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A Very Merry Match–romance with the kindergarten teacher

A Very Merry Match

by Melinda Curtis

What a book I chose to read on Christmas week! Melinda Curtis’ A Very Merry Match is a romance that involves serious threads. Mary Margaret, widowed last year at Christmas, is trying to survive the memories of the season. As a Kindergarten teacher with a strong sense of honor, she has been very disciplined with her finances to try to repay her husband’s debt accrued through shopping therapy at the end of his life. Just when the mountain of debts have been conquered, two unsavory characters show up on her doorstep wanting an obscene amount of money.

You’ll like Mary Margaret. She’s a dedicated and loving teacher always wanting to do the right thing. Sadly, she carries around the physical and emotional scars of childhood abuse. Kevin, the mayor of the little town of Sunshine, has a son in Mary Margaret’s class. His initial dilemma is a decision regarding a development project that has potential positive and negative impacts on the town and is thus quite controversial. He also develops an interest in his son’s teacher.  Along the way we meet Barb, Kevin’s ex-wife, and Edith, Mary Margaret’s supportive and fun-loving grandmother along with the local Widow’s Club whose members are always interested in matching up lonely hearts.

Mary Margaret has, out of financial necessity and a love of dance, a second career as a burlesque dancer, and Kevin is being considered for political office at the state level. Although they are attracted to each other, a serious relationship seems unlikely. Christmas is the backdrop for the fun, romance, and conflict that permeate the plot. This is a clean romance you can enjoy at Christmas…or any time of the year!

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

Rating: 5/5

Category: Romance

Notes: #2 in the Sunshine Valley Series, but I had not read the first book in the series and had no problem jumping right into this book.

Publication:   September 29, 2020—Forever (Grand Central Publishing)

Memorable Lines:

Dancing always loosened up the stress, shook it off, made her feel free, moved her beyond her worries and fears. How could this be wrong?

“I’ll tell you a secret I learned growing up.” Her smile was tentative, as if her secret was sad. “Preacher’s kid wisdom. There’s always someone in a worse situation than you are.”

Doubt crept between his shoulders on spiked cleats.

Carolina Breeze–social media disaster

Carolina Breeze

by Denise Hunter

When an innkeeper desperate to fulfill his promise to his father to take care of his sisters is introduced to the world of glamorous movie stars and paparazzi, his own world is turned upside down. Levi Bennett tries to fix everything for everybody, but he takes on more than he can handle when he meets the gorgeous Mia Emerson retreating from heartbreak and a scandal.

Beautiful Bluebell, N.C., is the perfect place for Mia to recover with the sympathetic and discreet Bennett siblings taking up her cause. Romance is in the air for Levi and Mia as well as for Levi’s sister Molly who was the focus of the first book in the series. Just when things start to look up, there are realistic twists and turns that shake things up for the characters. But disasters and surprises can be part of God’s plan, and He can bring good out of them as the characters in Carolina Breeze by Denise Hunter, a clean romance with a bit of mystery, soon discover. 

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

Rating: 5/5

Category: Romance

Notes: #2 in the Bluebell Inn Series, but works well as a standalone.

Publication:   May 19, 2020—Thomas Nelson

Memorable Lines:

Using people is wrong. Using their feelings against them is even worse.

It was time to get serious about her faith again. She was learning to let down her walls with people, but she needed to let God in too. Him, most of all.

The movie had been going on for a while, but her mind was on other things…All of it was tangled up in her head like last year’s Christmas lights.

The Blackwell Sisters

When is a series more than a series? When each book in the series is written by collaborating authors who have already worked together on another successful series. In this case, Melinda Curtis, Amy Vastine, Anna J. Stewart, Carol Ross, and Cari Lynn Webb have teamed up to create The Blackwell Sisters, a series set in Montana and centered around the Harrison sisters who have discovered that the man who raised them is not their biological father. He is the mysteriously missing Thomas Blackwell. This group of authors’ first series is The Return of the Blackwell Brothers in which the manipulating grandfather of the cousins in both series interferes in his grandchildren’s lives in what turns out to be a positive way. The books differ in that the Blackwell brothers are returning to their roots whereas the sisters are discovering a family heritage they never knew they had. The two series share characters that you will enjoy meeting. Both series make for a clean, heartwarming read, and either or both would be a fun present under the Christmas tree!

You can read my reviews for these books by clicking on the titles below:

1. Montana Welcome

2. Montana Wishes

3. Montana Dreams

4. Montana Match

5. Montana Wedding

Montana Wedding–great finale

Montana Wedding

by Cari Lynn Webb

Georgie Harrison has always been singularly focused. She has a plan to honor her mother’s memory by discovering a cure so that other families would not have to experience premature loss of a parent as she and her sisters had. As a medical doctor she has turned her talents to research and has landed the job of her dreams in London. Now she just has to convince her dad and four sisters that this is a positive move. She convinces a friend and work colleague, Colin, to be her pretend date for her sister’s wedding at the Blackwell Ranch. Unfortunately, Colin doesn’t make the flight. Seated next to her on the plane, however, is handsome rodeo star Zach. He would fit right in with the Blackwells, the cousins she is about to meet, but what could possibly motivate Zach to assume the role of boyfriend?

Zach has his own family issues and dreams, but he loyally supports Georgie as promised. Since this is a Harlequin Heartwarming romance, you can be sure the couple will fall in love. The journey down the path to love is what is interesting, and the plot has several surprising twists, as in “I didn’t see that coming!” Author Cari Lynn Webb gives the viewpoint of both Zach and Georgie as they battle their growing attraction, giving the reader empathy for them in a situation neither sought out. The Blackwells are wonderful people who stand by each other with integrity, love, and quite a bit of teasing. They are the family Zach always dreamed of. Montana Wedding’sbackdrop of a Christmas wedding at a Montana working guest ranch will put you in a holiday mood regardless of the season. It is the perfect finish to The Blackwell Sisters series as it includes all the major characters from that series and from The Return of the Blackwell Brothers. It will leave you with that pleasing feeling of closure for the series and a satisfied smile on your face. 

I would like to extend my thanks to Cari Lynn Webb 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: #5 in The Blackwell Sisters series. It could be read as a standalone, but I recommend reading the whole series.

Publication:   December 6, 2020—Harlequin Heartwarming

Memorable Lines:

His mother had offered disregard and indifference as naturally as other mothers offered their children support and reassurance….His mother’s accusations had always been followed by those same two words, given in the same dull, detached tone: Go. Away.

He’d learned the truth during Cody’s final battle. Time refused to slow. There was no freeze button. And minutes were wasted wishing for impossible things. Life had to be enjoyed in the now.

“Hope is a powerful thing.” Every patient, every family member of a sick loved one relied on hope. Hope the medicine would work. Hope the doctors found the right treatment. Hope the surgeons removed every last cancer cell. Hope the damage wouldn’t be permanent. Hope that tomorrow would be brighter, better, pain free.

Of Literature and Lattes–reconciliation

Of Literature and Lattes

by Katherine Reay

I enjoyed Katherine Reay’s The Printed Letter Bookshop and was excited at the opportunity to read another book by this author—Of Literature and Lattes. This book is also a clean read dealing with real problems and is, in fact, a follow-up to the first book. I liked both novels, but I didn’t feel the second was as well organized or flowed as well as the first. In The Printed Letter Bookshop, the bookstore is almost another character as is Maddie, its former owner whose funeral initiates the action in the book. We depart from a focus on Maddie and her bookstore in Of Literature and Lattes where some characters continue with the focus on Janet who works at the bookshop and is rediscovering her artistic talent as well as trying to reconnect with her ex-husband, her daughter Alyssa, and her mother. That is a lot of reconciliation to accomplish! 

Alyssa struggles when she discovers the success of her employer and his company are based on fraud, and she finds her only alternative is to return home. There she meets Jeremy, a new character who is also trying to start over both with a coffee shop he purchased and in his relationship with his seven-year-old daughter.

There are a lot of twists and turns as Alyssa tries to find employment. To her credit, she will take any job offered when she discovers no one in her field will hire her because she is under investigation by the FBI. Alyssa and Janet want to repair the long-term fracture in their mother-daughter relationship, but it is not simple. Meanwhile, Jeremy has difficulties with his ex-wife and his employees.

The storyline jumps around among the various characters and themes. The characters have to deal with ethical, moral, and legal issues and rely on the help of kind neighbors, family, and friends.

Although I found the first of the book to be a little disjointed, it came together as the story progressed. My favorite character is Becca, Jeremy’s young daughter. I enjoyed the novel, but did not make an emotional attachment to any of the characters. I assume there will be more books making it a series. Reay has written a number of fiction books based on her love of literature and especially the works of Jane Austin.

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

Rating: 4/5

Category: Romance, Women’s Fiction, Christian Fiction

Notes: 1. This book could be read as a standalone, but some of the characters’ relationships would be clearer if you read The Printed Letter Bookshop first.

  2. I included this in the Christian Fiction category because the characters’ relationship to Christ is a background theme providing moral and relationship structure.

Publication:   May 12, 2020—Thomas Nelson

Memorable Lines:

What before she had regarded as instances of Alyssa’s ingratitude, obstinance, and petulance were recast in light of her own issues of control, manipulation, and anger.

Father Luke had been telling her for months that her problem was no longer asking others for forgiveness, but accepting it herself. “It’s an odd form of pride, you know,” he had said over coffee one day. “You decide you know better than God and make your own ruling.”

Yes, the “bad” in life bumped down the generations with discord and pain, causing breaks and tumult as well, but it could be healed. It could be made new and, perhaps, made stronger.

Montana Match–overcoming family history

Montana Match

by Carol Ross

Fiona, the youngest of the Harrison sisters, is somewhat of a free spirit. She gets along with everyone, likes to move around, and excels at her jobs as a professional waitress. She also makes bad relationship choices due to her kind heartedness—a nice way of saying she dates losers. Fiona is convinced by Rudy Harrison, the man she always thought of as her dad, and Big E Blackwell, her biological grandfather, to come to Falcon Creek to change her ways by finding a “suitable” man and profession.

In the middle of online dating efforts, she meets Simon who is currently helping out his cousin Ned in his bar. Simon and Fiona both discover the advantages of being truthful to oneself and to others. A heartwarming book with a beautiful setting and characters you’ll want to meet, Montana Match has a plot with just the right amount of entanglements. Fiona wants so badly to do everything right from helping out at the ranch’s petting zoo to making Thanksgiving dinner for a crowd. Without giving anything away, I’ll just say that “pigs and eggnog,” even separately, can be problematic. Both Simon and Fiona love antiques and golf, but will that be enough to bring them together? Carol Ross has woven a wonderful tale that will leave you wanting more of The Blackwell Sisters.

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

Rating: 5/5

Category: Contemporary Romance

Notes: #4 in The Blackwell Sisters series. This is a clean and heartwarming romance. Plenty of background support is included by the author to make it enjoyable as a standalone, but I think you’ll find yourself wanting to read the others in the series of 5 books with the last to be published in December.

Publication:   November 1, 2020—Harlequin Heartwarming

Memorable Lines:

But the good memories were tightly bound with the painful ones. Like trying to untangle fine silk that’s been woven with razor wire, it was impossible to separate the two and come out unscathed.

Uncertainty swept through her with the force of an ocean wave, knocking her off balance and leaving her head swimming.

“A bit of trouble?” Luke repeated the words while his mouth curled slowly at the corners. “You could call it that. Be sort of like calling a hurricane a bit of a storm, though.” He chuckled and shook his head.

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.

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?

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