Review: “Shaped by the Waves” by Christina Suzann Nelson

Thanks for stopping by my blog on this spring Monday! I’m sharing a review of a recent read today: Shaped by the Waves by Christina Suzann Nelson.

About the Book

Growing up along the Oregon coast, Cassie George has always been fascinated by the ocean. She’s used her studies in marine biology as a convenient excuse for staying away from her small hometown and avoiding the shame over her unplanned pregnancy. But when she receives a call that her aunt has suffered a stroke and has been hiding a Parkinson’s diagnosis, she knows she must return.

Cassie finds a mostly warm welcome from the quirky community–including her high school nemesis, Nora Milford. But Cassie is confused by the mysterious package that greets her as well, containing typed pages telling a story of an anonymous woman who seems to have ties to Cassie’s own life. As she begins to read more and investigate its implications, she’ll discover who she thought she was and who she wants to become are both about to change.

Goodreads | Amazon

Review

Shaped by the Waves by Christina Suzann Nelson is a poignant contemporary fiction novel with strong threads of community, identity, a tiny bit of romance, and considerations on how the past can define or influence the present. This is my very first book by Christina!

The format of this novel is interesting and nearly has an epistolary element. A letter packet Cassie receives plays a significant role in disrupting Cassie’s “normal” and informing the reader, at the same time, of a mysterious history. This letter tells a story interspersed with Cassie’s POV and the occasional perspective of a secondary character, Nora, which keeps the story pacing forward and developing a bit of a puzzle for the reader to connect.

I absolutely felt the emotions through the skilled portrayal of Cassie as she journeys through unforeseen challenges, impending grief, and questions of her own past. She struggles, too, with some self-doubt and questions of worth in her personal relationships, especially when it comes to her role as a parent. I never thought her insecurities were overly emphasized — she seems a very natural character — and I love the way her growth and the strengthening of her identity eventually do come to pass. Her journey serves as a clear example of how humanity is destined to make mistakes but our missteps can be redeemed by a loving God.

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

Best of 2021 ~ Books & Blog Posts

Welcome to my annual “best-of” celebration!

I set a Goodreads reading goal at 80 books! Last year I exceeded this number, but this year I didn’t quite get there with 74+ ,which is fine by me! It’s an ideal, not something I really payed attention to working toward.

Looking back at my reading habits of 2021, I see I have read quite a bit of historical fiction! I’ve included more titles in the histfic category for this best-of list. If you’d like to see all of the books I read and read more extensive reviews, check out my 2021 Goodreads Year in Books or browse my blog archives.

THE (self-imposed) RULES: because sometimes I need to keep things brief, I’m choosing to share 3 things that describe each of these stories along with a link to Goodreads and my review (if applicable). At the end, I’ll be sharing popular posts on the blog this year.

All titles are inspirational fiction unless noted with *.

Best Books of 2021

Novellas

The Journey of Runs-Far by Lori Benton | Review

Redemption. Family ties. Freedom.

Snowbound by Carla Laureano | Review

Rivals. Sentimentality. Blizzard.

Split Time

On the Cliffs of Foxglove Manor by Jaime Jo Wright | Review

Atmospheric. Sibling bonds. Hope.

The London House by Katherine Reay | Review

Truth. History’s influence. Healing.

Hope Between the Pages by Pepper Basham | Review

Legacy. Longing. Story.

Contemporary

Let It Be Me by Becky Wade | Review

Dialogue! Magnetic romance. Identity.

Is It Any Wonder by Courtney Walsh | Review

Genuine characters. Forgiveness. Idyllic setting.

Beyond the Tides by Liz Johnson | Review

Dreams. Lobster determination. Joy.

Thriller & Suspense

John Eyre by Mimi Matthews* | Review

Brilliant retelling. Gothic. Threads of light.

The Curse of Morton Abbey by Clarissa Harwood* | Review

Sacrifice. Classic influence. Conquering love.

A Brush with Shadows by Anna Lee Huber* | Review

Setting as a character. Personal mystery. Married relationship growth.

Historical

The Ice Swan by J’nell Ciesielski | Review

Intrigue. Trust. Romantic prose.

Tidewater Bride by Laura Frantz | Review

Tender romance. Endurance. Riveting events.

When Twilight Breaks by Sarah Sundin | Review

Intelligent romance. Justice. Sacrificial Love.

Mountain Laurel by Lori Benton | Review

Epic story. Lyrical. Grace.

A Portrait of Loyalty by Roseanna M. White | Review

Fitting title. Unique perspective. Patterns.

The Mozart Code by Rachel McMillan (2022 release) | Review

Nuanced romance. Bravery. Sacrifice and loyalty as love.

Most popular posts:

North and South 2004. Drama, love, & social commentary in my favorite miniseries.

Most popular new book reviews:

As always, thank you for being a blog reader in 2021 and beyond. Many thanks and appreciation to the publishers and authors who have graciously included me on their review teams this year. It has been a joy to be a part of this bookish community!

What are your favorite books you read this year? Do we share any favorites? Did you post a list of favorites on your blog or social media? I’d love for you to share in the comments!

Review & Blog Tour: “The London House” by Katherine Reay

Welcome to my stop on the blog tour for Katherine Reay’s latest novel, The London House! You might have seen my previous post announcing a November read-along of this book on social media. Check out the #TLHral hashtag on Twitter to see the reading group’s posts & join the conversation.

About the Book

Uncovering a dark family secret sends one woman through the history of Britain’s World War II spy network and glamorous 1930s Paris to save her family’s reputation.

Caroline Payne thinks it’s just another day of work until she receives a call from Mat Hammond, an old college friend and historian. But pleasantries are cut short. Mat has uncovered a scandalous secret kept buried for decades: In World War II, Caroline’s British great-aunt betrayed family and country to marry her German lover.

Determined to find answers and save her family’s reputation, Caroline flies to her family’s ancestral home in London. She and Mat discover diaries and letters that reveal her grandmother and great-aunt were known as the “Waite sisters.” Popular and witty, they came of age during the interwar years, a time of peace and luxury filled with dances, jazz clubs, and romance. The buoyant tone of the correspondence soon yields to sadder revelations as the sisters grow apart, and one leaves home for the glittering fashion scene of Paris, despite rumblings of a coming world war.

Each letter brings more questions. Was Caroline’s great-aunt actually a traitor and Nazi collaborator, or is there a more complex truth buried in the past? Together, Caroline and Mat uncover stories of spies and secrets, love and heartbreak, and the events of one fateful evening in 1941 that changed everything.

In this rich historical novel from award-winning author Katherine Reay, a young woman is tasked with writing the next chapter of her family’s story. But Caroline must choose whether to embrace a love of her own and proceed with caution if her family’s decades-old wounds are to heal without tearing them even further apart.

AMAZON | BARNES & NOBLE | BOOK DEPOSITORY

BOOKSHOP | GOODREADS | BOOKBUB

Katherine Reay is the national bestselling and award-winning author of Dear Mr. Knightley, Lizzy and Jane, The Brontë Plot, A Portrait of Emily Price, The Austen Escape, and The Printed Letter Bookshop. All Katherine’s novels are contemporary stories with a bit of classical flair. Katherine holds a BA and MS from Northwestern University, graduating Phi Beta Kappa, and is a wife, mother, former marketer, and avid chocolate consumer. After living all across the country and a few stops in Europe, Katherine now happily resides outside Chicago, IL.

WEBSITE | TWITTER | FACEBOOK | INSTAGRAM | PINTEREST | GOODREADS | BOOKBUB

Review

The London House is an amazing story of truth and healing! I find Katherine Reay’s stories impress me more with every new one. This novel reads in a voice uniquely hers, with an accessible contemporary setting and a near split-time feel because of the historical letters and diaries throughout (meaning it has an epistolary element like her beloved debut, Dear Mr. Knightley!). Reay’s love of literature and its application as a source of timeless wisdom is still evident, although this story is less lit-centric than her previous titles and more focused on family legacy and influence.

Caroline is a likable and complex heroine whose depth and history parallels that of her mysterious great-aunt, Caro, in many ways. Her story is one of heart-wrenching emotion, healing, and discovery as she faces old wounds — both from her past and those which have been kept secret for generations. Caroline’s journey is encouraged by the endearing hero, Mat, who is also a catalyst for her growth in many ways. He matches her in strength and vulnerability, and watching their relationship unfold is a delight.

My favorite aspect of this story is how it is a study in history’s power to shape humanity’s perception of the past or current perspectives. While perception might be hazy and (honestly) incorrect, truth is an absolute and ultimately comes to light. The stories of Margo and Caro, and Caroline and Mat’s search in the present, all demonstrate how to trust in truth to have the final say, no matter how comforting or uncomfortable, is enough.

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

Review: “Stubborn Love” by Jennifer Rodewald

Today I’m sharing my thoughts on the latest “Murphy Brothers Romance” by Jennifer Rodewald: book 5, Stubborn Love.

About the Book

Their love survived his accident, but can it survive the long, hard road to recovery?

Tyler Murphy had his life all planned out: finish college, go back to Sugar Pine as his dad’s able-bodied business partner, and most importantly, marry Rebecca Colson. But a fall from a roof leaves him less than able-bodied, and the pain he suffers as a result goes beyond the physical. Wrestling with his new disability seems manageable only by way of the pharmacy. Which is fine…until the refills run out and he’s denied a new prescription.

Rebecca Colson can’t wait for the day she’ll finally become Mrs. Rebecca Murphy. Tyler’s accident and resulting amputation are traumatic hurdles on the road to marital bliss but nothing they can’t overcome together—until Rebecca stumbles onto Tyler’s secret and approaches his family for help. Suddenly, the love of her life turns cold. In his eyes, her betrayal is unforgivable, and just like that, their hopes and dreams disintegrate.

Becca finds herself facing a future she doesn’t recognize—one where each step forward is a step away from the future she’d planned with Tyler. When a recovered Tyler finally seeks her out, he’s not sure he deserves another chance with her—not after the way he broke her heart. Becca is equally uncertain that Tyler has room in his new, very different life, for her. Is it too late to restore their relationship, or will their stubborn love forge a new path for a future together?

Stubborn Love is book 5 in the Murphy Brothers Stories; Christian novels full of romance and redemption. Don’t miss this family of seven brothers as they navigate through life, faith, and love.

Goodreads | Amazon

Review

Stubborn Love is a beautiful story of the strength of love and the good God can orchestrate through brokenness. With Rodewald’s signature depth and elements of women’s fiction blended into this contemporary romance, Tyler and Becca become characters to root for and enjoy as they find their way back to each other.

I appreciate how the sensitive yet extremely relevant topic of addiction is handled within this story. Tyler’s difficulties and experiences are portrayed as relatable with raw honesty and an element of hope as his recovery progresses. His supportive combination of family and friends exemplify what grace should look like lived out in the body of Christ — a heart-touching truth for Tyler and an example for the reader.

One of my favorite things about Becca and Tyler’s characters is each of their journeys to restoration. They are separate yet intertwined because of their choices, brokenness, and healing. Gratitude plays a big role in Tyler’s story, and trust for Becca. Biblical truths are included as a natural, encouraging part of their lives. While both of them struggle with miscommunication in different ways (as expected in romance to add tension and conflict), I like that Rodewald chooses to play out their missteps and faults as realistic, dealing with truth and honesty at just the right time for her protagonists.

There are many other little things to love about Stubborn Love: cupcakes + Fiona, brothers & catching up with the Murphys, gratitude, the perspective time brings, the wisdom of friends. I’m looking forward to TWO more Murphy brothers books!

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

Mini Review: “Is It Any Wonder” by Courtney Walsh

Is It Any Wonder is Courtney Walsh’s second “Nantucket Love Story” romance novel! I really enjoyed the audiobook version recently. This is one of those novels I needed to have in ebook AND paperback format 🙂 those are rare gems!

I loved returning to Walsh’s Nantucket for the setting of this romance! Deeply emotional themes of forgiveness and possibility intertwine with the reconciliation of Cody and Lou as they navigate a second chance at friendship and romance. While the history of Cody and Lou’s complicated past is revealed, their relationship goes from surprising rescue to tentative truce to a realistic connection of the heart. Secondary characters add vivid dimension and provide surprises to the story, strengthening the lessons of forgiveness and moving on from bitterness the protagonists learn. I loved the genuineness and drive of Louisa’s character and the sometimes-grumpy, reluctant heroism of Cody. Their chemistry (!!!! all the sparks) unfolds again the backdrop of a coastal Nantucket setting that epitomizes a “beach read” romance. ❤

Find out more about IS IT ANY WONDER on Goodreads | Review of Book 1: If For Any Reason

Review: “Before Time Runs Out” by Amy Matayo

What do you get when you combine a present-day graduate student, a veteran doctor from 1947, a mysterious book, and London in the time of Charles Dickens? A new Amy Matayo novel, of course! Before Time Runs Out is her first in a unique concept “Charles & Company Romance” series featuring some time travel, depth, romance, and, of course, humor. Read on for more about the book and my take…

About the Book

Graduate student Bree Sanders is failing the one class she needs to get her degree. So when her professor gives her an ultimatum—ace her dissertation or risk having to repeat her final semester—she knows she has to pull out all the stops. After scrambling for an idea, she decides to create her own Ghost Club, a club that blames ghosts for unsolved crimes, the same type of club originally founded two centuries ago by Charles Dickens.

What she doesn’t expect is to find an original copy of one of Dickens’ early works, or to be transplanted into Dickens’s actual ghost club meeting, circa 1870, the instant she picks it up.

When Bree shows up in nineteenth-century England wearing cut-offs and an old t-shirt, her only option is to hide. The Cambridge of 1870 won’t look kindly on a woman dressed like her. So, when Theodore Keyes finds her tucked behind a bookcase at the Trinity College library and immediately demands to know where she came from, she knows he doesn’t belong here either. Turns out she’s right; the same book caused him to time-travel from 1947 almost three months ago and he’s been stuck in England since.

Together, the two vow to work side-by-side in their search for the lost book that will take them home. But as their feelings for one another deepen, Theo and Bree are caught between a desire to return to the lives they each left behind, and the knowledge that if they find the book, they won’t be able to leave together.

In the end, they each must decide which sacrifice is worth making—the one that will cost them their hearts, or the one that could cost them their very existence.

Goodreads | Amazon

Review

Author Amy Matayo bravely tackles a neat concept in Before Time Runs Out, a FUN time travel romance for fans of book lovers and Victorian England. With the snark and surprise hit-you-in-the-feels depth I’ve come to expect from her, this adventure is a unique experience in examining what-ifs and the contrasts between eras with humor and romance.

Matayo’s authorial voice shines through in the juxtaposition of time periods and characters. It highlights the differences of the eras with humor and deep meaning. Some of my favorite elements and examples include: corsets, pop culture references, candles, books, crimes, walking sticks, top hats, SIBLINGS, responsibility, Google (and the historical lack thereof), grace and second chances.

While there are many facets of this novel to enjoy, I love the heroine and hero the most. Bree is smart, sassy, and driven, with relatable emotional baggage revealed along the way. Theodore (or THEO as Bree calls him) is courteous, strong, and capable, with a backstory I was eager to hear more about. I like how he proves the character of a gentleman is a timeless asset, no matter the decade or century. In a sly way, Matayo uses their pairing to contrast with today’s societal norms in illustrating the qualities of a true romantic hero/heroine and the importance of respect and trust in such a relationship. Their whirlwind of a friendship-turned-romance is fraught with challenges, adventure, and some fantastic heart-sharing moments that make their unlikely situations believable and something to root for.

I recommend this book for any fans of Dickens, literature, sci-fi time travel, Timeless the TV show!, and Amy’s everyday snark 😉 (if you follow her on social media, you know). I’m so excited this is a series — I’m already looking forward to more time spent in the era of Dickens in the next book!

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

Best Books of 2020

Welcome to my annual “best-of” celebration!

I set a Goodreads reading goal at 100 books! I got close to making it happen at 86 books — and I’m happy with the high number I achieved. With all the bad news and unexpectedness of 2020, I have found books and the online bookish community to be a bright, positive spot in many ways. I hope you have, too.

I’ve included 20 books, 2-3 per genre, in my BEST list this year! If you’d like to see all of the books I read and read more extensive reviews, check out my 2020 Goodreads year in books or browse my blog archives.

THE (self-imposed) RULES: because sometimes I need to keep things brief, I’m choosing to share 3 things that describe each of these stories along with a link to Goodreads and my blog review (if applicable). At the end, I’ll be sharing popular posts on the blog this year.

All titles are inspirational fiction unless noted with *.

Best Books of 2020

Novellas

Fair as a Star by Mimi Matthews* | Review

Sweet romance. Compassion. Hope.

A Pressing Engagement by Anna Lee Huber*

Long-awaited event. Earl Gray the cat. Charismatic criminals.

Christmas in Three Quarter Time by Rachel McMillan | Review

Belonging. Vulnerability. Vienna & the Tyrolean countryside.

Split Time

Set the Stars Alight by Amanda Dykes | Review

LIGHT. Longing. Hope.

Echoes Among the Stones by Jaime Jo Wright | Review

Puzzling mystery. Devotion. Collin O’Shaughnessy.

Whose Waves These Are by Amanda Dykes | Review

Sacrifice. Beauty in the commonplace and extraordinary. Poignant.

Contemporary

The Solid Grounds Coffee Co. by Carla Laureano | Review

Honesty. Complexity. Friendship.

Now and Then and Always by Melissa Tagg | Review

Winsome. Humorous. Faith.

The Fifth Avenue Story Society by Rachel Hauck | Review

Redemption. Relationships. Enchanting concept.

Romantic Comedy

The Cul-de-Sac War by Melissa Ferguson | Review

Frenemies-to-romance. Farm animals. Rivalry.

Hadley Beckett’s Next Dish by Bethany Turner | Review

Wit. FOOD. Healing.

Close to You by Kara Isaac

Adventure. Unexpected love. Hobbits.

Thriller & Suspense

The Wind Will Howl by Sibella Giorello

Immersive setting. Classic-feel mystery. Smart.

Soul Raging by Ronie Kendig | Review

Twists. Revelations. Banter.

Chasing the White Lion by James R. Hannibal | Review

High-tech action. Suspense. Purpose.

Historical

The London Restoration by Rachel McMillan | Review

Reconciliation. Friendship. Selflessness.

An Uncommon Woman by Laura Frantz

Lyrical prose. Strength on the frontier. Riveting romance.

Gentleman Jim by Mimi Matthews*

Daring adventure. Truth. Swoony romance.

Nonfiction

Special mention to a couple of nonfiction titles I enjoyed: Dream, Plan, and Go by Rachel McMillan, an inspirational travel memoir and guide; Everything Beautiful In Its Time by Jenna Bush Hager, a family-centric memoir of love and grief.

Popular #OnTheBlog in 2020

Most popular posts:

Most popular new book reviews:

That’s it for 2020! Happy new year to you all. As always, thank you for being a blog reader and part of this bookish community.

What are your favorite books you read this year? Do we share any favorites? Did you post a list of favorites on your blog or social media? I’d love for you to share in the comments!

Review: “The Fifth Avenue Story Society” by Rachel Hauck

I’m sharing a review today of one of the best stories I’ve read this year! The Fifth Avenue Story Society by Rachel Hauck is a contemporary inspirational story of redemption, hope, friendship, and restoration.

About the Book

An invitation to join The Fifth Avenue Story Society gives five New York strangers a chance to rewrite their own stories.

Executive assistant Lexa is eager for a much-deserved promotion, but her boss is determined to keep her underemployed.

Literature professor Jett is dealing with a broken heart, as well as a nagging suspicion his literary idol, Gordon Phipps Roth, might be a fraud.

Uber driver Chuck just wants a second chance with his kids.

Aging widower Ed is eager to write the true story of his incredible marriage.

Coral, queen of the cosmetics industry, has broken her engagement and is on the verge of losing her great grandmother’s multimillion-dollar empire.

When all five New Yorkers receive an anonymous, mysterious invitation to the Fifth Avenue Story Society, they suspect they’re victims of a practical joke. No one knows who sent the invitations or why. No one has heard of the literary society. And no one is prepared to bear their deepest secrets to a roomful of strangers.

Yet curiosity and loneliness bring them back week after week to the old library. And it’s there they discover the stories of their hearts, and the kind of friendship and love that heals their souls.

Goodreads | Amazon

Review

I have enjoyed Rachel Hauck’s style of writing enchanting, modern-day fairytales with the slightest hints of supernatural threads. She balances believable situations and characters living out a fateful God-orchestrated situation. I particularly liked The Fifth Avenue Story Society for its unique faith thread which lends to a general market appeal outside of the inspirational genre.

This is one of those rare types of books where I became less aware I was reading a novel and instead fell headlong into the story, especially its vivid depiction of NYC. The multiple points of view tie together wonderfully and always transition cleanly, never feeling confusing or too much. While I enjoyed all of them, I really liked the main romantic couple and their arc of redemption.

While I expected The Fifth Avenue Story Society to be a literature-centric story in some ways, I was pleasantly surprised to see the story society concept taken much deeper. I LOVED this novel and will be counting it as one of my favorites by Hauck!

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

First Line Fridays # 35: “Keep Holding On” by Melissa Taggg

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

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Happy October!!!!!!! It’s time for all things fall, so I’m loving it! When I think about fall reading, I think about Melissa Tagg’s stories. I know she has novels set in all seasons, but there’s something about the fallish ones that makes me happy. I want flannel and pumpkins and candles and apple cider when I read them.

Keep Holding On is this feeling x 1000. Maybe it’s the charming story, or the apple orchard setting, or the lovable characters. I can list many reasons why I think this is a perfect fall romance! I have to share the first paragraph because it is captivating and SO clever!

FIRST LINES:

He’d tell his family tonight. After the wedding. Before he turned himself in to the police.

Your turn! What’s your first line?

First Line Fridays # 34: “Just Like Home” by Courtney Walsh

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

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I’m sharing TWO lines from a newly released novel (yay!) by Courtney Walsh: Just Like Home. It’s the highly-anticipated fourth novel in her “Harbor Pointe” collection. It has a darling cover (like ALL of her novels. Seriously. Just Let Go has one of my fav covers ever and I will never shut up about it.). And, it promises to deliver another sweet and emotionally impactful story. No surprise there, because it’s a Courtney Walsh novel. Can you tell I’m excited to read it?!

just like home cover image

FIRST LINES:

“Death comes unexpectedly.” It was a line from the old Disney movie Pollyanna, from a scene Charlotte Page had never forgotten.

Your turn! What’s your first line?