First Line Fridays # 23: In The Shadow of Croft Towers

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

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Happy weekend! Book mail is a fun thing. Especially when you are expecting a few different books and it’s a little bit of a surprise each time one arrives (because you don’t know which it is!). It’s the little things in life that make me happy.

I received this pretty novel in the mail this week! In the Shadow of Croft Towers (by Abigail Wilson) is a Regency story that sounds wholly intriguing! I’m excited to read it soon, especially after glimpsing the first few lines. It releases onto shelves on 1/15.

First Line:

1813

The English Countryside

I often wonder what my life would have been like if I had never learned the truth.

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!

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Review: “My Heart Belongs in the Blue Ridge: Laurel’s Dream” by Pepper Basham

The stories that are most impactful, to me, tend to have a setting that is as much a character and a dynamic part of the story. Author Pepper Basham is skilled in writing romances in many time periods, but most impressive is her ability to weave a culture through characterization and a vivid setting. As she claims, her Blue Ridge heritage of family and storytelling have clearly influenced her latest novel and its exposure of a culture at a time when the modern age was just having an impact on mountainous communities. All of this combines with a delicate love story to make My Heart Belongs in the Blue Ridge: Laurel’s Dream one of my favorites of the year!

About the Book

Journey into the Blue Ridge Mountains of 1918 where Laurel McAdams endures the challenges of a hard life while dreaming things can eventually improve. But trouble arrives in the form of an outsider. Having failed his British father again, Jonathan Taylor joins his uncle’s missionary endeavors as a teacher in a two-room schoolhouse. Laurel feels compelled to protect the tenderhearted teacher from the harsh realities of Appalachian life, even while his stories of life outside the mountains pull at Laurel’s imagination. Faced with angry parents over teaching methods, Laurel’s father’s drunken rages, and bad news from England, will Jonathan leave and never return, or will he stay and let love bloom?

Goodreads | Amazon

Review

Though mountain life might seem simple on the surface, it is anything but that for Laurel, her family, and her neighbors. While she dreams of an education and better opportunity for her own generation and beloved siblings, she grapples with a people and a culture dear to her yet challenging and wary of anything new.

Jonathan is the embodiment of such a challenge to her life. Through an unlikely friendship, he and Laurel learn just how similar their ambitions for betterment and common goals can help the community that ‘s increasingly dear to Jonathan. Through it all, a sweet romance becomes possible for them, if only her dreams and both of their family’s issues don’t stand in the way.

Pepper is known for writing a-ma-zing romances and relationships, and Laurel and Jonathan set the bar even higher. Theirs has the most tender and innocent friendship beginning ❤ of all of Pepper’s stories. (And I’ve read them all!!!) I think it’s the Britallachian combination of cultures paired with Pepper’s prose-like development of an enchanting setting that makes this story stand out.

Tender and sweet, Laurel’s Dream is an enlightening tale of family, hope, and ties of friendship that transcend culture. This story of camaraderie and romance is as breathtaking as an Appalachian autumn – and equally as colorful with its immersive setting and mountain folk. The sense of faith and understanding that God knows – and orchestrates – our dreams in ways we cannot imagine is a comfort as the last pages of this story are tied up with hope.

Thanks to the publisher for a review copy. 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 ~ “A Holiday by Gaslight: A Victorian Christmas Novella” by Mimi Matthews

I’m happily sharing a review today of a Christmas novella I LOVED! After reading The Matrimonial Advertisement, I thought I would enjoy this little novella… and I was right!

About the book:

A Holiday by Gaslight cover
This cover!!! I love it.

A Dutiful Daughter

Sophie Appersett is quite willing to marry outside of her class to ensure the survival of her family. But the darkly handsome Mr. Edward Sharpe is no run of the mill London merchant. He’s grim and silent. A man of little emotion–or perhaps no emotion at all. After two months of courtship, she’s ready to put an end to things. After all, even a dutiful daughter has her limits.

A Taciturn Tradesman

Ned has come a long way since his days working as a draper’s assistant. He’s wealthy, ambitious, and eager to take a wife. But the courtship advice issued in The Gentlemen’s Book of Etiquette isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Though he’s followed it to the letter, Miss Appersett still doesn’t wish to see him again. Frustrated and hurt, he’s more than happy to oblige her.

A Christmas Courtship

Severing ties with her former beau isn’t as straightforward as Sophie envisioned. Her parents are outraged. And then there’s Charles Darwin, Prince Albert, and that dratted gaslight. What’s a girl to do except invite Mr. Sharpe to the annual Christmas party at Appersett House and give him one more chance to win her? But this time there’ll be no false formality. This time they’ll get to know each other for who they really are. 

Goodreads | Amazon

My thoughts: A delight of a novella! Mimi Matthews combines the opulent traditions of the era (Christmas trees! Mistletoe! Sleigh Rides! Country mansions with gaslight!) with two lead characters whose initial misperceptions set up a lovely romantic match with depth. With nods to one of my favorite classics, North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell, this story transcends classes and the bounds of familial expectations all through the discovery of two persons and their common values. I appreciate how Ned’s attraction to Sophie goes way beyond surface beauty (their intellects are a great match!), and how her journey through her family’s ups and downs makes her recognize the depth of his care, even if he doesn’t show it as easily.

There’s something about the propriety of the Victorian era that is, in itself, romantic. Combined with Ms. Matthew’s prose-like ability to paint a scene and refreshingly honest characters, we have a Christmas romance not-to-be-missed!

Content note: the romance content is squeaky-clean but there are just a few mild, era-appropriate expletives.

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

Review, Book Blitz + Giveaway: “The Christmas Book Shoppe” by Miranda Atchley

Welcome to the Book Blitz! I’m happy to share my thoughts today about The Christmas Book Shoppe, a lovely little Christmas novella, as well as an excerpt and the info for Miranda Atchley’s #GIVEAWAY! 

Review

The Christmas Book Shoppe is a sweet story of a small town, little joys, trust, and all things BOOKISH! From the quaint small town setting to the quirky cast of characters, this little novella offers a glimpse into the life of Trudy as she faces the sale of her book shop (and livelihood).

How does one react to such a drastic change? With a chocolate shake and British dramas, of course! Oh, and there’s Reed, who offers Trudy quiet encouragement and hints at a happily-ever-after.

One of my favorite parts of this novella was the setting. It’s in ARKANSAS, ya’ll! Not many stories are set in my state. While the town of Christmas is fictional, it’s not too far from me considering the Ozarks hills and proximity to Fayetteville. It was super fun to see places referenced that I know like the back of my hand (ahem, the Barnes & Noble in Fayetteville).

If you love bookstores, Christmas, or light Christmas novellas, this is a quick read you are sure to enjoy!

Thanks to the author for a review copy. This is my honest review.

About the Book

Keeping her book store might take a Christmas miracle… Trudy Gallagher is quite content with her simple life. For the past five years, she has lived and worked at The Christmas Book Shoppe, a new and used book store formerly owned and operated by her great-aunt. She loves nothing more than spending her days in the Victorian house filled with books, surrounded by her cat and loved ones. As Christmas, her favorite day of the year approaches, she begins the season with her usual verve and excitement.

Yet when her landlord threatens to sell The Christmas Book Shoppe, she is devastated. She cannot imagine life without the book store she calls home. As she struggles to create a plan to keep the book store open, it seems as if her whole word is turned upside down and her every attempt to save the store fails.

Can she find a way to keep the store she loves?

Order in the Kindle store for 99 cents | Add to Goodreads

About the Author

MIRANDA ATCHLEY has written several novels, both historical and contemporary, one of which was a finalist for an indie writing award. When she isn’t writing, Miranda loves getting lost in a good book and watching period dramas. She lives in a small town in Arkansas. Visit her blog and subscribe to her mailing list at:

arealwriterslife.blogspot.com

Connect with Miranda
Goodreads | Amazon | Twitter | Facebook | Pinterest

Enjoy an excerpt from The Christmas Book Shoppe

As she placed the last ornament on the Christmas tree, Trudy Gallagher stood back and looked at her handiwork with a gratified smile. It was the Monday after Thanksgiving, and she had spent the majority of the day decorating The Christmas Book Shoppe for the holiday.Like every other year, she and her assistant Marge had placed the eight foot artificial Christmas tree before the front window in the foyer, and Trudy had happily wrapped it in lights and tinsel, placing book themed ornaments along the branches.

“A little early to be putting up a Christmas tree, don’t you think?” Mr. Scranton, a regular patron at the book store–and the town’s resident curmudgeon–asked when he came to donate yet another stack of used books.

“Well, Thanksgiving was last Thursday,” Trudy replied in the kindest tone she could muster. It was tradition at The Christmas Book Shoppe to decorate for the holidays the Monday after Thanksgiving. After all,they were The Christmas Book Shoppe,a store that carried a mix of new and used books and was housed in the historic district of a small town called Christmas, Arkansas–which was named for the town’s settler as opposed to the holiday, as most out of towners understandably believed. They had to embrace the spirit of Christmas, just like most other businesses in town did. Yet there was always someone who accused them of decorating too early. Trudy couldn’t help but wonder; what would Mr. Scranton say if he knew that she had decorated her apartment on November first?

Scoffing at her, Mr. Scranton turned and went on his way,his pace slow as his cane assisted him. Trudy could have sworn she’d heard him mutter “bah humbug” under his breath as he exited through the front door, his harsh tone clashing with the twinkling bell above the door. Though that could have simply been her imagination, which, given all the novels she read, was usually quite overactive.

Trudy shrugged as she placed the two heavy plastic bags full of moldy paperbacks on the desk and began to sort through them.

Really, who could blame her for embracing the Christmas spirit as fully as she did? After enduring long humid Arkansas summers that often started as early as April and boasted weeks of temperatures in the high nineties and low hundreds, it was a relief to have cooler weather. When the heat of summer was too much to bear, she often daydreamed about the Christmas season just to distract herself from the reality of living in such a humid climate.

But it wasn’t just the cold weather she enjoyed. She loved everything about Christmas. Watching classic Christmas movies, drinking hot cocoa while reading a light and cheery Christmas novella, and listening to Christmas songs all December were some of her favorite things. And there was just something about all the pretty decorations and lights that made the whole town of Christmas, Arkansas look like the inside of a snow globe…minus all the snow. It was simply a magical time of year.

“I’m glad you enjoy decorating the tree so much,” said Marge when Trudy made her way back to the front desk. With a deep sigh, she added, “Putting that tree up just wears me out.”

Looking up from the copy of Thoreau’s Walden she’d been inspecting, Trudy offered a smile and said, “Well, I’m happy to do it.”

With raised eyebrows, Marge shook her head. “I can certainly tell.”

Marge was a middle aged woman who had been working at The Christmas Book Shoppe for the last few years. While she was a good employee,she didn’t share Trudy’s excitement about literature and holidays and found her boss’s enthusiasm rather tiring. It was amazing that the two got along as well as they did.

Trudy once again smiled and then took the newly arrived books and began to shelve them. It was a little curious that Mr. Scranton had donated so much as of late. Counting what he’d brought in today, he’d donated a total of ten bags full of books in two weeks. Trudy wondered how many books he had in that old, somewhat off-putting house he lived in on the edge of town.

After Mr. Scranton’s donations were situated on the shelves, Trudy took to straightening the book cases, and in the process she found herself somewhat distracted, reading the synopsis scrawled on the back covers of titles that caught her attention. She often found herself similarly distracted while working here at the shop and realized that this was one reason why her to-be-read pile was growing entirely out of control.

When she found a particularly interesting novel set in the Edwardian era, she flipped open the cover and read the first few pages. Soon her mind was thousands of miles and a hundred years away, caught up in a world of lords and ladies.

“That a good book?”

With a gasp, she slammed the book shut. Looking up, she saw her friend, Reed Thornton. A roughish smile twisted his mouth, making him look more like Downton Abbey’s Tom Branson than ever.

“You scared me to death,” she said, taking a deep breath in an attempt to steady her heart rate. “And yes, it is a good book. I think I’ll keep it for myself.”

In his hands, she saw a stack of books, all bearing familiar titles. The Great Gatsby, Wuthering Heights, Persuasion. In Trudy’s world, it was unusual for most guys to even like reading. But for a guy to pass up science fiction and thrillers for classic romance? That was just unheard of.

“Looking for a good romance, are we?” she asked as they made their way back to the front desk.

He gave her the same exasperated expression he offered each time she made a wise crack about his reading habits. “It’s required reading for my classic lit class.”

Trudy smiled skeptically. She knew Reed had in fact enrolled in a classic lit class at the university after recently going back to college in order to earn a master’s degree in literature. Yet she also knew that Reed had always been a sucker for classic literature, just like her. They’d taken literature classes in high school together and their mutual love of the classics was one reason why they’d been such good friends for most of their lives.

“You know there isn’t any shame in guys reading romance novels, right?” With a snort she added, “I mean, look at Nicholas Sparks. His novels have been giving women false hopes for years now. And Fitzgerald was a guy, and he wrote The Great Gatsby.Besides, haven’t you already read that?”

“When we were seniors in high school,” he said with a half frown. “But that was a long time ago. I’ve read too many books since then to remember all I need to know about it for this class.”

“Well, it is a pretty good one to revisit,” she said as she rounded the corner of the front desk.

As she scanned the barcode on Persuasion, she cocked an eyebrow at Reed.

He sighed as he dug his wallet out of his back pocket. “It’s the only Austen I haven’t read yet.”

She chuckled as she placed the stack of books in a bag bearing the store’s emblem.

“Do you give all your customers this hard of a time?” he asked as he accepted the bag.

She simply laughed in reply.

“You know, I could just buy my books on Amazon. I’d get a lot less cheek if I did.”

“Yeah, but you’d pay a lot more. Plus, you wouldn’t get this sparkling customer service that brings in customers from miles around.”

Chuckling, he rolled his eyes, took his bag and left.

Giveaway

One winner will receive a Kindle download of The Christmas Book Shoppe. The giveaway begins December 4 and ends December 7. Open internationally to anyone who can receive a Kindle download via email. Must be 18 or older to participate.

Enter the Rafflecopter Giveaway

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. 🙂