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Book Review: This Time Around

This Time Around – Denise Hunter, Melissa Ferguson and Kathleen Fuller – Thomas Nelson – Published 13 July 2021

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Synopsis

Three romance novellas. A Summer Detour by Denise Hunter, Pining for You by Melissa Ferguson and He Love Me; Me Loves Me Not by Kathleen Fuller.

My thoughts

This Time Around is a collection of three novellas that feature second chance romances. From best friends to old flames, Denise Hunter, Melissa Ferguson and Kathleen Fuller give their characters a second shot at love. Notes, despite the Christian publisher and authors, these novellas do not reference faith, God or Christianity.

A Summer Detour is the first and my favourite in the collection. Probably not surprising as it’s by Denise Hunter and I love her writing style. In A Summer Detour Allie begs her family for a chance to prove herself and is tasked with driving her grandparents’ beloved restored Chevy to their anniversary party. The only problem is that she can’t drive manual. Luke Fletcher is the only one she can think of who might be able to help – her parents’ neighbour and the man who broke her heart years ago. She’s kept her distance since then but hours in the car, a hail storm, detour, dog with digestion problems and other mishaps later, maybe she and Luke can sort through the hurt and find a way to a future together. This novella is light and funny, yet I really felt for the way Allie believes her parents don’t trust her or see her as capable. Luke has always seen Allie’s worth and this road trip is the perfect opportunity for him to redeem himself in Allie’s eyes and prove he’ll always be there for her.

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Book Review: Plot Twist

Plot Twist – Bethany Turner – Thomas Nelson – Published 14 June 2021

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Synopsis

February 4, 2003, is just another day for Olivia Ross—a greeting card writer whose passion project is a screenplay of her own. After she and a handsome, struggling actor have a near-magic encounter in a coffee shop, they make a spontaneous pact: in ten years, after they’ve found the success they’re just sure they’re going to achieve, they’ll return to the coffeehouse to partner up and make a film together. The only problem? Olivia neglected to get the stranger’s name. But she doesn’t forget the date.

For the next ten years, every February 4, Olivia has an exceptional day, full of coincidences and ironies. As men come and go and return to her life, and as she continues to write her screenplay, she still wonders about the guy from the coffee shop—the nameless actor she’s almost certain was Hamish McDougal, now a famous member of the Hollywood elite.

But a lot can happen in ten years, and while waiting for the curtain to rise on her fate, the true story of Olivia’s life is being written—and if she’s not careful, she’ll completely miss the epic romance playing out right before her eyes.

My thoughts

As I have come to expect from Bethany Turner, this book is hilarious in the most bizarre way. If you just suspend disbelief that anyone could be this ill-timed and that so many celebrities would make an appearance in one’s life, then this might be classified as realistic fiction.

It is funny and romantic (sort of, actually a lot of it is romance gone wrong or so many missed opportunities it’s NOT funny). Despite a Christian publisher, this is general fiction, with no Christian references (unless you count one reference to Narnia) but it is clean (unless you count kissing someone else’s boyfriend…twice….but by accident…sort of…..)

When Olivia connects with a guy at a coffee shop they make a pact – they will meet back there on the same date ten years form now. He vows to have made it big as an actor and she vows to have a screenplay ready for him to star in. Over the next ten years, that date becomes a strange day for Olivia, full of men from her past, present and maybe future, missed opportunities, and disasters of the heart. Will she finally realise that the love of her life might have been there all along or will she wait for the guy she promised ten years ago.

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Book Review: Hooked On You

Hooked On You – Kathleen Fuller – Maple Falls #1 – Thomas Nelson – Published 11 May 2021

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Synopsis

Riley McAllister left the small Arkansas town of Maple Falls after graduating high school, hoping to make it big in New York as a mixed media artist. She’s still pursuing her dream when her grandmother begs her to come home and help her manage the store while she recovers from a broken leg she got after sliding into third base during a church softball game (she was safe, by the way). Riley agrees, planning to convince her grandmother to sell the old shop and retire so Riley can get back to the big city. New York is where she belongs, not some hick town that doesn’t even have a decent coffee shop.

Hayden Price’s life hasn’t turned out as he expected either. He still works in the hardware store his family has owned for several generations after his chance to make it out of Maple Falls ended when he blew out his pitching arm during a minor league game. Stuck with debt from college and a broken engagement, he decides to make the best of things when he comes back to Maple Falls and puts together the town’s first church softball team–with him as coach, of course.

Riley and Hayden went to high school together but ran in totally different circles. In fact, it’s safe to say they hated each other. Will that change when the softball team unexpectedly brings them together? Or will the pain and disappointment of their past failures keep them from discovering love in Maple Falls?

My thoughts

Hooked on You has all the makings of a great romance novel – returning to one’s hometown to help rejuvenate a family business, a burnt out sports star finding a new direction for his life, a small town setting and a quirky group of old friends who like to meddle. Sadly, I wasn’t able to connect with the main characters in the way that I wanted and the writing and dialogue was a bit stilted, leaving me unsatisfied with the plot. A light and easy read, but not one of my favourites of the genre.

Hayden has returned home to Maple Falls to help run his father’s hardware business. After finally making it to the Majors in baseball, he blew out his shoulder on his first pitch. Riley has returned to Maple Falls after her grandmother is injured during a softball game. Riley is just counting down the days until she can return to New York and finding her place as a mixed media artist, but being ‘home’ and getting to know Hayden again makes her reassess her life goals.

A sweet book, it was the lack of depth to the characters and their background stories that made this an okay book for me, rather than one I adored. Not a lot happens in the story and I found it hard to believe in Riley and Hayden’s connection. The prose and dialogue is a little stilted, and I’m not sure how realistic Hayden’s voice was at times. The drama introduced at the end was overly dramatic and just added to my overall disinterest in the story.

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Book Review: Bookshop by the Sea

Bookshop By The Sea – Denise Hunter – Thomas Nelson – Published 13 April 2021

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Synopsis

After her mother was bedridden and her father bailed on the family, Sophie became a second mother to her twin brother, Seth, and younger sister, Jenna. Sophie supported her siblings through their college years, putting aside her own dream of opening a book shop in Piper’s Cove—the quaint North Carolina beach town they frequented as children.

But now it’s finally time for Sophie to follow her own pursuits. Seth just got a new job, the family house is sold, and Jenna is set to marry her college beau in Piper’s Cove. But the destination wedding reunites Sophie with best man Aiden Maddox, her high school sweetheart who left her without a backward glance to run an extreme sporting business in Florida.

Much to Sophie’s chagrin, seeing Aiden again resurrects familiar feelings—which she promptly tries to bury in the tumult of the day. As soon as the wedding crowd fades, Sophie turns her focus back to establishing her beloved bookstore.

But then an advancing hurricane strands Aiden in Piper’s Cove and with the hotels booked to capacity he asks Sophie to put him up until the storm passes. As the two ride out the weather, old feelings rise to the surface. But can Sophie trust Aiden to stick around? And does daredevil Aiden have the courage to risk his heart? 

My thoughts

Once again Denise Hunter has penned a delicious contemporary romance novel that I just devoured. Honestly, I read it so quickly I think I need to go back and read it again, at least a few times over.

Bookshop By The Sea is a charming second-chance romance. Sophie and Aiden are our main characters. High-school sweethearts, they thought their future was set, but when Sophie’s mother fell ill and her father abandoned the family, Sophie had to step up and become the glue to hold everything together. At the same time, Aiden was offered a chance to start his own company and he too left Sophie. Now, years later, Sophie and Aiden are reunited at Sophie’s younger sister’s wedding. Sophie just wants to get through the event and move on but Aiden wants to use the opportunity to ask for Sophie’s forgiveness. Of course, we readers know that Sophie and Aiden are not over yet.

Once Sophie and Aiden make it through the wedding they think their awkward reunion is over but a storm bearing down on the area has other ideas. They are forced to hole up together in a guest house – cue the swooning. It offers readers all the time they need to enjoy the softening of Sophie’s heart and Aiden realising that everything he walked away for was not worth losing the woman he loves.

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Book Review: The Cul-de-Sac War

The Cul-de-Sac War – Melissa Ferguson – Thomas Nelson – Published 10 November 2020

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Synopsis

Bree Leake doesn’t want to be tied down. She’s had more jobs than she can count, and she plans to move as soon as the curtains fall on her less-than-minor stage role at The Barter—the oldest live performance theater in the US. But just when it’s time to move on again, Bree’s parents make her an offer: hold steady for a full year, and they will give her the one thing she’s always wanted—her grandmother’s house. Her dreams are coming true . . . until life at the theater throws her some curve balls.

And then there’s Chip McBride—her handsome and infuriating next-door neighbor.

Chip just might be the only person whose stubborn streak can match Bree’s. She would move heaven and earth to have him off her cul-de-sac and out of her life, but according to the bargain she’s struck, she can’t move out of her house and away from the man who’s making her life miserable. So begins Bree’s obsessive new mission: to drive Chip out of the neighborhood—and fast.

Bree isn’t the only one who’s a tad competitive, and Chip is more than willing to fight fire with fire. But as their pranks escalate, the line between love and hate starts to blur—and their heated rivalry threatens to take a hilarious, heartwarming, and romantic new turn. 

My thoughts

Aside from having my mouth open in stunned disbelief for the majority of this book, it is actually quite a fun read and quite amazingly hilarious. From gentle animosity to full out war, The Cul-de-Sac War is the very definition of a hate to love romance. With pranks.

Bree wants to hold down her job at the theatre and maybe, one day reclaim her Grandmother’s home as her own. The only thing standing in her way is job cuts at the theatre and her new, extremely annoying neighbour. Chip has just moved in, is planning to renovate the house and start his new construction company, away from the restrictions of his family’s company. But when his neighbour declares war, he has no choice but to retaliate. And he can’t help it if he is enjoying annoying Bree a little too much.

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Book Review: Autumn Skies

Autumn Skies – Denise Hunter – Bluebell Inn Romance #3 – Thomas Nelson – Published 20 October 2020

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Synopsis

When a mysterious man turns up at Grace’s family-run inn, it’s instant attraction. But she’s already got a lot on her plate: running the Bluebell Inn, getting Blue Ridge Outfitters off the ground, and coping with a childhood event she’d thought was long past.

A gunshot wound has resurrected the past for secret service agent Wyatt Jennings, and a mandatory leave of absence lands him in Bluebell, North Carolina. There he must try and come to grips with the crisis that altered his life forever.

Grace needs experience for her new outfitters business, so when Wyatt needs a mountain guide, she’s more than happy to step up to the plate. As their journey progresses, Grace soon has an elusive Wyatt opening up, and Wyatt is unwittingly drawn to Grace’s fresh outlook and sense of humor.

There’s no doubt the two have formed a special bond, but will Wyatt’s secrets bring Grace’s world crashing down? Or will those secrets end up healing them both?

My thoughts

What an absolutely wonderful book. Autumn Skies is just so good. Denise Hunter’s novels just get better and better and better; this series just got better and better. In this conclusion to a three book series, it was so lovely to see the final part of the three siblings’ stories and work in getting their inn up and running.

Autumn Skies follows Grace, the youngest of the three Bennett siblings. We have watched her grow up a little over the previous two novels. Now she is a young woman. She has started her own business, helped her siblings finish and run the inn, but she still grapples with grief and guilt from her parents’ deaths and a traumatic event in her childhood. Wyatt Jennings is a secret service agent. Suffering trauma and flashbacks, he is suspended. He decides to return to the place of his childhood memories, Bluebird Inn. Wyatt enlists the help of Grace to help him find a particular spot in the surrounding mountains. Their chemistry is intense, but neither is looking for a relationship.

I read this book in one sitting. I just didn’t want to put it down, didn’t want to leave the wonderful world Denise Hunter brings to life. Now I just want to reread it again. I loved everything about this book. The characters, the heartbreaking story, the now familiar setting, the usual banter between the Bennett siblings, but I really, really loved the romance in this one.

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Book Review: How Sweet It Is

How Sweet It Is – Robin Lee Hatcher – Legacy of Faith #3 – Thomas Nelson – Published 14 July 2020

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Synopsis

Holly Stanford is doing the best she can with the restaurant she inherited from her late uncle. But after her fiancé abandons her and the business, Holly regrets having given up her dream of becoming a pastry chef. Now a few bad financial decisions might cost her everything, including her hope for the future.

Jed Henning has done well with his new company despite his prodigal brother’s behavior. When Jed‘s father , the controlling member of the board of directors, temporarily suspends operations until his sons work out their differences, Jed resentfully chases his brother, Chris, to Boise. There Jed rents a basement apartment from Holly and hopes to convince Chris to get his act together before their company collapses.

Unaware that Holly is the one person who can help him get through to Chris, Jed starts the tough work of reconciliation armed with little more than a few family photographs, a stack of old letters, and a Bible that belonged to his great-grandfather, Andrew Henning. And as romance blossoms between Holly and Jed, the story of Jed’s great-grandfather highlights the power of God across the generations and the legacy of a family’s courageous faith.

My thoughts

How Sweet It Is is the very sweet third book in the Legacy of Faith series. Like its predecessors, it combines the present day story of two people meeting and falling in love with the continuation of the story of the Henning family, set in the late 1960s. It is faith filled and an endearing tale of family, belonging and love.

Holly just wants to bake. Instead she has been left with a restaurant to run and crippling debt, thanks to a fiancé who left her just before their wedding. Jed is a successful businessman but is father has given him an ultimatum: make it right with his brother or sell the business. Jed travels to Idaho to try to reconnect with his brother and his family’s past and finds himself renting the same basement apartment his great grandfather, Andrew Henning, once lived in. For Holly, it’s a blessing to be able to finally rent the apartment and gain some much needed income. But she is drawn to Jed and isn’t sure she should trust herself to be in a relationship again.

There is no doubt that this is Christian Fiction. The faith, prayer, scripture, church, community and belief is evident in every chapter. Some Christian fiction doesn’t reference faith aside from a few prayers or themes, but not so in this book. Both the present day characters and the characters from the past rely heavily on God and reflect and want to grow in their faith.

Andrew Henning’s story, set in 1969, is a wonderful reflection of the modern day love story. I love how Hatcher has woven the threads of the two generations together, as she has done in the previous two novels in this series. Readers of the first two books will no doubt enjoy the continuation of Andrew Henning’s story, but new comers to the series should be able to follow along without too much confusion.

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Book Review: The Summer House

The Summer House – Lauren K. Denton – Thomas Nelson – Published 2 June 2020

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Synopsis

Lily Bishop wakes up one morning to find a good-bye note and divorce papers from her husband on the kitchen counter. Having moved to Alabama for his job only weeks before, Lily is devastated, but a flyer at the grocery store for a hair stylist position in a local retirement community provides a refuge while she contemplates her next steps.

Rose Carrigan built the small retirement village of Safe Harbor years ago—just before her husband ran off with his assistant. Now she runs a tight ship, making sure the residents follow her strict rules. Rose keeps everyone at arm’s length, including her own family. But when Lily shows up asking for a job and a place to live, Rose’s cold exterior begins to thaw.

Lily and Rose form an unlikely friendship, and Lily’s salon soon becomes the place where residents share town gossip, as well as a few secrets. Lily soon finds herself drawn to Rose’s nephew, Rawlins—a single dad and shrimper who’s had some practice at starting over—and one of the residents may be carrying a torch for Rose as well.

My thoughts

The Summer House by Lauren K. Denton is utterly delightful. With a touch of US Deep South charm, two multigenerational romances to enjoy and a story of learning to love and live again after a life of hurt, it’s the perfect light read.

Lily Bishop has recently moved to Alabama for her husband’s work. He promised her a new start, but one morning she wakes to find him gone, leaving behind a rented house she has just days to move out of, furniture she doesn’t want, no job or income to speak of and divorce papers. An opening for a hairdresser at a nearby retirement community seems providential. After just a few days, Lily feels more at home in the safe and peaceful community than she has in the years since she lost her mother. Rose Carrigan owns and runs Safe Harbor community village. She gives Lily the second start she needs, but it also opens up the chance for a second chance for Rose – at love, at reconnecting with her brother and with finally stepping out and enjoying life.

The Summer House is a really easy book to sink into and enjoy. If you are looking for something light, but with lots of heart, look no further. The romance is light and sweet. The problems the characters face – from divorce to hurts that span decades give the book depth without making it a heavy or overly sad book. And the setting, Safe Harbor, is as safe and comforting as it sounds, with the added bonus of all the fun that come with a retirement village full of elders who aren’t afraid of a good party, hair dye or gossip.

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Book Review: Carolina Breeze

Carolina Breeze – Denise Hunter – Bluebell Inn Romance #2 – Thomas Nelson – Published 19 May 2020

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Synopsis

Rising Hollywood star Mia Emerson is looking for a safe place to land in the wake of a public breakup and scandal, and she finds it in the lake town of Bluebell, North Carolina—the location of her canceled honeymoon. She wants nothing more than to hide and wait for the tabloids to die down.

Soon after her arrival at the Bluebell Inn, Mia meets Levi Bennett, who runs the inn along with his two younger sisters. Drawn to one another from the start, Mia trusts Levi to keep her location from the press, and Levi confides in Mia about the financial state of the inn—a secret he’s been keeping from his sisters.

When Mia and Levi discover an old journal that hints at a rare diamond necklace hidden in the inn, they set off on a treasure hunt to find the long-lost heirloom. What they don’t expect to surface are feelings they thought were safely locked away. Mia and Levi must decide if falling in love again is too big a risk—or if it will uncover a treasure of its own instead.

My thoughts

Carolina Breeze is another utterly charming book by Denise Hunter. This is the second book in the Bluebird Inn series and I think it is one of my all time favourites of Denise Hunter’s series. Delightful, heartfelt, very romantic, and with just a touch of historical mystery.

Carolina Breeze continues the story of the Bennett siblings. Levi and his two sisters, Molly (who featured in book 1) and Grace are bringing to life their late parents’ dream to restore their home into an inn. But it hasn’t been easy. Their latest guest has the whole inn booked for a honeymoon. But it doesn’t take the three siblings long to discovery Mia Emerson is a Hollywood star and she is hiding out at the Bluebird Inn after her marriage fell through and a colleague dragged her into a scandal that threatens her career. As Levi works to provide Mia with everything she could need during her stay, he is drawn to her hurt and vulnerability. Together, Mia and Levi challenge themselves to find Mia’s ancestor’s long lost diamond necklace, rumoured to be hidden at the Inn. But Levi has so many worries, he’s not sure he can take on more responsibility and Mia’s life is set to catch up with her.

I love the Bennett family. Love how they argue and annoy each other, but also how they are there for each other despite all that. While we got to know Levi a little in Molly’s story, it was very much through her eyes, so it was great to see him through another lens in Carolina Breeze. He is trying so hard to keep the inn afloat and protect his sisters, even if that’s the last thing they want. I thought he might keel over due to a heart attack or something in the novel, he is so stressed. Mia is wonderful for him. She helps him to relax, to enjoy the moments and gives him other things to think about. Levi is equally good for Mia, giving her security and someone to really listen to her.

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Book Review: The Joy of Falling

The Joy of Falling – Lindsay Harrel – Thomas Nelson -Published 14 April 2020

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Synopsis

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?

My thoughts

In the Joy of Falling, Lindsay Harrel has penned a beautiful story about the many faces of grief and about the journey of continuing to move forward and find joy again in life and relationships. This is equally a story about family as it is about individual growth. It is also a romance story, with two romances. At all times, it remains heartwarming and considerate.

Eva and Angela don’t have much in comment except that they both lost their husbands, brothers, in a scuba diving accident. Now, fifteen months on, Eva still has no creative drive or any desire to return to her work as a florist. She spends her time volunteering at the Heart Center and trying to honour her husband’s memory. Angela has three children and two jobs, so she has no time to mourn the husband she lost, nor much energy to confront the feelings of anger and abandonment she feels about his death. When Eva receives a phone call about an ultra-marathon the two brothers were going to complete with their best-friend, Eva convinces Angela to complete the marathon with her.

Set against the breathtaking backdrop of New Zealand and paced with the training Eva and Angela must complete, this is an easy book to fall into and enjoy. For all its beauty, it’s not hard to pick up on the grief, anger and range of emotions the characters are dealing with as they face the loss of husband, son, father and best-friend. Alongside Eva and Angela are their mother-in-law, Angela’s children and Marc, the brothers’ best friend who joins Eva and Angela in entering the marathon. Each form an important piece of the story. Each are feeling different emotions as they process (or ignore) their grief. This book is honest and doesn’t shy away from the very real emotions the characters are facing. Nor does it prevent this being a happy and heartwarming story.

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