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Carla Laureano’ s The Saturday Night Supper Club

The Saturday Night Supper Club by [Laureano, Carla]

Denver chef Rachel Bishop has accomplished everything she’s dreamed and some things she never dared hope, like winning a James Beard Award and heading up her own fine-dining restaurant. But when a targeted smear campaign causes her to be pushed out of the business by her partners, she vows to do whatever it takes to get her life back . . . even if that means joining forces with the man who inadvertently set the disaster in motion.

Essayist Alex Kanin never imagined his pointed editorial would go viral. Ironically, his attempt to highlight the pitfalls of online criticism has the opposite effect: it revives his own flagging career by destroying that of a perfect stranger. Plagued by guilt-fueled writer’s block, Alex vows to do whatever he can to repair the damage. He just doesn’t expect his interest in the beautiful chef to turn personal.

Alex agrees to help rebuild Rachel’s tarnished image by offering his connections and his home to host an exclusive pop-up dinner party targeted to Denver’s most influential citizens: the Saturday Night Supper Club. As they work together to make the project a success, Rachel begins to realize Alex is not the unfeeling opportunist she once thought he was, and that perhaps there’s life—and love—outside the pressure-cooker of her chosen career. But can she give up her lifelong goals without losing her identity as well?

Review

I’m definitely late to the table with this one, but when I stumbled across it and realized it was about food, chefs, Christian, and contemporary, I had to read it. My thoughts:

What I liked

The food and chef world. I love food and I love cooking channels, food documentaries, visiting James Beard Award winning restaurants and eating at Michelin starred restaurants and I really felt like Laureano managed to capture that atmosphere so nicely on the pages. There are so many wonderful descriptions of food that’s also contrasted with the long hours and the importance of reputations, etc. I really felt like the author did a good job of bringing all of it to life.

Contemporary romance. I liked Rachel and Alex. They both have an interesting background, and Rachel is career driven while Alex is more people-driven. I will admit that I’m not typically a fan of career-driven protagonists, but Rachel made sense. Even when she’s prickly, she’s relatable. Alex and Rachel had their moments of clashing, and even a slight misunderstanding (mentioned below). However, they always worked through it. Their story doesn’t rest on miscommunication, but instead on how important it is to trust.

Spiritually, both characters discuss their faith and how it has defined them. I will admit that it seemed more a characteristic than a lifestyle, but *shrugs*.

What I didn’t like

It does follow the traditional journey of having the couple “split” around the 75-80% mark of the book over something that seemed a bit…unneeded.

It’s a bit slower, especially since it’s more character driven than plot driven. I wasn’t necessarily racing to get through this book, but still every moment was enjoyable.

Overall, a very cute story. I’ve already purchased the next one!

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Elizabeth Camden’s A Desperate Hope

A Desperate Hope (An Empire State Novel Book #3) by [Camden, Elizabeth]

Eloise Drake’s prim demeanor hides the turbulent past she’s finally put behind her–or so she thinks. A mathematical genius, she’s now a successful accountant for the largest engineering project in 1908 New York. But to her dismay, her new position puts her back in the path of the man responsible for her deepest heartbreak.

Alex Duval is the mayor of a town about to be wiped off the map. The state plans to flood the entire valley where his town sits in order to build a new reservoir, and Alex is stunned to discover the woman he once loved on the team charged with the demolition. With his world crumbling around him, Alex devises a risky plan to save his town–but he needs Eloise’s help to succeed.

Alex is determined to win back the woman he thought he’d lost forever, but even their combined ingenuity may not be enough to overcome the odds against them before it’s too late.

Review

I will admit that the little I saw of Eloise Drake in the second book in this series, did not make me want to read anymore about her. But. I really like Elizabeth Camden so I decided to give it a try. So glad I did! My thoughts:

What I liked

Eloise, ironically enough. While her past (in reference to the second book) is briefly mentioned, most of this book presents a different side to Eloise than I had seen before. As always, Camden has crafted a very smart and a very talented heroine. She definitely has her quirks, but every layer of her personality works. She could have been annoying, instead she comes off as completely relatable. I liked everything about her. And, she’s a perfect foil for Alex.

Alex. Oh, Alex. Kudos to Camden for always managing to craft unique heroes. Alex is flamboyant and charismatic, caring and yet sometimes selfish (more on that later). But the thing I loved about him the most was that he was transparent. Alex didn’t play games or have secrets. He’s very straightforward…which leads me to the romance.

Romance. I liked the romance here because a) the foundation was…interesting (I’m going to leave it at that) and b) neither character played games. They were very honest with each other. It made for a romance that worked and for one that had a solid foundation. It’s always a joy when a couple can work together instead of against each other.

The plot. There’s a pretty neat twist in there. The book went from being about one thing to being about another. Typically, I would find this frustrating, but the twist had a very nice setup that made it all work together in the end.

History. I have never thought about what it would take to move a town or why that would be a thing that would ever happen. I feel like I learned so much and more than that, found myself completely invested in these people and their problems.

Spiritually, the characters pray and often reference God.

What I didn’t like

Alex had his moments. Camden can write some heroes who drive you crazy…because they aren’t perfect and they’re not trying to be. They do not always apologize for their actions, per se (or in a way I would like). The heroine has to just kind of decide if she’s going to take the bad with the good…which I guess is completely realistic. So, take that with a grain of salt.

Romantic scale: 7.5

Overall, a lot better than I had anticipated. I just really enjoyed this book.

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

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Shelley Shepard Gray’s All In

All In (The Bridgeport Social Club Series Book 2) by [Gray, Shelley Shepard]

Meredith Hunt is content with her solo life. She owns and runs a successful Pilates studio, volunteers at the high school every week, and recently bought a house. She can take care of herself, which is good because she has a hard time relying on other people. When she’s mugged and a handsome man comes to her rescue, she doesn’t know how to accept his help-or how to stop staring into his chocolate-brown eyes.

Ace Vance moved to Bridgeport to offer his fifteen-year-old son, Finn, a better life. Here, Finn has a chance to play football for a good team and maybe even earn a college scholarship. And Ace scored a job at a top-notch garage, where he gets to fix up classic cars. Plus, they could both use some distance from Finn’s toxic mom. The last thing on his mind is falling in love, but he can’t help offering assistance to a gorgeous redhead in need.

Thrown together by a careless criminal, Meredith and Ace can’t deny their attraction. But can they open their hearts-and their lives-to make room for love?

Shelley Shepard Gray’s Bridgeport Social Club series explores how communities can come together to support each other, whether it’s around a poker table, in a Pilates studio, or anywhere in between. Get ready to fall in love with a group of men and women who, even when they feel lost, refuse to lose hope.

Review

Shelley Shepard Gray can write some really good romance novels, but more than that she has a way of bringing a freshness to the genre…which is why I read this book even though I knew it wouldn’t be quite on the same…spiritual level as her other series. My thoughts:

What I liked

Relationships. This is a book about relationships and there are a lot of great ones. First, there is Finn and Ace. Ace has always been there for Finn as a dad, but he hasn’t been “all in” like he should be. The novel does a lovely job of showing what surface parenting is verses being a full time parent. It even addresses the problems that might arise when you’re not totally committed. That said, watching Finn and Ace really get to know each other made me really love the characters.

Secondly, there was, of course, Ace and Meredith. I thought Gray did a lovely job of showing a new relationship coming together. There were insecurities on both sides and both characters had past relationships that didn’t end so well, nevertheless that kind of theme of going “all in” was there and it made for a very cute romance without drama. Also, I loved that theirs was a relationship with a lot of give and take. Ace is there for Meredith and Meredith is there for Ace. It was a relationship you could believe in.

Thirdly, Meredith and Finn. I think it would have been easy for Gray to gloss over Finn and Meredith’s relationship but she does a lovely job of crafting their relationship outside of Meredith and Ace.

Fourthly, friendship in general. Ace has his friends and Meredith has hers. I think the overarching theme of this series is the importance of stepping out of yourself and developing relationships…especially when it’s not easy or comfortable.

What I didn’t like

There were four points of views in this novel. One of those povs could have been cut.

There was a moment or so when I wanted to tell Meredith to have some backbone. She was supposed to be withdrawn and independent, but every decision she made seemed to come from someone who was just needy.

I will say that though I knew this wasn’t going to be a “Christian” romance per se, I was still surprised by some of the choices the author made. And not necessarily in a good way. When I consider all of the other books she has written, I was left more than a little confused about things.

Overall, I read this book because I wanted something light and fluffy. I got that. But. I just may not be reviewing this series anymore on my blog as it not within the purview of my typical reviews.

**I received a copy of this book from Blackstone Publishing through Netgalley. My opinion was not affected in anyway.**

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Tamera Alexander’s With This Pledge

With this Pledge (The Carnton Series Book 1) by [Alexander, Tamera]Elizabeth “Lizzie” Clouston’s quietly held principles oppose those of the Southern Cause–but when forty thousand soldiers converge on the fields of Franklin, Tennessee, the war demands an answer. The Carnton home, where she is governess, is converted into a Confederate hospital, and Lizzie is called upon to assist the military doctor with surgeries that determine life or death. Faced with the unimaginable, she must summon fortitude, even as she fears for the life of Towny, her fiancé and lifelong friend.

As a young soldier lies dying in Lizzie’s arms, she vows to relay his final words to his mother, but knows little more than the boy’s first name. That same night, decorated Mississippi sharpshooter Captain Roland Ward Jones extracts a different promise from Lizzie: that she intervene should the surgeon decide to amputate his leg.

Lizzie is nothing if not a woman of her word, earning the soldiers’ respect as she tends to the wounded within Carnton’s walls. None is more admiring than Captain Jones, who doesn’t realize she is pledged to another. But as Lizzie’s heart softens toward the Confederate captain, she discovers his moral ground is at odds with her own. Now torn between love, principles, and pledges made, she struggles to be true to her own heart while standing for what she knows is right–no matter the cost.

Review

Tamera Alexander is easily one of my favorite authors. I love her style of writing, I love the way she crafts her romances, and I love her attention to detail. That said, this book did not work for me. My thoughts:

What I liked

This book, more than any other of Alexander’s “Plantation” books really explores the complexity of slavery and Christian slaveowners. I thought she did a really good job of showing the layers of slavery and its effects on people personally and often professionally. Without telling you that slavery is wrong, through her characters she’s able to show you (almost too well, but more on that later).

Furthermore, she was really able to take a moment in history (there’s a battle/hospital scene) and really make it come to life with her descriptions. You could really see it and smell it and experience it.

I have read all of Alexander’s books and she continually amazes me by creating characters that are very different from one another and yet none of them are cookie-cutter. Lizzie is a very soft-hearted character (often too soft hearted) and you could really see that in every action and decision that she made.

What I didn’t like

Usually, Alexander interweaves history with fiction well. In this book, there were too many times where it just didn’t work. I would instantly know that the speech someone was giving was probably real, or the letter being read was genuine, or the description of some scene was used by a person who had actually been present at that time. It took me out of the story each time because it just didn’t flow. Instead it felt like Alexander did a ton of research and did her best to include as much as she could. It was too much.

It got slow. I don’t mind slow. Especially from master-crafts of characters like Alexander. But most of this book takes place in one location and I felt like I was there forever. I definitely was skimming the second half.

The setting. Let me first start by saying I really don’t care for the Plantation settings that Alexander has been on a kick with lately. I say this as someone who loves all things Civil War. I love Civil War fiction, I visit battle sites (and Plantation homes), I watch documentaries…I just plain find it all fascinating. So, it’s not the time period or the era that bothers me. At all. It’s this strange romanticizing of Plantation homes and their owners that I struggle with. She is constantly trying to convince me that they were good, honorable people. I am quite simply not buying. That said, I’ve been able to push past it with her other books, but I think because Alexander tackled the issue of Christians owning slaves, I found it really didn’t work with this book.

I have always found it incredibly difficult to reconcile the idea of godly people being slaveowners but in this book we actually get some stories from the slaves themselves about their owners. And they’re awful. On the one hand I’m presented with the owners of Carnton as examples of all things godly, on the other hand I learn they sent their slaves down south so they wouldn’t run away and the one slave they kept is slightly terrified of them at times. So, yeah. That didn’t work.

 Then we have the hero, Roland, who is also a slaveowner but held up to be honorable, kind, thoughtful, pious, and everything that a hero should be. Except his views on slaves, while a product of its times, made him not a romantic figure in my mind. In fact, one of his slaves describes a horrific event that took place either under Roland or under Roland’s father’s authority and so now I’m really not liking the man. I get that Christian people owned slaves, but being cruel to their slaves is just mind-blowing to me. And when he complained about them running away…

By the end of the book I could have cared less about Roland and Carnton and Carnton’s owners. Like go fly a kite.

I get it. People are complex. And it cannot be easy to write a book that is accurate when it comes to the way in which people thought back then. But when these people are held up as a godly standard, and their slaves tiptoe around them, their piety just reads as false to me. And I’m not saying you can’t like problematic people. You absolutely can. Hello, Rhett Butler (talk about charming). And I have read Christian books with slaveowners as heroes that I actually liked (Charles in Lynn Austin’s Candle in the Darkness). But Roland didn’t work and I think it boils down to the fact that you can’t be presented as both kind and cruel. Either the hero stays a little bit cruel to everyone all the time or he transitions from cruel to kind. But he can’t be both. And Roland was both. As a commentary, his personality worked. As a romantic hero, he failed.

Overall, not my favorite. But I’ll still read the next book she writes.

 **I received a complimentary copy of this book from Thomas Nelson through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.**

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Sarah Sundin’s The Sky Above Us

The Sky Above Us (Sunrise at Normandy Book #2) by [Sundin, Sarah]

Numbed by grief and harboring shameful secrets, Lt. Adler Paxton ships to England with the US 357th Fighter Group in 1943. Determined to become an ace pilot, Adler battles the German Luftwaffe in treacherous dogfights in the skies over France as the Allies struggle for control of the air before the D-day invasion.

Violet Lindstrom wanted to be a missionary, but for now she serves in the American Red Cross, where she arranges entertainment for the men of the 357th in the Aeroclub on base and sets up programs for local children. Drawn to the mysterious Adler, she enlists his help with her work and urges him to reconnect with his family after a long estrangement.

Despite himself, Adler finds his defenses crumbling when it comes to Violet. But D-day draws near. And secrets can’t stay buried forever.

Bestselling author Sarah Sundin returns readers to the shores of Normandy, this time in the air, as the second Paxton brother prepares to face the past–and the most fearsome battle of his life.

Review

I had other books in my queue to read, but when I saw this one on Netgalley I pushed all of those away. I was super excited about this book because I was completely fascinated by the Paxton storyline from the first book. And more important than all of that, it delivered. My thoughts:

What I liked

Adler. Actually, I didn’t like him at first because of what I learned about him in the first book, but I knew somehow, someway Sundin would make me like him and she did. To be perfectly honest, he’s arrogant and rather dismissive of those who are not like him. But he undergoes such a transformation throughout the story and becomes a very humble and likeable guy. He’s not without his faults, but that only serves to make his character richer. Adler has quite the past he has to wrestle with (kudos to the author for making such a hero). It would have been easy to dismiss some of it, but I thought Sundin did a lovely job of confronting everything without lessening who Adler was.

Violet. Violet was an interesting foil to Adler. In many ways, the two of them were cut from the same cloth because they both start off as pig-headed and bit prideful. While her transformation is not as dramatic as Adler’s, it still was an important one to follow. I found her personality to be a good match for Adler’s…especially as she had to deal with some of the fallout of his choices.

History. I love, love, love WWII fiction. The last book was about the navy, this book was from the point of view of the air. You really learn a lot about the conditions of pilots in WWII and a lot of situations they had to face. I also learned a lot about the Red Cross. I had never really considered anything that they did besides nursing. Sundin was able to immerse herself (and her readers) into the time period easily without making anyone feel like they were inundated with facts (I will say that sometimes the characters phrases sounded corny, but I’m also not going to say people didn’t talk like that either).

Overall story. I really like how Sundin is telling the Paxton brothers’ story. Not only do you have D-Day from the point of view of air, land, and sea, but you have this family drama that is slowly unraveling with each book. You keep getting a piece of it from each of the men’s narrative and the more you find out the more it becomes slightly horrifying and completely intriguing (idk what that says about me).

Spiritually, I loved the concept of what it looks like to accept God’s forgiveness, forgiving yourself and others, realizing what pride really looks like, and the simple fact that actions have consequences.

What I didn’t like

I mostly liked Violet. I understood Violet. But sometimes she was frustrating to me. There is a scene where I thought if she had acted one way, she would have saved herself a lot of frustration later. Still, in spite of this, the story was good.

Sundin does follow her typical formula where each main character has one or two flaws that they specifically work on in the story. While it is kind of routine, it doesn’t detract from the story.

Romantic scale: 7.5

Overall, a very good book. I desperately want the third book about Clay. His story is really setting up to be quite the crescendo.

** I received a complimentary copy of this book from Revell through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.**

 

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Laura Frantz’s An Unbound Heart

A Bound Heart by [Frantz, Laura]

Though Magnus MacLeish and Lark MacDougall grew up on the same castle grounds, Magnus is now laird of the great house and the Isle of Kerrera. Lark is but the keeper of his bees and the woman he is hoping will provide a tincture that might help his ailing wife conceive and bear him an heir. But when his wife dies suddenly, Magnus and Lark find themselves caught up in a whirlwind of accusations, expelled from their beloved island, and sold as indentured servants across the Atlantic. Yet even when all hope seems dashed against the rocky coastline of the Virginia colony, it may be that in this New World the two of them could make a new beginning–together.

Review

I always look forward to Laura Frantz’s historical fiction novels (with romance) and this one was no different. My thoughts:

What I liked

The premise. I’ve never read an indentured servant story quite like this one. Frantz does a very good job of showing just how difficult it must have been to be sentenced to an indenture and what that life would have probably looked like for people in that kind of situation.

History. As always, I learned a lot without feeling as though I had been taught. Frantz is able to insert a lot of small facts in her narrative that show that she did her research without beating the reader over the head with it. She also spends quite some time in the Caribbean which is definitely an area in which I knew very little about.

The romance. To be honest, the hero and heroine did not actually have a lot of time together on the pages to fall in love, but the author set up such an intensely felt back story that I found myself rooting for them almost right away and never wanted to stop.

Spiritually, both main characters are believers and show it well with their actions. I love how no matter how difficult things got, Magnus’ faith never strayed. He’s a solid rock of a character. Lark constantly and consistently shows Christ’s love by loving others when it’s easy and when it’s difficult.

What I didn’t like

After reading what the book was about, I kept waiting for certain events to happen right away. The book felt a bit like it was taking its time to get there. In other words, the beginning was a little slow.

Also, the main characters, at one point, are separated for about 25% percent of the book (which I’m never a fan of) and what happens in that portion, while interesting, was also predictable.

The ending was fast. If this is a series, it works. I’m totally buying the next one. If this is a stand-alone, then there were too many loose threads for me.

Romantic scale: 8

Overall, I enjoyed this book so much more than I thought I would (it started slow folks). The characters had me completely invested and kept me thoroughly entertained.

**I received a complimentary copy of this book from Revell through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.**

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Rachel Fordham’s The Hope of Azure Springs

The Hope of Azure Springs by [Fordham, Rachel]

Seven years ago, orphaned and alone, Em finally arrived at a new home in Iowa after riding the orphan train. But secrets from her past haunt her, and her new life in the Western wilderness is a rough one. When her guardian is shot and killed, Em, now nineteen, finally has the chance to search for her long-lost sister, but she won’t be able to do it alone.

For Azure Springs Sheriff Caleb Reynolds, securing justice for the waifish and injured Em is just part of his job. He’s determined to solve every case put before him in order to impress his parents and make a name for himself. Caleb expects to succeed. What he doesn’t expect is the hold this strange young woman will have on his heart.

Debut author Rachel Fordham invites historical romance readers to the charming town of Azure Springs, Iowa, where the people care deeply for one another and, sometimes, even fall in love.

Review

This book was so cute! Obviously, Fordham is a new author to me (this is her first book) and I will readily admit that for me most western romance novels with sheriffs and women in danger seem a bit cliché. My expectations are always low for these types of books because for some reason they seem all the same (trust me, I cut my Christian reading teeth on these kinds of book). However, this book reminded me that good storytelling is good storytelling no matter what trope you’re using.

What I liked

Em. It always helps if you like the heroine. Em is strong, kind, and thoughtful and even though she is in danger for a good portion of the book, she never does anything that makes her a silly heroine–in other words, she doesn’t try to defy good sense. She also has a fascinating back story that the author does a lovely job of unraveling very slowly, only giving you a piece here and a piece there.

Sheriff Caleb Reynolds. The thing I found most interesting about Caleb was also his back story and the reason as to why he became sheriff in the first place. I thought the author did a lovely job creating his character so that he was complex and not just a western caricature.

The romance. It was the best kind of romance based on friendship and the culmination of two people spending time with each other and getting to know one another. Also, it addressed, almost subtly, what romance truly is.

The suspense. There are (kind of) two different suspense elements here coming from the obvious villain and then coming from Em’s past. I thought both were handled well and in such a way that Em and the Sheriff shined.

Spiritually, most of the main characters are believers and spend time praying and seeking God.

What I didn’t like

There was nothing that stuck out! I think it comes down to what you expect.

Romantic scale: 7.5

Overall, a very cute, light and fluffy read…sort of. There are serious topics addressed here that the author touches upon, but there was always a very hopeful note there that left the reader feeling satisfied.