It’s Valentine’s Day – what are you reading? #SundayPotluckClub/FirstComesLove

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I hope you’re having a love-ly Valentine’s Day and are sharing it with those you love and care about most. For me, that would be BOOKS! 

FIRST COMES LOVE by Camilla Isley

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First Comes Love by Camilla Isley includes three of her first books: Love Connection, I Have Never and A Christmas Date. Each of the stories can be read independently from one another but they do have a few crossovers. You can even find the books published separately if you choose.

Love Connection, the first story, was my favorite. Gemma is sitting in an airport with two tickets to two different destinations. One is for the wedding of her best friend; the other is to stop the wedding of her first real love. She ponders the outcome of each and then decides – but is it the right choice? Love Connection actually allows you, the reader, to see the outcome each way and to follow Gemma’s path of self-discovery. It it a thoughtful, well written and humorous story of love, choices and consequences.

The latter two, I Have Never and A Christmas Date, are both fairly typical ROMCOMs. They will make you laugh out loud, I promise you will, and perhaps even cry a little. Camilla Isley writes poignant love stories that are sure to touch each of you, especially on this day of love.  This is my first venture into her writing and I will be sure to watch for her future releases.

Sunday Potluck Club by Melissa Storm

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Love Love LOVED The Sunday Potluck Club. And, by the way, this review is about the entire book and not just an excerpt which was previously published.

Four very different women, with distinct personalities, forge a friendship with one another after meeting on a cancer ward. They are the survivors who, with one exception, have lost a loved one to cancer. Amy, who the story primarily revolves around; Bridget, whose mother has just died; Nicole, whose father is in remission and Hazel who lost her mother before the others. Each are grieving and coping with their loss, as well as survivor’s guilt, in their own unique way. Told from Amy’s point of view, we get to know each woman’s strength’s and their flaws as they encourage one another through difficult times. When Amy meets a man whose daughter is in her classroom and who also is coping with loss, she finally begins to see that there can be life after monumental loss.

The Sunday Potluck Club talks a lot about death, grief, and coping with loss but never in a heavy way. Yes, it is realistic to the point that you hurt for some of the women and there were times that I wanted to slap a few of them, but overall, it was a beautiful story of friendship and overcoming challenges. At its heart, it is a well crafted love story between friends as well as possible romantic interests. It’s a book about life, not death. It also is the first in a new series so each woman will have their story told. I cannot wait for the next one!

Thank you to #Netgalley, the authors, #KensingtonPublications and #PinkBloomPress for my copies of these wonderful books.

 

 

 

Romantic Two for Tuesday: Husband Material and Been There, Married That

Happy Tuesday! I had hoped to bring you two delicious romances for the Tuesday of Valentine’s Week. Strangely enough, neither of these books were what I was expecting, one for the better and one, well… not so much.

Been There, Married That by Gigi Levangie, promised to be a humorous look at a celebrity marriage gone wrong. I truly thought it would be a funny take on a woman who was rebuilding her life after a celebrity marriage. What I got, instead, was a book about nothing. The characters were flat, there really wasn’t a plot other than a lot (a LOT) of attempts at humor. In fact, that appears to have been the goal of the author – to see how many laughs she could get, many of which fell very flat. I love a good Rom-Com but this was neither a Romance or a Comedy. It was like watching a really bad movie where there is one pratfall too many. Basically, I skimmed three-fourths of the book to finish. So, no romance or recommendation here for Been There, Married That.

On the flip side, I had small expectations for Husband Material. But then I read the first page, and the second, and found I couldn’t stop until I was completely finished with the book. I honestly don’t want to say too much about the plot because I want you to be as surprised as I was. The main character wants you to believe this is simply her search for the perfect husband. What we discover instead is that she is much less detached and aloof than she appears and her heart is in need of serious mending. Husband Material had me laughing, crying and cheering and then I wanted MORE. It is a wonderful book that is far more than a romance. It is wonderful story of resilience and strength. I highly recommend Husband Material for all who love an exceptionally written story.

Have you read either of these books? What did you think of them? Was I totally off the mark with Been There, Married That? Let me know….

An Everyday Hero @LauraTrentham

I was SO not expecting to like this book, An Everyday Hero. Like the main character, I’ve had enough of endless, mindless wars. I’m a Colonel’s wife and an Air Force brat and I have been faced with its horrors for far too long. I assumed that this book would be another sappy, propagandist piece of tripe. Let me assure you and loudly admit – I was WRONG!

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From award-winning author Laura Trentham comes an emotionally layered novel about redemption, second chances and discovering that life is worth fighting for.

Greer Hadley is like so many young women with dreams of stardom and stars in their eyes. She set off for Nashville with a golden voice and hope as big as the ocean. However, after years of trying for that “big break” and being left with nothing except anxiety disorder, she heads home to a place she swore she would never return. After a bar crawl, she is ordered to do community service which just happens to be a music as therapy center. There Greer comes in contact with people who will change her life: a young teen with a huge chip on her shoulder named Ally and a wounded vet who is battling demons that may be to large for he or Greer to handle. What happens within the story is a beautiful unfolding of drama, hope, second chances and the will to rise up from the ashes.

Trentham is a master storyteller whose gift of prose shines throughout this book. There are so many opportunities for the story to turn cheesy and into a Hallmark moment, but she deftly guides the story line back to reality. I don’t read books about military personnel because that is a life I’ve lived for far too long but An Everyday Hero struck a chord so deep within me that I could not put down the book from its beginning to its end. It has three very strong, realistic, well developed characters with whom I connected and wanted to know more about. Their stories are compelling and I know you will love them as much as I did.

An Everyday Hero is slated to be published in February. It’s well worth putting on your TBR list now.

@Netgalley #StMartinsPress @StMartinsPress

Counting Down to Christmas #ChristmasInVermont #ChristmasAngels #PostcardsatChristmas

Last year I started reviewing holiday books in October. This year, it appears, I nearly missed the holidays completely. No worries, I’ll start the catch-up right now!

I love holiday books. It’s one of the few times of the year that I read romances or cozies. There’s just something about sitting by the fire that makes these genres more appealing to me. These three books, Christmas In Vermont, Christmas Angels and Postcards at Christmas, all were marvelous reads for the season.

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I love stories about chances, serendipity, synchronicity – call it what you will – the idea that two people are meant to be together and that fate will make it happen. It’s naive, I know, but it’s wonderful to imagine. Christmas in Vermont is all about second chances and fate.

When Emma goes into a pawn shop on Christmas Eve to sell the bracelet that her ex gave her, she discovers an engraved watch that she once gave to Fletcher, the “one who got away.” Sentimentally, Emma purchases the watch for old time’s sake. Her friend decides it is a sign that the two, Emma and Fletcher, are meant to be together and she arranges it so that the two of them are at the same place in Vermont at the same time. Of course there a moments of rekindled love, mishaps and miscommunication but in the end will their old feelings be enough to carry this couple into a future together? Well, you have to read Christmas in Vermont to find out! And you will want to read this gem this holiday season! Anita Hughes is a master story-teller in this genre and weaves a marvelous tale here. Definitely all the stars from me!

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Color me a sucker for Hallmark holiday movies and Nancy Naigle’s book, Christmas Angels was like reading the script for just that! It ticked every box for me: Restoration of an Inn – check. Romantic man to help with the restoration – check. Small town pitching in – check. Christmas! Check Check Check.  I loved it all!

Liz has very fond memories of her grandparent’s inn and always wanted to own an one just like it. Each night she pores over real estate listings hoping to find something just like theirs when one night she sees an ad for what appears to be their very inn for auction. Putting in a bid, sight unseen, Liz wins the inn. However, upon arrival, she discovers she should have seen the place before bidding. Not to have her enthusiasm dampened, she finds Matt to help her rebuild/restore the inn to its former glory. What she doesn’t realize is that Matt also put in a bid on the inn. Will these two rivals find harmony and love at the inn? Will the small town people welcome her into their fold? Welllll, it IS a Christmas love story but it is also one that you will enjoy reading from start to finish, knowing there is a happy ending

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Did I save my favorite for last!? They ALL were my favorite! But Postcards at Christmas was written a bit differently so I saved it for last.

Postcards at Christmas is a sequel to another book by Clark, one I have not read but definitely intend to. It is more of a novella and can be easily read in one very quick sitting. However, with all of that said, there is a lot of drama in this little story! Cara and Simeon are planning a wedding when Simeon has a very debilitating bike accident. How or even, will they put their lives back together is the crux of this story. It is beautifully written, warm, tragic and wonderful. If you only read one story between and Christmas, make it this one. You will be glad you did.

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Thanks for reading about these heartwarming holiday stories. I’ll be back with MORE reviews for my favorite seasonal stories. In the meantime, have yourself a merry little holiday and BE SAFE!

Thanks to @StMartinsPress, #Netgalley and the authors, @NancyNaigle @anitahughes and @imogenclark for allowing me the opportunity read, treasure and review these books.

Rewrite the Stars by #EmmaHeatherington

Rewrite the Stars is a beautiful story of love, loss and fate-vs-self determination. It has a holiday setting through the years but is perfect reading for anytime.

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Charlotte, Charlie, loves music and loves to write music. She falls in love with the drummer of her brother’s band but her brother is determined to keep them apart. Over the years they are thrown back together again but never quite make the connection with one another. Tragedies occur in both of their lives altering their dreams and hopes. When they finally meet again we are asked if it is too late or can we “rewrite destiny” and create our own fate.

The story is simply written, flows beautifully from start to finish and is perfect for readers of multiple genres.

 

My Mother’s Silence @lwestwoodwriter

Last year during the holidays, I was introduced to Lauren Westwood’s work through her novel Midnight on the Thames. It was one of my most loved books of the season and afterward I read all of the books she had written to date! You can read my review of Midnight on the Thames HERE.  This year Westwood is back with another incredible story, My Mother’s Silence. Set during the holiday season, it is a cross-genre book about family, the bonds of love, forgiveness and the power of forgiveness.

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Skye had no recollection of the night her twin sister, Ginny, died. All she was aware of was her inability to forgive herself for Ginny’s death and the belief that her mother blamed Skye for Ginny’s death as well. Fifteen years later, their mother is frail and in need of someone to be with her. Skye returns home to the secrets, the blame, the gossip of what really happened the night Ginny vanished. As Skye searches for answers to the questions her memories refuse to answer, the horrors of that night reveal secrets this family may not be able to cope with.

My Mother’s Silence is a story of three women: a mother and her twin daughters. It’s a tale of unspoken anger, resentment, jealousy but, above all, it is a story of love, forgiveness and hope. What I love most about Westwood’s writing is that she creates characters that are so realistically flawed so that we, the reader, are able to relate to them. Through their story line we come to know everything about them, including the thoughts and feelings that they would like to forget. As Skye delves into her sister’s past with the help of long forgotten journals, we see how emotionally fraught her sister was, the secrets that she was keeping from Skye and, ultimately what happened that fateful night. As Skye then attempts to deal with the lies, the whispers and betrayal, we see her emotional growth as she finally makes reconciliations with members of her family. This is a powerful, emotional, tense book through which I laughed, cried and got angry right along side Skye. Westwood, as always, drew me into their lives from the beginning and I did not stop reading until the very end – and then I wanted MORE!! And yes, this book is centered around the holidays, but it is far more about relationships than it is about the holidays. It easily could be read any time, any day of the year – and you should do just that. Now, do I really have to wait another entire year for the next fabulous book by Lauren Westwood!?

I’m so grateful to #Netgalley and #Bookoutre for my copy of  #MyMothersSilence.

 

 

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

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.

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