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Christmas at Carly’s Cupcakes–Christmas wedding

Christmas at Carly’s Cupcakes

by Jessica Redland

A sweet holiday tale with some sibling troubles, an upcoming wedding, PTSD, and friends who could be so much more. Those are the threads found in Christmas at Carly’s Cupcakes by Jessica Redland, Carly started a cupcake business four years ago. Her much younger sister Bethany has been working for her, but she is klutzy and prone to mistakes that are costly. Carly and Bethany are both wondering if the cupcake shop is a good place for Bethany, but Carly is driven to take care of her sister who is also second-guessing her upcoming marriage. Meanwhile, Carly starts to realize that her very long-term best friend, Liam, on a tour in Afghanistan, is possibly the love she has been denying herself.

There are several unexpected twists as the countdown to the wedding and Christmas draw closer. You’ll enjoy watching the tangled threads unravel as you read this charming story and root for the likable characters to solve their problems.

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

Rating: 4/5

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

Publication:   August 13, 2020—Boldwood Books

Memorable Lines:

And there it was—the exact moment I realised I’d been in love with my best friend for years. Nobody else I’d met had held my interest because Liam already held my heart and I’d never even realised it.

As I stepped out of the front door, I inhaled the delicious aroma of chimney smoke. I loved that smell. There was something about real fires that was so intrinsically Christmassy. I paused for a moment to look up at the white lights strung between the shops, like stars in the inky sky. It was the beautiful simplicity that made them so enchanting to look at.

I felt a pang of guilt again that I’d worked beside her for months and had been too busy to notice when the laughter had ceased until it became too late. 

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.

Fearless–stalkers in the land of bluebonnets

Fearless

by Fern Michaels

Anna Campbell, who pieced her life together after the unexpected death of her husband, is a busy and successful blogger able to support herself and her teenage daughter. Rich, famous, and kindheartedly generous, she is also a target for stalkers and scammers. Her business manager and best friend Mandy convinces her to go on a singles cruise. What should have been a fun adventure rapidly leads her down paths she will regret.

The main characters in Fern Michaels’ Fearless are well-developed, and the plot is interesting. I liked the Lubbock, Texas, setting and touring Anna’s large suite on the cruise ship and her expansive gated home with vlogging  studio.I enjoyed the mix of romance with mystery. When I had to put the book away, I was always eager to return. Fearless includes criminal activities that require the characters and the reader to puzzle out events, identities, and motivations. The resolution of this story is disappointing. It is too rushed without enough explanation of the characters’ motivations many of which reach way back in time and others that are current. For example, there are two instances of the use of a date-rape drug. The usage is clear, but the motivation of the second attempt is unclear. This hurried ending resulted in less enjoyment for me. I will try another book by this prolific author in the future for comparative analysis.

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

Rating: 4/5

Category: Women’s Fiction

Notes: 1. Includes a recipe for Anna’s Rib Rub.

  2. Has a sprinkling of mild swearing

Publication:  March 31, 2020—Kensington Books

Memorable Lines:

She looked out through the gates at the sweeping fields of bluebonnets that surrounded her house. Nothing made her feel more at home than those bluish purple flowers stretching out for miles. A uniquely Texan sight.

As she was standing eye to eye with him, she saw someone else. A man who was quick to anger, quick to judge. Not the man she thought she knew. Ryan had a temper, she realized. He’d shown it on multiple occasions, so why she was just now realizing it was beyond her comprehension…

“…he seemed cold to me, like his eyes were empty. Does that sound crazy or what?”

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.

The Crow’s Call–the taming of a crow

The Crow’s Call

by Wanda E. Brunstetter

The Crow's CallI like Wanda E. Brunstetter’s foray into mystery with The Crow’s Call  which begins the Amish Greenhouse Mystery Series. It is a spinoff from The Prayer Jars trilogy, but that association does not impact the reader’s enjoyment of this new series. Having read the trilogy, I did enjoy the  pleasant surprise of encountering a few familiar characters.

The Crow’s Call begins with a family tragedy that will forever affect the King family. Woven into that background are mysterious occurrences which damage the Kings’ greenhouse and livelihoods. Amy, frequently the focus of the narration, tries to bear the burdens of maintaining her family both emotionally and financially, but the job is really too big for one young lady.

With interesting Amish characters who work at their relationship with God and others, this book includes the characters’ thoughts and prayers and the Bible verses they rely on as they deal with issues in their lives. The mystery of vandalism is not resolved nor are the issues of the depression of a young widow and the rebellion of her brother. I assume these problems will be carried into the next book in the series. A new Englisch couple moves in across the road from the greenhouse. The wife in the family suffers from a physical disability, but also from an unreasonable dislike of the Amish. She is rather mean spirited, but I have the feeling there must be a story behind her attitude. Other plot threads are an unexpected suitor from the past for the matron of the family and the opening of a rival greenhouse.

It was refreshing to read a mystery with no murders. I enjoyed learning more about Amish customs and beliefs. Reading The Crow’s Call is a good antidote to current social upheaval as this book emphasizes treating others with kindness and trusting in God.

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

Rating: 5/5

Category: Christian, Women’s Fiction, Mystery

Notes: This is most definitely part of a series, meaning if you want total closure on all threads, then this is not the book for you. I enjoyed the book, want to learn more about the characters, and anticipate further interesting plot developments, so I am “all in” to experience the rest of the series as it is published.

Publication:   March 1, 2020—Barbour Publishing (Shiloh Run Press)

Memorable Lines: 

Things she used to take for granted that had once seemed like simple chores now felt like heavy burdens she could hardly bear.

“It’s best not to worry—especially about things that are beyond our control. We need to pray every day and put our faith in God. And it wouldn’t hurt to ask Him to put a hedge of protection around us.”

She couldn’t let her discouragement tear down her faith. The best remedy was reading God’s Holy Word.

A Springtime to Remember–gardens of Versailles

A Springtime to Remember

by Lucy Coleman

A Springtime to RememberThere are times, like today, when I wonder why I would pick a romance off the virtual bookshelves. Then I read a book like A Springtime to Remember by Lucy Coleman and understanding strikes again. I am hit by a combination of the beauty of Versailles, the ostentatious audacity of the aristocracy of days gone by, a passion for history, the mystery of family relationships, and ultimately the gentle magnetism of two hearts drawn into one.

Lexie, a TV presenter, wants more professionally; it is not enough to be the pretty face in front of the camera. She also has to prove her value to her successful brother, Jake, who very publicly fired her. Lexie is combining forces with cameraman Elliot Nielson to produce and financially back their own mini-series of documentaries. Their first project takes them to France to focus on the Palace of Versailles. Their futures are ironically fixed in the past: Lexie has an added interest in Versailles as her grandmother, an avid gardener, spent a year working in the Versailles gardens immediately prior to her marriage. Mysteriously, she never discussed that year with her family.

Indulge in this clean romance with its appreciation for natural beauty and historical context. You will be treating yourself to lots of smiles and a few tears in the midst of a well-told tale.

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

Rating: 5/5

Category: Romance, Women’s Fiction

Publication:   December 26, 2019—Boldwood Books

Memorable Lines:

“Versailles holds so many secrets. The more you uncover, the more you realise the surface has only just been scratched, even after all the years of intense scrutiny.”

I nod my head in agreement, thinking that every family has their problems, they’re just all very different. It’s how you resolve them that counts…

“I’ve learnt that the nature of life is that everyone’s journey is different and, therefore, no one should ever stand in judgement of another. Not least because they have not travelled that same road. Instead, it’s wise to feel grateful if one’s own road is less arduous, or one is simply better equipped to deal with the harsher realities of life.”

My Mother’s Silence–devastating secrets

My Mother’s Silence

by Lauren Westwood

My Mother's SilenceI find genres and categories useful up to a point. When it comes to Lauren Westwood’s My Mother’s Silence, the designator “Women’s Fiction” seems to fail. It is definitely fiction, but I think a lot of men would like it too. The subtitle is A Gripping Page-Turner Full of Twists and Family Secrets. I usually associate “gripping” in this context with a thriller, a genre which doesn’t usually attract me. I am happy to report that “gripping” in this case could be defined as a plot that draws you in more and more tightly as you progress. It is full of secrets, life altering secrets—bombshells that explode after lying dormant for fifteen years.

Skye Turner leaves the little Scottish town of Eilean Shiel to fulfill her dream of making it big as a songwriter and musician in America. She carries a heavy weight, however, as her twin sister Ginny has passed away, and it is presumed that she slipped off a cliff and drowned. Skye returns home at the urging of her brother Bill. She hopes to be able to work things out with her mum and her brother, but she arrives to find her mother in mental disarray. Things don’t add up about her sister’s disappearance or the car accident Skye was in on that same evening.

Skye is not a perfect woman, but it seems she has made a lot of decisions based on the lies was fed. She tries to uncover and untangle the fabrications and piece them together with the help of a former DCI who is renting a cottage from her mother.

This book has a Christmas setting that is incidental to the plot but provides a reason for the family to gather. Westwood weaves a web with her amazing storytelling skills. The reader needs to discover what happened to Ginny as much as Skye does. Some romance is woven into the story as old boyfriends and new are included as important threads. There are several mysteries to be solved and parts of the book can claim to be called police procedural. Without a doubt, this book is a page-turner that made me glad I escaped from my comfort zone to find a new happy place.

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

Rating: 5/5

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

Notes: Sprinkling of vulgar language

Publication:   November 11, 2019—Bookouture

Memorable Lines:

…the land doesn’t care that I once went away, or that I’ve come back again. My life is small, my little dramas and struggles unimportant against the vastness of sea and sky.

But there’s something about this land that gets in your blood. Even when I thought I might never come back, I still felt the pull of this place. No matter where I was in the world, if I listened hard enough, I could hear the whisper of home.

I can still remember what it’s like to be in a teenage strop. That feeling of isolation—that everyone else in the entire world is against you and complete morons to boot. But it’s only worth keeping up as long as there’s an audience.

Snowflakes over Holly Cove–reconciliation

Snowflakes over Holly Cove

by Lucy Coleman

Snowflakes over Holly CoveTia is facing her first Christmas without her mother. She also has a painful distancing from her brother Will and his family. She is returning to her job as a journalist after a breakdown, but as we see her take on a feature assignment in isolated Holly Cove, she is depicted as a strong and resilient woman.

As Lucy Coleman’s Snowflakes over Holly Cove unfolds, Tia finds herself in the middle of other familial dysfunctional relationships that include Clarissa, her successful but manipulative boss, and Nic, the owner of the house she is renting. She also meets Max, a reticent retired Navy officer who is her temporary neighbor. Everyone has secrets, and some of those secrets might tie the characters together.

There are many interesting, vying, plot threads as Tia interviews couples for her feature articles and tries to sort through what makes a relationship sustainable. The story ends with some surprising action scenes and lots of genuine moments of compassion and reconciliation. This is a novel that rises above the typical Christmas feel-good story; readers will appreciate its depth.

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

Rating: 5/5

Category: Romance, Women’s Fiction

Publication:   September 18, 2018—Aria

Memorable Lines:

Strangely, I find myself repeatedly drawn to the window to marvel at the hostility of the sea. It’s a top to bottom, wall-to-wall steely greyness, that is like a blanket and it’s hard to see where the water ends and the sky begins.

“Money and possessions, I came to appreciate, create mistrust and envy. They bring out the worst in people.”

I truly believe that the spirit of Christmas is embodied in this room, today. It’s not about the gifts, or the amount of money you have to lavish on the occasion. It’s about the desire to make it special for other people and in doing so, it makes it special for you, too.

Christmas at Silver Falls–saving the family heritage

Christmas at Silver Falls

by Jenny Hale

Christmas at Silver FallsFrom Jenny Hale, author of books set in summer and at Christmas time, comes another “heartwarming, feel-good Christmas romance” in the form of Christmas at Silver Falls.  Scarlett Bailey realizes that this Christmas will probably be the last Christmas gathering of her family at her Gran’s beloved White Oaks Inn. Gran will be forced to sell because she is unable to compete with the newer resorts springing up in the area. Charles Bryant, one of the developers of the popular resorts, shows up unexpectedly in the area, and Scarlett determines to enlist his help in saving the Inn. The complicated becomes even more so when Julie and her young son Trevor, who have obviously undergone hard times, make a dramatic entrance that changes everything.

Christmas at Silver Falls is a fun Christmas read with a beautiful setting. Not all the characters were as well fleshed out as they might have been, but you can not come away without feeling for them in their predicaments.

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

Rating: 4/5

Category: Romance, Women’s Fiction

Publication:   October 15, 2019—Bookouture

Memorable Lines:

“We all go through things like that in life, and the good news, at least from what I’ve found, is that after the lows you notice the highs, and when you’re up there, it feels so good. Just hang on. It’s coming.”

Scarlett felt hope surge in her veins like rocket fuel.

“In an old run-down cottage, you are like fresh bouquets; you’re like a misty-morning view, a sunrise, a barefoot dance in a field of wildflowers…”

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