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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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Book Review: A Girl’s Guide to the Outback

A Girl’s Guide to the Outback – Jessica Kate – Thomas Nelson – Published 28 January 2020

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Synopsis

Samuel Payton is a passionate youth pastor in Virginia, but beneath the surface, Sam’s still recovering from a failed business. His coworker—start-up expert Kimberly Foster—is brilliant, fearless, and capable, but her mother’s rejection from a young age till now has left her defensive and longing for a family. Two people have never been more at odds—or more attracted to one another. And every day at work, the sparks are flying.

When Kimberly’s ambitious plans for Sam’s ministry butt up against his risk-averse nature, Sam decides that obligations to family trump his work for the church. He quits the ministry and flies home to Australia to help his family save their struggling farm—much to Kimberly’s chagrin. As Kimberly’s grand plans flounder, she is forced to face the truth: that no one can replace Sam. To what lengths will she go to get him back?

My thoughts

Full of Aussie slangs and humour, this delightful book will have you laughing and crying as the characters wade their way through major life decisions and romantic entanglements (and a whole heap of cow muck).

Kimberley does everything she can to keep Wildfire, a youth drop-in Center, surviving. She even has big plans for expansion, if she could just get founder and youth pastor Sam on board. But instead, they constantly butt heads. When Sam up and leaves the program after rejecting her expansion plan she has no choice but to follow him to his family dairy farm in rural Australia in the hopes of winning him back. While in Australia, Kim falls in love with Sam’s tenacious sister and the family history that is wrapped up in the farm – everything she’s never had. But as she and Sam form a tenuous truce to start working together, the sparks start to fly as each reveals a hidden side of themselves. But can their relationship last if their plans fall apart?

While I enjoyed the story of youth ministry start ups, big dreams and a dairy farm to save, it was the characters that I really fell in love with. Kim is so outwardly strong and confident. But I could relate to the quivering, hurt mess she is inside. She has never felt like she belonged, never felt like she was worth anything, constantly striving to be good enough for her demanding mother. And Sam, through his blinded fear, has contributed to that. Sam, for his part, has been burnt from past failures and from misplaced criticism. His fear drives him, leaving him constantly at odds with Kim’s ambitious plans. While their new plans succeed and fail, it is the mending of the heart that drives this story. Kim and Sam start, not quite as enemies, but with plenty of shared hurt and past inflicted wounds. As they work together on Sam’s family’s farm – and Kim doesn’t hold back, jumping straight into the messy work- they share more of themselves and learn to really listen to each other. Their growing relationship is slow to start and certainly doesn’t jump from enemies to attraction. But once that spark does creep in, whoa boy, talk about chemistry.

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Book Review: The Dating Charade

The Dating Charade – Melissa Ferguson – Thomas Nelson – Published 3 December 2019

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Synopsis

Cassie Everson is an expert at escaping bad first dates. And, after years of meeting, greeting, and running from the men who try to woo her, Cassie is almost ready to retire her hopes for a husband—and children—altogether.

But fate has other plans, and Cassie’s online dating profile catches the eye of firefighter Jett Bentley. In Jett’s memory, Cassie Everson is the unreachable girl-of-legend from their high school days. Nervously, he messages her, setting off a chain of events that forces a reluctant Cassie back into the dating game.

No one is more surprised than Cassie when her first date with Jett is a knockout. But when they both go home and find three children dropped in their laps—each—they independently decide to do the right and mature thing: hide the kids from each other while sorting it all out. What could go wrong?

My thoughts

The Dating Charade is a delightful surprise of a novel. It’s quirky, funny and delivers a whole heap of enjoyment. It is both light hearted and yet touches on some serious topics, from child neglect to the importance of families. My only criticism is that I wanted more of Cassie and Jett. I wouldn’t mind a whole extra book to fill in the time between the last chapter and the epilogue, just because it’s so lovely to hang out with them and their families. If you love humorous romance novels, The Dating Charade is for you.

Cassie has almost given up on love and her dream of a family. She’s an expert at escaping from terrible dates. When firefighter Jett Bentley sees Cassie’s online profile, he is intrigued. She seems different from the girl he knew—and crushed on—in high school. No one is more surprised than Cassie when the date goes well. But when one of the girls from Cassie’s work at Girls Haven, a refuge for young girls, needs a safe place to stay, Cassie doesn’t hesitate to take in the teenager and her two younger sisters. And when Jett’s sister arrives and unceremoniously leaves him with her three small children, he knows he must do the right thing and look after them, even if he has no idea what to do with babies and toddlers. Uncertain of their future, Jett and Cassie hide their new young charges from each other, while trying to learn to balance, work, life, and dating with a new family.

I really enjoyed The Dating Charade. Far more than I expected, actually. The deception isn’t quite as bad as what is hinted at in the official summary. When Jett and Cassie first meet and start dating, neither has a family. Yet just a few dates in, through various circumstances, both must become the carers of three children. It’s totally understandable that neither feels comfortable disclosing their uncertain futures with the other and they don’t deliberately hide them from each other (until Cassie has an incident with a cat, a Christmas tree and a certain young lady calling the fire department.)

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Book Review: Smoke Screen

Smoke Screen – Terri Blackstock – Thomas Nelson – Published 5 November 2019

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Synopsis

Nate Beckett has spent his life fighting wildfires instead of the lies and rumors that drove him from his Colorado hometown. His mother begs him to come back now that his father has been released from prison, but it isn’t until he’s sidelined by an injury that he’s forced to return and face his past. But that means facing Brenna too.

Fourteen years ago, Nate was in love with the preacher’s daughter. When Pastor Strickland discovered Brenna defied him to sneak out with Nate, the fight between Strickland and Nate’s drunken dad was loud—and very public. Strickland was found murdered later that night, and everyone accused Roy Beckett. When the church burned down not long after, people assumed Nate set the fire to get even for his father’s conviction. He let the rumors fly and left town without looking back.

Brenna is stunned to learn that the man convicted of murdering her father has been pardoned. The events of that night set her life on a bad course, and now she’s fighting a brutal custody battle with her ex and his new wife where he’s using lies and his family’s money to sway the judge. Brenna is barely hanging on, and she’s turned to alcohol to cope. Shame and fear consume her.

As Nate and Brenna deal with the present—including new information about that fateful night and a wildfire that’s threatening their town—the past keeps igniting. Nate is the steady force Brenna has so desperately needed. But she’ll have to learn to trust him again first.

My thoughts

Smoke Screen is a story about family, love, wrongs dealt unjustly, reputations and the havoc of a messy divorce and custody battle.

Brenna is a mess after her husband left her for a much younger woman and is now fighting for custody of their two young children. Brenna has turned to alcohol to cope and the news that the man responsible for murdering her father has been pardoned only heightens her stress levels. When smoke jumper, Nate Beckett hears of his father’s pardon, he has no intention of returning to the small town that so quickly turned their backs on his family and accused Nate of burning down the church in revenge. But an injury while fighting large wild fires, means he must return, coming face-to-face with the woman who still holds his heart.

I was intrigued by the story in Smoke Screen. It is more a contemporary novel about romance, broken relationships and heartbreak, than suspense novel. There are two investigations in this story, both of which concluded, incorrectly, many years ago. But while these investigations are being re-evaluated now due to current events, they tick along in the background. It is Brenna’s story of alcohol abuse and battle for custody that drives the plot and brings tension to the book. I thought it was very obvious who the murderer would be and I was not surprised to be proven correct. The story just had too many easy fixes and neat endings not to go with that clean tie-up.

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Book Review: Lake Season

Lake Season – Denise Hunter – Bluebell Inn Romance #1 – Thomas Nelson – Published 12 November 2019

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Synopsis

When their parents die in a tragic accident, Molly Bennett and her siblings pull together to fulfill their parents’ dream: turning their historic home back into an inn.

Adam Bradford (a.k.a. bestselling author Nathanial Grey) is a reclusive author with a bad case of writer’s block. Desperate for inspiration as his deadline approaches, he travels to a North Carolina lake town, the setting of his next novel. There he immediately meets his muse, a young innkeeper who fancies herself in love with his alter ego.

When Molly finds an old letter in the walls of her inn she embarks on a mission with Adam to find the star-crossed lovers and bring them the closure they deserve. But the guest she invites along has secrets of his own. Past and present collide as truths are revealed, and Molly and Adam will have to decide if love is worth trusting.

My thoughts

Lake Season is the latest romantic novel by Denise Hunter. It is the first book in a new series, and this one starts the series off with a good helping of romance, history, and family. It’s a sweet story and well worth enjoying.

When Molly’s parents die in a car crash, she and her two siblings commit to finishing their parents’ dream — the refurbishment of their home as an inn. In the midst of final preparations, an unexpected guest arrives and Molly doesn’t have the heart to turn him away. Little does she know that the shy, unassuming Adam Bradford is actually Molly’s favourite author, Nathaniel Quinn. When they find a 50-year-old letter hidden in the walls, Molly recruits Adam to help her track down the intended recipient.

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Book Review: Fragments of Fear

Fragments of Fear – Carrie Stuart Parks – Thomas Nelson – Published 23 July 2019

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Synopsis

Evelyn McTavish’s world came crashing down with the suicide of her fiancé. As she struggles to put her life back together and make a living from her art, she receives a call that her dog is about to be destroyed at the pound. Except she doesn’t own a dog. The shelter is adamant that the microchip embedded in the canine with her name and address makes it hers.

Evelyn recognizes the dog as one owned by archaeologist John Coyote because she was commissioned to draw the two of them. The simple solution is to return the dog to his owner—but she arrives only to discover John’s murdered body.

As Evelyn herself becomes a target, she crosses paths with undercover FBI agent Sawyer Price. The more he gets to know her, the more personally invested he becomes in keeping her safe. Together, they’re desperate to find the links between so many disparate pieces.

And the clock is ticking.

My thoughts

Fragments of Fear is a thrilling and intricately woven suspense novel. With endless twists and loads of action, it is a novel that continued to keep me guessing and marvelling at the unexpected strength of the main character. Fragments of Fear is the first novel I have read by Carrie Stuart Parks and I was impressed with her storytelling and mastery of the suspense details.

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