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Under the Italian Sun–looking for family

Under the Italian Sun

by Sue Moorcroft

Zia is a young English woman in search of a family after her grandparents pass away and she finds herself without a job. She knows her father, who is not listed on her birth certificate, was from Italy. She does some sleuthing and decides to go to Italy to hopefully discover some family ties and perhaps persuade her father to legally acknowledge her, thus easing the pathway to Italian citizenship.

Along her journey, Zia uncovers long buried secrets, meets some family, and falls in love. The road to happiness even under the Italian sun and overlooking a vineyard and winery is not an easy one. Not everyone is welcoming in Montelibertá, and Zia’s ex-boyfriend morphs from an insulting cheater into a vengeful stalker.

Sue Moorcroft’s Under the Italian Sun is an interesting romance with a great setting. Zia’s past is dismal as she gradually loses those close to her, but she is an intelligent young woman, a good friend, and full of hope. She falls quickly and hard for her handsome Italian neighbor. Can they really settle for a summer fling knowing Zia can not legally stay in the country indefinitely?

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

Rating: 4/5

Category: General Fiction (Adult), Romance, Women’s Fiction

Notes: Rather disappointing for me, this really nice story has an “open door” bedroom scene and a lot of expletives.

Publication: May 13, 2021—Harper Collins (Avon Books)

Memorable Lines:

The oven timer continued to ping in counterpoint to the gull’s plaintive calls but Zia heard the shush-shush of her heartbeat louder than both. As spooked as a child at a horror film, she had to force her breathing to be even.

Church steeples poked up between terracotta-tiled roofs, buildings were painted cream, ochre or apricot, the major structures gracing the town centre while houses huddled on the slopes like children hatching mischief.

At some point this afternoon she’d made the decision never to identify herself to Gerardo. It had come from an instinct to protect herself from disappointment rather than from structured reasoning but the decision was a relief. Couldn’t trust him. Could do without him.

Healing the Rancher–making a family

Healing the Rancher

by Melinda Curtis

The story of the Mountain Monroes in Idaho continues in Healing the Rancher with a focus on Kendall Monroe, a city-girl with a knack for twenty-first century PR through social media. Needing employment, she decides to try to land a contract with a Texas ranch, but she needs to prove her cowgirl credentials to the owners. The problem is that she never really took to ranch life when she visited Grandpa Harlan in Idaho as a child. She returns to the little town of Second Chance where most of her cousins have relocated and agrees to intern on a ranch owned by Finn McAfee, a handsome but scarred ex-Marine. Besides his physical scars, he is weighted by the death of his young wife and his own cancer diagnosis.

Sparks fly when Kendall meets her tough new boss Finn who views her as a “princess.” She shows him how strong she is while keeping a smile on her face. The back and forth between the two will keep the reader smiling as will Lizzie, Finn’s adorable four year old daughter and their collection of “misfits,” animals dropped off at the ranch because their owners didn’t want them.

All kinds of problems arise as Kendall tries to become a cowgirl, but she owns up to her mistakes. Other difficulties have to be faced up to as well, things that are not her fault—cattle rustling and financial issues for both of them.

Several of the Monroe cousins play supporting roles and for those readers who have followed the Monroe saga, it is fun to see how those cousins’ lives are progressing. As with all the books in this series, the conclusion is more than satisfactory and will leave you with smiles just thinking about the future for Kendall and Finn.

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

Rating: 5/5

Category: Romance

Notes: 1. While Healing the Rancher (#11 in the Mountain Monroes series) could be read as a standalone, I recommend reading the whole series in order.
2. All the books in this series are clean romances.

Publication: May 24, 2022—Harlequin

Memorable Lines:

“I feel like my grandfather wasn’t afraid to reinvent himself. Or afraid of failure. That’s what makes people succeed, I think. They want something more than they fear going belly-up.”

The grand Sawtooth Mountain range was just as imposing here as it was in Second Chance. The jagged mountains were as hard as she imagined the life here was. Or maybe that was just her perception as someone from the city.

“Boo, this is why I need to learn how to be a ranch boss and move on. The man is more irresistible than chocolate to me. And I’m like day-old bread to him.”

Mulberry Hollow–obstacles to love

Mulberry Hollow

by Denise Hunter

Denise Hunter continues her Riverbend Romance Series with the Robinson family at the center of the stories. Mulberry Hollow focuses on Avery, the youngest child of three and the only daughter in the merged family. Avery is high achieving and operates her own medical clinic in the little town of Riverbend Gap that is an oasis of relief and comfort for weary hikers from the Appalachian Trail. Avery’s family handles her with kid gloves because she has a 50% chance of having a fatal, degenerative disease. She has resigned herself to a love life with the clinic and the community and rejects the possibility of having children.

One evening she finds Wes Garrett, dehydrated, with a high fever, on the clinic’s doorstep. He was formerly a worker in Columbia for Emergency Shelter International, but is currently a thru-hiker on the Appalachian Trail in honor of a deceased friend. Wes’ background was tough growing up, and as an adult he is saddled with paying off his father’s debts. Wes is a man of his word and a man of honor. While the handsome guy’s qualities are admirable, they also cause obstacles in any romantic relationship that might develop.

I loved this story and its characters. These are people that fight hard to do the right things putting others above themselves. It’s hard not to keep turning the pages in hopes that good things will happen for Avery and Wes. There are a lot of twists in the plot that will have you groaning at the unfairness of life, but the characters continue to trust in God and pray for others. The religious element is not dominant; instead it reflects the way these characters live out their lives through good times and bad and when the right choices are not the easy ones.

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

Rating: 5/5

Category: Romance

Notes: 1. Discussion questions are included.
2. This is #2 in the Riverbend Romance Series, a trilogy. It could be read as a standalone, but the characters continue from the first book, Riverbend Gap, so you would probably enjoy it more if you read them in order.
3. Clean romance.

Publication: April 19, 2022—Thomas Nelson Fiction

Memorable Lines:

“He was a hustler?” “He could’ve sold mosquitos to a backpacker—and he would’ve if he hadn’t been so lazy. Such as it was, he made do with home improvement scams.”

She took in the now-familiar angles and planes of his face. He was pretty to look at, no doubt, but he was even more attractive on the inside. A man who put aside his plans to help another was a man who could be counted on. A man who spent months on the trail to honor a friend was a man to be admired.

She considered all he’d been through. His difficult childhood, the loss of a dear friend. And yet he’d somehow flourished as a human being. Emerged from his trials a good and caring man. She was thankful God had brought him to Riverbend just when she’d needed him.

Riverbend Gap–looking for love

Riverbend Gap

by Denise Hunter

I didn’t think a romance could be an actual page-turner for me, but Riverbend Gap surely was. Although there are a few dangerous, dramatic scenes, that was not the cause of my reluctance to put the book down. It was the characters!

All of the main characters are seeking love, stability, and trust. Katie, who spent most of her life in the foster care system, moves to Riverbend Gap in search of her biological mother. After the death of her brother, she needs a new start. She needs the love of a family. When Cooper, a deputy, finds her in a precariously balanced car on a cliff after a near-miss with a deer, they make an emotional connection. Unbeknownst to Cooper, Katie is dating his brother Gavin. The brothers have tried to live above the reputation of their alcoholic father all their lives, but it is not easy in a small town. Gavin has other personal issues that are devastating. No one wants to see him hurt even more. Clearly, there is romantic conflict as Katie and Cooper try to stamp out the sparks in their relationship while Gavin is initially oblivious to their attraction.

The Robinson family was blended when Cooper and Gavin’s mom remarried giving the brothers a sister Avery. Avery is a doctor who is also Katie’s boss in Avery’s medical clinic where Katie works as a nurse. The Robinsons are fiercely loyal to each other and well-respected in the community. Problems pile on as Cooper runs for sheriff, and the rumor mill in Riverbend Gap operates at full speed. The community is challenged when part of the Appalachian Trail is closed for repairs. Many businesses in the area depend on thru-hikers who stop to rest up, enjoy a good meal, and restock their packs.

The plot is well played out. I really wanted good things for Cooper, Gavin, and Katie, but it was like watching a train wreck and being unable to predict anything except a collision. Afterwards, how will they pick up the pieces? Will the Robinson family survive betrayal? Will Katie experience rejection once more by her mother? Can Cooper’s campaign for sheriff be salvaged at the ninth hour? The answers are all delightfully found in Riverbend Gap.

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

Rating: 5/5

Category: Romance

Notes: 1. Discussion questions are included.
2. This is #1 in the Riverbend Romance Series, a trilogy.
3. My next review will be on #2, and (sneak peak) I really liked it too!
4. Clean romance.

Publication: October 19, 2021—Thomas Nelson Fiction

Memorable Lines:

He stared into blue eyes that were as convincing as any he’d seen. But he also had an alcoholic dad, and he knew they were capable of lying to themselves—not to mention others—quite convincingly.

He sank deeper into the sofa cushions, wishing he could disappear into the crack with the Doritos crumbs.

Feeling like something a cat coughed up, she locked the door and turned off the light. Her chest was heavy with the crushing weight of Gavin’s pain. The hollow ache of guilt.

Bride for a Day–escape to Oklahoma

Bride for a Day

by Carolyn Brown

What a sweet romance! Carolyn Brown’s Bride for a Day is a simple, but pleasing story. Cassie has had a rough life. After her mother died, she lived a dirt poor existence with her mother’s friend. When she passed away too, Cassie was left in the hands of the friend’s husband, and he is not a nice man. Sexual trafficking is the dangerous threat, but nothing graphic is discussed. When Cassie runs away, Ted, a handsome stranger in a café, pretends very convincingly to local law enforcement that she is his fiancé.

Ted’s family embraces Cassie wholeheartedly because that’s just the kind of people they are and because Cassie is gradually bringing Ted back to life again. He had never come to grips with the death of his twin brother when they were in high school.

Because this is a romance, you can imagine that what started out as a rescue mission might well turn into a friendship where sparks fly. I really enjoyed the characters. Although wealthy, Ted’s family is down to earth and supportive of each other. Even though it is clear that the setting is a small town with a quick as lightning rumor mill, the author does not dwell on that aspect. Instead, she uses it as an opportunity to demonstrate that Cassie is a strong young lady. There are some fun and surprising plot twists and a very satisfying ending. It is a quick read with lots of smiles along the way.

I would like to extend my thanks to Netgalley and to Sourcebooks (Casablanca) for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 4/5

Category: Romance, Women’s Fiction

Publication: March 29, 2022—Sourcebooks (Casablanca)

Memorable Lines:

Maria had told her that first day that breakfast was the time to set the mood for the whole day—yellow brightened the table, good food satisfied the appetite, and a loving family made the heart smile.

Ted had been dreaming of taking Cassie dancing after his boot came off and the cast on his arm, but right now he couldn’t two-step any faster than an armadillo could fly.

Evidently, she was in one of her Jesus moods, as her granny used to call them. Granny said that Cassie didn’t know what she wanted, wouldn’t want it if she got it, and Jesus himself couldn’t live with her.

The Valet’s Secret–class barriers to love

The Valet’s Secret

by Josi S. Kilpack

When I started reading The Valet’s Secret, I realized it is a historical romance, not of the Jane Austen satirical variety, but one of romantic attraction thwarted by class differences. This is not my typical reading genre, and so it took a few chapters for me to get involved with the characters and their dilemmas. At that point I began to really care about the main characters.

Kenneth Winterton, while raised as a gentleman, had no expectations or training to be the future Earl of Brenton. When his cousin Edward dies suddenly, Kenneth is expected to prepare himself for his new role, including marrying someone from the local gentry. Thus begins round after round of entertainments to introduce him to suitable ladies. His heart has already been stolen by a chance encounter with Rebecca Parker, a widow living with an abusive, alcoholic father, helping him with his craft of silhouettes. Prior to her marriage, she had been “in service” as a maid. Kenneth and Rebecca are by status incompatible.

As the story moves towards its conclusion, the reader must certainly wonder how the couple could possibly marry. There are several dramatic twists; the actions of a few characters reveal their true motivations and scheming, and some even have a change of heart. The cover reflects the importance of silhouettes in the story, and the title reflects an early, light-hearted deception in the tale with serious consequences. By the end of The Valet’s Secret, I was convinced by this quick read that this genre and author deserve some more attention from me as I make future selections.

I would like to extend my thanks to NetGalley and to Shadow Mountain Publishing for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 4/5

Category: Romance

Publication: March 8, 2022—Shadow Mountain Publishing

Memorable Lines:

“The title precedes you into every room, every relationship, every decision. You do not think what is best for any individual—not even yourself—but what is best for the community affected by your status. Nothing comes above that responsibility. Nothing at all.”

…the thought that he would remain here, learning to live a life that was uncomfortable with a woman whom he did not know while waiting for an old man he loved to die, made him extremely sad.

How he hated this marriage mart he was hung within. So very much. The only viable solution to get out of it was, in fact, to marry.

Edgewater Road–second chance for ex-cons

Edgewater Road

by Shelley Shepard Gray

Jennifer inherits her grandmother Ginny’s old farmhouse with acreage in Ohio and soon discovers that her neighbor is John Lincoln Bennett, an ex-con who has a business managing properties. He also helps other ex-cons reintegrate into society when they are released. Jennifer works in her home as a medical transcriber but wants to reach outside the shield she has established to avoid trusting others. Lincoln is immediately drawn to her and feels very protective of her.

Edgewater Road contains romance, but the real focus is on the characters as their backgrounds are revealed and relationships are developed. There is also some gripping action and danger along with moments of humor as the characters interact in some awkward situations. Lincoln is a natural leader who instills respect, and Jennifer is almost too nice and trusting for her own good. Both are characters that you want to be successful individually and together. The ex-cons in general turn out to be helpful and respectful, especially Bo, Lincoln’s right hand man and Seth, formerly Amish and very polite and trustworthy. Wayne, a young Amish boy, needs to earn money, and his role in the story adds interest as does that of Chad, a semi-feral cat that Wayne finds in Jennifer’s barn.

Author Shelley Shepard Gray excels with plot action. The book is a page turner for me with Gray alternating telling the story from Jennifer’s perspective and from Lincoln’s. Without sugar coating a life of crime, Gray presents the difficulties that might lead one down a bad path, what prison is like, and the reactions of people to ex-cons. They are often viewed with suspicion and distrust and many end up back in prison for various reasons.

I highly recommend Edgewater Road and look forward to the next book in this series.

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

Rating: 5/5

Category: General Fiction (Adult), Romance

Notes: 1. #1 in a new series, The Rumors in Ross County.
2. Although the books deals with some rough ex-cons, there is nothing graphic or offensive in the book, and it is clean in all aspects.

Publication: March 1, 2022—Blackstone Publishing

Memorable Lines:

There was a part of him that was drawn to her like a prisoner to a decent meal.

“That woman’s got more work that needs to be done than an old lady at the plastic surgeon.”

Back when he’d started this, his goals had been almost noble. He’d wanted to give men like him, men who’d made mistakes but were still decent, a second chance… Now, nearly eight years later, his aspirations weren’t quite so lofty. Oh, his heart still searched for the good in people, and he often shared some of the teachings he’d learned from the Bible. However, he’d also learned that not everyone could be rehabilitated.

The Bluebonnet Battle–feuding families

The Bluebonnet Battle

by Carolyn Brown

I expected a romance with conflict between two feuding families. What I got in The Bluebonnet Battle was a very mean-spirited tale. There were clearly two sides. Matilda is an angry woman who excels in manipulating others to get what she wants. The other side is headed up by Liddy who has certainly been wronged but is vindictive and unforgiving. In fact, one of her friends suggests to Liddy that she pray for Matilda explaining that it might not change Matilda but it might take the anger out of Liddy’s heart. Liddy responds with a venomous, disgusting, unkind prayer that causes her adult niece Ruth Ann who acts like a Greek chorus in this book to giggle. It is hard to like any of these characters.

Fortunately, Nick, Matilda’s son, and Amelia, Ruth Ann’s daughter, slowly overcome family hurdles to form a relationship. By the time you get to this point in the story, you will be so tired of how the feud plays out through vegan versus Southern cooking featuring lemon meringue and lemon chess pies, along with who controls the local funeral dinners, that you will be glad for romance in any form. There is actually some motivation revealed for why Matilda is the way she is, but the explanation is too little and too late. The townspeople are closed to outsiders and small-minded. Nick and Amelia develop into nice people, but my favorite of the bunch is Uncle Harry, Matilda’s much older brother; he is the only character I would like to know. If a romance’s plot is character driven, it shouldn’t be replete with bitter characters.

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

Rating: 3/5

Category: General Fiction (Adult), Romance

Notes: 1. Includes recipes.
2. Contains profanity, even in church where the characters immediately, but rather insincerely, ask God’s forgiveness.
3. Several older and presumably wiser characters suggest to Nick and Amelia that the only way to know a person (with the goal of having a good marriage) is to live together first. That is advice that may be popular in some circles, but is one with which I take issue.
4. Perhaps a minor detail to some, but the flowers on the cover are not bluebonnets.

Publication: March 8, 2022—Mountlake

Memorable Lines:

When I heard Matilda was coming back to town, I figured we’d have to weather some storms. I just didn’t think we would have a class-five tornado two days after she arrived.

Compared to this thing between her aunt and Nick’s mother, the Hatfield and McCoy feud looked like a kindergarten playground fight.

Matilda’s whisper went right along with the look in her eyes—so toxic that a hazmat team wouldn’t have come near her.

The Sugarcreek Surprise–trusting again

The Sugarcreek Surprise

by Wanda E. Brunstetter

I was glad I returned to Wanda E. Brunstetter’s Creektown Discoveries series to read the second book, The Sugarcreek Surprise. Part way through the first book in the series, Brunstetter found her pace and upped her style. She maintained and even improved on it in this fictional tale of two young people who have been hurt by life and are afraid of renewed suffering if they give life a second chance—outside of the protective shell each one created.

Paul is betrayed by the woman he has been courting who drops him for his best friend. Lisa has survivor’s guilt when, as a child, her parents and grandparents are in a fatal car crash, but she alone survives. Fortunately, these two are mentored by loving relatives and friends. Life is not easy for either one of them and even more surprises are thrown their way as they cautiously try to open up to others.

I enjoyed this trip to Walnut Creek and Sugarcreek, Ohio. Lisa is a school teacher and I found the differences in her classroom
and the typical Englisch classroom fascinating. School extends only through eighth grade for the Amish. Although the children are typical for their ages in mischievousness and enthusiasm, they arrive with basic manners and parental expectations for good behavior. Paul has an excellent work ethic and is skilled in carpentry. Both are committed Christians and practice their faith through Amish customs. They learn to pray more and trust God more. Witnessing how Amish practices play out in our current world is interesting. This book makes it clear that there are benefits and hardships to contemplate about both Englisch and Amish lifestyles.

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

Rating: 4/5

Category: Christian, Romance, Women’s Fiction

Notes: 1. #2 in the Creektown Discoveries Series, but could be read as a standalone because the main characters first appear in this book.
2. The book ends with recipes and discussion questions

Publication: March 1, 2022—Barbour Publishing

Memorable Lines:

Even snippets from the past, which sometimes flitted through her mind, caused Lisa to feel fearful and despondent. She’d convinced herself that the only way she could be happy was to keep her focus on the present and refuse to give in to thoughts of the past.

The Lord knows each of us very well. He also knows what needs to happen for each of us at the proper time.

“Fear doesn’t stop death; it stops life. And worrying doesn’t take away tomorrow’s troubles; it takes away today’s peace.”

The Walnut Creek Wish–freedom through forgiveness

The Walnut Creek Wish

by Wanda E. Brunstetter

Rhonda and Jeff Davis are a financially successful couple living in a townhouse in Canton, Ohio, where she manages a hotel and he has his own restaurant. They love each other, but they have a fairly testy relationship often exchanging hurtful barbs. Neither wants anything to do with God because each had deep-felt prayers that had not been answered the way that they wanted them to be. Rhonda’s dad had affairs and eventually left his family behind. Jeff’s mom passed away when he was a teenager.

Rhonda and Jeff’s lives intersect with those of Orley and Lois who own an Amish antique store in rural Walnut Creek, Ohio, when the younger couple try to rejuvenate their marriage by purchasing a beautiful house and commuting to their jobs. Orley and Lois take every opportunity to encourage Rhonda and Jeff to develop a personal relationship with Jesus. A lot has to happen in the young couple’s lives before their hearts are opened to their need for God.

The Walnut Creek Wish is a quick and easy read, but it deals with some real issues—satisfaction, childlessness, abandonment, and forgiveness. The writing, especially the dialogue, in the first part of the book is somewhat stilted. Then the author breaks into a pace that is much more comfortable after the character backgrounds have been established and the action in the plot develops. It is a clean read with strong Christian themes involving both Amish and Englisch characters with interesting comparisons and contrasts of their lifestyles and their problems and how they react to them.

I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Barbour Publishing for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 3/5

Category: Christian, Romance, Women’s Fiction

Notes: 1. #1 in the Creektown Discoveries series. I will be reading the next book in the series. I am interested to see if there is an overlap or continuation of characters and/or of setting and to see if the sudden improvement in style and pace in this book holds up in the next book.
2. Recipes for a cucumber dip and bacon cheese muffins are included.
3. There are questions for individual thought or book club discussions.

Publication: August 1, 2021—Barbour Publishing

Memorable Lines:

She and Jeff had been married twelve years, and all they had to show for it was a modern townhouse, an expensive sports car, a luxury SUV, and a chasm of disinterest between them.

“I don’t know all the reasons, but I’m sure the Lord directed that young man to our store for a purpose beyond looking at antiques.”

“Any time’s the right time to share God’s love and the redemption He offers because of His Son. Pray for the right words to say, and speak them from the heart with love.”

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