Category: reading

Book Review: Masquerade at Middlecrest Abbey, by Abigail Wilson

madquerade at middlecrest abbey
Image belongs to Thomas Nelson.

Title:  Masquerade at Middlecrest Abbey
AuthorAbigail Wilson
Genre:  Regency, mystery, romance
Rating:  5 out of 5

When the widowed Lord Torrington agreed to spy for the crown, he never planned to impersonate a highwayman, let alone rob the wrong carriage. Stranded on the road with an unconscious young woman, he is forced to propose marriage to protect his identity, as well as his dangerous mission.

Trapped by not only the duty to her country but her limited options, Miss Elizabeth Cantrell and her illegitimate son are whisked away to Middlecrest Abbey by none other than the elder brother of her son’s absent father. She is met by Torrington’s beautiful grown daughters, a vicious murderer, and an urgent hunt for the missing intelligence that could turn the war with France. Afraid of what Lord Torrington might do if he learns of her son’s true identity, Elizabeth must remain one step ahead of her fragile heart, her uncertain future, and the relentless mystery person bent on her new family’s ruin.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this! Sometimes, Regency novels are hard for me to read, with all the rules and constrictions that women were subjected to, but Elizabeth is independent-thinking enough to have a mind of her own and enough courage to make her own choices.

Adrian Torrington was also not your typical Regency hero. He’s a bit older with a past he’s not proud of and a determination to change things for the better. I like that he allows Elizabeth to be herself—without compromising either of their values. This is the first thing I’ve read by this author, but I will definitely be reading more!

Abigail Wilson lives in Texas. Masquerade at Middlecrest Abbey is her newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of Thomas Nelson in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review: Of Silver and Shadow, by Jennifer Gruenke

of silver and shadow
Image belongs to North Star/Flux.

Title:  Of Silver and Shadow
AuthorJennifer Gruenke
Genre:  Fantasy
Rating:  5 out of 5

Ren Kolins is a silver wielder—a dangerous thing to be in the kingdom of Erdis, where magic has been outlawed for a century. Ren is just trying to survive, sticking to a life of petty thievery, card games, and pit fighting to get by. But when a wealthy rebel leader discovers her secret, he offers her a fortune to join his revolution. The caveat: she won’t see a single coin until they overthrow the King.

Behind the castle walls, a brutal group of warriors known as the King’s Children is engaged in a competition: the first to find the rebel leader will be made King’s Fang, the right hand of the King of Erdis. And Adley Farre is hunting down the rebels one by one, torturing her way to Ren and the rebel leader, and the coveted King’s Fang title.

But time is running out for all of them, including the youngest Prince of Erdis, who finds himself pulled into the rebellion. Political tensions have reached a boiling point, and Ren and the rebels must take the throne before war breaks out.

I was entranced by this book from the very beginning! Ren’s attitude and brashness is a little much at ties, but I feel that’s a growth opportunity to grow for her, and I did enjoy her sass. Even the secondary characters are vivid and vibrant—like the prince—and the settling felt realistic and almost-visible to me. A fantastic read!

Jennifer Gruenke grew up in California and now lives in Charlotte. Of Silver and Shadow is her debut novel.

(Galley courtesy of North Star/Flux in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review: The Jane Austen Society, by Natalie Jenner

the jane austen society
Image belongs to St. Martin’s Press.

Title:   The Jane Austen Society
Author:   Natalie Jenner
Genre:   Fiction
Rating:   4.5 out of 5

Just after the Second World War, in the small English village of Chawton, an unusual but like-minded group of people band together to attempt something remarkable.

One hundred and fifty years ago, Chawton was the final home of Jane Austen, one of England’s finest novelists. Now it’s home to a few distant relatives and their diminishing estate. With the last bit of Austen’s legacy threatened, a group of disparate individuals come together to preserve both Jane Austen’s home and her legacy. These people—a laborer, a young widow, the local doctor, and a movie star, among others—could not be more different and yet they are united in their love for the works and words of Austen. As each of them endures their own quiet struggle with loss and trauma, some from the recent war, others from more distant tragedies, they rally together to create the Jane Austen Society.

This was such a lovely read! I enjoyed reading each of the characters and their thoughts, and I think Ms. Jenner did her love for Jane Austen credit with this novel. Honestly, this felt almost like an Austen novel, with its village charm and intriguing characters. It’s wonderful to see such a diverse cast of characters—a farmer, a doctor, a movie star, a domestic worker—all brought together by their love of Austen.

Go read this as soon as possible!

Natalie Jenner has been a lawyer, a career coach, and founded an independent bookstore. The Jane Austen Society is her debut novel.

(Galley courtesy of St. Martin’s Press in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review and Blog Tour: Sister Dear, by Hannah Mary McKinnon

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sister dear
Image belongs to Harlequin/MIRA.

Title:  Sister Dear
AuthorHannah Mary McKinnon
Genre:  Suspense
Rating:  3.5 out of 5

Beauty. Wealth. Success.

She’s got it all.

And it all should’ve been mine.

When Eleanor Hardwicke’s beloved father dies, her world is further shattered by a gut-wrenching secret: the man she’s grieving isn’t really her dad. Eleanor was the product of an affair and her biological father is still out there, living blissfully with the family he chose. With her personal life spiraling, a desperate Eleanor seeks him out, leading her to uncover another branch on her family tree—an infuriatingly enviable half sister.

Perfectly perfect Victoria has everything Eleanor could ever dream of. Loving childhood, luxury home, devoted husband. All of it stolen from Eleanor, who plans to take it back. After all, good sisters are supposed to share. And quiet little Eleanor has been waiting far too long for her turn to play.

This wasn’t a good choice for me to read. Despite the excellent writing, I did not like any of the characters. Eleanor was creepy and obsessive and kind of crazy. Her family was awful. She makes horrible choices and doesn’t care about anyone but herself. Self-destructive is her life story, along with feeling sorry for herself. This didn’t end like I expected, which was nice, but it didn’t make up for my dislike of the characters.

Hannah Mary McKinnor was born in the U.K. and now lives in Canada. Sister Dear is her newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of Harlequin/Mira in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review: On Ocean Boulevard, by Mary Alice Monroe

on ocean boulevard
Image belongs to Gallery Books.

Title:  On Ocean Boulevard
AuthorMary Alice Monroe
Genre:  Fiction
Rating:  4 out of 5

It’s been sixteen years since Caretta “Cara” Rutledge has returned home to the beautiful shores of Charleston, South Carolina. Over those years, she has weathered the tides of deaths and births, struggles and joys. And now, as Cara prepares for her second wedding, her life is about to change yet again.

Meanwhile, the rest of the storied Rutledge family is also in flux. Cara’s niece Linnea returns to Sullivan’s Island to begin a new career and an unexpected relationship. Linnea’s parents, having survived bankruptcy, pin their hopes and futures on the construction of a new home on Ocean Boulevard. But as excitement over the house and wedding builds, a devastating illness strikes the family and brings plans to a screeching halt. It is under these trying circumstances that the Rutledge family must come together yet again to discover the enduring strength in love, tradition, and legacy from mother to daughter to granddaughter.

Like the sea turtles that come ashore annually on these windswept islands, three generations of the Rutledge family experience a season of return, rebirth, and growth.

As a former environmental biology major with a love of the ocean, I loved the conservation and environmental aspects of this. And I really wanted to pack up and go live on a barrier island. I cannot imagine how wonderful it would be to wake up to the ocean at sunrise every morning.

I enjoyed Cara’s story the most, but Linnea’s struggles were totally relatable. I couldn’t quite relate to the wealth and privilege of some of the characters, but family expectations? Absolutely. This was a quick, uncomplicated read—and yes, it would be a perfect beach read!

Mary Alice Monroe is a bestselling author and a conservationist. On Ocean Boulevard is her newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of Gallery Books in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review: Private Lessons, by Cynthia Salaysay

Private Lessons
Image belongs to Candlewick Press.

Title:   Private Lessons
Author:   Cynthia Salaysay
Genre:   YA
Rating:   3 out of 5

After seventeen-year-old Claire Alalay’s father’s death, only music has helped her channel her grief. Claire likes herself best when she plays his old piano, a welcome escape from the sadness — and her traditional Filipino mother’s prayer groups. In the hopes of earning a college scholarship, Claire auditions for Paul Avon, a prominent piano teacher, who agrees to take Claire as a pupil. Soon Claire loses herself in Paul’s world and his way of digging into a composition’s emotional core. She practices constantly, foregoing a social life, but no matter how hard she works or how well she plays, it seems impossible to gain Paul’s approval, let alone his affection.

I really loved the premise of this novel. But Claire was a really unlikable character for me. I thought her struggles with her Filipino heritage (and people’s reactions to her appearance) were well-done and vivid, but for the most part, Claire was a selfish, unpleasant person who let life happen to her.

The assault was beyond her control, but in every other part of her life, she just goes along, emotionally distant, without taking ownership of her life and actions. She’s horrible to her best friend. She’s selfish and greedy with her mother—and outright rude and hurtful. She’s oblivious of what everyone else around her wants, focusing instead on her own wants. She lackadaisical towards her music, so it made that—the vast majority of the book—not believable to me.

Claire just made this book not a good fit for me.

Cynthia Salaysay is a registered nurse. Private Lessons is her debut novel.

(Galley courtesy of Candlewick Press in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review and Blog Tour: Her Amish Suitor’s Secret, by Carrie Lighte

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her amish suitor's secret
Image belongs to Harlequin/Love Inspired.

Title:  Her Amish Suitor’s Secret
AuthorCarrie Lighte
Genre:  Romance, Christian
Rating:  4.0 out of 5

Sometimes the truth comes at a cost. Can she forgive him when she learns his true identity? Posing as an Amish groundskeeper at Rose Allgyer’s lakeside cabin retreat, Englischer Caleb Miller is determined to clear his brother’s name of theft. But as he’s drawn to Rose’s good nature, the burden of his ruse gets heavier—especially after learning Rose was deceived by her ex-fiancé. Still guarded, will Rose trust Caleb with her heart when she discovers he isn’t who he claims to be?

I do love reading Amish fiction, and this was one I enjoyed a lot. It was interesting watching Caleb try to fit into the Amish community, mistakes and all. I was far more intrigued by the development of Caleb and Rose’s storyline than the mystery of the stolen coins, but there were also several other side intrigues to keep my attention as well. This was a sweet, uncomplicated read, perfect for a stressful day.

Carrie Lighte enjoys traveling to Amish communities across the United States and she hopes to visit a few in Canada soon, too. When she isn’t writing, reading or researching, she likes to hike, kayak and spend time at the beach.

(Galley courtesy of Harlequin/Love Inspired in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review and Blog Tour: Breath Like Water, by Anna Jarzab

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Breath Like Water
Image belongs to Harlequin Teen/Inkyard Press.

Title:  Breath Like Water
AuthorAnna Jarzab
Genre:  YA
Rating:  5 out of 5

Susannah Ramos has always loved the water. A swimmer whose early talent made her a world champion, Susannah was poised for greatness in a sport that demands so much of its young. But an inexplicable slowdown has put her Olympic dream in jeopardy, and Susannah is fighting to keep her career afloat when two important people enter her life: a new coach with a revolutionary training strategy, and a charming fellow swimmer named Harry Matthews.

As Susannah begins her long and painful climb back to the top, her friendship with Harry blossoms into passionate and supportive love. But Harry is facing challenges of his own, and even as their bond draws them closer together, other forces work to tear them apart. As she struggles to balance her needs with those of the people who matter most to her, Susannah will learn the cost–and the beauty–of trying to achieve something extraordinary.

This was a fantastic read! Susannah is strong and determined, but she’s struggling.  The walls she’s built around her emotions are impenetrable—until she meets Harry, who sees her, not an elite swimmer struggling to recapture former glory. Susannah has to be truly broken before she can rise again, and this novel captures all the anguish of her struggles and her search to find what she truly wants.

Then there’s Harry. He’s got walls of his own, walls he tries to hide behind humor and pranks, but he’s just as vulnerable as Susannah is—and he’s struggling with things that are just as overwhelming as Susannah’s opponents.

Anna Jarzab is a Midwesterner turned New Yorker. Breath Like Water is her newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of Harlequin Teen/Inkyard Press in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review: Carolina Breeze, by Denise Hunter

carolina breeze
Image belongs to Thomas Nelson.

Title:  Carolina Breeze
AuthorDenise Hunter
Genre:  Romance
Rating:  5 out of 5

Rising Hollywood star Mia Emerson is looking for a safe place to land in the wake of a public breakup and scandal, and she finds it in the lake town of Bluebell, North Carolina–the location of her canceled honeymoon. She wants nothing more than to hide and wait for the tabloids to die down.

Soon after her arrival at the Bluebell Inn, Mia meets Levi Bennett, who runs the inn along with his two younger sisters. Drawn to one another from the start, Mia trusts Levi to keep her location from the press, and Levi confides in Mia about the financial state of the inn–a secret he’s been keeping from his sisters.

When Mia and Levi discover an old journal that hints at a rare diamond necklace hidden in the inn, they set off on a treasure hunt to find the long-lost heirloom. What they don’t expect to surface are feelings they thought were safely locked away. Mia and Levi must decide if falling in love again is too big a risk–or if it will uncover a treasure of its own instead.

This is another wonderful read in the Bluebell Inn Romance series! I really like the setting, and the characters are so well-done I just want to hang out with them and chat. Poor Mia has been dealt a pretty raw hand, but she handles it with grace and aplomb, despite her frustrations. She demonstrates the good side of Hollywood.

Levi is kind of overbearing towards his sisters, but he’s able to learn from his mistakes and grow from them. It’s nice to see his self-awareness, as he and Mia learn to trust as they expand their horizons. This is a sweet and easy read.

Denise Hunter is a bestselling author. Carolina Breeze is her newest novel, the second Bluebell Inn Romance.

(Galley courtesy of Thomas Nelson in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review: Of Literature and Lattes, by Katherine Reay

of literature and lattes
Image belongs to Thomas Nelson.

Title:   Of Literature and Lattes
Author:   Katherine Reay
Genre:   Fiction
Rating:   4 out of 5

Return to the cozy and delightful town of Winsome, where two people discover the grace of letting go and the joy found in unexpected change.

After fleeing her hometown three years earlier, Alyssa Harrison never planned to return. Then the Silicon Valley start-up she worked for collapsed and turned her world upside down. She is broke, under FBI investigation, and without a place to go. Having exhausted every option, she comes home to Winsome, Illinois, to regroup and move on as quickly as possible. Yet, as friends and family welcome her back, Alyssa begins to see a place for herself in this small Midwestern community.

Jeremy Mitchell moved from Seattle to Winsome to be near his daughter and to open the coffee shop he’s been dreaming of for years. Problem is, the business is bleeding money—and he’s not quite sure why. When he meets Alyssa, he senses an immediate connection, but what he needs most is someone to help him save his floundering business. After asking for her help, he wonders if something might grow between them—but forces beyond their control soon complicate their already complex lives, and the future they both hoped for is not at all what they anticipated.

With the help of Winsome’s small-town charm and quirky residents, Alyssa and Jeremy discover the beauty and romance of second chances.

I’ve read—and loved—several of Reay’s books in the past (The Brontë Plot, The Austen Escape, Dear Mr. Knightley) but I didn’t enjoy this one quite as much as those. I think it’s because this was about more than one couple and their issues. And because I wasn’t a huge fan of Alyssa. She was…really hateful to her mother and, despite wanting not be thought of as a child, she persisted in acting childish.

I learned more about the nuances of coffee than I ever imagined existed, and I did love the small-town setting here, but this didn’t feel like the Reay books I’ve read before, so I was a bit disappointed. Maybe it’s because the classic novel this is linked to is Of Mice and Men, which I’ve basically forgotten?

Katherine Reay is a bestselling author. Of Literature and Lattes is her newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of Thomas Nelson in exchange for an honest review.)