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.

Monday, October 27, 2014

When I Fall in Love by Susan May Warren

When I Fall in Love by Susan May Warren

Among Christian writers, Susan May Warren is a mentor for thousands, teaching them craft, championing them. For those she mentors, her novels are a study of what to do. (No pressure on Susie. ;) And as a long-time fan having read most of her novels, I can say this book is one of her best.

The book’s summary:

Hawaii was the last place Grace Christiansen ever imagined she’d vacation, much less fall in love. But when her family surprises her with a cooking retreat in paradise, she is pulled—or maybe yanked—away from her predictable, safe life and thrown headfirst into the adventure of a lifetime.

Max Sharpe may make his living on the ice as a pro hockey player, but he feels most at home in the kitchen. Which is why he lives for the three-week culinary vacation he takes each year in Hawaii. Upon being paired with Grace for a cooking competition, Max finds himself drawn to her passion, confidence, and perseverance. But just when Grace dares to dream of a future beyond her hometown, Max pulls away.

Wrestling with personal demons, Max fights against opening his heart to a love he knows he should never hope for. And as his secrets unfold, Grace is torn between the safe path in front of her and what her heart truly desires. If love means sacrificing her ideal happily ever after, Grace’s faith will face its toughest test yet.

And now, my review:

This book ministered to me. First, I loved that we watched a few couples progress through the story, wondering how their stories would turn out.

Grace is used to a small-town life. She’s insecure and doesn’t like to travel. But a slew of blessings wait for this would-be heroine, outside her comfort zone. Many readers will relate with her fears, her calling outside that “safe place,” and her quest. She may just find she’s had the courage all along.

And Max. He’s decided to limit God, unintentionally. But the secrets he’s hiding have made him cautious. So, in a mirror of sorts, he’s limiting his life’s adventures too, though he’s a buff hockey player who parasails for fun over Waikiki Bay.

Speaking of Honolulu, you’ll love the setting of this novel. Sure, we’ll be in Northern Minnesota some of the time, but we’re also jetting off to Hawaii for a cooking contest. Hope you like seafood, because you’ll see a lot of it. Foodies will love all the cooking in this book.

Readers will find layered characters and plots with deep human emotion. That scene when one of the characters learns the truth and how he reacts, gave me more than one visceral reaction at once.

The element of family was strong here, as with the other Christiansen Family novels. Acceptance. Accountability. Wisdom. Love. For more on how the book ministered to me, read the author’s letter following the story.

A couple of secondary characters in the Christiansen family play key roles in this novel, and I loved watching their stories unfold. One such character is Casper, and I can’t wait to see what happens to him next in Always on My Mind, releasing 1-1-15.

Susie is such a pro. This was one of my favorite reads this year.

Highly recommended!

Note: I recommend reading this book before reading Evergreen, Susan’s novella set at Christmastime. My schedule didn’t work out that way. (Notice a review of Evergreen here on NBN from a couple of weeks ago.) But reading in that order would make the most sense to readers of this series. And as with all long series, it’s best to read the stories preceding this to know the history, though Susie does give a context for her characters’ actions.

Monday, October 20, 2014

A Holiday Proposal by Kimberly Rose Johnson

A Holiday Proposal by Kimberly Rose Johnson

Too early for a Christmas read? Maybe not. This will be my second holiday title reviewed so far this fall on NBN. ;)

Let’s begin with the summary:

Holly Miller Is Steering Clear of Mistletoe 

Just out of nursing school, Holly can’t risk any distractions. She knows a slip-up could cost a life. Like the mistake she made years ago that still plagues her conscience. When she runs into old high school friend Matthew Cook, she hesitates to let romance into her life. Even if the handsome baker is as delectable as his fabulous pastries.

She didn't notice him back in high school, but things have sure changed. Now that Matthew has Holly's attention, maybe the holiday season is the perfect time for him to show her that she deserves to have it all—work, family, friends and a love that lasts a lifetime.

And now, my review:

Holly believes she can control the future by limiting her own life. She’s punishing herself for that slip-up in her past. So, she’s the perfect candidate to find love. Right? I like how this story demonstrates that sometimes God brings love into our lives when we’re feeling the most unlovable, or disqualified. Even Holly’s mother doesn’t seem to love her like she loves her sister.

Humble Matthew pined for Holly back in high school. So, he’s thrilled when she’s back in his life. But convincing her to consider a romance with him isn’t going to be easy, even when she finally starts noticing him. Understandably, he’s protecting his heart where she’s concerned.

One of the story’s elements is things aren’t always as they seem, and perhaps people are hiding how they truly feel and why they act as they do. I liked the story’s setting at Leavenworth in Washington.  
The author didn’t shy away from some heavier life issues. I respect that.

Overall, a sweet holiday read. Enjoy!