Review: “Lady Jayne Disappears” by Joanna Davidson Politano

Lady Jayne Disappears by Joanna Davidson Politano is an exciting and complex debut. I’ve been anticipating this book for a LONG time! In fact, I added it to my TBR “shelf” way early in the year. The premise of a young lady in Victorian England secretly writing under a pen name while trying to solve a mystery connected to her own family just sounded so intriguing! And, it was.

About the Book

Lady Jayne Disappears

When Aurelie Harcourt’s father dies in debtor’s prison, he leaves her just two things: his wealthy family, whom she has never met, and his famous pen name, Nathaniel Droll. Her new family greets her with apathy and even resentment. Only the quiet houseguest, Silas Rotherham, welcomes her company.

When Aurelie decides to complete her father’s unfinished serial novel, writing the family into the story as unflattering characters, she must keep her identity as Nathaniel Droll hidden while searching for the truth about her mother’s disappearance–and perhaps even her father’s death.

Author Joanna Davidson Politano’s stunning debut set in Victorian England will delight readers with its highly original plot, lush setting, vibrant characters, and reluctant romance.

Review

The one word that sums up the feeling of this story: ALLURING. From start to finish, I was impressed by the character growth, vibrancy of setting, and well-told mystery arc.

While Aurelie’s naivete was frustrating at times (to me, the reader), it truly is an asset to the story. It both excuses her innocence when it comes to her almost nonexistent knowledge of society norms and justifies her experience and manner when she’s faced with the realistic plight of common people whom society deems inferior. These seemingly contradictory facets of her character made me like her all the more — and, they are what drew the hero of the story to recognize her unique and compassionate nature.

My two favorite aspects of this story were the romance and the wonderfully deep love of literature acknowledged by the characters and observed by the reader ;). The romance cannot be commented on *no spoilers here* past saying it is as sweet as I hoped it would be and as surprising at times with its tenderness and depth. The book and story love, however, are wonderful bookworm tendencies for the people of that time AND a nod to story in itself. It’s delightful.

Victorian society is the perfect backdrop for the many twists, secrets, and mystery of Lady Jayne Disappears. All this combine with the romance to form a Dickensian-like tale of belonging and purpose. It’s a treat for lovers of historical romance and drama! I eagerly look forward to whatever Joanne pens next.

Thank you to Revell publishers and Netgalley for a complimentary copy of this novel. This is my honest review.

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Review: “The Secret Life of Sarah Hollenbeck” by Bethany Turner

Review: “The Secret Life of Sarah Hollenbeck” by Bethany Turner

You know those books that seem to release with a blog and social media craze equivalent to a 7-year-old piñata frenzy? Yes? Well, The Secret Life of Sarah Hollenbeck debut novel by Bethany Turner is one such novel that lives up to its hyped expectations. One search or visit to any of Bethany’s social media channels can result in hilarious interviews, videos, and quotes all showing her refreshing style (I highly recommend doing so). Now, I’m extremely happy to be a part of Revell’s blog tour featuring my own gushing review of this little story.

About the Book

The Secret Life of Sarah Hollenbeck

Isn’t this one of the cutest covers of the year?!

Becoming a Christian is the best and worst thing that has ever happened to Sarah Hollenbeck. Best because, well, that’s obvious. Worst because, up to this point, she’s made her very comfortable living as a well-known, bestselling author of steamy romance novels that would leave the members of her new church blushing. Now Sarah is trying to reconcile her past with the future she’s chosen. She’s still under contract with her publisher and on the hook with her enormous fan base for the kind of book she’s not sure she can write anymore. She’s beginning to think that the church might frown on her tithing on royalties from a “scandalous” book. And the fact that she’s falling in love with her pastor doesn’t make things any easier.

With a powerful voice, penetrating insight, and plenty of wit, Bethany Turner explodes onto the scene with a debut that isn’t afraid to deal with the thorny realities of living the Christian life.

 

 

Goodreads | Amazon | Bethany’s Website

 

Review

This story is a literary TREAT! I was seriously laughing and crying in the span of paragraphs. It’s a new take on Christian fiction and a close look at the whirlwind which life (and romance 😉 ) can be through the eyes of a recently redeemed heroine. At times, her character’s perspective as a new Christian could be a little eye-opening for someone “used to” churchy norms. And I love that.

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A part of this is “book inception”: character Sarah is a writer. Her own intent to write a Christian fiction novel appealing to the masses to candidly address attraction in a way not common in the genre is, in fact, what Bethany has accomplished with Sarah’s story. Bethany is not afraid to include the realness of physical attraction and how Sarah’s newfound convictions can be upheld while not altering her core (feisty) personality. (Ben is amazingly sweet and all the more #swoony because of his role in all of this.)

Apart from the romance storyline, The Secret Life of Sarah Hollenbeck explores the deeper ripple effects of the lifestyle change Sarah is pursuing. From self-worth to forgiveness, jealousy, and even deception, deep truths are delivered in this story that starts out as perky but quickly turns serious and rooted in a journey to understanding LOVE in manifestations of family, commitment, choice, and even instant attraction.

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Perhaps my favorite part of this story is the pop culture references!!! (You all know I love some good movie/TV references in story). Especially the rabbit trails of 1980s miniseries. Multiple situations referenced AND connected plot points to The Sound of Music  —- they left me giggling more than once. And the chapter titles alone are hilarious —– “ethical and professional leprosy”, for example, and it makes perfect sense. If you finish the very last page and are left searching for a Dr Quinn, Medicine Woman episode on YouTube, let me know, I can direct you to the right one because I found it! At like 2am. Immediately. 😉

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

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Review: “A Matter of Trust” by Susan May Warren

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The chances of me trekking out and trying something like “backcountry snowboarding” are very, very thin. Like 1%. I won’t say never, but I will say it is not likely to happen. Skiing, maybe. Enjoying snow in the mountains with sturdy hiking boots and a camera in hand, sign me up! But for the more dangerous and super-athletic adventures, a book is my experience of choice. With author Susan May Warren’s latest “Montana Rescue” installment, A Matter of Trust, seeing the wilds of Glacier National Park and its winter glory through a snowboarding veteran’s eyes is just part of the thrilling story. It encompasses action and heroism, forgiveness, a little friendship-turned-romance, and like the title hints, a story of trust that sheds light on the depth of God’s grace and plan.

About the Book

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This might be my favorite cover of the series so far. Just sayin’.

Champion backcountry snowboarder Gage Watson has left the limelight behind after the death of one of his fans. After being sued for negligence and stripped of his sponsorships, he’s remade his life as a ski patrol in Montana’s rugged mountains, as well as serving on the PEAK Rescue team. But he can’t seem to find his footing–or forget the woman he loved, who betrayed him. 

Senator and former attorney Ella Blair spends much of her time in the limelight as the second-youngest senator in the country. But she has a secret–one that cost Gage his career. More than anything, she wants to atone for her betrayal of him in the courtroom and find a way to help him put his career back on track. 

When Ella’s brother goes missing on one of Glacier National Park’s most dangerous peaks, Gage and his team are called in for the rescue. But Gage isn’t so sure he wants to help the woman who destroyed his life. More, when she insists on joining the search, he’ll have to keep her safe while finding her reckless brother, a recipe for disaster when a snowstorm hits the mountain. 

But old sparks relight as they search for the missing snowboarder–and suddenly, they are faced with emotions neither can deny. But when Ella’s secret is revealed, can they learn to trust each other–even when disaster happens again?

Review

A Matter of Trust is a thrill ride from start to finish!

The ties between Gage and Ella are way deeper than even the synopsis hints, with a scarred history and understanding of personalities each one of them brings to the table upon their chance reunion. It’s a relationship you want to root for from the start, and one that is a treat to see meld into a restored friendship and romance. Their connection is obvious, even during the crazy mountain rescue on which they embark. They have simultaneous tension and trust between them creating all kinds of fun chemistry and spark.

I’d like to make an observation about book series: one of the tricky things about an ensemble cast is keeping momentum and personal connection with the whole cast when moving from book to book. Susan does this skillfully and easily, referencing past stories and setting up the complexities of future books all while keeping the pace quick and the reader’s emotional investment high. In A Matter of Trust, there is a smattering of chapters from another key character’s POV (Ty’s). With this, readers get to see the behind-the-scenes of the rescue operation AND learn a little more about a hinted-at secret concerning another PEAK team member. This is a wonderful setup for a future happily-ever-after, I hope, AND another illustrated facet of this story’s theme: trust.

My favorite aspect of this story had to do with exploring a “hero concept”: that being a hero is not something to aspire to, but a direct result of serving and living life in response to God’s calling that just happens to help others along the way. This theme was subtly woven in through the lessons Gage learned, the commitment and team loyalty Ty exhibited, and the reality Gage and Ella experienced as they accepted grace.

I do wish there had been a few more scenes after the climax was wrapped up. It was completely handled, I just felt like I wanted to settle in to the new reality of Gage and Ella a little more before “The End” came. However, I am trusting that I’ll see more of their new normal in future books. (YAY and Happy Dance for Ian and Sierra’s story being next in the series. I’m highly anticipating it!)

I voluntarily reviewed a purchased copy of this novel. This is my honest opinion.

Author Susan May Warren has put together an AWESOME YouTube playlist for this book, complete with one particular snowboarding video that is absolutely crazy. Check it out:

Before you go, check out my reviews of books 1 and 2 in this series:

Wild Montana Skies

Rescue Me

Review: “Rescue Me” by Susan May Warren

Today I want to share my thoughts on Susan May Warren’s latest release, Rescue Me, book #2 in her new-ish “Montana Rescue” series. (click here for my review of book 1). I enjoy everything Susan writes, so my review *might* get a little lengthy. This particular story is one part tense action in the wilderness, one part a tentative romance, and one part a story of forgiveness.

About the Book

When Deputy Sam Brooks commits to something, nothing can sway him–not just on the job as liaison between the Mercy Falls sheriff’s department and PEAK Rescue, but in his private life. Rescue Me by Susan May Warren.jpgHe’s the one who stuck around to take care of his mother after his father’s accidental death. And he’s the one–perhaps the only one–who believes Sierra Rose is the perfect girl for him. Safe, practical, and organized, she’s nothing like her hippie, impulsive, bleeding heart sister, Willow.

Willow, however, has been in love with Sam Brooks for as long as she can remember. But she wants her sister to have a happy ending. Besides, Willow has other things to focus on–namely, nabbing the job as youth pastor for her small-town church. Best thing for her to do is to purge Sam from her heart.

Neither can predict the events that will bring them together in a fight for their lives in the forbidding wilderness of Glacier National Park. Stranded, injured, and with the winter weather closing in, Sam and Willow will have to work together to save a crew of terrified teenagers. As they fight to survive, they might just discover a new hope for love.

Review

Susan’s talent lies in depicting characters “right where they are” in life, with all their flaws and shortcomings. She does this with such care it reveals what they can be through another’s eyes or through the healing grace of God. This realness makes them instantly relatable, making the reader empathize and even gain perspective from their experiences. (I know they are fictional, OK. But that’s the power of story.) Especially when it is a plausible story like this one. Sam and Willow, and the secondary storyline with his brother, Pete, are likable and relatable, even when they are wrong in their assumptions or reflex decisions that have consequences later in the story.

Another element I always appreciate about Susan’s storytelling is the way she weaves the book title into the story in a unique way, often with multiple meanings. This time, Rescue Me works out as being briefly flirtatious (at least I thought that one internal dialogue of Willow’s was amusing!), a literal need for rescue, and a steadfast prayer and lesson of rescue from the One who offers hope.

In the middle of the drama and peril, a lesson of forgiveness and reconciliation is told through these characters’ lives. As Sam sets aside his independence and realizes the limits of his humanity, he sees the God of rescue and hope reaching out for him. Similarly, Willow and Pete learn lessons of rescue and hope in their own ways, all realizing their faith is sure even when their sight is uncertain.

The romance of the story is sweetly told, unfolding gently in the turmoil of action and more than a few dangerous life situations. Sam and Willow begin to find a belonging and complementary friendship that surprises them — and makes the reader cheer them on — because their opposite personalities encourage one another to be better persons.

Also, I want to mention the beginnings of another romance we glimpse in this story between secondary characters promises more drama and a good story to continue. Coupled with the cliffhanger related to a mystery that I think will continue through the series, Rescue Me has the right amount of finality for the reader to be satisfied for now and hopeful of the untold stories to come. Thankfully, book #3 (A Matter of Trust) is set to release in July!

I voluntarily reviewed a purchased copy of this book.

Review: “Wild Montana Skies”by Susan May Warren

 

wild-montana-skiesHappy Monday! Today’s featured review is of Susan May Warren’s newest release, Wild Montana Skies, that just so happens to kickoff her new series, “Montana Rescue”, a romantic adventure and suspense series set close to Glacier National Park.
This first book is hard to classify as just one type of story because it really has it all: helicopter rescues, action, hiking adventures, romance, family, and stories of reconciliation and faith.

Small fun fact: if you read her summer indie release Montana Fire series, you might hear a few familiar stories and meet some of those characters. It was set in a nearby town 🙂

About the Book

Bestselling Author’s New Series Delivers Romance and Adventure as an SAR Team Searches for Others–and Finds Themselves
Search and rescue pilot Kacey Fairing is home on leave in Mercy Falls, Montana, twelve years after she joined the military to escape the mistakes of her past. With a job waiting for her as the new lead pilot of Peak Rescue in Glacier National Park, Kacey hopes to reconnect with the now-teenage daughter she sees only between deployments. What she doesn’t realize is that someone else is also back in town.
Ben King has been building his country music career since the day Kacey shut him out of her life. Now all of that’s on hold when his injured father calls him home to help run Peak Rescue until he’s fully recovered. It doesn’t take long, though, to discover his father’s ulterior motives as Kacey Fairing walks into the house and back into his heart.
With Mercy Falls in a state of emergency due to flash floods, Kacey and Ben are forced to work together to save lives. But when floodwaters turn personal, can they put aside the past to save their future?

Review

What an adventure this story was! Here are my favorite things about it:

  • The search and rescue (SAR) element ~ always action-packed, compelling drama with plenty of surprises in a neat setting.
  • The music ~ after all, Ben is a country music star! The songs he (ahem, Susan) has written fit so well in the story.
  • The sense of coming home ~ for both Kacey and Ben, their journey is about coming home and finding themselves. With him, it means reconciling part of his past and his relationship with his father. For her, it means dealing with her past, also, and finding a new normal in her role as parent.
  • Friendship and community ~ From the romance rekindled starting with a supportive friendship between Kacey and Ben to their friends who play important roles in encouragement and being “on their team”, the whole cast is boisterous and fun. I’m excited to see where the next book takes us with such a strong cast!
  • Sierra and Ian! ~ you can meet them in the FREE prequel novella If Ever I Would Leave YouWe get glimpses of this duo again in this story — and believe me, I was anxious to get to the little bits from their POVs. I didn’t get quite enough, though! The next book should prove VERY interesting. That’s all I’ll say.
  • Faith is a brave thing ~ it’s an act of faith to trust that God is always in control. This story illustrates that in so many ways. It also weaves in a beautiful story of forgiveness and redemption, showing that God is the only one who can redeem your past mistakes (even though we try to work hard, we aren’t worthy on our own.).

Thank you to the publisher for the complimentary review copy. This review reflects my honest opinion.

 

Review: “Where Two Hearts Meet” by Liz Johnson

Revisiting the quaint setting of Prince Edward Island, Where Two Hearts Meet (Revell) by author Liz Johnson presents a story of realizing dreams, accepting grace, and the joy of love born of friendship. This contemporary romance encompasses serious themes while maintaining a bright bearing on life. Readers will be happy to see returning characters in this second book in the Prince Edward Island Dreams series, though it can be read as a standalone title. (Book 1 was The Red Door Inn, click for my review).

At Rose’s Red Door Inn, chef Caden Holt has found a place to belong, turning out breakfasts and baked goods to treat guests vising the Island. Outside of her kitchen, however, she is less secure in her personal appearance and her accomplishments. When journalist Adam Jacobs arrives, Caden is challenged to leave her comfort zone and show him the wonders of the Island in hopes that his pending article will draw visitors to the Inn through the next season.

Where Two Hearts Meet.jpgAdam’s reasons for visiting the Island are not so simple. His time there is really a forced sabbatical instead of a leisurely vacation. And, his editor has high expectations for his next story – one that’s inexplicably connected to the Red Door Inn. When he begins to face the baggage leftover from the recent turmoil in his life, he finds respite in the beauty of his surroundings. Except maybe the peace he feels is more closely related to the cinnamon rolls, coffee, and unexpected friendship of Caden.

“Sweet” is an apt word to describe this story – from the setting, romance that grows from friendship, slight humorous moments, and to the various pastries Caden bakes up throughout. But Liz Johnson takes these characters much deeper than surface level with many layers to the story and nuances of emotion, dealing with themes such as guilt, bravery, and purpose.

Caden and Adam both face their own insecurities and consequently draw strength and encouragement from one another. While Adam thinks he might be falling in love with more than the island and its charming people, Caden starts to find a new freedom in pursuing her dreams with confidence. The setting itself proves to be an element of the story joining Caden and Adam with a lively cast of supporting characters who add humor and insight to the story.

While the drama and sweet moments unfold, a subtle message of grace shines through. Though none of these characters go through a prominent spiritual transformation, the growth of Adam and steadfast strength of Caden’s faith are key to the story. Each learns important lessons concerning trust and forgiveness.

The romance between Caden and Adam faces the requisite challenges and obstacles but is presented in a realistic manner, highlighting the way our lives intersect sometimes between personal and professional matters. When that definition blurs at the crux issue of the story, the consequences of a key choice show how deeply entwined these characters’ lives have become – a storytelling feat achieved admirably by Johnson. And I’ll leave you by saying the context of their first kiss and emotions of the moment made the scene one of the swooniest (is that a word?) of the year. I’m already looking forward to whatever Johnson has in store for more of this “family” of characters in the next book in the series!

Thank you to the publisher, Revell, for providing a complimentary review copy.  My honest opinion is expressed in this review.

Review: “The Red Door Inn” by Liz Johnson

An idyllic setting and story of a search for purpose come together in the launch of a new series by author Liz Johnson with the first book, The Red Door Inn, book 1 of the Prince Edward Island Dreams series. This new contemporary romance has a relaxed, old-fashioned feel with nods to L.M. Montgomery’s literary influence on the setting.

The Red Door InnMarie Carrington is running from something, though little detail is first revealed as to what compels her to escape a life of privilege. She finds refuge on Prince Edward Island in Canada with an aspiring inn owner, Charlie. He recognizes a longing in Marie that goes beyond her current penniless circumstances and seeks to honor the memory of his wife by engaging Marie’s talent in interior design to add finishing touches to his inn. And, perhaps, offer a refuge to her wounded soul.

Complications arise when Marie discovers Charlie’s nephew, Seth, is a part of the project, as well. With relational baggage of his own and suspicions of Marie’s motives, his prickly reception of her proves challenging to her future and her heart. With a tourist season deadline and waning budget, these struggling souls must attempt to set aside any differences and unite to renovate the Red Door Inn. Add to GoodreadsIn
doing so, secrets from Marie’s former life cause her to question the impact her presence could make on the lives of the people she is starting to care for.

Against the backdrop of the enchanting setting and quaint B&B in the making, stories of broken pasts intertwine while Marie, Seth, and Charlie each face their own struggles with trust and finding new dreams. Memorable secondary characters offer insight and humor while secrets and romantic tension unfold between Marie and Seth. And, the main character of the second book is delightfully introduced by way of cinnamon rolls and scones.

Woven through it all is a theme of joy — sometimes found in the most unexpected places — and often preceded by struggles and heartache. It begs this question: How can you recognize true joy without experiencing its opposites, pain and conflict? Each character must reconcile this concept in some way, realizing different blessings along the way.

Liz Johnson’s style is easy to read and instantly draws in the reader with her phrasing and moments of subtle humor. She paints a colorful, magnetic community that offers Marie a sense of belonging she’s never experienced. All of this adds up to a full story that leaves the heart eager for the characters to find their own happily-ever-afters.

A few of my favorite things about this book: the best pet name ever, Chapter the cat; a few plot elements that revolve around an antique typewriter; and, the mouth-watering baking of Marie’s friend, Caden. She’s the set main character of book 2, and I’m already excited to see more of her.

Thank you to Revell Publishers for a review ARC in exchange for my honest review. A version of this review also appears on FamilyFiction.com.