that will leave you hungry for more.

Baker and pastry chef Melody Johansson has always believed in finding the positive in every situation, but seven years after she moved to Denver, she can’t deny that she’s stuck in a rut. One relationship after another has ended in disaster, and her classical French training is being wasted on her night job in a mediocre chain bakery. Then the charming and handsome private pilot Justin Keller lands on the doorstep of her workplace in a snowstorm, and Melody feels like it’s a sign that her luck is finally turning around.

Justin is intrigued by the lively bohemian baker, but the last thing he’s looking for is a relationship. His own romantic failures have proven that the demands of his job are incompatible with meaningful connections, and he’s already pledged his life savings to a new business venture across the country–an island air charter in Florida with his sister and brother-in-law.

Against their better judgment, Melody and Justin find themselves drawn together by their unconventional career choices and shared love of adventure. But when an unexpected windfall provides Melody with the chance to open her dream bakery-café in Denver with her best friend, chef Rachel Bishop, she’s faced with an impossible choice: stay and put down roots with the people and place she’s come to call home . . . or give it all up for the man she loves. 

Goodreads | Amazon

Review

A delectable “second course” in the Supper Club series, Brunch at Bittersweet Café offers an engrossing story of friendship, romance, and trust along with its yummy foodie tendencies.

THE FOOD. First off, this story had me wanting to bake all. the. things. with its yummy foods. From things Melody baked to the quaint restaurants she (and Justin) visited, the food selection was eclectic and inspiring. Carla Laureano includes food as an inherent part of the story and naturally in Melody’s life. (And she gets the craziness of the restaurant industry life/schedule/habits SPOT ON!) Next on my own baking list to tackle: eclairs!

THE FRIENDSHIPS. I was happy to see the closeness of the friend group of Rachel, Melody, and Ana continue in this story. With laughter, support, and sometimes in-your-face bossiness, these three exhibit the importance of close friendships amidst the real joys and hard things life can bring. Melody’s new friendship (and more) with Justin challenges her and broadens her perspective in some good ways, too. Which brings me to…

Evidence of my baking. The book made me do it.

THE ROMANCE. All this time I’ve talked about Melody, so here’s where I chime in more about Justin. !!! After some time passes in the story Melody has a revelation about Justin. To paraphrase, his charming exterior really is a front for a serious, sometimes-perfectionist, always-intentional gentleman. This plays into the romance of the story in the BEST ways. I mean, he’s a pilot. (Who knew flying could be so cool?!) They live in Colorado. They have fun non-dates and, eventually, adventurous real dates. The romance is honestly portrayed with a balance of attraction, emotional connection, and true heart-friendship at the center. ❤

THE GROWTH. Melody and Justin meet at a “seemingly” wrong time in their lives for a serious relationship. Through each of their personal journeys (and family dysfunctional issues. we all have those.), they independently learn what it means to trust and hope. For Melody, trusting God’s will over her own path/choices. For Justin, the beginnings of what a strong faith lived out every day looks like.

If you’re looking for a contemporary romance with the perfect balance of depth and charm, Brunch at Bittersweet Café is one to “sample”!

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

Check out my review of book 1, The Saturday Night Supper Club.

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Top Ten Tuesday: Favorite Couples in Books

It’s another Top Ten Tuesday, now hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl!

Top Ten Tuesday at The Green Mockingbird

Today’s official topic: Favorite Couples in Books

Since this is Valentine’s week, this topic is appropriate and a cute choice. Coming up with the couples was easy, narrowing it to 10 was difficult. I have made a list, which really is just me listing 10 of my gazillion favorites and gushing over why they are perfect together.

All of these couples have (eventual) happily-ever-afters in common, though they face distinct struggles and overcome all sorts of barriers (both physical and emotional ones) to be together. It will be no surprise that I’m including some of these couples (like Pepper’s, Rachel’s, or Liz’s!).

In no particular order, my list….

10 Favorite Couples in Books

CONTEMPORARY STORIES

ROSE AND OLIVER| Rose in Three Quarter Time by Rachel McMillan

A friendship-turned-marriage-of-convenience-to-romance, their story is as rich as whipped cream with its tiny acts of care (cereal!) and tension and alllll the happy sighs.

JULIETTE AND NEIL | “Two Blue Doors” series by Hillary Manton Lodge

Through all of their ups and downs, family secret discoveries, and world travels, theirs is a deep connection and complimentary relationship.

EMILY AND BEN | A Portrait of Emily Price by Katherine Reay

A smart match that goes beyond a fast-moving relationship to the challenges of new family and the importance of commitment and forgiveness. And, Ben has excellent taste in art.

NORA AND JOHN | True to You by Becky Wade

Seemingly an opposites attract story, these two have so much in common! Their friendship naturally progresses and the richness of their intertwined stories makes them quite a special couple.

CADEN AND ADAM | Where Two Hearts Meet by Liz Johnson

These two connect and just click, even with the vulnerability that comes along. I love their sweet dynamic! (And that first kiss scene is pretty special, too.)

PETE AND JESS | Wait for Me by Susan May Warren

They can’t deny the magnetic pull between them, and face plenty of obstacles to being together (some self inflicted), but as their story unfolds over several books, they learn and grow and become better people – and finally arrive at a selfless place of being together.

HISTORICAL STORIES

LIBERTY AND NOBLE | The Lacemaker by Laura Frantz

History and society dictate their unlikely association and later, their romance. But they are soooo sweet together! Liberty’s strength and Noble’s integrity just make them a great couple.

DAVID AND CATHERINE | The Thorn Keeper by Pepper Basham

They find love unexpectedly and surmount the odds during WWI challenges. And oh, the redemption of their romance!

SIMON AND EVELYN | High as the Heavens by Kate Breslin

Spies, occupied WWI Europe, and secrets all try to separate these two, but their marriage and rescue situation? put them together. They have to rely on each other, only strengthening their bond.

THOR AND AVEN | Sons of Blackbird Mountain by Joanne Bischof

Ah I love them. Her quiet strength and patience and his protectiveness… they are just meant to be together!

Your turn! Did you participate in Top Ten Tuesday? Have you read any of these books? Who are your favorite fictional couples? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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.

Review: “Wait For Me” by Susan May Warren – Montana Rescue #6

The “Montana Rescue” series:

  • Approximately 16 main characters
  • 6 novels and 1 novella
  • A story that spans 5 years
  • 3 continents
  • Crazy yet realistic events like a car wreck, avalanche, hurricane, tornadoes, wildfires, deserted tropical islands, and generally crazy people

ONE EPIC ADVENTURE

About the Book

Pete Brooks can’t believe he’s waited an entire year for Jess Tagg to return to Montana, only to have her break his heart by getting engaged to her ex-fiancé. Worse, a series of mistakes on the job have cost lives, and Pete isn’t sure he wants to continue to work in Search and Rescue. Maybe if he can just get over Jess, he can figure out how to move forward. 

EMT Jess Tagg has returned to Montana to finally give her heart to Pete, but it seems he’s no longer interested. When a terrible fight between them sparks an impulsive decision, she finds herself crashed on the side of a highway along with Esme Shaw. And just when she thinks things couldn’t get any worse, she and Esme are taken captive and into the untamed Montana wilderness—with murderous intent. 

Now Pete and the other PEAK Rescue Team members are in a race against time, the elements, and the actions of a vengeful man. Pete will have to use everything he’s learned to find Jess and Esme—and pray that his past mistakes don’t cost him the life of the woman he can’t stop loving.

Goodreads | Amazon

Review

Wait for Me is the ultimate conclusion to one of the best romantic adventure series I’ve ever read! With the highest stakes and the much-anticipated climax of the series (both with the action/suspense plot and the romance), I read this as fast as possible because I had no clue what would happen next! The surprises were great. The romance perfectly developed and SWOONY. This story made my best-of-2018 list for good reason!

I was hooked from the very beginning. While Ty just might be my favorite hero of the series, Pete is who I was most invested in and I really wanted to see him get his happily ever after — especially after all the ups and downs he has experienced. Pete is such a tough guy but he wears his heart on his sleeve. Susan does her magic with words when it comes to his character development — he’s had the most growth and really exhibits the impact grace can have on a heart. (And wow, I had some tears when it came to a certain scene near the end and a memory of his dad.)

Now, let’s talk about Jess Tagg for a minute. She was both intriguing and frustrating through this whole series. In this novel, we finally get her real history and story. And it’s relatable. Raw. Her actions and choices, though frustrating at times, made sense. I could even, maybe, understand why she was conflicted over Pete. I really appreciated how she had to find herself and grow a little more, all in the middle of some really tense suspense situations.

Wait for Me is one of those stories I didn’t want to end, because that meant saying goodbye to a beloved cast of characters. But I was smiling when I finished the last page because the series is concluded in a perfect way, with the future of the characters full of hope.

Side note: Wait for Me shares a location (a surprising one, which I loved the whole aspect of!) with one in another favorite romantic suspense novel, The Breath of Dawn by Kristen Heitzmann. I won’t spoil anything about either, but I have to say Pete Brooks gives Morgan Spencer a run for his money in a certain setting. If you’ve read both novels, I want to know your thoughts!!

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

Best of 2018: Contemporary Books

Welcome to my annual “best-of” celebration! I’m changing it up a bit and separating the categories of my yearly best-of lists over a few days. All of this is to celebrate their distinction and spend a few more days talking about all the wonderful entertainment of 2018.

Day 1. Best of 2018: Novellas

Day 2. Best of 2018: Historical Books

Day 3. Best of 2018: Contemporary Books

Day 4. Goodbye 2018 & Looking Ahead

Today is about CONTEMPORARY BOOKS, AKA the category with the most favorites. I read more contemporary stories this year… and there several on this list! Maybe that means I know what I like?! I think so. Like my historical list, most are from this year, but a few were released prior to 2018.

The rules: sometimes I have to make boundaries for myself when it comes to talking about books because we would all be here a long time if were able to ramble on. SO, I’m sticking to my format of last year and choosing to share 3 things that describe each of these stories along with a link to Goodreads and my review. In no particular order…

Best of 2018: Contemporary Books

Then There Was You by Kara Isaac | Review

Laughter. Living. Chemistry.

The Saturday Night Supper Club by Carla Laureano | Review

Culinary dream. Delightful complexity. Relationships.

Blue Columbine by Jennifer Rodewald | Review

Grace. Redemption. Raw emotions.

The Last Summer by Brandy Bruce | Review

Friendship. Dreams. True selflessness.

Thirst of Steel by Ronie Kendig | Review

Epic action. Brotherhood. Sacrifice.

No One Ever Asked by Katie Ganshert | Review

Empathy. Call to love. Relevant.

Lies We Tell Ourselves by Amy Matayo | Review

Power of words. Choices. Connection.

When You Look at Me by Pepper Basham | Review

Music. Trust. Home.

Things Left Unsaid by Courtney Walsh | Review

Forgiveness. Reconciliation. Homecoming.

Wait for Me by Susan May Warren | Review to come

Adventure. Love worth the risk. Timing.

A Sparkle of Silver by Liz Johnson | Review

Heritage. Romance. Worth.

Your turn! What were your favorite contemporary reads of 2018? Have you read any of these?

Mini Review: “Storm Front” by Susan May Warren

The “Montana Rescue” series by Susan May Warren has quickly become one of my favorite contemporary series, especially with the action, adventure, and suspense elements of the stories. The wilderness search-and-rescue elements of each story are fascinating and inspiring (even in a fictional context). I have just binge-read the last two books in the series! That’s something I don’t do very often… wait until the last few books of a series are out so I can read them back to back. It was fun! (Look for my review of the EPIC conclusion, Wait for Me, next week!)

About the book:

Storm Front Cover

A tornado has destroyed a small Minnesota community and among the missing are not only a group of students but PEAK Rescue team leader Chet King. Ty Remington will stop at nothing to rescue his mentor, not even when the girl he loved–and lost–walks back into his life. But Brette needs his help more than he knows, despite her stubborn determination to push him away. And when he gets a second chance, loving her just might cost him more than he can imagine.

A blogger for Vortex Storm Chasers, Brette Arnold didn’t expect her adventures to land her in the same place as Ty, the guy who she walked–no, ran–from over a year ago. She had her reasons–good ones. The kind that tell her that falling for him again would only lead to heartache. But Ty isn’t the kind of man to give up–not on the missing students, or on her.

Life and love hang in the balance in Susan May Warren’s breathless story of holding on to hope during a deadly summer of storms. 

My Thoughts:

I am always amazed with Susan May Warren’s storytelling ability. It’s a feat to pack such heart-pounding action and suspense sequences into 300+ pages along with a broad and complex cast of characters with a real heart-look at 2 or more characters (in this case, the main romance between Ty and Brette and a story that “catches up” with the couple from book 1. I was glad for this update because it’s a reminder that real relationships still have struggles after the “HEA” moments.). Oh, and the spiritual theme of HOPE is abundantly clear and a relevant message. What an emotional journey Ty and Brette take in this story! Ty is one of my favorite heroes of this series. 🙂

First Line Fridays # 22: “Wait for Me” by Susan May Warren

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

20171006_010334.jpg

Happy weekend! It’s turning chilly in my corner of the world as fall is fading. It’s the perfect weather to curl up in a cozy place with a book!!! Today I’m sharing the first line of a book I’m VERY MUCH anticipating: Wait for Me by Susan May Warren. It’s the last book in her “Montana Rescue” series, and it’s a finale (and couple) I’ve been rooting for since the beginning!

I still need to read the book just before this one, Storm Front, so the good news is I can binge-read both of them soon!

Wait for Me by Susan May Warren

First Line:

He wasn’t looking for trouble, but if Pete didn’t act right now, at least one person was going to die.

What a first line, right? What kind of situation do you think Pete is in? (Do you think it involves his search-and-rescue team or something else?)

Your turn! Find the book closest to you and share your first line in the comments! Then, head over to Hoarding Books for the linky and visit other FLF posts!