Five Stars, Joanna Barker, Low Language, Low Religion, Low Romance, Low Violence

Best Kept Secret

My husband is an awful secret keeper, like really bad. It’s actually quite reassuring as his wife that he’s such a bad liar, except when we’re planning a big surprise vacation for the kids. Here’s hoping we can make it the next month without him spilling his excitement.

This book however, is one surprise I’m willing to share. “Secrets and Suitors” by Joanna Barker is a surprising delight. This might possibly be my new favorite regency romance, it was that good.

41zQ9+F3mQL._SX328_BO1,204,203,200_Reluctantly returning to London for yet another Season, shy Nora Hamilton has nearly given up hope that she will ever find the love match she longs for. After all, the one man she does harbor feelings for—her closest friend, James—has made it perfectly clear he views her as just that: a friend. With James traveling half a world away and Nora’s father pressuring her to marry for wealth and status, Nora is forced to set aside her desire for love and accept the future she has always dreaded.

Until James returns unexpectedly and Nora’s feelings once again rush unbearably close to the surface. Determined to save what is left of their friendship, Nora ignores her own heart and allows herself to be swept up in the London Season, soon finding herself the object of two very different gentlemen’s affections. Though she should be thrilled, both men come with a glaring fault: neither is the one man who holds her heart.

I don’t even know where to start…Joanna wrote such a fascinating character in Nora. She’s shy and reserved, but not necessarily polite and demur. She yearns for romance, but is able to be practical. She can be both selfless and self serving. She was so very unique and yet so very human, I liked her immensely.

Each of Joanna’s books have immediately pulled me in, to not just the story, but the whole experience. A well written romance usually follows a pattern, and the more of them you read, the more you are able to anticipate the pattern. (ie. Cue appropriate tension, and this is the moment when they recognize their feelings for each other, and this is about when all heck breaks loose, and close with an excellent denouement.) A good story naturally follows this pattern, a great story follows the pattern without your anticipating or expecting it. This is how Joanna writes. I’m always curious where she’s going next.  On the other hand I never anticipate what’s coming, because I’m have too much fun with the page I’m on.  That largely has to do with her ability to write with so much emotion.

The thing I admire the most about Joanna’s writing, including this one, is her stories are not just romances.  At their roots, their about love; sisterly love, parental love, family heartbreak and healing. Though the chemistry is there, it’s more about connections, and that is what makes a story timeless.

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Four Stars, Low Language, Low Religion, Low Romance, Low Violence

Disguises

I love Halloween! It’s taken all my self control to not already have my decorations up. My resistance is crumbling however. Saturday is calling my name. It’s not just the decorations I love, it’s the costumes! My family has been planning on going as Toy Story 4 characters since we saw it in July. Yes, we already have them purchased. Yes, I am unashamedly one of those people. I don’t know what it is about costumes and disguises, but I love them!

One of things that first caught my eye when I came across Anneka Walker‘s novel Love in Disguise, aside from the beautiful cover, was the title. I was fascinated with the idea of love being disguised in any way. I never anticipated it involving an actual disguise.

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“Marion Watt is set to embark on her first London Season, and her parents have spared no expense to help her secure a suitable husband. Unlike most of the social-climbing young women in her position, Marion has no desire to marry hastily or for anything less than love. But when she learns of her mother’s declining health, she knows she must keep an open mind and allow herself to be courted. What she does not anticipate, however, is that the attentions of the insufferable Lord William Everton will be placed squarely on her. He might be the most sought-after bachelor of the Season, but she sees in him nothing but a frivolous cad.

Until William inherits his father’s title and seat in parliament, he must rely on his own devices to change the world. Dressing like a ridiculous dandy serves its purposes, but he is certain his newest disguise will help him find a wife to please his parents and further his own agenda. From among the glittering group of debutantes, William finds only one woman who passes his test. Unfortunately, the perfect choice is the only woman in all of London who despises him.”

I was instantly pulled into the book by the situational conflict created within the first few pages. The tension and discomposure between the two characters kept me hooked almost to the very end. There was a decision Marion makes near the end of the book that felt out of character to me and pulled me out of the story. The story slowed a bit pacing wise for me at this point too.

However, I loved the wrap up and their declarations of love were beautifully written and heart warming. I really enjoyed the book and am excited to see what comes next from this debut author. I definitely look forward to reading more of her in the future.

Esther Hatch, Five Stars, Joanna Barker, Low Language, Low Religion, Low Romance, Low Violence, Sarah M. Eden

Christmas in July

When I was little my grandmother held a Christmas in July celebration. Her birthday was in July and one year she decided for her birthday, she wanted to celebrate Christmas, so she did, and I LOVED it.

When I received an ARC of  All Hearts Come Home for Christmas, in July, it wasn’t quite that level of amazingness, but it was pretty close. Though I love anthologies, I don’t always love every story in them, this one was the exception.

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I had already anticipated loving “Christmas as Falstone Castle”, I couldn’t imagine a better Christmas story than one that included the danger duke of Kielder, and I did not disappoint! However, I don’t think I could pick a favorite story out of the bunch. They were all equally entertaining and heart warming.

Christmas at Falstone Castle – Sarah M. Eden – “The Dowager Duchess of Kielder eagerly anticipates spending Christmas with her son and his family. Though their relationship has been strained, the duchess is determined to heal the chasm. Even with the help of the widowed local vicar, her plan will take a Christmas miracle. But during this magical season, anything is possible . . . even two second chances for love.”

–Not only was it so fun to read about Christmas at Falstone Caslte, and I will warn you, you will fall in love with the dangerous duke all over again. However,  I loved that he wasn’t the focus. I love that we got a fresh look at the dowager duchess. This was a second chance story I could get behind. It wasn’t just a second chance at romance, but a second chance at being the mother she wanted to be, and it was beautiful.

The Heart of Christmas – Anita Stansfield – When a chance meeting brings together a gentle seamstress and a widowed banker, each lonely soul finds a first hint of hope. As their lives become entwined, it will take Christmas spirit to guide a broken family to love and healing.

–This story had a little bit of Cinderella magic, a little bit of Christmas magic and a whole lot of heart.

’Tis the Season to Be Daring – Esther Hatch – Elizabeth Davenport has had quite enough of the London Season. Determined to evade a parade of unsuitable suitors, she seeks help from the one gentleman who has no regard for Society’s rules. All of Society knows Lord Hawthorne is not interested in marriage, yet he cannot deny Miss Davenport’s unique charm. And as the Christmas season works its magic, their charade begins to feel less like playacting and more like love.

–I possibly laughed the most with this one. It had delightfully witty banter with just enough scandalous behavior to be both clean and entertaining.

The Christmas Dress – Joanna Barker – Seamstress Nell Addington is thrilled when her childhood friend Jacob Hammond commissions a dress for his sister. But when Nell realizes her feelings for Jacob run far deeper than friendship, an unexpected snowstorm—and some holiday cheer—may convince them both that love is worth fighting for.

–If I had to pick a favorite as far as story line went this one would possibly be it. Joanna always uses pertinent metaphors to pull you right into the story.  I loved how much character development and story building she was able to connect me to in such a short amount of pages.

I’m ready for Christmas, who’s with me??

To win a free Copy of “All Hearts Come Home For Christmas” enter the rafflecopter below:

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Five Stars, Low Language, Low Religion, Low Romance, Low Violence, Sarah M. Eden

Shattered Notions

About 12 years ago my sister and I decided we wanted to learn something new, so we went to our local rock climbing gym and got belay certified, thus began a love affair with rock climbing. We found we love to go in the mountains far more than in the gyms. We love the nature and the challenge. We especially love that since we have the gear, it’s free. I must admit though, I had no idea about the history of rock climbing, or how far back it went.

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I have looked forward to Holy Harry’s book for far too long, and it did not disappoint. Not only was the history of rock climbing fascinating, but making Harry a rock climber just fit so well. However I would have never thought, oh I bet Harold Jonquil likes to climb things. That sounds ridiculous. Which is why Sarah Eden is such a phenomenal writer.

From the first few pages of the book every preconceived notion I’d ever had about Harry were cracked in two. Then, the more I learned about him, the more I loved him and rooted for him to become the man both Sarahs new him to be.

This story is not just a beautiful character journey. Harold’s journey was enveloped in a tender second chance romance. As well as complex family dynamics that draw you further and further into the arms of the Jonquil family. This may have been my favorite Jonquil book yet.

With that in mind, switch gears with me to Sarah Eden’s upcoming release The Lady and the Highway Man.

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From the first page this book shattered all my preconceived notions of Sarah Eden’s writing. If I hadn’t been fully aware that the book I was reading was a Sarah Eden book, I never would have guessed it.

The writing and the plot were so very different from the Sarah Eden I was used to, and yet wholly delightful. The story was incredibly quirky and a little on the dramatic side, both of which fit the whole perfectly.  I was entirely entertained and captivated.

The two stories within the story pulled me out a little the first time or two, but the more I was pulled into the characters, the more I loved the added character development they provided.

This is why I love Sarah Eden’s writing, it continually surprises and enchants me. Every, single, time.

4 1/2 stars, Joanna Barker, Low Language, Low Religion, Low Romance, Low Violence

Charades

My family and I are currently living in a state of displacement. We sold our current home rather quickly, consequently our next house isn’t quite ready for us. So we are living off the generosity of those who will let us impose on them until it is.

We are vacationing and visiting family and trying to make it more of an adventure for our kids. With each person we impose upon and with so many people under one roof, I rather feel like we’re going from one house party to another.

I think maybe I’ll convince the kids to play charades, or lawn bowls with me tomorrow. Though if we played it as they do in Joanna Barker‘s Miss Adeline’s Match, according to the regency era’s use of the word, they might wonder why they were hearing riddles instead of acting something out.

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Miss Adeline Hayes is the perfect lady’s companion: pleasant, conversational, and unceasingly proper. But when her closest friend, Charity Edgeworth, breaks off her arranged marriage without explanation, even Adeline’s superior skills are put to the test. Charity’s father banishes the two young women to the country, sending Adeline with a charge to find Charity a husband—or suffer dire consequences.

As Adeline takes on the role of reluctant matchmaker, she discovers more than one obstacle in her path. Not only does Charity prefer escaping in books to socializing, but Adeline soon finds her own attentions distracted by the standoffish—and irritatingly handsome—Mr. Evan Whitfield. Amidst an eventful foxhunt and the unexpected arrival of Charity’s former betrothed, Adeline simply doesn’t have time for a battle of wits with Evan. But the two are continually drawn together until Adeline begins to question her tightly guarded convictions about love and marriage.

However, when secrets are revealed and truths made known, Adeline must face her most fearsome obstacle yet: herself.

I loved how Joanna developed Adeline’s character. Even though the story was from her point of view, so often she was acting a charade, that the reader was slowing learning about as she was learning about herself.

Often when you have a book written in first person the personalities of the other characters is over shadowed by the emotions and thoughts of the main characters. I didn’t get that feeling in this book. Even though you’re reading from Adeline’s point of view, the other characters clearly have their own tone and voice. It added depth to not just the characters, but the whole plot.

I love Joanna’s stories, the story lines are always unique and unpredictable.  They fall under what I like to call realistic fairy tales. They have all the magic of a romance, while being wholly realistic about human nature and failings. The hero and heroine are people you can relate to and root for.

There was a point where I wanted to shout, “Duh, Adeline! The answer is staring you right in the face”… and I loved it! I had gotten so entrenched in the story and the characters that I was attempting to have a persuasive conversations with fictional characters. Having that kind of pull over a reader is some awesome writing my friends.

Five Stars, Low Language, Low Religion, Low Romance, Low Violence

A Proper Surprise

I’ve been in a bit of a funk lately where I’d rather binge watch Netflix than read. *Gasp* I know. The other day I finally decided I was done with shows and needed a good read. I picked up, A Proper Scandal by Esther Hatch. I loved this sweet story.
If you recall, if you don’t maybe I shouldn’t remind you… but, we didn’t love Esther Hatch’s debut novel The Roses of Feldstone.
However, I did not even hesitate to pick this one up, I knew that sometimes not loving a book has absolutely nothing to do with the author. Some of my very favorite authors have books I don’t love.
We loved this one!
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Grace Sinclair has been callously cast out of her home. And though taken in as an orphaned child by the vicar and his wife, her unsurpassed beauty makes it impossible for her to remain in the vicar’s household—with two daughters of their own about to enter Society, the vicar and his wife see Grace as nothing but competition. Thankfully, Grace’s estranged Aunt Bell has agreed to take her in to her home in London. But Grace soon learns her situation has just gotten much worse.
It takes only a moment’s acquaintance for Grace to ascertain that her aunt has married a detestable rake. And Aunt Bell, recognizing the danger of having her lovely niece too near her husband, gives Grace an ultimatum: the young woman has two weeks to find a man to marry, after which she will be turned out. With no experience in the art of attracting a husband, Grace quickly realizes that a worthy suitor might not be so easy to ensnare.
I love how she wrote Grace’s character so up front and honest. Her story line was a different take than I had read before and I love how she didn’t hold back.
 I would love to know more about Lord Bryant. He could have a really interesting story. The side characters were written really well, interesting enough to round out the book, but not distract from it.
The author also did a great job of writing from the male perspective. It’s no surprise that men often lead with the physical. Often an author leaves it at that and doesn’t  develop the man’s perspective beyond that; which leaves you with a very two dimensional character. I really like how Esther made him still very much a man, but well balanced.
There are so many re-readable scenes in this book. I would read more of Esther Hatch in a heartbeat.  –M.V.
Four Stars, Low Language, Low Romance, Low Violence, Moderate Religion

“Aren’t Books Pure Joy?”

A few years back I picked up a book entitled Dear Mr Knightley, for obvious Jane Austen reasons. I was delightfully surprised to find a more Daddly-Long-legs story. Possibly the best version I’ve read. I was instantly pulled into the story and loved the entire book. I recently came across another book, also by Katherine Reay, and picked it up without hesitation.

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“One of Madeline Cullen’s happiest childhood memories is of working with her Aunt Maddie in the quaint and cozy Printed Letter Bookshop. But by the time Madeline inherits the shop nearly twenty years later, family troubles and her own bitter losses have hardened Madeline’s heart toward her once-treasured aunt—and the now struggling bookshop left in her care.

While Madeline intends to sell the shop as quickly as possible, the Printed Letter’s two employees have other ideas. Reeling from a recent divorce, Janet finds sanctuary within the books and within the decadent window displays she creates. Claire, though quieter than the acerbic Janet, feels equally drawn to the daily rhythms of the shop and its loyal clientele, finding a renewed purpose within its walls.

When Madeline’s professional life falls apart, and a handsome gardener upends all her preconceived notions, she questions her plans and her heart. Has she been too quick to dismiss her aunt’s beloved shop? And even if she has, the women’s best combined efforts may be too little, too late.”

I’ll admit I had a harder time getting into this book. It took effort to remember which character was attached to which background and story as she jumped back and forth. It was not an “easy” read, the pacing was a little slow. It was however, beautifully worded, and deeply moving. I loved all the book references, and the lovely description of the small town and its quaint bookshop.

Five Stars, Josi S. Kilpack, Low Language, Low Religion, Low Romance, Low Violence

Just Friends

I’ve been richly blessed in my life to have some of the best people as friends. I’m twice blessed. When one of those friends expressed interest in me and I told him, “I think we should just be friends” (no joke, those cringe worthy words came out of my mouth) he allowed it, and even embraced it. It took me two more years of friendship to realize I couldn’t live without him, but I married him and have loved our love story ever since.

That’s probably why stories with a friends to lovers trope hold a special place in my heart. Especially ones that are done as well as Josi Kilpack‘s Daisies and Deovotion.

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Timothy Mayfield has nearly given up on his search for a wife. Then his Uncle Elliott presents to him a solution: participate in his “marriage campaign,” and upon approval of his choice for a wife, Timothy’s inheritance will be his.

Freed from the constraints of having to marry for money, Timothy is ready to marry for love instead. And he knows exactly what he wants in a wife. His friend, Maryann Morrington, an heiress in her own right, tells him outright that his expectations are ridiculous–no such woman exists. 

Miss Shaw appears to fulfill every single item on Timothy’s list. But when Timothy and Miss Shaw begin courting, Timothy realizes something profound. He’d rather spend his time with Maryann. Timothy must convince Maryann that she is the very woman he’d been looking for all along before it is too late.

This story pulled me right in sooner than some of her others have. I fell in love with Timothy and Maryann’s relationship right away.  Their honesty with each other made the novel refreshing and their relationship more meaningful. There were some beautifully written transitions in the development of their relationship.

I loved how Timothy’s character was written; I both loved him and wanted to shake him. Josi did a fantastic job of making his complete and utter lack of awareness believable and ridiculously adorable.  I liked him so well there were times I felt like the perspective was a little heavy on Maryann’s point of view. I’d turn to a new chapter and be slightly disappointed that we were still in Maryann’s head, and wishing for more from Timothy.

The focus on Maryann however allowed Josi to pull you more fully into Maryann’s emotions. The way Josi wrote Maryann’s emotions made them so real, in a way that allowed you to feel her hurt. Her unrequited love was written so well it was painful, and yet endearing.

There was only one thing that pulled me out of the story a few times. Maryann’s frequent lack and then need for a chaperone was a little confusing. I couldn’t figure out why she sometimes needed one and sometimes didn’t. However, it didn’t detract enough for me to not come away completely loving this book! I’m so excited to see what comes next in this series.

3 1/2 Stars, Low Romance, Low Violence, Moderate Language, Moderate Religion

Perspective

Confession for you all, I have always been more on the sensitive side I cry during movies, watching TV, and while reading books. Heavens, I’ve even cried watching facebook videos! Since having my first baby however, my hormones (lets just blame it on the hormones) have been out of control.

So Healed by Miranda Lotz may not have been the best choice, it is 100% a heart wrencher. I cried through more than half of it.

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“Stephanie knows God answers her prayers. Giving birth to her daughter after five miscarriages is proof of that. 

But when baby Abby is diagnosed with a rare form of epilepsy and treatments begin to spiral out of control, Stephanie is left to question why a God of miracles doesn’t guide her to heal Abby.

Stephanie’s husband, Jared, wants to try Mary’s Miracle–an organic CBD oil made from hemp–to treat Abby’s seizures, but Stephanie wants to know what God has planned for them.

As treatments dwindle and options run low, Stephanie must learn how to trust her instincts and follow her heart, finding a path forward for her daughter, and a path back to God for herself.”

The author did a beautiful job of reflecting all the pain hurt and struggle a family can go through when they find out hard news about their little angels. Miranda Lotz’s writing not only pulls on your heart strings, but gives you perspective. She did a very good job of making you feel and understand all the emotions.

I did struggle a little with the points of view it was written in, the chapters were labeled with the person’s name, but every now and then it seemed to switch to third person or even a completely different view.

Be aware of the sensitive nature of this book before you decide if it’s for you. Also a few other points: The book is very heavily religious as this family struggles in understanding why God would allow this, but it’s not preachy. There is heavier language than most books we read, so keep that in mind. Lastly, although there is no violence in the book its first chapter is pretty graphic in the telling of her delivery.

That all being said, this is a good book to turn to for perspective, for faith, and for a really good cry. –A.B.

Five Stars, Low Language, Low Religion, Low Romance, Low Violence, Sally Britton

Meet Cute

As much as I love having an audio book in the background while I work on my house, they don’t always have my full attention. Getting sick over Spring Break was a blessing in disguise. I finally had an excuse to ignore anything that needed to be worked on and lie in bed, and just read.

I’d been saving some of my more anticipated books for a time when I could dive into the book without my focus being split. One of those  was Sally Britton‘s Courting the Vicar’s Daughter.

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Harry Devon, son of a wealthy gentleman who cared more for money than his family, has returned to the family estate at last. Without direction, and lacking the knowledge necessary to run his estate, Harry is prepared to leave it to others to make the difficult decisions. Until he meets the vicar’s daughter. 

Augusta Ames, who much prefers the childhood nickname Daisy, is preparing to open a school for daughters of poor tenant farmers. In the habit of serving others, Daisy determines to help Harry find his path and place in their community. When he embraces her plan with enthusiasm, their friendship begins to blossom into something more. 

But the Devon legacy is regarded with suspicion, thanks to the greed and cruelty of Harry’s late father. When the neighborhood finds reason to turn on Harry, will Daisy trust her heart enough to love him still?

Sally Britton writes some of the cutest first meeting scenes, and this one was no exception. They pull you right in so you are immediately invested in the outcome of her main character’s relationships.

Many regency novels write about the life of wealthy gentlemen, balls, and glittering debutants. Which, if done well, take us away to a different time and place. We escape through our reading. But a great author can also get you to escape into a quite village with country dances and simple farmers, Sally Britton did just that in this novel. I loved the simplicity of life she conveyed in this novel, but it didn’t make it any less difficult or real.

She writes with such wit,  that though she expertly gets her characters to grapple with life, you don’t feel bogged down with the weight of it all. Underlying it all is a beautiful understanding of real love that pervades her novels. Harry’s story was a delightful end to this series.