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Montana Dreams–secrets within the family

Montana Dreams

by Anna J. Stewart

The five Harrison sisters were abandoned by their father, Thomas Blackwell, when the oldest, Peyton, was eight years old leaving a hole in her heart that could not be filled. For reasons to be discovered in Montana Dreams by Anna J. Stewart, Peyton, ostensibly close to her sisters, has kept the girls’ biological roots a secret. She is the only one aware that Rudy Harrison, their devoted father and a retired Navy admiral, is actually their step-father.

Their world is turned upside down by Big E, the girls’ grandfather they never knew existed; the discovery impacted none of the girls as much as it did Peyton who has tried to fill the hole in her heart with work. Because Peyton, a Vice President in the company she works for, has a stalker, her boss has hired Matteo as her bodyguard. Big E convinces the boss that his ranch in Montana is the safest place for Peyton to be.

In many romances that include childhood family issues as part of the conflict, the background of the main character figures predominantly into the plot. In Montana Dreams, however, both Peyton and Matteo have issues, past and current, that need to be brought to the forefront and dealt with. Their secrets are unwrapped with care, and their romance is depicted with ups and downs and highs and lows that keep the reader in anticipation of possible resolutions.

The devotion Matteo has for his understandably confused six year old son is heartwarming. Well integrated into the plot are characters you might have met in the Return of the Blackwell Brothers series. Although I would love to have had the characters from that first series have more interaction in this book, I realize that would not be possible within the scope of this novel. As it is, the plot is full of twists and turns. Each one of the books in The Blackwell Sisters focuses on a different sister as each meets her welcoming Blackwell cousins and their spouses and learns about the positive sides of Montana ranch living. They also acclimate to the idea that their mother and step-father had presented a false narrative of their family to them as children. Meanwhile, the subplot of their manipulating grandfather Big E plotting to reunite his Blackwell family while searching for Thomas Blackwell, his son and the girls’ father, with Rudy Harrison, the girl’s step-father, continues on with a little progress and more clues in each book.

I would like to extend my thanks to Anna J. Stewart and to Harlequin Heartwarming for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Romance

Notes:  #3 in The Blackwell Sisters series, but the author provides the necessary support if you want to read this clean, heartwarming romance as a standalone.

Publication:   October 1, 2020—Harlequin Heartwarming

Memorable Lines:

She scrunched her toes in her shoes, trying to keep a hold of whatever traction she had on her life.

The very idea of stepping foot on a ranch—any ranch, let alone an isolated one in the middle of Nowhere, Montana—shot Matteo straight back to a childhood that held zero appeal.

Somehow holding his son made the pain and loneliness from his own childhood fade to where it couldn’t hurt him anymore.

Rudy’s face split into a grin so wide Big E swore he saw his back molars.

Montana Wishes–romance in Montana

Montana Wishes

by Amy Vastine

Along comes another romance as the Harrison girls get slowly pulled back to their biological Blackwell roots and their Montana cowboy origins. In the first of the Blackwell Sisters series, Lily Harrison is a runaway bride who finds herself, a new vocational passion, and a handsome cowboy fiancée in Falcon Creek, Montana. 

In Montana Wishes, the second book in the series,  Lilly sends for her identical twin sister Amanda to help her plan a second wedding as well as move all her belongings to Montana. Amanda enlists her best friend Blake to help her make the drive. The timing could not be worse as Blake has just proposed to Nadia whom he has dated for only two months. Amanda is grieving the loss of her best friend, reeling from the impact of a medical decision, and angry about the intrusion into her life of a grandfather and a set of cousins she didn’t know she had. But, being Amanda, she steps up to the plate and tries to make everything right for everyone else. 

I like this book and its characters. Just as I thought the romantic situation was going to get stagnant, the author of Montana Wishes, Amy Vastine,  would throw in a twist or surprise that moved the plot forward and kept me turning pages. As we watch the interactions of Blake, Amanda, and Nadia, theoretical questions about love and friendship take on a personal meaning. 

Can men and women be best friends? 

Should you marry your best friend? 

Should your spouse be your best friend? 

There is also a question of the importance of fertility in a relationship. Although it is handled well, that issue may be an unintentional trigger for some readers. All in all, it is a fun read that segues into the third book in the series, Montana Dreams.

I would like to extend my thanks to Amy Vastine and to Harlequin Heartwarming for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Romance

Notes: 1. #2 in the Blackwell Sisters series, but could be read as a standalone as the author provides plenty of background information to bring the reader up to speed.

2. Clean and heartwarming romance

Publication:   September 8, 2020—Harlequin Heartwarming

Memorable Lines:

(Song lyrics): In the distance he sees what he never saw. Laughter ringing like wind chimes in a summer storm. Across rocky tipped horizons and cloudless skies. And just like that he knows…the sounds of home.

The worst thing in the world was disappointing Amanda. She was just so good. To the core. She did everything she could to do no harm, put others’ needs above her own and brighten the world around her. People like her were rare. When you were someone she loved, you wanted to be good, too.

“Just because we have a tiny bit of the same blood in our veins does not make us family. Family is the people you’ve created memories with, the people who have cared for you and let you care for them. It’s the people who are there for you when you need them…”

The Prayer Box–rebuilding after the storm

The Prayer Box

by Lisa Wingate

Decorated boxes and boxes of letters were stacked high in the closet of the old woman who had passed away. The letters told the story of a lifetime of racism, hardship, and misunderstanding contrasted with faith, generosity, and love. Tandi was at the end of her rope when she read these letters written by Iola to her Heavenly Father. They were a lifeline to this single mother trying to escape her past and build a new and better life in a tiny North Carolina coastal town where no one knew her or her dark secrets.

Befriended by kind townsfolk and absorbing the lessons of the letters, she learns how to trust others, herself, and God. The way is not easy, however, as she has always made poor relationship choices with men. She also needs to find a way to financially support herself and her children and establish a good mother-daughter relationship with a teenager who has been left in charge for much too long. Drug addiction born of a painful accident constitutes another hurdle for Tandi.

The sisterhood that welcomes Tandi at Sandy’s Seashell Shop is a delightful group of creative, caring, and wise women. Paul is an unlikely romantic interest, but extremely kind, likable, and reliable. Ross, Tandi’s boyfriend, is very self-centered and manipulative; he assigns Tandi’s children a low place on his metaphorical totem pole.  Tandi’s sister, Gina, shows up unexpectedly to do what she does best—stir up trouble. As we get to know all of these characters, we are also watching the character of Iola unfold through the letters in her prayer boxes.

There are forces who want to destroy Iola’s old Victorian home. Some investors in the area are looking at profiting financially. Other locals feel like Iola had no right to the house. No one is aware of Iola’s generosity. In the midst of her own troubles, Tandi makes it her mission to save the house and and honor Iola’s memory. This is a big undertaking, but Tandi is learning to rely on an even bigger God. 

Filled with images of water bubbling and flowing and lighthouses standing steadfast and firm, Lisa Wingate’s The Prayer Box tells a cross-generational tale. It is beautifully crafted both in the carefully selected words and in the plot that, through prayer letters of the past, weaves Tandi’s story with that of Iola; both are entrancing. This is a book I didn’t want to put aside to finish another I was reading. The Prayer Box won as I was quickly and thoroughly immersed in the plot, language, and characters.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Women’s Fiction, Romance, Christian

Notes: 1. This is the first book in the Carolina Heirlooms Collection which is a series of three books united by setting, not characters.

  2. The end of the book includes “A Note from the Author” and “Discussion Questions.”

Publication:   August 16, 2013—Tyndale

Memorable Lines:

He was wearing orange tennis shoes and red-flowered swim shorts, topped off with a lime-green Windbreaker with palm trees and lizards on it….All in all, he looked like he’d raided Jimmy Buffett’s closet and then gotten dressed in the dark.

It felt good to do something good for someone else. To add a few deep-fried droplets of kindness to the world. A little act of service. Is it possible that all service is worship? The words were still in my head.

After so many years of dysfunctional relationships that masqueraded as love, having someone offer real love and ask nothing for it in return was startling, sometimes too much to handle. I wasn’t sure I could trust it or was worthy of it.

James J. Cudney’s books on sale!!! Cozy mysteries and a thriller.

I have enjoyed all the cozy mysteries in Cudney’s Braxton Campus Mystery Series and want to share information about the great prices available for a limited time for different books in the series. To see his blog post about this sale and his works, follow this link. (There is also a thriller on sale, but I have not read it.)

Enjoy!!!

The Jerusalem Assassin–deadly peace proposal


The Jerusalem Assassin

by Joel C. Rosenberg

The Jerusalem AssassinNot every book is a good match for every reader. I think that may have been the case for me and Joel C. Rosenberg’s The Jerusalem Assassin which is a Christian political thriller. Most of this book is the setup for a very convoluted assassination plot involving groups of high level leaders and secret operatives from seven countries as well as a terrorist group.

It becomes apparent to world leaders that the president of the Palestinian Authority “doesn’t want to go down in history as the man who made peace. He wants to be remembered as the man who refused to surrender to the ‘criminal Zionists’…” In response, the leaders of the United States, Saudi Arabia, and Israel decide to meet on the Temple Mount and announce a peace proposal. Unfortunately, that opens the door for a targeted attack on the leaders of those countries.

Without the included Cast of Characters, I would have been lost. Instead, I was able to follow plot development by continual back and forth referencing of unfamiliar names, slowing the reading down considerably. I can’t say I actually enjoyed the book until the final fourth when the action played out.

The main character is Marcus Ryker who is ostensibly working for the Diplomatic Security Service, but is actually a special operative for the Central Intelligence Agency. Highly trained, efficient, and trusted, he uses his many connections to obtain critical information. He is a caring Christian, but his job puts him and those he loves in danger. I learned a lot about the daily physical and weapon training for agents and also the complicated logistics involved in setting up security for a U.S. president for a special event abroad.

Although the scenario of world conflict and years of attempts at a Middle East peace settlement are real, the details of the book’s plot and the people involved are fictional providing the author with much flexibility in creating his story. The results are deadly for many of the characters.

I would like to extend my thanks to NetGalley and to Tyndale House Publishers for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 3/5

Category: General Fiction (Adult), Mystery and Thriller

Notes: 1. #3 in the Marcus Ryker Series, but this book did not appear to rely on very much background from other books. 

  2. This author has written many books, both fiction and nonfiction, that focus on the Middle East.

Publication:   March 17, 2020—Tyndale House Publishers

Memorable Lines:

They were coming, and he knew they were coming, and he knew why—they were coming to kill him and to kill the president and to kill anyone else who got in their way. They were coming to settle scores.

…he and his son-in-law “must have undergone a Vulcan mind meld at some point, so unified are their views on theology and politics and even where in the Old City to buy the best baklava.”

Mahdi, the long-awaited Promised One…when that savior came, he would finally judge the Jews, the Christians, the atheists, the agnostics, and the pagans. Indeed, the Mahdi would judge every infidel and do so with fire and fury such as the world had never seen nor imagined.

Montana Welcome–runaway bride and a cowboy

Montana Welcome

by Melinda Curtis

Lily Harrison loves adventure, and she has had plenty of them since she met daredevil Danny Belmonte at the age of seven. They remain steadfast best friends through good times and bad, including long term damage to Lily’s hands. But is friendship enough to take them to the wedding altar?

It seems everyone in Melinda Curtis’ Montana Welcome wants to arrange Lily’s life for her, to take care of her, but Lily has to decide if that is what she really wants. Woven into a runaway bride story are threads of family relationships and secrets; “Big E” wants to get to know his newly discovered granddaughters, and Rudy Harrison wants to keep the daughters he raised. Connor, a handsome cowboy, with hangups and responsibilities, is tasked with getting Lily from California to the Blackwell Ranch in Montana. Connor and Lily, along with her new-found cousin Pepper and Pepper’s maid of honor Natalie, have thrills and laughs as they make the trek in a travel trailer in time for Pepper’s cowboy style wedding.

Montana Welcome will entertain you as you get to know these characters along with their motivations and quirks. It is a quick read that will leave you wanting more. This is not a deeply complex romance, but it does deal with real issues of love, control, and secrets. The characters are interesting, and the plot includes action and contains surprises.

The Blackwell Sisters series, each book written by a different collaborating author, will focus on one of the Blackwell sisters who all consider themselves Harrisons. As the series moves forward, Rudy and Big E set out to look for Thomas Blackwell, the girls’ biological father to answer questions and possibly bring closure to the family. Bring on the next book!

I would like to extend my thanks to Melinda Curtis and Harlequin Heartwarming for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Romance

Notes: #1 in The Blackwell Sisters series from Harlequin Heartwarming, noted for their clean romances. This is a followup series to The Return of the Blackwell Brothers, and it is written by the same authors. You absolutely do not have to have read the first series to enjoy this one.

Publication:   August 4, 2020—Harlequin Heartwarming

Memorable Lines:

She knew what she should do. and it didn’t involve walking down the aisle on the arm of a man who wasn’t her father to pledge herself to a man who didn’t want to marry her.

On the trip out west, he’d been lulled to sleep by Big E’s snoring, which was like listening to waves regularly crashing on a beach. Loud waves that covered the noise semitrucks made when they pulled in and out of the rest stops where he and Big E parked each night.

Pepper’s carefully constructed dreams, her life plan, her desire for lucrative freedom. Could it be possible that Pepper hadn’t been frivolously wishing upon a star? That she’d been wanting to create a life she, and she alone, controlled?

Dog On It–funny K-9 mystery

Dog On It

by Spencer Quinn

Dog On ItHave you ever looked at your dog and wondered what in the world he or she (Chet says, “no ’it’s’ please”) is thinking? In Dog On It, you will be treated to author Spencer Quinn’s take on the imagined inner workings of a dog’s thoughts and personality. His vehicle for sharing these insights is the very likable and competent K-9 sidekick named Chet. The story is humorously told from his point of view.

I figure my dogs have the mentality of a two-year-old. They have a little understanding of the English language, even a smattering of Spanish, but I’m sure most of what I say goes over their heads. In a similar way, P.I. Bernie Little of Little Detective Agency talks over his cases with Chet. Chet picks up on the tone of the conversation, and over the years they have developed cues and routines that make them an outstanding team. When it comes to expressions like “wild good chase,” however, Chet is excited but confused.

We get to know Chet very well as he tells the story emphasizing what he and his “tribe” can do and how they are different from humans. Seen from his perspective, we learn the importance of scents, what delights Chet, and how easily distractible he is. Bernie does the thinking, but Chet’s role is equally important in following even the faintest whiffs and intimidating criminals.

Chet says that Bernie often has a cash flow problem although he doesn’t understand what that is. The source of the problem seems to be undercharging and an abundance of pro bono work. Bernie works to control his smoking and drinking. He has a combat past that Chet only shares a little about. Bernie is divorced and has a young son he adores. The detective displays intelligence, courage, and physical prowess. He isn’t perfect, but he is a very likable character.

Although this book truly brought a smile to my face throughout, don’t be deceived. Packing a good solid mystery with plenty of leads and some adventure as well, Dog On It is much more than a humorous book. On the other hand, don’t expect a deep plot exploring heavy issues; that’s not what this book is about. It is a quick read because it is so entertaining. I never tire of hearing what Chet is thinking or even why he is not thinking at all. This work is the most exquisitely funny example of anthropomorphism I have read in a very long time. I am looking forward to more reading pleasure with this series which currently has ten books.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Mystery, Humor

Notes: 1. This book does not contain much in the way of casual inappropriate language, but it does take God’s name in vain multiple times.

2. #1 in the Chet and Bernie Mystery Series

Publication:  February 10, 2009—Atria Books

Memorable Lines:

At that moment I heard a funny swishing sound. Susie glanced over. “Getting close to home, huh?” I realized the funny swishing sound came from my own tail, whipping back and forth against the seat.

The woman’s mouth opened and closed, but no sound came out. I loved when Bernie made that happen. We walked outside feeling like winners, at least I did.

I’d been in a few car chases like this—one of the very best perks in our line of work, car chases—and they always ended the same way, with some perp’s pant leg between my teeth.

Shake Down–reality TV is so fake!

Shake Down

by Kendel Lynn

Shake DownElliott Lisbon is the director of the billion-dollar Ballantyne Foundation and is also a very frustrated PI-in-training. There are plenty of cases to work on, but her boyfriend Lieutenant Ransom and other law enforcement officers do not share much information with her. So, Elliot enlists her best friend Sid, and the pair hone their investigative skills in the complicated search for Daphne who has a reputation for going missing and following her whims without warning. Would she do that with her friend’s wedding less than a week away?

In Shake Down by Kendel Lynn, lots of plot lines intersect. The Ballantyne Foundation is sponsoring a BBQ fundraiser honoring families who host the homeless. We are also introduced to Daphne who disappears shortly before she is to be maid of honor for her best friend Juliette. The girls met on a reality TV show where they were competing for an eligible bachelor. Much of the plot is centered around the town’s search for Daphne. That part of the book drags just a bit, but the pace and action pick up later and culminate in a conclusion I could never have predicted.

I would like to extend my thanks to Edelweiss and to Henery Press for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 4/5

Category: Mystery

Notes: #5 in the Elliott Lisbon Mystery Series but OK as a standalone as characters from previous books in the series are clearly reintroduced.

Publication:   March 17, 2020—Henery Press

Memorable Lines:

She stopped as if her soles had been superglued to the asphalt. She seemed to be experiencing the second half of fight or flight. Freeze or faint.

“He’s being all cagey and friendly. Helpful in a distinctly not very helpful way.”

The shot was beyond loud. Like saying a hurricane was breezy or a ghost pepper had a little kick.

One Little Lie–dangerous thriller

One Little Lie

by Colleen Coble

One Little LieI didn’t know quite what to expect from Colleen Coble’s new series Pelican Harbor, so I dove into the first book wondering how the author would combine some mystery, a little thriller, and a bit of clean romance while incorporating a Christian viewpoint. Not that it couldn’t be done or hasn’t been done, but it is not my typical cozy mystery read. As it turns out, One Little Lie is a page turner. Its plot and characters have depth, and the threads occur on many levels. The reader has to wonder if they are parallel or will possibly collide making this a very intricate mystery indeed. 

Jane Hardy is chosen to be the new Pelican Harbor Chief of Police after her father resigns. What was behind his leaving the force? Why is Reid Dixon, who makes documentaries, having conversations with Jane’s father? Reid has been granted approval by the mayor to follow Jane around. Besides the pressure of extra scrutiny on her first days as Police Chief, why does Reid’s presence make her uncomfortable? Several murders and kidnappings later, events ramp up to a high danger level for Jane and her K-9 officer and companion Parker. Who can Jane trust?

The prologue of this book is set fifteen years earlier during an attack on a cult. That event and the years prior cast a shadow and create devastating secrets for the characters in this book. As for the Christian viewpoint, some of the characters in the book trust in God and have a relationship with Him. Those characters have challenges in which they rely on God; other characters come to see that believing in God could impact their lives and choices in a positive way as they struggle to get past the lies others have told them. This book provides closure for many threads, but I feel there is more story to be told in Pelican Harbor, Alabama. I’m looking forward to the publication of Strands of Truth, the next book in the series, in September 2020.

I received a complimentary copy of this book. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Mystery, Romance, Christian

Notes: 1. #1 in the Pelican Harbor Series

2. Discussion questions are included at the end of the book.

Publication:   March 3, 2020—Thomas Nelson

Memorable Lines:

Jane had no idea how much he was going to mess with her life. It had been a long time coming Retribution was an exciting word, one he’d rolled around and around in his head for years. It would be a freight train coming for the Hardys at full speed. None of them would understand his purpose until it was too late.

But if Olivia could face the horror of her future, surely Jane could face the past that couldn’t reach out and hurt her any longer.

She teetered on high heels and wore tight-fitting jeans and a top that showed off her curves. False advertising. A cute figure was never a substitute for a beautiful spirit.

My Fair Latte–coffee, wine, and classic flicks

My Fair Latte

by Vickie Fee

My Fair LatteHere’s an opportunity to get in on the ground floor of a new cozy mystery series by an established author, Vickie Fee. In My Fair Latte, Halley Greer inherits an old theater from an uncle she barely knew. Immediately, the reason for this bequest to Halley arises as a background puzzle, but the real mystery centers around vandalism and murder in the theater that  Halley is working hard to resurrect as a business that combines her two passions—old movies and coffee.

The residents of the little tourist town of Utopia Springs, Arkansas, welcome Halley and encourage her in her new business. She has to clean up both the theater and the upstairs apartment, quite an undertaking as her uncle was a hoarder. Favorite characters are George and Trudy, local artists who take her under their wing, and Kendra who owns the escape room business across the street. There are several romantic interests as well.

I enjoyed meeting the residents of Utopia Springs and watching Halley develop her creative ideas on a shoe string budget. It was great to witness her new friends pitching in to help, building community around her. As the police seem to suspect Halley, she and Kendra investigate to try to put the focus on other possibilities. I found myself doing that myself, but missed the mark until the end. Eartha Kitty, another inheritance from Uncle Leon, has an important role in the story. I am looking forward to the next book in the series, but hoping that I won’t gain weight just reading about the huge, fresh cinnamon rolls that are a staple in Halley’s breakfast routine.

I would like to extend my thanks to Edelweiss and to Henery Press for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 4/5

Category: Mystery

Notes: #1 in the Café Cinema Mystery Series

Publication:   March 3, 2020—Henery Press

Memorable Lines:

While it may have been a glamorous leading lady in its prime, the Star Movie Palace was now a faded beauty whose slip was showing from beneath its tattered couture.

Their fanny packs and I-heart-Utopia-Springs t-shirts were like tattooing tourist on their foreheads.

“I dearly love George, but this morning he started tap dancing on my last nerve before I’d even had a cup of coffee.”

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