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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!

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Roseanna M. White’s The Number of Love

The Number of Love (The Codebreakers Book #1) by [White, Roseanna M.]

Three years into the Great War, England’s greatest asset is their intelligence network–field agents risking their lives to gather information, and codebreakers able to crack every German telegram. Margot De Wilde thrives in the environment of the secretive Room 40, where she spends her days deciphering intercepted messages. But when her world is turned upside down by an unexpected loss, for the first time in her life numbers aren’t enough.

Drake Elton returns wounded from the field, followed by an enemy who just won’t give up. He’s smitten quickly by the intelligent Margot, but how can he convince a girl who lives entirely in her mind that sometimes life’s answers lie in the heart?

Amid biological warfare, encrypted letters, and a German spy who wants to destroy not just them but others they love, Margot and Drake will have to work together to save themselves from the very secrets that brought them together.

Review

I love Roseanna M. White’s writing. I think she is especially talented at writing romance, so of course I had to read this one! My thoughts:

What I liked

Margot. Margot almost stole the show in A Song Unheard. I was so excited that she got her own book! What I liked about Margot was this: she stayed the same. The same girl who was brilliant and a bit odd in the previous novel is the same girl in this book. She’s got her own mind, her own plans, and that makes for a very fascinating character when you know her life is about to be shaken up. She’s not perfect, but she’s completely intriguing.

The courtship. Obviously with such a forceful personality, you need a different kind of romance. The way Drake chooses to pursue Margot was quite lovely. It was quirky and fun, and very perceptive.

Friendship. I really enjoyed Margot’s friendship with Dot. The two girls each kind of have their own social failings, but they manage to balance each other out in all the ways that matter. Watching two socially awkward people navigate a friendship was fascinating.

History. My knowledge of WWI is very limited. Kudos to White for tackling a somewhat untouched field in fiction. It’s quite clear White had done her research and you learn a lot about the spy tactics of the time.

Spiritually, the novel deals with truly knowing God, the importance of prayer, and faith vs feeling. I liked the way Margot knew God, it was different and just pinpointed how a person’s relationship with God is so often, very unique.

What I didn’t like

This is just a quibble, but I wanted a bit more out of the romance…I understood why Drake was initially fascinated with Margot, but I was not entirely sold as to why he remained that way. Their courtship was unusual (which I loved), but I wanted a bit more.

Another small quibble…several times Margot puts down other women because they think and act differently than her. It was her greatest sign of immaturity. And while she does get called on it, I’m not sure she ever truly understands that just because a girl likes fashion and makeup (or whatever) doesn’t make her any less valuable as a human being.

The mystery. I’m sorry, but it failed to hold my attention. This was one book where I was like forget the plot, let’s jump to character development. If there were ever a test on the mystery of this book, I would fail.

Romantic scale: 7

Overall, a good book. It being White’s book, I think my expectations were higher??? But still very good.

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

 

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Lori Benton’s The King’s Mercy

The King's Mercy: A Novel by [Benton, Lori]

When captured rebel Scotsman Alex MacKinnon is granted the king’s mercy–exile to the Colony of North Carolina–he’s indentured to Englishman Edmund Carey as a blacksmith. Against his will Alex is drawn into the struggles of Carey’s slaves–and those of his stepdaughter, Joanna Carey. A mistress with a servant’s heart, Joanna is expected to wed her father’s overseer, Phineas Reeves, but finds herself drawn instead to the new blacksmith. As their unlikely relationship deepens, successive tragedies strike the Careys. When blame falls unfairly upon Alex he flees to the distant mountains where he encounters Reverend Pauling, itinerate preacher and friend of the Careys, now a prisoner of the Cherokees. Haunted by his abandoning of Joanna, Alex tries to settle into life with the Cherokees, until circumstances thwart yet another attempt to forge his freedom and he’s faced with the choice that’s long hounded him: continue down his rebellious path or embrace the faith of a man like Pauling, whose freedom in Christ no man can steal. But the price of such mercy is total surrender, and perhaps Alex’s very life.

Review

I’m a huge fan of Lori Benton (even if I quibbled a bit…ok so a lot with her last book). I love the way she combines history and storytelling and complex characters to create a layered novel. My thoughts:

What I liked

Alex. He’s a man of conviction and honor. He’s handed a pretty rough deal from the beginning of the book and my heart immediately went out to him. I found him completely fascinating and I enjoyed being in his head…even when he made mistakes.

Joanna. She’s a bit naive and tad bit passive at moments, but she still managed to come across as a heroine who cared (which I actually think can be difficult when your main character lives on a slave plantation). She’s a perfect foil to Alex who at times tries very hard not to care.

Plot-wise, a lot happens in this book. There is constantly something new so that the story never quite slows down.

The romance was something I found to be very sweet and one that made sense even with the class differences between the main characters.

Historically, it was lovely. You learn a lot about the Scottish rebellion against England, about indentured servitude in America, about slavery and the American Indians. At no point, did I feel like Benton entered lecture-mode. Everything she shows the reader, she does with a deft hand.

Secondary characters. Benton created richly layered characters who had their own stories and their own dreams. Alex and Joanna are not the only interesting characters in the book that I wanted to spend time with. Typically, I am not a fan of the main characters being apart in a novel, but in this one, I didn’t mind so much because of the other stories being told alongside theirs (for the most part).

Spiritually, I caught on to the story the author was telling two seconds before I read the Author Note, but once I realized where she was going, I was able to appreciate the story she was telling. There is a big theme of forgiveness here…and surrendering.

What I didn’t like

The “bad guy” is very obvious in a lot of different ways. I kept waiting for some kind of twist, but there isn’t one.

As the blurb states, Alex goes to live with the Cherokees at some point in the narrative. I will admit that after a while, I began to skim this part. There was a lot going on there and at times it didn’t feel relevant to the narrative (like I get what was going on there…character arc and development, etc., etc., but I was ready to move past it).

    This is a more personal problem I had and that is this: while I get the comparison Benton was trying to make between being an indentured servant and a slave, they are not the same thing. At all. Indentured servants came to the table with a history behind them that gave them certain skills and mindsets that a slave didn’t have (especially if they were born into it), a specific deadline, and the ability to put their servanthood days behind them. That is not how slavery functioned in America, so you can miss me with that comparison. Yes, their time was not their own, but seven lousy years is better than a lifetime and broken families. I found myself rolling my eyes a bit at Alex. His life was rough, and he felt the ties of service keenly as he didn’t ask for it, but he wasn’t a slave. That is all.

Romantic scale: 8

Overall, I enjoyed this book (it did feel very similar to Laura Frantz’s An Unbound Heart which also came out this year though they are very different books). Lori Benton is quite the storyteller and she weaves together facts and fiction so well that I think I will always read her books even if I don’t love every single one of them. She’s a gifted writer and I can’t wait for the next Lori Benton novel!

**I received a copy from Waterbrook through Netgalley. My opinion was not affected in any way.**

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Karen Witemeyer’s More Than Words Can Say

More Than Words Can Say (A Patchwork Family Novel Book #2) by [Witemeyer, Karen]

After fulfilling a pledge to a dying friend, Zacharias Hamilton is finally free. No family entanglements. No disappointing those around him. Just the quiet bachelor existence he’s always craved. Until fate snatches his freedom away when the baker of his favorite breakfast bun is railroaded by the city council. Despite not wanting to get involved, he can’t turn a blind eye to her predicament . . . or her adorable dimples.

Abigail Kemp needs a man’s name on her bakery’s deed. A marriage of convenience seems the best solution . . . if it involves a man she can control. That person definitely isn’t the stoic lumberman who oozes silent confidence whenever he enters her shop. Control Zacharias Hamilton? She can’t even control her pulse when she’s around him.
When vows are spoken, Abigail’s troubles should be over. Yet threats to the bakery worsen, and darker dangers hound her sister. Can she put ever more trust in Zach without losing her dreams of independence?

Review

Whenever Karen Witemeyer has a new book out, I grab it. And I was super excited about this one because Zach was my favorite character in the first book of this series. My thoughts:

What I liked

Good writing. In spite of the simple premise of the book, it was unputdownable. I read it in hours. Immediately, we’re introduced to Abigail’s problem and her possible solution. You would think that what with everything explained right away that there wouldn’t be much of a story to tell. But you would be wrong. I thoroughly enjoyed watching Zach and Abby learn each other and learn to deal with each other’s problems and concerns.

Theme of family. The whole series is about patchwork families (duh), but I loved that when Zach married Abigail, he made her sister his. And her sister has quite an issue to deal with.

The romance. Anyone who reads my reviews knows I love romances based on friendship. Witemeyer presents us a lovely one. Zach and Abby really take the time to get to know each other. Even though they both have a history, it is fortunately not used as a weapon to wield against one another. Instead, they learn and grow and they work together.

Spiritually, the novel deals with putting your trust in God rather than in yourself or in things…and what that in effect looks like.

What I didn’t like

The only thing that I didn’t like was that Zach kind of didn’t feel like Zach from the first book. He’s still firm and strong, but he lacked that gunslinger-feel from the first book. I get it, he was turning over a new leaf, but I loved the roughness of Zach in the first book and I wish some of it had carried to the second one. The if-you-look-at-me-wrong-I-might-just-shoot-you aura he had. He’s a lot sweeter in this book.

Romantic scale: 7.5

Overall, so cute. I really enjoyed this book and if you want to read a lighthearted western romance, than this is the one for you.

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