Review: Lake Season (Bluebell Inn Romance #1) by Denise Hunter

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Synopsis from Goodreads:

From the bestselling author of  The Convenient Groom  and  A December Bride  (now beloved Hallmark Original movies) comes the first novel in a brand-new series!­

When their parents die in a tragic accident, Molly Bennett and her siblings pull together to fulfill their parents’ dream: turning their historic home back into an inn.

Adam Bradford (a.k.a. bestselling author Nathanial Grey) is a reclusive author with a bad case of writer’s block. Desperate for inspiration as his deadline approaches, he travels to a North Carolina lake town, the setting of his next novel. There he immediately meets his muse, a young innkeeper who fancies herself in love with his alter ego.

When Molly finds an old letter in the walls of her inn she embarks on a mission with Adam to find the star-crossed lovers and bring them the closure they deserve. But the guest she invites along has secrets of his own. Past and present collide as truths are revealed, and Molly and Adam will have to decide if love is worth trusting.

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

Lake Season will be available November 12, 2019. 

I feel like I need to preface this review by saying that when I read this book I was kind of in a book-slump mood where I wasn’t really enjoying anything I picked up. I started several different books that I set aside after a few chapters, but I decided to keep reading Lake Season even though I felt the same way about it as all the others. Maybe if I had read it in a different mood, I would have enjoyed it a little more.

-The story begins right after Molly’s parents die. She’s discussing next steps with her older brother, Levi, and younger sister, Grace, and when Levi proposes Grace moves in with him – to another state – she throws a tantrum which ends up with her siblings giving up both of their current life paths to move back home and open the inn their parents were planning to do. I know that they obviously had just gone through a lot, but Grace came off as such a brat that I couldn’t stand her. It really set me off on the wrong foot with the story.

-I never really got on board the whole letter thing. Molly becomes obsessed with it and while I kind of understand the reasoning, I just found it pretty boring. I also thought it was kind of odd that she needed Adam’s help because she’s just “bad with computers.” It was like she barely knew how to Google something. Yet, she’s a millennial who was in college, so it’s basically impossible for her to not know how to use a computer.

-There are a few flashbacks to the letter writer in the ’60s and I just didn’t really think they were well done. They were very few and far between and not really enough to get me invested in the story. I could kind of tell the author wasn’t that invested in them either.

-Knowing that Adam keeps his author identity a secret and that Molly’s last relationship ended because of lies, you know what the big romantic conflict is going to be. This type of scenario is never my favorite and it was made even worse by Molly’s hypocrisy. She lied to Adam about things, too, but that didn’t really seem to matter. She also was kind of dating his best friend just because she thought he was actually the author. Not to mention that she also kind of cheated on him with Adam. I just found her a little hard to like.

-One prevailing thought I had while reading this was that it was pretty light on the Christian for being a Christian Fiction. However, the lessons came in really heavy handed towards the end. I don’t necessarily mind the strong push at the end, but I would’ve preferred it to be more evenly involved throughout the whole story.

Overall, Lake Season just wasn’t for me. I know I listed a lot of negative things, but I did enjoy some things about it, too. Even though I had some issues with it, there were some good romantic moments. I also fully admit that if I read this at a different time, maybe I would’ve enjoyed it a lot more and given it a solid three stars. However, I found it pretty hard to get through and so I need to give it a slightly lower rating.

Overall Rating (out of 5): 2.5 Stars

Review: The Killing Tide (Coastal Guardians #1) by Dani Pettrey

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Synopsis from Goodreads:

When one Coast Guard officer is found dead and another goes missing, Coast Guard Investigative Service special agent Finn Walker faces his most dangerous crime yet. His only clues are what little evidence remains aboard the dead officer’s boat, and the direction the clues point to will test Finn and the Guard to their limits.

When investigative reporter–and Finn’s boss’s sister–Gabby Rowley arrives, her unrelenting questions complicate an already volatile situation. Now that she’s back, the tug on Finn’s heart is strong, but with the risks she’s taking for her next big story, he fears she might not live through it.

Thrown together by the heinous crime, Finn and Gabby can’t ignore the sparks or judgments flying between them. But will they be able to see past their preconceptions long enough to track down an elusive killer, or will they become his next mark

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

The Killing Tide will be available August 6, 2019. 

It’s always a disappointing thing when a book by one of your favorite authors doesn’t end up working for you. This was the case for me and The Killing Tide.

What I Liked

-I thought the actual mystery aspect of the story was well done. It was pretty well-paced and Pettrey did a good job of weaving together multiple cases.

-I liked the setting and that many of the main characters are in the Coast Guard. That’s something new I haven’t read a lot of before and I found it pretty interesting.

-I thought Pettrey did a good job with incorporating the characters’ faith in into the story. There wasn’t really any big lesson, it was just daily life and I liked that.

What Didn’t Work for Me

-Gabby drove me crazy for pretty much this whole book. The first time we meet her she narrowly escapes an attempt on her life and she ends up going to her brother so he and his Coast Guard friends can help protect her. But then she fights against the notion of needing to be  protected the whole time and continually runs away from the people who are supposed to be watching her, which I just found really annoying and selfish. And her whole defense is that she needs to chase the story because God made her passionate about it and to ask her not to do it is wrong. Um, pretty sure that’s not  how God works. She just really, really rubbed me the wrong way and pretty much ruined the book for me.

-The romance didn’t really work for me. We find out that prior to the events of this book, Gabby and Finn had started a relationship, which was cut short when Gabby moved away. They both already had strong feelings for each other when the story starts and so we miss all of the build up. I never really felt their chemistry when they’re reunited and so I never got invested in them as a couple.

-There are a lot of characters that are thrown out in the beginning. I had a really hard time keeping them straight. It took about half the book before I could start to tell them all apart. While I don’t have a problem with any of them, none of them really stood out to me as someone I would be excited to read about next.

-I think my biggest problem with the book, though, is the way that Gabby was involved in the official investigation. Let me preface this by saying Gabby is not in law enforcement, she is a reporter. Throughout the story Finn has her help him process a crime scene where there were multiple murders, she uses Coast Guard computers to do her own research on the case, she accompanies Finn while he is investigating leads and persons of interest, and she is part of debriefing sessions of multiple cases. And the reason for all this? She’s incorrigible and would just go out and investigate on her own if they didn’t include her, so might as well keep an eye on her. THIS IS NOT HOW LAW ENFORCEMENT WORKS. My brother is a police officer and I talked to him about some of these things and asked what would happen if he involved a civilian like this while working. He would be fired. I understand for the sake of fiction there are certain allowances made, but I feel this is just way too unbelievable. And this is a complaint I have about several books by this author.

Overall

Overall, The Killing Tide was just not for me. Even though the pace seemed steady and there was a lot of action, I found myself bored for most of the book. I found Gabby so unlikable that it made it hard to get through the story at times. However, everyone I know that has read this have all really loved it, so it might just be me and my mood. I do plan on reading more from Pettrey in the future and am hoping my experience with this book is just an anomaly.

Overall Rating (out of 5): 2.5 Stars

Review: Sweet on You (Bradford Sisters Romance #3) by Becky Wade

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Synopsis from Goodreads:

Britt and Zander have been best friends since they met thirteen years ago, but unbeknownst to Britt, Zander has been in love with her for just as long. When Zander’s uncle dies of mysterious causes, he returns to Washington to investigate. As they work together to uncover his uncles tangled past, will the truth of what lies between them also come to light?
I received a copy of this title via a giveaway on Goodreads. It does not impact my review.

-This is the third book in the Bradford Sisters Romance series, but it’s the first one I’ve read. While I’m sure I would’ve felt a little more connected to the secondary characters if I had read the previous books, it worked well as a standalone. I never felt lost or confused.

-I love a good Friends-to-More romance. I liked Zander and Britt’s friendship, though I must admit I enjoyed Zander much more than I did Britt.

-This is a Christian fiction book, so it might not be everyone’s cup of tea. While there were some good, relatable points, I felt like the Christian themes were a little uneven. They seemed to pop up here and there, instead of being a natural part of the characters’ lives. And then towards the end the message got pretty heavy-handed. It was still a good message, so I didn’t mind it, but I wish it would’ve been done a little more smoothly.

-The mystery of the story revolves not around Zander’s uncle’s death, but his secret past life. Frank is not even his uncle’s real name. Zander and Britt, with the help of a few others, research Frank’s previous life and discover that he might have been involved in a famous art heist. This plotline was interesting, but the focus of the book is really on the romance, so it wasn’t quite as in depth as I wanted it to be, but that’s ok. What did bother me, though, was that we don’t really explore how finding out Frank’s lies effects his wife, Carolyn, their daughters, or Zander and his brother, who were taken in by Frank and Carolyn as kids. I can tell you from experience that finding out a loved one had spent your whole life lying to you brings up some stuff, but it was kind of just skipped right over here.

-Britt was very hard for me to like. She was so impulsive and short-tempered and she just really frustrated me. While she did work very hard at her business, she was also pretty privileged and spoiled. She came across a little shallow and fake to me, too. She did learn some lessons by the end of the story, but the book failed to convince me why Zander couldn’t get over her in thirteen years. He deserved better.

Overall, I enjoyed Sweet on You, despite a few issues. I always enjoy the Friends-to-More trope and the mystery was interesting. I liked Zander, but Britt really brought the story down for me. I’m decreasing my final rating a bit because of her. However, I would still suggest this one to fans of Christian Contemporary. This was my first book by Wade and I plan to look into some of her other books.

Overall Rating (out of 5): 3.5 Stars

Review: Summer by the Tides by Denise Hunter

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Synopsis from Goodreads:

From the bestselling author of The Convenient Groom (now a beloved Hallmark Original movie) comes a heartfelt story of family secrets, forgiveness, and unexpected romance.

Following a painful betrayal, Maddy Monroe’s love life is a wreck, and her restaurant career is in shambles. When her grandmother goes missing, she and her estranged sisters converge at the family beach house in Sea Haven, North Carolina. Being with uptight Nora and free-spirited Emma at the place where their family broke apart is a struggle, and undercurrents of jealousy and resentment threaten to pull the sisters under. In the midst of the storm, sparks begin to fly between Maddy and Gram’s maddening neighbor, Connor Murphy.

As the sisters pack up the family belongings, memories of idyllic, slow-paced summers are resurrected. But long-buried secrets also come to light as Maddy discovers that all was not as it appeared that last summer in Sea Haven–nor today in the seemingly perfect lives of her sisters.

As family tensions rise and Connor causes tumult in Maddy’s heart, the sisters must find a way to accept each other for the women they’ve become before the bitterness of the past destroys their hope for a future.

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

Summer by the Tides will be available May 21, 2019.  

Summer by the Tides is one of my new favorite Denise Hunter novels. A perfect blend of family, faith, and romance, it was everything I hope for when picking up one of Hunter’s books.

Maddy loses her job and her boyfriend all at the same time so there is nothing holding her back from going to look in on her grandmother when she gets a call from her concerned neighbor. The concerned neighbor also called Maddy’s two estranged sisters, Nora and Emma. Nora and Emma had a falling out twenty years prior and are both still holding grudges. It makes things really uncomfortable when they all show up at their grandmother’s and then decide to stay there to help fix the place up. All the characters were pretty likable, though sometimes frustrating. The secrets that are discovered during their stay were not anything surprising – except there was an extra twist on one that I wasn’t expecting.

I really liked the concerned neighbor, Connor. He was such a sweet and stand-up guy. I loved his relationship with his sisters. I really shipped his growing relationship with Maddy, too. He was exactly the kind of guy that Maddy needed and he was extremely patient with her skittishness. Things did get just a little too cheesy at times when it came to the romance, but I’ll take sappy over graphic any day.

Overall, I really enjoyed Summer by the Tides. It was a cute, quick read that I flew right through. I liked the message of faith and trusting in God and felt it was incorporated really well into the characters’ lives and didn’t come off as preachy. I liked seeing Maddy and her sisters work through their issues and discover family secrets. I liked that reconciliation was shown as a process and small steps and not just a magical fix where everything is all of a sudden fine. I definitely recommend this one to Denise Hunter fans.

Overall Rating (out of 5): 4 Stars

A Bride for Keeps by Melissa Jagears – 3 stars (out of 5)

A Bride for Keeps

I received a copy of this title from NetGalley

Synopsis (from Good Reads)

Although Everett Cline can hardly keep up with the demands of his homestead, he won’t humiliate himself by looking for a helpmate ever again–not after being jilted by three mail-order brides. When a well-meaning neighbor goes behind his back to bring yet another mail-order bride to town, he has good reason to doubt it will work, especially after getting a glimpse at the woman in question. She’s the prettiest woman he’s ever seen, and it’s just not possible she’s there to marry a simple homesteader like him.

Julia Lockwood has never been anything more than a pretty pawn for her father or a business acquisition for her former fiancé. Having finally worked up the courage to leave her life in Massachusetts, she’s determined to find a place where people will value her for more than her looks. Having run out of all other options, Julia resorts to a mail-order marriage in far-away Kansas.

Everett is skeptical a cultured woman like Julia could be happy in a life on the plains, while Julia, deeply wounded by a past relationship, is skittish at the idea of marriage at all. When, despite their hesitations, they agree to a marriage in name only, neither one is prepared for the feelings that soon arise to complicate their arrangement. Can two people accustomed to keeping their distance let the barricades around their hearts down long enough to fall in love?

Thoughts:

-The first couple chapters in A Bride for Keeps felt like a story I’ve read several times before. The plot seemed obvious and clichéd. But the more I got into the story, I saw that it wasn’t quite the same. Was the ending still predictable? Sure. But, the journey to get there was not quite what I was expecting.

-I found most of the characters likable. Dex and Rachel, the meddling neighbors, and their children were all entertaining and, at times, insightful. I really liked Everett, who had been jilted by several potential brides before Julia. He was sweet and faithful and insecure. I felt like Julia and Dex were a little harder on him than he deserved at times. Julia asked that their marriage basically be a business arrangement and when he tried to protect himself from being hurt she resented him for it. While I’m not saying he behaved perfectly by any means, I don’t think he was really the bad guy in their relationship.

-And then there’s Julia. I went so back and forth on liking her. I understand her hesitancy around Everett – and men in general. I understand the need she felt to prove she was a good worker around the farm. But for most of the book she took no responsibility in her failing marriage. I also got really annoyed with how often she went on and on about how beautiful she was and how she wanted to be more than just a pretty face.

-Overall, I enjoyed A Bride for Keeps. It was a good mix of romance and faith and it took a clichéd idea and made it something different and interesting. I would recommend this book to those who enjoy Christian Fiction and Romance.

Trapped by Irene Hannon – 2 stars (out of 5)

Trapped (Private Justice, #2)

I received a copy of this title for review from NetGalley.

Synopsis from Good Reads:

When librarian Laura Griffin’s sixteen-year-old sister disappears on a frigid February day, leaving only a brief note behind, Laura resolves to do whatever it takes to track down the runaway teen. That includes recruiting ATF agent turned PI James “Dev” Devlin to help. But the deeper he digs, the more he begins to suspect that something sinister is at work in the girl’s disappearance. And the closer he gets to uncovering the truth, the clearer it becomes that the situation isn’t just dangerous–it’s deadly.

Chilling and at times terrifying, “Trapped” is the latest thrilling read from Irene Hannon, the queen of romantic suspense. Hannon outdoes herself with this fast-paced tale of fear, deception, and just the right dose of romance.

I’ve read a couple books by Irene Hannon and found them to be a good blend of suspense, romance, and faith. I was expecting to enjoy Trapped just as much, but found it a little underwhelming.

Let’s start with the suspense angle. There wasn’t much. I felt like the whole book was pretty predictable. There was one thing that surprised me and it wasn’t that much of a surprise. The pace was slow and there really wasn’t a whole lot going on for most of the book. However, the last few chapters ratcheted up the action and made it enjoyable.

The romance was a little lacking for me, as well. It followed the “insta-love” formula that seems to be so popular, but I rarely appreciate. The main characters, Laura and Dev, are likable, but pretty boring. There was nothing that interesting about them that would justify the instant attraction and affection other than both being attractive.

I would’ve liked to see the secondary characters developed a little more. Darcy, the teenage runaway/kidnap victim, wasn’t much more than a cliché. Dev’s PI partners, Cal and Connor, were both likable, but rarely seen. Since this is the second book in the Private Justice series, I gathered the first book was about Cal, so readers should’ve been already acquainted with him. The next book in the series I would assume will be about Connor, so he’ll be more fully developed in that book. My biggest complaint about this type of series – where each book is focused on a different character – is that it seems like an excuse to only develop one set of characters at a time. And then when you like those characters, they’re pushed to the background in the next book and almost forgotten. This complaint is one for the genre, though, and not just this particular book.

One character that I really found interesting, however, was Mark. I felt like he was the most developed of the book and some of the best moments of the story were with him. Even though he’s the villain of the story, he was a sympathetic character that I really felt sorry for.

The faith of the characters in the story sets it apart from your normal romantic suspense. Hannon does a pretty good job of letting Laura’s faith define her character and it never seems like it’s a reach when she prays or talks about God. However, it seems to be a much less central theme in the story than the other books I’ve read by Hannon and I would’ve liked to see more of Darcy and Dev’s spiritual growth.

Overall, this book was just ok for me. It moved much too slow for me to be suspenseful and it felt like it was way too long. Fans of Hannon may still find it enjoyable, but I would direct readers unfamiliar with her work to pick up Fatal Judgment or Against All Odds.

Saturday Spotlight: The Unexpected Gift by Berna King

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Today I would like to shine the spotlight on The Unexpected Gift by first time author Berna King. I had an opportunity to go to a book signing today at Dayspring Christian Bookstore and got my Mom’s copy signed, as well as picking up a copy for myself (because really, what’s better than signed books!). I haven’t read this yet, but I’ve heard from several people – who’s opinion I trust – that it’s a great read!

The Unexpected Gift tells the story of two families whose lives are shattered by two tragic events occurring within a few months of each other. Despite his shaken faith, Dr. Scott Benson, local veterinarian, strives to guide his daughter Rachel in her adjustment to blindness and short-term memory loss resulting from an auto accident that kills her mother. Shannon Martin, who now volunteers at a local therapeutic riding center, struggles with learning to trust again after the suicidal death of her fiancé, Todd Trent. When Shannon, who is blind herself, begins tutoring young Rachel in braille, romance between Scott and Shannon blossoms.

Meanwhile, a web of suspicion and turmoil comes to light involving Jill Trent, the oldest of the Trent siblings. Jill’s children do not know their biological father, so Mark Trent, their uncle, helps the now nearly grown children as they struggle to live a different kind of life despite their mother’s choices.

The fledgling romance between Scott and Shannon and the Trent family’s battle with Jill’s drug addiction collide in a series of shocking events that reveal deception, blackmail, and murder. Who is behind the crimes? Will the romance between Scott and Shannon last? Can the Trent family finally experience reconciliation? Find out how each character learns to rely on God for direction.

Berna King is a rehabilitation counselor, assisting people with visual impairments to return to the workforce. Visually impaired herself, she grew up in rural northeast Ohio, riding horses and meeting life’s challenges head-on. A graduate of Western Michigan University, she holds a Master of Arts in rehabilitation counseling. Assisted by her Seeing Eye dog, Berna currently lives and works in Canton, Ohio.

You can get a copy of The Unexpected Gift in either hard copy or e-book at Barnes and Noble or Amazon. You can check out Berna’s Good Reads page here.