Tag Archives: romance

Review: A Girl’s Guide to the Outback, by Jessica Kate

Book Cover: A girl's Guide to the Outback, a novel by Jessica Kate

A Girl’s Guide to the Outback, by Jessica Kate (Thomas Nelson, 2020)

Jessica Kate’s second novel delivers the love/hate romance, snappy banter, and deeply-crafted characters readers expect from her, plus a bonus. This one’s largely set in Australia. Since it’s new territory for the American heroine, Kimberley, readers enjoy a virtual tour with her.

This is a novel where the setting is key to the story. Kimberley’s time on the remote ranch belonging to her nemesis, Samuel Payton, and other settings like the Gold Coast, aren’t just backdrops.

A Girl’s Guide to the Outback follows after Love and Other Mistakes, so readers who remember the first book will recognize some familiar people. Readers starting with this book will have no trouble, because the love interests in this book were secondary characters in the first one.

As well as romance, A Girl’s Guide to the Outback is a story of misunderstood motives and the way past pain can keep even Christians back from their full potential.

Favourite lines:

She’d just blasted the good-looking HR manager of a company looking to recruit her. While wearing a potato costume. [Kindle location 53]

Jules’s brow cinched together like an invisible hand had pulled a loose thread. [Kindle location 2333]

“Sweetheart, when God closes a door, He closes it. Best not to hold on too long and get your fingers jammed in the process.” [Kindle location 3104]

For more about Jessica Kate and her books (and her StoryNerds podcast) visit jessicakatewriting.com.

[I received a complimentary copy of this book from #Netgalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.]

Follow me on BookBub

Review: Smoke Screen, by Terri Blackstock

Smoke Screen, by Terri Blackstock

Smoke Screen, by Terri Blackstock (Thomas Nelson, 2019)

In Smoke Screen, Terri Blackstock gives us a novel of second chances, romance, faith—and mystery. It’s not a high-suspense story, but the emotional tension will keep readers turning pages.

Nate’s father has spent 14 years in prison for the murder of Brenna’s father, all the while claiming he’s innocent. If he is, then there’s a killer in town. Nate himself, now a smoke jumping firefighter, is thought by many to be responsible for burning down the dead man’s church. Even his father thinks he did it—but he didn’t. So who did?

Brenna and Nate were childhood sweethearts until tragedy scarred both their families. Now Brenna’s in a losing battle for custody of her kids after her husband left her for a younger woman. Her children are her life. When they’re gone on the weekend, not even alcohol can numb the pain.

What I appreciated most about the story is the compassionate and honest portrayal of a Christian struggling with drinking. It happens, and as in Brenna’s case, the faith aspect can increase the shame and guilt. I hope her example can bring hope to others who fight this battle in real life.

For more about the book and about New York Times bestselling author Terri Blackstock, visit terriblackstock.com.

[I received a complimentary copy of this book. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.]

Follow me on BookBub

Review: On a Summer Tide, by Suzanne Woods Fisher

Book cover: On a Summer Tide, by Suzanne Woods Fisher

On a Summer Tide, by Suzanne Woods Fisher (Revell, 2019)

When their widowed father announces that he’s sold the family home and bought an island off the coast of Maine, Cam Grayson and her sisters are afraid he’s losing his mind. Partly due to this fear and partly due to life circumstances, each of the women decide to spend some time with him on Three Sisters Island.

Their father, Paul, plans to renovate the rustic island camp where he first met his wife. He hopes the family project will draw his daughters closer together. In the beginning, this is a family who don’t listen to one another, who may work together but without sharing any depth of relationship.

The daughters are widely different in personality and goals. I feel they’re perhaps too much defined by their dominant traits, to the point I didn’t really connect with any of them. We have Cam the driven businesswoman, Maddie the counsellor-in-training who analyzes family members at every opportunity, and Blaine the 19-year-old who can’t decide on her future path.

Despite a bit of disconnect, I enjoyed the story. The setting is isolated and beautiful, and I enjoyed watching the camp restoration. There’s a nice romance between Cam and Seth, the island’s schoolteacher. Seth’s gentle conversations with Cam about faith are a good example of natural ways to engage with non-Christian friends in real life.

There are flashbacks sprinkled throughout the novel and I don’t think they added anything that wasn’t (or couldn’t have been) conveyed in straight story time. For me they were more of a distraction than a bonus. The bonus was watching the interaction between teacher Seth and Cam’s son Cooper.

Favourite lines:

The driveway unfurled in a lazy curl through strands of trees until it reached the clearing where the old house sat against a windbreak of pines. [page 69, Cam’s first sight of their father’s new house]

“It’s okay to start with a small faith. We’ve got a big God.” [page 220, Seth to Cam]

On a Summer Tide is book 1 in the Three Sisters Island series, and since Cam was the central sister in this story, I expect Maddie and Blaine will each be the heroine of their own book as the series continues.

Suzanne Woods Fisher is a multi-published author of contemporary and historical novels. For more about the author and her work, visit suzannewoodsfisher.com.

[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.]

Follow me on BookBub

Review: The Curious Case of the Missing Figurehead, by Diane Noble

The Curious Case of the Missing Figurehead, by Diane NobleThe Curious Case of the Missing Figurehead, by Diane Noble (David C. Cook, 2014)

Elaine Littlefield, “El” to her friends, is a widow “of a certain age” who’s been known to combat stress by baking triple-chocolate cookies in the wee hours while wearing sock monkey pajamas and dancing to Mozart.

By day, she runs a catering company and solves mysteries. And spends as much time with her daughter and granddaughter as she can.

El has landed a huge catering job for the retirement party of local university professor Dr. Max Haverhill, but when the guest list triples two days before the event, and then Max wants to cancel the event for security reasons, it’s no wonder she’s trying to manage her stress level.

The party goes ahead, and as the back cover says, “countless guests fall ill, a two-hundred-year-old relic is stolen, and her best friend vanishes. All in the first hour.”

The Curious Case of the Missing Figurehead is a fast-paced, light-hearted mystery blended with romance: Max is a lifelong bachelor, but as he and El work together to solve the crime, they may also be falling in love.

Certain aspects of the story may be a bit over the top, but they suit the story and the characters and provide readers with an enjoyable experience.

El, Max, and the other key character, Hyacinth, are fun and courageous. El’s chapters are written in first person, with the others in third person. It wasn’t as confusing as it sounds, because whenever the point of view changed, there was a label on the new chapter telling whose eyes we were seeing through now.

The three are each Christians, and it’s interesting to see how each one’s faith helps sustain them in crisis moments. The faith aspect is subtle in the story, but there are discussion questions at the end of the book to encourage readers to think through different aspects of faith as it pertains to forgiveness, sacrifice, love, and friendship.

The Curious Case of the Missing Figurehead is listed as “A Professor and Mrs. Littlefield Mystery,” but I don’t see any more in the series. Pity. Author Diane Noble has also written historical and contemporary suspense and women’s fiction. For more about the author and her work, visit dianenoblebooks.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Review: Dear Mr. Knightley, by Katherine Reay

Dear Mr. Knightley, by Katherine ReayDear Mr. Knightley, by Katherine Reay (Thomas Nelson, 2013)

Samantha Moore relates better to the characters in her favourite books than she does to the real people around her. Fired from her job for not “engaging,” she seizes one last chance: a master’s degree in journalism, funded by a mysterious benefactor.

The condition of the funding: she must write to “Mr. George Knightley” and keep him updated about her studies.

So begins a delightful story told through her letters and the occasional reply. It’s the story of Sam learning to let go of the walls she’s put up to protect herself, and discovering who she is.

It’s not as light and fluffy as the cover suggests. Sam’s past is very painful, and her struggle for identity can take hold of readers’ thoughts and not let go. There’s a lot of heart in this book.

It’s also well crafted and funny in places, laced with quotes from Jane Austen and other classics, and Katherine Reay adds plenty of quotable lines, herself, in Sam’s somewhat stream-of-consciousness delivery. Some of my favourites:

(Sam describing her new apartment) And it’s yellow. The way pale yellow should look, like sunshine and butter, mixed with hope and cream. [p. 73]

There are first moments when the eyes tell one’s real emotions, before the brain reminds them to bank and hide. [p. 176]

You can always talk more deeply when running because it feels safe. You can’t directly look at the person next to you. And you can’t hide much in so few clothes and so much sweat. Exhaustion also addles your inhibitions. [p. 232-233]

This is Christian fiction where the faith is subtle. There are Christians around Sam, but she doesn’t notice their gentle attempts to share “crumbs” of faith with her until about half-way through the book. She admires the love she sees in them, but she’s not convinced it would apply to her as well.

Dear Mr. Knightley is a heart-warming first novel from Katherine Reay, and it received multiple awards. For more about this and the author’s other novels, visit katherinereay.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Review: Secrets of Sunbeams, by Valerie Comer

Secrets of Sunbeams, by Valerie Comer
Secrets of Sunbeams, by Valerie Comer (GreenWords Media, 2016)

Chickens… and a goat… in the city? Yup. Eden Andrusek discovered the bylaws in her Spokane neighbourhood allow such things, as long as the goat is a small one.

Pansy, the goat, is like family to Eden, who’s still grieving for her parents and sisters after a car crash five years ago. Pansy also gets her into trouble. Like when the little goat escapes the fence and chows down on the new neighbour’s architectural drawings. Is it any wonder the neighbour, Jacob, doesn’t want the goat around?

Eden and Jacob are drawn to one another, but will the goat drive them apart? If they truly love one another, why does each want the other to change?

Fans of Valerie Comer’s Farm Fresh Romance series will recognize a few characters in this, the first in her new Urban Farm Fresh Romance series. Secrets of Sunbeams has snappy dialogue, and characters trying to apply green lifestyles (and faith) to daily life.

The developing community centre and community garden will no doubt be a feature throughout the series. It’ll be interesting to vicariously participate in the different events, and maybe come away with an idea or two for our own lives.

Farm Fresh and Urban Farm Fresh are about characters who care about sustainable living in a way that is easy to read and doesn’t feel like they’re telling readers what to do. They give readers a chance to understand the creation care and Christian mindsets without expressing judgement on those who hold different views.

Because Secrets of Sunbeams is shorter than the Farm Fresh novels, most of the pages are focused on the romance and the “can Jacob love a goat” question. Still, there were hints of what’s to come with the community centre, a brief mission trip to Mozambique, and even a visit to Farm Fresh’s Green Acres farm.

If you’re looking for a light-hearted, inspiring romance, check out Secrets of Sunbeams. For more about award-winning author Valerie Comer and her books, visit valeriecomer.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Review: The Things We Knew, by Catherine West

The Things We Knew, by Catherine WestThe Things We Knew, by Catherine West (Thomas Nelson, 2016)

Lynette Carlisle can’t remember what happened the day her mother died, but she was there. Now, in her dreams, it feels like her mother wants to tell her something. Or is it her own mind trying to communicate with her?

Lynette divides her time between her daycare job and caring for her father, who exhibits signs of dementia. The family home on Nantucket Island is falling down around her. Her older brothers and sister have left the area and are too wrapped up in their own lives to realize how much help she needs.

It takes a crisis to force her family to come home. Nick Cooper, who grew up with them, has also come home. Also not by choice. Being together again brings past hurts to light and reveals present turmoil each one is trying to hide. This family may have drifted apart, but they’re ashamed to let their siblings see their hurts.

Beautifully crafted and satisfying, The Things We Knew is a novel about family secrets and ties, about extending grace and finding hope. For Lynette and Nick, it’s even a chance at love.

Rich in setting and in relational dynamics, this is a novel worth enjoying. From the first page, I found it one of those rare books whose characters and setting welcomed me into their midst and invited me to stay.

Favourite lines:

The magic he’d felt when he’d first arrived tonight had only been a lost memory trying to find its way home. There was no magic here anymore. Only desolation. [Page 84]

If they were ever going to be free from the past, they needed to exhume it. [Page 274]

Catherine West writes stories of real life, healing, and hope. Her other novels are Bridge of Faith, Hidden in the Heart, and Yesterday’s Tomorrow. For more about the author and her work, visit www.catherinejwest.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Review: Book of Days, by James L. Rubart

Book of Days, by James L. RubartBook of Days, by James L. Rubart (B&H Publishing Group, 2011)

Cameron is in his early 30s but he’s losing chunks of his memory. His only hope lies in a cryptic mission from his father: to find the Book of Days. If such a thing exists, it holds everyone’s memories – past, present and future.

Supposedly this is God’s Book, based on Psalm 139:16. Cameron doesn’t believe in God, either, so that’s not much help. But his father did, and so did his wife.

Cameron’s quest forces him to turn to his dead wife’s foster-sister Ann for help, and it takes him to his father’s boyhood town, where secrets abound.

I enjoyed James Rubart’s writing style and the characters he created. There were plenty of clues, obstacles, and surprises along the way, as well as a few heart-warming moments. Looking back from the end, the only thing that doesn’t make sense to me is why a certain photo had been so carefully hidden.

The novel includes some well-turned phrases. Here’s my favourite:

…all he’d achieved was exhaustion. And a neck that felt like guitar strings tuned three octaves too high. [Kindle location 5415 in the Rooms/Book of Days/The Chair ebook box set]

Despite some of the New Age townsfolk, this is not an overly mystical novel, and I think it would suit anyone who enjoys a good contemporary story that includes Christianity, mystery and romance.

James L. Rubart is a writer and speaker whose website tag line is “Live free.” His most recent novel is The Five Times I Met Myself. For more about the author and his books, visit jameslrubart.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Review: Secrets, by Kristen Heitzmann

Secrets, by Kristen HeitzmannSecrets, by Kristen Heitzmann (Bethany House, 2004)

Lance Michelli’s beloved grandmother can’t speak, following a stoke, but she’s desperate for him to accomplish something for her – something urgent, something secret. The few clues she can give lead him to an old home in California wine country, which he suspects should truly belong to her.

Everyone else thinks it belongs to Rese Barrett, a young woman who’s left a successful construction business to restore the building and run it as a bed and breakfast.

Lance talks himself into a job as Rese’s cook – and maid. His Italian relatives taught him all he needs to produce beautiful meals, and if cleaning toilets is what he needs to do to make things right for his grandmother, he’ll do it.

Falling for Rese is not part of his plan. How can Lance help Rese heal her hurts when finding justice for his grandmother may take the property away from Rese? How can he tell her he came under false pretenses, now that she’s beginning to trust what he says about God?

Here’s one of Lance’s observations of Rese:

She headed for a wide flat rock on the creek’s bank, her posture still demanding “no trespassing” but no longer “trespassers will be shot.” [page 270]

I liked both main characters, and the secondaries were intriguing too, especially next-door neighbour Evvy and Rese’s friend Star. And the fictional food was amazing.

This is one of those novels I read slowly, not wanting it to end. So I was pleased to discover it’s book one in a trilogy. Now I’m looking for book two, Unforgotten, which continues Lance’s quest.

Kristen Heitzmann is a new-to-me author with plenty of published novels. She writes contemporary romantic suspense, historical fiction, and psychological suspense. Secrets won the Christy Award for Romance in 2005. For more about the author and her books, visit kristenheitzmann.com/.

[Review copy from my local public library.]

Review: Leopard’s Heart, by Kimberly A. Rogers

Leopard's Heart, by Kimberly A. RogersLeopard’s Heart, by Kimberly A. Rogers (2015)

In this Earth-based present-day urban fantasy, three species co-exist: Humans, Elves, and Therians. There are also assorted nasties held back by a mysterious barrier.

Humans know about the Elves, but they don’t know about the Therians, who work incognito for their protection. Therians are shape-shifters with three forms: humanoid, animal, and half-beast. Each Therian is born into one beast family and has only one beast form.

If this intrigues you and you haven’t read the prequel, Tiger’s Paw, don’t read any farther because there’s a spoiler to the prequel below. I highly recommend reading the prequel so you’ll be oriented in this complex world before starting book one, Leopard’s Heart.

I found Tiger’s Paw a bit of a hard read, partially because it’s from the point of view of General Baran (the tiger) and he’s, as the impudent leopard he’s assigned to work with says, “Tall, Dark, and oh-so-Serious.” The major difficulty in reading was simply absorbing the way the story world works: the hierarchies and relationships among the different species of beasts, and how they work unseen among the humans.

Now, if you’re still here, prepare to learn something about how Tiger’s Paw ends.

Raina (the leopard on the cover of Leopard’s Heart) is in an arranged marriage to Baran. Raina’s also half-Elven, exposing her to prejudice and attacks from those who want to keep the Therian race pure.

The novel is about the two of them working together to thwart a plot to expose the Therian race to the Humans. A subversive element among the Therians, the Fringe, is behind this and is also stirring up hate crimes against half-Elven Therians.

Among the unfamiliar circumstances, though, we find two strong and likeable characters in an arranged marriage: a classic romance situation that we’re comfortable with. We may not be able to relate to shape-shifters, but we can relate to hearts. And to danger and the need to stop the villains.

The story is mostly told in the first person, from either Raina’s or Baran’s point of view. I wish the chapters opened with the narrating character’s name, for easier reading, but it only took a few paragraphs to find out each time.

Leopard’s Heart is a compelling read, clean fiction with a Christian theme (the Therian Way is a code of honour based on faith in Yeshua). It’s violent in places, with more fighting and blood than I’m used to, but nothing is gratuitous. Still, by the end I was a little battle-weary.

I won a copy of Leopard’s Heart in a giveaway, and bought Tiger’s Paw so I could start at the beginning. I like Raina and Baran, and I’m glad to have come this far with them in the series.

Kimberley A. Rogers is a fantasy author and Masters in Religious Education student. For more about the author and her books, visit her website, So You Want to Write Christian Fantasy?