Monday, December 15, 2014

The Wishing Season by Denise Hunter

The Wishing Season by Denise Hunter

I love revisiting Chapel Springs where the characters and setting are familiar. Isn't that a great cover? This book released this month, but though the cover and release date seem to indicate we have a Christmas read, you could read this one any time of year.

Let’s begin with the summary:

Living side-by-side, a fledgling chef and a big-hearted contractor find a delicious attraction.

Trouble is, their chemistry could spoil their dreams.

Spirited PJ McKinley has the touch when it comes to food. Her dream of opening her own restaurant is just one building short of reality. So when a Chapel Springs resident offers her beloved ancestral home to the applicant with the best plan for the house, PJ believes it’s a contest she was meant to win.

Contractor Cole Evans is confident, professional, and swoon-worthy—but this former foster kid knows his life could have turned out very differently. When Cole discovers the contest, he believes his home for foster kids in transition has found its saving grace. All he has to do is convince the owner that an out-of-towner with a not-for-profit enterprise is good for the community.

But when the eccentric philanthropist sees PJ and Cole’s proposals, she makes an unexpected decision: the pair will share the house for a year to show what their ideas are made of. Now, with Cole and the foster kids upstairs and PJ and the restaurant below, day-to-day life has turned into out-and-out competition—with some seriously flirtatious hallway encounters on the side. Turns out in this competition, it’s not just the house on the line, it’s their hearts.

And now, my review:

This story begins with a bang as our heroine conks the hero on the head thinking he’s breaking into her home.

The hero wants to help others. He’s trying to atone for his past, believing a lie he isn’t dependable or trustworthy. But readers will see the truth—he’s dependable, caring, likable. And lonely. Denise is great at writing believable male POV.

The heroine has something to prove to her family. They don’t give her credit for being a capable adult. Sure, she’s had some tough breaks, perhaps made some questionable decisions. But she graduated culinary school and is trying to live her dream. Sounds rather capable to me. And relatable for readers, I think. I liked how distinctive the heroine’s voice was. She over-speaks in the beginning, but tapers back before it can get annoying.

These two are in competition for a location to house their dreams. They each have a year to prove to the building’s owner that their individual projects are worthwhile. Trouble is, they’re falling for each other. And doubting themselves. Denise’s layering of both character and plot drew me deeper into the story.

I enjoyed watching the romance develop. These two have to share the same house—in a wholesome upstairs-downstairs sort of way. Fans of Denise know that you will not be disappointed as her characters’ love grows. She writes great tension and kissing scenes. We’re talking CBA here, so her books are wholesome, of course. But those kissing scenes might surprise you. And these two characters had a few of those scenes.

A great read!

Monday, December 1, 2014

A November Bride by Beth K. Vogt

A November Bride

I’ve read several of the books in Zondervan’s Year of Weddings series, and this title was one of my favorites among them. 

Let’s begin with the summary:

Sadie McAllister is fastidious to a fault—but that serves her well as a personal chef to her clients in Denver. Yet her earliest attempt at managing romance was a bust when Erik Davis declined her invitation to the school's eighth grade Sadie Hawkins Dance.

Having celebrated the big 3-0 by ending a relationship, Sadie is tired of romantic relationships-by-text. The only man she knows willing to put down his iPhone and have face-to-face conversations with her is Erik. It's time to put a 21st-century twist on the Sadie Hawkins' tradition of a woman going after her man. He may not be the hero of her romantic dreams, but she can propose to Erik and achieve some sort of happily ever after with her best friend.
Erik is good at two things: his freelance job and maintaining casual, no-one-gets-hurt relationships with women. What is Sadie thinking, proposing to him? This is marriagenot a middle school dance. Erik decides to show Sadie what romance looks like when the man takes the lead. And while he's at it, he'll prove just how wrong they are for each other. But when he realizes he's fallen for her, can Erik convince Sadie his just-for-fun dates were the prelude to "'til death do us part"?

And now, my review:

Reunion romances are fun to read. They make for great novellas because there has already been a history between the characters, which makes a relationship developing in the short span of a novella believable. These two have a history together—she once asked him to a dance, which he refused. He had his reasons. Now she’s cautious where he’s concerned, except in the role of friends.

Our heroine struggles with believing lies about her appearance. She had to wear an eye patch in elementary school, making her a target for teasing. At the same time, this heroine has a strong will and thinks for herself. When the hero tries to orchestrate the perfect first date with her, telling her how to greet him at the door, she agrees to a redo. Once ready to leave, during the second attempt she makes him wait then opens the door wearing a Japanese kimono. He’ll have to wait some more. Ha! I laughed aloud. In fact, there were several places where I laughed out loud. Here is a spunky heroine readers don’t want to throttle.

Our hero struggles with not wanting to fail in relationships. He feels he’s protecting Sadie (aptly named, given the connection the Sadie Hawkins’ dance) from getting hurt.  A noble choice. But he’s called to risk his heart… So, will he?

The mentor characters in this novel were strong and helped moved the story forward. I appreciate the streamlining a novella’s structure brings to a story. You move the romance from A to Z without a lot of detours, but that construction didn’t limit this author. She included a few twists to keep me flipping screens.

Very fun contemporary romance set in the fall. Enjoy! 

Highly recommended!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

At Bluebonnet Lake by Amanda Cabot

At Bluebonnet Lake

Playful cover, isn’t it?

Let’s begin with the summary:

Marketing maven Kate Sherwood's world is fast-paced, challenging, and always changing. The last thing she wants to do is slow down to a crawl at Rainbow's End, a dilapidated resort in the Texas Hill Country. But she cannot deny her ailing grandmother's request to visit the place where she and her deceased husband spent one glorious week (albeit fifty years ago). There Kate meets Greg Vange, the resort's handyman. But there's more to Greg than meets the eye--billions more, in fact, as he recently sold his successful software company and is at the resort in search of what's next for his life.

Kate isn't looking for romance, but she can't deny the sparks of attraction that fly every time she and Greg are together. She even starts to see potential in the rundown resort. Could there be a future there? Or will Kate's long-sought promotion take her back to the big city?

Amanda Cabot invites readers to step away from the pressures of the daily grind. They might be surprised by what they find at Rainbow's End.

And now, my review:

Based on the cover, I assumed this novel was a romance. What is it they say about not judging a book by its cover? Well, the back cover might have helped. According to the publisher's barcode box, this is a contemporary fiction title—(still a Christian fiction title.) Some of the endorsements mention romance too.

So, when I began reading it, I expected a bit more of a spark between the leading male and female characters. Instead, I was a bit confused to find a woman calling her grandmother by her first name when in the woman’s POV. Later, this was explained, but at first, it was jarring. Some other aspects were confusing too as I read the opening chapters of this story.

I’ve enjoyed Amanda Cabot’s books in the past, but I couldn’t seem to get into this one. At times I felt the narrative wasn’t matching the heroine’s age. The heroine had to give up her usual connectedness via the internet and cell service, which I could relate to having visited places that were out of network. But I couldn’t sympathize with the heroine or like her very much. And when the hero was introduced, I didn’t find anything distinctive about him, either.

It's possible, had I kept reading, I may have enjoyed the book. I've discovered that without a strong romantic thread/focus/hook, I tend to lose interest rather quickly and move on to the next book in my to-be-read pile. I wish the author and publishing team all the best.

(I was given a free copy of this title in exchange for my honest review.)

Monday, November 10, 2014

A Lady at Willowgrove Hall by Sarah E. Ladd

A Lady at Willowgrove Hall

Eye-catching cover, huh? You know I love that.

Let’s begin with the summary:

Her secret cloaks her in isolation and loneliness. His secret traps him in a life that is not his own.

Darbury, England, 1819

Cecily Faire carries the shame of her past wherever she treads, knowing one slip of the tongue could expose her disgrace. But soon after becoming a lady’s companion at Willowgrove Hall, Cecily finds herself face-to-face with a man well-acquainted with the past she’s desperately hidden for years.

Nathaniel Stanton has a secret of his own—one that has haunted him for years and tied him to his father’s position as steward of Willowgrove Hall. To protect his family, Nathaniel dares not breathe a word of the truth. But as long as the shadow looms over him, he’ll never be free to find his own way in the world. He’ll never be free to fall in love.

When the secrets swirling within Willowgrove Hall come to light, Cecily and Nathaniel must confront a painful choice: Will they continue running from the past . . . or will they stand together and fight for a future without the suffocating weight of secrets long kept?

And now, my review:

I was attracted to this book because of its cover. Then the writing swept me into the historical setting, which was well drawn and peopled with interesting characters.  

The early conflict drew me in, our heroine ending up in the company of this man she hasn’t seen in years. But she’s found a suitable position serving as a lady’s companion, so she must tread carefully. Opportunities have been rare for her.

The hero carries his own heavy secrets, though he has tried to overcome them. He’s an honorable man, too bad the past overshadows him.

I liked the relationship between the heroine and her employer. I expected the older woman to be hard to live with, but found her likable and even compassionate (a twist for stories like this?) as I walked in the heroine’s shoes.

And I was hooked as I wondered if and when the secrets would come out. (I never read back cover copy before I begin a book, so didn’t know the giveaways in the summary above.)

I would have liked the romantic thread to be stronger, but the author did keep me reading so comfortable did I find the setting.  

Overall, an enjoyable read.