Review: The Christmas Cowboy Hero

ABOUT THE BOOK

Title: The Christmas Cowboy Hero
Author: Donna Grant
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Release Date: October 2017
Length: 320 pages
Series?: Heart of Texas #1
Genre: Contemporary, Romance

’Tis the season for ex-Navy SEAL Clayton East to come home for the holidays―even if the mood at home is anything but festive. His father is ill. The East Ranch is in financial trouble. And now it’s on Clayton, the prodigal son, to make sure his family doesn’t lose everything.

Headstrong Abby Harper is like a mother to her younger brothers, who she’s helped raise since she was a teenager. Keeping them in line is no small task while she’s also working toward her college degree. And now that one of her brothers has been arrested for stealing cattle at the East Ranch, Abby is at her wit’s end. But there is a silver lining: Clayton East. He believes in second chances, and is willing to give one to her brother this Christmas. Letting beautiful Abby―and the inescapable longing in his heart―off the hook, however, is a whole ’nother story. Could it be that the woman of this local hero’s dreams has been back at home all along?

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my review

My Thoughts 

The Christmas Cowboy Hero is the first book in the new Heart of Texas series. Set in Clearview, Texas, this book focuses on the cattle and ranching industry, a staple of Texas with some long-running, large family ranches.

Clayton East is an ex-Navy SEAL now working in Africa protecting big game from poachers. After separating from the military, he purposefully did not return home to the East Ranch. Being there brings back reminders and is too painful. Shortly before Christmas, he gets a call he can’t keep ignoring: his dad isn’t doing well and the ranch is in trouble.

Upon arriving home, Clayton discovers the East Ranch is a mess. Their accountant has disappeared with essentially all of the ranch’s money. Additionally, someone has stolen a hundred head of cattle, most of which are cows ready to calve. Their prize bull was also stolen.  The total of the theft alone comes to $275,000.

One of the rustlers, a 16-year-old kid, is arrested. Going to the station, Clayton meets Brice Harper, who won’t talk and is obviously scared of something. He also meets Brice’s sister, Abby Harper, whom he instantly is drawn toward. After being informed Brice has never been in trouble before, Clayton has a moment of self-motivated kindness. Believing in second chances and hatching a plan to gain Brice’s trust, Clayton offers Brice a job working at the ranch to work off his debt in lieu of going to jail. Hoping Brice will eventually open up and talk about the theft, it also gives Clayton opportunities to see Abby Harper again.

Abby was only 18 when her mother abandoned her, leaving the guardianship of her two young brothers to her. It’s been eight years and she’s never come back, leaving Abby struggling just to manage and raise her 16 and 14 year old brothers. She works at an accounting firm being paid in the drudges. When she can scrape together enough funds, she attends school part-time to continue toward her accounting degree. They’ve only known hardship and struggle, but there is a lot of love in the Harper family.

After Brice begins at the East Ranch, he is enamored of the work and the people and the animals. Soon, his younger brother Caleb is also tagging along to work at the ranch. While still paying off his debt, Brice is openly welcomed and supported and encouraged to be the best version of himself he can be. With her brothers being at the ranch so long, Abby also ends up spending time there and is introduced to the ranch’s accounting books. After digging through them, she discovers many things about the AWOL accountant and the status of the ranch. Their mutual attraction slowly blossoms into a budding Christmas romance.

Both boys show great improvement under Clayton’s direction. Abby also sees some reprieve in her future with the potential to work at the East ranch with a significant pay raise. Carrying all the burdens of the world on her shoulders, she has been the heart and soul of her family. The mother, father, and sister. Being shown she doesn’t have to do it alone, that she can share her burden, is a glimpse of a life that appeals and frightens Abby. What if she is abandoned again?

The suspense over the missing cattle is an angle Clayton still can’t seem to work out. Brice won’t budge. Abby begins digging around at her office and unearths a possible connection. The disappearance of the accountant is no longer such a mystery, but there is a growing danger as Abby tries to puzzle things out.

For the first time in his life, Clayton opens up about the loss and pain and guilt he feels. This is why he never wanted to return to the East Ranch. That moment of vulnerability changes things between Abby and Clayton.

The characters and down-home feel are what made the story for me. Clayton and Abby both have their flaws, and both come from families you can depend upon in a time of need. Even the cast of East Ranch characters were ones I could connect with. The Easts are the quintessential family. It seems the perfect place to be. Friendly and welcoming, the Texas way.

The setting was familiar and the East family is heartwarming. The characters brought the story to life and kept the pace moving. This was one of my favorite holiday reads and I couldn’t put it down. I definitely want to continue reading the Heart of Texas series.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Born and raised in Texas, Donna has ties across the border in Louisiana. Growing up with two such vibrant cultures, her Cajun side of the family taught her the “spicy” side of life while her Texas roots gave her two-steppin’ and bareback riding. She is never far from her faithful 80 pound dog, Sisko, or her three cats. She can often be found at the movies or bookstore with her children. Or buying makeup. And shoes.

Find the author: GoodreadsWebsite | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

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Review: Christmas at Seashell Cottage

ABOUT THE BOOK

Title: Christmas at Seashell Cottage
Author: Donna Alward
Publisher: St. Martin’s Paperbacks
Release Date: October 2014
Length: 198 pages
Series?: Jewell Cove #1.5
Genre: Contemporary, Romance

It’s Christmas in Jewell Cove, and local doctor Charlie Yang finds her quiet, steady life disrupted by both an abandoned baby in the nativity manger and a real-life mystery man. Sure, she’s always wanted a family of her own, but she didn’t imagine it coming from a baby that wasn’t hers and a man who was more interested in living day by day than making long-term plans…

Ex-SEAL Dave Ricker hadn’t planned on making Jewell Cove his forever home, but the talented and tender-hearted Charlie has him reconsidering his position on settling down. Can a beautiful woman, adorable baby, and a small town full of holiday spirit change his mind for good?

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my review

My Thoughts 

Charlie Yang is relatively new to town. She defied her parents and accepted a small town doctor position. Growing up an only child and brushed off by her parents, she wants more from life than the living to climb the career ladder. With hopes of joining in the community and being accepted in an insular small town where everyone knows everyone, Charlie is struggling to be seen as anything but the town doctor.

Dave Ricker also recently moved to town after putting his Navy SEALs life to rest. Stuck in the in between and wanting to be near his young daughter, he’s taken a job working at the boat docks. Unbeknownst to him, Charlie spends many of her lunch breaks watching the new guy at the docks. She dreams of having the life she didn’t growing up: an adoring husband and family. Love.

In an effort to fit in more with the townspeople, Charlie and Dave both volunteer to help decorate the town for Christmas. They decide to meet for the annual tree lighting ceremony. Being the two outsiders in the town, they decide to band together at this town event. Despite Dave’s fear of commitment, they agree to a no-strings attached arrangement. With a plan to meet up with Charlie’s boss and some other townies, their night is thrown off-course after walking past the manger scene in front of the church. The plastic baby doll Jesus Charlie placed there just days before is gone. In it’s place is a real baby.

To fill her own void, Charlie agrees to foster the baby for a few weeks until the investigation is concluded. Trying to care for a newborn while maintaining her full-time doctor status eventually takes its toll.  In the meantime, the newcomer’s romance slowly starts to unfold. Together, Charlie and Dave care for this little Christmas miracle. But Charlie is not a no-strings, no connection girl. She pushes for more. Being relationshipaphobic, Dave retreats. Alternately, the two continue this strange mating dance of freaking out on one another and changing their minds. The continual cycle felt childish and manufactured to create a dramatic upheaval.

Being a short novella, the pacing was fairly quick and consistent. Charlie’s character was flushed out fairly well and developed. Her childhood has played a major role in her life and her emotions. On the other hand, Dave’s character is glossed over and lacking in that character background. His story and his personality were underdeveloped and a disservice to his character and the storyline.

There was a resolution to the mystery of where the mystery baby came from. Named Daniel by Charlie and Dave, Charlie is able to help the young mother set up and get on the right track.

I fell in love with the town of Jewell Cove and I was falling in love with the story and the characters until the manufactured drama turned up. It was like watching a high school couple fight about being together and then break up, and then fight about not being together and get back together, and then fight about not being together and break up again. I feel like something got lost a little somewhere in there and wished it had only happened once. It dampened my enjoyment of the book overall.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

marti-corn-photography-donna-alward-h-r-1600While bestselling author Donna Alward was busy studying Austen, Eliot and Shakespeare, she was also losing herself in the breathtaking stories created by romance novelists like LaVyrle Spencer, Judith McNaught, and Nora Roberts. Several years after completing her degree she decided to write a romance of her own and it was true love! Five years and ten manuscripts later she sold her first book and launched a new career. While her heartwarming stories of love, hope, and homecoming have been translated into several languages, hit bestseller lists and won awards, her very favorite thing is when she hears from happy readers!

Donna lives on Canada’s east coast with her family which includes a husband, a couple of kids, a senior dog and two crazy cats. When she’s not writing she enjoys reading (of course!), knitting, gardening, cooking…and is a Masterpiece Theater addict.

Find the author: Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads

Review: Unmasking Juliet

ABOUT THE BOOK

Title: Unmasking Juliet
Author: Teri Wilson
Publisher: Green Darner Press
Release Date: May 2014
Length: 368 pages
Series?: no
Genre: Retelling, Contemporary

Ever since she was a little girl learning to make decadent truffles in her family’s chocolate shop, Juliet Arabella has been aware of the bitter feud between the Arabellas and the Mezzanottes. With their rival chocolate boutiques on the same street in Napa Valley, these families never mix. Until one night, when Juliet anonymously attends the annual masquerade ball. In a moonlit vineyard, she finds herself falling for a gorgeous stranger, a man who reminds her what passion is like outside of the kitchen. But her bliss is short-lived when she discovers her masked prince is actually Leo Mezzanotte, newly returned from Paris and the heir to her archenemy’s confection dynasty.

With her mind in a whirl, Juliet leaves for Italy to represent the Arabellas in a prestigious chocolate competition. The prize money will help her family’s struggling business, and Juliet figures it’s a perfect opportunity to forget Leo…only to find him already there and gunning for victory. As they compete head-to-head, Leo and Juliet’s fervent attraction boils over. But Juliet’s not sure whether to trust her adversary, or give up on the sweetest love she’s ever tasted…

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my review

My Thoughts 

This is a contemporary retelling of Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet set in a feuding chocolatier’s world. A decades-old disagreement and theft has put a rift between the Arabella and Mezzanotte families that has been fanned into flames just as much as the forbidden love between dutiful Juliet Arabella and newly returned Leo Mezzanotte.

There is a growing passion between the two that is sweet, endearing, tear-jerking, feisty. And forbidden.

The book is filled with personality! All of which were realistic but also binge-worthy. That awful behavior you just can’t stop watching – all because of the betrayal and hatred springing from the feud. Juliet Arabella is a dutiful daughter to her family and the family business, The Chocolate Boutique. The isolation is beginning to outweigh the love she has for her job. She is also manipulated by a controlling mother, to whom everyone in the family defers to and does her bidding, no matter how ludicrous. Her father and brother also add to the pressure like a couple of mob bosses. All of the conflict and hatred begins to boil over for Juliet’s saucepan. She wants to take a stand for herself and what she wants, but it is a hard task with her busybody, no-nonsense family.

Leo Mezzanotte is a very manly guy who has just come off of a plane from Paris and a broken engagement. Despite his mindset to reject any type of commitment – almost including to his family’s chocolate business  after the duplicity and deceitful means in which they tricked him there by – he is a man full of love, kindness, and compassion in addition to his masterful chocolate skills.

Leo seemed to struggle more with internal conflicts than Juliet did. From the beginning, he was a take-stand character. Whereas that is what Juliet said she wanted, but her actions didn’t really show it at all. The only real stand she took was at the very end of the book in Rome in the final pages.

The supporting cast of characters added depth, humor, and disbelief to this family-feuding story. There is Alegra, Juliet’s cousin taken in by her family who is like a sister, and a little more sympathetic to Juliet’s feelings. George Alcott III, the conceited gold digger heir to Royal Gourmet Distributors. Joe Mezzanotte, Leo’s almost-to-the-point-of-evil uncle. Gina, Leo’s mob wife-like sister and her husband Marco, who is just as much embroiled in the family feud he married into. All of these characters add to the mystifying family feud with their energy, passion and hatred.

The family rivalry was believable and engrossing. Juliet receives her grandmother’s recipe book, which also contained personal journal entries that detailed from her perspective how the feud began all those years ago with her best friend, the Mezzanotte grandmother. Leo does not believe in the feud. His attitude is “So what? It has nothing to do with us. We have no reason to hate each other.” Juliet shows him the recipe book and the entries. The final few entries take root in Leo’s heart. He does his best to make a concession and extend an olive branch to Juliet that she does not discover until the last few chapters of the book. It was incredibly sweet and a little tear-jerking, just like the ending.

Wilson is a master of the craft of detail. Some of the descriptions were so vivid and striking, especially those from the very beginning when Juliet and Leo meet in the sunflower garden at the masquerade ball. Such beauty! I almost want to buy a print copy of the book just to mark up those passages and keep around for the simple beauty of the carefully crafted writing.

This was my first book by Wilson, but it seems she has found her niche in carefully retelling classics in our contemporary world with her own flair and mark. I can’t wait to see which story she will re-spin next.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Teri Wilson writes romance and women’s fiction for Harlequin and Gallery Books. Her novels UNLEASHING MR. DARCY and THE ART OF US are both now Hallmark Channel Original Movies, and her third Hallmark film, MARRYING MR. DARCY, is set to premiere on June 2.

Teri also writes an offbeat fashion column for the royal blog What Would Kate Do and is a frequent guest contributor for its sister site, Meghan’s Mirror. In 2017, she served as a national judge for the Miss United States pageant in Orlando, Florida, and has since judged in the Miss America system. She has a major weakness for cute animals, pretty dresses and good books.

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Review: A Wedding at Two Love Lane

ABOUT THE BOOK

Title: A Wedding at Two Love Lane
Author: Kieran Kramer
Publisher: St. Martin’s Paperbacks
Release Date: January 2018
Length: 346 pages
Series?: Two Love Lane #2
Genre: Romance, Contemporary

Greer Jones has made a real name for herself at the elegant matchmaking agency Two Love Lane. For a lot of reasons–including a past engagement she broke off–practical tech expert Greer is more interested in the business of love than the experience of it, but she can’t help but covet a gorgeous wedding gown that’s the prize in an upcoming cocktail-party contest. In a moment of brazen inspiration, Greer asks a handsome Brit she’s only just met to accompany her to the party. He agrees–and Greer believes her date is a starving artist. Little does she know the truth. . .

Ford Smith, as he calls himself, is actually Stanford Elliott Wentworth Smythe, the Eighth Baron of Wickshire. Fresh off a breakup with a money-grubbing siren who deceived him all the way to the altar, Ford has no desire to fall in love–especially with Greer who, like the desired wedding gown, is beautiful but only skin-deep. But soon Ford realizes that there’s more to Greer than meets the eye. Her professionalism is matched only by her passion for life and love. . .and, best of all, she has no idea that he’s to the manor born. Could it be that true love is priceless after all?

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my review

My Thoughts 

I read the first book in the series and was on the fence, but decided to give the sequel a chance. I did really enjoy the setting and descriptions of Charleston from the first book. In that aspect, Kramer excelled and made me feel very much a part of the book. Given that, I went into this with a fresh set of eyes. 

And I was disappointed. This time there wasn’t even the beautiful Charleston descriptions to give it a lift. Right from the beginning I had a hard time connecting with Greer in that she works with her best friends but was keeping a couple major secrets from them. One being she kept these perfect wedding scrapbooks. Nearly two dozen. That secret is revealed when she goes to an auction to purchase the wedding dress of her dreams – which was also another thing she did in secret. It wasn’t even that the dress was so gorgeous to Greer, or that she’d been planning to purchase this exact dress. It just had an interesting royal history, thus called Royal Bliss. I didn’t mesh with Greer going against so many of her own personal stances and beliefs. No, Greer isn’t getting married. She is entirely single, which was also what made it odd to me.

At the auction, Greer meets Ford Smith, who is actually Stanford Elliott Wentworth Smythe, the Eighth Baron of Wickshire. He is an artist who has traveled to the U.S. to dedicate himself to his art after his engagement ended when his fiancé sleeping with a groomsmen. Trying to recover and create pieces for an upcoming Manchester show, Ford is struck by Greer. Later it is revealed that he noticed Greer on the street prior to the auction. Basically he followed her in.

Greer and Ford both have ex drama, and it turns out Greer’s ex and new girlfriend know Ford! They all run into each other, once again on the street. Greer is floored to learn her ex is moving to town. Why her town, of all places?

Greer’s arch nemesis, Pierre, a local women’s shop owner, wins the dress at the auction and is quite ostentatious in rubbing it in Greer’s face. Knowing she desires it, he devises a bridal contest to launch his the bridal department he plans to add to his store. Five couples will wind up competing for Royal Bliss. Greer decides to enter – sans partner. In the face of disqualification, Ford agrees to be her sidekick through the events to ensure she has a fair shot at winning the dress. Meanwhile, he has his own issues to deal with with his ex across the ocean. At first I didn’t believe her news was actually true. I thought it was just a ruse and a ploy to get Ford back, given how nasty she was described. I was wrong, and by the end I was shocked at the sudden about-face that she makes. That was uncharacteristic and too neat to wrap up that sub-plot.

The second half or so of the book was predictable, unplausible, and too neat in general. It didn’t provide the luster I was hoping for or the second chance for me to find a redeeming quality in this series. There was also an upend with Greer’s ex, Wesley, and his fiancé. Something that turned the contest around and changed the outcome, as well as my own beliefs about some of the characters and their motivations. Again, things not aligning with everything we understand about a character and their beliefs. Not to mention Ford lies to Greer at every opportunity about who he really is.

However, there are several supporting characters, including the above mentioned villain (and his own henchman sidekick who is a hooker, for lack of better term), Greer’s ex and his fiancé who are super cute. Then there is another shop worker who turns traitor and helps Greer out in the end. The other ladies in the contest are (mostly) sweet and kind to Greer and they develop some true friendships. Of course, Miss Thing also steals the show every time she shows up. I do love that lady!

I was impressed with the character growth of the villain, and I thought Ford’s assistance (errr, pressure) in the matter really helped him a lot. For a foreigner and virtually a stranger, Ford was uncanny in being able to understand Pierre’s hidden feelings and conceptions about himself and his role in life.

I am pretty sure the next book will feature the third employee of Two Love Lane, Ella Mancini. I hope the series doesn’t end there, though. I would love for Jill’s story to be fully featured. We got some insight into that in this book, but it was a glossy sub-plot and I’m not sure why it was even included. I also want to see Miss Thing get her own book, even if she doesn’t find a new love. If it is only about her life now, I’d be happy with that. And now, with the introduction of the La Di Da store, I want to see Henny get her own story as well as see Pierre get his own story. I hope he will now be added to the series, even if it is just as a side-character in the future books.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

USA Today bestselling author Kieran Kramer currently writes fun contemporary romance with a Southern flair for St. Martin’s Press. She lives where she grew up–in the Lowcountry of South Carolina–with her family.

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Review: One True Pairing

ABOUT THE BOOK

Title: One True Pairing
Author: Cathy Yardley
Publisher: Swerve
Release Date: July 2017
Length: 200 pages
Series?: Fandom Hearts #2
Genre: New Adult, Contemporary, Romance

They couldn’t be more opposite, the Hollywood actor and the hometown girl, but all they need is a little convention magic to become the perfect ship in Cathy Yardley’s One True Pairing.

Jake Reese needs a decoy girlfriend. Fast. The lead actor of the popular TV show, Mystics, is tired of losing his shirt to overeager fans. Literally. Which is why a chance meeting with gothabilly bookworm-slash-barista Hailey Frost seems almost too perfect to be true. Hailey is not impressed with his TV fame and is desperate to save her family’s bookstore. It’s a match made in Hollywood, but as the two pretend to date, fan fiction becomes reality. Can this OTP become canon?

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my review

My Thoughts 

Jake Reese is the (illegitimate) son of  Hollywood (Lothario) legend. Unlike his famous father staring on the big screen, Jake plays Rick on the cable TV sci-fi show Mystics, featuring Knights Templar. The contract negotiations are upcoming, and Jake is attending his first convention with his costars Simon and Miles. To boost his Q Score and have his contract renewed, he agrees to a VIP event. Just him and a gaggle of grown women fangirling like no tomorrow. Unfortunately, Jake went in solo. No costars, no bodyguards, and ends up running for his life after the group of women turn into an attack pack and begin ripping clothes. On the run, Jake detours into a coffee shop and dives behind the counter.

A startled Hailey Frost isn’t given any time to react when the pack runs into the shop. Playing along, she covers for Jake and sends the crazies on their way. Working two jobs at the shop and casino to support her sisters and the family’s struggling bookstore, Hailey isn’t a nondescript barista to forget easily. She’s an ex-grifter with the pinup body decked out in rockabilly goth.

The attraction is instantaneous, and Jake is in another bind. There are no hotel rooms available anywhere nearby. Working at the casino, Hailey gets a room every so often for her own pleasurable escapades. Strictly against relationships, connections, and feelings, she only invests in white-hot nights. About to have one with the famous star, they are interrupted when Hailey’s sister Cressida has an episode.

Suffering from acute agoraphobia, Cressida needs the family’s bookstore to feel secure and support herself. In the red consistently, the Frost sisters are in danger of being kicked out of their beloved home if the bookstore doesn’t get a major influx soon. With this in mind and the convention in town, Hailey proposes a fake relationship between a hot star and a fan. It will boost his Q Score and garner media attention, putting pressure on producers to renew his contract, and in exchange Hailey’s bookstore gets a Jake Reese appearance while the convention fans are still in town. The promo works for the both of them…until issues crop up.

The bookstore’s success rides on Jake’s appearance, and their hallway tete-a-tete doesn’t make the splash they had hoped. With a rocking body, Hailey’s hallway make-out session isn’t seen as a sweet couple. Jake’s agent and his dad both have other plans for his career. Things start to go south quickly, except for the mutual attraction.

Jake’s costars, Simon and Miles, are a humorous pair. They are great friends to Jake, whom they want to keep around on the show. Even as side characters, they were genuine and real. I enjoyed the characters and the ending, bringing more depth and breadth to Jake’s character.

The pacing was well-timed and kept the plot moving along. The classic trope of star and nobody was the central driving force that propelled both Jake and Hailey to obtain their goals, even with other issues that cropped up. There is a surprising double-crossing was the only unpredictable element to the novel. Overall, the story was enjoyable but I was expecting something a little more.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Cathy Yardley needs to get out more. When not writing, she is probably cruising the Internet, sleeping or watching D-list movies and adding to her unnatural mental store of character-actor trivia. She is a closet fangirl for Supernatural, Sherlock, Doctor Who, and too many others to name. Her family is considering performing an intervention for her addiction to pop culture. Want to read more of her writing? Sign up for her notification list, and get a free novella, Hooked, from the Fandom Hearts series!

Find the author: Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads

Review: Saturdays at Sweeney’s

ABOUT THE BOOK

Title: Saturdays at Sweeney’s
Author: Ashley Farley
Publisher: Kindle Press
Release Date: January 2018
Length: 250 pages
Series?: Sweeney Sisters #5
Genre: Women’s Fiction

When the seafood business Lovie Sweeney established sixty years ago is destroyed by fire, she finds herself at the center of an arson investigation. What really happened that night? Is Lovie responsible for starting the fire or is her family under attack from a sworn enemy?

The loss of their family business leaves the Sweeney clan in flux. Samantha faces the challenges of rebuilding the market while her son, Jamie, on track to graduate from college in six months, must decide whether to make his permanent home in Prospect or move to Charleston where a new special someone resides. At age forty-five, Faith, who has never fully recovered from an abusive marriage, is on a quest to find her true passion? Jackie is distraught when her son, Sean, flunks out of college and struggles to find direction in his life without his twin brother to guide him. A medical diagnosis brings the sisters closer together and threatens to change family dynamics forever.

The Sweeney women remind us that it’s never too late to begin a new endeavor and to never stop chasing your dreams until you draw your last breath.

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my review

My Thoughts 

I thought this would be a great book to start the off the year. I was shocked to realize it’s the final book in the series and the first one I’ve read! The author brings readers up to speed, though. Reading about the Sweeney sisters and their families in Prospect made me think this is the perfect kind of small town dysfunctional heaven. There were a wide range of events happening and packaged all in this book with the cute cover: a family’s battle living with Alzheimer’s, the family business being destroyed, family secrets, alcoholism and recovery, drug abuse and therapy, younger generations starting their college pathways, a strange mystery of occurrences, and a sleazy tabloid writer. It didn’t shy away from those hard topics – it faced them head-on.

Each family member has his or her own spotlight throughout the book to continue the narration and plot.Each of the Sweeney sisters had their own secret to hide and each of those things continued to build up the tension and draw out the suspense, while their children are also struggling to move forward in their lives.

The book begins with Sweeney’s Seafood Market on fire. The preliminary report points to a lightning strike, but further investigation reveals arson. The fire department is reluctant to point fingers, but it must be noted that Lovie Sweeney was at the scene before the fire department arrived. She couldn’t answer their questions and becomes the lone suspect.

As Faith planned to step away from the business and leave it to Sam, she and her son Jamie must decide what their next move with the family business will be. Is this a total loss or a new beginning? Jaimie’s entire summer plan was to work at Sweeney’s. It is looking dismal with Lovie being the center of the fire investigation. The insurance won’t pay out in the event of arson.

Sam’s husband Eli must recuse himself from the investigation, but is right there alongside it every step of the way to ensure it is executed properly. From day one, it is not. It results in further disorientation from Lovie, who doesn’t seem to know who Eli is. She is living in the past, and Sam is still with Allen. Concerned for her well-being, the sisters remove their mother from her townhouse and install her in Faith’s home. With no job to report to every day, and stuck in limbo with the direction her life should now take, Faith readily volunteers to be caretaker extraordinaire for their mother. Lovie’s mental faculties continue to decline, and soon she is becoming combative and hard to care for.

Suddenly dead animals begin showing up on the sisters’ doorsteps, with their mother’s hand-written recipes attached. Whoever set the fire is taunting the Sweeney girls. Faith quickly discovers who the true culprit is, but she never shares that information with her sisters or even her husband. Instead, she does what she wants to and ultimately puts her mother and daughter at risk.

The oldest sister, Jackie, is busy running her interior design business and looking to expand. Spending much of the week out of town, she is disconnected with the family. After trying to convince her sisters to place their mother in an amazing care facility, she is kind of on the outs. She is struggling to keep customers happy, sell her current location, and purchase a new showroom. Meanwhile, one of her sons is arrested on drug charges. Additionally, he is kicked out of Jackie’s alma matter for straight failing grades his freshman year. He is brought back home and everything about it is kept a secret.

Jamie is tasked with babysitting Sean and they both get jobs at a local restaurant. In the time the boys aren’t working the restaurant, they are out catching crabs and selling on the site of their burned family business on Saturdays. Soon, Jamie connects with his half-sister and goes to work with her catering company.

This is the story of real life that real families face every day. It was eye-opening to family, loyalty, love, motivation, distrust, secrets, fear. It is also a wonderful example of how important it is to be understanding and supportive of your loved ones going through tough trying situations. I connected so well with this family and fell in love with them. I definitely want to go back and read the first four books in the series.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ashley is a wife and mother of two young adult children. While she’s lived in Richmond, Virginia for the past 21 years, part of her heart remains in the salty marshes of the South Carolina Lowcountry where she grew up. Through the eyes of her characters, she’s able to experience the moss-draped trees, delectable cuisine, and kind-hearted folks with lazy drawls that make the area so unique.

Ashley Farley writes books about women for women. Her characters are mothers, daughters, sisters, and wives facing real-life issues. Her goal is to keep you turning the pages until the wee hours of the morning. If her story stays with you long after you’ve read the last word, then she’s done her job.

After her brother died in 1999 of an accidental overdose, she turned to writing as a way of releasing her pent-up emotions. She wrote SAVING BEN in honor of Neal, the boy she worshipped, the man she could not save.

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Review: Hope at Christmas

ABOUT THE BOOK

Title: Hope at Christmas
Author: Nancy Naigle
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Release Date: October 2017
Length: 342 pages
Series?: no
Genre: Contemporary, Romance

A recently divorced woman and her daughter look for a fresh start by moving to a small town that embraces them in ways that only fate and the magic of Christmas can explain.

Sydney Ragsdale is divorced, but her husband is still calling the shots. In an attempt to shake free from his hold, she and her daughter, Ray Anne, head for tiny Hopewell, NC to the only asset her ex has no control over – a decaying farmhouse that once belonged to her grandparents. She finds solace at The Book Bea, the bookstore she’d loved as a child during her summer stays.

Kevin MacAlea, Mac to his friends, is the local high school history teacher and baseball coach. Father of a twelve-year-old son, he’s Hopewell, North Carolina’s most sought-after bachelor. His young bride abandoned him and his son just before Christmas and has never come back. It has left his son bitter about Christmas which is hard for Mac who loves the magic of the season. He’s been the Santa here in Hopewell since the year Seth was born.

But when catastrophe forces The Book Bea to close before the end of the year, everyone in the small town is feeling the loss. While Sydney is already off-balance by the bad news, her ex-husband breaks a promise to their daughter that sends Ray Anne running away. As Sydney tries to figure out what her next steps are she discovers all of the answers are right here in Hopewell.

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my review

My Thoughts 

This is a sweet, clean holiday romance read. Reeling from her husband’s infidelity and request for a divorce, Sydney Ragsdale packs up what is left of her Atlanta life and takes her daughter to Hopewell, North Carolina. The old farmhouse where she spent her summers with her grandparents was never a vacation option on her husband’s list, and the inherited property has been ignored for years. Making the move means giving up a lot of luxuries and also facing the full force of her daughter’s anger.

RayAnne Ragsdale is the classic daddy’s girl and she is not happy with her parents splitting up. Moving to smalltown Hopewell means leaving her dad and his money and extravagant gifts behind. She wheedles every chance she can to just get her mother to go back home, not knowing the full ramifications of her parent’s separation.

Sydney does everything she can to protect her daughter while maintaining the meager funds she has until her new job starts in the new year. Meanwhile, she will spend the holidays alone in Hopewell once RayAnne goes with her dad on a ski trip, a newfound interest of his after years of never wanting to travel anywhere.

Upon her return, Sydney steps into The Book Bea, the local and longtime bookstore run by Bea. Sydney remembers Bea from her own childhood spent in The Book Bea where Sydney met and befriended Diane. On her first visit back, Bea reveals she could use some assistance in the store. Having nothing but time on her hands until her new job after the holidays, Sydney volunteers to help out. Being in the bookstore with Bea brings out so many of the good qualities in Sydney that I admired about her.

Bea is the little old lady in town that is adored by all. I found such strength and wisdom in Bea’s character, who found joy in finding just the right book for all of the readers who happened upon The Book Bea. While Bea is busy finding books, she is also astute in the language of love. While Sydney is looking for a soft place to land, Bea knows Kein MacAlea, known as Mac, is where Sydney needs to end up.

Mac is a divorced teacher and coach with his own teen boy, Seth, who has a hate relationship with Christmas. Residual side effects of his mother’s abandonment. What few in town know is Mac plays the local Santa every year and he has quite a knack for it.

Just as Sydney fell in love with Hopewell and its smalltown feel and community, so did I as a reader. Her childhood friend Diane is still in town, married with two kids, and their daughters bond as Sydney and Diane reconnect. RayAnne and Seth also find themselves to be two peas in a pod and their friendship was adorable to watch blossom. RayAnne’s anger and emotional yo-yo-ing from her dad lead her into some situations and Seth is the best of friends and doesn’t turn his back on her. It was a great testament to another strong friendship.

As Sydney and RayAnne settle into Hopewell and the holidays look, Mac and Seth continue to make them welcome in town. As Sydney and Mac spend more and more time together, she fights the doubts and staggers on the realization she is not ready for a new relationship. Seeing the great things in front of Sydney and her denying them was frustrating, especially lying to her daughter about not seeing Mac and Seth.

Sydney was a mix of a character. At times, I did not like her at all because she seemed she didn’t have a backbone when it came to her husband or her daughter’s whiny rants. It definitely gave credence to her last name because they both ragged on her more than she should have put up with considering how strong she really is.

There was some manufactured drama toward the end that allowed things to be tied up nice and neat and smooth. It kind of felt like a betrayal a reader after falling in love with the town and characters. I think the ending still could have happened without one particular event. The following chain of events and reactions didn’t seem genuine to the magnitude of what happened. It seemed like a disservice on behalf of all the characters involved, and that was disappointing.

Overall a great Christmas read I definitely recommend!

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

With a career spent on the cutting edge of technology in the banking industry, she never let go of her dream to write. Now she works full-time writing stories that are a calming blend of community, family, and the simple things in life. She writes the kind of stories she hopes will provide an escape from the hectic day-to-day in the make-believe worlds she creates.

Aside from writing she enjoys hunting for treasures in junk and antique shops, and getting crafty no matter what the medium from painting and digitizing embroidery designs, to weaving pine needle baskets.

A Virginia native, and spending most of her life in the Tidewater area, she now calls North Carolina home.

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