Top 5 Wednesday: Books I’m Thankful For

This week’s Top 5 Wednesday, hosted by the Good Reads group, is: Books You’re Thankful For. I’m going to stick with books that I’ve read this year only.

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1.  Now That You Mention It by Kristan Higgins. Some books you read at the perfect moment and this was one of them. This was exactly what I needed at the time I read it.

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2. Making Faces by Amy Harmon. This is the book that introduced me to Amy Harmon, so I will always be thankful for it. It’s beautiful and emotional and I loved it. It also is a mainstream book that did not portray people of faith as hypocrites or psychos.

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3. Now You See Me (Lacey Flint #1) by SJ Bolton (aka: Sharon Bolton). This is the book that introduced me to Sharon Bolton who has become one of my favorite authors and the Lacey Flint series has become one of my favorite series of all time.

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4. The Good Daughter by Karin Slaughter. This is the book that brought Karin Slaughter to town so I could finally meet her! She is another of my favorites.

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5. The Secret (DS Imogen Grey #2) by Katerina Diamond. Another new favorite series discovered this year. This book was just so entertaining and I didn’t want to stop reading it.

What books are you thankful for?

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Review: Always You (Bachelor Brotherhood #3) by Denise Grover Swank

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Synopsis from Good Reads:

Matt Osborne had always planned to get married and have a family. But at thirty-four, he’s no closer to his goal, so he’s decided to embrace his role as the remaining member of the Bachelor Brotherhood. He’s only loved one woman-his college sweetheart-but she never shared his dream of a family, preferring to focus on her career and maybe get married someday. With neither budged on their decisions, they agreed it was best to part ways. Now nearly twelve years later, Matt is stunned when Anna shows up at his nephew’s soccer practice-with her five-year-old son in tow.

Single mother Anna Field has returned home to care for her widowed and ill father. She never thought she’d run into Matt during the six months she’s there, but now he’s the coach of her son’s soccer team. She’d move Toby to a different team, but his new best friend happens to be Matt’s nephew, Ethan. As Anna and Matt spend more time together, the realize that their attraction-and love-are still there, just waiting for a spark to reignite. And once it’s lit, Matt has no plans to let her go again.

I received a copy of this title via NetGalley. It does not impact my review.

Always You will be available November 28, 2017.

I read the first book in this series, Only You, not too long ago and really enjoyed it. It was my first Denise Grover Swank book and her writing is a mix of romance, humor, and family and I knew I had to read more from her.

Always You follows the last man standing from the Bachelor Brotherhood, an agreement Matt and his two best friends made to give up on relationships after they all had terrible breakups. His two friends have found love and Matt has resigned himself to being single. He’s always wanted a family and is happy to have his 5 year old nephew, Ethan, living with him while his sister attends medical school out of state. He’s coaching Ethan’s soccer team when he finds out Ethan’s new best friend is the son of his old college girlfriend, Anna. The girlfriend who turned down his marriage proposal twelve years ago because she didn’t want to get married or have kids.

As you can imagine, Ethan and Anna reconcile. It took me a little while to get on board with their romance. I love a good Second Chance Romance story, but I felt like things happened just a little too easily. Matt had spent more than a decade being bitter about how Anna left and he completely thaws after just a couple of interactions. Now, I am all for forgiveness. And I can really appreciate that he realizes Anna wasn’t the only one to blame in their breakup, but it didn’t feel realistic for them to just pick up where they left off like they did. That said, I did eventually get on board and I liked them together. I also really liked the new family unit they made up with Ethan and Anna’s son, Toby. They were all so cute together and Matt was so, so sweet with the boys. I wasn’t sure about having Ethan and Toby be such a big part of the story at the beginning (I’m not a kid person, sorry), but they eventually won me over, as well.

One thing that really bugged me, though, was Anna’s issues with her ex-husband, Phillip. There were a lot of legal issues that needed to be worked out and for most of the book she was just resigned to not doing anything about it. She was a pretty strong, smart, and independent character in so many aspects, but she was such a doormat when it came to Phillip and I just didn’t understand it. She does eventually seek some help (with a fun cameo from one of the author’s previous series), though.

Overall, I enjoyed Always You. Matt is definitely one of the sweetest male leads I have read and I wish he was real. While it did take me a little bit to get into the romance and to like the kids, I did eventually get on board with all of it. There were several humorous parts, including a scene in Chuck E. Cheese that made me laugh out loud. I definitely plan on reading more books from Denise Grover Swank.

Overall Rating (out of 5): 3.5 Stars

Review: Now That You Mention it by Kristan Higgins

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Synopsis from Good Reads:

One step forward. Two steps back. The Tufts scholarship that put Nora Stuart on the path to becoming a Boston medical specialist was a step forward. Being hit by a car and then overhearing her boyfriend hit on another doctor when she thought she was dying? Two major steps back.

Injured in more ways than one, Nora feels her carefully built life cracking at the edges. There’s only one place to land: home. But the tiny Maine community she left fifteen years ago doesn’t necessarily want her. At every turn, someone holds the prodigal daughter of Scupper Island responsible for small-town drama and big-time disappointments.

With a tough islander mother who’s always been distant and a wild-child sister in jail, unable to raise her daughter–a withdrawn teen as eager to ditch the island as Nora once was–Nora has her work cut out for her if she’s going to take what might be her last chance to mend the family.

But as some relationships crumble around her, others unexpectedly strengthen. Balancing loss and opportunity, a dark event from her past with hope for the future, Nora will discover that tackling old pain makes room for promise…and the chance to begin again.

I received a copy of this title via Edelweiss. It does not impact my review. 

Now That You Mention It will be available December 26, 2017.

I have been a fan of Kristan Higgins for years now and have read all of her books – most of them multiple times. Whenever I need a pick-me-up her books do the trick. I don’t read a lot of straight up Romance books so she has become my go-to when that’s what I’m in the mood for. Her last few books, though, have moved out of the Romance category and more into Women’s Fiction. While the books have obviously still been up to the standard I expect out of Higgins, they weren’t quite the light and fluffy feel good stories I was used to getting and I wasn’t sure how I felt about that. Even though Now That You Mention It feels a lot more serious than most her other books, it still ended up being exactly the book I needed right now. Higgins still made me happy and made me feel and I quite loved this book.

The character development was really well done. The story was told in Nora’s 1st person POV and I really felt a connection to her. I identified a lot with her teenage self, as well. I felt like she grew a lot throughout the novel and I was rooting for her every step of the way. I loved her growing relationships with her mother, her niece, the daughter of some of her old classmates, an old friend, and her new love interest, Sullivan. I loved Sullivan so much!  He was so sweet and a great father. I also liked how his severe hearing loss was dealt with. My mother works with the deaf and hard of hearing and I always find it interesting when a deaf/HOA person is represented in fiction. The romance did play a much smaller role in the story than I was expecting, but it just made me love it even more.

Overall, I really loved Now That You Mention It. Kristian Higgins is really one of my favorite authors and while there was a lot of her trademark style in this book, I also felt like she went outside of her comfort zone and stretched a little more as an author. While I will always hope she writes some more of the light and fluffy romances I have come to love from her, I will no longer be disappointed to see she has something different coming out. I found this compulsively readable and did not want to put it down. The only complaint I really have is that I felt the end was a little too rushed. Still, I would definitely recommend this one.

Overall Rating (out of 5): 4 Stars

Review: The Chalk Man by C.J. Tudor

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Synopsis from Good Reads:

The must-read thriller of 2018, this riveting and relentlessly compelling psychological suspense debut will keep readers guessing right up to the shocking ending

In 1986, Eddie and his friends are just kids on the verge of adolescence. They spend their days biking around their sleepy little English village and looking for any taste of excitement they can get. The chalk men are their secret code; little chalk stick figures they leave for one another as messages only they can understand. But then a mysterious chalk man leads them right to a dismembered body, and nothing is ever the same.

In 2016, Eddie is fully grown, and thinks he’s put his past behind him. But then he gets a letter in the mail, containing a single chalk stick figure. When it turns out that his friends got the same message, they think it could be a prank . . . until one of them turns up dead. That’s when Eddie realizes that saving himself means finally figuring out what really happened all those years ago.

Expertly alternating between flashbacks and the present day, The Chalk Man is the very best kind of suspense novel, one where every character is wonderfully fleshed out and compelling, where every mystery has a satisfying payoff, and where the twists will shock even the savviest reader.

I received a copy of this title from NetGalley. It does not impact my review.

The Chalk Man will be available January 9, 2018

For me, The Chalk Man, is a perfect example of how hype can ruin your reading experience. I have seen several absolutely glowing reviews of this book and I was prepared for it to be one of my new favorite books of the year. Unfortunately, it fell far short of my expectations.

Let’s start with what I did like. I really like Tudor’s writing style. This is the author’s debut novel and her writing already feels distinctive. I also am a big fan of multiple timelines and I thought it was done pretty well here.

The story was told in Eddie’s 1st person POV and I wish I could say that gave me a connection to him, but it didn’t. I never really cared that much about him. He was basically the only character in the book that had much character development and it just didn’t really do it for me. I didn’t care about his childhood friends in either timeline or his odd relationship with his lodger, Chloe.

Even though I liked the writing, I felt bored a great deal of the time. Things are revealed very, very slowly and don’t pick up until close to the end. There is a nice little twist at the end, but I felt that there were so many clues dropped into the backstory to make sure the twist made sense that it did not even come as a big surprise. I also figured out the resolution to the main mystery awhile before it was revealed.

Overall, The Chalk Man was not a bad book, but it definitely fell short of the hype for me. The slow pace, characters I didn’t really care about, and a twist with very little pay-off left me pretty disappointed. However, the author’s writing style is pretty much what made this book for me and I know I will be reading more from her in the future.

Overall Rating (out of 5): 3 Stars

Review: Blue Ridge Sunrise (Blue Ridge Romance #1) by Denise Hunter

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Synopsis from Good Reads:

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.

I received a copy of this title via NetGalley. It does not impact my review.

Blue Ridge Sunrise will be available 11/7/17. 

I can’t think of a book that I have gone back and forth so much on as I did this book. For awhile I was really loving it. Then I was really annoyed at a turn of events. Then I loved it again. Then I was annoyed again. Then it picked up a little bit again at the end.

I was immediately drawn in to Zoe and Cruz and their second-chance romance storyline. As with most of Hunter’s leading ladies, I found Zoe kind of hard to like, but she did grow throughout the story. I, of course, loved Cruz. I also liked Zoe’s brother, Brady, and her best friend, Hope (I’m anticipating them to be lead characters in a future book in this series). The second part of the book is a flash back to when Zoe and Cruz started dating. I’m a big fan of multiple timeline storytelling and I loved watching those two get together.

As I mentioned above, after loving the book for awhile, something happened that really annoyed me. This is just personal preference, but I really, really dislike any romance trope that involves babies/kids. It just brings my whole enjoyment of a book way down. Another thing that I really dislike in books is when one small miscommunication is the main source of conflict and just one honest conversation would clear everything up. It drives me crazy to read a whole book like that.

Thankfully, the miscommunication was cleared up much more quickly than I anticipated. I was able to get back on the Cruz and Zoe ship and enjoy myself again. I liked watching them grow closer as they worked together to get the peach market up and running. However, Zoe’s old boyfriend Kyle is still not entirely out of the picture. Zoe decides to do something so annoyingly frustrating to remedy that and I found my enjoyment disappearing again. Things did work out in the end, though, with a nice lesson in faith tacked on.

Overall, Blue Ridge Sunrise was just a little uneven for me. While I did really enjoy Zoe and Cruz’s relationship, some romance tropes that I don’t really like were employed and kind of dampened my experience. I know that some people really love those type of storylines though, so I can see many readers eating the whole thing up with a smile. I also thought that for being Christian Fiction it was really light on the Christian. Again, not something that will bother everybody. This wasn’t my favorite Denise Hunter book, but it wasn’t my least favorite either. I liked it enough that I want to continue the series.

Overall Rating (out of 5): 3 Stars