Tag: books

Book Review and Blog Tour: The Summer Set, by Aimee Agresti

the summer set
Image belongs to Harlequin/Graydon House.

Title:   The Summer Set
Author:   Aimee Agresti
Genre:   Fiction
Rating:   3.5 out of 5

Charlie Savoy was once Hollywood’s hottest A-lister. Now, ten years later, she’s pushing forty, exiled from the film world back at the summer Shakespeare theater in the Berkshires that launched her career—and where her first love, Nick, is the artistic director.

It’s not exactly her first choice. But as parts are cast and rehearsals begin, Charlie is surprised to find herself thriving: bonding with celebrity actors, forging unexpected new friendships, and even reigniting her spark with Nick despite their complicated history.

Until Charlie’s old rival, Hollywood’s current “It Girl,” is brought on set, threatening to undo everything she’s been working towards. As the drama amps up both on the stage and behind the curtains, Charlie must put on one heck of a show to fight for the second chance she deserves in her career and in love.

If you’re looking for an easy read with a Hollywood-insider feel, this is probably a good choice for you. I enjoyed the Shakespeare references, but this novel wasn’t a good fit for me. Charlie and Nick—okay, and basically every other character—acted like a bunch of self-absorbed teenagers with almost zero communication skills. I found this to be a very negative portrayal of people involved in Hollywood in any way, shape, or form, but it might be accurate. I have no idea. It could work as a fun summer read for anyone who loves melodrama, but it doesn’t do much for a serious Shakespeare fan.

Aimee Agresti lives in Washington, DC. The Summer Set is her newest novel.

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

Book Review and Blog Tour: This is How I Lied, by Heather Gudenkauf

this is how i lied
Image belongs to Harlequin/Park Row.

Title:  This is How I Lied
AuthorHeather Gudenkauf
Genre:  Thriller
Rating:  4 out of 5

Tough as nails and seven months pregnant, Detective Maggie Kennedy-O’Keefe of Grotto PD, is dreading going on desk duty before having the baby her and her husband so badly want. But when new evidence is found in the 25-year-old cold case of her best friend’s murder that requires the work of a desk jockey, Maggie jumps at the opportunity to be the one who finally puts Eve Knox’s case to rest.

Maggie has her work cut out for her. Everyone close to Eve is a suspect. There’s Nola, Eve’s little sister who’s always been a little… off; Nick, Eve’s ex-boyfriend with a vicious temper; a Schwinn riding drifter who blew in and out of Grotto; even Maggie’s husband Sean, who may have known more about Eve’s last day than he’s letting on. As Maggie continues to investigate, the case comes closer and closer to home, forcing her to confront her own demons before she can find justice for Eve. 

I didn’t really feel a connection with any of these characters. Not even pregnant and struggling Maggie. Especially not Nora, who was vicious and crazy. And, it seems, everyone in the book was a liar, so there’s that. Unreliable narrator, anyone?

I actually didn’t figure out what had happened 25 years ago—how is 1995 twenty years ago!—and the action and tensions kept increasing, making this quick to read, but my dislike of the characters killed a lot of my enjoyment of the read.

Heather Gudenkauf is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author. This is how I Lied is her newest novel.

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

Book Review and Blog Tour: Her Hidden Hope, by Jill Lynn

her hidden hope
Harlequin/Love Inspired.

Title:  Her Hidden Hope
AuthorJill Lynn
Genre:  Romance, Christian
Rating:  4.5 out of 5

Asking for forgiveness is the hardest part. She once trusted him with her heart…but will she ever trust him with the truth?

With only two weeks to renovate her family’s Colorado B and B, struggling single mom Addie Ricci can’t turn away help. Especially not when it’s her handsome high school sweetheart, Evan Hawke, who’s offering to pitch in. As they repair the B and B, Addie and Evan also begin rebuilding their relationship…until a secret from their past threatens to bring it all crashing down.

I enjoyed this so much! Addie and Evan are struggling with so much pain and hurt from their past, but they learn to trust each other again and move past the mistakes and secrets they’ve hidden for so long. I love inspirational romances, but sometimes the faith feels like it’s shoehorned in. That’s not the case here. The faith aspect feels like a natural part of these characters, and it’s wonderful to see Addie learn and grow as she and Evan get to know each other all over again.

Jill Lynn is an ACFW Carol Award-winning author and has a bachelor’s degree in communications from Bethel University. Her Hidden Hope is her newest novel,

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

Book Review: Queen of the Unwanted, by Jenna Glass

queen of the unwanted
Image belongs to Del Rey.

Title:  Queen of the Unwanted
AuthorJenna Glass
Genre:  Fantasy
Rating:  4 out of 5

In this world, women have no rights. If their husband or father decide they’ve disgraced their family—for anything from not having a child quickly enough to a sideways look—they are sent away, usually to one of the Abbeys, where they are forced to pleasure any man who desires. They have no rights. They have no futures. They have no magic. At least, they didn’t…

Alys is queen of Women’s Well, a new colony where women have equal rights after the Women’s War. But Alys can’t bring herself to care about anything besides the loss of her daughter—and her own desire for vengeance. Her mother gave her life for the spell that gave women magic, but Alys finds it hard to see past her personal tragedy.

Faced with opposition from men who still believe women have no rights, Ellin struggles to rule her land—and to change the status quo for men unused to women with power.

An abbess thinks she can reverse the spell that changed the world—but all she really wants is to keep the power she has gained through cunning and treachery.

Unless these women can find a way to work together, they will lose everything they have gained.

I haven’t read The Women’s War—yet—but I still had no trouble following what was going on in Queen of the Unwanted. (I would recommend reading the first book, though, as I’m sure this novel would be much richer with that introduction.) Excellent writing and worldbuilding, and a great mix of characters:  some I liked, some I disliked, some I actively hated. I recommend reading this—and I can’t wait to go back and read the first novel.

Jenna Glass has been writing books since the fifth grade. Queen of the Unwanted is her newest novel, the second book in The Women’s War series.

(Galley courtesy of Del Rey in exchange for an honest review.)

The Best Books I Read in April (2020)

I read 35 books in April, bringing my total for the year to 99. (Apparently eliminating my 2-minute commute by working from home increased my reading speed.) Some of these were just so-so, some were excellent, some were solid reads. But if I had to narrow it down to my three favorites…

perennials

Perennials, by Julie Cantrell. I love Southern fiction, and this was a drowsy, sweet, and enthralling read—perfectly Southern—from the very first page. Highly recommended!

of silver and shadow

Of Silver and Shadow, by Jennifer Gruenke. My review will be up on the 27th, but isn’t this a gorgeous cover? Ren was such a prickly character, but I enjoyed her antics, the world, and the other characters very much. Can’t wait to read more from this debut author!

Breath Like Water

Breath Like Water, by Anna Jarzab. This hasn’t hit stores yet, and I don’t know anything about elite swimming or bipolar disorder, but I loved Susannah and Harry and their struggles and unexpected triumphs.

Book Review: How to Have a Better Relationship with Anybody, by James Hilt

how to have a better relationship with anybody
Image belongs to Moody Publishers.

Title:  How to Have a Better Relationship with Anybody
Author:  James Hilt
Genre:  Nonfiction
Rating:  4 out of 5

You can have a better relationship with anybody—God, your children, your spouse, or friends. The answers for how to do so are found in Scripture. Counselor James P. Hilt has helped hundreds of people who wanted healthier, happier relationships with his principles derived from the insights of Scripture. He will help you:

Identify and get rid of problems that separate you from others
Stop feeling bitter and resentful
Listen more effectively
Become more patient
Celebrate others more readily
Feel more satisfied in your relationships

Study what the Bible has to say about relationships, apply these healing truths to your life, and discover the remarkable difference it can make. Christ’s love can flow unhindered through your life. Don’t put up with disconnection and resentment any longer.

This was an insightful read that offered both insight and tips that were feasible and doable (Not far-fetched and almost laughable tips for those of us just trying to live our lives and keep all the balls in the air.). The voice was relatable, like talking to a friend, not preachy or condescending, and it incorporated biblical principle and scripture into anecdotes from the author, making it feel even more like sitting down for a chat with a friend that has a little more experience than you.

James Hilt is an author and a counselor. How to Have a Better Relationship with Anybody is his newest book.

(Galley courtesy of Moody Publishers in exchange for an honest review.)

What I Read in April (2020)

Well, April was an excellent reading month for me. I finished reading all the books I’m reviewing in May…and their reviews.

Books Read in April:  35

Books Read for the Year: 99/200

Topical Books/Monthly Goal Books:

Finding Your Way Back to God, by Dave Ferguson (spiritual). This wasn’t quite what I was looking for, but I enjoyed the real-life stories.

Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Brontë (classic). It’s been a long time since I read this…and I loved it all over again!

Perennials, by Julie Cantrell (TBR). Okay, I’ll just say it:  I loved this book! Well-done Southern fiction is my jam. And this was well-done. I sympathized so much with Lovey. This book made me laugh, cry, and remember everything I love about the South.

A Shadow Bright and Burning, by Jessica Cluess (TBR). I ended up enjoying this one quite a bit, and I’m looking forward to reading more.

Salt to the  Sea, by Ruta Sepetys (TBR). This was just kind of “meh” for me. Too many POVs, for one thing. And the time with each character was so short, I never really felt comfortable in their heads.

For Review: 

the secrets they left behind

The Secrets They Left Behind, by Lissa Marie Redmond. A thriller about a cop who goes undercover as a college student to catch whoever is behind the disappearance of three female college students. I enjoyed this a lot!

how to have a better relationship with anybody

How to Have a Better Relationship with Anyone, by James Hilt (review forthcoming). This is a solid read, with a very relatable voice.

miss austen

Miss Austen, by Gill Hornby. This is the story of Jane Austen’s sister, what it was like living with her famous sister, and her struggle to keep the family reputation intact. A good read, but not really a cheerful one.

copycat killer

Copycat Killer, by Laura Scott. I love faith-based books and romantic suspense novels, so combining the two should have been a win for me. However, I found this to be insta-love with the faith aspect barely mentioned…and the main murder mystery barely mentioned as well.

the stolen letter

The Stolen Letter, by Paige Shelton. A woman who thinks she was a queen in a past life. A plot to close a bookstore secretly for nefarious purposes. A murder investigation. This was a fun read, even if I hadn’t read the first four books in the series!

truths I never told you

Truths I Never Told You, by Kelly Rimmer. Long-hidden family secrets come to life in this quiet family drama.

the engineer's wife

The Engineer’s Wife, by Tracey Enerson Wood.  PT Barnum was my favorite character in this historical fiction novel and I enjoyed the look at the beginning of the women’s suffrage movement, but the main characters weren’t entirely sympathetic for me.

braised pork

Braised Pork, by An Yu. Okay, I’m not going to lie:  the only reason I finished reading this was because it was so short. Thee was some magical realism in this, but the whole thing seemed kind of pointless. Creative name, though not really related to anything.

the stone of sorrow

The Stone of Sorrow, by Brooke Carter. I enjoyed this Icelandic (sort of) fantasy, with Norse myths and legends come to life. A little more character development would have been nice, but it was a decent beginning to a new series.

the queen of paris

The Queen of Paris, by Pamela Binnings Ewen. This is the story of Coco Chanel during the great war, and I have to say, she was pretty self-absorbed and oblivious of everything but her own concerns.

the golden flea

The Golden Flea, by Michael Rips. This is so far outside my wheelhouse—but I totally enjoyed it! It’s about the Chelsea Flea Market and the people and treasures found there, and ended up being absolutely fascinating.

my name is Tani

My Name is Tani…and I Believe in Miracles, by Tani Adewumi. The inspirational story of a family who fled Nigeria for asylum in America, and their youngest son, who became a chess champion after less than a year of playing.

feels like falling

Feels Like Falling, by Kristy Woodson Harvey. I actually liked the secondary characters more than the main characters, and their interactions made the book a fun read. Gray was pretty spoiled/oblivious to reality, so I wasn’t a big fan of hers, but this is an easy read.

seven endless forests

Seven Endless Forests, by April Geneviebe Tucholke. This is set in the same world as The Boneless Mercies, which was a fantastic read! I enjoyed this a lot, but the ending felt really rushed.

the summer villa

The Summer Villa, by Melissa Hill. I enjoyed reading about vacationing in Italy…but two out of three of the main characters were pretty self-absorbed and unlikable. This also seemed a little too good to be true, frankly. I mean, who really falls in love with a gorgeous Italian man while on vacation…and it’s mutual? That’s possibly every woman’s fantasy, but it isn’t reality.

sugar and vice

Sugar and Vice, by Eve Calder. This was a fun cozy mystery, and I intend to go back and read the first of the series since I enjoyed this one so much.

finding balance

Finding Balance, by Kati Gardner (review forthcoming). Loved this #ownvoices YA read!

the secrets of love story bridge
Image belongs to Harlequin/Park Row.

The Secrets of Love Story Bridge, by Phaedra Patrick. This was a solid read, but I wasn’t in love with it.

her hidden hope

Her Hidden Hope, by Jill Lynn (review forthcoming). This was an excellent inspirational romance! Sometimes they can feel a bit preachy, but this one does not fall into that category.

TheParisHours_300

The Paris Hours, by Alex George (review forthcoming). to be honest, I didn’t care much for this. Or, I should say, I’m neutral. I didn’t feel a connection with any of the characters, so it was hard to care what was happening to them. And it felt really sloooow.

this is how i lied

This is How I Lied, by Heather Gudenkauf (review forthcoming). The idea that 1995 was 25 years ago kept tripping me up here, as half the story was set in 1995, the rest in the present-day. I didn’t really like any of the characters, so I wasn’t a huge fan of this. And the sister is crazy!

Breath Like Water

Breath Like Water, by Anna Jarzab (review forthcoming). I LOVED this! I don’t know a thing about competitive swimming, and only slightly more than nothing about bipolar disorder, but I was entranced by this novel from the first page.

carolina breeze

Carolina Breeze, by Denise Hunter (review forthcoming). I love this series of wonderful inspirational romances!

her amish suitor's secret

Her Amish Suitor’s Secret, by Carrie Lighte (review forthcoming). This was a sweet, enjoyable romance, although there were a couple of things that made me question the portrayal of Amish life. However…that could be my own ignorance talking, and I liked this.

on ocean boulevard

On Ocean Boulevard, by Mary Alice Monroe (review forthcoming). I loved the sea turtle and conservation aspects of this, but I didn’t have much connection with the characters, except Cara. I do love Southern fiction though!

sister dear

Sister Dear, by Hannah Mary McKinnon. (review forthcoming). So…this didn’t end like I expected, which is good. But I disliked all the characters, so there’s that. These people are not right.

of silver and shadow

Of Silver and Shadow, by Jennifer Gruenke (review forthcoming). This was an excellent fantasy read!

the summer set

The Summer Set, by Aimee Agresti (review forthcoming). I enjoyed all the Shakespeare, but…these characters read more like young teenagers that 40-somethings. Selfish, willful, no consideration for anyone besides themselves…and everyone was sleeping with everyone else. (Not that I’m saying teenagers do all that, but these people were completely immature and vapid.)

madquerade at middlecrest abbey

Masquerade at Middlecrest Abbey, by Abigail Wilson (review forthcoming). I enjoyed this murder mystery mixed with lots of family drama.

Stopped Reading

Valentine, by Elizabeth Wetmore. I read 25% of this, but…it was a little too dark and gritty and depressing for me right now, especially considering current dark events. Definitely my issue, not the novel’s.

Queen of the Owls, by Barbara Linn Probst. I think I made it about 10-15% of the way through this, but the voice was too depressing for me to slog through. Just not a good fit.

Bubblegum, by Adam Levin. Just no. That is all.

Book Review and Blog Tour: The Secrets of Love Story Bridge, by Phaedra Patrick

the secrets of love story bridge
Image belongs to Harlequin/Park Row.

Title:  The Secrets of Love Story Bridge
AuthorPhaedra Patrick
Genre:  Fiction
Rating:  4 out of 5

Single father Mitchell Fisher hates all things romance. He enjoys his job removing padlocks fastened to the famous “love lock” bridges of Upchester city. Only his young daughter, Poppy, knows that behind his disciplined veneer, Mitchell grieves the loss of her mother, Anita.

One fateful day, working on the bridge, Mitchell courageously rescues a woman who falls into the river. He’s surprised to feel a connection to her, but the woman disappears before he learns her name. To Mitchell’s shock, a video of the rescue goes viral, hailing him as “The Hero on the Bridge.” He’s soon notified by the mysterious woman’s sister, Liza, that she has been missing for over a year. However, the only clue to where the woman could have gone is the engraved padlock she left on the bridge.

 Mitchell finds himself swept up in Liza’s quest to find her lost sister. Along the way, with help from a sparkling cast of characters, Mitchell’s heart gradually unlocks, and he discovers new beginnings can be found in the unlikeliest places…

This seems like a simple story, but there’s a lot going on here. The pacing is slow and steady, which just works for this story. There’s a bit of mystery with the missing woman and her story, sadness and grief over Mitchell’s lost love, and also hope for the future. Not every story needs a fast pace to keep a reader engrossed. Sometimes, savoring a novel like this one is just as enthralling.

Phaedra Patrick studied art and marketing, and has worked as a stained-glass artist, film festival organizer and communications manager. An award-winning short story writer, she now writes full-time. She lives in Saddleworth, UK, with her husband and son. The Secrets of Love Story Bridge is her newest novel.

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

Book Review: Sugar and Vice, by Eve Calder

sugar and vice
Image belongs to St. Martin’s Press.

Title:  Sugar and Vice
AuthorEve Calder
Genre:  Cozy mystery
Rating:  4 out of 5

OUT OF THE OVEN
Lately, Kate has a lot on her dessert plate. She’s launching a cookie-of-the-day challenge in the heart of Coral Cay, providing sweet treats for the reception of the town’s handsome new veterinarian—not to mention dealing with tourists in town for a pirate festival and the surprise arrival of her former fiancé, Evan, who seems determined to win her back.

AND INTO THE FIRE
And if that’s not enough, a skeleton has been found—in the backyard behind her best friend Maxi’s floral shop. Kate knows Maxi could never hurt a fly. Maybe the remains belong to Sir George Bly, a long-dead pirate whose name has become urban legend—until now? It’s time for Kate to use every trick in the recipe book to prove Maxi’s innocence, and find the truth about the skeleton, before the last of the cookies crumble…

This was such a fun read! I love the small-town setting with beach vibes. It may not be a good reading choice if you’re trying to give up sugar—because the descriptions of the cookies were making me hungry! I haven’t read the first book in the series, but that didn’t matter.

Maxi and Kate’s friendship was wonderful, and I loved how vibrant Maxi and her family were. Add in two mysteries, a persistent ex, and a cute new veterinarian, and this amounted to a lot of fun!

Eve Calder is from Florida. Sugar and Vice is her newest novel, the second book in The Cookie House Mysteries series.

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

Book Review and Blog Tour: The Summer Villa, by Melissa Hill

the summer villa blog tour

the summer villa
Image belongs to Harlquin/MIRA.

Title:  The Summer Villa
AuthorMelissa Hill
Genre:  Women’s fiction
Rating:  4 out of 5

Three women. One summer reunion. Secrets will be revealed…

Villa Dolce Vita, a rambling stone house on the Amalfi Coast, sits high above the Gulf of Naples amid dappled lemon groves and fragrant, tumbling bougainvillea. Kim, Colette and Annie all came to the villa in need of escape and in the process forged an unlikely friendship.

Now, years later, Kim has transformed the crumbling house into a luxury retreat and has invited her friends back for the summer to celebrate.

But as friendships are rekindled under the Italian sun, secrets buried in the past will come to light, and not everyone is happy that the three friends are reuniting… Each woman will have things to face up to if they are all to find true happiness and fully embrace the sweet life.

On one hand, I thoroughly enjoyed reading about Italy—and a vacation sounds wonderful right about now! On the other, I found Kim and Annie to be mildly annoying characters at best. Kim was rather self-absorbed, spoiled, and selfish. Annie was…well, she had a huge chip on her shoulder and spent quite a bit of time feeling sorry for herself. That’s a no-go for me.

I liked Colette, and I would have enjoyed more time spent with her, but a lot of this novel fell in the “too good to be true” category for me. I mean, doesn’t everyone meet handsome strangers who fall immediately in love with you on vacation…and end up wildly successful in your chosen field? This is still an quick, breezy read that doesn’t require too much mental involvement to enjoy.

Melissa Hill is a bestselling author. The Summer Villa is her newest novel.

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