Contemporary Romance/Romantic Suspense INSPYs Finalists ~ 5 Mini Reviews

Bravo to ALL of the shortlisted “finalist” contenders in the 2018 INSPY awards! I was privileged to be a judge this year for the contemporary romance/romantic suspense category. All 5 of the titles are amazing stories I enjoyed reading — whether a reread or experiencing the stories for the first time.


Congratulations to Becky Wade and her novel, True to You, which won in this category for 2018! You can find the whole list of winners in 7 categories on the INSPYs website.

I’m including mini reviews of these excellent stories below– the reasons you should add them to your TBR if you haven’t already! (Click the book titles to visit their Goodreads pages.) Basically, I’m just happy I’m free to gush over the amazingness of this list now!


True to You by Becky Wade

Nora is delightfully quirky and bookish. John is steadfast and does “Navy SEAL-type stuff”. Beneath the humor and heart of the story is an AMAZING journey of finding identity in Christ and trusting a greater plan than we can imagine. And oh, the EMOTIONS and family and romance of this story! It just makes me happy.



20180628_152246.jpgThen There Was You by Kara Isaac

I finished this with a grin on my face! Seriously one of the funniest books I’ve read! But oh, what an emotional journey that just punched me in the gut when I learned the past that shaped both Josh and Paige’s hearts. Healing, LIVING, grace. Music, drop bears, clumsiness and chemistry. Raw faith lived out by so many of the characters. A cultural experience, too! I want to visit Sydney now.



Jane of Austin by Hillary Manton Lodge

Sisters. Friendship. HOPE. Dreams and how they shift or surprise. Quiet, steady, selfless love. The interconnnectedness of life and relationships. TEA. The influence of Austen’s story is obvious yet subtle, a perfect balance worked out by Hillary to give old circumstances and tropes fresh meaning and heart.



20180628_211854.jpgJust Look Up by Courtney Walsh

GRACE, choosing forgiveness, realizing the blessings in front of you. Accepting someone for who they are. Humor. Brooks’ unashamed pursuit of Lane. Lane’s growth and forgiveness. Embracing home. Cottages! Don’t get so caught up in minor details that you miss out on relationship opportunities — especially those with your family.



A New Shade of Summer by Nicole Deese

An emotional, colorful drama. Everyone has baggage…. but wow, what you choose to do with it, how you react, cope, or deny it affects everyone around you.  I loved the art element. And the tiny house! Davis and Callie <3… they were each just what the other needed, to see the gift of a son and move beyond grief, to see the worth and joy of life and move beyond pain and feelings of worthlessness or abandonment.


Have you read any of these books? What are some of your favorite contemporary romances?




Review: Love’s Awakening by Laura Frantz

This spring I was privileged to be a part of the final judges for the “historical romance” category of the INSPY awards- a reader- and blogger- nominated inspirational fiction award.  We judges had the daunting task of reading the top 5 titles and collectively choosing a winner for that category. This is the first of the reviews I’ll be posting from those 5 books.

This is a review of Laura Frantz’s Love’s Awakening, the second book in her “Ballantyne Legacy” series. Though this book didn’t win  (the top 5 were all EXCELLENT in their own rights), it was deservedly in the top picks, and it has found its way to my favorites shelf.
Love's Awakening

Summary from Goodreads:

In the spring of 1822, Ellie Ballantyne leaves finishing school and returns to the family home in Pittsburg only to find that her parents are away on a long journey and her siblings don’t seem to want her to stay. Determined to stand her ground and find her place in the world, Ellie fills her time by opening a day school for young ladies.

But when one of her students turns out to be an incorrigible young member of the Turlock family, Ellie knows she must walk a fine line. Slaveholders and whiskey magnates, the Turlocks are envious of the powerful Ballantynes and suspicious of their abolitionist leanings. As Ellie becomes increasingly entangled with the rival clan–particularly the handsome Jack Turlock–she finds herself falling in love with an impossible future. Will she betray her family and side with the enemy?

Masterful storyteller Laura Frantz continues to unfold the stirring saga of the Ballantyne family in this majestic tale of love and loyalty. This is the Ballantyne Legacy

My thoughts:

The storyline of two would-be romantic interests caught between rival families is nothing new, but I thought it was presented in a very interesting way with the backdrop of his whiskey industry family and her family’s secret activities (I really want to expound here on her family and what they are involved in, but I don’t want to give anything away. You’ll have to read it for yourself to find out the mystery!). Also, the romance element was perfectly developed between Ellie and Jack- not as swift and cliché as some in this genre, which was refreshing. There are a few surprises and twists to the storyline, too, which kept me wondering how it would end.

As I’ve said before, I really love little quotes or verses some authors include at the beginning of each chapter. Laura includes them in this series, and I think they really add another layer to the story – a point to ponder when reading the chapter.

In my opinion, the spiritual themes of this story were that God sustains and provides. It illustrated that it’s not always easy to follow Him, that he doesn’t always show us a clear path, but He knows what He’s doing. With these themes and complex characters, this story presents layers of feeling and family that transport you back to the early 1800s.

I’m currently reading Love’s Fortune, the third in this series, by Laura. I’ll be reviewing it very soon — I can’t wait to share with you my thoughts on the next generation of Ballantynes!

Find out more about author Laura Frantz at her website, Facebook page, or my personal favorite — her Pinterest page.

Have you read any of Laura Frantz’s work? What are your thoughts on this era?

Thank you to Revell Publishers for a complimentary copy of Love’s Awakening to review for the INSPYs! This review is my honest opinion.

Fun Find Friday: INSPY Awards

Fun Find Friday: INSPY Awards

For those of you who haven’t heard, the 2014 INSPY award nominations are open! What are the INSPYs, you ask? Well, they are annual awards organized by book bloggers to recognize excellent literature and fiction in Christian and inspirational genres in several categories.

I’ve heard about the INSPY’s before, but this is my first year to participate in nominating books. And, as a fairly new book blogger, I am excited to see the process and results. So, I thought I’d share it as a “Fun Find” for today.

Nominations are now open for books published in 2013 in several categories: debut novel, general fiction, contemporary romance/romantic suspense, historical romance, mystery and thriller, speculative fiction, and YA literature. Anyone can nominate one book for each category.

To nominate your favorite, or for more information, visit the INSPY website.