Category: Book Recommendation

Quote from Holding the Fort

Book Recommendation | Holding the Fort by Regina Jennings

Lovely Lola Bell was raised in a saloon, but her singing voice has meant she’s managed to keep from working upstairs. Except now she’s been fired, and no one in town is going to give a saloon girl a respectable job. Then she hears her brother—her only family—is in trouble. She has no choice but to become Miss Louisa Bell, find Bradley at Fort Reno, find a respectable job, and hope her past never catches up with her.

Major Daniel Adams is a widower with two daughters. When Miss Louisa Bell arrives at the Fort to teach his daughters, he’s so grateful he doesn’t bother to check her details. The girls like her, and anything to keep them out of trouble in a fort filled with soldiers and surrounded by potentally hostile Indians …

In some ways, Holding the Fort was a typical Western romance. Beautiful heroine meets handsome hero, fall in love, and so on.

But that would be missing the best parts: the comedy, and the Christian element.

Regina Jennings writes comedy. Well, this had a lot of comedy—awkwardly comedic situations, similar to Karen Witemeyer or Jen Turano. There can be a fine line between comedy and cringefest, but I definitely found Holding the Fort was comedy (especially a couple of the riding scenes).

It was also Christian. Lola aka Louisa was not a Christian. She’d been raised in a saloon, hardly the kind of place you’d find a preacher. She does a so-so job of pretending, but when it comes out that she’s not a Christian, Daniel has a dilemma. He’s attracted to her, but … Anyway, that ended up being one of the strengths for me.

Overall, I loved Holding the Fort. Recommended for fans of romantic comedy, especially historical Westerns.

Thanks to Bethany House and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review.

About Regina Jennings

Regina JenningsRegina Jennings is the winner of the National Reader’s Choice Award, a two-time Golden Quill finalist and a finalist for the Oklahoma Book of the Year Award. A graduate of Oklahoma Baptist University with a degree in English and a minor in history, Regina has worked at the Mustang News and at First Baptist Church of Mustang, along with time at the Oklahoma National Stockyards and various livestock shows. She lives outside of Oklahoma City with her husband and four children when not traveling the world.

Find Regina Jennings online at:

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About Holding the Fort

Louisa Bell never wanted to be a dance-hall singer, but dire circumstances force her hand. With a little help from her brother in the cavalry, she’s able to make ends meet, but lately he’s run afoul of his commanding officer, so she undertakes a visit to straighten him out.
Major Daniel Adams has his hands full at Fort Reno. He can barely control his rowdy troops, much less his two adolescent daughters. If Daniel doesn’t find someone respectable to guide his children, his mother-in-law insists she’ll take them.
When Louisa arrives with some reading materials, she’s mistaken for the governess who never appeared. Major Adams is skeptical. She bears little resemblance to his idea of a governess–they’re not supposed to be so blamed pretty–but he’s left without recourse. His mother-in-law must be satisfied, which leaves him turning a blind eye to his unconventional governess’s methods. Louisa’s never faced so important a performance. Can she keep her act together long enough?

Find Holding the Fort online at:

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Read the introduction to Holding the Fort below:

Words are my superpower. When I use them, things happen and events change.

Book Recommendation | Imperfect Justice by Cara Putman

Emilie Wesley is a lawyer working in a women’s shelter. She’s in court, expecting to file a protective order on behalf of client Kaylene Adams, but Kaylene doesn’t show. Because she’s dead … and suspected of shooting her two daughters. Emilie suspects murder, and worries that Kaylene’s surviving daughter will be in danger.

No one believes her except Reid Billings, Kaylene’s brother, and even he takes some persuading. Now it’s up to Emilie and Reid to find out the truth before Kinley regains consciousness. Because that will mean she goes home, to live with her abusive father. But it’s not going to be easy. All the evidence points to Kaylene, Emilie’s boss wants her to focus on her living clients, the ones she can still help. And her stalker is back.

Imperfect Justice is an excellent mix of legal thriller and romantic suspense. There is plenty of suspense, lots of legal problems, and enough romance to make sure it doesn’t all get too heavy. And while it’s dealing with women in abusive situations, it’s hard-hitting without being explicit.

I didn’t really consider the implications of the title as I was reading, but they certainly hit me as I came to write this review. Our earthly justice is imperfect. Even if we’re able to identify and punish a criminal, the victims of crime still have to live with the aftereffects. We can’t turn back time as if the crime never happened. Equally, God’s justice is perfect … but we don’t get that now, either. We have to wait, which often means learning lessons like patience and forgiveness.

Imperfect Justice is the second book in Cara Putman’s Hidden Justice series, following Beyond Justice. The stories follow a group of female attorneys, so work as standalone stories. Recommended for fans of legal thrillers and romantic suspense from authors such as Rachel Dylan, Carrie Stuart Parks, Colleen Coble and Lynette Eason.

Thanks to Thomas Nelson and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review.

About Cara Putman

Cara PutmanAs a preteen Cara Putman watched lawyers change legislative opinions at an important legislative hearing in Nebraska. At that time, she wondered if she became an attorney if people would give her words the same weight. An honors graduate of the University of Nebraska Lincoln, George Mason University School of Law and Krannert School of Management at Purdue University, Cara has turned her passion for words into award-winning stories that capture readers. Her legal experience makes its way into her stories where strong women confront real challenges.

The award-winning author of more than 25 titles, Cara writes legal thrillers, WWII romances, and romantic suspense because she believes that no matter what happens hope is there, waiting for us to reach for it.

When she’s not writing, Cara is an over-educated attorney who lectures in law and communications at the Krannert School of Management at Purdue University and homeschools her children. She and her family live in Indiana, the land of seasons.

You can find Cara Putman online at:

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About Imperfect Justice

The police say the woman was a murderer. Emilie Wesley knows they can’t be talking about her client . . . can they?

To the world it seems obvious: Kaylene Adams killed her daughter and then was shot by police. Attorney Emilie Wesley knows a different story: Kaylene would never hurt anyone and was looking for a way out of a controlling, abusive relationship. Her death shakes Emilie’s belief that she can make a difference for women in violent marriages. Self-doubt plagues her as she struggles to continue her work in the wake of the tragedy.

Reid Billings thought he knew his sister—right up until he learned how she died. He discovers a letter from Kaylene begging him to fight for custody of her daughters if anything should happen to her. No attorney in her right mind would support an uncle instead of the father in a custody case, but Kaylene’s letter claims Emilie Wesley will help him.

Thrown together in the race to save Kaylene’s surviving daughter, Emily and Reid pursue the constantly evasive truth. If they can hang on to hope together, can they save a young girl—and find a future for themselves in the process?

Find Imperfect Justice online at:

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ChristianBook | Goodreads | Koorong

Book Recommendation | The Heart of an Agent by Tracey J Lyons

The Heart of an Agent is the sequel to A Changed Agent, which centred on the romance of Pinkerton agent Will Benton and schoolteacher Elsie Mitchell. Lily Handland was a minor character, Will’s Pinkerton partner. Now Lily has left the Pinkertons and wants to settle down in Heartston. Start a fresh life.

But Lily needs a job, and she’s not cut out to sew seams or serve in a boarding house restaurant. The banker suggests she consider investing in a local Great Camp, owned by widower Owen Murphy. The camp used to bustle with day visitors and vacationing guests, but it has fallen into ruin since the death of the perfect Rebecca Murphy.

The setting of one of the Great Camps of the Adirondacks was fascinating.

I’ve heard of the Adirondack chair (hasn’t everyone?). I may even have read a previous book set in an upper class camp in upstate New York. But that was just the setting. In The Heart of an Agent, the Great Camp is almost a character as the repair and resurrection of the Great Camp reflects Owen’s personal journey of healing and finding love again.

The one anticlimax was when Owen found out Lily’s big secret. It felt to me like he overreacted—possibly because we’d known her big secret almost from page one (that she was an ex-Pinkerton agent, and worked under cover as a saloon girl). It might have seemed fitting if he’d thought she was a gently raised choir girl, but she’d already told him parts of her past.

No matter. The conflict was short-lived, and we were able to get back to the main event, the romance. The Heart of an Agent was a classic Golden Age romance that achieved the difficult task of bringing a widower out of his slump, and focusing almost more on the characters and setting than the romance. It was all the better for that slow build.

Recommended for fans of Christian historical romance with a Golden Age setting, from authors such as Jen Turano and Karen Witemeyer.

Thanks to NetGalley and Waterfall Press for providing a free ebook for review.

About Tracey J Lyons

Tracey J LyonsTracey J. Lyons is the author of many historical romance novels, including The Women of Surprise series and The Adirondack Pinkertons series. An Amazon Top Ten bestselling historical romance author, she is a member of Romance Writers of America, American Christian Fiction Writers, and Novelists, Inc. Her books have been translated into several languages, and she has appeared on the award-winning Cox cable television show Page One. Tracey lives with her family in Orange County, New York. When not busy writing, she enjoys making her husband crazy with renovation projects at their 1860s home.

You can find Tracey online at:

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About The Heart of an Agent

Former Pinkerton spy Lily Handland has always dreamed of a quiet, safe life, free from chasing criminals and putting herself at risk. So when the opportunity to invest in a failing Great Camp in the Adirondacks comes to her attention, she quickly jumps at the chance.

Filled with grief, widower Owen Murphy wants to run away from it all. Though he’s worked hard to forge a future for himself, his guilt has kept him mired in the past. But all that changes when a headstrong, mysterious woman shows up at Owen’s door. Together, as Lily and Owen restore the beauty of the Great Camp, he begins to finally see a future. But will learning about Lily’s past destroy it all?

Amazon US | Amazon AU | Amazon UK | Goodreads

You can read the introduction to The Heart of an Agent below:

Book Recommendation | Birds and Bees by the Book by Patricia Weerakoon

13 – 17 November 2017

Australian Christian Readers Blog Alliance

Is Introducing
Publisher CEP, July 19, 2017

Book Description

People have been talking about the birds and the bees since Adam and Eve walked the earth. Yet the conversation hasn’t become easier! With so many messages about sexuality, gender and identity around them, our children need a safe space to learn about these topics now more than ever.
Designed for parents and carers to read with children aged 7 to 10, Birds and Bees by the Book has been created to help you to have these conversations at your own pace.
Written by renowned sex educator Patricia Weerakoon, the six books in this set are designed to be read in whichever order suits you and your child. They cover three foundational topics that help children to understand the family structures in the world around them, and how their body and brain are developing as they grow. There are also three extension topics that teach children what is involved in sexual activity, what it means to be a boy or a girl, and how to protect themselves against pornography if they stumble across it.
All of these topics are framed within the Bible’s message that children are unique creations of God, and that sex is a precious gift to be used carefully and wisely in the context of marriage.

About the Author

Patricia Weerakoon is a Sexologist and Writer. She trained in medicine in the University of Sri Lanka. She is an evangelical Christian. She is married to Vasantha. Her son Kamal is a Presbyterian minister. As a Sexologist she has translated her passion to bring good holistic sexual health to all people into practical sex education, sex research and sex therapy.
Her writing and speaking brings together her enthusiasm for sex and her love for the glory of God. The Christian framework of sex therapy she offers has enriched and empowered the sex life of couples and singles. She has a recognised media presence and is a highly regarded public speaker and social commentator in sexuality and sexual health.
Patricia retired in 2011 after a twenty-three year career as an academic with the Faculty of Health Sciences of the University of Sydney, the last eight years of which she was the director of an internationally acclaimed graduate program in Sexual Health.

My Review

Like it or not, sex is everywhere in our culture, and no one can escape the fact. Not Christians, not children, not even Christian children. As Christian parents, we need to raise our children to understand sex, and understand its place in our lives. The easiest time to introduce many of these concepts are when children are young, before it becomes the topic of playground discussion, and when they are young enough that they actually listen to us and respect our parental opinions.

Birds and Bees by the Book is a set of six books for children about sex. It is written by Patricia Weerakoon, an Australian Christian sexologist, and published by Growing Faith, an imprint of Anglican Youthworks. The books are beautifully illustrated by Lisa Flanagan. Penny Reeve, a popular Australian children’s author, served as an editorial consultant, and Alyson Officer was the Child Psychology Consultant.

The books are:

  • Me and My Family
  • Me and My Body
  • Me and My Brain
  • Learning About Sex
  • Learning About Gender
  • Learning About Pornography

I admit those last two gave me pause! However, I soon found the books are designed to be read in order, so each builds on the previous book.

Me and My Family

Me and My Family presents a traditional Christian view of marriage and family: that God designed marriage to be between one man and one woman. It is made clear this was God’s plan right back from the time of creation. Yes, it does include broad details of the sexual act, but I believe this is necessary. If a child knows and believes sex outside marriage is wrong but doesn’t know what sex is, how are they to truly know right from wrong? This lack of knowledge provides fertile ground for sexual abuse.

The book also recognises the practicalities of modern life, that “not all families have one mother, one father, and children who come from that mother and father”, and there are many reasons for that, including fostere ing and adoption. Me and My Family touches on same-sex relationships in a non-judgemental manner in that it doesn’t say these are outside God’s plan (although that could be implied). Instead, it emphasises the fact that God loves all children, no matter their family circumstances. It finishes with an invitation to join God’s family.

Me and My Body

Me and My Body tackles the inaccurate views on body image we subconsciously absorb from the media. Girls don’t have to be tall and skinny. Boys don’t have to be strong and muscly. (Yes, there are a couple of lessons here for adults as well). God made us, and we are special just the way we are. There is also a brief mention of cyber-bullying.

It moves on to point out that we cover certain parts of our bodies because they are special, and that no one should touch those parts. It’s bad touching, and children should always tell an adult if someone touches them in a way that makes them feel bad. Again, the book finishes with a brief gospel message, an invitation to become part of God’s family.

Me and My Brain

Me and My Brain manages to get into some heavy brain science in a child-friendly way, explaining that it is important to feed our brains in a good way, so we make good decisions. This means not playing lots of violent video games or watching TV programmes with adults having sex (again, probably a message for parents as much as for children). The book again ends with a promise that if we do make bad desicions, Jesus will forgive us.

Learning About Sex

Learning About Sex helps children understand why sex is meant only for marriage—becuase it binds us at a brain level (Patricia’s books for teens and adults explain this in medical terms). She goes on to explain that our bodies mature sexually before our brains, and that we have to grow up (literally and figuratively) before we are ready for marriage and sex (in that order!). It also reinforces some of the messages from the previous books in the series.

Learning About Gender

Learning About Gender talks about the biological differences between males and females, and the difference between sexual love and friendship love. It also introduces the idea that some children (very few) are born as intersex or transgender. This isn’t their fault—Patricia says ït’s just one way that our world has moved away from how God intended it to be. And this is why everyone needs Jesus.”

The key point in Learning About Gender is that it encourages children not to bully other children who don’t look or behave according to their view of “normal”, and especially not to call other people gay or lesbian or bi as an insult. Jesus never insulted or bullied people, and nor should we. He loves us as we are. I’ve come across more than a few adults who say they are Christians but have yet to learn this lesson.

Learning About Pornography

Learning About Pornograhy again builds on the previous books, using lanugage children will understand. It defines pornography as “pictures and videos that are bad and unhealthy for your brain”, and “sexual activity without love or marriage.” It takes us back to Jesus, the perfect example of how God wants us treat other people, and contrasts that with the way pornography treats people. It encourages us to use our thinking brain when we see these pictures, to like what is good, and to find something else to do so our brains don’t trick us into looking at more wrong things.

Summary

Overall, Birds and Bees by the Book strikes an excellent balance between being too vague and being too explicit. It explains some complex scientific concepts in language a child can understand, but without getting too detailed. That’s the mark of a true expert.

My one criticism is that the books occasionally feel as though they might be talking down to children, referring to “children of your age”. This probably won’t bother younger children, but it might feel patronising to older children. Having said that, the books are designed to be read to children rather than being read independently. That’s not to say they can’t be read independently. They can, and I suspect most 7 to 10-year-olds would be able to read these unaided.

But I loved the way the topics were dealt with in an age-appropriate manner, and the way God was woven in throughout. After all, God designed sex, and He made all things to be good. Including sex. It’s time we as Christians reclaimed that.

Yes, I get these are difficult subjects. I get that children shouldn’t have to know about these things. But they do—my son first saw pornography at the age of nine on a school computer that (obviously) had insufficient content controls. We need books like this to explain difficult subjects like sex and pornography in an age-appropriate and child-friendly way. And it’s even better that these books are written from a Christian point of view.

Recommended for all parents of young children.

Thanks to the publisher for providing a free set of the books for review.

Book quote

Book Recommendation| The Austen Escape by Katherine Reay

Love Jane Austen?

I’ve read and enjoyed all of Katherine Reay’s books, some more than others (isn’t that always the case?). I am an Austen fan, so I was looking forward to reading The Austen Escape. But after meeting Isabel and the other characters I suspect I’m less an Austen fan than someone who has read all her books a few times. “Fan” is apparently short for “fanatic”, and these characters are fanatics. They know their Austen.

But The Austen Escape will be fun even for those readers like me who can’t find an appropriate Austen quote for every situation. (I’ve even refused to even watch the Keira Knightley version of Pride & Prejudice, because no one can top Colin Firth’s Darcy). Once the characters arrive at Braithwaite House, they not only dress in Regency costumes but take on the identities of Austen’s characters.

This has the potential to get confusing.

However, the novel starts with a useful summary of all the main Austen characters mentioned in the book—which I glossed over, and shouldn’t have. If I’d been reading a paper copy rather than a Kindle review copy, I’d probably have been flicking backwards and forwards to keep up. As it was, I also glossed over some of the identities the characters took on, and focused on Isabel and Mary.

Mary is an intelligent and competent woman, an engineer with a small start-up in Austin, Texas, designing I didn’t understand what (but it didn’t matter). I liked her passion for her work, and her quirks such as using electrical wire to tie her hair back. She’s facing conflict at work from a new boss who wants to professionalise and systematise her workplace. She doesn’t exactly jump at the offer of a two-week all-expenses-paid first-class trip to Bath, England, with her best friend, but she does agree to go.

The story lost impetus for me at this point.

I’d enjoyed seeing Mary in her home environment, even with the conflict from her boss, and the not-conflict from her avoiding the consultant she had a crush on. But when they got to England, there were a couple of things which made me lose interest.

Isabel lost her memory (really, that’s a spoiler. But it’s in the book description so blame them, not me), Mary receives a phone call, and the story picked up again … and kept going full tilt until the finish. I loved the end—so much I read those last few chapters three times. The end definitely made up for the middle, and it had all the aww! factor required for a romance.

The air stilled ... book quote

I enjoyed visiting Bath through Mary’s eyes—she didn’t have the parking problems or the disinterested husband I had when I visited. Mary also didn’t have the jetlag most of us experience after trans-Atlantic flights.

One maybe-complaint is that The Austen Escape is published by Thomas Nelson, so some readers may pick it up expecting Christian fiction. It isn’t.

I didn’t notice as I was reading, but there was no faith aspect to the story—something which in hindsight seems odd, as Austen was a minister’s daughter and church played a major role in the lives of several of her characters. On the other hand, Austen was never overt about her faith in the way many readers expect of modern Christian authors. In this way, Reay reflects Austen, and I’m sure many readers will see that as a good thing.

Overall, recommended for Austen fans and Katherine Reay fans. That should pretty much cover most people.

Thanks to Thomas Nelson and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review.

About Katherine Reay

Katherine ReayKatherine Reay has enjoyed a life-long affair with the works of Jane Austen and her contemporaries—who provide constant inspiration both for writing and for life. She is the author of three previous novels, and her debut, Dear Mr. Knightley, was a 2014 Christy Award Finalist, winner of the 2014 INSPY Award for Best Debut, and winner of two Carol Awards for Best Debut and Best Contemporary.

Katherine holds a BA and MS from Northwestern University and is a wife, mother, runner, and tae kwon do black belt. After living all across the country and a few stops in Europe, Katherine and her family recently moved back to Chicago.

Find Katherine Reay online at:

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Click below to find The Austen Escape online:

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Would you enjoy an Austen escape to Bath, England?

 

Her plan had completely backfired. And that was the key right there. It had been her plan.

Book Recommendation | Blue Ridge Sunrise by Denise Hunter

A few months back, I was asked to provide feedback on the cover for Blue Ridge Sunrise (probably because I’m a member of the publisher’s blogging programme). I don’t actually recall what feedback I gave … but I doubt this was my first choice of cover. So for those of you like me who think this is a pretty meh cover, remember the old adage:

Don’t judge a book by its cover.

I’m also not entirely sold on the book description. Yes, it’s a (mostly) fair description of the novel. But I’m not convinced it’s a great sales pitch. But don’t let that put you off either.

Zoe Collins is back in Copper Creek for her grandmother’s funeral, accompanied by her musician boyfriend and four-year-old daughter. She’s only planned to stay the day—she and Kyle have to get back to Nashville for a concert, and she has no desire to reconnect with her father. But her plans change when she finds out she’s inherited Granny’s peach orchard, the only place she’s felt at home since her mother died.

What no one has told her in the five years she’s been away is that the orchard manager is Cruz Huntley, her first love and Gracie’s father. Now the two are thrown together as Zoe tries to save her family orchard, against the advice of everyone else—especially Kyle, and her father. And it seems someone is prepared to do more than tell her running the orchard is a stupid idea.

Someone seems prepared to go to great lengths to ensure she gives up and goes back to Nashville.

Zoe and Cruz were both great characters, and I wanted them to get back together right from the start. It was good to see a romance where the couple isn’t apart for the whole novel. I think that’s why I like romantic suspense, because of the way the external suspense plot serves to both bring the characters together and keep them apart. Blue Ridge Sunrise did a great job in this regard.

There were lots of great lines. Unfortunately, I can’t share most of them because they might give something important away (although I did share the opening line last week as part of #FirstLineFriday). Let’s just say the writing is excellent, and there are many nuggets of truth hidden in Blue Ridge Sunrise. Like this line at the top of this post.

The other thing I liked …

While there is a happy-ever-after ending (this is a romance. There has to be a happy-ever-after ending), the ending isn’t all roses and pink unicorns. Relationships are messy, and can’t always be tidied up nicely to fit a 80,000 word novel (or however long this is).

Blue Ridge Sunrise is the beginning of a series, so I’ll be looking forward to seeing some of those relationships develop and improve in future novels. As an aside, while it’s the beginning of a series, it’s the same setting as Denise Hunter’s last book, Sweetbriar Cottage, and there are a couple of references.

Overall, recommended for those who enjoy Christian romance with a faith focus, and plenty of suspense.

Thanks to Thomas Nelson and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review.

About Denise Hunter

Denise HunterDenise Hunter is the internationally published bestselling author of more than 30 books, including “The Convenient Groom” and “A December Bride” which have been made into Hallmark movies. She has appeared on the The 700 club and won awards such as The Holt Medallion Award, The Carol Award, The Reader’s Choice Award, The Foreword Book of the Year Award, and is a RITA finalist.

Denise writes heartwarming, small-town love stories. Her readers enjoy the vicarious thrill of falling in love and the promise of a happily-ever-after sigh as they savor the final pages of her books.

In 1996, inspired by the death of her grandfather, Denise began her first book, writing while her children napped. Two years later it was published, and she’s been writing ever since. Her husband says he inspires all her romantic stories, but Denise insists a good imagination helps too!

When Denise isn’t orchestrating love lives on the written page, she enjoys traveling with her family, drinking good coffee, and playing drums. Denise makes her home in Indiana where she and her husband raised three boys and are currently enjoying an empty nest.

Find Denise Hunter online at:

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About Blue Ridge Sunrise

Former free spirit Zoe Collins swore she’d never again set foot in Copper Creek or speak to the man who broke her heart. But return she must when her beloved Granny dies, leaving the family legacy to Zoe—a peach orchard nestled at the base of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

When Zoe returns home with her daughter and boyfriend Kyle, she finds that she’s the only person in town who doesn’t expect her to give up the life she’s established far away from Copper Creek. Everyone believes she was born to run the orchard, but how can she make it her home after so many years?

Cruz Huntley never quite got over his first love, Zoe Collins, the little sister of his best friend Brady. Not when she cheated on him during their “break,” not when she took off to parts unknown with good-for-nothing Kyle Jenkins, and not even now—five years later.

As life-changing decisions and a history with Cruz hang over Zoe’s head, tensions rise between her and Kyle. Even as she comes to terms with the shifting relationships in her life, Zoe still isn’t sure if she can remain in Copper Creek with her new responsibilities . . . and her first love.

You can find Blue Ridge Sunrise online at:

Amazon US | Amazon AU | Amazon UK
ChristianBook | GoodReads | Koorong

Life isn't about how much I've accomplished or what I've done. It's about who I've loved and how well I've loved them.

Book Recommendation | Hometown Girl by Courtney Walsh

Beth is the sensible one in the Whitaker family, a fact she’s reminded of when younger sister Molly shows up announcing she’s bought the derelict Fairwind Farm. Molly wants to restore the apple orchard and Christmas tree farm into the centre of the community it used to be. Beth is convinced she’ll never succeed … but somehow finds herself a partner in the venture.

The solitary Drew Barlow is returning to Willow Grove and Fairwind Farm for the first time in twenty years. He volunteers in a community working bee, and ends up being recruited as the farm’s all-round Mr Fixit. Maybe this will help him remember what happened, help him solve the mystery, help him find closure. Or maybe he’ll just fall for his pretty yet reserved employer …

This is the second Courtney Walsh book I’ve read this year.

The first was Just Look Up, which was a romance novel with a deeply symbolic title that made me think on many levels (click here to read my review). Hometown Girl was a little different—it had plenty of romantic and situational tension, but it also had a suspense thread around Drew’s history with the Fairwind property.

Drew and Beth both had secrets that came out during the story. Drew’s secret was hinted at from his very first scene, with his reluctance to return to Fairwind, and the knowledge that something bad had happened. His reluctance to revisit the past made his secret feel natural. It helped that he had no memory of the actual event, just the knowledge he was there.

Beth’s secret wasn’t so obvious, but it was something recent, something she knew about, and something she didn’t share. It made it feel as though she wasn’t a trustworthy character, yet she was obviously supposed to be the heroine. That annoyed me, as it left me feeling conflicted. Was I supposed to sympathise with her, or not? This was probably the weakest aspect of the novel for me.

But this was more than made up for by the rest.

I especially enjoyed by the underlying suspense thread of the mystery over Jess’s disappearance twenty years ago. Yes, I would have liked for Drew to fess up to his prior knowledge of Fairwind earlier, but I could see why he didn’t. In the end, that aspect of the plot was just plain sad.

It was also good to watch the relationship develop between Beth and Drew, especially the way Beth was able to draw him out. I also enjoyed the minor characters—I do hope this is part of a series, because I’d like to see Ben and Callie together, and I wonder who might be right for the flighty Molly.

Overall, Hometown Girl is an excellent contemporary Christian romance. Recommended for fans of Brandy Bruce, Kara Isaac, Melissa Tagg, and Becky Wade.

Thanks to Waterfall Press and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review.

About Courtney Walsh

Courtney WalshCourtney Walsh is a novelist, artist, theater director, and playwright. Change of Heart is her fifth novel and is set in the same town as Paper Hearts. Her debut novel, A Sweethaven Summer, hit the New York Times and USA Today e-book bestseller lists and was a Carol Award finalist in the debut author category. She has written two additional books in the Sweethaven series, as well as two craft books and several full-length musicals. Courtney lives in Illinois where she and her husband own a performing and visual arts studio. They have three children.

Find Courtney Walsh online at …

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About Hometown Girl

Beth Whitaker isn’t supposed to be a small-town girl. She’s always dreamed of leaving Willow Grove, Illinois, for the big city, but she feels trapped, struggling to make up for a mistake that’s haunted her for years. Just when Beth is finally ready to break free, her sister impulsively buys a beloved but run-down farm on the outskirts of town, and she begs Beth to help with the restoration. Reluctantly, Beth agrees to help—and puts her own dreams on hold once again.

Drew Barlow hasn’t been back to Fairwind Farm since he was a boy, and he’s spent all these years trying to outrun the pain of a past he thought he buried long ago. When he learns that the owner has passed away, his heart knows it’s finally time to do the right thing. Returning to Willow Grove, Drew revisits the old farm, where he attempts to piece together his memories and the puzzle of the crime he witnessed so long ago.

Both on a journey to find peace, Beth and Drew are surprised when they begin to experience a restoration of their own. But when long-buried secrets break through the soil and the truth unfurls, will it threaten their budding relationship—and the very future of the farm? 

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That's the kind of rescuing Jesus does. It's complete and final. Anything else is hogwash.

Book Recommendation | Lu by Beth Troy

All the stories have been written, including mine.

It’s a great first line, because it’s a strong statement that sounds true, in the same way as the famous opening line to Pride and Prejudice sounds true … until you think about it. Because we’re all unique, so our stories are also unique.

Although our stories also have some common elements:

I thought I’d finished writing that story years ago, but then yesterday’s story happened—the one about the boy who cheats and the girl who leaves. You could dress it up and call it a journey. But there was nothing new in the story about the girl who went home because she had nowhere else to go.

I know not everyone enjoys novels written in first person, but I do—especially when the character has a strong and interesting voice, as Lu (short for Louisa) does.

So Lu is home, with a car that barely runs, a 1970’s crockpot, and no money. She finds a job at the local newspaper, where she is asked to write wedding features. And she befriends the young preacher, back in town after his divorce. Lu isn’t sure if she believes in God and she certainly isn’t following him, despite having been raised in church.

Jackson challenges Lu to come to church, and she does. He’s preaching a series on the Book of Ecclesiastes, which brought him through his own tough time when his wife left him. These sermons start Lu on her own faith journey, reading the Bible and trying to understand what Jackson sees in Jesus. At the same time, she’s developing feelings for Jackson … all the while knowing nothing can come of those feelings if they don’t share a faith, and Jackson isn’t going to change.

Lu isn’t typical Christian fiction.

The characters drink alcohol and swear. Lu has been living with her boyfriend, and Jackson is divorced. Yet there is a lot more Christian content than in most Christian novels I read, and it feels natural, not forced. I liked the way the novel showed Lu’s faith journey warts and all, and that the focus was on finding Jesus for herself.

My one complaint about Lu was that it ended too soon. There was a clear ending to the main plot—Lu’s faith journey—but not to the main subplot. This annoyed me at first, but in hindsight it was the right decision. I only hope that dangling thread means there is a sequel in the works.

Thanks to the author for providing a free ebook for review.

You can find Beth Troy online at:

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About Lu

“There’s great hope where the road meets the sky – maybe even an answer. But this road leads home. Just home. I thought I’d finished writing that story years ago, but then yesterday’s story happened – the one about the boy who cheats and the girl who leaves.”
Lu Sokolowski never planned to return to her small hometown of Dunlap’s Creek, but it’s the only place she can think of to go after her boyfriend cheats on her. Moving back in with her family lets her run away from her problems, but it also means suffering their attempts to reassemble her failed life, including arranging a job as the wedding beat writer at the local paper and setting her up with Jackson, the divorced pastor of her family’s church. Unexpected success and friendships restore Lu to the family and faith she’d left behind. But when the small-town life Lu never intended shakes up, will she run again?
Lu’s story is a journey of a woman back to her family, her faith, and herself. It’s about second chances and the unchosen circumstances that press the point of who we are and what we believe. Are we the sum of our successes and failures, or does our identity rest in a greater hope?

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This is the story of my feeble attempts to make sense of my life

Book Recommendation | The Secret Life of Sarah Hollenbeck by Bethany Turner

Wow! Wow! Wow!

I’ve read a lot of books this year—some good, some great—but few that I want to read again. Right. Now. The Secret Life of Sarah Hollenbeck is one.

Sarah McDermott divorces her high school sweetheart-husband after he cheats on her, and goes back to being Sarah Hollenbeck. Only she has no idea who Sarah Hollenbeck is, because she’s been the trophy wife for so long. She joins a book club, writes bad poetry, quits book club, and writes a naughty novel under the pen name of Raine de Bourgh. The novel goes immediately to the top of all the bestseller charts, as do the two sequels (because, donchaknow, that’s what happens to all debut novelists? Not).

And then Sarah Hollenbeck becomes a Christian. She says:

This book could be a detailed story of how my best friend led me to the Lord. It’s a good story … but that isn’t the story I need to tell. This is the story of my feeble attempts to make sense of my life.

Sarah realises she can’t write naughty novels any more. Instead, she joins her one remaining friend at church, where she immediately develops an inappropriate crush on the first guy she meets. Who happens to be the pastor. The married pastor. With a daughter. Oops.

I was picturing myself in his arms and imagining how his lips would feel on mine. And then I remembered that I was in church and that I had become a Christ-follower on Monday.

Fortunately for Sarah, the pastor turns out not to be married but widowed (fortunately for Sarah. Ben is somewhat taken aback at the thought of dating the notorious Raine de Bourgh, but he copes (lol). It’s interesting to watch their relationship unfold, because Ben’s first marriage was everything Sarah’s wasn’t.

Sarah decides to write Christian fiction, so reads some of what’s on sale:

The books I read didn’t feel realistic. At least, they weren’t my reality. Then again, my reality was messed up, so maybe I wasn’t the best judge.

I’ve had a lot of conversations along the same lines—too much Christian fiction doesn’t feel realistic (I’m not counting the suspense genre here. I’m perfectly happy for my reality not to include dead bodies and stalkers, and I’ll trust those authors are presenting their information accurately).

Sarah goes on to make another point that’s recently come up in my reading and freelance editing (yes, I’m a freelance fiction editor specialising in Christian romance): how the women in the books don’t seem to feel desire or temptation. Yes, I’d noticed that as well. In fact, I’ve read Christian romances where the hero and heroine had all the romantic attraction of siblings (that has even more of a yuck factor than a sex scene). I don’t want lots of hot-and-heavy in Christian fiction, but there needs to be some sexual attraction. Otherwise it’s not realistic.

I loved the humor.

There’s a scene where Sarah shares some poetry with her book club. Most are politely complimentary. One woman is not:

What’s with the subjects? It’s like you just flipped through the yellow pages until something jumped out at you. What’s next? Exterminators?
I looked at the papers in my hands and sheepishly shuffled “Insecticide Nuclear Winter” to the bottom of the stack.

And she (Sarah Hollenbeck? Bethany Turner? Both?) has great taste in actors:

Can you believe I couldn’t even get Martin Freeman to give me Benedict Cumberbatch’s phone number?

Yeah. I’ve got to read this again.

Recommended for fans of contemporary romance with humour, from authors such as Kara Isaac, Beth Troy, Becky Wade, and Melissa Tagg.

Thanks to Baker Publishing and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review.

About The Secret Life of Sarah Hollenbeck

Becoming a Christian is the best and worst thing that has ever happened to Sarah Hollenbeck. Best because, well, that’s obvious. Worst because, up to this point, she’s made her very comfortable living as a well-known, bestselling author of steamy romance novels that would leave the members of her new church blushing. Now Sarah is trying to reconcile her past with the future she’s chosen. She’s still under contract with her publisher and on the hook with her enormous fan base for the kind of book she’s not sure she can write anymore. She’s beginning to think that the church might frown on her tithing on royalties from a “scandalous” book. And the fact that she’s falling in love with her pastor doesn’t make things any easier.
With a powerful voice, penetrating insight, and plenty of wit, Bethany Turner explodes onto the scene with a debut that isn’t afraid to deal with the thorny realities of living the Christian life.

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About Bethany Turner

Bethany TurnerBethany Turner has been writing since the second grade, when she won her first writing award for her essay explaining why, if she could have lunch with any person throughout history, she would choose John Stamos. Do-gooders all around her chose Reagan, Thatcher and Gorbachev, but it was Bethany’s ode to Uncle Jesse which walked away with the prize. More than 25 years later, her writing is still infused with pop culture and off-the-beaten-track ideas.

Bethany is a born and bred Kentucky girl who relocated to Colorado in 2001, three years after meeting the love of her life in a chat room, back before anyone knew that wasn’t always a good idea. Thankfully, it worked out in this case, and she and her husband are the proud parents of two boys. In 2014 Bethany walked away from her career as a bank vice president to step out in faith as a writer. Since then, God has not only opened doors in the publishing world, but has also called her to full-time ministry serving on a church staff. She is an innovative systems administrator for a rural church that is passionate about reaching the unchurched.

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Read the introduction to The Secret Life of Sarah Hollenbeck below:

Book Recommendation | The Dishonorable Miss DeLancey by Carolyn Miller

It is a truth universally acknowledged that all romance novels since Jane Austen are mere copies.

Well, not really. As we know, we are all unique, so our journeys to love are also unique. But many romance novels do offer a conscious or subconscious nod to Austen’s work, and The Dishonourable Miss DeLancey is no exception.

At five-and-twenty, Miss DeLancey is close to being on the shelf. Her marital prospects are not helped by a mama who combines Mrs Bennett’s silliness with Lady Catherine’s snobbery, a brother who has gambled away her dowry, and a father who reminded me of Mr Bennett: intelligent and personable, but influenced by his wife. There are also echoes of Persuasion in the decorated sea captain who was rejected in love when a lowly lieutenant.

Carolyn Miller takes these well-known tropes and gives them new life in The Dishonourable Miss DeLancey, the final book in her Legacy of Grace series—and the best (well, in my view).

Miss DeLancey had the misfortune to fall for someone who didn’t return her regard, and was then humiliated for it. It didn’t help that her brother gambled away her dowry, making it difficult for her to find another suitor. (Yes, there were several times when I thought Richard DeLancey needed to take a long walk off a short pier.)

Ben Kemsley has his own problems. He’s spent most of his prize money caring for the families of the men he captained, especially those who didn’t make it back to England. The Prince Regent has promised him a reward, but Prinny is famously self-centred and how exactly does one ask the Prince of Wales for a promised fortune?

My favourite aspect of Clara DeLancey’s story was the focus on her spiritual journey.

In fact, that was the major focus of the first half of the novel. Clara’s turning point comes when she realises there is more to Christianity than church. She sees the need to change from the dissatisfied person she had been—and the need to put that change in God’s hands. Fortunately, she has her new friends to guide her … new friends with a handsome brother.

I also enjoyed the references to the marine chronometer. I read Longtitude by Dava Sobel many years ago. She explained that we’ve been able to calculate latitude through the position of the stars and sun, calculating longtitude accurately meant having an accurate clock—and one that could remain accurate throughout a long ocean voyage.

I love this kind of mix of fact and fiction, because it was the lack of such a clock caused the shipwreck that made Captain Ben Kemsley a minor Regency celebrity. There were also several scenes set in and around the famed Brighton Pavillion, redecorated by the Prince Regent at great expense and with dubious taste, and I enjoyed this as well.

Overall, an excellent Christian Regency romance with element of suspense. Recommended!

Thanks to Kregel Publications for sending me a free paperback to review.

About Carolyn Miller

Carolyn MillerCarolyn Miller lives in the beautiful Southern Highlands of New South Wales, Australia. She is married, with four gorgeous children, who all love to read (and write!).

A longtime lover of Regency romance, Carolyn’s novels have won a number of Romance Writers of American (RWA) and American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) contests. She is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers and Australasian Christian Writers. Her favourite authors are classics like Jane Austen (of course!), Georgette Heyer, and Agatha Christie, but she also enjoys contemporary authors like Susan May Warren and Becky Wade.

Her stories are fun and witty, yet also deal with real issues, such as dealing with forgiveness, the nature of really loving versus ‘true love’, and other challenges we all face at different times.

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About The Dishonorable Miss DeLancey

Will a damaged reputation and desire for society’s approval thwart the legacy of grace?
Tainted by scandal and forced to leave London for the quieter Brighton countryside, the Honorable Miss Clara DeLancey is a shadow of her former society self. She’s lost the man she loved to another and, in a culture that has no patience for self-pity, is struggling with depression. A chance encounter brings her a healing friendship with the sisters of an injured naval captain. But Clara’s society mama is appalled at the new company she’s keeping.

Captain Benjamin Kemsley is not looking for a wife. But his gallant spirit won’t let him ignore the penniless viscount’s daughter–not when she so obviously needs assistance to keep moving forward from day to day. Can he protect his heart and still keep her safe?

When they’re pushed into the highest echelons of society at the Prince Regent’s Brighton Pavilion, this mismatched couple must decide if family honor is more important than their hopes. Can they right the wrongs of the past and find future happiness together–without finances, family support, or royal favor?

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