Review: “Set the Stars Alight” by Amanda Dykes

set the stars alight & nautical illustration

It’s been a few weeks since I read Set the Stars Alight by Amanda Dykes. It has taken me this long to form a coherent review — all because it’s now one of my all-time favorite stories! If you enjoy stories of light, hope, redemption, and home, I highly recommend *running* to your nearest library or bookseller and obtaining a copy.

About the Book

Lucy Clairmont’s family treasured the magic of the past, and her childhood fascination with stories of the high seas led her to become a marine archaeologist. But when tragedy strikes, it’s Dashel, an American forensic astronomer, and his knowledge of the stars that may help her unearth the truth behind the puzzle she’s discovered in her family home.

Two hundred years earlier, the seeds of love are sown between a boy and a girl who spend their days playing in a secret sea cave, while the privileged young son of the estate looks on, wishing to join. As the children grow and war leads to unthinkable heartbreak, a story of love, betrayal, sacrifice, and redemption unfolds, held secret by the passage of time.

As Lucy and Dash journey to a mysterious old estate on the East Sussex coast, their search leads them to a community of souls and a long-hidden tale that may hold the answers–and the healing–they so desperately seek.

Goodreads | Amazon

Review

I’m absolutely speechless at the beauty of this story. Set the Stars Alight is one of those rare books that speaks of timeless truth and light through the familiar refrain of story. It is one that will cause the reader to see the world differently. To see the intertwining Hope that binds humanity from creation to the cross with its message echoed in every longing for home and every story of redemption.

Through two equally compelling (and brilliantly intertwining!) stories, Amanda Dykes draws the reader in with her lyrical style. Lucy and Dash, in the present day, embody friendship, connection, and home. Their grief and longings feel relatable and realistic as they struggle with reconnecting, the consequences of missed communication, and the strength of their shared history. One that incorporates the tiniest hint of a fairytale played out in “real life” through shared story, light, stars, and seas

The historical thread of Frederick Hanford’s story and life twists its way through the pages with overarching themes of friendship, brotherhood, and sacrifice. To speak of the depth and meaning of his role in an act of selfless love would be too revealing. I’ll only say that his character is surprising and the most emotionally moving part of the story.

Through Lucy and Dash’s renewed connection and newfound countryside friendships, the legacy of Frederick comes to light; as does the inheritance of story and wonder Lucy’s own father has left in her heart.

With bright secondary characters and myriad layers of meaning connecting every element of every chapter, Set the Stars Alight has earned its place on my all time favorites list. I can recommend it to any reader as a tale both heart-wrenching and healing, incorporating adventure, intelligence, romance, and dreams with an overarching message of redemption.

Thank you to the publisher for the digital copy. I purchased my own print copy. This is my honest review.

Review, Giveaway & Blog Tour: “The Gentleman Spy” by Erica Vetsch

Join me today to talk about Erica Vetsch’s latest novel, The Gentleman Spy, the second in her “Serendipity & Secrets” series! Read on for my review and a chance to enter the blog tour giveaway.

About the Book

He only wanted a duchess for a day–but she’s determined to make it a marriage for life

When his father and older brother suddenly pass away, the new Duke of Haverly is saddled with a title he never expected to bear. To thwart the plans of his scheming family, the duke impulsively marries a wallflower. After all, she’s meek and mild; it should be easy to sequester her in the country and get on with his life–as a secret agent for the Crown.

But his bride has other ideas. She’s determined to take her place not only as his duchess but as his wife. As a duchess, she can use her position to help the lowest of society–the women forced into prostitution because they have no skills or hope. Her endeavors are not met favorably in society, nor by her husband who wishes she’d remain in the background as he ordered.

Can the duke succeed in relegating her to the sidelines of his life? When his secrets are threatened with exposure, will his new wife be an asset or a liability?

Goodreads | Amazon

Review

The Gentleman Spy is a fantastic Regency story that brings together elements of intrigue, romance, and secrets. The Regency era comes to life with Erica Vetsch’s voice, complete with a grasp of society and vivid word choice and custom that suits the era.

Amidst the tradition and courtship of the romance plot, the reader sees Marcus and Charlotte grow as a result of their changed circumstances and each other’s influence — though begrudgingly on Marcus’ part! I enjoyed his character’s transformation to comprehend how the elements of his life could not be contained in neat boxes. Their romance is up against many challenges and secrets, but the integrity, faith, and fortitude at the core of each of their personalities remains wonderfully steadfast.

The mystery plot adds action and interest to the story — and propels Charlotte and Marcus together in ways they could not have anticipated. Story threads from book one are continued and tidied with more secrets of Marcus’ spy work revealed. A secondary yet universal issue is brought to light featuring the need and calling to help those less fortunate. I love how this plot genuinely fits into the story and is an added way for Charlotte to assert her role.

One of my favorite aspects of this story is how BOOKISH Charlotte is, and how Marcus understands that part of her identity. When he could relegate her to feminine (and societal) limitations, he instead chooses to encourage and recognize her outspoken intelligence as the spark of his attraction and an asset to her character.

The Gentleman Spy reads as a standalone novel. However, readers of book 1, The Lost Lieutenant, will be happy with glimpses of Evan and Diana as parents (!!!) and as good friends to Marcus and Charlotte.

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

Erica Vetsch is a New York Times best-selling and ACFW Carol Award–winning author. She is a transplanted Kansan now living in Minnesota with her husband, who she claims is both her total opposite and soul mate. 

Vetsch loves Jesus, history, romance, and sports. When she’s not writing fiction, she’s planning her next trip to a history museum and cheering on her Kansas Jayhawks and New Zealand All Blacks.

A self-described history geek, she has been planning her first research trip to England.

Learn more about Erica Vetsch and her books at www.ericavetsch.com. She can also be found on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest.

Click here to visit the giveaway page and enter to win the prize pack.

Review: “When I Lost My Way” by Jennifer Rodewald

I’m thrilled to share with you about an indie-published new release ~ When I Lost My Way by Jennifer Rodewald. It’s the second story in her Big Prairie romance series, though it can be read as a standalone. Some characters from book one make an appearance, though, so it is fun to know the context of their story, too!

Review of Book 1: When I Come Home Again

About the Book

Their whirlwind romance takes the hard road toward happily-ever-after as disaster tests their love for each other and their faith in God’s goodness.

Sophie Shultz smiles at her future, even when she doesn’t feel like it, but when a country drive leaves this city-girl stranded in the mud, the cowboy who stops to help gives her plenty to smile about. For real. Lance Carson is tall, handsome, and kind, if a little on the quiet side—not to mention the owner of Big Prairie’s celebrated vineyard.

Lance has always had a decided preference for solitude, but when he rescues Sophie he develops a whole new appreciation for companionship. It doesn’t take long for him to lose his heart as she fills the aching void life’s disappointments have left behind. But a family issue has put him in a hard spot, pushing him to a decision that will ruin his relationship with many of Big Prairie’s citizens—and devastate Sophie, who adores her newly adopted hometown. Before he can figure out how to tell her, someone tattles on his plans.

As their relationship is put to the test, conflict presses in from every side. Can this rapidly grown romance sink its roots deep enough to weather the storms, or will Lance and Sophie both lose their way?

Goodreads | Amazon

Review

When I Lost My Way is a beautiful story of romance, grace, and trusting in God’s strength.

I loved Sophie and Lance SO MUCH. Their rapport, from their slight humor to the almost-flirting and deep heart conversations, is natural and realistic. Their romance is sweet and selfless, highlighting how really knowing someone takes time and a desire to understand the other person’s motives and choices. I appreciate how they face their trials head on with honesty, even when it’s painful. One timely issue Jennifer sensitively sheds light on within their relationship is judgement and its ill effects, all in the context of relationship choices, identity, and skin color, referring to Biblical truths to shed light and draw the reader to a place of empathy.

I will be thinking about the deeper threads of this story long after the last page. Through the challenges, Sophie relies on God in an admirable way. Her trust in uncertainty and the way she seeks wisdom from scripture, her parents, and a respected friend is something to aspire to. Lance’s growth is relatable yet more dynamic as he is learning how God wants a personal relationship with him as he learns to pray and listen for His voice. The concept of loneliness in contrast with God’s ever-present strength is contrasted in Lance, and his journey reflects surrender to God’s will.

Jennifer Rodewald is a must-read inspirational author for fans of Courtney Walsh, Carla Laureano, and Lindsay Harrel for her stories of sweetly engaging romance and deep emotional themes.

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

Revew + Blog Tour: “Masquerade at Middlecrest Abbey” by Abigail Wilson

Welcome to my review post in the HFVBTBlogTours.com Tour for Abigail Wilson’s new Regenecy romance: Masquerade at Middlecrest Abbey! That title is a clever play on words — this marriage of convenience (one of my favorite tropes!) comes with many secrets, some hidden identities, and concealed truths that all come to light with an enthralling mystery. Read on for more about the book, my thoughts, and enter the giveaway for a chance at a paperback copy of the novel.

Masquerade at Middlecrest Abbey by Abigail Wilson

Publication Date: May 26, 2020 by Thomas Nelson Historical/Regency/Christian    

 

 

In this new Regency romance, Elizabeth knows she must protect her heart from the charm of her new husband, Lord Torrington. She is not, however, prepared to protect her life.

When the widowed Lord Torrington agreed to spy for the crown, he never planned to impersonate a highwayman, let alone rob the wrong carriage. Stranded on the road with an unconscious young woman, he is forced to propose marriage to protect his identity and her reputation, as well as his dangerous mission.

Trapped not only by her duty to her country but also by her limited options as an unwed mother, Miss Elizabeth Cantrell and her infant son are whisked away to Middlecrest Abbey by none other than the elder brother of her son’s absent father. There she is met by Torrington’s beautiful grown daughters, a vicious murderer, and an urgent hunt for the missing intelligence that could turn the war with France. Meanwhile she must convince everyone that her marriage is a genuine love match if her new husband has any hope of uncovering the enemy.

Determined to keep her son’s true identity a secret, Elizabeth will need to remain one step ahead of her fragile heart, her uncertain future, and the relentless fiend bent on her new family’s ruin.

Amazon | Barnes and Noble | IndieBound

Review

Masquerade at Middlecrest Abbey is a Regency romance and mystery that will have you turning the pages late into the night to figure out its secrets. I was rooting for the hero and heroine through all their action-filled escapades (that were also, somehow, SUPER romantic) to embrace their newfound friendship and solve quite the twisting puzzle.

The first person POV of Elizabeth creates empathy and understanding for the reader while it conveys the likability of Lord Torrington (Adrian) and an almost-tangible sense of the doubts, secrets, and questions about the well-plotted mystery.

The marriage of convenience trope is done wonderfully by Abigail Wilson in this instance. Time for a list (!!!) of things I love about Adrian: his humorous, personable nature; his trust and confidence in Elizabeth; the way he cares for his family. Elizabeth, too, is a very likable heroine whose revelations enlighten the mystery thread and inform her own character of the freedom to trust others and offer forgiveness freely.

I really appreciated that Elizabeth and Adrian are older than your average Regency romance couple– him moreso with his almost-grown daughters. This sets up a deeper romance plot because they are in a position to have grasped life lessons and experience already, allowing for moments of intention and emphasis of choice in their love story.

 

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

About the Author

Abigail Wilson combines her passion for Regency England with intrigue and adventure to pen historical mysteries with a heart. A registered nurse, chai tea addict, and mother of two crazy kids, Abigail fills her spare time hiking the national parks, attending her daughter’s gymnastic meets, and curling up with a great book. In 2017, Abigail won WisRWA’s Fab Five contest and in 2016, ACFW’s First Impressions contest as well as placing as a 2017 finalist in the Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence in Mystery/Suspense. She is a cum laude graduate of the University of Texas at Austin and currently lives in Dripping Springs, Texas, with her husband and children.

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Goodreads

Blog Tour Schedule

Tuesday, May 26 Review at Bitch Bookshelf | Review at The Green Mockingbird

Wednesday, May 27 Review at Historical Fiction with Spirit

Thursday, May 28 Review at Gwendalyn’s Books

Friday, May 29 Review at Heidi Reads | Review at Amy’s Booket List

Saturday, May 30 Feature at Journey in Bookland | Feature at What Is That Book About

Sunday, May 31 Review & Excerpt at Robin Loves Reading

Monday, June 1 Review at Probably at the Library | Interview at Jorie Loves A Story

Tuesday, June 2 Feature at I’m All About Books | Feature at Just One More Chapter

Wednesday, June 3 Review at Rhodie Girl Reads | Review at Rejoice in Reading

Thursday, June 4 Review at Jessica Belmont | Review at A Chick Who Reads

Friday, June 5 Review at View from the Birdhouse | Review at Foals, Fiction and Filigree

Giveaway

During the Blog Tour, we are giving away 5 paperback copies of Masquerade at Middlecrest Abbey! To enter, please use the Gleam form below.

Giveaway Rules Giveaway ends at 11:59 pm EST on June 5th. You must be 18 or older to enter. Paperback giveaway is open to the US only. Only one entry per household. All giveaway entrants agree to be honest and not cheat the systems; any suspicion of fraud will be decided upon by blog/site owner and the sponsor, and entrants may be disqualified at our discretion. The winner has 48 hours to claim prize or a new winner is chosen.

Enter the giveaway here!

Review: “Stay With Me” by Becky Wade

It’s been a little bit since I’ve shared a review! I have been enjoying some great stories, so expect more bookish talk in the coming days.

Today I’m sharing my thoughts on Stay With Me by Becky Wade, her recent contemporary novel in a new “Misty River Romance” series. I already know this is going to be one of my favorites of the year!!

About the Book

Loving her is a risk he can’t afford . . . and can’t resist.

When acclaimed Bible study author Genevieve Woodward receives an anonymous letter referencing her parents’ past, she returns to her hometown in the Blue Ridge Mountains to chase down her family’s secret. However, it’s Genevieve’s own secret that catches up to her when Sam Turner, owner of a historic farm, uncovers the source of shame she’s worked so hard to hide.

Sam has embraced his sorrow, his isolation, and his identity as an outsider. He’s spent years carving out both career success and peace of mind. The last thing he wants is to rent the cottage on his property to a woman whose struggles stir his worst failure back to life. Yet can he bear to turn her away right when she needs him most?

Goodreads | Amazon

Review

I’m blown away by this book! Touching on a full range of emotions at a heart and faith level, Stay With Me is a stunning, grace-filled story of romance and redemption. This is one of my “Becky Wade” favorites, ranked up there with True to You. (And can I say how fun it is that Becky is not afraid of using exclamation marks!!!)

Both Gen and Sam are realistic characters with relatable quirks. Their journey is a heartfelt, page-turning one with their friendship at the center. Gen and her struggles are completely relatable, even if some of her particular issues aren’t familiar ones for some readers. (I can’t say more because spoilers!) But I will say the challenge to stay “on top” and to thrive, especially if a public image is a concern, was a brave and timely aspect for Becky Wade to explore at great depth. The family history Gen starts to uncover, too, is riveting and interesting!

Now it’s time to talk about SAM. Sam talks to plants, he’s Australian (which means an adorable accent), and HE BAKES. If that doesn’t make you fall in love with him, his gentlemanly actions and kindness will! He notices Gen’s quirks, virtues, and negative traits. He sees the big picture where she’s concerned. I feel like Sam’s perception of Gen elevates Stay With Me in the genre because it captures real-world details like this in many aspects: with Sam and Gen’s romance, with Gen and her family, with the friends and supporting characters. Gen’s zest for life draws Sam out of the shadows of his own choosing — I loved seeing that happen, too.

I appreciate how the romance, especially in Becky Wade’s unique voice, is sexy yet clean. This is a prime example of how the inspirational romance genre CAN have heat and convey a real, respectful sense of desire without crossing any inappropriate lines.

Becky Wade deals with hard truths with a balance of grace and honesty in all of her novels. This honesty, in Stay With Me‘s case, confronts things like pride, accountability, grace in our failings, and even guilt and loss. This list is not something that’s ticked off here and there. Instead, the story embodies these themes as naturally as Sam and Gen’s romance grows; steadily and like second nature.

I have to give a shoutout here to Genevieve’s sister, Natasha, and her “Year of living Austenly” she’s attempting in the novel. Yes, Austenly like Jane Austen and no television. Hobbies like knitting. I *really* need a short story set at Christmas about Natasha and her husband, Wyatt. With all the Austen things. Knitted gifts and drawing room card games. Tea and brown paper packages.

I’m very excited for the rest of the series, and seeing this special group of friends interact and grow closer!

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

Review: “The Joy of Falling” by Lindsay Harrel

The joy of Falling cover

I’m featuring a review today of an amazing women’s fiction novel that brings all the emotions and hope: The Joy of Falling by Lindsay Harrel.

About the Book

Eva and Angela must learn to live again. One step at a time.

It has been fifteen months since Eva and Angela lost their thrill-seeking husbands in a scuba diving accident. Both women are trying to navigate their way through the grief, but neither one is making much progress. Angela is barely making ends meet, angry at her husband for leaving her to raise three children on her own. Meanwhile, Eva is stuck, unable to move forward after losing the love of her life and her source of inspiration.

But then Eva gets a life-changing phone call. Before Brent and Wes died, they had signed up for a race of a lifetime—an ultra-marathon in beautiful New Zealand. Eva begs Angela to run the race with her in their husbands’ place, and Angela finally agrees, hoping to finally understand her husband’s choices.

Training is exhausting, and the race is even more demanding. Their journey grows more complicated by the presence of two men—Marc is Brent’s best friend who is running the race with Eva and Angela, and Simon King is a writer who is covering their inspiring story. With every step, Eva and Angela must ask themselves questions that they haven’t had the courage to ask before. As the women literally put one foot in front of the other, they wonder: Is it possible to find their way forward in hope?

Goodreads | Amazon

Review

The Joy of Falling is an amazing story of grief and healing, joy and triumph, and the importance of relationships in every aspect of life (family, friendships, romance). Oh, and a little armchair adventure in New Zealand happens along with ALL THE FEELS.

I believe anyone who has experienced grief can relate to this story. While these characters lose their husbands, their journey of grief shows how it manifests uniquely to each person and is simultaneously universal. I appreciate how Harrel clearly communicates that with this story – giving these characters permission to grieve differently, showing its stages and waves in a relatable way.

While the weightier aspects of grief and fear are a part of this story, its bright JOY and honesty are the best parts. Eva and Angela each grow and benefit from their relationships in this story, both as sisters, daughters, and, in Angela’s case, as a parent. The importance of friendship is spotlighted, as are a couple tentative friendship-and-romance relationships. These are developed carefully and with a refreshing honesty in the face of the emotional trials both Angela and Eva are experiencing.

This emotional and enlightening journey plays out for the characters in a most vivid setting: New Zealand. Harrel has captured the place wonderfully, in a setting-as-a-character manner. Its varied terrain is a catalyst and metaphor for the perseverance Eva, Angela, and Marc must prove in their marathon and in their season of change.

It was a blessing to read this story at this moment in my life: its message of joy as an overarching theme and anchor, as opposed to fleeting happiness, becomes a constant for the characters and a reminder we all need in this world.

I’ll end my thoughts with one of my favorite quotes from the novel:

“How was it possible to feel so much love and hope in the midst of tragedy?”

-The Joy of Falling

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

Review: “Kings Falling” by Ronie Kendig

Review: “Kings Falling” by Ronie Kendig

I have a somewhat wide taste in genres, in both movies and books. Case in point: I often enjoy a historical romance as much as a contemporary drama or military thriller, as long as the story hooks me from the start. Over the past couple years, author Ronie Kendig has found her way onto my must-read list with her military suspense/thriller/romance stories, sometimes including a hint of supernatural threads, ALWAYS with a compelling cast. Her new novel, Kings Falling, is the second in the “Book of the Wars” series. Read on for more about the book and my thoughts!

About the Book
Kings Falling Cover

Leif Metcalfe and his team, dubbed Reaper, need to recover the stolen, ancient Book of the Wars if they hope to stop the Armageddon Coalition and their pursuit of global economic control. But their attention has been diverted by a prophecy in the book that foretells of formidable guardians who will decimate the enemies of ArC. While Iskra Todorova uses her connections in the covert underworld to hunt down the Book of the Wars, Leif and Reaper attempt to neutralize these agents but quickly find themselves outmaneuvered and outgunned.

The more Reaper tries to stop the guardians, the more failure becomes a familiar, antagonistic foe. Friendships are fractured, and the team battles to hold it together long enough to defeat ArC. But as this millennia-old conspiracy creeps closer and closer to home, the implications could tear Leif and the team apart. 

Goodreads | Amazon

Review

Kings Falling is a labyrinth of a story that kept me turning pages as fast as I could without coming up for air! Ronie Kendig has crafted a unique and enthralling thriller of a story with high stakes, believable circumstances, and a team you would want to covering your 6.

This is the kind of book that’s best read in sequence with the first book, Storm Rising. The pace of Kings Falling never lets up – with almost whiplash impact, Leif, Iskra, and the team travel the globe to put together fragments of truth about the famed Book of the Wars. Seeing the team reunited and learning more about some of my favorites was just a bonus (I’m talking Mercy, Lawe and Pete, and even Cell). Getting a peek into their perspectives every now and then added more layers and tension (ahem, CELL) to the events happening. I really, REALLY hope book 3 will complete some of these hinted story trails!

I’m intrigued – though not at all surprised – with the way Kendig has crafted this story. Every tiny detail is important to the whole, and the cohesion of the plot and of the characters on the page is riveting. I was, in turn, surprised, delighted, frustrated, humored, mad, and even impressed; sometimes all in the same paragraph 😉! The psychological dimensions and growth of Leif and Iskra were my favorite.

I highly recommend this story to any fans of military suspense, thrillers, or action-packed, team-centric drama. November and Soul Raging (book 3) can’t come soon enough!

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

Review of book 1 Storm Rising

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 Gryphon Heist” by James R. Hannibal

Brace yourself for my thoughts on a new thrilling novel of espionage I’d recommend to any fans of military fiction or suspense! I anticipate The Gryphon Heist is the start of a new remarkable series from author James R. Hannibal.

About the Book

Talia Inger is a rookie CIA case officer assigned not to the Moscow desk as she had hoped but to the forgotten backwaters of Eastern Europe–a department only known as “Other.” When she is tasked with helping a young, charming Moldovan executive secure his designs for a revolutionary defense technology, she figures she’ll be back in DC within a few days. But that’s before she knows where the designs are stored–and who’s after them. With her shady civilian partner, Adam Tyler, Talia takes a deep dive into a world where only criminal minds and unlikely strategies will keep the Gryphon, a high-altitude data vault, hovering in the mesosphere.

Even Tyler is more than he seems, and Talia begins to wonder: Is he helping her? Or using her access to CIA resources to pull off an epic heist for his own dark purposes?

In this Ocean’s Eleven-meets-Mission Impossible thriller, former tactical deception officer and stealth pilot James R. Hannibal offers you a nonstop thrill ride through the most daring heist ever conceived. 

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Review

The Gryphon Heist is an action-packed thriller of a novel! One that should require a seatbelt warning 😊. The synopsis aptly references Ocean’s 11 meeting Mission: Impossible, and I must agree. I’d also add a comparison to the high stakes, globe-trotting, and gadgetry of a James Bond film with a few more espionage and psychology elements.

We’ll get to Talia and Tyler in a moment, but first I want to talk about the cast of characters! The supporting characters are some of the most vivid and memorable I can recall from an ensemble cast in the vein of Ronie Kendig or Susan May Warren. I enjoyed getting to know their quirks and skillsets! Hannibal’s style balances such a large cast admirably, complete with accents I could “hear” through the succinct phrasing.

Even with all the action, the story is deep and layered.  Talia is a compelling heroine whose emotions and personal journey to grace are handled extremely well and realistically. The secrets and twists she deals with unfold in surprising ways, and Tyler plays a significant role as an enigmatic leader in all of it. I couldn’t predict ANYTHING about the finally-revealed villain or real plot behind the subterfuge. The end is intriguing, to say the least, and I anticipate another surprising and high stakes story with the sequel releasing early next year!

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