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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 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.”

Bookshop by the Sea–second chance romance

Bookshop by the Sea

by Denise Hunter

Sophie Lawson knows about abandonment and the pain it leaves in its trail. Her father left her family to fend for itself in the midst of her mother’s fatal illness on the very same day her boyfriend Aiden Maddox pulled up stakes and moved five hours away to start a new life. Aiden knows abandonment too. His mother left him sitting on the porch steps as a little boy and never looked back.

Sophie and Aiden loved each other or thought they did. Seven years later, just as Sophie’s dream to open her own bookshop is about to come true, Sophie and Aiden are thrown together once more—by a wedding and a hurricane. Can love revitalize and conquer bitterness, hurt, confusion, family obligations, and distance?

In Bookshop by the Sea, Denise Hunter paints an emotional in-depth picture of Sophie and Aiden, their pasts and the possibilities for their futures. Disaster keeps striking for Sophie who really deserves a break, but it’s hard to see how she’ll get one in time for her grand opening and book signing event. Those stressors are the backdrop for their relationship drama as the threads weave together, breaking in places only to be retied to push the characters towards growth and healing.

Bookshop by the Sea is a clean book with Christian undertones as the characters mention praying over situations. I enjoyed reading it, not really knowing if it would have a happily ever after ending, but hoping so. The characters definitely have baggage to work through—even the more minor characters as found in Sophie’s family. There is a lot of realism as no one’s life is presented as a fairy tale. There is also a lot of hope, kindness, and community spirit.

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

Rating: 4/5

Category: Romance

Publication: April 13, 2021—Thomas Nelson

Memorable Lines:

He’d forgotten how easily words of affirmation rolled off her tongue. She’d always made him feel like he could do anything. Be anything. He let the admiration in her eyes wash over him like a cool wave on a hot summer day.

“Don’t borrow trouble. ‘Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life?’ ’’ She gave him a wry look. “Did you just quote Scripture at me?” “Hey, there’s a reason I have it memorized. If I’ve learned anything it’s that worrying does nothing but stress you out.”

I guess somewhere along the line I started believing that when the going gets tough…people leave.” Sophie’s heart went soft and squishy at his words, his vulnerability. At the little boy who watched his mother drive away from him and never return.

Picture Perfect Frame–art with a twist

Picture Perfect Frame

by Lynn Cahoon

Spring has arrived in South Cove, a small coastal town in California. Tourists are showing up, and businesses are gearing up for the St. Patrick’s Day Street Fair and the many festivals that will follow. Jill, avid reader and owner of Coffee, Books, and More, stays busy juggling her personal life centered around Emma her Pomeranian and Greg her boyfriend who heads up the police department. Her staff, including a new member Evie, work well together sharing responsibilities and functioning as a family. Jill’s best friend Amy is a bit of a bridezilla as she sets ups a second attempt at the perfect wedding; her fiancée’s family cancelled on the first scheduled ceremony.

Despite Jill’s acclaimed lack of creativity, she and Greg attend a painting event at the new Drunken Art Studio. Jill is unable to follow the directions that should result in a seascape, but her strengths as a nosey informal investigator are in full display when one of the guests shows up dead at the studio the next day.

Esmeralda, who handles administrative tasks for Greg, is a self-proclaimed psychic and also Jill’s neighbor; she is accused of the murder. Jill is convinced that the laid back Esmeralda, who catches flies and drives them to the mountains to release them, is innocent. Jill devotes herself to finding the real killer. In the process she discovers that some of her suspects have pasts they want to keep hidden as well as motives for killing the victim. Clearly, one of them is a murderer, and the identity is a surprise. There is also a happy personal twist at the end of Picture Perfect Frame that both provides closure and segues into the next book in the series.

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: 5/5

Category: Mystery

Notes: 1. #12 in the Tourist Trap Mystery Series. Lynn Cahoon is good at providing background so it could be read as a standalone, but there are a lot of references to characters in previous books. My advice: Go back and read some of the earlier books in the series first. It is worth the time and effort.
2. Includes a delicious sounding recipe for “Chocolate Gooey Butter Cake.”

Publication: March 16, 2021—Kensington

Memorable Lines:

“As a lawyer, a lot of times the decisions the courts made weren’t about the truth. I don’t want someone to die and have the wrong person in jail for it. Or worse, for no one to be brought to justice. It doesn’t seem right.”

“I’ve always heard you can’t run from your problems because everywhere you go, you’re still there.”

“Of course we’ll schedule that lunch.” And then she opened the book and started reading. As a reader, I knew a dismissal when I saw it. I’d done it to others before too.

A Fatal Family Feast–a wedding at stake

A Fatal Family Feast

by Lynn Cahoon

If you want a feel-good cozy mystery series with villains juxtaposed with some really nice main characters and an intricate plot, you’ll find it in Lynn Cahoon’s Farm to Fork Mystery Series. In A Fatal Family Feast, Angie Turner, owner of the County Seat restaurant in Idaho, is maid of honor for Felicia, her best friend and business partner who has won the heart of Estebe, a gruff chef who is really a softy. Unfortunately, he is accused of murder by a detective with a grudge. Angie, her boyfriend Ian, Felicia, and Estebe, who jokingly call themselves the Scooby gang, have to find the real murderer or there won’t be a wedding in Idaho or a honeymoon in Spain.

With the clock ticking, they divide up their time between the restaurant, which will be closed for the week of the wedding, and their investigation which uncovers the secrets of several dysfunctional families. The more Angie learns of Felicia’s family, the prouder she is of the family she is creating from her County Seat team; they work together well and support each other. The story also includes positive examples of families. Angie’s boyfriend Ian manages the town’s farmers’ market, and is less concerned about making money than about helping others. Ian’s uncle and his wife are fostering a teenager with great success. Estebe is part of an enthusiastic Basque community who love family, food, fellowship and their Basque culture. They welcome Felicia with open arms.

Certainly the theme of family is an important one to the author. She gives plenty of attention to the characters and to Angie’s animals: Dom, her St. Bernard; Precious, a goat; and Mabel, her hen. The animals don’t play critical roles but are referenced throughout. The plot is always central, and the fun for the reader is in the discovery of clues and eventually the murderer.

I would like to extend my thanks to the author and to Lyrical Press (Kensington Press) for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Mystery

Notes: 1. #6 in the Farm to Fork Mystery Series. Although this book could be read as a standalone, the series would be more enjoyable if read in sequence with the added background on the characters.
2. A risotto recipe is included.

Publication: January 4, 2022—Lyrical Press

Memorable Lines:

The hen clucked her disbelief that the goat could even know the word responsible, which made Angie laugh. “I know the two of you can’t really understand what I’m saying, but sometimes, you make me feel like you can.”

“I think we’re better at finding clues because we’re less people orientated. We’re both introverts, so we were born with the watcher gene. We see things most people ignore.”

Everything’s going to be all right.” “You say that a lot. Even when all the facts go against that premise.” He kissed her cheek. “I have something better than facts. I have faith.”

Farm to Trouble–saving the family farm

Farm to Trouble

by Amanda Flower

Amanda Flower has written several series that I enjoy very much. Her new series, the Farm to Table Mysteries, has some room for growth. Farm to Trouble is only the first book in the series. So far, there are very few characters that I like. The memories of Shiloh’s (Shi’s) deceased grandmother depict her as a woman of strength and character and a great role model for Shi. The protagonist, Shi, is well-meaning, but as she returns to her childhood town she struggles to find her place as most of the residents view her as an outsider. Her father and her cousin are not nice to her, and her deceased fiancé’s best friend Quinn is still struggling with emotions he should have dealt with fifteen years ago. There are a few old friends who truly welcome her back, and some new residents who are quite hateful. Quinn’s daughter Hazel finds a kindred spirit in Shi because they both lost their mothers as children, and they both love animals. My favorite character is an empathetic pug, Huckleberry. The author has great descriptions of him and of Shi’s interpretation of what he is thinking. This is a cute approach to having Huck as an active participant throughout the story.

Shi’s father has let the family farm go to ruins and resists her plans to transform it into an organic farm. She has naively signed a contract with a businessman who is buying up property in Cherry Grove so that he can inundate the area with wind turbines. The terms of the contract are not favorable to Shi, but she is desperate. When she signs the agreement, she has not yet seen the extent of deterioration on the farm. Her pushing forward with this bad deal, after throwing lots of money into the farm over the years to cover her father’s debts, does not seem to be in line with the persona of Shi, a successful Hollywood television producer.

The book deals with murder and identifying the killer, the survival of the Bellemy Farm and of the town of Cherry Grove, lots of liars, the restoration of the local theater, and unresolved feelings of guilt and resentment. There are plenty of plot threads in this book. I’m hoping for more positive character development in the next book in the series, Put Out to Pasture, which is scheduled to be published on February 22, 2022.

I would like to extend my thanks to NetGalley and to Poisoned Pen 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 Farm to Table Mystery Series

Publication: February 23, 2021—Poisoned Pen Press

Memorable Lines:

Now I realized the effort I’d have to put in to care for my ailing father, save the farm, and face the memories that I had buried in my tinsel town life for the last fifteen years. It would be no small feat.

“I haven’t read a book since college. It’s a complete waste of time when everything you need to know is on the internet.” That’s when I knew Laurel and I could never be friends.

I set the pug on the grass. He looked up at me and cocked his head one way and then the other. Even when I was in the worst spots, Huckleberry had the power to cheer me up.

Pianos and Flowers–stories birthed from photos

Pianos and Flowers

by Alexander McCall Smith

It is not uncommon for teachers to present students with a photograph and ask them to write about it. The result is usually nonfiction and descriptive of what is seen in the picture. The Sunday Times asked Alexander McCall Smith, the Scottish writer famous for his No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series set in Botswana, to select photographs from their archives of everyday people in everyday settings. He then created short stories, one for each picture, which fictionalized what was happening to the people in the picture as well as their background. The result is a collection of unrelated stories that bring these people to life. Naturally some appealed to me more than others. “Sphinx” is a gentle romance set in the 1930’s. “Pianos and Flowers” is about Brits working and living in China and how it affected their families. “Architect” had interesting observations about family relationships and culminated in a surprise ending. “Urchins” contained sad stories about the plight of the pictured street urchins and what the future held for them. I smile as I recall “St. John’s Wort,” the story of a retired man who was worried about everything. A friend of the wife gave her some timely advice. As you can see, each story in Pianos and Flowers is unique. There was only one story of the fourteen that I actually noted as not liking.

I read these at the rate of one or two stories a night at bedtime. They were a nice way to end the day on a calm and gentle note.

I would like to extend my thanks to NetGalley and to Knopf Doubleday (Pantheon) for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Short Stories

Publication: January 19, 2021— Knopf Doubleday (Pantheon)

Notes: The subtitle is Brief Encounters of the Romantic Kind, but I found that to be a misnomer. The stories are fictionalized snippets of life so there is some romance, but not very much.

Memorable Lines:

Parents are inexplicably embarrassing to sixteen-year-olds—they always have been.

We belittle the things we secretly want ourselves.

“A metaphor must be strange—it must make us sit up and take notice in a way in which a literal expression does not.”

Murder in a Teacup–who had the opportunity to murder?

Murder in a Teacup

by Vicki Delany

The Locality: Cape Cod Bay in North Augusta, Massachusetts
The Setting: Victoria-on-Sea, a B&B owned by the elderly Rose Campbell
Tea by the Sea, a tearoom on the B&B property operated by Rose’s granddaughter Lily Roberts
Friends: Bernie, AKA the Princess Warrior, a frustrated writer
Simon McCracken, horticulturalist from England hired as a temporary gardener
Pets: Rose’s cat Robbie
Lily’s Labradoodle, Éclair

Vicki Delany’s Murder in a Teacup centers around a family reunion with events at both businesses. The organizer is Heather, a very wealthy, young, New York widow who is paying all expenses for the trip for her grandmother and her estranged, greedy family—her father, mother, brother and his wife and their two teenagers—all from Idaho. Also included in the fun are Heather’s brother-in-law and his wife. No one seems to know that the other side of the family is invited. If you look up “dysfunctional” in the dictionary, you will probably find this family listed as an example.

There is a death that is possibly attributable to something served at one of the establishments. That is bad news for both businesses when the police shut down the tearoom. Not only are cancellations necessary, but social media is going to have a field day. Lily cooks for both facilities. Rose and Lily desperately need to be open as they depend on summer tourist income to get them through the winter. The further complication is that the murderer must still be at the B&B and is probably part of the family.

I kept changing my mind as to who the murderer is: an easy thing to do with so many unlikable characters. Pulling together possible motives is easier than pinpointing opportunity once the method of murder is discovered. The identity reveal comes as a shock to the characters and to the reader.

There are subplots that add interest. Lily’s life has an intense pace as she puts in 12-14 hour days seven days a week struggling to make both businesses succeed. Bernie gave up her Manhattan job as a forensic accountant to become a writer but is having trouble settling into her new profession. There are the barest beginnings of a romance for both young ladies. The pets are ever-present but don’t participate much in the action. I enjoyed watching the conflict between the two detectives on the case play out. One is lazy and fumbling. His counterpart is sharp and cares. Both are limited in what information they can share with Lily and the others making it more difficult for Lily, Rose, and Bernie in their informal investigations, but they persist anyway.

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: 5/5

Category: Mystery

Notes: 1. #2 in the Tea by the Sea Mystery Series, but is excellent as a standalone as the author provides all needed background information while diving into the current story.
2. Recipes at the end of the book include Chocolate Chip Cookies for children’s tea, Shortbread Cookies, and Curried Egg Salad Sandwiches.

Publication: July 21, 2021—Kensington

Memorable Lines:

Plump orange and raisin scones in the middle, perfectly cut sandwiches on the bottom, delicious sweets on the top: a carefully controlled explosion of color, shape, and flavor.

Matt was a true-crime writer, successful enough to have been able to buy his family property when his father wanted to sell it, but not successful enough to be able to pay for all the renovations it needed.

“Stay!” Her ears dropped, her face crumbled, her tail drooped. Slowly, ever so slowly, she crawled under the table and sat down. She let out a mighty sigh and stared at me through enormous liquid brown eyes. “Drama queen,” I said as I bent over and reached under the table to give her an affectionate pat.

Death by the Finish Line–bikers can be nice guys

Death by the Finish Line

by Alexis Morgan

Abby has an unlikely partner, Gil, as she chairs the committee that is organizing Snowberry Creek’s Founder’s Day charity run. Gil is a die-hard biker who runs a motorcycle maintenance shop with his brother Gary. Gil, a veteran, has a rough exterior, but Abby discovers in him excellent organizational skills developed during his time in the military and a surprisingly soft side.

Abby and Gil plan the run down to the last detail and recruit a group of capable volunteers. What they didn’t count on was a murder along the way and charges filed against Gary. This is not the first murder Abby is too close to since she moved to Snowberry Creek. With urgings from her boyfriend Tripp and the police chief Gage, Abby tries hard to stay out of the investigation, but Gary needs help and clues keep coming her way.

The plot of Death by the Finish Line is complex with lots of complications. Abby is a likable main character. She and Tripp are trying to work out just what their relationship is and if the “L” word should be a part of it. The romance, however, is only a sideline and does not cloud the mystery aspects. Abby’s lovable mastiff mix Zeke plays a big role in the story and in Abby’s life.

For most of the book, it would be hard to predict who the criminal is, but as the plot churns quickly towards a denouement, the reader becomes aware of the perpetrator, but not the motive. Abby is somewhat naive as she focuses on helping people, and the reader will surely be screaming “No, Abby, don’t do it! Watch out.” Finally beginning to sense danger, Abby makes a smart move as the plot reaches its climax. In the aftermath, Abby is surprised with a personal, non-romantic, decision that will leave you smiling. For the cozy mystery reader, Death at the Finish Line is another satisfying trip to Snowberry Creek where life should be slow-paced and uneventful, but rarely is.

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: 5/5

Category: Mystery

Notes: # 5 in the Abby McCree Mystery Series, but can be read as a standalone.

Publication: December 28, 2021—Kensington

Memorable Lines:

“The mayor’s assistant is a lovely woman, so warm and friendly. At the same time, she has an absolutely terrifying ability to convince someone that they want nothing more in life than to help organize a charity run.”

She’d barely been able to dress herself at this hour, but Tripp was clean shaven, his dark hair neatly combed, and his dark eyes sparkled with good humor. He looked irritatingly chirpy, but then he was a morning person. Lucky for him, he had other redeeming characteristics to make up for that one serious shortcoming.

Tripp insisted that Zeke’s loyalty could be bought with two treats and a pat on the head, but that wasn’t always true. While there weren’t many people the big dog didn’t like, the few exceptions had all turned out to be bad news.

When GOD Winks at YOU: How God Speaks Directly to You Through the Power of Coincidence

When GOD Winks at YOU: How God Speaks Directly to You Through the Power of Coincidence

by Squire Rushnell

I used to be intrigued by coincidences, seemingly chance occurrences that draw you to ponder how an event could happen at a certain time and place. As I have experienced these coincidences over the years, I have come to recognize that they do not happen by chance, but are part of the bigger plan of an omniscient, omnipotent, loving God. That idea is what When GOD Winks at YOU is all about, and its subtitle is How God Speaks Directly to You Through the Power of Coincidence.

In this short, inspirational book, Squire Bushnell shares numerous examples of how “Every time you receive what some call a coincidence or an answered prayer, it’s a direct and personal message of reassurance from God to you—what I call a godwink.” The anecdotes feature strangers, family members, friends, and celebrities. They are tales of God working in people’s lives in amazing ways.

The godwink might be an arrangement of events that lead toward a goal or it might be a “message of reassurance” that God sees you, hears you, and is there to support you. It could be an answer to prayer or a guidepost giving you direction.

Some of the stories are sad, some are happy, but all are fascinating. Rushnell, a former television president and CEO, is an excellent writer, taking what could be a long story with a confusing timeline and recording it in a clear, concise, and compelling manner. After introducing the concept of godwinks, the author follows with eight more chapters based on instances of godwinks in various scenarios such as transitions, unanswered prayer, and quests. All are interesting, and I would be hard pressed to pick a favorite as each addresses a different area of concern. Rushnell adds his own brief commentary and interpretation to each chapter very unobtrusively. A feature I enjoyed is a scattering of quotes throughout the book as sidebars. They are short, closely related to the theme, and never interrupt or repeat the text. The content within each chapter flows. Although it could probably be read in one or two sittings, it could also be spaced out into a chapter or even part of a chapter per day. Any way you choose to read When God Winks at You, you will find inspiring reading that will lead you to look for the godwinks, past and present, in your own life.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Christian, Inspirational

Notes: This book is one of many “godwinks” books written by this author. There are ones that focus on specific topics like marriage and prayer and Christmas themed godwinks books. I am interested in reading Dogwinks: True Godwink Stories of Dogs and the Blessings They Bring.

Publication: 2006—Thomas Nelson

Memorable Lines:

Every godwink is another reminder—another small, still message from God—that everything is going to be okay. Someday you will see everything from His perspective, and you’ll understand.

Some people have a divine desire placed into their hearts at a very early age that becomes a beacon to follow like a medieval knight’s quest. God erects signs along the way to guide us on our journey—godwinks to assure us that we are indeed on the right path.

The chain of godwinks that showered peace and forgiveness on two families on opposite sides of the globe is a remarkable tribute to God’s power in each of our lives and how He places signposts of reassurance along the paths of each of our quests.

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