Tag Archives: Inspirational romance

Review: Love and Other Mistakes, by Jessica Kate

Book cover: Love and Other Mistakes, by Jessica Kate

Love and Other Mistakes, by Jessica Kate (Thomas Nelson, 2109)

I wanted to read this book because of the snappy quotes I’d seen on social media. I thought it was a romantic comedy. Instead of a fun-but-shallow read, I was delighted to discover characters I could care about, depth of plot, and spiritual insights.

Yes, the basic setup looks like it’ll be simple romantic comedy: Natalie ends up working as a nanny for her single-dad ex-fiancé who’s suddenly back in town, and the way they reconnect is definitely comedic. But then there are layers of family and relationship turmoil, both current and long-standing. There are health concerns. And forgiveness issues.

Australian author Jessica Kate’s debut novel delivers realistic, imperfect characters and situations, some fun cultural references, and some thoughts for readers to chew on after they’ve finished. The ending is satisfying without tying up all the messy threads into a pretty-but-fake bow.

For more about the author and her work, visit jessicakatewriting.com. Or check out her StoryNerds podcast with Hannah Davis storynerds.podbean.com.

[Review copy from the public library.]

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Review: The Red Door Inn, by Liz Johnson

The Red Door Inn, by Liz JohnsonThe Red Door Inn, by Liz Johnson (Revell, 2016)

At 28, Marie Carrington can’t be called a runaway. But she’s fled her opulent home in Boston and doesn’t dare touch her bank account or her father will find her. Scared and alone, she’s out of options when she meets a kind, older man who’s out of his depth trying to open a bed and breakfast.

Jack Sloane promised his dying wife, Rose, that he’d fulfill her dream of a sanctuary on Prince Edward Island, Canada: a B&B where the heart-hurting could find refuge. Now, his project workers are his nephew Seth and the waif-like Marie, each carrying deep – and conflicting – wounds from their pasts. Jack’s hurting, too, missing Rose at every turn.

This is a heart-warming story of healing, mistrust, and romance. I enjoyed watching the inn take shape and the friendships grow. Yes, it was coincidence that Jack should meet Marie and discover she had a flair for decorating, but that was part of the chain of circumstances that helped Marie to see how the God she’d given up on was working all along to bring good things into her life.

I also appreciated the gentle humour in the novel. Perhaps my favourite example is Marie’s initial assessment of the dining room:

A dining room should be beautiful and homey. Not filled with pieces that make you want to eat faster so you can leave. [page 26]

The Red Door Inn is book 1 in the Prince Edward Island Dreams series, with book 2 releasing this fall. You can read more about the book here. Liz Johnson writes contemporary romance and romantic suspense. For more about the author, check out this Q&A.

[Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc. Available at your favourite bookseller from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group.]

Review: Snowflake Tiara, by Angela Breidenbach and Valerie Comer

Snowflake Tiara, by Angela Breidenbach and Valerie ComerSnowflake Tiara, by Angela Breidenbach and Valerie Comer (Gems of Wisdom, 2014)

Two heart-warming novellas, linked through time: one historical, one contemporary. In 1889, Montana is granted statehood, and debutante Calista Blythe enters the inaugural Snowflake Pageant because the prize money ($100) would allow her to buy the freedom of a 6-year-old indentured servant she’s rescued from an abusive situation. But what if the handsome event organizer discovers Calista is illegally harbouring a runaway?

In 2014, Montana celebrates its 125th anniversary, and the Snowflake Pageant is revived. Calista Blythe’s descendant, Marisa Hiller, is a former model who works for a community-supported agriculture group. Winning the tiara would give her a platform to speak about the importance of healthy, natural foods—but the pageant throws her into company with the photographer who broke her heart.

I knew nothing about pageants except the stereotyped label of “beauty contest.” It was interesting to learn a bit about what these events really entail in terms of activities, motivation and purpose.  Author Angela Breidenbach is a former Mrs. Montana, so I trust the details to be accurate.

Naturally, contests of any sort are rife with competition, and in romantic novellas that includes vying for the heart of the handsome lead character. The historical novella is rich with gorgeous gowns and the burden of street children (Helena, Montana, is the final stop on the Orphan Train).

The present-day story has a more immediate feel and the world is much smaller. The plight of hungry children is still close to the 2014 pageant contestant’s heart. Now those children are both local and the ones she’s met through mission work in Kenya. Marisa is passionate about local, organic food—and about making it available to low-income families.

I enjoyed both stories. Favourite line:

Seeing him again created a pothole in her road, but she’d get back up to speed in a minute. (Marisa’s thoughts about Jase) [Page 184, Kindle version]

In each case, the Snowflake Pageant begins in December and winners are announced on Christmas Eve. Snowflake Tiara is a good read any time, but would make an ideal respite from the busyness leading up to Christmas. The reminder to care for others less fortunate than ourselves might prompt us to reach out in our own communities over the holiday season.

Angela Breidenbach and Valerie Comer make a good writing team. I’ll be interested to see if they follow this with other collaborative projects.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Review: Sweetened with Honey, by Valerie Comer

Sweetened with Honey, by Valerie ComerSweetened With Honey, by Valerie Comer (GreenWords Media, 2014)

Of the three friends who set out to demonstrate sustainable living on Green Acres farm, Sierra Riehl is the only one who’s still single. She’s glad Jo and Claire found such loving husbands, and she appreciates the skills the men have brought to the farm, but sometimes she feels like the odd woman out. And she’s pushing thirty.

Sierra wants to be in love, wants to get married and have children, but if she’s not careful she’ll settle for the only guy in town who’s taken an interest – even though her friends all think he’s selfish and arrogant. Then Gabe Rubachuk (from Raspberries and Vinegar) returns to town. Despite the past, Gabe is the one Sierra has been wishing for. Except he’s still grieving and doesn’t know how to move forward.

Gabe and Sierra do a lot of angsting over one another, especially at first. I confess to a bit of trouble relating to Sierra, likely because she keeps thinking of Tyrell as a viable option for a life partner. (As an action reader, I kind of hoped someone would deck him before the novel ended, but author Valerie Comer demonstrates a more mature Christian attitude toward him. I suspect he may grow up and be someone’s love interest in a later story.)

It’s always fun to take another virtual visit to the farm, and to see how the project is growing. Sweetened With Honey takes place three years after Raspberries and Vinegar, and although the farm hasn’t become the event destination its founders had hoped, they’ve added beekeeping and guided hiking. I learned a bit about bees!

I enjoy the rural and environmentally-conscious atmosphere of this series, and watching how the characters’ ideals are affected by the realities of life – and by their Christian values. It’s good to spend time with realistic characters (flaws and all) as they work through their issues. Sierra’s dealing with the biological clock and her health, and Gabe with grief. If we haven’t been there, we will – or our friends will. Fiction lets us explore common struggles so we’re better prepared to face them in reality.

Sweetened With Honey is book 3 in the Farm Fresh Romance series, with three more to follow. Book 1, Raspberries and Vinegar, won a 2014 Word Award in the Romance category. Author Valerie Comer is a Canadian local-food advocate. Visit her website for tips and recipes: valeriecomer.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

When Marriage isn’t what You Thought it Would Be

Sherri Wilson JohnsonI’m excited to welcome a guest poster to the blog today. Sherri Wilson Johnson is an Inspirational Romance novelist, a speaker, and a former homeschooling mom who’d rather have laugh lines under her eyes than worry lines across her forehead. She lives in Georgia with her husband, her two children and her Chihuahua, Posey. Her favorite thing to do when she’s not with her family is to curl up with a good book or work on her current work-in-progress. She loves to dream of visiting romantic places and is passionate about the Lord, motherhood, homeschooling, and writing. Sherri is the author of To Dance Once MoreSong of the Meadowlark, and To Laugh Once More. She is a columnist with Habits for a Happy Home and Choose NOW Ministries.

And now… the guest post:

When Marriage isn’t what You Thought it Would Be

by Sherri Wilson Johnson

As a little girl, I dreamed of being a wife and mother. I was born in 1966 and there wasn’t much else for a little girl to aspire to be. I loved my Legos and built houses all the time, complete with a room for all the babies I’d have one day. I played with Barbies and pretended to be Ken’s wife. Of course, when I got my Barbie airplane, I have to admit, pretending to be the flight attendant (or stewardess, as they were called then) was a guilty pleasure of mine. My dad didn’t let my mom work even after we were grown and it was pretty clear that he thought I’d start an occupation after graduating while waiting for my prince charming to come and sweep me off my feet. Although I wanted to be the next big nightly news anchorwoman, I let my mind settle on “just” being a wife and mom.

Along came my prince charming a few years later, and I couldn’t wait to be his wife. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to jump right in and start having babies, but I could definitely see what our future was going to look like. We owned a company and worked side-by-side every evening cleaning office buildings. We spent late nights at Dunkin’ Donuts, came home, and snuggled until the morning light. In less than a year, I became pregnant (surprise) and the lazy days of hanging out together and the carefree nights of working alongside one another until 2:00 a.m. came to a grinding halt.

Totally unprepared for motherhood, I kind of freaked out. I felt alone and wanted to go back to being a couple. But being a strong-willed, second-born child, I sucked it up, put on my big girl pants, and gave it my all. The only problem: I didn’t know how to divide my attention between my husband and my daughter and I didn’t know how to ask him for help without looking like a wimp of a mother. Life was not turning out to be as fun and footloose as I’d dreamed it’d be when I was a little girl.

In my latest novel, To Laugh Once More, a Victorian Romance set in the South, Lydia, the heroine, suffers from this same kind of disillusionment. She thought marriage would be one big happy whirlwind of romance, complete with travels around the world and a houseful of children, all of which her governess would tend to. But three years in, she realizes that she feels no different than she did when she was a young debutante on her father’s plantation waiting for a beau to sweep her off her feet. Married to the man of her dreams, she’s still childless and is often left at home for days at a time while he travels on business and “lives the life”. She pitches quite a few hissy fits trying to get her way and life doesn’t do her any favors.

What do I have in common with Lydia? Well, we both suffered from a heavy (not healthy) dose of selfishness in our early years. We also didn’t take into account the plans God had for our lives. Instead, we had an idea of how it was supposed to go and when it didn’t go that way, well, let’s just say it wasn’t pretty. While I’m not one to act outwardly in a dramatic fashion, pitching fits and screaming and letting everyone know how I feel about a situation that didn’t go my way, I’m still guilty of getting my point across. I just often do it with silent treatments or huffing and puffing for a day or two.

Throughout my twenty-six years of marriage, I’ve learned to ride the tide a little more. Take everything in stride. Stay calm when the raging waters wash over me. I’ve learned to hold my breath and to keep my eyes focused upward because every storm passes. Once the storms pass, it’s easier to see the blessings that have been placed in my life. I’m able to see the treasure it is to be “just” a wife and mother.

How has it turned out for me so far? Well, my daughter is now twenty-three. Her brother is twenty. My husband is still with me, and that makes me happy. We’re back to being the carefree couple we were years ago, although we don’t work alongside each other in our own company. Maybe one day. I’m not an anchorwoman, but I am a published author, which was truly my dream all along.

Do I have the picket fence? Sure. But it doesn’t look like what I thought it would forty years ago. There’s splinters. There’s a few nails poking out that might stick you if you’re not careful. It needs to be updated and sprayed with a fresh coat of paint every now and then. But the One who built the house and who built the fence that keeps us safely tucked in each other’s arms keeps us set on a firm foundation with a solid roof over our heads. I’m thankful that we let God build our marriage from the ground up. I’m thankful that He stood in the gap on the days I didn’t much feel like being a wife and mother. When you build your marriage on the Solid Rock of Jesus, you can endure and even flourish throughout all of life’s storms.

To Laugh Once More, by Sherri Wilson Johnson

To Laugh Once More is a Victorian Inspirational Romance set in Georgia in 1895. The War may be over, but the battles still rage.

A dissatisfied wife. A misunderstood husband. Three tragedies will alter their path forever. Will their choices tear them apart, or will they allow them To Laugh Once More?

Three years after her marriage to Hamilton, former debutante Lydia Barrington Scarbrough is dissatisfied with life. She has yet to have children, and she spends most of her days sitting in a circle of women chatting about homemaking. She thought life would be more than what it’s turned out to be. Hamilton travels on business and never takes her with him. What’s a lonely wife to do when she has no children to raise? She longs for adventure and romance, and really, she longs for the fulfillment of her purpose in life. A purpose beyond being a wife and raising children.

Lydia faces a series of hardships that stretch her faith beyond capacity. Leaving her childhood home in Florida for Georgia proves to be more difficult than she ever imagined, and her marriage may not survive the trials. Lydia’s own personal battles drive a wedge between them. What will it take to make Hamilton attempt to save their marriage and draw Lydia back to him?

As Lydia strives to etch out a place for herself in a new world full of unfamiliar prejudice and attempts to overcome her private battles, she must help Hamilton understand her deepest longings and learn the true meaning of joy. Will she surrender her will in order to find her purpose? Will her future hold a happier marriage, motherhood, and a calling greater than she could ever have imagined?

You can find out more about the book at Sherri’s website: sherriwilsonjohnson.com/sherris-books/to-laugh-once-more/. To Laugh Once More is available for Kindle at Amazon.com and worldwide. The print version will release shortly.

Interview: Valerie Comer, Farm Lit author

Valerie ComerValerie Comer is a Canadian author with a passion for local food, faith, and fiction. We’re talking today about her new novel, Wild Mint Tea, and also about healthy eating.

Janet: Welcome back, Valerie, and congratulations on the release of your new novel. The Farm Fresh Romance series features three friends: Jo, Claire and Sierra. This is Claire’s story, right? What do we need to know about her?

Valerie: Thanks for having me back, Janet! Yes, this is Claire’s story. She’s a chef who specializes in local foods and who’s grounded in Green Acres, the farm she bought with her two friends. All her life she’s moved from one place to the next, and she’s so done with it. If she never leaves her new community of Galena Landing, Idaho, again, it will be too soon.

Janet: And Noel, the hero, has an entirely different plan for his life, right?

Valerie: So true. Noel believes the whole world is there for him to explore. It’s why he loves owning a reforestation company. He gets to move around the Pacific Northwest all summer and play hard in the tropics all winter.

Janet: Sounds like they’ll have some obstacles to overcome, but the journey will be worth it. Thinking of Claire’s work as a local-foods chef, I suspect she’s good at adapting recipes. Is that something you do, yourself?

Valerie: I hate to admit it, but I rarely prepare a recipe (at least a savoury one) exactly how I found it. There’s usually some ingredient I don’t have but can substitute for, etc. I think it comes from living on the farm and growing a garden, as there’s always an abundance of some foods and a dearth of others. For one thing, did you know that green beans and asparagus are interchangeable in most recipes? Try it!

Janet: Ooh. I like asparagus! Do you share recipes on your website, or in your author newsletter?

Valerie: I do share recipes on my blog from time to time. Here’s the recipe for Honey-Mustard Potato Salad that I attribute to Noel in Wild Mint Tea. This is entirely my own concoction, and a sweetly pleasing upgrade to the typical potato salad. One day soon it will be summer and I can justify making it again!

Janet: I’ll have to give that one a try myself. Love a good potato salad. We’re tea drinkers in my house, and the word “tea” in Wild Mint Tea caught my eye. Is there a specific connection with the story?

Valerie: There definitely is a connection, one I was able to bring into the story on several levels, including the drink of choice for the characters throughout the tale. Also, mint is a persistent plant. When the conditions are right, it flourishes and is difficult to uproot. Sort of like love.

Janet: That’s a great illustration for love, and I liked how you threaded it through the story. One of the nice things for readers about a series is that we can reconnect with the friends we made in the previous book. I’m looking forward to an update on Jo, Zach and Domino, the Border collie. Has much time passed since the events in Raspberries and Vinegar?

Valerie: There’s 6-7 months between the end of Raspberries and Vinegar and the beginning of Wild Mint Tea. I hadn’t planned for each story to be a March-July tale but, when I figured out the storyline for the second book heralded the beginning of tree-planting season, my hands were tied. When writing stories set in farming and forestry, the season is pre-set and part of the plot.

Janet: You’re also working on another project… something to do with snowflakes, while the rest of us look forward to warmer days?

Valerie: Yes! Snowflake Tiara contains a fun pair of Christmas novellas that will release in one volume this September. My good friend Angela Breidenbach has written a historical tale while mine is contemporary, and both center around the (fictional) Miss Snowflake Pageant in Helena, Montana. Some readers have told me that a story about pageantry seems far removed from my typical farm lit tales, but I found a way to connect them strongly together.

Janet: Sounds fun! This isn’t your first collaboration, either. Are you finding it different from working on Rainbow’s End?

Valerie: Yes and no. Four authors worked together on Rainbow’s End, so there was more input on how things worked—both a positive and a negative. In Snowflake Tiara, Angie and I have only each other to consult, and we’ve made one visit to Helena together, which was a big help. Also, this novella is twice as long at 40,000 words than the one in Rainbow’s End. However, in both cases, I’ve loved the sense of a bigger story and world than I’d imagined myself.

Janet: Let’s get back to Wild Mint Tea. It’s light romance, like Raspberries and Vinegar, but is there an idea or bit of information you’d like readers to take away?

Valerie: There are several themes in the story that are best uncovered in context, but one take away I can mention today is my desire for people to think about where their food comes from. In the context of Wild Mint Tea, some discussions involve using all the parts of an animal and not simply living off chicken breasts… and should it matter to the average person?

Janet: Your covers for the Farm Fresh Romance series are a different style—one might say fresh if you’ll forgive the pun—and I’ve seen a few like them but not many. For me, they work really well to set the books apart as one of the “lit” genres (in this case Farm Lit) as opposed to traditional romance. What prompted you to go for a visible difference?

Valerie: My daughter was my biggest prompter, as she’s the illustrator who created both covers. I think her style suits the genre of the stories, like you said. I’m thankful that my publisher was willing to take a chance on a slightly different cover style because they catch a lot of attention, almost all of it positive.

Janet: There’s another Farm Fresh Romance in the works, right?

Valerie: There is! I’m currently working on the final story of the three young women who bought a farm together. This one is called Sweetened with Honey and is set about two years after the end of Wild Mint Tea. Readers will get to see Green Acres Farm as a more established event destination and enjoy seeing Sierra, the resident naturopath, take on beekeeping as well as romance.

Janet: Sounds good! Do you have any advice for beginning writers?

Valerie: I have so much advice, I don’t even know where to begin! I’ve written for 12 years now and discovered I do things differently than most other writers (surprise…). I’ve created a free course providing an overview of the fiction-writing process over at towriteastory.com. I want to help newer writers understand what writing fiction entails and what some of the paths are that they might take. I invite your readers to check it out!

Janet: I second that suggestion. I signed up for those emails, myself. Now, we’ve met Valerie the writer, but there’s plenty more that fills your days. Tell us a bit about Valerie the private citizen.

Valerie: Busy. I stopped working an outside job over a year ago, but so much has flooded in to take that empty time. I’m doing some freelance work online as well as writing fulltime. In the summer, I add gardening and food preservation to the mix. No matter what, I always find time to enjoy my three little granddaughters! I love hanging out with them, reading, doing puzzles, or jumping on the trampoline.

Janet: I’ll bet they love to come to visit! Tell us something you appreciate about where you live.

Valerie: My husband and I own a small farm in south-eastern BC, Canada. I love rural living and I love having the mountains around me. I truly believe I live in one of the most beautiful spots on the planet. So blessed.

Janet: I have to ask, since I know local food is important to you: is there something special food-wise that you’ll buy even though it has to be shipped in?

Valerie: Definitely. Like many Canadians and Americans, we like our coffee and chocolate, to name two biggies. However, we try to eat (and drink!) organic not only for the sake of our bodies but also for the sake of the environment and the workers who labor in the fields. Buying organic and fair trade helps protect those workers and our planet.

Janet: I confess to buying Mexican raspberries in the winter. Because of shipping, they’re not as good as locally-sourced ones, but those are strictly a summer treat. Thanks for visiting today, and all the best in the year ahead!

===

Wild Mint Tea by Valerie Comer

She’s rooted deep. He flies free.

Local-foods chef Claire Halford envisions turning Green Acres Farm into an event destination. Weddings prove trickier than she imagined when the first one comes with a ruggedly handsome brother-of-the-bride, who has everything but a fixed address. Oh, and faith in God.

Noel Kenzie loves the freedom his reforestation company affords him. Why worry about deep stuff like God and commitment when he’s in his prime? Except there’s a woman who might make it worth giving up his wings…and digging in some roots. If he dares.

Click the cover to visit Valerie’s site and read a sample chapter of Wild Mint Tea.

Review: Wild Mint Tea by Valerie Comer

Wild Mint Tea by Valerie ComerWild Mint Tea, by Valerie Comer (Choose NOW Publishing, 2014)

Claire Hadford and two friends have bought a farm in Northern Idaho with the goal of turning it into a hands-on demonstration of sustainable living. They’ve built an interesting straw-bale house (efficient, warm and dry, and far better than the mouse-infested trailer they started out in) and are ready to begin hosting events.

All three women share the grounds-keeping and gardening work while holding down outside  jobs to help with expenses. Claire is a chef, desperate to find a better gig than the weekend night shifts at the town’s restaurant, The Sizzling Skillet. Her boss is a bully who gives her no scope to highlight the local and seasonal ingredients which are her specialty.

Local-sourcing food is a tough sell, and Claire figures that’s why she doesn’t get the contract to cook for a reforesting crew when they arrive in the area. Good thing she doesn’t know the truth: owner Noel Kenzie thinks she’s too distractingly cute.

To ease his conscience, Noel suggests the farm as a wedding venue for his sister, not realizing how much time he’ll end up spending with his sister and Claire.

He’s a man on the move, planting trees across the US and hitting exotic destinations in the off-season. Claire’s roots in the farm go deep—and she needs that stability after a childhood of being uprooted. Plus, the most important thing she’d want in a man—if she were looking, which she’s not—is that he have a close relationship with the Lord.

Noel is saving that until he’s too old to have fun. And he knows he’s not good enough for Claire. His father abandoned the family and only calls when he’s out of cash. Noel has no idea how to be a good dad—even if Claire would take a chance on him.

Wild Mint Tea is the second in the Farm Fresh Romance series, and I really enjoy these books. The characters are real, complicated, and I care about them. Claire and Noel each carry false beliefs about themselves and their needs, and it’s heartwarming to watch them grow. Fans of book 1, Raspberries and Vinegar, will be glad to see Jo, Zach and Domino again.

And people like me who like a little adventure beyond the romance will enjoy the heavy equipment when it rolls in. That’s all I’m saying.

Valerie Comer is a Canadian author who writes “where food meets faith.” She’s passionate about both and too skilled a writer to be pushy about either. She cooks up a fine tale, properly spiced with humour. To learn more about the author, you can visit her website. And come back here on Friday to read my interview with her.

For a little fun, check out this post by the illustrator, Hanna Sandvig–and view the short-but-sweet book trailer. Click here.

[Review copy provided by the publisher.]