Book Review: Set The Stars Alight

Set the Stars Alight – Amanda Dykes – Bethany House Publishers  -Published 30 June 2020

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Synopsis

Lucy Clairmont’s family treasured the magic of the past, and her childhood fascination with stories of the high seas led her to become a marine archaeologist. But when tragedy strikes, it’s Dashel, an American forensic astronomer, and his knowledge of the stars that may help her unearth the truth behind the puzzle she’s discovered in her family home.

Two hundred years earlier, the seeds of love are sown between a boy and a girl who spend their days playing in a secret sea cave, while the privileged young son of the estate looks on, wishing to join. As the children grow and war leads to unthinkable heartbreak, a story of love, betrayal, sacrifice, and redemption unfolds, held secret by the passage of time.

As Lucy and Dash journey to a mysterious old estate on the East Sussex coast, their search leads them to a community of souls and a long-hidden tale that may hold the answers–and the healing–they so desperately seek.

My thoughts

I am amazed at how Amanda Dykes has crafted the stories in Set The Stars Alight, how she has woven together two stories or overcoming great grief and challenges, incorporated a thrilling mystery that seems hard to believe isn’t real and all this done with a lyrical prose that sweeps the reader away.

Lucy grew up knowing the love of her parents and the stories they told her and her childhood friend, Dash. Now she has lost both parents and Dash has moved away to study the stars, but her career path – marine archaeologist – was formed through the mysteries and stories her parents shared with her. When her application for a grant to uncover the story of a ship that disappeared over 200 years ago is threatened, Dash remarkably returns to Lucy’s life and offers to join with her in her search. 200 years earlier, three lives were interwoven – a shepherd’s daughter, the young man she loved and the young boy of the estate. Their journey is forged through grief, wars, betrayal, great sacrifice and song and now 200 years later, Lucy and Dash are determined to unravel the clues of their story.

I confess I didn’t read this book at the best of times. I started it during the last week of the school term and tried to read it even though my brain was running on fumes and all I wanted to do was sleep. I don’t feel as I gave this book the attention it deserved and I would recommend to other readers that you save this for when you have a few spare afternoons, time and brain power to devote to the very clever story and wonderfully detailed writing style. Nevertheless, I was swept away by this remarkable book. It really is a little magical, a story of great sacrifice, puzzles, adventure, seafaring and romance.

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Book Review: An Appalachian Summer

An Appalachian Summer – Ann H. Gabhart – Revell – Published 30 June 2020

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Synopsis

In 1933, most people are focused on the Great Depression but all Piper Danson can think about is how to get out of being a debutante and marrying Braxton Crandall. In an act of defiance, Piper volunteers as a frontier nursing courier in the Appalachian Mountains where adventure awaits.

My thoughts

An Appalachian Summer is an atmospheric novel about the frontier nurses of the Appalachian Mountains, women couriers, and life and love in the in 1930s. With romance aplenty, adventure and lighthearted moments, An Appalachian Summer is a light and easy book to enjoy.

Piper is grateful her family has weathered the crash of the economy so well, even if it means she must go ahead with her Debut Ball. Being pressured by her father to accept an engagement to Braxton Crandall and heartbroken over the silence she is receiving from her best friend and keeper of her heart Jamie Russel, Piper seizes upon the opportunity to join the frontier nursing courier service in the Appalachian Mountains. From the journey there, to the surprises in store for her, it is all a great adventure. She just wants to forget men and romance for a summer, which is fine until a mystery man from her aunt’s past re-emerges, Jamie follows her all the way to the mountains and she must decide where her heart and future will lay.

Set against the backdrop of the Great Depression, this is a novel that mixes the past with more modern ideas of women’s liberation and a changing society. I sometimes forgot the time setting and had to do a double take at some of the more casual language and use of jeans and such.

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Book Review: How Sweet It Is

How Sweet It Is – Robin Lee Hatcher – Legacy of Faith #3 – Thomas Nelson – Published 14 July 2020

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Synopsis

Holly Stanford is doing the best she can with the restaurant she inherited from her late uncle. But after her fiancé abandons her and the business, Holly regrets having given up her dream of becoming a pastry chef. Now a few bad financial decisions might cost her everything, including her hope for the future.

Jed Henning has done well with his new company despite his prodigal brother’s behavior. When Jed‘s father , the controlling member of the board of directors, temporarily suspends operations until his sons work out their differences, Jed resentfully chases his brother, Chris, to Boise. There Jed rents a basement apartment from Holly and hopes to convince Chris to get his act together before their company collapses.

Unaware that Holly is the one person who can help him get through to Chris, Jed starts the tough work of reconciliation armed with little more than a few family photographs, a stack of old letters, and a Bible that belonged to his great-grandfather, Andrew Henning. And as romance blossoms between Holly and Jed, the story of Jed’s great-grandfather highlights the power of God across the generations and the legacy of a family’s courageous faith.

My thoughts

How Sweet It Is is the very sweet third book in the Legacy of Faith series. Like its predecessors, it combines the present day story of two people meeting and falling in love with the continuation of the story of the Henning family, set in the late 1960s. It is faith filled and an endearing tale of family, belonging and love.

Holly just wants to bake. Instead she has been left with a restaurant to run and crippling debt, thanks to a fiancé who left her just before their wedding. Jed is a successful businessman but is father has given him an ultimatum: make it right with his brother or sell the business. Jed travels to Idaho to try to reconnect with his brother and his family’s past and finds himself renting the same basement apartment his great grandfather, Andrew Henning, once lived in. For Holly, it’s a blessing to be able to finally rent the apartment and gain some much needed income. But she is drawn to Jed and isn’t sure she should trust herself to be in a relationship again.

There is no doubt that this is Christian Fiction. The faith, prayer, scripture, church, community and belief is evident in every chapter. Some Christian fiction doesn’t reference faith aside from a few prayers or themes, but not so in this book. Both the present day characters and the characters from the past rely heavily on God and reflect and want to grow in their faith.

Andrew Henning’s story, set in 1969, is a wonderful reflection of the modern day love story. I love how Hatcher has woven the threads of the two generations together, as she has done in the previous two novels in this series. Readers of the first two books will no doubt enjoy the continuation of Andrew Henning’s story, but new comers to the series should be able to follow along without too much confusion.

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Book Review: The Crushing Depths

The Crushing Depths – Dani Pettrey – Coastal Guardians #2  Bethany House Publishers – Published 30 June 2020

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Synopsis

When an accident claims the life of an oil-rig worker, Coast Guard Investigators Rissi Dawson and Mason Rogers are flown to the scene thirty-eight miles from shore. Tensions aboard the rig are high, and the death has everyone on edge. Environmental activists are threatening to do whatever it takes to stop the “plague on the environment” from continuing its work. Meanwhile, rumors are circulating on board about an ancient curse lurking in the depths below.

Mounting evidence shows the death might not have been an accident. Was the man killed by one of the activists or, more frighteningly, a member of his own crew? Rissi and Mason have to sort through not only numerous suspects, but also their own haunted pasts and their attraction to each other.

Just as the case seems about to break open, worse news arrives: a tropical storm has turned their way. Now they’re cut off from any rescue–right where the killer wants them.

My thoughts

The Crushing Depths is the second book in the Coastal Guardian series. This series follows a team of Coast Guard Investigators as they seek justice. Action, tension, mystery and romance create a compelling story.

A death on an oil rig seems like an unfortunate accident, but Coast Guard are called to investigate the details of what happened. Investigators Rissi and Mason are flown to the rig, but their helicopter crashes on its way. Both investigators are fortunate to survive and even more determined to find out what is going on. Their investigation leads them to consider the rising tension between the rig crew and a group of environmental protestors and rumours of a curse that has the men on edge.

Book two in this Coastal Guardians series follows Rissi Dawson and Mason Rogers. Rissi and Mason were childhood friends. They both resided in a children’s home, following the breakdown of their own families. They both suffered horrific trauma and abuse in that children’s home. They were each the other’s support system. They were separated and only found each other recently. Working together gives them a chance to reconnect, but it is quickly clear to both of them that their past ties them together and their feelings run far deeper than friendship. Alongside their deepening feelings, both Mason and Rissi must face the hurts of their past. Flashbacks give the reader some insight into the trauma they faced. It gives a solid background to their romance and justifies why their feelings deepen so quickly.

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Book Review: The Heart of a Hero

The Heart of a Hero – Susan May Warren – Global Search and Rescue #2 – Revell – Published 2 June 2020

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Synopsis

Rescuing Aria Sinclair is just what former SEAL Jake Silver needs in order to redeem his past mistakes. Keeping her distance from Jake is what Aria needs to protect her heart. As a hurricane turns paradise into peril, they must save themselves and others in this story of second chances and survival–and the cost of both.

My thoughts

Heart of a Hero is the second book in the Global Search and Rescue series. This book has one disaster after another, as the characters are pushed to their limits (again) and face the truth behind God’s sovereignty, accepting forgiveness and maybe even a romantic future.

We met Aria and Jake in book one of the series as they climbed, fell off and then were rescued off Mt Denali. Now, Aria has been forced to take a vacation by her boss, this time in Florida, and she’s pointedly ignoring what happened between her and Jake. Jake wants nothing more than to chase Aria down and convince her they could be together, but he’s not sure she should want him, especially knowing the secrets and bodies his past hides. When a category 5 hurricane bears down on Florida, Jake jumps on a plane to go and help Aria, but they will have to rescue each other many times over before the storm is done.

I think I’ve said in a review before that I love reading Susan May Warren’s books but I am rather glad I’m not one of her characters. They seem to have to face an endless stream of disasters where everything that could go wrong does. But it doesn’t feel overly dramatised. It kind of feels like real life at the moment. And if anyone could survive a tropical storm and everything that follows, it would be Jake (former SEAL and genuine good guy) and Aria (doctor, trauma and heart specialist). But the events of this book push them both to the edge and they have no choice but to rely on each other and God.

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Book Review: At Love’s Command

At Love’s Command – Karen Witemeyer – Hanger’s Horsemen #1 – Bethany House Publishers – Published 2 June 2020

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Synopsis

Ex-cavalry officer Matthew Hanger leads a band of mercenaries who defend the innocent, but when a rustler’s bullet leaves one of them at death’s door, they seek out help from Dr. Josephine Burkett. When Josephine’s brother is abducted and she is caught in the crossfire, Matthew may have to sacrifice everything–even his team–to save her.

My thoughts

Every time I read a Karen Witemeyer book I am surprised all over again at how much I love her writing style, characters and the romance that just leaps off the page. Either I’ve got a bad memory or every book she writes just gets better and better.

I was a little worried by the first chapter. Would the heroes of the book be made heroic at the expense of Native Americans and a white-washed history? I need not have worried. Horrified by the events and massacre he and his men are commanded to be involved in, Matthew Hanger and his three men leave the cavalry and create Hanger’s Horsemen. They are hired guns, working to arrest criminals and help those needing protection from gangs and bad guys. During one such job, one of Matt’s men is injured and he races to find the nearest doctor. He is surprised to find Dr Jo is actually Dr Josephine Burkett. Josephine is a good doctor and striving to prove that women make excellent health practitioners. When Jo’s brother is taken captive and held for ransom, she turns to Matt and his men for help.

As always, the love story Karen Witemeyer has penned comes to life off the page. It’s romantic, and the chemistry between Josephine and Matt is off the charts. But there is also a shared understanding between them. Even though there isn’t a lot of time for them to connect between pulling bullets out of shoulders and riding after the gang who hold her brother hostage, Josephine and Matt do get some time to share their past hurts, something the other can relate to, and a shared respect for each other. There is also lots of time for kisses, which I am pleased to report.

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Book Review: Carolina Breeze

Carolina Breeze – Denise Hunter – Bluebell Inn Romance #2 – Thomas Nelson – Published 19 May 2020

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Synopsis

Rising Hollywood star Mia Emerson is looking for a safe place to land in the wake of a public breakup and scandal, and she finds it in the lake town of Bluebell, North Carolina—the location of her canceled honeymoon. She wants nothing more than to hide and wait for the tabloids to die down.

Soon after her arrival at the Bluebell Inn, Mia meets Levi Bennett, who runs the inn along with his two younger sisters. Drawn to one another from the start, Mia trusts Levi to keep her location from the press, and Levi confides in Mia about the financial state of the inn—a secret he’s been keeping from his sisters.

When Mia and Levi discover an old journal that hints at a rare diamond necklace hidden in the inn, they set off on a treasure hunt to find the long-lost heirloom. What they don’t expect to surface are feelings they thought were safely locked away. Mia and Levi must decide if falling in love again is too big a risk—or if it will uncover a treasure of its own instead.

My thoughts

Carolina Breeze is another utterly charming book by Denise Hunter. This is the second book in the Bluebird Inn series and I think it is one of my all time favourites of Denise Hunter’s series. Delightful, heartfelt, very romantic, and with just a touch of historical mystery.

Carolina Breeze continues the story of the Bennett siblings. Levi and his two sisters, Molly (who featured in book 1) and Grace are bringing to life their late parents’ dream to restore their home into an inn. But it hasn’t been easy. Their latest guest has the whole inn booked for a honeymoon. But it doesn’t take the three siblings long to discovery Mia Emerson is a Hollywood star and she is hiding out at the Bluebird Inn after her marriage fell through and a colleague dragged her into a scandal that threatens her career. As Levi works to provide Mia with everything she could need during her stay, he is drawn to her hurt and vulnerability. Together, Mia and Levi challenge themselves to find Mia’s ancestor’s long lost diamond necklace, rumoured to be hidden at the Inn. But Levi has so many worries, he’s not sure he can take on more responsibility and Mia’s life is set to catch up with her.

I love the Bennett family. Love how they argue and annoy each other, but also how they are there for each other despite all that. While we got to know Levi a little in Molly’s story, it was very much through her eyes, so it was great to see him through another lens in Carolina Breeze. He is trying so hard to keep the inn afloat and protect his sisters, even if that’s the last thing they want. I thought he might keel over due to a heart attack or something in the novel, he is so stressed. Mia is wonderful for him. She helps him to relax, to enjoy the moments and gives him other things to think about. Levi is equally good for Mia, giving her security and someone to really listen to her.

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Book Review: On A Coastal Breeze

On A Coastal Breeze – Suzanne Woods Fisher – Three Sisters Island #2 – Revell – Published 5 May 2020

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Synopsis

Everything happens for a reason, Maddie Grayson believes. But her motto gets sorely tested when the new minister parachutes into town and offers her a chance to change what happens next.

My thoughts

On A Coastal Breeze returns readers to the Three Sisters Island and the Grayson family. This second book in the series picks up where book one left off and continues the story with a new romance.

Cam and Seth are a couple, but waiting to plan their wedding and tell Cooper the truth about his parentage while Cam buries herself in the writing of grants to fund a power source for the island. Paul, the father of the three girls is unsure he has made the right decision in becoming a camp owner. Blaine has returned home from her first semesters of culinary school, but she is carrying a dark secret. And Maddie has started her own family counselling practice. But just as she gets her first clients, the island is graced with their new pastor and he is no less than the boy who tormented her right the way through kindergarten until she last saw him after senior prom. She is surprised to see him and the way the townspeople rally around him. Maybe he’s changed, but Maddie is sure they share too much history to kindle a friendship or explore what she might have felt for him before he broke her heart.

I loved that this book, this series, while featuring each of the Grayson sisters, really continues the whole family’s story. Maddie is the feature sister of this novel, as is her relationship with Rick, the new pastor. But it’s clear, that despite the way we left Cam and Seth in book one, that they don’t get an automatic happily ever after.

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Book Review: Stay With Me

Stay With Me – Becky Wade – A Misty River Romance #1 – Bethany House Publishers – Published 5 May 2020

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Synopsis

When acclaimed Bible study author Genevieve Woodward receives an anonymous letter referencing her parents’ past, she returns to her hometown in the Blue Ridge Mountains to chase down her family’s secret. However, it’s Genevieve’s own secret that catches up to her when Sam Turner, owner of a historic farm, uncovers the source of shame she’s worked so hard to hide.

Sam has embraced his sorrow, his isolation, and his identity as an outsider. He’s spent years carving out both career success and peace of mind. The last thing he wants is to rent the cottage on his property to a woman whose struggles stir his worst failure back to life. Yet can he bear to turn her away right when she needs him most?

My thoughts

Stay With Me is the first book in a new series by Becky Wade. As always, Becky Wade captures flawed characters in relatable situations and combines that with powerful messages of family, love and faith.

Genevieve is a popular and very successful bible study writer and speaker. But after an accident last year and a stressful schedule and deadlines, she found herself turning to prescription pain medication. When, after setting off for her parents’ house, she wakes to find herself in an empty guest cottage being regarded by the owner with some concern, she decides she finally has to kick her habit and get clean. She asks Sam, owner of the cottage, if she can rent the cottage from him as a place to hide while going through withdrawal and recovery. Sam has his own reasons for wanting to stay far away from the confusing woman he found asleep in his guest house, but he also feels a strong responsibility to help her.

I loved that this book considers a very serious topic of drug addiction. As Genevieve struggles to both admit she has a problem and faces the battle of overcoming her addiction, the very real possibility of how easy it is to fall into a prescription drug problem and the very serious fallouts are considered. But, more than that, the motivations behind Gen’s addiction are also regarded, both with understanding and grace. As a bible study presenter, Gen feels conflict over her addiction, her role as a speaker and her desire to keep everything under wraps.

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Book Review: The Joy of Falling

The Joy of Falling – Lindsay Harrel – Thomas Nelson -Published 14 April 2020

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Synopsis

It has been fifteen months since Eva and Angela lost their thrill-seeking husbands in a scuba diving accident. Both women are trying to navigate their way through the grief, but neither one is making much progress. Angela is barely making ends meet, angry at her husband for leaving her to raise three children on her own. Meanwhile, Eva is stuck, unable to move forward after losing the love of her life and her source of inspiration.

But then Eva gets a life-changing phone call. Before Brent and Wes died, they had signed up for a race of a lifetime—an ultra-marathon in beautiful New Zealand. Eva begs Angela to run the race with her in their husbands’ place, and Angela finally agrees, hoping to finally understand her husband’s choices.

Training is exhausting, and the race is even more demanding. Their journey grows more complicated by the presence of two men—Marc is Brent’s best friend who is running the race with Eva and Angela, and Simon King is a writer who is covering their inspiring story. With every step, Eva and Angela must ask themselves questions that they haven’t had the courage to ask before. As the women literally put one foot in front of the other, they wonder: Is it possible to find their way forward in hope?

My thoughts

In the Joy of Falling, Lindsay Harrel has penned a beautiful story about the many faces of grief and about the journey of continuing to move forward and find joy again in life and relationships. This is equally a story about family as it is about individual growth. It is also a romance story, with two romances. At all times, it remains heartwarming and considerate.

Eva and Angela don’t have much in comment except that they both lost their husbands, brothers, in a scuba diving accident. Now, fifteen months on, Eva still has no creative drive or any desire to return to her work as a florist. She spends her time volunteering at the Heart Center and trying to honour her husband’s memory. Angela has three children and two jobs, so she has no time to mourn the husband she lost, nor much energy to confront the feelings of anger and abandonment she feels about his death. When Eva receives a phone call about an ultra-marathon the two brothers were going to complete with their best-friend, Eva convinces Angela to complete the marathon with her.

Set against the breathtaking backdrop of New Zealand and paced with the training Eva and Angela must complete, this is an easy book to fall into and enjoy. For all its beauty, it’s not hard to pick up on the grief, anger and range of emotions the characters are dealing with as they face the loss of husband, son, father and best-friend. Alongside Eva and Angela are their mother-in-law, Angela’s children and Marc, the brothers’ best friend who joins Eva and Angela in entering the marathon. Each form an important piece of the story. Each are feeling different emotions as they process (or ignore) their grief. This book is honest and doesn’t shy away from the very real emotions the characters are facing. Nor does it prevent this being a happy and heartwarming story.

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