Review: “Ever Faithful” by Karen Barnett

I have enjoyed all of the novels in Karen Barnett’s “Vintage National Parks” series for their wonderful natural settings and looks at life through varied park inhabitants – rangers, staff, tourists, guides, and artists. This series is more of a collection as each novel has told a unique, standalone story set in a different national park.

About the Book

Vibrant historic Yellowstone National Park comes to life in this romantic mystery about a man hiding the truth, braving the west to become something more–and the woman who must confront his deception.

A man who can’t read will never amount to anything–or so Nate Webber believes. But he takes a chance to help his family by signing up for the new Civilian Conservation Corps, skirting the truth about certain “requirements.” Nate exchanges the harsh Brooklyn streets for the wilds of Yellowstone National Park, curious if the Eden-like wonderland can transform him as well. 

Elsie Brookes was proud to grow up as a ranger’s daughter, but she longs for a future of her own. After four years serving as a maid in the park’s hotels, she still hasn’t saved enough money for her college tuition. A second job, teaching a crowd of rowdy men in the CCC camp, might be the answer, but when Elsie discovers Nate’s secret, it puts his job as camp foreman in jeopardy. Tutoring leads to friendship and romance, until a string of suspicious fires casts a dark shadow over their relationship. Can they find answers before all of their dreams go up in smoke?

Goodreads | Amazon

Review

The setting of Yellowstone comes alive in this “vintage” story of dreaming by Karen Barnett. A well-paced tale of friendship, strength, and a little adventure unfolds in a picturesque setting that makes me want to visit ! I thought it was an insightful and curious look at Depression era events and culture, too, with characters I want to be friends with! 

One small element of this story I really appreciate is the distinction between education as separate from wisdom and leadership abilities. One does not require the other. This is shown through a learning disability of one specific character. The way Karen Barnett presents this situation is considerate while it emphasizes the worth of this individual as a child of God.

I think Ever Faithful is a flowing, easy to read story. Character driven at its heart, it shows the journeys of Elsie and Nate as they experience a season of life with great changes and possibilities. The setting is vivid and wonderfully essential to bringing out the passion in the characters – Elsie’s desire to teach and Nate’s quest to prove himself. When their paths intersect, they develop a friendship that brings out the best in each other and shows them both their worth and God’s plan.

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

Review: “Just One Kiss” by Courtney Walsh

With author Courtney Walsh’s latest release, we return to the fictional town of Harbor Pointe for a story of second chances, family, and romance. Just One Kiss is the third book set in this quaint town and reads as a standalone, though you will delight over learning more about the straightforward and bright teenager, Jaden, who had an important role in book 2, Just Let Go.

About the Book

He broke her heart. Now, he’s back, and he’s determined to show her what they had isn’t over. . . and he can prove it with just one kiss.

Single mother Carly Collins likes predictability. However, when her son Jaden’s health is threatened, her neatly controlled world is tossed into a tailspin. Nothing is certain anymore, especially her feelings for Josh Dixon, Jaden’s father, her first love and the man responsible for shattering her heart sixteen years ago. 

When Josh Dixon walked out of Harbor Pointe, he left behind his only shot at a real family. Now a successful tech mogul, the town rebel has found a cause—ensure his son’s recovery and prove to Carly and Jaden that he’s not the same guy he was back then. 

Carly and Josh are forced to wade through messy emotions and questions that have gone unanswered for years, which would be easier if not for the pesky feelings, every bit as strong and impossible to ignore as they ever were. 

Will forgiveness win, giving Carly and Josh a second chance at love . . . or will the past prove too much to overcome?

A small town romance about first love second chances and how our most beautiful life might look nothing like we planned.

Goodreads | Amazon

Review

Courtney Walsh never fails to make me smile, swoon over the romance, and cry over the deeply emotional moments in her stories. Just One Kiss is further proof! I loved it!

Part rekindled love, part family drama, and part small town charming, this story has no qualms with facing the hard questions of life, likes the “whys” and the challenges of extending grace for second chances.

I have read several reviews of this book noting it is Courtney Walsh’s best yet. While I can’t pick a favorite of her books (I have really loved them all!), I can say that Walsh is at the top of her storytelling game with Just One Kiss. The way it balances serious themes with lighthearted moments, just the right amount of drama and romance, surprises that really deepen the story, and even details like *showing* the backstory of Carly and Josh through flashback scenes all impress me. The combination of hallmark-like moments (dress shop!) with weighty moments in hospital waiting rooms and the vulnerability of opening your heart (letting go of anger) and offering someone a second chance all work to make this an impactful story.

Just One Kiss is a book I will return to and love just as much upon rereading. There is a relatable humanity in all of the characters, through their flaws, dreams, and questions, that makes it memorable and unique. Its message of forgiveness and the simplicity of grace is desperately needed in our world.

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

Review: “The Waves” by Amy Matayo

Any time is a good time to read an Amy Matayo novel! This time, her latest independent (shortish) novel is the start of a new series. And I couldn’t be more excited about THAT! Read on for my thoughts on The Waves…

About the Book
TheWaves_Amazon_iBooks

Dillon Hayes is twenty-eight and single, an unfortunate status her overbearing family is determined to fix. So when she’s stuck on a cruise ship for a seven-day reunion with the lot of them, she’s desperate for any escape she can find, even if it means partnering with a sketchy stranger for an off-the-beaten-path snorkeling excursion. After her mother’s last matchmaking attempt, Dillon is more than willing to trade all her good sense for a few hours of solace. 

Liam Gamble is stuck in the middle of family vacation hell. The worst part: it’s not even his family. This will be the last time he ever accepts a free-vacation invitation from his best friend. At this point, he’d be willing to hand over his life savings to get off this crazy ship. So when he catches one of his friend’s cousins sneaking off board, he decides to join her, hijacking her private excursion and nearly blowing her cover. If she gets to leave, so does he. 

But what starts off as a secret escape turns into a very real nightmare when their shady tour guide leaves them stranded on an uninhabited island with nothing but the clothes on their backs and no idea how to keep themselves alive.

As hours turn into days, and the weather proves as threatening as their need for food and water, Dillon and Liam must join forces and rely on each other if they have any hope of seeing their families again. Funny thing: sometimes in life, the end of the rope is when you discover everything you value has been in front of you all along.

Goodreads | Amazon

Review

With her distinct humorous tone and ability to weave deep themes into seemingly light situations, author Amy Matayo has decidedly penned another must-read story! Sarcasm and music references are included, along with a pleasant directnesss and a swiftly moving story of attraction and romance. Amy writes the guy’s POV like no other.

I was laughing at the wit of Dillon from chapter 1 and crying by chapter 3. After that comes a twisting, adventurous ride with Dillon and Liam. I loved the subtle ways loss and hope, pain and loyalty are tackled through the journey of the characters. And the romantic chemistry! Trust me, it’s there in spades.

I happened to read this book while on a little bit of a vacation, but mine was not as eventful and crazy as Liam and Dillon’s! Though at all times, Amy keeps it realistic. Survival skills are a must, ya’ll. I liked the ending — how things were brought full circle with the romance in a believable way.. I am highly anticipating the next story in this series! (And I REALLY hope it’s about Teddy)

Thanks to Relz Author Support for the review copy. This is my honest review.

Review: “Knox” by Susan May Warren (Montana Marshalls #1)

It’s been quiet lately in my little corner of the blogging world, but it is NOT for lack of good books! I have been reading some great stories and will be sharing more about them soon.

One novel I finished this week was the first in Susan May Warren’s new independently-published series: The “Montana Marshalls” series. Knox kicks off the family saga with a ‘gallop’ straight into action and drama with more stories to come.

About the Book

He’s not looking for trouble…

Montana rancher Knox Marshall’s danger years are behind him. A former bull-rider, he now runs the Marshall family ranch, raising champion bucking bulls for the National Professional Bullrider’s Expo (NBR-X). Wealth and success are his, but life is stable, expected, and…ordinary.  But he wants more from life… 

But trouble is looking for her…

Kelsey Jones just wants a safe life, a family, a home. Onstage, the beautiful rising star of the Yankee Belles becomes the person she longs to be – vivacious and confident – burying the brokenness she carries from a violent assault. Becoming NBR-X’s next country act is key to outrunning her past and achieving the success and security she craves. 

When trouble finds them both…

Knox and Kelsey’s paths collide when an explosion at an NBR-X event traps them in the rubble and leaves them reeling. Kelsey’s crippling nightmares return, but for Knox, an obsession to find the bomber is ignited. 

What will it cost him to protect her? 

When Kelsey’s past threatens Knox’s family, he’ll have to choose between saving the Marshall legacy or becoming the protector he’s always longed to be. 

Goodreads | Amazon

Review

Equal parts family drama, modern western, and romantic suspense, the first installment in Susan’s new Marshall Family series, Knox, sets the bar and the excitement level high for the rest of the series to come!

Susan May Warren always manages to perfectly balance story, character development, and strong themes all in a fast-paced package. In this case, action, ranching, and life as a rising country band combine with the steadiness of Knox and the strength of Kelsey; likable and supportive (in a friendship and brotherhood way) secondary characters; and themes of compassion and the steadfastness of God’s love.

I was thrilled to encounter cameos and mentions of some favorite characters from Susan’s previous series, some of which I know I still need to read! Also, the references to music, TV westerns, and pop culture (hello, Kevin Costner and Bodyguard) were wonderfully incorporated into the story and just plain fun.

Oh, and since Susan’s stories are all wonderfully connected and layered, the next book is set up well. With the way THIS ONE ENDS, I need Tate’s story NOW!

Thanks to Relz Author Support for the review copy. This is my honest review.

Cover Reveal: “The Waves” by Amy Matayo

You guys, Amy Matayo is releasing a new novel next month! And, it’s the very first one in a new series. This will be her first series. I’m super excited!

The Waves (Love in Chaos #1)

Dillon Hayes is twenty-eight and single, an unfortunate status her overbearing family is determined to fix. So when she’s stuck on a cruise ship for a seven-day reunion with the lot of them, she’s desperate for any escape she can find, even if it means partnering with a sketchy stranger for an off-the-beaten-path snorkeling excursion. After her mother’s last matchmaking attempt, Dillon is more than willing to trade all her good sense for a few hours of solace.

Liam Gamble is stuck in the middle of family vacation hell. The worst part: it’s not even his family. This will be the last time he ever accepts a free-vacation invitation from his best friend. At this point, he’d be willing to hand over his life savings to get off this crazy ship. So when he catches one of his friend’s cousins sneaking off board, he decides to join her, hijacking her private excursion and nearly blowing her cover. If she gets to leave, so does he.

But what starts off as a secret escape turns into a very real nightmare when their shady tour guide leaves them stranded on an uninhabited island with nothing but the clothes on their backs and no idea how to keep themselves alive.

As hours turn into days, and the weather proves as threatening as their need for food and water, Dillon and Liam must join forces and rely on each other if they have any hope of seeing their families again. Funny thing: sometimes in life, the end of the rope is when you discover everything you value has been in front of you all along. 

Releases April 25 | Preorder on Amazon!

And now, the cover……

What do you think? I love the tropical feel and artsy leaves!!!

Review: “Bear No Malice” by Clarissa Harwood

Review: “Bear No Malice” by Clarissa Harwood

Last year, a favorite author’s praise prompted me to branch out and read a general fiction title, Impossible Saints. It ended up being one of my favorite reads of the year, and one I revisited recently as its sequel, of sorts, just released!

Bear No Malice by Clarissa Harwood is more like a companion novel whose timeline matches events of Impossible Saints. It focuses on a minor character from book 1 whose role was nearly that of a villain. I really loved this shift in perspective and how it introduces the idea that we all have unique perceptions of our actions and of others. Enough about my thoughts for the moment, here’s more book info and my wordy review!

About the Book

Beaten and left for dead in the English countryside, clergyman and reformer Tom Cross is rescued and nursed back to health by Miranda and Simon Thorne, reclusive siblings who seem to have as many secrets as he does. Tom has spent years helping the downtrodden in London while lying to everyone he meets, but now he’s forced to slow down and confront his unexamined life.

Miranda, a skilled artist, is haunted by her painful past and unable to imagine a future. Tom is a welcome distraction from her troubles, but she’s determined to relegate him to her fantasy world, sensing that any real relationship with him would be more trouble than it’s worth. Besides, she has sworn to remain devoted to someone she’s left behind.

When Tom returns to London, his life begins to unravel as he faces the consequences of both his affair with a married woman and his abusive childhood. When his secrets catch up with him and his reputation is destroyed, he realizes that Miranda is the only person he trusts with the truth. What he doesn’t realize is that even if she believes him and returns his feelings, he can’t free her from the shackles of her past.

Goodreads | Amazon

Review

Bear No Malice is literary fiction at its best, with a vivid historical setting and a story that unfolds with a delicate complexity. Its Dickens-like intricacy takes the reader on a journey right alongside Tom and Miranda as they grow through friendship and exhibit unconditional love (not just in romance but with friends, with family) through mistakes, forgiveness, and reconciliation.

At times, Bear No Malice made me laugh with its tiny bits of humor (the fish fork!) then wrenched my heart out, all in one chapter. Mostly it wrenched my heart out and put it back together one tiny piece at a time. The telling of the story is a TREAT with its brilliant pacing (just slow enough to leave you wanting more of Tom’s, and especially Miranda’s, backstories) and sloooow building romance. But oh, how it pays off and is exquisite! Sometimes, though, I would forget I was reading historical fiction because the characters are so relatable and the emotions raw.

Tom and Miranda are good for each other because he’s magnetic and opinionated and she’s quiet and steady, yet just as stubborn and steadfast. Their personalities complement and spur each other to grow beyond themselves. Part of the brilliance of Tom and Miranda is that I saw myself in their humanity. I am like Miranda in several ways, not that I have experienced anything like her journey, but that her character was so real on the page I could identify with her longings. Her sometimes-reserved, sometimes opinionated ways. And even Tom and his ultimate need for reconciliation, his desire to serve others. They exemplify flawed and grace-covered people.

Another wonderful thread of this novel is its message of grace. It is subtle yet still a beacon for the perceptive reader. The message of the Gospel is portrayed as inherent to the characters, a refreshing and beautiful inclusion for the general fiction market. Tom and Miranda experience things and make choices rarely found in the inspirational genre. This freedom and space to candidly explore such situations makes the story all the more powerful because this novel has such a message of grace and forgiveness, of peace and homecoming, at its heart. **now is a good time for me to mention the content of this novel. It’s clean, with very few mild expletives (I could count them on one hand)**

Beyond the character journey, this novel also draws attention to social issues of the era, such as poverty, penitentiary conditions (kinda like halfway houses of the time), and the evolving roles of women. All of this functions to shine a light on our modern ideas, standards, and complacency, in a positive manner. I believe its intent is for the reader to look around and take note of his or her own community and opportunities. 🙂 For me, it was encouraging.

Thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for the review copy. This is my honest review.

Check out my review of Clarissa Harwood’s previous book Impossible Saints

Series Review: “Blue Ridge Romance” by Denise Hunter

It’s always fun to binge-read a series, especially when it’s by an author I always enjoy. The “Blue Ridge Romance” series by Denise Hunter is one I worked through in the past couple weeks. It was a fictional getaway, of sorts, with its peach and honeysuckle moments in the middle of my winter season. I’m reviewing the series today! Each book can stand on its own, though it reads well as a series.

About the Books

Blue Ridge Sunrise

Former free spirit Zoe Collins swore she’d never again set foot in Copper Creek or speak to the man who broke her heart. But return she must when her beloved Granny dies, leaving the family legacy to Zoe—a peach orchard nestled at the base of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

When Zoe returns home with her daughter and boyfriend Kyle, she finds that she’s the only person in town who doesn’t expect her to give up the life she’s established far away from Copper Creek. Everyone believes she was born to run the orchard, but how can she make it her home after so many years?

Cruz Huntley never quite got over his first love, Zoe Collins, the little sister of his best friend Brady. Not when she cheated on him during their “break,” not when she took off to parts unknown with good-for-nothing Kyle Jenkins, and not even now—five years later.

As life-changing decisions and a history with Cruz hang over Zoe’s head, tensions rise between her and Kyle. Even as she comes to terms with the shifting relationships in her life, Zoe still isn’t sure if she can remain in Copper Creek with her new responsibilities . . . and her first love.

Honeysuckle Dreams

After Brady Collins’ ex-wife dies, he receives devastating news—his nine-month-old son Sam isn’t his son at all. And Sam’s wealthy maternal grandparents want custody of the child. Brady knows he’s in for the fight of his life. But regardless of what any blood test says, Sam is his son, and Brady will go to any lengths to keep him.

Brady’s attorney tips him off that one major life change would virtually assure him of winning guardianship of baby Sam at the final hearing: an impending marriage. And his friend Hope is willing to step in as the loving and devoted fiance.

Local radio celebrity Hope Daniels has been driven by a solitary goal her entire life, and after a happy accident she’s finally offered her dream job. But if the truth comes out about her arrangement with Brady, she may miss the chance of a lifetime and stand in the way of a dear friend’s dreams.

As Brady and Hope make sacrifices to help each other in their times of need, they risk uncovering a truth neither of them expects to find.

On Magnolia Lane

Falling in love with Daisy was easy for Jack. But finding the courage to tell her becomes problematic when his secret feelings lead to even bigger complications.

After two years of counseling sessions with Daisy Pendleton, Pastor Jack McReady has earned a permanent spot in her life as a spiritual leader—and nothing more. Jack would never risk losing her trust by exposing the depths of his heart, but he’s hopelessly in love with her.

Daisy loves her southern small-town life and her job at her family-run flower shop, but she doesn’t have the thing she longs for most: someone to share it with. Her recent foray into online dating has been a disaster—until she meets TJ.

Jack could kill his friend Noah for using his initials and some indistinct photos to set up a profile on the dating app Daisy is using. But when he’s finally afforded the opportunity to show her a different side of himself, he’s sucked into the plan before he has time for second thoughts.

Online, Daisy shares some of her greatest fears with TJ, but in person, Jack and Daisy are spending more time together. When a devastating family secret surfaces, Daisy knows that only her trusted friend and counselor can bring her comfort. Jack wants nothing more than to be both men for Daisy, but revealing his secret will prove to be the ultimate test of Daisy’s grace.

My Reviews

The “Blue Ridge Romance” series is thoroughly entertaining. Through various tropes (reunion, marriage of convenience, and a You’ve Got Mail-esque setup), overarching themes of HOPE and grace tie together this group of characters and friends in a delightful southern setting. All 6 of the main characters play prominent roles in each story, so their dynamic is expected from the beginning.

What I enjoyed most about Blue Ridge Sunrise was its second-chance romance that had a foundation from the start of the story.

I really liked Cruz and found his character arc to be important and heartfelt, I liked the dynamic he had with Zoe, and all the emotions (and chemistry) that went with their reconnecting. In my opinion, Zoe wasn’t always likable, or at least she didn’t stir as much empathy as I hoped she would as the story progressed. I understand her viewpoint and the mistakes she made that cause her current circumstances, but I felt like some of her decisions, even toward the end of the story, were lacking the amount of wisdom her arc required (and therefore felt a little contrived). 

A section of chapters are devoted to a flashback that comes at a key moment in establishing the characters’ depth. This was a device that added layers to the story and explained the history in a way that memories or shorter explanations would not have described. It worked well!

Honeysuckle Dreams is a delightful romance that explores the ties of family, the necessity of hope, and the risk (and faith) it takes to love deeply. A marriage of convenience trope is one of my favorites — and hard to pull of in a contemporary setting. But Brady and Hope exceed any expectations I had, committing for selfless reasons and growing from friendship into a relationship that’s swoony and tenderly romantic.

A few threads of the story could have been predictable, but they worked out early or in a different way than I expected, which was a pleasant surprise. The themes of this novel encompassed love, faith, and even delved into the personal insecurities and anxiety of Brady and Hope that stemmed from their past. This made the story even more meaningful and impactful for its resonant message of truth and bravery, of speaking up and honestly sharing your heart. It’s my personal fav of the series!

On Magnolia Lane was probably the sweetest romance of the series because it involved unrequited love and a growth from friendship. When I heard this story would be a spin on a “You’ve Got Mail” situation, I was intrigued! Pastor Jack’s relationship with Daisy on a dating website is the setup for a deeper relationship and the story’s complications.

In this case, Jack is aware he’s deceiving Daisy. I normally wouldn’t buy in to this setup so readily, but the lovelorn Jack and his consideration in being as honest as possible, even while not revealing his identity yet, just works. When the truth comes to light, it is a very important moment of growth and lesson for both Jack and Daisy, bringing to light how the best intentions can still result in hurt if they are not grounded on complete truth. Another large part of this book involved some life-altering family secrets Daisy contends with. This discovery matched with Daisy and Jack’s evolving relationship to challenge Daisy to see beyond herself in new ways, requiring her grace and strength.

Thank you to BookLook Bloggers and the publisher for the review copy of book 3. This is my honest review.