Strong Women Stories: Love Heart Lane, Things You Save in a Fire and A Bittersweet Surprise

Rather than concentrate only on “thrillers,” my go-to genre, I decided to read women’s fiction, including a few light romances. What I discovered was there quite a few solidly written books in these genres that make you proud to be a woman. Although all three are very different, they each feature a strong woman at the heart of the story.

FOXGLOVE FARM – #ChristieJBarlow

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Foxglove Farm is meant to be a sweet romance. I suppose that it is – to a point. Isla and Drew are experiencing marital problems and Isla is unaware of exactly why. The man she loves is suddenly withdrawn and sullen but refuses to tell Isla why or what might be wrong. When a birthday surprise blows up in her face, she flees with her infant until she can sort out what to do. The fact is that they are having financial difficulties which Drew has not shared with Isla. He is depressed and angry at not being able to provide for his family. Together they find a way to persevere and rekindle their love for one another once more but the journey is a difficult one.

There were multiple issues that the author introduced: lies and secrets in a marriage, the difficulty of having a newborn on a marriage and, of course, male depression and mental health. While all of these are very important topics – very – at times there was just too much hardship to be believed. There was one problem after another after another in such a short period and within a relatively short story. Yes, there are those who are faced with mounting challenges and generally when it rains, it pours. However, for the good of the novel and to really explore any of these topics thoroughly, either the book needed to be longer or there should have been fewer fires. Regardless, the story itself is well told, well-written and uplifting. This is the second in a series and each set of characters is different from the last, however, I felt as though I was missing some backstory that others might have known from reading the first book in the series. I would suggest reading them in order. They are quick reads so that shouldn’t be a problem.

 

THINGS YOU SAVE IN A FIRE – @KatherineCenter

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There has been a lot of hype and publicity for Katherine Center’s latest book: Things You Save in a Fire and there is a good reason for that – it is a wonderful book featuring a strong, interesting, intelligent woman who also is a firefighter.

When Cassie is first introduced she is receiving a medal for valor and bravery. This really isn’t something that she wants but she deserves it. She’s with her department family having a great time when she becomes aware that the person is handing out her award is someone with whom she has a traumatic past. Things do not go well after that, to the point that she is giving the choice of being fired or transferred. She takes the transfer which is back her hometown, a new station, the need to prove herself once again and to a mother with whom she has a difficult past.

Through the remainder of the book we see Cassie as she grows into the person she was meant to become – strong, capable, funny and even loving. The transformation is poignant, heartfelt, hard and very relatable. Things You Save in a Fire is one of my favorite books of the year. With impeccable writing, believable characters and a story line that is captivating and heart-felt, this is a book you will not want to miss.

A BITTERSWEET SURPRISE @CynEllingsen

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Emma loves running her family’s candy shop, creating new delicious treats and seeing her friends savour her new offerings; however, her father left the candy shop to his second wife who is selling the shop to a corporation. The only way that Emma can keep the shop is to buy out her step-mother at a higher profit than the corporation has offered her. The catch, of course, is that Emma has no extra money and very little self-esteem to think outside of the box. What she does have is loyal customers, friends whom Emma has helped over the years who are ready to return the favor and…. a mysterious painting that has hung in the candy shop since her father was alive. When a stranger makes Emma a flabbergastingly large sum of money for the artwork, Emma begins to suspect there is more to the painting than she realizes.

I absolutely loved and adored A Bittersweet Surprise. There was drama, family issues that had to be overcome but, most importantly, it illustrated how women, given the chance, can overcome obstacles in order to succeed. Emma not only has the skills necessary to be a successful business owner, she a heart that is full of gold. We see Emma as she selflessly helps the other people in her town, a homeless woman and her son, everyone she comes in contact with. She isn’t perfect but she shows what goodness means. I found myself completely immersed in Emma’s story and all of the characters in the book. A Bittersweet Surprise is the third installment of a series but it works beautifully as a stand-alone. Ellingsen uses the “shared universe” style of writing where, as readers, we are introduced to a town or setting that is common throughout the series but the characters, though they may be familiar to us, each have their own story and plot. She has done a great job introducing the characters so that you know their backstory without the need to read each book in order. I highly recommend the book and the entire series – which I’ve now read.

 

 

The Bride Test by Helen Hoang

Admittedly, I did not finish The Kiss Quotient but The Bride Test captured my attention for different reasons and once started, I could not put it down. It is one of the best romance, general fiction books that I’ve read in a while.

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Khai is on “the spectrum” and, while he loves his work, he has no interest in romance or marriage. His mother, however, is certain that he needs a woman in his life to make him more well-rounded and to keep him from becoming too isolated. Taking matters in her own hands, his mother finds a woman in Asia and brings her back for the summer. Esme is desperate for a different life and also wants to find her father who was in the military during the war and whom she never has met or known. Khai is furious but also amazed as Esme finds her own way in America and grows more independent.

To read this synopsis gives the impression that this is a typical romance story but it is far from typical. Esme and Khai are intriguing characters who show both depth and growth throughout the story. It is humorous, compelling and sweet but, most of all, it is a story of hope. Whether you read the first book or not, you will want to immerse yourself the lives of Esme and Khai.

@Edelweiss

Recent Reads, Rapid Reviews

As most of you know, I was off for several months due to illness and, although I couldn’t read, thought I wouldn’t read, I somehow managed TO read a lot of books. I’m also determined to do justice to those authors who sent me books to review. What this means is that I am quite behind with my reviews and I really hate to be behind at anything. Recently I read a post on the Bibliophile Book Club’s blog where she did a series of short but thorough reviews. Taking off on her idea, I will be doing the same until – if ever – I am caught up once more. Fingers crossed and thanks to the Bibliophile Book Club for such a great idea. Please be sure to check out their blog!

Recent and Rapid

MONTAUK by Nicola Harrison

By now I’m quite sure or hope that many of you have read Montauk, one of the best summer reads for 2019. It is, however, a engrossing tale that surpasses the usual summer fare making it a delight to read any time.  Set in the pre-WWII days of New York, it is the story of a woman who married “above her station” without fully comprehended all that would involve. When her husband tells that they are going to travel to Montauk for the summer, she assumes they will be there together. Sadly, she was mistaken and soon learns that not only is she alone, her husband is cheating on her with any woman who will allow it. Feeling displaced with the rich at the resort, she turns to the people who actually live in Montauk, the town, where she discovers friendship, grudging acceptance and more.

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I don’t usually read books set in the era as it is one of my least favorite times in American history. However, Montauk – the resort area – was actually envisioned and created by a developer from my home state. He built a resort here in Indiana and also developed Miami Beach, Florida. Naturally, my curiosity got the best of me. Montauk, the book, is more than just a romance or even historical fiction, it is a story of a woman trapped in the male dominated world of the early 20th century, a world full of lies, hypocrisy, misogyny and class wars. Her struggle becomes the struggle of all women from that era and one that many women today can relate to as well. The writing is brilliant, the characters come alive off of the pages and the story line is unforgettable. I highly recommend Montauk to any and all!

POLITE SOCIETY by Mahesh Rao

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Polite Society is a modern day re-telling of Emma, by Jane Austin set in India. Normally I’m not a fan of re-tellings because I like the original too much, with the possible exception of fairy tales and fables. However, because of the caste system or class structure in India, this particular version works well. The story is cleverly written with a lot of wit and charm. Sadly, for me, I didn’t enjoy Polite Society as much as I had hoped. I think there is too much feminist in me to think anything about this type of social construct is acceptable. I prefer to imagine that all of this died with the Victorian era even though my intellectual side knows differently.

THE WISDOM OF SALLY RED SHOES by Ruth Hogan

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I have been a fan of Ruth Hogan’s work since I read The Keeper of Lost Things which I loved. The Wisdom of Sally Red Shoes was a quite a different story but Hogan’s flair and writing style remained constant. Two very different women come together in this story to create magic in this uplifting tale of wisdom, personal growth and grief. It touches on homelessness among women, the loss of a child, and the commonality that all women have with one another regardless of our social conditions. The characters are brilliantly written, so real you will feel as though you know them personally and the humor within keeps the story from becoming too heavy despite the subject matter. You will laugh, cry and fall in love these women and their story. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

NOTE: Many thanks to the authors, #Netgalley, #Edelweiss, #StMartinsPress, #CrookedLaneBooks for my copy of these books

The Wedding Planner by Eve Devon

Gloria, a rather sassy and bold gal with a habit of rubbing people the wrong way is determined to change her ways and get more people to like her, well… if not like her then at least not deliberately avoid her. So when her best friend asks her to help plan her wedding, Gloria immediately agrees. The drawback is her co-planner, Seth. Gloria and Seth create a tension while planning the wedding and it is all about to boil over. But is that tension anger or simmering romantic heat?

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The Wedding Planner is a light, enjoyable Rom-Com that is perfect for a summer read by the pool. While it is the third in a series of four books, the author – Eve Devon – has given us a handy character guide at the beginning so that we will know who is who, which is good because there are a lot of characters introduced and the story is told from multiple points of view.

Normally this is exactly the type of book that I enjoy as a palate cleanser between deep, dark, serious reads. However, something about the characters didn’t quite resonate with me. Even now I’m unsure if it was their personality or if it was the feeling of “been there, done that” once too often but I found myself doing quite a bit of skimming through this one and far too often for this to be a book that I would recommend to you. That said, if you really like this type of book, then maybe you can and will like these characters. It simply wasn’t for me.

A Summer to Remember #SueMoorcroft #PublicationDay

Happy Publication Day to Sue Moorcroft. Join us by the sea as we enjoy A Summer to Remember! 

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I discovered Sue Moorcroft over the holidays with her marvelous story, A Christmas Gift which really touched my heart. When I saw her newest book, A Summer to Remember, I could not wait to read it. Actually, at the time I got it, the book was simply titled  “New Book by Sue Moorcroft”  but I knew that regardless I would love it – and I did!

Clancy has had the worst of all luck – her fiancé has dumped her for his former lover which left Clancy homeless and also jobless since she, her fiancé and their best friends all worked at a start-up that they built from the ground up. Somehow, it became Clancy who was the odd man out of the equation but, because she was the financial wiz of the group, at least she walked away with resources. Her cousin, Alice, was part owner of seaside inn in need of a caretaker so Clancy packs up her things and without much thought, she heads off to Nelson’s Bar, an inlet on the sea not a place to drink, and sets up shop on a tiny piece of land where everyone knows one another, is not fond of her cousin Alice, there is no cell reception and where Alice’s ex-fiancé lives along with his brother, Adam, who is the co-owner of the inn. A lot of exes in this story but it works. Trust me, it isn’t nearly as confusing as I just made it sound. Naturally there is an on-again, off-again romance between Clancy and Adam but there is much conflict and baggage that it seems that the two of them are not to be together.

What I found most intriguing about A Summer to Remember, is the aspect that I enjoy in all of Moorcroft’s books – the value and realism of her characters. Each of them, from the main characters to the secondary ones, are very vivid and real. They are extremely flawed just as we all are. They are bad tempered, sometimes rude, some very prejudiced, all of whom are growing and changing throughout the book. There is a pair of young men in this book whose secondary storyline was so poignant and brilliantly told that, for me, they became a very integral part of the story itself. I came to care for those two lads quite a lot. When talking with Ms. Moorcroft about the book she told me a bit about the research that she did regarding these two young men and their story and what I learned made their characters even more meaningful. I would encourage you to read A Summer to Remember just for these two fellows and their story alone. Except that I loved every single person in the book, even the snippy older townspeople who were far too opinionated for me and reminded me of some of my own neighbors.

I absolutely loved A Summer to Remember. It’s a marvelous summer read, a fabulous women’s lit book and a great general fiction tale. I highly recommend it! And now, of course, I have to sit it here and anxiously wait for her next book. <sigh> You will find me in the “M” section of the bookstore.

Thank you to #Netgalley, @SueMoorcroft, and @AvonBooksUK for my copy of my new favorite book. You can find it on sale today at amazon

 

Two for Tuesday Part Two: Bridesmaids by @ZaraStoneley

cover152396-mediumA wedding you’ll never forget and a Rom-Com you won’t want to miss, Bridesmaids is the must-read, hilarious book for this summer! 

 

I fell in love with Zara Stoneley over the holidays with her fabulous book, No One Cancels Christmas, and had a feeling that I would really like her newest book, Bridesmaids. I was absolutely right, except I had no idea how much I would enjoy this delightful story and the characters involved – including the precious kitty who will steal your heart!

There are four school mates, four friends and four members of the bridal party and lots and lots of secrets. Not all of the school mates are friends with each others. Not all of them are privy to each other’s secrets and not all of them are happy for the bride to be. Now they have all come together for the hen party and wedding and what a wedding this one will turn out to be!

Jane is our protagonist around whom most of the secrets flow. Not everyone likes Jane, but it appears that everyone talks to her, although what she hears is not always what is true. Sometimes Jane interprets things according to her own conflicted past. Rachel is the bride to be and so happy that she is oblivious to much of what is swirling around her: a fiancé who has secrets of his own, Jane who is struggling after her own failed engagement, and two bridesmaids who cannot stand to be in the same room at the same time. They are Maddie and Sally – one is married to the other’s old boyfriend and the other never gave up hope of rekindling that flame. And then there is Beth – the outlier, single, new mom whose secret makes all other secrets look like child’s play. Welcome to the wedding! Enjoy the ride!

When British Rom-Coms are done well, they are witty, smart, sharp and laugh-out-loud hilarious. Bridesmaids is all of that and more! I, quite literally, found myself laughing so hard  at Jane and her friends, crying at times and then cheering for them at the end in a way that I seldom do for women’s fiction or “chick lit.” Zara Stoneley writes her books in such a way that each character has a very vivid personality and is relatable to someone that you know or have known in your life. You find yourself saying “oh yeah, I completely understand,” right along with the characters in the book. They are very real people while you are reading along with them. More importantly, though, Stoneley creates a story that is more than humorous. All of these characters are going through very complex issues in their lives from broken engagements to job insecurity to single parenthood and broken dreams. We watch as they slowly grow, come to subtle realizations about the next steps in their lives and become stronger as women – and men – so that by the end of the book you are as happy as they are with the way things turned out for their lives. It does have a happy ending although, wow, I wasn’t sure we ever would get these gals to that point!

If you loved Stoneley’s holiday tale or are looking for a delightful, heart-warming summer read, then this is the perfect choice for you. I absolutely adored it!

Thanks so much to #Netgalley, @HarperImpulse and #ZaraStoneley for my copy of #Bridesmaids. amazon

 

Happy Valentine’s Day – Crazy Cupid Love! @Amanda_Heger

When a single arrow inspires romance, can you really trust happily ever after?

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Crazy Cupid Love is the first book in a new series, “Let’s Get Mythical,” and, seriously, who can resist all of that word play!? Not me! This is exactly the fun, whimsical story I was searching for to read this holiday! The storyline is utterly charming, where Eros’ descendants are now living among us mere mortals and blending in as matchmakers as we swipe left or right. Eliza Hermann, aka the world’s worst Cupid, has spent her entire life trying to run from the family business – that helping couples find their true love. Liza is an Erosian (a descendant of Eros, the Greek God of Love and Desire) and one of the most powerful Cupids there is. Because of this she has had mishaps all of her life merely by bumping into the wrong person. It’s been quite a problem for her – and her family. Now, however, with the business in trouble,( there’s a lot of cynicism in today’s world and Cupids aren’t exactly on everyone’s favorite list,) and with her father in the hospital recovering from a heart attack, Liza has to renew her Cupid’s license and give match-making a try once again. That is easier said than accomplished, especially when her enchantments begin to fail and cause an outbreak of hate and bickering rather than love.

Okay, I know what you’re thinking. This sounds a little fanciful, a tad bit whimsical but isn’t that what love and Valentine’s day is all about? Yes, it is. The story itself is actually very good. It is based on the Greek myth of Eros and the supporting characters, the Fates and Furies, Discords and more, all are authentically based in actual Greek mythological tales. There is a wonderful tie-in with modern artificial intelligence and how it will affect human relationships and love, an underlying romance between Liza and her childhood crush who has moved back and a pretty good mystery regarding the reverse enchantments as well.

I love mythology, from Ovid’s Metamorphosis to Neil Gaiman’s  Norse Mythology. I also adore fairy tale re-creations and Crazy Cupid Love beautifully marries the premise of these all into one delightful book. If you like mythology or fairy tales or even quirky romances, then you will love Crazy Cupid Love.  Regardless, from Macsbooks and The Wisteria House, have a lovely Valentine’s Day!

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St. Valentine’s Day Cookie Massacre #Valentine’sDay #ElisabethCrabtree

Do you know how hard it is to find a good book that is specifically for St. Valentine’s Day!? As many book as are written for Christmas, one would think that this would be a breeze. If they are out there, please let me know because I have searched high and low and the pickings are slim, to say the least. Luckily for me, I found this little gem hiding in the FREE Kindle books on Amazon.

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Kat has moved back to her hometown of Hatter’s Cove and is now working for her local paper. She’s finding it to be a let-down after years of crime reporting. Now, she has been relegated to covering the society pages, specially being the ace food critic, a job that has led to multiple bouts of food poisoning as well a death threats. Apparently her restaurants reviews are similar to my book reviews. 🙂  When she receives an invitation to the grand opening of the newest Cookie Shop, she is reluctant to go but knows she has to attend. After all, the owner is her mother’s best friend. Later that evening, Kat receives an anonymous call beckoning her back to the cookie shop. The caller tells her that they have a big tip regarding an old murder. When Kat arrives, she discovers a dead body holding a bag full of cookies from the shop. The owner, her mother’s friend, is promptly arrested despite everyone’s protests. Kat knows she has to do whatever it takes to find the real killer – to save her mother’s friend and possibly her own life.

If you’ve read cosy mysteries, and I’m sure most of you have, then you know that sometimes they are just too adorable for words and the characters are sooo sweet but the substance of the mystery is, well, lacking. If there is too much crime and violence then the book is no longer a “cosy” so it’s a tightrope to walk for authors. Thankfully for us, as readers, Crabtree knows exactly how to tread that tightrope perfectly. There is plenty of humor, the characters are quirky and funny but they still have plenty of depth and, most importantly, the crime itself is plausible, within reason of course. If you like a lite read, a mystery without gore, then you will find The St. Valentine’s Day Cookie Massacre absolutely perfect and it’s a great seasonal read too – who could ask for more?

Love Heart Lane @ChristieBarlow @HarperImpulse #snowdays

Finally! The world outside my window resembles the sparkling snow on my blog. I was beginning to wonder if winter ever was going to arrive in the Midwestern US!

Now, with the snow gently falling and everyone snuggled around the fire, it is the perfect time to read some winter cozies and I have the perfect one for you today – Love Heart Lane by Christie Barlow.

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Felicity “Flick” Simons is a bit fed up with her London retail job, more than a bit homesick for the Scottish highlands she has left behind and feeling like a loner in London despite being surrounded by throngs of people. When she receives the devastating news of her grandmother’s death, she decides that it is past time to travel home to Scotland for a few weeks no matter the reasons she left it all behind nearly a decade ago. However, her arrival home is anything except welcoming as she lands in her village in the middle of one of the worst snow storms in ages followed by a torrential rain storm that washes out the town’s bridge, cutting it off from the civilization and supplies that lie on the other side of the river. An avalanche of emotional and physical needs swarm Flick as she is forced to confront the loss of her grandmother, the closure of their family’s tea shop, the life and love she gave up so many years ago, the friends she once left behind and a village that must cope with a dwindling supply of food and coal. Can Felicity set aside her personal angst and lead her community forward? Will it be enough to save her tiny village?

Love Heart Lane is a wonderful book about community, resilience of the heart, friends and neighbors who rally together to help one another in a time of great need. While there is romance, and it is referenced often, this book is not a “rom-com” as it is billed. There is a lot of tragedy, death, and heartbreak, some of which is dealt with realistically and some of which is brushed over a little too easily – which can be somewhat expected in a cozy. However, what Love Heart Lane does have in abundance is hope and friendship and messages of second chances which, I like to believe, is something we all need to believe can be a reality for us all. I thoroughly enjoyed reading Love Heart Lane and recommend it for those who enjoy a heartwarming, cozy read. This is the first book in a series and I’m truly looking forward to the next so I can catch up with the delightful characters whom I’ve come to know and adore.

I’m grateful to @HarperImpulse, #Netgalley and #ChristieBarlow for my copy of Love Heart Lane available now.

The Christmas Forest #RebeccaBoxall

SIX WEEKS UNTIL CHRISTMAS!!

The countdown continues with the Twelve Books of Christmas started in October. We now are down to SIX, just SIX, weeks until the big day!!  I absolutely love all of the terrific holiday books that are out there this year and I hope you are too! Last year, which really was the first year that I actually read a lot of holiday books, I came across author Rebecca Boxall. I fell in love with her 2017 book, Christmas on the Coast, and immediately had to go back and read her previous year’s offerings, Christmas at the Vicarage and Home for Winter. All of these were well told, beautiful stories set during the holidays but heartwarming tales for all year. This year, Boxall is back with her newest novella, The Christmas Forest.

Enid lives in a charming coastal town next door to her sister, Bess, in matching “Christmas” cottages where they have lived, side by side, since their parent’s tragic death. Enid has Asperger’s Syndrome which interferes with a person’s ability to “socialize” in a neuro-typical manner but, otherwise, they generally are quite brilliant and nearly always talented in some fashion or another. Through a holiday card exchange, Enid has met Fred who lives in Australia. Fred also has recently lost her mother, for whom he was the sole care-giver as she battled Multiple Sclerosis. Through writing and talking on the phone, the two have formed a bond that they believe is ready for the next step – Enid travelling to Australia to meet Fred in person. However, it is extremely difficult for someone with Asperger’s to trust – people, airplanes, strangers in general – and it is even more difficult for them to be “trapped” in a plane. But Enid believes that she is ready – until everything goes to hell in a hand-basket at the airport! Will these two ever be able to overcome the obstacles to be together?

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I admit that I loved the story from start to finish and, because it is a novella, that only took an afternoon! While the writing itself is not as taut as with her previous novels, I found the characters to more than make up for that. Perhaps it is because I am part of a  family that has lived with MS and other auto-immune diseases and have a son with Asperger’s, I totally and completely related to Enid and a young boy, Dan, as well as Fred, who cared for his mother. They charmed me with their humor, had me crying with their set-backs and made me grin like a Cheshire cat in the end. And that is exactly what a good cozy novel is supposed to do! I loved this story and I hope will too!

I was thrilled to receive an advanced copy of The Christmas Forest from #Netgalley, especially since I have been anxiously waiting for this book since last Christmas! Thanks also to #RebeccaBoxall and @AmazonPublishingUK !