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Rachel Fordham’s Yours Truly, Thomas

Yours Truly, Thomas by [Fordham, Rachel]

For three years, Penny Ercanbeck has been opening other people’s mail. Dead ends are a reality for clerks at the Dead Letter Office. Still she dreams of something more–a bit of intrigue, a taste of romance, or at least a touch less loneliness. When a letter from a brokenhearted man to his one true love falls into her hands, Penny seizes this chance to do something heroic. It becomes her mission to place this lost letter into the hands of its intended recipient.

Thomas left his former life with no intention of ending up in Azure Springs, Iowa. He certainly didn’t expect a happy ending after what he had done. All he wanted to do was run and never look back. In a moment of desperation, he began to write, never really expecting a reply.

When Penny’s undertaking leads her to the intriguing man who touched her soul with his words, everything grows more complicated. She wants to find the rightful owner of the letter and yet she finds herself caring–perhaps too much–for the one who wrote it.

Review

I really enjoyed Rachel Fordham’s debut book. She really brings a fresh voice to the small-town romance genre. My thoughts:

What I liked

It was different. I have to give Fordham credit for doing something unique. This novel is part epistolary, part mystery, part western. It’s a lot going on without feeling like a lot is going on.

Romance. Fordham actually presents more than one romance to show that romantic love can come in many different ways and forms…even with Penny. Penny had one way that she was looking for love, but her romance came to fruition a bit differently than she thought.

Mystery. There is one mystery that’s a bit obvious, but then there was a twist in the book that I didn’t see coming.

Spiritually, the characters pray, deal with grief, and how to attain peace.

What I didn’t like

This book started slow. I’m not sure why, but it took quite some time before I found myself invested. But, the thing that got me, was that the heroine makes a decision that I think was supposed to be kind of romantic but came off to me as creepy and stalkerish. I had serious second-hand embarrassment that made me put the book down. I know I was supposed to suspend disbelief but I couldn’t.

Lastly, (and this is bit a of a pet peeve), I will never understand what authors are trying to say when they glorify these small towns and vilify big cities. I cannot tell you how many times I was told just how great Azure Springs was and how awful Alexandria, VA/Washington DC was (which is funny because coming from Chicago, those cities seem rather small townish to me).

Romantic scale: 7

Overall, if you’re looking for a cute romance, than this is for you. It just wasn’t my cup of tea.

**I received a copy from Revell. My opinion was not affected in anyway.**

 

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Elizabeth Camden’s The Spice King

The Spice King (Hope and Glory Book #1) by [Camden, Elizabeth]

Gray Delacroix has dedicated his life to building his very successful global spice empire, but it has come at a cost. Resolved to salvage his family before it spirals out of control, he returns to his ancestral home to save his brother and sister before it’s too late.

As a junior botanist for the Smithsonian, Annabelle Larkin has been charged with the impossible task of gaining access to the notoriously private Delacroix plant collection. If she fails, she will be out of a job and the family farm in Kansas will go under. She has no idea that in gaining entrance to the Delacroix world, she will unwittingly step into a web of dangerous political intrigue far beyond her experience.

Unable to deny her attraction to the reclusive business tycoon, Annabelle will be forced to choose between her heart and loyalty to her country. Can Gray and Annabelle find a way through the storm of scandal without destroying the family Gray is fighting to save?

Review

I will admit that this book didn’t sound all that interesting to me, but I trust Elizabeth Camden to tell me a good story. My thoughts:

What I liked

Gray Delacroix. Camden writes some of the best heroes and it’s because none of them are cookie cutter. Gray is brilliant and wealthy, and yet largely vulnerable. In spite of everything that he has, there is a large amount of aloneness that he constantly experiences. I felt for him the entire book. He’s not perfect (none of Camden’s heroes ever are). He’s very opinionated and oftentimes wrong, but he had a code of ethic that I respected.

Then there is Annabelle. She is a typical Camden heroine: smart, has a specific (scientific) niche, and is living right on the edge of cutting new technology of her times. As a reader, I always learn so much from Camden’s heroines. I found Annabelle to be a good foil to Gray. She’s very excited about life, eager to help, and there’s a kindness that just oozes out of her.

Historical facts. Camden has a gift for taking an issue that America has since resolved and shining a light on it at the peak of when it was not solved. I learned so much without feeling like I was being taught a lesson about the spice trade, food labels, the Department of Agriculture, the Smithsonian, and even the Civil War.

Secondary characters. I am hoping, so hoping, that the rest of the series involves Gray’s siblings. What an interesting dynamic duo. At first, they seem very silly and almost superficial, but by the end of the book, there is such depth there. And such mystery.

The political intrigue. At first, I didn’t care too much about the details, but then the book takes quite the turn. I feel like the mystery here is going to continue in the next book (I hope it continues in the next book).

Spiritually, characters pray and read the Bible. Annabelle specifically relies on God during tough times.

What I didn’t like

Okay. This book deploys my least favorite trope in it: deception. It was almost painful to read (why can’t people just work together?). However, the thing that saved it, the thing that made me keep turning the pages (other than the fact that I had agreed to read this book for review) was that the deception did not play out in the usual deception-timeline (i.e. the big reveal is at the 70-75% mark and it’s always revealed by someone who is not the main character). Still, the character doing the deceiving (no matter how good a reason or excuse) always looks bad in my book. I’m not sure they redeemed themselves so much as they were forgiven. It affected the romance a bit…duh…and that’s my favorite part.

Romantic scale: 7

Overall, in spite of my quibbles with this book, I read it in one day and I could not believe it was over when it concluded. I’m very much looking forward to the next one!

*I received a copy from Netgalley via BethanyHouse. My opinion was not affected in anyway.*

***

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Eva Marie Everson’s The One True Love of Alice-Ann

The One True Love of Alice-Ann by [Everson, Eva Marie]

Living in rural Georgia in 1941, sixteen-year-old Alice-Ann has her heart set on her brother’s friend Mack; despite their five-year age gap, Alice-Ann knows she can make Mack see her for the woman she’ll become. But when they receive news of the attack on Pearl Harbor and Mack decides to enlist, Alice-Ann realizes she must declare her love before he leaves.

Though promising to write, Mack leaves without confirmation that her love is returned. But Alice-Ann is determined to wear the wedding dress her maiden aunt never had a chance to wear—having lost her fiancé in the Great War. As their correspondence continues over the next three years, Mack and Alice-Ann are drawn closer together. But then Mack’s letters cease altogether, leaving Alice-Ann to fear history repeating itself.

Dreading the war will leave her with a beautiful dress and no happily ever after, Alice-Ann fills her days with work and caring for her best friend’s war-torn brother, Carlton. As time passes and their friendship develops into something more, Alice-Ann wonders if she’ll ever be prepared to say good-bye to her one true love and embrace the future God has in store with a newfound love. Or will a sudden call from overseas change everything?

Review

I was in the mood for a WWII fiction novel and stumbled across this one. My thoughts:

What I liked

Alice-Ann. Though Alice-Ann isn’t perfect (she has her whiny moments), I very much enjoyed being in her head. This is very much a coming of age novel. Alice-Ann starts off at sixteen years of age filled with all kinds of romantic notions, but the war and time forces her to grow up and to learn truth vs. fiction. But more than that, she comes across as real. A lot of her concerns and the things she deals with feels genuine and manages to translate across time and page.

The romance. It was lovely and my favorite kind: one based on the foundation of friendship.

History. You don’t get a whole lot about the battles (though you learn a bit about the happenings in the Pacific), but you do get to see how the war affected small town America…especially when everyone knew everyone there was to know in that town.

Relationships. The novel isn’t just a romance. You get Alice-Ann’s relationship with her father, her sister-in-law, her friends (old and new). The relationships are complex and fully nuanced so that no one comes across as one dimensional.

Spiritually, the characters often pray and attend service.

What I didn’t like

There is something that happens in regards to the romance that is predictable–especially in war time romance novels. That said, I thought the author did a lovely job of dealing with it.

Romantic scale: 7.5

Overall, I very much enjoyed it. It did exactly what I wanted to do and gave me an entertaining wartime romance.

 

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Natalie Walters’ Living Lies

Living Lies (Harbored Secrets Book #1) by [Walters, Natalie]

In the little town of Walton, Georgia, everybody knows your name–but no one knows your secret. At least that’s what Lane Kent is counting on when she returns to her hometown with her five-year-old son. Dangerously depressed after the death of her husband, Lane is looking for hope. What she finds instead is a dead body.

Lane must work with Walton’s newest deputy, Charlie Lynch, to uncover the truth behind the murder. But when that truth hits too close to home, she’ll have to decide if saving the life of another is worth the cost of revealing her darkest secret.

Debut novelist Natalie Walters pulls you to the edge of your seat on the first page and keeps you there until the last in this riveting story that will have you believing no one is defined by their past.

Review

Even though I had never read this author before, I requested this book because sometimes I’m in the mood for a mystery. My thoughts:

What I liked

The characters. The setup is pretty familiar: girl in a small town plus a handsome deputy equals solved mystery. Except not. Lane is not out here trying to solve mysteries. She’s trying to get through each day. And the deputy (while handsome) is new on the job and trying to learn the ropes. These small differences to a common refrain served to add a new spin on the trope. Lane’s personal problems are intense and yet something I think everyone has encountered. In spite of her issues, I found her to be a very likeable and relatable heroine. The same with Charlie Lynch. He’s not your typical know-it-all police officer and he has his own past which serves to make his narrative rich. Further, both characters have family issues that serve to push the narrative along.

The mystery. You get a lot of police work in this book that I thought was done well. The author doesn’t just skim over how the characters find clues and neither does she pull rabbits out of her hat. Instead, you’re walked through the process in such a way that the mystery almost feels real.

Spiritually, the characters have to deal with truly trusting what the word of God says in spite of their feelings.

What I didn’t like

The author tried to connect the mystery and make it more personal for Lane, but it just didn’t work. And since she wasn’t as invested in it, I wasn’t as involved in it. The book is well written, but I could put it down and not think about it for days. I felt like I was on a journey with Charlie to figure out who the bad guy was but the bad guy didn’t really affect the main characters in any shape or form so I wasn’t worried and I wasn’t on the edge of my seat (though there was one scene…). Now, the bad guy doesn’t always have to connect with the main characters, but it does make a book more interesting if it does. But that’s just my opinion.

Romantic scale: 7.8

Overall, solid mystery, complex characters and cute romance.

**I received a copy from Revell. My opinion was not affected in anyway.**

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Susie Finkbeiner’s All Manner of Things

All Manner of Things by [Finkbeiner, Susie]

When Annie Jacobson’s brother Mike enlists as a medic in the Army in 1967, he hands her a piece of paper with the address of their long-estranged father. If anything should happen to him in Vietnam, Mike says, Annie must let their father know.

In Mike’s absence, their father returns to face tragedy at home, adding an extra measure of complication to an already tense time. As they work toward healing and pray fervently for Mike’s safety overseas, letter by letter the Jacobsons must find a way to pull together as a family, regardless of past hurts. In the tumult of this time, Annie and her family grapple with the tension of holding both hope and grief in the same hand, even as they learn to turn to the One who binds the wounds of the brokenhearted.

Author Susie Finkbeiner invites you into the Jacobson family’s home and hearts during a time in which the chaos of the outside world touched their small community in ways they never imagined.

Review

I’ve never read this author before but I love “war time” fiction novels…especially coming of age war time fiction novels and it was coupled with family dynamics? Yes, please. My thoughts:

What I liked

The characters. Each one was rich and layered and felt like they could step right off the page at any moment. There was obviously Annie, the main character, who is kind and considerate, forgiving and loving. She’s also growing up in turbulent times with a somewhat turbulent family and learning how to deal with it all. But then you have her mom, who has such a dynamic personality, her brothers who are sweet, funny, and caring, her grandparents who go through grandparent-like things, her friend who supports her and who she supports, and her father who is still dealing with the after-effects of the Korean War. Each character almost had their own story to tell. I didn’t feel like the author had any caricatures here. And you know characters are developed well when you find yourself almost praying for them.

Family dynamics. This isn’t a plot driven book. It’s more or less how Annie is dealing with different changes in her life: her brother leaving for Vietnam and the return of a father who was, and kind of is, MIA. I thought that the author did a great job of showing the reality of both. Annie loves her brother and so it isn’t easy to watch him go to war. Especially when said brother has stepped into almost a father-figure role. Then, there is her dad himself. He really was one of the most fascinating characters in the whole book. I loved that the author really took her time to develop him in both the book and in Annie’s life.

The style. There’s a part of this book that is epistolary. I actually really liked the letter writing that went back and forth between various characters. It was a nice way to learn more about certain ones.

Spiritually, the novel deals with prayer and trusting God in the difficult times. And also how faith can sustain you in those difficult time.

What I didn’t like

It was a bit predictable. I grew up reading war time fiction as a child. There’s a bit of a formula for these books. As soon as I read the first three chapters, I leaned over and told my dad how this book was going to end. I was rather disappointed to be right. Further, there was a lot of heavy handed foreshadowing for various facets of the book…so much so I thought the author was going to go in a different direction…

The romance, but not in the way you think. This book didn’t necessarily need romance and I liked how the author played with the fact that the main character could end up with this guy or that guy or no guy. The problem I had was this: one of the possible romances was really complex if you considered all the details and the author tried to make it simple. But, by making it simple, she cheapened the experience of one of the characters. Also, Vietnam.

Romantic scale: 5

Honestly, this book was so compelling I pretty much read it in one sitting. Yes, there were things I didn’t love about it, but overall, it was just a knockout for me.

**I received a copy from Revell. My opinion was not affected in anyway.**

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Carla Laureano’s Brunch at Bittersweet Café

Brunch at Bittersweet Café (The Saturday Night Supper Club) by [Laureano, Carla]

Baker and pastry chef Melody Johansson has always believed in finding the positive in every situation, but seven years after she moved to Denver, she can’t deny that she’s stuck in a rut. One relationship after another has ended in disaster, and her classical French training is being wasted on her night job in a mediocre chain bakery. Then the charming and handsome private pilot Justin Keller lands on the doorstep of her workplace in a snowstorm, and Melody feels like it’s a sign that her luck is finally turning around.

Justin is intrigued by the lively bohemian baker, but the last thing he’s looking for is a relationship. His own romantic failures have proven that the demands of his job are incompatible with meaningful connections, and he’s already pledged his life savings to a new business venture across the country—an island air charter in Florida with his sister and brother-in-law.

Against their better judgment, Melody and Justin find themselves drawn together by their unconventional career choices and shared love of adventure. But when an unexpected windfall provides Melody with the chance to open her dream bakery-café in Denver with her best friend, chef Rachel Bishop, she’s faced with an impossible choice: stay and put down roots with the people and place she’s come to call home . . . or give it all up for the man she loves.

Review

I really enjoyed the first book in this series. There’s something about food and romance that just goes so well together. My thoughts:

What I liked

Food. I will admit that I’m more savory minded than pastry minded, but I loved being in the kitchen with Melody and watching her create. The author seemed to have a lot of knowledge when it came to the food arena and it really showed.

Spiritually, the characters talk of going to church and praying. They are rather weak spiritually, but I like that the characters do recognize this fact and seek to correct it.

What I didn’t like

Melody. I didn’t like her in this book and that makes me sad (especially since this was such a character driven novel). The reason for that was because she was a character who based every single decision off of her emotions. It made her a main character I couldn’t trust and more than that, it made her weak morally, spiritually, and relationally. I didn’t care for a lot of the decisions she made because half of them didn’t make sense. She made one particular decision half-way through the book that went from making the book enjoyable to me almost skimming. I will admit that at the end of the book, Melody acknowledges her flaws, but having spent most of the book reading her with her flaws…I was kind of over it.

Also, Justin. He was kind of lame as a hero (sorry!). His inability to commit to anything made him rather unlikeable to me. He would have been a hard pass for me. I know that particular immaturity was supposed to be part of his development as a character, but other than the fact that he was attractive, I did not see what Melody saw in him.

Romantic scale: 6.5

Overall, even though this wasn’t my favorite, I’m very interested in Ana’s story.

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Jenny B. Jones’ Royally in Trouble

Royally in Trouble (An Enchanted Events Mystery Book 2) by [Jones, Jenny B.]

As a former member of a popular girl-band, Paisley Sutton knows what it means to be in the spotlight. So after she takes on an event- planning gig for the new Sugar Creek Renaissance faire, she’s counting on a smooth opening night. But when one of the cast is murdered, Paisley knows her event has gone lethally off-script.

When her old flame Beau is named the prime suspect, Paisley enlists the help of her trigger-happy ex-CIA grandmother and aunt. As she tries to keep the faire alive and fights off her matchmaking family, she uncovers secrets that might just get her killed. Can Paisley shine a light on the killer in time, or will the faire be her final curtain call?

Royally in Trouble is the second book in the lively Enchanted Events cozy mystery series with a dash of romance. If you like engaging characters, small-town intrigue, and laugh-out-loud moments, then you’ll love Jenny B. Jones’ Renaissance romp.

Review

I like Jenny B. Jones because her books are cute, very funny, well-written, and yet usually have a very serious underlying theme. This book is no less. My thoughts:

What I Liked

Paisely. Jones writes some of the best heroines. I can’t think of a single one that she’s created that I didn’t like or relate to on some level. Paisley is no different. I love how she’s a former pop star in a girl group and now faced with a different reality. Paisley is still sort of coming to terms with the fact that her “glory” days are behind her. And in spite of the light heartedness in which she approaches things, it’s also very clear that she wrestles with insecurities.  And yet, as this is book two in the series, you can really see how Paisley has grown. I would have to say that in the first novel, she’s a bit all over the place, but this Paisley–while she still has a lot on her plate–is definitely more in control. She’s running Enchanted Events, trying to solve a murder, dealing with her grandmother’s antics, and trying to navigate the dating world…and doing it in such a way that she’s become a very reliable and fun character.

The mystery. It was actually a very fun mystery in the sense that it was a who-dun-it. There were just so many options as to who the bad guy could be that the novel had you jumping between several characters trying to guess.

The romance. It’s light and yet somehow very pervasive. And very cute. It’s a carryover from the first one, so be sure and read that first!

Secondary characters. Can I admit that I found Sylvia and Frannie a tad bit annoying in the first book? I actually really liked them in the follow-up. They’re very silly, but at the same time, they are there in the serious moments.

Humor. Jones wields humor like a sword. Every now and then, I found myself rolling my eyes as it dipped into silliness, but mostly I found myself laughing.

Spiritually, the characters go to church and reference prayer and God, but this book would probably fall more under the “sweet romance” category.

What I didn’t like

I pretty much liked everything in this book. It wasn’t one of those books I felt like I had to race through, but it delivered exactly what I expected: light, fluffy, fun…and very much a cozy mystery.

Romantic scale

7

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed it and I’m very excited for the next one!