Monday, May 9, 2022

Places We've Never Been by Kasie West


Places We've Never Been 
By Kasie West 
Published by Random House Children's, Delacorte Press 
Publication date: May 31, 2022 

A sweet and swoony contemporary Young Adult novel about a cross-country family road trip that puts one girl and her childhood best friend on an unexpected road to romance! 

Norah hasn’t seen her childhood best friend, Skyler, in years. When he first moved away, they'd talk all the time, but lately their relationship has been reduced to liking each other’s Instagram posts. That’s why Norah can’t wait for the joint RV road trip their families have planned for the summer. 
But when Skyler finally arrives, he he’d rather be anywhere else. Hurt and confused, Norah reacts in kind. Suddenly, her oldest friendship is on the rocks. 
An unexpected summer spent driving across the country leads both Norah and Skyler down new roads and to new discoveries. Before long, they are, once again, seeing each other in a different light. Can their friendship-turned-rivalry turn into something more? 

This was such a cute book! It totally hooked me, and I just wanted to read more and more! Norah was a really fun narrator--I liked how she was both driven and nervous. She knew what wanted (especially with regards to her college/career plans), but also worried about how she came across to other people, which I think made her feel totally realistic and relatable. This book was just lots of fun to read. although the ending was a little more abrupt than I would have liked. I highly recommend this to those looking for a quick, upbeat escape. 
4 stars.
I read an ARC provided by the publisher via NetGalley. All opinions are my own.

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Written on the Wind by Elizabeth Camden


Written on the Wind (The Blackstone Legacy #2)
By Elizabeth Camden 
Published by Bethany House 
Publication Date: May 3, 2022 

 Natalia Blackstone is a rarity in Gilded Age America. As a trusted analyst for her father's bank, she is helping finance the legendary Trans-Siberian Railway. From her office in New York City, Natalia relies on a charming Russian aristocrat to oversee the construction of the railroad on the other side of the world. 
But while overseeing the work, Count Dimitri Sokolov witnesses the deadly result of the Russian Monarchy's will to see the railway built. To silence him, the state has stripped Dimitri of his title, his lands, and his freedom . . . but Dimitri has a key asset the czar knows nothing about: his deep and abiding friendship with Natalia Blackstone. 
From the steppes of Russia to the corridors of power in Washington, Natalia and Dimitri will fight against all odds to save the railroad and share the truth of what happened, but how can their newfound love survive the ordeal? 

What an interesting book! I love the political and historical setting for this book, with the details about Russia, the building of the Trans-Siberian Railway, the social and political machinations in both Russia and the U.S., and more. I really liked Natalia; she was a great leading lady, both strong and kind. I alternated between thinking Dimitri was charming and being irritated by him. There were times where he totally made me laugh, but others where he bugged me a little because it seemed that Natalia was always doing things for him, but he didn't seem to reciprocate much. And when she faced a major disappointment, despite having worked so hard to help him, his internal dialogue indicated he was upset, but his actions didn't so much. I felt like she did so much for him and his mission and didn't get much return from him throughout a lot of the book, and that bothered me-- but I know other readers have really loved him and am sure many more will as well. There were lots of interesting side characters to like or loathe (I so cannot wait for Liam's story!), and I look forward to reading the third book in the series. 
As a fun point of interest, Dimitri makes a stop in my hometown--Springville, Utah--on his journey. I loved his observation that it was misnamed and wanted to be able to tell him it's actually named for the freshwater springs in the vicinity, not for spring-like weather! 
I read an ARC provided by the author/publisher. All opinions are my own.

Sunday, April 17, 2022

Turn to Me by Becky Wade


Turn to Me 
 By Becky Wade 
 Published by Bethany House 
Publication Date: May 3, 2022 

Guilt has defined Luke Dempsey's life, but it was self-destructiveness that landed him in prison. When his friend and fellow inmate lay dying shortly before Luke's release, the older man revealed he left a string of clues for his daughter, Finley, that will lead her to the treasure he's hidden. Worried that she won't be the only one pursuing the treasure, he gains Luke's promise to protect her until the end of her search. 

Spunky and idealistic, Finley Sutherland is the owner of an animal rescue center and a defender of lost causes. She accepts Luke's help on the treasure hunt while secretly planning to help him in return--by coaxing him to embrace the forgiveness he's long denied himself. As they draw closer to the final clue, their reasons for resisting each other begin to crumble, and Luke realizes his promise will push him to the limit in more ways than one. He'll do his best to shield Finley from unseen threats, but who's going to shield him from losing his heart? 

I've been looking forward to reading Luke's story. I have to admit that I had a soft spot for a reformed bad boy--or even better, a reforming bad boy who is finding out who he's going to be, what sort of man he really wants to be. The message of being able to be forgiven and move forward is one I just love. So, I was thrilled to read Luke's story, and I loved him as the hero of this book. I didn't quite click with Finley as female lead, though. I can't put my finger on why, but I just wasn't drawn in by her. I liked the side story of Ben and Akira--they were super cute--but I was put off by other side characters (specifically, Finley's other employees, who were so annoying!). I also wasn't totally drawn in by the treasure hunt. It just didn't enjoy this one as much the earlier books in the series, but I think plenty of other readers will totally adore it. 

I read an ARC provided by the publisher via #NetGalley. All opinions are my own.

Friday, April 1, 2022

All That It Takes by Nicole Deese

All That It Takes 
By Nicole Deese 
 Published by Bethany House 

When the ever-cautious Val Locklier finally agrees to a cross-country move with her nine-year-old son to take a job with her best friend, Molly, everything she had planned for the future unravels within the first week. After pushing aside her anxieties about renting an apartment from Molly's twin brother, whom she barely knows, she accepts an invitation for an elite filmmaker's mentorship. Caught between her insecurities and new possibilities, she feels completely unprepared for the challenges ahead. 
Pastor Miles McKenzie returns home from abroad to discover that not only does he have an intriguing new tenant living upstairs, he's been banished to a ministry on life support. Disillusioned and restless, he pursues a relationship with Val without stopping to consider the timing or asking God to direct his steps. 
 As Val struggles to stop hiding behind the camera and Miles wrestles with shattered expectations, they'll find that authentic love and sacrifice must go hand in hand. 

I loved everything about this book! The main characters, Val and Miles, are fabulous; they just feel REAL, with depth and real struggles and real strengths and weaknesses. They were so relatable as they had to deal with disappointments and fears and figuring out their paths in life. The plot also really pulled me in right from the get-go and there weren't any moments that dragged. The messages in this book--including seeing how God leads us through disappointments or change sin plans to end up exactly where we want to be, how our talents can help us find our personal ministries, and the need for connections and help from others in our lives. were powerful but not heavy-handed. This book is just so well-written, with humorous moments to balance out the serious topics--and the ending was just perfect! 
5 stars.

I read an ARC provided by the publisher via NetGalley. All opinions are my own.

Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Her County Gentleman (A Timeless Romance Georgian Anthology)

Her County Gentleman
Published by Mirror Press

This anthology features three novellas set in the Georgian era.

When Charlotte's grandmother invites her to accompany her to Norfolk, Charlotte jumps at the chance to visit the sea and escape the fuss surrounding her sister's wedding preparations in London. Lord William Cheston, on the other hand, is most unhappy when his mother informs him that her old friend and a granddaughter are coming to stay. Not only is it lambing season, but he's also dealing with the mysterious loss of several sheep. The last thing he needs is a child underfoot. When Charlotte and William first meet, he does not realize that the lovely young lady is the granddaughter in question, and she assumes that the man dressed in work clothes in the barn is a servant. Soon afterward, however, Charlotte stumbles upon a clue to William's sheep's disappearance, and when her life is placed in jeopardy, William is forced to choose between saving his unwanted houseguest and catching the thief.
LOVE OF MY HEART by Sarah M. Eden
Cordelia Wakefield has never lived anywhere but London and is not overly happy when her family is forced to retrench to a small estate near Teviotbrae, Scotland. An ill-fated game of battledore and shuttlecock brings her face-to-racquet with Sebastian, who runs the home farm at nearby Teviot Castle. What begins as a clash of personalities, expectations, and preferences, soon leads to a friendship neither had expected. As the magic of Teviotbrae weaves its spell, the possibility of something more than friendship begins to blossom. But what future is there for a lowly farmer and a London lady?
Martha Smith wants to marry for love, and will not be persuaded otherwise. She is highly sought after in Society for her beauty and status, but refuses to consider any suitor whose only claim is that his prospects meet with her mother's approval. Her widowed mother has had enough of Martha's romantic sensibilities, and is sending her to stay with unfortunate cousins in Wiltshire to show her that marrying for love is a risk that is too great. Benjamin Steele, Lord Hillier, is working on his new and dilapidated estate when he first catches sight of the striking Martha Smith. Becoming Lord Hillier has only brought him a house that needs significant repairs, tenant farms that had been abandoned, and only the money he'd already possessed. He wants meaning in his life, and he's more than willing to work for it. Though worlds apart in all else, on this point they can agree: a life of meaning would change everything.

 I really enjoyed each of these stories! As much as I love a story with a good ball or such, the country setting for these stories was perfect! I loved seeing the details of life in each story, from caring for lambs to dealing with an estate in poor condition. Each story had characters whom I immediately liked, people who felt real and who you'd want to be friends with. It was easy to cheer for them to each find their own happily-ever-afters. All three stories are very well written and engaging; I can't pick a favorite because they were all delightful. For the Audible version, I enjoyed the narrator's expressive reading. Wonderful collection! 

I read/listened to an copy provided by the author/publisher. All opinions are my own.

Friday, February 11, 2022

Jane and the Year Without a Summer Book Tour (excerpt only)

 Jane and the Year Without a Summer (Being a Jane Austen Mystery Book 14) \
By Stephanie Barron 
Published by Soho Press 
Blog Tour Dates: February 7-20, 2022 

May 1816: Jane Austen is feeling unwell, with an uneasy stomach, constant fatigue, rashes, fevers and aches. She attributes her poor condition to the stress of family burdens, which even the drafting of her latest manuscript—about a baronet's daughter nursing a broken heart for a daring naval captain—cannot alleviate. Her apothecary recommends a trial of the curative waters at Cheltenham Spa, in Gloucestershire. Jane decides to use some of the profits earned from her last novel, Emma, and treat herself to a period of rest and reflection at the spa, in the company of her sister, Cassandra. 
Cheltenham Spa hardly turns out to be the relaxing sojourn Jane and Cassandra envisaged, however. It is immediately obvious that other boarders at the guest house where the Misses Austen are staying have come to Cheltenham with stresses of their own—some of them deadly. But perhaps with Jane’s interference a terrible crime might be prevented. Set during the Year without a Summer, when the eruption of Mount Tambora in the South Pacific caused a volcanic winter that shrouded the entire planet for sixteen months, this fourteenth installment in Stephanie Barron’s critically acclaimed series brings a forgotten moment of Regency history to life. 

The intelligent reader of gossip-sheets and scandal-rags will be wondering, I am sure, why Cheltenham, and not the far more celebrated watering hole of Bath, has been our object. Were Cassandra and I as determinedly bent on pleasure as I took pains to suggest to my brothers, the concerts and card-parties of the far more ancient town, as well as the delights of the Abbey and the Pump Room, the shops of Pulteney and the paths of Sydney Gardens, must have been unrivaled by any attractions Cheltenham Spa may offer. The latter is to Bath what a heedless country maid is to a dowager; lacking in refinement and dignity, and prone to a good deal of untempered noise. 
And indeed, as we achieved the outskirts of the town late on Saturday, our carriage side-windows streaming with wet, Cassandra remarked on the differences from Bath: the crescents of new houses, girded with stone paving not yet mellowed by time; the raw mud splashed on foundations and walls; the fresh roadways branching from the High Street, where a once-modest village has in recent decades swelled to something greater. … 
But neither my sister nor I have any deep love for Bath, where we resided for some years. Bath must be forever associated in our minds with the loss of our home—and of Papa, too, as he passed from this life in our lodgings at Green Park Buildings. 
But I have another reason, one of considerable delicacy, for wishing to avoid the place; there is a widowed gentleman of my acquaintance presently residing there, in the company of his daughter, whom I hesitate to meet. 
Mr. Raphael West—who claims as parent the celebrated artist, Mr. Benjamin West—is a valued acquaintance, tho’ our friendship is of recent formation. Possessed alike of an excellent understanding and a distinguished countenance, he is fully capable of engaging any woman’s heart. At the mere thought of him now, I felt a warmth steal over my frame and my pulse quicken—a sharp longing for his gaze that felt as deep as hunger. But it would not do; I closed my eyes and resolved that it would not do. 
 When I was last in his company… Mr. West earnestly informed me of his intent to visit Bath, and his hope that I might do the same. There was that in his looks and manner that suggested I was dear to him—that our friendship was viewed on his side, at least, as capable of something more. But the sad events of this winter, the collective misfortunes of my brothers, and my dubious health, for a period of months put travel beyond my power. 
Moreover, the lowering weeks of relentless rain, confining me within-doors, and the oppression of my own thoughts, urged me to confront certain truths: I am over forty years of age. My mother, my beloved sister, and our companion Martha Lloyd look to me for support in our collective household, where the modest earnings of my pen contribute greatly to the comforts of each. With every financial calamity gathering over Chawton Cottage and its defenceless inhabitants this year, the mite of income I supply is surety against future want. Could I be so selfish as to run away to Bath and the attractions of Mr. West’s society, abandoning duty and the claims of those who rely upon me?
I cannot. 
And a glance in the mirror confirms what my flagging energy and vanished appetite already apprehend: the few charms remaining to my person are swiftly waning under the influence of ill-health. My countenance is sallow and dull, my eyes shadowed, my cheeks gaunt. I feel the jut of my hip bones with gloved fingers through the cambric of my traveling gown. 
I should be ashamed for Raphael West to see me as I now am. Indeed, my lips compress with mortification when I consider the picture: a hag-ridden spinster descending upon Bath, to parade the Pump Room in hopes of a chance encounter with the darkly handsome Mr. West. The gentleman, at first surprized and distressed, recovering to lift his hat and offer an introduction to his daughter—only to move on in a matter of moments, with the words, “Poor creature! She is sadly altered since I saw her last!” 
Chapter 4, pages 26-28

 Advance Praise:
“Outstanding...Barron fans will hope Jane, who died in 1817, will be back for one more mystery.”— Publishers Weekly (starred review) 

 “No one conjures Austen's voice like Stephanie Barron, and Jane and the Year Without a Summer is utterly pitch-perfect.”— Deanna Raybourn, bestselling author of the Veronica Speedwell Mysteries 

“…a page-turning story, imbued with fascinating historical detail, a cast of beautifully realized characters, a pitch-perfect Jane Austen, and an intriguing mystery. Highly recommended.”— Syrie James, bestselling author of The Missing Manuscript of Jane Austen 

“Jane and the Year Without a Summer is absolute perfection. Stephanie Barron expertly weaves fact and fiction, crafting a story that is authentically Austen in its elegance, charm, and wit. The characters and setting will enchant you, and the mystery will keep you guessing to the last page. This Regency-set gem is truly a diamond of the first water.”— Mimi Matthews, USA Today bestselling author of The Siren of Sussex

Purchase Links: 

About the Author: 
Francine Mathews was born in Binghamton, New York, the last of six girls. She attended Princeton and Stanford Universities, where she studied history, before going on to work as an intelligence analyst at the CIA. She wrote her first book in 1992 and left the Agency a year later. Since then, she has written twenty-five books, including five novels in the Merry Folger series (Death in the Off-Season, Death in Rough Water, Death in a Mood Indigo, Death in a Cold Hard Light, and Death on Nantucket) as well as the nationally bestselling Being a Jane Austen mystery series, which she writes under the penname, Stephanie Barron. She lives and works in Denver, Colorado.

Saturday, February 5, 2022

Until Leaves Fall in Paris by Sarah Sundin


Until Leaves Fall in Paris 
By Sarah Sundin 
Published by Revell Books 

As the Nazis march toward Paris in 1940, American ballerina Lucie Girard buys her favorite English-language bookstore to allow the Jewish owners to escape. Lucie struggles to run Green Leaf Books due to oppressive German laws and harsh conditions, but she finds a way to aid the resistance by passing secret messages between the pages of her books. 
Widower Paul Aubrey wants nothing more than to return to the States with his little girl, but the US Army convinces him to keep his factory running and obtain military information from his German customers. As the war rages on, Paul offers his own resistance by sabotaging his product and hiding British airmen in his factory. After they meet in the bookstore, Paul and Lucie are drawn to each other, but she rejects him when she discovers he sells to the Germans. And for Paul to win her trust would mean betraying his mission. 
Review: This book was fabulous from start to finish! I was hooked from the very beginning, and my interest never waned; I was just captivated by everything, from the terrific characters to the plot to the historical details. Everything about it just drew me in! I really liked seeing the contrast between serious, business-minded Paul and artsy, creative Lucie and how they complimented each other. I adored sweet Josie and her stories. I am not a book-crier--I just don't cry when reading books very often at all--but this one got me! I was just invested in the story and the characters who felt so real. This book is easily one of my picks for the best books of 2022 and the one I've enjoyed most so far this year. 
5 stars.
I read an ARC provided by the publisher via NetGalley. All opinions are my own.