Review: “The Austen Escape” by Katherine Reay

Review: “The Austen Escape” by Katherine Reay

With each novel, Katherine Reay proves her craft and place on my all time favorite authors shelf. Her stories explore so much depth within the relationships of her main character(s), more than just a story of romance, friendship, or family alone. They portray real people with struggles and insecurities and, most importantly, a season of growth. Her main character is ALWAYS greatly changed between chapter 1 and “the end”, and I’ve often found the same is true of myself, the reader, as I’m subtly changed, encouraged, and influenced by Katherine’s story.

Of course, reading this story along with some #bookbesties and chatting on Twitter via #TAERAL was super FUN, too!!!! (Click on the hashtag to see our gushing thoughts, quotes, and general observations as we read.) Thanks to everyone who joined! More Katherine Reay/Austen-fun is coming on the blog soon.

About the Book

the-austen-escapeAfter years of following her best friend’s lead, Mary Davies finds a whimsical trip back to Austen’s Regency England paves the way towards a new future.

Mary Davies lives and works in Austin, Texas, as an industrial engineer. She has an orderly and productive life, a job and colleagues that she enjoys—particularly a certain adorable, intelligent, and hilarious consultant. But something is missing for Mary. When her estranged and emotionally fragile childhood friend Isabel Dwyer offers Mary a two-week stay in a gorgeous manor house in Bath, Mary reluctantly agrees to come along, in hopes that the holiday will shake up her quiet life in just the right ways. But Mary gets more than she bargained for when Isabel loses her memory and fully believes that she lives in Regency England. Mary becomes dependent on a household of strangers to take care of Isabel until she wakes up.

With Mary in charge and surrounded by new friends, Isabel rests and enjoys the leisure of a Regency lady. But life gets even more complicated when Mary makes the discovery that her life and Isabel’s have intersected in more ways that she knew, and she finds herself caught between who Isabel was, who she seems to be, and the man who stands between them. Outings are undertaken, misunderstandings play out, and dancing ensues as this triangle works out their lives and hearts among a company of clever, well-informed people who have a great deal of conversation.

Goodreads | AmazonReview

Like Katherine Reay’s previous stories, The Austen Escape is full of literary references and general Jane Austen fun (like traveling to Bath and dressing in period-appropriate clothes!). It is not a retelling but candidly acknowledges the similarities between the characters and Austen’s own, like Mary’s friend Isabel sharing qualities with Isabella of Northanger Abbey, comparing Mary to Catherine of the same, and nods to all of Austen’s other works, too. Because of all the references, I think The Austen Escape would be best enjoyed by someone familiar with Austen’s works or main characters (if only through movie adaptation form).

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I could talk about so many elements of this story and why I connected with it, but I will simply state that it is a story of the intricacies of life: how friendship, work, dreams, relationship, family, and even hobbies are interconnected and form the identity of a person. These little things make up the big picture and determine how a person responds when faced with challenges. For Mary, she experiences a season of growth because of challenges to her comfort zone and what she believes to be true about the people around her. A few eye-opening events (and timely encouraging relationships — I’m talking about Nathan and his swoony Austen nerdiness here) spur her to recognize the beauty and opportunity right in front of her.

Jane Austen wrote about people and their need to connect on some level – from friendship to family camaraderie to romantic relationships. Katherine Reay captures the same drive in her characters, using the same timeless lens of connection, to show a heart-level story of individuality and friendship.

More little things I loved about The Austen Escape:

  • Nathan <3, a fitting hero
  • The juxtaposition of modern and old elements: Mary’s work vs the frill and formality of Austen’ s world
  • How neither Jane Austen, HER characters, nor Mary quite “fit in” with the expectations of their environments
  • Red velvet cupcakes, sticky toffee pudding, bubble gum
  • Nicknames and what they reveal
  • Absolutely ENDEARING secondary characters like Gertrude, Moira, Grant, and Clara
  • Little wire animals and skittle contraptions
  • All the love for books and music
  • All the Jane Austen talk — especially when Persuasion is hinted

Thank you to the author and publisher, Thomas Nelson, for the complimentary review copy of this novel. This is my honest review.

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Review: The Mountain Between Us by Charles Martin + Movie Thoughts

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Review: The Mountain Between Us is so much more than a story of survival. It’s a story of steadfast hope, sacrifice, and commitment.

This is very much Ben’s journey because it is told in his 1st person POV. Through his eyes, the reader learns of his past (through audio dictations to his wife that read like letters) and experiences firsthand how this sudden test of extreme circumstances challenges him and brings out his admirable determination to succeed. Ashley’s character growth and tenacity is never shortchanged, though, as her spunk, humor, and optimism are easy to love and see.

I am once again impressed with Charles Martin’s emotional prose and ability to maintain tension both in circumstance (stranded in the wild) and heart (Ben has an enigmatic side) until the last few pages. The heart-journey is much deeper than the snow Ben and Ashley find themselves in. And WHAT A TWIST!!!!!! This book is one I would highly recommend to fans of contemporary drama, action/survival stories, or even emotional romantic dramas in the style of Nicholas Sparks.

Movie thoughts: Clearly I loved the book —- highly recommended. The movie was good, just not the straight book-to-movie adaptation I had hoped for (as typical with book-to-movie changes). A few key things were changed —- most I could understand for the film medium and time’s sake, except for a couple key moments. It was beautiful visually and well-acted (I always love Kate Winslet). BUT, there were a couple things that happened which altered the portrayal of Ben, his history, and even altered his character’s integrity that disappointed me. THE GOOD NEWS? Check out this recent response from author Charles Martin in his newsletter concerning the changes and his minimal role in the process. I agree and am encouraged by his response. If the movie is spurring the popularity of the book and the message of HOPE it contains, I’m very happy!

Cookbook Review: Holiday Cookies by Elisabet der Nederlanden

Ya’ll, Christmas, baking, and books are three of my very favorite things. When they all combine in the wonder of a fabulous cookbook, I’m a very happy person. Holiday Cookies

Holiday Cookies: Showstopping Recipes to Sweeten the Season by Elisabet der Nederlanden is a TREAT of a cookbook. Its simple layout and photos are eye-catching to say the least, and the recipes are easy to follow and promise all sorts of yummy holiday times. I should know. I’ve tested FIVE recipes already!!! Just to make sure. Quality control and all.

Each recipe I have made has been perfect to a “T” — the measurements, baking times, and consistency of the results. I’m happily going into the Christmas season with this book in hand, planning to try the oatmeal crisps with chocolate next!

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What I’ve tried so far, from top left: Italian Pignoli Cookies, Peanut Butter-Chocolate Crunch Squares, Espresso Thins, Chocolate-Peanut Butter Brownie Sandwich Cookies, Thumbprints with Spicy Plum Jam.

Thank you to Blogging for Books and Ten Speed Press for the complimentary review copy. This is my honest review.

Review: “Blind Spot” by Dani Pettrey (Chesapeake Valor #3)

Review: “Blind Spot” by Dani Pettrey (Chesapeake Valor #3)

Blind Spot by Dani Pettrey is the latest installment in the “Chesapeake Valor” series following a law enforcement friend-group as they solve crimes, deepen friendships, and find romance along the way. This is romantic suspense at its best, with mysteries, ACTION, and plenty of surprising twists!

About the Book

Blind SpotFBI agent Declan Grey is in the chase of his life–but isn’t sure exactly what he’s chasing after. Threatened by a terrorist that “the wrath is coming,” Grey fears something horrible is about to be unleashed on American soil. When his investigation leads him to a closed immigrant community, he turns to Tanner Shaw to help him. She’s sought justice for refugees and the hurting around the world, and if there’s anyone who can help him, it’s Tanner.

Tanner Shaw has joined the FBI as a crisis counselor . . . meaning she now has more opportunity to butt heads with Declan. But that tension also includes a spark she can’t deny, and she’s pretty sure Declan feels the same. But before anything can develop between them, they discover evidence of a terror cell–and soon are in a race against the clock to stop the coming “wrath” that could cost thousands their lives.

Review

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The series thus far…

Blind Spot continues the mystery of the Chesapeake Valor series, heightening the suspense and deepening the layers of secrets along the way. I think this series is best read in order because it carries forward an ongoing mystery that has to do with a friend and missing person, AND because it continues a terrorism/human trafficking story line that started in book 2.

I am continually impressed with Dani Pettrey’s ability to present a tangled puzzle of clues and hints and solve it a little at a time through the eyes of the characters. With edge-of-your-seat action, this is one book I didn’t want to put down for long! This book has two main threads of riveting mysteries, having Declan and Tanner focus on the terrorism storyline and familiar characters from the previous books (Griffin, Finley, Parker, and Avery) investigating an embezzling scheme that takes a few surprising twists.

While the intertwining investigations are fascinating, I was just as riveted with the puzzle that is Declan and Tanner’s relationship. Having previously “met” these two in the series, finally seeing their perspectives and growing mutual attraction firsthand was a treat. Amidst the action of this story, a wonderful relationship dynamic unfolds between these two as they learn from each other and reveal the secrets of their past (in particular, something I did NOT see coming from Tanner!). This romance, much like the personal faith thread of these characters, is naturally portrayed and serves as an anchor point in all of the drama and motion of the story.

One more thing I’ve really loved about this series as a whole is the differing roles/perspectives each main character has played in “investigating”: in Cold Shot, a park-ranger-turned-detective and a forensic anthropoligist; in Still Life, a crime scene analyst and a photographer; and now, book 3, an FBI agent and FBI crisis counselor.  I CANNOT WAIT for book 4, Dead Drift….like I need it now. I have a feeling it will be quite the interesting “Jason Bourne-esque” 🙂 thrill ride!

Thank you to Bethany House Publishers for the complimentary review copy. This is my honest review.

 

 

Review & Author Interview: “All This Time” by Melissa Tagg

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Somehow, with every new story, Melissa Tagg manages to tap into her vein of talent to entertain, amuse, and encourage. Plus, she regularly works in pop culture references and words like wee, romantical, nom de plume. AND, she relates to my caffeine obsession. TODAY SHE IS JOINING ME FOR AN INTERVIEW! I’m terribly excited — read on for my thoughts on her 4th and final (indie-released) book in the “Walker Family” series, All This Time, plus her delightful answers to my bubbly questions!

About the Book

Bear McKinley’s past refuses to let go. 

Ten years ago, Bear gave up everything—his freedom and his reputation—for his mess of a family. All This TimeBut after years of distance and too many attempts at starting over, he finally has a new life doing noble work in Brazil . . . until his past catches up to him once again. Suddenly he finds himself back in Maple Valley, charged with the care of his missing brother’s children, convinced he’s out of second chances to make his life count. And yet, with every day that passes, these kids, this quirky town and the woman he never stopped missing help patch the holes in his heart. Maybe this is the fresh start he’s been longing for all along. But as his newfound hope grows, so does the mystery surrounding his brother’s activities—and when the threat reaches into the lives of those he loves, it’s clear he can’t run away this time.

Fear holds Raegan’s future captive. 

Raegan Walker is fine. She’s happy working a slew of part-time jobs, still living in her childhood bedroom and rarely venturing from her hometown. At least, that’s what she tells everyone . . . and herself. But she can’t help wondering what might’ve happened if she hadn’t abandoned her art so many years ago—and if Bear McKinley had never left. When Bear returns and she’s commissioned for a painting that just might revive her artistic ambition all in one week, it’s time to finally reach for more than fine. But doing so means facing the fears that have held her back all this time, including admitting the secret she’s kept from Bear and her family. With her dream and her heart on the line, how much will Raegan have to risk to finally chase her happy ending?

Amazon | Goodreads

Review

If I had to choose one word to describe All This Time, it would be: Perfect. It’s an absolutely perfect story of small town quirkiness, family dynamics, laugh out loud antics, a nail-biting tiny thread of suspense, and the sweetest friendship-turned-love relationship, with GRACE binding it all.

Raegan and Bear’s story has been a long time stewing… and delightfully so. With All This Time, we readers finally see the depths of their characters — both their histories, struggles, and respective adorable and swoony personalities. Their romance is framed with the quirkiness of a small town and Melissa’s signature humor and general wit — and even a bit of suspense that heightens the mysterious past of Bear. It’s not all fireflys and sunflowers, though. The gravity of some of its subject matter — anxiety, estranged relatives, forgiveness, and HOPE — is wonderfully woven with a lightheartedness that makes the characters accessible and the message an arrow to the heart of the reader.

More than a story of the relationship between Bear and Raegan, this story is a picture of FAMILY. Of the crazy dreams and distinct personalities, of the support system and encouragement, and, even of the dysfunction and pain caused by someone’s decisions. It shows the contrasts and possibilities and how choices rooted in Love will endure.

The Walker family is a favorite fictional family of mine….the type one can almost believe is real. Or wants and hopes is real, if only for a dynamic to exist in the world that mirrors the shared ups and downs of life with a group of people that LOVES and CARES and finds JOY amidst all the heartaches and challenges.

Reader friends, you will not want to miss out on the perfection that is All This Time. From the caffeine obsessed characters to the endearing kids that show up on the page to the resonating message of hope and family, this story is one that works its way into your heart and memory like an honest friend.

AND, because Melissa and I are obsessed with NEEDTOBREATHE (ok, Melissa probably more so), here’s a song that matches Bear’s character arc wonderfully. Melissa manages to work in a “tiny” reference to this song somewhere in All This Time. If you’ve read the book, did you spot it?

My reviews of the rest of the series:

#1 From the Start | #2 Like Never Before | #3 Keep Holding On

Interview with the Author

Melissa, thank you for graciously agreeing to this interview!

What was the inspiration behind the town of Maple Valley?

Great question! When I first started the Walker series, I knew I wanted to come up with a fictional town…because when you set a book in a real town, anyone who lives there loves to get picky about how accurately you portray it. LOL! And I knew I wanted it to be a quirky, small town.

Maple Valley was most inspired by Boone, Iowa. It’s funny—I’ve only been to Boone a few times, but every time, I just think it’s a cute little town. There’s a heritage railroad just like the one in Maple Valley. But I also drew inspiration from my hometown of Webster City, Iowa‑—the library in Maple Valley, especially, was inspired by my hometown library—and Little Falls, Minnesota, which is steeped in Charles Lindbergh history!

What theme or spiritual message do you want to communicate to readers with this story?

I hope this story leaves readers thinking about what it means to truly be vulnerable…to be in real relationships. There’s a spot in All This Time where Raegan and her dad are finally getting honest with each other about some things and Raegan makes the remark, “Why do we keep anything from the people we love?” Raegan’s whole journey is about learning to live authentically with the people she loves, to stop letting fear hold her back from true relationships. Personally, that’s a hard thing for me. Even with the people I love most, I’m not always willing to bare my heart. I heard someone say once that most people are willing to go 90% of the way in relationships, but that even with the people we’re closest to, we leave 10% unsaid. That’s stuck with me ever since he said it. Raegan’s journey is about being brave enough to go that last 10%…and I hope that’s something that impacts readers as much as it impacted me.

I think that’s one of the deeper points of this story —- it definitely impacted me!

What was most challenging about writing the final Walker novel?

Probably the thing that was hardest was simply knowing it was the final book in the series! I know I joke a lot about how much I love my fake people, but I’m really not exaggerating when I say that writing these books changed me. Every one was a personal, vulnerable journey. I kept putting off writing “The End” on this last one simply because I wasn’t ready to be done.

The other challenging thing was simply finding space for each Walker to sort of have their moment in this last story! I really wanted it to be a satisfying ending for readers, but giving each character a proper send-off without the book turning out to be a thousand pages long was quite the challenge.

I believe you achieved that balance! Reading this last book was bittersweet but wonderful… it was so good to see everyone in a “happy” place of their lives.

Which character was your favorite to write?

Logan! Oh wait, we’re talking about All This Time. But still…Logan! I don’t know if it’s obvious, but I looked for every excuse to bring him back into this book even though it wasn’t his story.

*jumping in* ❤ ❤ Logan!!!! ❤ ❤

But when it comes to the main characters of All This Time, I’d probably have to say Bear for two reasons: 1) I loooooved writing scenes in which he’s basically the cutest and greatest uncle ever and 2) In all the previous Walker books, Bear was like this elusive little mystery. He’d randomly show up, but we never knew much about him. So I loved getting to finally dive into his backstory and discovery who he really is.

And what a history he had! 🙂

For fun: Do you have any hobbies (besides coffee and being a Needtobreathe roadie)?

Haha! You listed two of my very favorite hobbies!

Other hobbies include reading (of course—I’m a bookworm to the core), traveling, spoiling my nieces and nephew and, as of late, racquetball. Not that I’m any good at it. But man, I love it!

If you could live in any other time period in history, which would it be and why?

Either the Gilded Age because, honestly, it just looks fun…or right in the late 1930s…before we dove into WWII and right when some of my verrrry favorite Golden Era Hollywood movies were making their way into the world.

What interesting choices!! Yay for the Golden Era, too!

What are you currently reading (or reading next)?

I’m a huge Sarah M. Eden fan and she just released the latest book in her Jonquil series and it was fantastic. And it made me want to reread her other books, so I went back and reread The Sheriffs of Savage Wells and died laughing/swooning all over again. Up next is Lady Jayne Disappears, which I’ve heard is an a-ma-zing debut!

Finally, you have another Christmas novella set to release this year. Tell us about it!

I do indeed and oh my, I haven’t laughed this much while writing a story in a long time. One Enchanted Noel is the story of Leigh Renwycke and Seb Pierce…or Sebastian Parker Pierce III if you want the full spiel. Seb comes to Maple Valley to renovate an old theater and he is not excited to be there. Leigh is a restless single mom struggling to leave her past in the past. And I had a crazy amount of fun writing their meet-cute!

Oh, that sounds amazing! Yay for another Tagg story in 2017! 🙂 Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me about your books. I know my readers will love getting this peek into your brain, too!

About the Author

Melissa Tagg

Melissa Tagg is a former reporter, current nonprofit grant writer, and total Iowa girl. She’s the author of the Walker Family series, the Where Love Begins series, and the Enchanted Christmas novella collection. Her books have made both the Publisher’s Weekly Top Ten and Amazon.com bestselling lists. When she’s not writing, she can be found hanging out with the coolest family ever, watching old movies, and daydreaming about her next book. Melissa loves connecting with readers on her website.

Website | Facebook | Instagram  | Twitter

Review: “Crown of Souls” by Ronie Kendig

Crown of Souls, book 2 in Ronie Kendig’s “Tox Files” series, has been called an Indiana Jones-type adventure by other bloggers AND by the characters themselves (ahem, Cell and his crazy sense of humor!). I’m going one step further and saying it’s a potent combination of National Treasure, Act of Valor, and The A-Team (high-five if you are familiar with all those movie references!). It’s an adrenaline rush from start to finish, accompanying a brave team on a quest to bring justice and stability to a tumultuous situation—- one increasingly relevant today with all of the current events actually worked into the storyline.

Though this book *could* be read on its own, it will be enjoyed infinitely more read in sequence with the prequel novella (The Warrior’s Seal) and book 1 (Conspiracy of Silence),

About the Book

Crown of Souls

Six months after stopping a deadly plague, Cole “Tox” Russell and his team are enjoying a little rest. That peace is short-lived when a sniper shot hits Tox. The enemy is discovered to be one of their own, a rogue Special Forces team operator. 

Alec King is perhaps the only person as skilled as Tox, and he’s out for justice. Furious with orders that got his men killed, he intends to make those responsible pay. And he insists Tox join him, believing they are the same breed of soldier. 

Afraid his old friend is right, Tox battles a growing darkness within himself as he and his team engage in another deadly encounter with antiquity. It appears Alec is cheating–he’s using a mysterious artifact, a crown that history has linked to some of the worst slaughters in humanity. Racing to stop Alec before his vengeance is unleashed, Tox must fight the monster without becoming one.

Review

Oh my goodness!! This is a riveting action-filled thriller like no other. From the first line, I was hooked into the whirlwind mission of Tox and company as they worked to thwart calamity and solve an ancient puzzle of sorts. The crazy adventure of traveling the globe like they do is fascinating in itself! Oh, and there’s a romance and family secrets entwined, too!

IMG_20170917_153621_807.jpgOn top of the location changes, the team is dealing with the mental fallout of betrayal and uncanny parallels with the motives of a friend-turned-enemy. Who can Tox believe? Is he lying to himself about his true nature?!! Ah! He grapples with reconciling motives of good vs. evil vs. justice. The perilous situations and tasks Tox and the team are up against are the perfect catalyst for showing subtle lessons of forgiveness, justice, and trust —- a faith element often missing in today’s portrayals of the military or government personnel in pop culture. Bravo, Ronie!

Speaking of the romantic relationship…. I like Haven even more in this second book. She’s not afraid to stand firm in her opinions or actions. Her personality lends a grounding to Tox’s character and serves as a reality check for the whole team— especially in bringing Tox down a notch or two, when needed. 🙂 And the moments of interaction between them are so fun to read! They range from banter to protectiveness to almost-hostile to wonderfully swoony and real. There’s a connection between them that’s visceral and even plays out in stressful situations. Tox’s tactical precision is impressive on its own, but when he applies that same skillset to his romantic relationship with Haven…. let’s just say it’s wonderfully executed ;).

I CANNOT WAIT to see what’s next for this team in Thirst of Steel (book 3).

Thank you to Bethany House Publishers for the complimentary review copy. This is my honest review.

Music Review + GIVEAWAY: “Glory Song” Album by Matt Redman

While I mostly talk books around here, music is one of my very favorite things. I’ve long been a fan of Matt Redman’s music and songwriting, so sharing a review of his latest album today is a treat! *And*, before you go, be sure to enter the CD GIVEAWAY via the Rafflecopter form at the end of this post.

MUSIC REVIEW

Glory Song captures the familiar praise and worship style Matt has authored for years now, with a fresh sound and approach due to the vocal guests and arrangements. A few of the songs feature a backing choir that lends a gospel feel. Most of all, I appreciate the Scripture-based truths incorporated into the songs, clearly pointing to God with declarations of praise.

My favorites include the mid-tempo song “It Is Finished” and the slower, worshipful “One Day (When We All Get To Heaven)” (yay for refreshed classic hymns!) and “Simple Pursuit/Glory Song”, a new take on a song familiar to me because of the Passion version.

ABOUT THE ALBUM

Glory Song

Matt Redman teamed up with several of his worship-artist friends for this album, first releasing the track “Gracefully Broken (feat. Tasha Cobbs Leonard).” Tasha Cobbs Leonard also released her own version of this song on the same day! The album also features Kierra Sheard, Guvna B, Madison Cunningham, and Kim Walker-Smith.

 

 

SOCIAL CORNER

Gracefully Broken Top Of The Tower Live Video

Gracefully Broken (Lyric Video)

Gracefully Broken (Song Story):

 

Buy the Album (iTunes)

ENTER THE GIVEAWAY

Giveaway is for (1) copy of Glory Song, US mailing addresses only. Giveaway ends 10/5/2017 12am.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

 

Winner guidelines:  Disclosure (in accordance with the FTC’s 16 CFR, Part 255:  “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising”):  Many thanks to Propeller Consulting, LLC for providing this prize for the giveaway.  Choice of winners and opinions are 100% my own and NOT influenced by monetary compensation.  I did receive a sample of the product in exchange for this review and post. Only one entrant per mailing address, per giveaway.  If you have won a prize from our sponsor Propeller /FlyBy Promotions in the last 30 days on the same blog, you are not eligible to win.  Or if you have won the same prize on another blog, you are not eligible to win it again.  Winner is subject to eligibility verification.