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review 2018-09-12 02:26
A Love Made New (Amish of Birch Creek #3) by Kathleen Fuller
A Love Made New (An Amish of Birch Creek Novel) - Kathleen Fuller

It seems as if everyone is falling in love in Birch Creek, including Abigail Schrock. But when heartbreak descends on her already fragile world, she can’t help but feel that if she’d only been a little prettier, she could be on her way down the aisle. To make matters worse, Abigail’s two sisters have found love, and all Abigail can seem to find is the chocolate she has stashed away in the pantry. Asa Bontrager has never had trouble with the ladies in his Amish community—his good looks have always gotten him far. Which is why he’s baffled by the call he’s received from God to pursue Abigail, a woman who seems determined to turn him away. Can Abigail find the peace and joy she so desperately desires? Will she allow herself to stop running and melt into the embrace of unforeseen comfort? If she does, she may discover a love powerful enough to restore her hope in a promising future.

Amazon.com

 

 

 

This series has been following the emotional growth of three Amish sisters -- the Schrock ladies; Sadie, Joanna and Abigail -- after a personal tragedy. Abigail, the 22 year old less pretty middle sister is trying to heal from her own recent run-in with heartbreak. Though she gave her heart to Joel, he turned around and promptly dumped her for perky, petite Rebecca. 

 

Then in walks Asa Bontrager. Previously known as a bit of a ladies man (by Amish standards), the handsome charmer believes he is given a divine message one day to pursue lonely, hurting Abigail. But Miss Abigail is a little self-conscious about her recent weight gain from secret food binges and is not altogether certain she wants a new romance right now. Or so she says. But Asa has big plans on how to bring down her defenses and heal her wounded heart. His speech to help ease her fears about her weight gain were a good start, I have to admit:

 

"You need to stop cutting yerself down...I'm not going to judge you if you want donuts or a hamburger or a candy bar. It doesn't matter to me what you eat. It shouldn't matter to anyone else, either...You deserve someone who will treat you well and put you first in his life. Someone who will love you the way you are, for the rest of his life, who thinks you're perfect the way you look right now."

 

*Though part of me also thinks, it's sweet, but some of what he says to her toes the line between being supportive in a healthy way versus being an enabler to bad choices. 

 

Readers also get an update on Sol, who shows a noticeable temperament shift in this book.. is he becoming... likeable?! Thanks to a meddling mother with an itch for matchmaking, Irene Bailer is wrangled into working as Sol's assistant, painting his birdhouses. Irene proves to be a sweet influence on Sol, teaching him how to forgive himself for past indiscretions and struggles with alcoholism, loosen up and find his inner child again. 

 

As the reader, I sometimes struggled with how believable the romance between Asa and Abigail was --- nothing between them, I actually grew to like them together, but in the beginning it seemed like Asa's intensely deep feelings for Abigail came out of nowhere. I get that he got the idea to court her because he felt he was divinely inspired but guy had no chill at the start! Ease into things, son! Wouldn't a guy want to make sure he ACTUALLY had feelings for a woman and wasn't just doing something because God said so?! But as I said, he and Abigail do end up as a good match, IMO. I had a good laugh at Asa's utter SHOCK at Abigail's dislike for anything pickled. 

 

 

FTC DisclaimerTNZ Fiction Guild kindly provided me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. The opinions above are entirely my own. 

 

___________

 

My reviews for the previous books in this series:

 

#1 A Reluctant Bride

#2 An Unbroken Heart

 

*Note: a fourth installment, The Teacher's Bride, is due to be released this December.

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review 2018-08-22 11:01
Midnight In Austenland (Austenland #2) by Shannon Hale
Midnight in Austenland - Shannon Hale

When Charlotte Kinder treats herself to a two-week vacation at Austenland, she happily leaves behind her ex-husband and his delightful new wife, her ever-grateful children, and all the rest of her real life in America. She dons a bonnet and stays at a country manor house that provides an immersive Austen experience, complete with gentleman actors who cater to the guests' Austen fantasies. Everyone at Pembrook Park is playing a role, but increasingly, Charlotte isn't sure where roles end and reality begins. And as the parlor games turn a little bit menacing, she finds she needs more than a good corset to keep herself safe. Is the brooding Mr. Mallery as sinister as he seems? What is Miss Gardenside's mysterious ailment? Was that an actual dead body in the secret attic room? And-perhaps of the most lasting importance-could the stirrings in Charlotte's heart be a sign of real-life love? The follow-up to reader favorite Austenland provides the same perfectly plotted pleasures, with a feisty new heroine, plenty of fresh and frightening twists, and the possibility of a romance that might just go beyond the proper bounds of Austen's world. How could it not turn out right in the end?

Amazon.com

 

 

 

Charlotte Kinder's life seems to be fraying at the seams. First her marriage breaks up after her husband's infidelity, now her daughter is flirting with a questionable male of her own. When Charlotte tries to start up a conversation about the boy, her daughter gives her an "ugh, don't you remember what it was like to be young?!" moment. Spurred by the hurt of such a comment, Charlotte gets all nostalgic and starts digging through photos and old papers, where she finds a journal with an entry marked "Things To Do Before I'm 30"... a list that includes reading all of Austen's works and, at some point, climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro. Charlotte admits to herself that Kilimanjaro might not be quite the thing to tackle at this particular moment of unrest in her life, but maybe the Austen idea is still doable.

 

While she doesn't delve into the Austen novels themselves, Charlotte does decide to take a vacation to the exclusive Austen-themed resort, Austenland. Maybe there, she can find the old Charlotte, the one that was a bit more than the bland, simple "nice" everyone seems to label her. She doesn't want to be just good ol' reliable Charlotte, she wants some edge! But, you know, old habits die hard. 

 

This Austenland 2 revisits Pembrook Park and brings back a few characters, mainly Mrs. Wattlesworth and Miss Charming, but also offers a whole new cast of characters as well. And this cast brings the edge Charlotte thinks she's missing... but maybe more than she bargained for! Also returning is resident lush Mr. Wattlesworth. 

 

"Attempted murder is becoming so mundane."  ~ Charlotte

 

Taking inspiration from Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey, Midnight In Austenland toys with the same themes Austen did in her novel, namely our main character getting caught up in a possible murder mystery, leaving her not knowing who to trust. But is there an actual threat or is it Charlotte's runaway imagination? So as you might notice, the plot here is a bit darker in tone than its predecessor. Once again, author Shannon Hale has her characters struggling with the question of what is or isn't real in this recreated Regency world.

 

Instead of ex-boyfriend recaps at the start of each chapter (as seen in Austenland), Midnight in Austenland prefaces each chapter with flashbacks of moments from Charlotte's childhood or marriage, memories she thinks back on that might hold clues to how / where / why her life took a turn for the worse. 

 

 

 

I read Midnight In Austenland shortly after watching the film adaptation of Austenland starring Keri Russell. Though the film naturally pulls largely from the first book, after reading a few chapters into this second book, I suspected that some minor details were taken from this book as well and incorporated into the film (on which author Shannon Hale was an associate producer)... lines from the film like Mr Nobley uttering "you make me nervous" or him being related to Mrs. Wattlesworth... those details actually appear in this second book, not the first (although it is character Mr. Mallery who is related to the proprietor, not Nobley, as presented in the film). Also, there is a speech Charlotte makes near the end of this second book that incorporates details that make up part of the ending of the film. All that said, these two novels, though linked by the setting of Pembrook Park, can easily be read as stand-alone novels. 

 

 

Though much of the inspiration for this story comes from Austen's Northanger Abbey, a heads up to readers: there are a few spoilers here for Austen's Mansfield Park as well. 

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review 2018-08-22 09:43
Austenland (Austenland #1) by Shannon Hale
Austenland - Shannon Hale

Jane Hayes is a seemingly normal young New Yorker, but she has a secret. Her obsession with Mr. Darcy, as played by Colin Firth in the BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, is ruining her love life: no real man can compare. But when a wealthy relative bequeaths her a trip to an English resort catering to Austen-crazed women, Jane's fantasies of meeting the perfect Regency-era gentleman suddenly become realer than she ever could have imagined. Decked out in empire-waist gowns, Jane struggles to master Regency etiquette and flirts with gardeners and gentlemen―or maybe even, she suspects, with the actors who are playing them. It's all a game, Jane knows. And yet the longer she stays, the more her insecurities seem to fall away, and the more she wonders: Is she about to kick the Austen obsession for good, or could all her dreams actually culminate in a Mr. Darcy of her own?

Amazon.com

 

 

 

Jane Hayes is a graphic designer for a NYC lifestyle magazine. Obsessed with all things Jane Austen, and especially Colin Firth's portrayal of Mr. Darcy in the BBC miniseries adaptation, Hayes feels she's been ruined for any real chance at love with REAL men. A conversation one night with her great-aunt Carolyn, where Carolyn, in so many words, tries to convey the idea that living life to the fullest is the truest fantasy life, leaves Jane wondering if she is maybe missing out on something.

 

Not one to leave the girl wondering forever, when Carolyn passes away she leaves Jane something special in her will: an all expenses paid trip the uber-exclusive, eye-poppingly expensive Austenland, a theme park (of sorts) catering to those who wish to fully immerse themselves in Austen's era. 

 

Upon arrival, Jane is immediately greeted by the park's proprietor, Mrs. Wattlesbrook. There is a bit of a snubbing on Jane right off the bat. Since her trip was pre-paid for, Wattlesbrook underhandedly treats Jane a bit like the child attending an exclusive boarding school on scholarship. Wattlesbrook proves to be a stickler for historical accuracy and loathes deviations from her rules. Still, there are a few modern conveniences allowed in Pembrook Park, the estate that makes up much of the "theme park" {in all honesty, the characters never veer very far from the front door other than strolls around the gardens.... kind of a lame theme park IMO, but moving on... }: flame shaped bulbs in the lamps versus more historically accurate kerosene ... because modern people are clumsy and Regency folk never had to worry about liability insurance on businesses lol ... and indoor plumbing, for the sake of the housekeeping staff. 

 

On her first full day at Pembrook, Jane meets Martin, aka "Theodore" the estate's cute gardener, and at dinner, Mr. Nobley, who serves as the resident quietly salty Mr. Darcy. Jane develops what she thinks is a taboo friendship with Martin, as he provides elements of the 21st century right when she needs it the most. Nobley tries to warn Jane that there might be a side to Martin she should be wary of, but she laughs off his words as just a speech he makes in character. As the story progresses, both men become important to Jane in different ways and she finds herself struggling to make out what is real and what is scripted... leaving her to wonder if this cookie tin lid kind of world is really what she wants after all. 

 

Pembrook Park had done its job -- it allowed her to live through her romantic purgatory. She believed now in earnest that fantasy is not practice for what is real --- fantasy is the opiate of women. 

 

Each chapter in Austenland starts with a profile of one of Jane's "exes" as she thinks of them, though the reader will note that most of these men would hardly qualify as any sort of meaningful relationship in most peoples' book. Even so, the men are presented in chronological order from Jane's earliest experiences in childhood on through, noting what went wrong in each situation that possibly left a little chink in her self-esteem to the point of obsessing over seemingly perfect, chivalrous, Regency era men. 

 

 

There is quite good humor in this novel, a lighthearted wit which only gets more pronounced as the story progresses. The ending might strike some as a little syrupy sweet, but in this instance, with these particular characters, there was something about it that was just... kinda perfect. 

 

If you've ever seen the reality series Regency House Party, this story very much reminded me of that setup, especially the whole "what is real, what isn't" experience cast members went through on that show. So if you were / are a fan of that program, this is one I would recommend for you.

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2018-07-20 07:45
Just A Kiss (Summer Harbor #3) by Denise Hunter
Just a Kiss (A Summer Harbor Novel) - Denise Hunter

Watching the love of his life fall for his brother was enough to send Riley straight to boot camp. But over a year later, he’s officially a marine, and Beau and Paige are no longer an item. When Riley’s tour in Afghanistan is up, he intends to confess his feelings to Paige and win his best friend’s heart once and for all. But all that changes when an IED takes the life of a comrade and leaves Riley an amputee. Now he’s heading home, injured and troubled. His plans to win Paige are a distant dream. She deserves so much more than the man that’s left. All he can do now is put some healthy distance between them. But upon his return he discovers his family has arranged for him to stay with Paige. Paige is a nurturer at heart and happy to take care of her best buddy. By all appearances Riley is adjusting miraculously well to his disability. But as the days pass, Paige begins to see that the smiles and laughter are just a mask for the pain he’s hiding. To make matters worse, her job is in serious jeopardy. The animal shelter that she’s poured her heart into has lost its funding, and she has three months to come up with the money needed to save it. As the weeks wear on, Paige’s feelings for Riley begin to shift into uncharted territory. Why is she suddenly noticing his arm muscles and the way his lips curl at the corners? Will she be able to deny her feelings for another Callahan brother? And will Riley let his heart heal so he can let Paige in?

Amazon.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

Well, now it's time to for Riley Callahan to get the spotlight! Moving in the background of the first two books, here we get to know his story a bit better as he returns from a tour of duty in Afghanistan. 

 

Through the earlier books in this series, the reader sees Riley struggling with the romantic relationship between his brother Beau and Riley's best friend, Paige. Riley himself has been secretly in love with Paige for years. To cope with his emotions, he chooses to enlist in the military. Almost immediately, he gets word he's getting shipped to Afghanistan. Now fifteen months later in Just A Kiss, Riley is returning home after surviving an IED attack that costs him one of his legs. 

 

Prior to the explosion, Riley had plans to return home to Summer Harbor and finally reveal his true feelings to Paige. Now things sit a little differently, as he is moved into Paige's home for the recovery / physical therapy process and Paige takes on the role of caretaker. Not exactly what he had in mind. Riley struggles with feelings of only being half a man, still tempted to confess his love to Paige but also feeling like she deserves better than what he feels he can offer as an amputee. In response to his inner struggle, Riley begins to distance himself emotionally from Paige, thinking he's doing her a favor. But as these romances tend to go, as one pulls back, the other party involved leans forward. 

 

Paige, when not helping Riley, has her own professional stresses. The shelter she runs is at risk of being shut down for lack of funding. On the suggestion of Lucy (Riley's sister-in-law you met in The Goodbye Bride), Paige puts together a bachelor auction fundraiser and, with a bit of a struggle, gets Riley to agree to serve as one of the bachelors. Seeing him in this light where many of Summer Harbor's single ladies going crazy at the chance to have a date with him, Paige is shocked at her own feelings of jealousy towards these women. Slowly the thought creeps into her mind that maybe, just maybe she herself feels something beyond the platonic for her best bud. But of course she takes the Riley approach to things, keeping her complicated emotions to herself. So as you can imagine it takes forever for these two to get anywhere fun with each other.

 

Author Denise Hunter offers a note to the reader right off the bat letting one know that any of the Summer Harbor books can be enjoyed as a standalone piece. With this closing book to the series, while it was cute I was a left a little disappointed overall. It's pretty standard romance fare, safe romance that was built a little TOO slowly for me, and closed on a pretty bland ending. 

 

Though this is technically a Christian romance series, the religious element is pretty light through most of the books. This one though, there is a pretty heavy dousing of religion near the end, which felt a little odd... like it was getting jammed in there real quick before the doors closed... when the rest of the series was so light on it. 

 

That aside, decent light summer fluff you can have fun with on a chill-out day without too much mental commitment required. 

 

FTC DisclaimerTNZ Fiction Guild kindly provided me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. The opinions above are entirely my own. 

 

 

____________

 

My review for Falling Like Snowflakes (Summer Harbor #1)

My review for The Goodbye Bride (Summer Harbor #2)

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review 2018-07-20 05:09
Falling Like Snowflakes (Summer Harbor #1) by Denise Hunter
Falling Like Snowflakes (A Summer Harbor Novel) - Denise Hunter

Speeding north through rural Maine, Eden Martelli wonders how her life came to this—on the run with her mute five-year-old son dozing fitfully in the passenger seat. When a breakdown leaves them stranded in Summer Harbor, Eden has no choice but to stay put through Christmas . . . even though they have no place to lay their heads. Beau Callahan is a habitual problem solver—for other people anyway. He left the sheriff’s department to take over his family’s Christmas tree farm, but he’s still haunted by the loss of his parents and struggling to handle his first Christmas alone. When Eden shows up looking for work just as Beau’s feisty aunt gets out of the hospital, Beau thinks he’s finally caught a break. Eden is competent and dedicated—if a little guarded—and a knockout to boot. But, as he soon finds out, she also comes with a boatload of secrets. Eden has been through too much to trust her heart to another man, but Beau is impossible to resist, and the feeling seems to be mutual. As Christmas Eve approaches, Eden’s past catches up to her. Beau will go to the ends of the earth to keep her safe. But who’s going to protect his heart from a woman who can’t seem to trust again?

Amazon.com

 

 

 

Eden Martinelli is on the run with her five year old mute son. Though her one persistent thought is "keep moving!", once her car breaks down she is forced to at least temporarily settle in the small town of Summer Harbor, Maine. With holiday season on the horizon, Eden gets a job at a local tree farm, the farm owned and operated by former cop Beau Callahan. When Beau's aunt, Trudy, suffers an accident that leads to a fractured leg, Eden is hired on as her home aide while Trudy recovers and works through physical therapy. 

 

As Eden settles into the Callahan home on the farm, her very presence seems to gradually knock loose some repressed feelings in multiple family members, feelings wrapped around long-running unaddressed hurts.Beau notices this influence, and though his heart begins to warm toward Eden, he's still troubled by the mysterious air she keeps around her. Why is she so evasive with any personal questions? What is she hiding? Beau low-key worries that she might be running from the law and he just hired a criminal to look after a beloved family member, but his gut tells him she's not dangerous, just scared. So who put that kind of fear into her?

 

This is a nice holiday read. It's not brimming with over the top holiday cheer, but instead offers a cozy balance of wit, small town charm, a slow-burn romantic interest, and a dash of mystery. Perfect for those who like their suspense on the more mild side of things...sort of in the thriller-lite vein of a Hallmark Mystery Movie. The bad guy scenes got a little cliche at times for my liking, but the Callahan brothers are so likeable in this series that minor eyeroll moments can easily be forgiven. 

 

For those in book clubs, discussion questions for this story are offered at the back of the book. 

 

I've been reading these out of order, which -- I thought I would mention -- works fine, as each book focuses on a different Callahan brother (of three). But looking back, there are some minor chronological aspects -- mainly with the storyline of Riley's military service -- that will flow better if you read in order. 

 

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My review for The Goodbye Bride (Summer Harbor #2)

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