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



Harlequin 2020 Fall Reads Blog Tour – Women’s Fiction & Romance – Rescue You by Elysia Whisler

There’s something about reading in fall – maybe it’s the opportunity to get really cozy with a warm blanket and a hot drink while immersing yourself in an even cozier read. If you follow the publishing industry at all, you’ll know there’s some highly anticipated books hitting the market this time of year. One of those titles, Elysia Whisler’s Rescue You, is being released next week (October 27, to be exact.) My thanks to the team at Harlequin Trade Publishing for providing an advanced readers copy for review as part of the 2020 Fall Reads Blog Tour featuring Women’s Fiction & Romance.

FROM THE PUBLISHER:

She needs a fresh start. He’s got scars that haven’t healed. With the help of some rescue dogs, they’ll discover that everyone deserves a chance at happiness.

After a year of heartbreak and loss, the only thing keeping Constance afloat is the dog rescue she works at with her sister, Sunny. Desperate for a change, Constance impulsively joins a new gym, even though it seems impossibly hard, and despite the gym’s prickly owner.

Rhett Santos keeps his gym as a refuge for his former-military brothers and to sweat out his own issues. He’s ready to let the funny redhead join, but unprepared for the way she wiggles past his hard-won defenses.

When their dog rescue is threatened, the sisters fight to protect it. And they need all the help
they can get. As Rhett and Constance slowly open up to each other, they’ll find that no one is
past rescuing; what they need is the right person—or dog—to save them.

MY THOUGHTS:

This title was really immersive, as in, I’m more of a cuddle on the couch type of person than a let’s get sweaty and run 5 miles before we bench-press our bodyweight type of person, but I found myself wanting to hit the nearest CrossFit facility after stopping at the local animal shelter to adopt a puppy. The author brought her environment to life in an engaging and appealing way.

The characters were smashing* in a kick-butt, no nonsense regard. Constance was sweet and sassy, strong and protective – a down-to-earth woman with a very low tolerance for bull from anyone. Rhett is damaged but kind and also, ridiculously fit. I particularly appreciated some of Constance’s realizations regarding her own self-image, workouts, etc. She needed some healing and I think she found that. Beyond that, the story has layers – the primary heartwarming love story, the sisters’ relationship, a dog rescue, and a secondary romance. All the layers mesh together to create this easy-to-read, give-you-all-the-feels, about-what-you’d-expect contemporary romantic women’s fiction. It wasn’t anything spectacularly “out there”, but was warm, stirring, engaging – exactly what you want for a fall weekend read. (*I didn’t know what word to use here… use your imagination.)

Reader discretion advised for occasional language and not-graphic adult scenes (that you can definitely skip over if you choose.) While I enjoyed the novel, I wouldn’t be comfortable lending it to a 12 year old.

Watch for this title to hit all your favourite retailers next Tuesday! Available from the usual spots online for preorder or ask your local bookseller to bring it in.

RESCUE YOU
Author: Elysia Whisler
ISBN: 9780778310082
Publication Date: October 27, 2020
Publisher: MIRA Books

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

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: The Friendship List by Susan Mallery

Susan Mallery is one of my go-to authors when it comes to contemporary women’s fiction with a dash of steamy romance, quirky humour, and lots of heart. I wasn’t about to let the opportunity to participate in the Harlequin blog tour with fellow booklovers slip me by as Mallery’s newest release, The Friendship List, hit shelves yesterday.

From the Publisher:

Already a worldwide success in mass market and trade paperback formats, Susan Mallery’s newest hardcover is an emotional, witty, and heartfelt story about two best friends who are determined to help one another shake things up and live life to the fullest…only to discover that possibilities are everywhere–especially in the most unexpected of places.

Ellen and Unity have been best friends basically since birth, but they couldn’t be more different. Unity married her childhood sweetheart just after high school and became an Army wife, moving from base to base…until her husband’s shocking death in the line of duty leaves her a widow. Grief-stricken, it’s time for Unity to come back home to Ellen—the only person she can trust to help her rebuild her life. But Ellen has troubles of her own. Boys never seemed to notice Ellen…until one got her pregnant in high school and disappeared. Her son is now 17 and she’s wondering what to do with herself now that he’s heading off to college and he’s literally her entire world.

But now that Ellen and Unity are reunited, they’re done with their stale lives. It’s time to shake things up and start living again, knowing that they’ll always have one another to lean on. So they create a list of challenges they have to accomplish–everything from getting a tattoo to skydiving to staying out all night. And whoever completes the most challenges is the winner. But with new adventures and love just around the corner, there’s no such thing as losing…

My Thoughts:

Full of Mallery’s quirky humour and the strong bonds of friendships, this was a book that celebrated self-awareness, growth, and romance. The characters are quirky and real and the novel has a cadence that carries you from start to finish in a blink of an eye. While it wasn’t my favourite title by Ms. Mallery (her Fool’s Gold series has a few books to hold that honour), it was an easy-to-read contemporary story that will make you value your friends and want to try new things for yourself. You may find yourself wiping away a tear or two, groaning in frustration, or laughing out loud! You’ll be pulled in cover to cover and the ending will leave you feeling pretty content!

I was provided with a complimentary title via the publisher to download via NetGalley. I’ll leave my standard content warning for adult situations – reader discretion advised.

About the Author:

SUSAN MALLERY is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of novels about the relationships that define women’s lives—family, friendship and romance. Library Journal says, “Mallery is the master of blending emotionally believable characters in realistic situations,” and readers seem to agree—forty million copies of her books have been sold worldwide. Her warm, humorous stories make the world a happier place to live.

Susan grew up in California and now lives in Seattle with her husband. She’s passionate about animal welfare, especially that of the two Ragdoll cats and adorable poodle who think of her as Mom.

Buy Links:

Check your favourite bookseller or buy online.

The Friendship List: A Novel 
Susan Mallery
On Sale Date: August 4, 2020
ISBN 9781335136961, 1335136967
Hardcover
$26.99 USD, $33.50 CAD
Fiction / Romance / Contemporary 
384 pages

Book Review: The Guardian of Lies by Kate Furnivall

I’ve been *gasp* in a bit of a reading slump lately. There’s been so many things on my to-do list to tackle and when I’ve sat down to read, it’s been hard to ignore the little voice whispering “get up and do things…” So I’ve been a bit more productive lately, but my to-read pile continues to grow. Fortunately, I actually picked up this title months ago and have been eagerly waiting to share my thoughts. I do think it was enticing enough that those niggles of guilt would have been quieted long enough to even read it this week.

The Guardian of Lies is the second title I’ve read by Kate Furnivall. My first experience with her work was The Survivors – a gritty and gripping historical novel – that I reviewed previously. Not as gritty as her previous title, I found The Guardian of Lies to be just as engaging with twists and turns as the heroine finds herself questioning the allegiance of neighbours and family loyalties in Cold War-era France. This title is rife with danger, intrigue, secrets, and betrayal – who can you trust, where can you turn – and a bit of romance to balance the scales.

A fast-paced read, this is not the typical era I indulge in with my historical fiction picks. I wasn’t familiar with many of the incidents or significance of some of the references, but it wasn’t difficult to be immersed in the events or to feel the gravity of the tensions conveyed. It was an atmospheric and captivating novel from start to finish. It opens with heart-pounding action from the very first chapter and finishes along the same veins. The dark and shadowy world of espionage will have you questioning and doubting and surprised at some of the outcomes. Definitely a gripping page-turner that’ll keep you hooked with a well-thought out plot and remarkable characters!

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

Published by: Simon & Schuster Canada
Publication Date: July 2019

Book Review: The Invincible Summer of Juniper Jones by Daven McQueen

Today is Juneteenth. What is Juneteenth, you ask? Good question. I’m a 38 year old Caucasian women of Dutch descent and just heard about Juneteenth on social media this week. 38. Years. Old. and I knew nothing about a holiday that reflects on an important aspect of Black history, when Union Soldiers arrived in Texas with the news that the war had ended and that the enslaved were now free. I probably can’t do justice in explaining all the details of significance, so I’m going to tell you to Google (or, click here) and then ponder what it would be like to find out you were emancipated 2 1/2 years before you were told. Two. and. a. half. years. I’ll never clearly be able to understand or relate. Lord knows, we’ve come a long way since then, but in all honesty, I don’t think we’ve come nearly far enough. There’s still a lot of hate and inequality in this world and that needs to change. We need to do better. We need love. We need hope. We need people to speak up and speak out and stand up for their friends and neighbours.

One of the most heartrendingly beautiful books I’ve ever read

This post isn’t actually a history lesson, or a conversation on civil rights, but a book review. Seriously. I requested “The Invincible Summer of Juniper Jones” more than three months ago. I downloaded the ARC in February. A few days ago, I decided Young Adult fiction might be the right tonic to get out of a reading slump as *sometimes* (but not always) YA fiction can be a little lighter or less complex. As this title was released this week, I thought I’d give it a go. I was mistaken in thinking it might be light (although there were shimmers of brightness throughout) or less complex. I’ll be purchasing the book for re-reads this weekend.

The novel throws you back to 1955, where you’ll land in small-town Alabama. The narrator is Ethan Harper, a biracial child who’s had some trouble at school and is sent to live with his white Aunt and Uncle in a community that is anything but tolerant. He’s befriended by the strange and lovable oddball title-character, Juniper Jones. Juniper has decided that the summer of ’55 will be the most epic ever, and doesn’t really give her new accomplice a choice but to join her, and their adventures are recounted in beautiful, immersive writing.

There is a lightness and hope that is weaved throughout their summer, but also a heaviness and complexity that comes with the illumination of racial tensions and the wrong-mindedness of the era. You cannot help but to fall in love with Juniper and feel a tenderhearted affection towards her. On the other hand, your heart will break for Ethan over and over again – you’ll want to draw him into a protective bubble and shelter him from the hatred he encounters while wanting to bash some sense into his adversaries. This book will swallow you whole, chew you up, spit you out, and leave you with big emotions to process, but it also brings to light some very unfortunate aspects of history, while balancing the strength and value of true friendship.

The author weaves some unexpected moments in and you’ll be gasping for air as you bawl your eyes out more than once. It’s one of the most heartrendingly beautiful books I’ve ever read. It’s recommended for 12 & up (grades 7 – 9) and the author, Daven McQueen, acknowledges that difficult subjects are broached and offensive terminology is used. While I would recommend it unabashedly, if you have a particularly sensitive tween/teen, you may want to read it first, and then use it as a platform for conversation afterwards. For myself, it was a 5 star read for sure and most definitely one of, if not my most, favourite books of 2020.

My thanks to the author and publisher for the complimentary title via NetGalley. All opinions expressed are my own.

Published by: Wattpad Books
Publication Date: June 16, 2020

Blog Tour & Book Review: Stranger in the Lake by Kimberly Belle

Soon to be released, Stranger in the Lake by Kimberly Belle jumped out at me when I was looking at my download options from the Harlequin 2020 Summer Reads Blog Tour – Mystery & Thriller list. It was not what I expected going in, and I mean that in a good way. Sometimes you read the book blurb and think you know exactly what you’re getting and this exceeded my expectations.

From the Publisher:
When Charlotte married the wealthy widower Paul, it caused a ripple of gossip in their small lakeside town. They have a charmed life together, despite the cruel whispers about her humble past and his first marriage. But everything starts to unravel when she discovers a young woman’s body floating in the exact same spot where Paul’s first wife tragically drowned.

At first, it seems like a horrific coincidence, but the stranger in the lake is no stranger. Charlotte saw Paul talking to her the day before, even though Paul tells the police he’s never met the woman. His lie exposes cracks in their fragile new marriage, cracks Charlotte is determined to keep from breaking them in two.

As Charlotte uncovers dark mysteries about the man she married, she doesn’t know what to trust—her heart, which knows Paul to be a good man, or her growing suspicion that there’s something he’s hiding in the water.

My Thoughts:
I had some serious trust issues with many of the characters. I really couldn’t quite get a handle on whether they were telling the truth throughout the dialogue. The pacing was excellent and most of the characters were appealing… until they were not. There were flashbacks that drew an interesting comparison between personalities as teens vs. who they grew up to be. I had niggling doubts (those trust issues, again) because I couldn’t determine who was lying and being true to their character.

The author did a wonderful job of conveying Charlotte’s thoughts, feelings, and perceptions. Her voice and the threads throughout the novel made me more and more curious throughout. There was a lot of convenient scenarios that had me arguing with myself about whether it was too convenient or just a matter of luck and I think that speaks well to the author keeping things muddy enough to keep the reader interested. Again, it was not a fast paced thriller, but it had me going “hmmmm…” more than once and through in some unforeseen twists and turns.

About the Author:
Kimberly Belle is the USA Today and internationally bestselling author of six novels, including the forthcoming Stranger in the Lake (June 2020). Her third novel, The Marriage Lie, was a semifinalist in the 2017 Goodreads Choice Awards for Best Mystery & Thriller, and a #1 e-book bestseller in the UK and Italy. She’s sold rights to her books in a dozen languages as well as film and television options. A graduate of Agnes Scott College, Belle divides her time between Atlanta and Amsterdam.

Social Links:

Buy Links:

Stranger in the Lake
Kimberly Belle
On Sale Date: June 9, 2020
9780778309819, 0778309819
Trade Paperback
$17.99 USD, $22.99 CAD
Fiction / Thrillers / Psychological
352 pages

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.

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

Buy Links: