Monday, November 6, 2017

The Calico and Cowboys Romance Collection

Mary Connealy tells eight entertaining love stories in this newest novella collection.  The six novellas  that revisit families from Connealy's previous series were decidedly my favorite.

A Bride Rides Herd, His Surprise Family, Sophie's Other Daughter, The Sweetwater Bride, Texas Tea, and Hope for Christmas will delight fans of the Harden, McClellan and Reeves families.  While I enjoyed The Advent Bride and Homestead on the Range, they were certainly less engaging and almost unnecessary additions to the otherwise excellent collection.  Someone unfamiliar with Connealy's previous books would likely not enjoy these stories as an avid fan would, however.  I sometimes find Connealy's   character development a bit too obvious and heavy-handed, but this is strikingly less distracting in the novella genre.  In fact, many of my favorite of Connealy's works have been novellas, rather than her full-length novels.  I could not put this book down, and foresee reading it many times over.

 I received a free copy from the publisher.  No review, positive or otherwise, was required—all opinions are my own.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

The Engagement Plot

When William betrayed Hanna's trust on national television months ago, she retreated to her farm in Minnesota to avoid the accusations and media attention that followed her appearance on a reality dating show.  While not ready to forgive William, Hanna agrees to his plan to fake an engagement in an attempt to save her reputation and his career.  Will Hanna be able to protect her heart against the charming CEO a second time?  Can Will earn Hanna's forgiveness once an for all, and admit that his feeling for her might be genuine?  When both of their worlds come crashing down, will they choose to trust and depend on one another, or go their separate ways?

Kristina Phillips tells a timely and entertaining story in The Engagement Plot.  I will openly admit to The Bachelor having often been a guilty pleasure for me, so was immediately intrigued by the premise.  Phillips brings up a number of excellent themes given today's media-obsessed culture.  How much should we care about what other people think?  How much does God require us to forgive?  Is deception ever justified?  Can we ever rebuild trust once it has been lost?  The plot itself, while obviously a bit predictable, was fun and moved along quickly.  I like both Hanna and William, and found them compelling romantic leads.  The conclusion, however, was a bit abrupt and unsatisfying.  I would have appreciated one more chapter or an epilogue to cement the overall happy ending.

 I received a free copy from the publisher.  No review, positive or otherwise, was required—all opinions are my own.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

A Dangerous Engagement

With her small dowry, Felicity Mayson begins to despair of ever making a good match.  When her aunt, Lady Blackstone, sends her an invitation to a house party and introduces her to the charming and affluent Oliver Ratley, Felicity begins to believe she may have finally found a man who does not mind her lack of fortune.  She accepts Ratley's abrupt proposal only to discover the alarming purpose of the house party and its guests.  Rather than a country getaway, Lady Blackstone has convened a meeting of a radical group of men and women bent on a violent overthrow of the British government.

Government agent Phillip McDowell has infiltrated the group, and soon discovers Felicity's dangerous position.  In order to gather necessary evidence against the group, Phillip convinces Felicity to continue her engagement with Ratley.  Will they each be capable of playing this dangerous game without any of the guests discovering their true intentions?  Will Felicity be forced into a hasty marriage to a terrifying revolutionary?  Will the respect and admiration Phillip and Felicity develop for one another ever have a chance to grow amid such intrigue?

Melanie Dickerson takes readers of a thrilling adventure in A Dangerous Engagement.  This was my first experience with Dickerson's Regency Spies of London series, and I found that the strengths and weaknesses in her various medieval series have followed her to this one.  Her historical descriptions and overall storytelling is, once again, excellent.  Character development?  Still flawed.  As always, I admire her male characters, and continually wonder what they see in the female love interest.  While Felicity manages to be function as a spy in a dangerous situation, she still makes stupid decisions (that of course require her to be rescued) and often faints.  Why can't one of Dickerson's female leads be strong and independent for once?  My inner feminist wants more to cheer for.  Overall, though, Dickerson's latest is a fun, entertaining story with a satisfying conclusion.

 I received a free copy from the publisher.  No review, positive or otherwise, was required—all opinions are my own.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta!

No review this week (I'm working on some, I promise...) but here's a look at our family's first trip out to Albuquerque for Balloon Fiesta! 

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Lies Jane Austen Told Me

Having "broken up" with Jane Austen in college, Emma Pierce does her best to live an a practical, grounded way-- always surpassing her inner romantic.  When her long-time boyfriend, Blake Hampton, invites her to his family home for a weekend, Emma lets her friends convince her that Blake intends to propose.  When Emma finds Blake dining with another woman, though, her romantic dreams come crashing down once again.  Determined to focus on her fast-paced job as the CMO of a growing gym franchise, Emma finds it difficult to forget Blake when her boss hires Blake's brother, Lucas.  Though a deep friendship develops and sparks fly between Emma and Lucas, Emma can't understand why Lucas continually tries to convince her to give her relationship with Blake another chance.  Will Emma decide to follow her heart and embrace her inner Jane Austen, or will she continue to maintain that romance itself is a lie?

Julie Wright tells an entertaining contemporary love story in Lies Jane Austen Told Me.  While I appreciated the concept of the plot and enjoyed Lucas and Emma's love story, Wright's writing was a bit casual and scattered for my taste.  I grew tired of the almost schizophrenic ramblings of Emma's mind.  Additionally, the conclusion of the story itself was satisfying, but it took an unreasonable amount of time to get there.  Too many characters made too many mountains out of molehills to be really believable.  I genuinely liked the book, but never really lost myself in it.

 I received a free copy from the publisher.  No review, positive or otherwise, was required—all opinions are my own.

Monday, October 2, 2017

The Regency Brides Collection

As an unabashed lover of all things Regency England, it shouldn't be surprising that I jumped all over the chance to review this wonderful little collection of seven novellas.  Michelle Griep and MaryLu Tyndall happen to be favorites of mine, so I was reasonably sure I'd love at least two of the included stories.  Luckily for me, I thoroughly enjoyed almost every single one!  Each takes a look at different aspects, regions, and peculiarities of a fascinating time in English history, while telling a host of lovely love stories.  I was least impressed with Susanne Dietze's Three Little Matchmakers, and Nancy Moser's When I Saw His Face, but Griep and Tyndal's additions did not disappoint, and I was particularly impressed with Amanda Barratt's First Comes Marriage.  I also may have re-read the end of Erica Vestch's Jamie Ever After an embarrassing number of times.  I'll certainly be adding Barratt and Vestch to my list of authors to watch.  Short and sweet, these seven stories kept me more than entertained on a rainy weekend a few weeks ago!

 I received a free copy from the publisher.  No review, positive or otherwise, was required—all opinions are my own. 

Monday, September 25, 2017

A Dangerous Legacy

Associated Press telegrapher Lucy Drake loves her job at the very heart of the American news industry.  During her free-time, however, Lucy and her brother spend most of their waking hours and hard-earned salaries on a court case involving a contentious and complicated family feud.  When Sir Colin Beckwith arrives to manage the Reuters-- the AP's rival news agency-- Lucy can't help but enjoy his company, and eventually finds a way for him to gather vital information for her court case.  

On the hunt for an American heiress to help save his family's home and tenets, Colin uses his British title to rub elbows with America's gilded elite.  Though enchanted by Lucy's tenacity and gumption, Colin cannot afford to fall in love with a fortune-less woman.  Will their deepening friendship and undeniable attraction to one another lead them to follow their hearts, or will Colin and Lucy continue to sacrifice their own desires for family obligations and money?  

Elizabeth Camden takes readers on a compelling journey in A Dangerous Legacy.  As a devoted fan of Camden's work,  I had been somewhat disappointed in her last two novel attempts, but am more than happy to assert that this latest work may be one of my new favorites.  Both Lucy and Colin were believable and flawed, but still likable as protagonists-- which had been my primary complaint in To the Farthest Shores and From this Moment.  I truly enjoyed their individual journeys to let go of past expectations and disappointments in an attempt to finally embrace the lives they'd been given.  I have always loved America's gilded age, and the depictions of unabashed fortune-hunting European aristocrats, the fast-paced world of the burgeoning news industry, and even the field of mental health were fascinating.  With her typical talent, Camden brings a lovely story to a beautifully satisfying conclusion that leaves the reader ready for yet another journey into the past. 

 I received a free copy from the publisher.  No review, positive or otherwise, was required—all opinions are my own.  

Friday, September 22, 2017

Too Far Down

While trouble has been following the Boden family and their ranch for years, their powerful and well-connected enemies seem to have begun targeting the profitable CR Mining Company too.  When someone purposely detonates dynamite at the entrance of several mines and kills five men, and the life of patriarch Chance Boden is threatened again in far-away Denver, the Boden children decide to find and eliminate their elusive enemy once and for all.  

Having served as the mine's manager ever since he returned from Harvard, the destruction at the mines hits Cole Boden particularly hard.  Will the love of his family and his confusing feelings for his neighbor-- Melanie Blake-- be able to keep Cole in the New Mexico territory, or will the rugged danger send him back to the intriguing world of business he left behind back East?  Melanie Blake grew up with the Boden children, and has been a friend to Justin and Sadie for years.  More interested in horses and guns than silk dresses, Mel has never quite understood her infatuation with Cole.  When Cole begins to show an interest in her, will she have the strength to protect her heart from a man who hasn't truly decided what he wants in life? 

Mary Coneally brings her Cimarron Legacy trilogy to an exciting and satisfying conclusion in Too Far Down.  Much like the second installment, this novel takes place just weeks after Long Time Gone, and the plots of all three novels are intricately intertwined.  Readers should view The Cimarron Legacy as a three-part story, rather than a series of three individual novels.  Having made the mistake of not re-reading No Way Up when Conneally released her second installment, I brushed up on the Boden family before starting this newest addition.  I'm certainly glad I did.  In re-reading the first two installments, I also decided that the first and last novels are superior to the middle one.  Cole's struggle to find his identity and reconcile his two lives is compelling, Melanie's need to protect herself from Cole's indecision shows wisdom and strength, Chance and Veronica's mistake in making unfair demands on their grown children is (finally) addressed, the chance to see Sadie, Heath, Justin and Angie in their first weeks of marriage is enjoyable, and solving the mysteries surrounding the CR's enemies was sufficiently satisfying.  As a resident of New Mexico these days, I particularly enjoyed this glimpse into American history.  

 I received a free copy from the publisher.  No review, positive or otherwise, was required—all opinions are my own.  

Monday, September 11, 2017

101 Days

No reviews this week... the boys and I have been busy celebrating the return of a certain pilot after a 3-month deployment!

It was a lonely summer... but definitely not boring!

Monday, September 4, 2017

Christmas at Carnton

Recently widowed, pregnant, out of work, and facing the foreclosure of her home, Aletta Prescott is desperate to find a new job that will allow her to support herself and her six-year-old son.  She eventually finds a short-term position working with the Women's Relief Society auction, but has to work alongside and depend on a wounded soldier also assigned to the auction.  Will Aletta learn to trust God to supply her needs when her temporary position at Carnton ends?  Will she have the courage to give her heart away after it has so recently been broken?  

Wounded confederate sharpshooter Jake Winston begrudgingly takes an assignment working with the Women's Relief Society while he waits for his vision to recover from a serious head injury.  Wishing  he was back on the battlefield with his unit, Jake must learn to define himself outside his rank and occupation.  Will his friendship with Aletta show Jake that he still has value?  Is he willing to risk forming attachments when the war still seems far from over? 

In her typical fashion, Tamera Alexander tells a lovely story full of fascinating historical detail in Christmas as Carnton.  While the plot was a bit predictable-- even with the supposed twists toward the end-- Jake and Aletta's characters were beautifully written and compelling to explore.  I loved Aletta's gumption and Alexander's feminist undertones woven throughout the story.  Why can't a woman build a nativity set?  Jake's struggle to accept the end of his sharpshooting career and the guilt he feels being away from the battlefield was equally interesting.  As a matter of personal taste, I would have preferred that Aletta hadn't been quite so recently widowed.  One month seems like an awfully short amount of time to have recovered from the death of her spouse to the point that she feels as drawn to Jake as she was.  Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this introduction to Alexander's upcoming series set at Carnton, and cannot wait for more! 

 I received a free copy from the publisher.  No review, positive or otherwise, was required—all opinions are my own.  

Monday, August 28, 2017

An Inconvenient Beauty

Now that each of his siblings is happily married, Griffith-- the Duke of Riverton-- decides it's finally time for him to settle down as well.  Approaching the courting process with all the planning, reasoning, and control with which approaches everything, Griffith comes to the conclusion that Frederica St. Claire is his most rational choice for a bride.  Unfortunately, Miss St. Claire constantly pushes Griffith toward her extraordinarily beautiful and popular cousin, Isabella Breckenridge.  Despite their mutual attraction, Griffith and Isabella have reservations about pursuing a relationship with one another.  Will Griffith allow himself to follow his heart this time, or will Isabella's secrets keep them apart forever?

Kristi Ann Hunter's An Inconvenient Beauty brings her Hawthorne House series to a masterful conclusion.  It's no secret I've been anxiously awaiting this latest installment, and have devoured each of its three predecessors.  I might go so far as to say that the series gets better and better with each addition.  Full of interesting historical detail, excellently crafted characters, complex plot lines, and yet another swoon-worthy love story, Hunter's latest is practically perfect.  Most impressive is her talent in composing a truly engaging set of individual stories.  While I definitely binge-read the prior books in the series in preparation for this release, it wouldn't have been necessary.  Hunter manages to tell a complete story in each novel, while artfully bringing back older characters in a way that isn't confusing, distracting, or unnecessary.  Again, you don't have to read the whole series to enjoy this particular novel... but you should anyway.  I'm honestly sad to see such an excellently written series come to an end, and look forward to whatever project comes next!

 I received a free copy from the publisher.  No review, positive or otherwise, was required—all opinions are my own.

Monday, August 21, 2017

12 Days at Bleakly Manor

Left at the altar and told that her fiancĂ© has absconded with her family's fortune, Clara Chapman finds herself heartbroken, penniless, and living with an ailing aunt.  When a mysterious invitation arrives promising her 1000 pounds to spend the 12 days of Christmas at an unfamiliar Bleakly Manor, Clara feels she has no choice but to accept.  

Unjustly accused and imprisoned for stealing the Chapmans' money, Benjamin Lane is offered his freedom if he also spends the same 12 days at Bleakly.  As Ben and Clara come face-to-face again at the mysterious country home, they must decide if they can forgive one another for the schemes and misunderstandings that have separated them.  When the master of the house never appears, servants continue to leave, and other house guests continually injure themselves in freak accidents, will Clara and Ben even be able to survive 12 days?  

Michelle Griep takes reader on an intriguing adventure in 12 Days and Bleakly Manor.  Clara and Ben are both well-developed and believable protagonists, and the host of secondary characters in the story are equally entertaining.  I particularly enjoyed Griep's depictions of Christmas traditions and celebrations in the mid-19th Century.  The story's conclusion was equal parts lovely and satisfying, and I enjoyed every single page.  I anxiously await the next installment in the Once Upon an Dickens Christmas series.  

 I received a free copy from the publisher.  No review, positive or otherwise, was required—all opinions are my own.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Loving Luther

Left at a convent by her father as a small child, Katharina von Bora knows little about life outside cloistered walls.  Though she takes her vows and maintains dear friendships, a part of Katharina still chafes under the strict way of life she has chosen.  When the writings of Martin Luther begin finding their way into the convent walls, though, Kat begins to look at her life-- and her faith-- in a much different way.  With the help of Luther and his friends, Katharina a group of fellow nuns escape the convent to embark on a new adventure.  Without a family to support her, Kat must live in the homes of Luther's friends and supporters while the reformer himself tries to find a husband for her.  Will Katharina learn to navigate life outside a religious order?  Will she trade one life of service for another, or dare to risk her heart for a chance at love and a family?  

Allison Pittman tells a compelling story of both love and faith in Loving Luther.  Rather than focusing on Martin and Katharina as a couple, like Luther and Katharina, Pittman simply tells Katharina's story... and what what in intriguing story it is!  From a fascinating look into life inside 16th century convents, to the dangers and details of the Reformation and its leaders, I couldn't put the book down.  As a proud protestant, I've always loved this era or church history, but I also appreciated Pittman's tact in not maligning our Catholic brothers and sisters.  I loved than women of deep, abiding faith existed both inside and outside convent walls.  As with all of Pittman's works, this one was excellently researched, superbly written, rich in historical detail, and full of compelling characters.  

 I received a free copy from the publisher.  No review, positive or otherwise, was required—all opinions are my own.

Monday, August 7, 2017

All That Makes Life Bright

Despite her sister's concerns, Harriet Beecher doesn't question that her married life with Calvin Stowe will be full of happiness, family, independence and literary opportunities.  Just two months into their marriage, though, Harriet finds herself overwhelmed with household responsibilities she detests, pregnant, and having to bid her new husband farewell as he embarks on a long European trip.  Between Calvin's high domestic expectations of Harriet and his tendency to compare her to his first, beloved wife, Harriet begins to wonder is she is capable of being the wife Calvin needs, as well as the woman she needs herself to be.  After months apart, the addition of children to their family, and constant financial struggles, will Harriet and Calvin remember how to cherish one another despite their extreme temperamental differences?

Josi S. Kilpack tells yet another gut-wrenchingly beautiful story based on the life of acclaimed author Harriet Beecher Stowe in All That Makes Life Bright.  Words cannot express how much I adored this book.  Kilpack does a flawless job alternately portraying both Calvin and Harriet in realistic and sympathetic ways.  Neither one is always in the right, and thus the novel perfectly exemplifies the daily struggles of the early years of marriage.  Are Calvin's expectations reasonable, or overbearing?  Both.  Is Harriet a wife and mother, or an author?  Both.  Every stay-at-home mother will shed a tear reading of Harriet's struggles to find an identity outside that of a cook/housekeeper/nanny... as well as the accompanying guilt associated with those feelings.  It's as if Kilpack had read my own diary.  Perfection.  Absolute perfection.

 I received a free copy from the publisher.  No review, positive or otherwise, was required—all opinions are my own.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Summer Reads Highlight: Tamara Leigh

Well, having spent the summer without a Handsome Hubby to snuggle up with... I've read a truly embarrassing number of romance novels over the past few months!  My favorite authors haven't been able to keep up with my voracious appetite lately, so I've read and re-read some of my all-time favorites.  And since I don't have a new book to review, I thought I'd reveal what my favorite guilty pleasure summer reads have been:

Medieval Romances by Tamara Leigh 

Amazon-- in its infinite wisdom-- had been recommending Leigh's books to me for years.  Here's why it took me so long to read them... 
  • Let's be honest, the covers look like the type of romance novels I'd be embarrassed toread in public.  In fact, when the Hubby sees them in the Kindle Cloud, he chuckles.  
  • I've typically been more of a Regency or Tudor England type of girl.  Manners and social graces and all things Jane Austin have traditionally been my cup of tea.  Medieval stuff?  Not so much.  I've been to Medieval Times... bad food and smelly horses?  Eh, no thanks.  Beowulf and Canterbury Tales? Never my favorites.  
  • I'm pretty sure Amazon recommended Leigh because I've read and reviewed several of Melanie Dickerson's medieval fairy tales, and have found them pretty hit or miss.  Reading them for free to write a review?  Sure.  Paying money for them?  Not always worth it.  The fact that Amazon linked the two authors have me pause.  As much as I love reading, I can easily spend WAY more money than I should on books!  Side note... why aren't any of Leigh's books available to review on NetGalley?!  I'd be all over that.  
  • Amazon also kept telling me I'd like Leigh's time travel series.  Time travel?  Really?  I know many of my friends LOVE Outlander, but I just didn't.  The whole idea just seems so silly.  And I'm a serious historical fiction reader (or so I tell myself...) 
Ok, now that that's out of my system, here's why Amazon was right and why I should have been reading EVERY SINGLE ONE of Leigh's books all along:
  • Yes, the covers are kind of embarrassing.  But I DO love romance novels, so why not let the world know?  But most importantly, the books are not smutty.  There's love and romance and plenty of kissing, but that's really it.  Most even have a religious element or theme running through them.  
  • Even though I still adore the Regency and Tudor periods with all my heart, medieval stuff is cool too.  Leigh does an excellent job weaving historical fact with romantic intrigue and I've learned a lot about the period... which is why I love historical fiction in the first place!  I don't know how many times I've checked this British Royal family tree to get a better idea of how the events she mentions affected British history.  
  • While I do understand why Amazon thinks Melanie Dickerson and Tamara Leigh are similar-- Christian medieval romance writers-- their styles are quite different.  All of my issues with Dickerson's writing (simpering females, awkward dialogue, heavy-handed character development) are not a problem with Leigh.  I thoroughly enjoy her writing.  Her characters are all unique, believable, and intriguing.  Not an annoying, insipid, or wimpy female lead in the bunch.  And, my goodness, this woman has a talent for creating one swoon-worthy male protagonist after another!  
  • I'll admit that even after having read every other book available on Amazon, I still couldn't bring myself to do the whole time travel thing until I got truly desperate.  She handled the whole thing well, and while they probably aren't my favorites... I still devoured them both. 
If I had to pick, I think her Age of Faith series is my favorite.  But I truly love them all.  

In fact, Lady Betrayed comes out on August 4, and I've got it pre-ordered!  I can tell you without a doubt I will spend this entire weekend reading it. 

Monday, July 24, 2017

Moana Birthday


My baby sister turned 19 last week... what?!  Since the boys and I just happen to be visiting this summer, my Mommy and I decided to go a little bit overboard when Katie mentioned she wanted a Moana themed birthday.  What started as a small, family get-together with some pizzas and cake... turned into quite the celebration!

While we had plenty of fun decorations around the house, here are a few of my favorite additions:

The Heart of Te Fiti cookies turned out fun, and were super easy to make!  Just plain, old sugar cookies, with some green royal icing in a double swirl.  Done.  

The boat cupcakes were another hit.  My favorite chocolate cupcake recipe, blue buttercream, candy dipping sticks, sails cut out of cream-colored cardstock, and a swirly thing made with a red sharpie: easy-peasy.  

Tiki-head fruit kabobs!  I printed the heads on brown cardstock, glued two to the top of each skewer, and added some nice, fresh fruit.  

The biggest hit, however, was the photo-booth!  What's a party without a photo-booth these days?  Boring, that's what.  A giant backdrop and some fun props from Amazon cost about $20, and was worth every penny.  

I think we all had a little too much fun!