Book Review: Autumn Skies by Denise Hunter

The third and final novel in the Bluebell Inn series, Autumn Skies is an absolutely wonderful conclusion to a beautifully written contemporary family saga. Three siblings renovate and run the Bluebell Inn to commemorate their parents, each novel devoting itself to one love story at a time. My review of the first title, Lake Season, can be found here.

Continuing the family story while tying up the loose ends as the Bennetts look to the future, we encounter Grace’s romance in this last installment. Engaging and heartwarming, Denise Hunter knows her audience and creates dynamic characters that you love. There is an innocence or winsomeness to Hunter’s writing that is appealing, and yet her characters and storylines have a depth to them – scars and doubts and obstacles that all must be dealt with for any healthy relationships to occur – especially as truths are exposed that make heartache a very real possibility. Set in a picturesque small town that you’ll want to visit, this is another winner for Ms. Hunter, I’m sure.

Released October 20th, you should be able to find this title at your favourite local bookseller or through the usual online distributors. If not – request it and the other titles in the series and find a quiet spot to get lost in their charm!

My thanks to the publisher for the complimentary copy of this title via NetGalley.
Opinions expressed are entirely my own.

Publication Date: October 20, 2020
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
ISBN: 9780785222804



Book Review: Take The Lead by Shelley Shepard Gray

Readers familiar with Shelley Shepard Gray may know she’s a top notch writer when it comes to inspirational contemporary fiction set among the Amish.  I will admit that while no doubt well-written, those novels appeal to a very niche market and just aren’t for me.  When I was first introduced to the Bridgeport Social Club series, I quickly realised that I was guilty of pigeonholeing the author without cause.  Her contemporary women’s fiction is enjoyable reading.  If you’re familiar with Bridgeport, some of the characters and landmarks in The Dance With Me series will seem recognizable. 

I read the first title, Shall We Dance, in fall of 2019 and gave it a warm review.  Last month, I eagerly read an advanced readers copy of the second title in the series, Take The Lead, and was not disappointed in the least.  It continued along familiar lines with charming characters and a heartwarming celebration of family. While part of a series, it could easily be read as a stand alone title.

Growing up in foster care, Officer Traci Lucky had a rough start to life, but things are looking up now that she’s found a place in Bridgeport with two sisters she never knew she had. One night while on the job Traci finds Gwen, a pregnant teen caught up in a dangerous world of drugs, and takes her straight to the hospital. There Traci encounters the oh-so-charming Dr. Matt Rossi, who surprises Traci with his compassion—and his movie-star good looks.

A busy ob-gyn with a huge, meddling Italian family, Matt Rossi hasn’t had much time for love in his life. All that changes when he meets the beautiful Officer Lucky. He’s intrigued by her strength and the kind heart she tries to hide beneath her tough exterior.

When Matt confides that he needs to learn to waltz for his brother’s wedding, Traci reveals that her sister happens to be a ballroom dance teacher. Next thing they know, Matt and Traci are juggling busy careers, helping young Gwen with her pregnancy and personal safety, and learning to waltz together. But when Gwen’s escalating problems threaten to put all of them in danger, they wonder if they’ll ever find time for a little romance too.

The characters are flawed but charismatic and, as a girl with absolutely no rhythm, I enjoy the beauty of how dance is portrayed. The chemistry is spot on as is the drama. The novel presents a complex balance of romance, peril, and emotion with an engaging, easy-to-read appeal. I look forward to the final book to see how the sisters continue on their path to happily ever after.

My thanks to the publisher for the complimentary copy via NetGalley.  Opinions expressed in this post are entirely my own.

Publication Date: September 8, 2020 Publisher: Blackstone Publishing ISBN: 9781982658557

Book Review: Acceptable Risk by Lynette Eason

Way, way back when the summer sun kissed our skin, the trees were green, and I wasn’t working (the beginning of August, to be exact), Revell released the second title in the Danger Never Sleeps Series by Lynette Eason. I read the first title, Collateral Damage, even earlier in the year and found it gripping – unfortunately, I don’t think I ever got around to a review.

When the newest title, Acceptable Risk, became available on NetGalley, I knew I needed to get my hands on a copy! Without giving away too much of the storyline, the series is lauded as {clean} romantic suspense. Each title is packed with intrigue, twists, turns, conspiracies, and cover ups that just keep coming – these are non-stop fast-paced works of fiction. Beyond that though, the character-work is superb. Flawed, courageous characters lead the charge for justice and truth and along the way, find some romance.

Sarah Denning is a military journalist with the Army in the Middle East when her convoy is attacked and she’s taken hostage. When former Army Ranger Gavin Black is asked by his old unit commander–Sarah’s imposing father–to plan an extremely risky rescue, he reluctantly agrees and successfully executes it.

Back in the US, Sarah is livid when she’s discharged on a false psychiatric evaluation and vows to return to the Army. Until she learns of her brother’s suicide. Unable to believe her brother would do such a thing, she puts her plans on hold and enlists Gavin to help her discover the truth. What they uncover may be the biggest story of Sarah’s career – if she can survive long enough to write it.

I’m not a big fan of military themed novels on the whole, for no other reason than it just isn’t my thing – but Eason creates such a fantastic fictional world with each page that you can’t help but be drawn into the drama and the mystery as it unfolds. The layers and risks of each step in the journey are balanced with easy to read dialogue, well-crafted backdrops, and heart-pounding action. The lead characters are complex and each have a rich history that entangles in a strong, gritty, emotional read dealing with difficult, but real, issues such as PTSD, suicide, family tragedy, and reconciliation. I can’t wait to dive into the next title in the series to see where the author takes us next. My recommendation is to get your hands on your own copy of each for yourself!

My thanks to the publisher for a complimentary ARC of this title via NetGalley. Opinions are my own.

Published By: Revell (Baker Publishing Group)
Publication Date: August 4, 2020
ISBN: 9780800729356

Our Hectic Mundane… and A Book Recommendation

It’s a quiet Friday morning in September – it was 3 degrees (Celsius) when I woke up and I can feel in my frozen toes that winter is coming.The boys have headed back to school, but like most people around here, that has meant nothing in terms of routine. As of today, we are officially on our specific schedules which still seems to involve a lot of juggling with varied timetables even though we opted (optimistically) for in person learning. My contract was reestablished and I headed back into the office on a scaled-back schedule.

While I have a few hours to myself (the oldest is only out of the house for 3 hours, every other day) on this dedicated “day off”, I sat down with a Tetley gingerbread tea latte (featuring a combo almond/coconut milk and oat milk froth because I’m eliminating reducing dairy) and realized I have a to-do list, yes, but nowhere and nothing that NEED to be done. If I want to sit in my pajamas all day and read, well, I could do that – guilt-free. (I won’t though, because I don’t think that’s what my body needs today. Yesterday, yes – I worked, I napped, I ate (ugh) cup-o-soup for dinner instead of the veggie stir fry I prepared because I wasn’t feeling up to anything. Not all days are a success on this journey.)

I have been scaling back on my NetGalley reads – the to-be read list is still ridiculously long, but so is my pile of books I’ve actually invested in. I most recently picked up The Beekeeper of Aleppo by Christy Lefteri from the fabulous Blue Heron Books in Uxbridge. (It’s one of my favourite independent bookstores – probably my favourite locally!) I’ve been tip-toeing my way through this title because I’m feeling book burnout. It’s an unfortunate state of being. So instead of reading what I “need” to – as I felt I was sometimes missing the pleasure of the read and therefore, perhaps unconsciously skewing my reviews – I opted to read something that grabbed me in the moment.

The Wikipedia summary of this title blandly states: The Beekeeper of Aleppo is a 2019 novel by Christy Lefteri. It deals with the flight of refugees from Aleppo in Syria to Europe during the Syrian Civil War. While a work of fiction, it is based on the author’s experience over two summers volunteering in Athens at a refugee center.

What Wikipedia fails to mention is the passion, heartache, and beauty that has gone into this work. I don’t have a full review for you – I’m only half-way through, but I would, based on reading to date, recommend this title to anyone and everyone. It’s captivating and moving and almost too much for me to read in a binge session. It’s heavy-weighted and I need air in between passages at times, but it’s beautiful. Perhaps my view is a little slanted because as I read, I can’t help but relate the carefully crafted words to the experiences those of my own limited acquaintance have encountered as they lived the plight of the refugee.

So today, I leave you with that recommendation and quick glimpse into our current life. Myself? Well while the dishwasher runs, my toes warm under a blanket on the couch, and the kittens (yes, we adopted two kittens this summer) run amok through the house, I will take a few breaths, enjoy my few hours of freedom, find joy in the sunshine, and peace in our special hectic mundane (which may or may not involve unclogging a shower drain – oh the glamour!)

Book Review: Of Literature & Lattes by Katherine Reay

In a follow up to The Printed Letter Bookshop (reviewed here), comes Katherine Reay’s new release, Of Literature & Lattes. I’m part of a Facebook group that Reay is one of the moderators on and I read A LOT of praise for this title prior to getting my hands on a copy. In full disclosure, I started the draft of this review a couple months ago and just found it dusty and with not much more than the opening sentences. Whoops!

What I remember of this title is that it was worth a blog post – it was sweet with small town charm, a cast of endearing supporting characters, and a heartwarming romance. It was easy to read as a stand alone title, but has some familiarity for those who read The Printed Letter Bookshop. Reay creates an easy-to-read enjoyable “everyday” novel – not that it’s mundane, but the plot lines aren’t completely unbelievable and us normal folk can often relate to the struggles and challenges the characters face. Overall, I’d recommend this one. It’s a cozy, slow paced, easy read that’ll leave you with a happy sigh by the final chapter – second chances for the win!

My thanks to Thomas Nelson for a complimentary copy of this title that I received via NetGalley. It was published May 12, 2020 and should be available from your favourite bookseller!

Blog Tour & Book Review: Sister Dear by Hannah Mary McKinnon

I’ve really been enjoying thrillers lately – something about trying to figure things out while biting my nails in anticipation and sitting on the edge of my seat only to be blindsided has really worked as an escape mechanism. Plus, there’s usually a whole lot of mess in a thriller, which leaves me feeling happily complacent with my mundane and normal life – no skeletons falling out of closets, figuratively or literally. When I read the blurb for Sister Dear by Hannah Mary McKinnon I thought it fit the bill perfectly, being touted as a psychological thriller. With the author being a fellow Ontario resident, I couldn’t pass it up.

From the Publisher:
In Hannah Mary McKinnon’s psychological thriller, SISTER DEAR (MIRA Trade; May 26, 2020; $17.99), the obsession of Single White Female meets the insidiousness of You, in a twisted fable about the ease of letting in those who wish us harm, and that mistake’s dire consequences.

The day he dies, Eleanor Hardwicke discovers her father – the only person who has ever loved her – is not her father. Instead, her biological father is a wealthy Portland businessman who wants nothing to do with her and to continue his life as if she doesn’t exist. That isn’t going to work for Eleanor.

Eleanor decides to settle the score. So, she befriends his daughter Victoria, her perfect, beautiful, carefree half-sister who has gotten all of life’s advantages while Eleanor has gotten none.

As she grows closer to Victoria, Eleanor’s obsession begins to deepen. Maybe she can have the life she wants, Victoria’s life, if only she can get close enough. 

My Thoughts:
As you first dive into this title, it feels a bit depressing – there’s a lot of drama, wallowing, and a bleakness that doesn’t lend you to actually like Eleanor at first, despite the hard knocks she’s been handed, although you do pity her to some degree. The thriller element is a bit of a slow burn – there’s a build up to it and then *BAM*, it’ll hit you out of nowhere, cut you off, slam you into a wall, and you’ll seriously wonder where the heck it came from. You may grow apathetic during the build up and that’s where it will catch you off guard. This aspect alone was truly worth the wait.

This novel had dysfunction, some adult themes, but you won’t be able to help yourself from getting sucked into the characters’ issues despite your initial dislike and eventually you’ll be rooting for them. It’s not a fast paced read, so I did miss that edge-of-the-seat feeling I often look for in a thriller, but again, that’s where I was blindsided so it worked. It feels a lot like women’s fiction throughout the novel – relationships, family issues, etc. with a dose of feel good thrown in – and that curve ball out of left field comes sailing in and you realise it may not having the happy ending you anticipated. I leave you with this – I enjoyed this novel and felt a little sucker-punched with the twist. Well done, McKinnon, well done.

About the Author:
Hannah Mary McKinnon was born in the UK, grew up in Switzerland and moved to Canada in 2010. After a successful career in recruitment, she quit the corporate world in favor of writing, and is now the author of The Neighbors and Her Secret Son. She lives in Oakville, Ontario, with her husband and three sons, and is delighted by her twenty-second commute.

Social Links:

SISTER DEAR
Author: Hannah Mary McKinnon
ISBN: 9780778309550
Publication Date: May 26, 2020
Publisher: MIRA Books

Buy Links: 

Blog Tour & Book Review: The Summer Set by Aimee Agresti












A few years ago we had plans to take a road trip to the Berkshires. Instead, an incredible deal on a vacation rental led us to Cape Cod instead. Massachusetts does something for this Canadian girl who appreciates the rich history, varied landscapes, and wicked accents. I’d go back and explore a different part of that State every summer if I could, and one day, we’ll find ourselves deep in the Berkshires. When I saw that Aimee Agresti’s newly released title, The Summer Set, was set in one of the places my heart longs to explore, and I was asked if I’d like to read and review it, I was in!

FROM THE PUBLISHER:
With a setting inspired by the real-life Williamstown Theatre Festival in the Berkshires where stars like Bradley Cooper, Gwyneth Paltrow, Lauren Graham, and Chris Pine have performed, THE SUMMER SET (Graydon House Books; May 12; $17.99) is a salacious rom-com, beach read perfect for Broadway nerds and Hollywood gossips alike.

Charlie Savoy was once Hollywood’s hottest A-lister. Now, ten years later, she’s pushing forty, exiled from the film world back at the summer Shakespeare theater in the Berkshires that launched her career—and where her first love, Nick, is the artistic director.

It’s not exactly her first choice. But as parts are cast and rehearsals begin, Charlie is surprised to find herself thriving: bonding with celebrity actors, forging unexpected new friendships, and even reigniting her spark with Nick despite their complicated history.

Until Charlie’s old rival, Hollywood’s current “It Girl,” is brought on set, threatening to undo everything she’s been working towards. As the drama amps up both on the stage and behind the curtains, Charlie must put on one heck of a show to fight for the second chance she deserves in her career and in love.

MY THOUGHTS:
In all honesty, I was blinded by the setting and missed the descriptors like “salacious”, “Broadway nerds” and “Hollywood gossips.” I’m more small-town, feel-good, bit of mystery, hopeless-romantic kind of girl. I’d rather pick up a home and garden magazine than a gossip rag. I couldn’t tell you anything about the latest romantic entanglements on and off screen because I frankly don’t care. Self-proclaimed gossip mavens and theatre buffs and those who enjoy steamy scandal will absolutely love this book – because it’s not bad, it just wasn’t quite my cup of tea. (Although that cover makes me really, really happy!)

That being said, this story is told with a cast of dynamic characters (that you may love or hate at any given moment) in a beautiful setting. The writing is evocative – I could picture every building and feel the refreshing coldness of the lake and hear the laughter and glasses tinkling in the local bar. The pacing is excellent and easy to read. There’s drama, young love, second chances, betrayal, scandal, and more – plus behind-the-scene glimpses into the glamorous and not-so-glamorous world of acting.

Know going in that it’s not all hearts and roses. It’s got some tawdry elements and coarse language that some readers may object to. Final consensus: I enjoyed the young romance, I enjoyed the triumph of the theatre being revived, and I’m glad that two hearts got a successful second chance at true love. (Plus, that cover….) I still want to make a summer escape to the Berkshires.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Aimee Agresti is the author of Campaign Widows and The Gilded Wings trilogy for young adults. A former staff writer for Us Weekly, she penned the magazine’s coffee table book Inside Hollywood. Aimee’s work has also appeared in People, Premiere, DC magazine, Capitol File, the Washington Post, Washingtonian, the Washington City Paper, Boston magazine, Women’s Health and the New York Observer, and she has made countless TV and radio appearances, dishing about celebrities on the likes of Access Hollywood, Entertainment Tonight, E!, The Insider, Extra, VH1, MSNBC, Fox News Channel and HLN. Aimee graduated from Northwestern University with a degree in journalism and lives with her husband and two sons in the Washington, DC, area.

WHERE TO PURCHASE:

ISBN: 9781525823589
Publication Date: May 12, 2020
Publisher: Graydon House Books

Buy Links: 
Harlequin 
Barnes & Noble
Amazon
Books-A-Million
Powell’s

Social Links:
Author Website
Twitter: @AimeeAgresti
Instagram: @aimeeagresti
Facebook: @AimeeAgrestiAuthor
Goodreads

Book Review: Before I Called You Mine by Nicole Deese

Every once in a while you’ll find yourself lucky enough to pick up a book that speaks to your very soul in heartrending yet remarkable ways. Before I Called You Mine by Nicole Deese was such a book for me. I started to read it before bed a few nights ago without re-reading the summary and had totally forgotten what it was about. I selected it because the cover led me to mistakenly think it would be an easy, breezy read. I was so far mistaken that I read well into the early hours of the morning, caught half a night’s sleep, and then dove right in again as soon as my other responsibilities were taken care of because it tied a string around my heart and roped me in until the very last page. It was a fend for yourself, kids, type of day.

As for the easy, breezy I was only half right. It was such an easy book to read, but it gripped me too – I cried more than once at the tenuous tightrope of desires that Lauren, the lead, found herself trying to balance on while trying to honour a commitment to her future child while trying to suss out the right choices in life. There was nothing breezy in the subject matter despite the at first glance, lighthearted appeal of the potential romantic interest, Joshua, and the author’s picturesque humourous situations.

Deese did a wonderful job of painting a not-always-rosy picture of the process of adoption and even issues post-adoption, but she also did a wonderful job of infusing the story with a beautiful yearning and deep heart felt love. She broached family dysfunction and forgiveness, loss, grief, acceptance, faith, trust, hope, healing, complications, connection, commitments, and so much more in this touching, emotional read. This inspirational title was poignant and complex and absolutely splendid all the same.

My thanks to Bethany House for providing me with a complimentary copy of this title via NetGalley. Opinions expressed are my own.

Published By: Bethany House
Publication Date: March 31, 2020

Blog Tour: The Secrets of Love Story Bridge by Phaedra Patrick

I’m excited to be sharing my thoughts amidst a bevy of select readers celebrating the recent release of Phaedra Patrick’s charming new book, The Secrets of Love Story Bridge, which hit shelves on April 28th!

From the Publisher:

Fredrik Backman meets The Cactus in THE SECRETS OF LOVE STORY BRIDGE (Park Row Books; April 28, 2020; $25.99 US/$32.50 CAN), in which a cynical single father has a surprise encounter on the famous love lock bridge, sparking a journey of self-discovery that may lead him to a second chance at love.

Single father Mitchell Fisher hates all things romance. He enjoys his job removing padlocks fastened to the famous “love lock” bridges of Upchester city. Only his young daughter, Poppy, knows that behind his disciplined veneer, Mitchell grieves the loss of her mother, Anita.

One fateful day, working on the bridge, Mitchell courageously rescues a woman who falls into the river. He’s surprised to feel a connection to her, but the woman disappears before he learns her name. To Mitchell’s shock, a video of the rescue goes viral, hailing him as “The Hero on the Bridge.” He’s soon notified by the mysterious woman’s sister, Liza, that she has been missing for over a year. However, the only clue to where the woman could have gone is the engraved padlock she left on the bridge.

Mitchell finds himself swept up in Liza’s quest to find her lost sister. Along the way, with help from a sparkling cast of characters, Mitchell’s heart gradually unlocks, and he discovers new beginnings can be found in the unlikeliest places…

My Thoughts:

From the very first page you’ll be invested. Phaedra Patrick weaves a remarkable story that will keep you engaged page after page. From the mystery of the woman in the yellow dress to the juggling act of parenthood after loss, she brings to life in moving way a very complicated tale. Strong notes of grief and sorrow prevail throughout the novel, but are balanced with humour, hope, and healing. Our characters make mistakes – oh so many mistakes – but they also come to realise that in life and in love there is no such thing as perfection.

I did find all the story threads a little distracting at times and the mystery, when revealed, a little ridiculous – a bit too much of a hot mess for my liking… but, I still read the majority of this title in a single session and stayed up way past my bed time because I didn’t want to put it down. We will take a lesson from the author and recognize that something can be fantastic and wonderful without being perfect. Overall, it was highly enjoyable (even though it made me cry!) – not as a light read, but as a heartwarming tale of making it through, scars and all, and the joy of finding those who help us grow and thrive. It’s charming, completely feel-good, and even a little bizarre.

My thanks to the publisher, Park Row (MIRA |Harlequin | Harper Collins), for providing a complimentary copy of this title to read and review. You can purchase for yourself through any of the links below or your favourite local bookseller.

THE SECRETS OF LOVE STORY BRIDGE
Author: Phaedra Patrick
ISBN: 9780778309789
Publication Date: April 28, 2020
Publisher: Park Row Books

Buy Links: 
Harlequin 
Barnes & Noble
Amazon
Amazon.ca
Books-A-Million
Powell’s

Phaedra Patrick is the author of The Library of Lost and Found, Rise and Shine, Benedict Stone and The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper, which has been published in over twenty countries around the world. She studied art and marketing, and has worked as a stained-glass artist, film festival organizer and communications manager. An award-winning short story writer, she now writes full-time. She lives in Saddleworth, UK, with her husband and son.

Social Links:

Author Website
Twitter: @PhaedraPatrick
Instagram: @PhaedraPatrick
Facebook: @PhaedraPatrick
Goodreads

Blog Tour & Book Review: The Heirloom Garden by Viola Shipman

While we enjoyed a few days of mild weather at the end of February – well before our days of self-isolation – I itched to get my hands dirty (an urge that generally passes by July.) I had to console myself with the slow-paced delights of The Heirloom Garden by Viola Shipman (which, by the way, I discovered is a nom de pleume the same time I finished the book.

FROM THE PUBLISHER:

In this heartwarming and feel-good novel filled with echoes of Dorothea Benton Frank, Debbie Macomber and Elizabeth Berg, two women separated by a generation but equally scarred by war find hope, meaning – and each other – through a garden of heirloom flowers.

Iris Maynard lost her husband in World War II, her daughter to loneliness and, finally, her reason to live. Walled off from the world for decades behind a towering fence surrounding her home and gardens, the former botanist has built a new family…of flowers. Iris propagates her own daylilies and roses while tending to an heirloom garden filled with starts – and memories – of her own mother, grandmother, husband and daughter.

When Abby Peterson moves to Grand Haven, Michigan, with her family – a husband traumatized during his service in the Iraq War and a young daughter searching for stability – they find themselves next door to Iris, and are slowly drawn into her reclusive neighbour’s life where, united by loss and a love of flowers, Iris and Abby slowly unearth their secrets to each other. Eventually, the two teach one another that the earth grounds us all, gardens are a grand healer, and as flowers bloom so do our hopes and dreams.

MY THOUGHTS:

While I am, self-admittedly, an emotional reader, this sweet and poignant story pulled each of my heartstrings. Shipman paints a vivid picture of glorious garden splendor, damaged souls, and the healing power of friendship. Scars of war effect a family and a neighbor as they come to grips with new normals and build foundations for a happier future.

Picturesque descriptions of flora, strong female leads, and a fantastic setting (hello, Great Lakes Michigan resort town!) will have you craving cottages, sand dunes, and friends with old souls. The Heirloom Garden flips between eras and character perspective, providing a beautiful depiction of strength and hope through inter-generational storytelling with an emphasis on treasuring memories and heirlooms through love and loss. A remarkably emotion-evoking read that will inspire you to plan a family vacation to Grand Haven.

Thanks to the publisher for providing a complimentary Advanced Readers Copy through NetGalley. All opinions expressed are my own. This post was created as part of the Harlequin 2020 Spring Reads Blog Tour.

Published by HARLEQUIN – Trade Publishing (U.S. & Canada), Graydon House Imprint.

Publication Date: April 28, 2020

You’ll be able to purchase direct from the publisher, from your favourite local bookseller, or any major retailer where books are sold.

SOCIAL LINKS:
Author Website: https://www.violashipman.com/
TWITTER: @viola_shipman
FB: @authorviolashipman
Insta: @viola_shipman
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/14056193.Viola_Shipman