The Last Garden in England

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Julia Kelly

Historical Fiction, Romance, Women’s Fiction

Published January 12, 2021 by Gallery Books

Present day: Emma Lovett, who has dedicated her career to breathing new life into long-neglected gardens, has just been given the opportunity of a lifetime: to restore the gardens of the famed Highbury House estate, designed in 1907 by her hero Venetia Smith. But as Emma dives deeper into the gardens’ past, she begins to uncover secrets that have long lain hidden.

1907: A talented artist with a growing reputation for her ambitious work, Venetia Smith has carved out a niche for herself as a garden designer to industrialists, solicitors, and bankers looking to show off their wealth with sumptuous country houses. When she is hired to design the gardens of Highbury House, she is determined to make them a triumph, but the gardens—and the people she meets—promise to change her life forever.

1944: When land girl Beth Pedley arrives at a farm on the outskirts of the village of Highbury, all she wants is to find a place she can call home. Cook Stella Adderton, on the other hand, is desperate to leave Highbury House to pursue her own dreams. And widow Diana Symonds, the mistress of the grand house, is anxiously trying to cling to her pre-war life now that her home has been requisitioned and transformed into a convalescent hospital for wounded soldiers. But when war threatens Highbury House’s treasured gardens, these three very different women are drawn together by a secret that will last for decades.

My Thoughts:

This was one of my favorite types of books. Historical fiction with some romance (clean) woven into the tale. Once I started reading this I could hardly put it down. 

Throughout the book we follow 4 different women in 3 time periods. At first it was a little confusing to keep track of the cast of characters, but I quickly sorted out who’s who and didn’t have trouble after that. I liked all the time periods and each of the women were strong individuals who had something about them that I admired. 

The garden is wonderfully described and loved that it is based on a real life garden. 

To buy your copy of this book, please consider doing so from this link via BookShop. I receive a tiny commission, but more importantly, BookShop is an online bookstore that contributes 75% of each book’s profit margin to independent bookstores. You can even select the bookshop you want to support via Find a Bookstore.

Thank you to #NetGalley and #JuliaKelly for allowing me to read this book. I received an advance review copy for free, and I am leaving this review voluntarily.

Our Italian Summer

⭐⭐⭐⭐

Jennifer Probst

Romance, Women’s Fiction

Published January 12, 2021 by Berkley Publishing Group

Workaholic, career-obsessed Francesca is fiercely independent and successful in all areas of life except one: family. She struggles to make time for her relationship with her teenage daughter, Allegra, and the two have become practically strangers to each other. When Allegra hangs out with a new crowd and is arrested for drug possession, Francesca gives in to her mother’s wish that they take one epic summer vacation to trace their family roots in Italy. What she never expected was to be faced with the choice of a lifetime. . . .

Allegra wants to make her grandmother happy, but she hates the idea of forced time with her mother and vows to fight every step of the ridiculous tour, until a young man on the verge of priesthood begins to show her the power of acceptance, healing, and the heartbreaking complications of love.

Sophia knows her girls are in trouble. A summer filled with the possibility for change is what they all desperately need. Among the ruins of ancient Rome, the small churches of Assisi, and the rolling hills of Tuscany, Sophia hopes to show her girls that the bonds of family are everything, and to remind them that they can always lean on one another, before it’s too late.

My Thoughts:

I struggled with this book at first. I didn’t identify with any of the characters and really disliked Francesca at the beginning. But now that I’ve read the book, I think that was the point. I wouldn’t have appreciated her metamorphosis if I had liked her from the start.

I am a homebody and don’t really have a desire to travel, but this book made me want to go to Italy. The food, countryside and art were all beautifully described. The relationships felt authentic.

I enjoyed this book and would recommend it to others.

To buy your copy of this book, please consider doing so from this link via BookShop. I receive a tiny commission, but more importantly, BookShop is an online bookstore that contributes 75% of each book’s profit margin to independent bookstores. You can even select the bookshop you want to support via Find a Bookstore.

Thank you to #NetGalley and #JenniferProbst for allowing me to read this book. I received an advance review copy for free, and I am leaving this review voluntarily.

The Forever Girl

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Jill Shalvis

General Fiction, Romance, Women’s Fiction

Published January 12, 2021 by William Morrow and Custom House

When Maze returns to Wildstone for the wedding of her estranged bff and the sister of her heart, it’s also a reunion of a once ragtag team of teenagers who had only each other until a tragedy tore them apart and scattered them wide.

Now as adults together again in the lake house, there are secrets and resentments mixed up in all the amazing childhood memories. Unexpectedly, they instantly fall back into their roles: Maze their reckless leader, Cat the den mother, Heather the beloved baby sister, and Walker, a man of mystery. 

Life has changed all four of them in immeasurable ways. Maze and Cat must decide if they can rebuild their friendship, and Maze discovers her long-held attraction to Walker hasn’t faded with the years but has only grown stronger.

My Thoughts:

The forever girl is a novel of friendship, second chances and the transformative power of love in all its forms. This is the 6th novel in Ms Shalvis’ wildstone series, but it is not necessary to have read the previous 5 to enjoy this. It’s a stand alone book, and  I enjoyed it so much I’m going to find the rest of the series.

Maze has been hurt and rejected her entire life and has learned to shut everyone out to protect herself. And it is the same for Walker. They are forced to be together the week leading up to Caitlin’s wedding and they slowly learn that past events may not have been exactly  the way they had thought. Watching them overcome and learn to trust themselves and each other was heartwarming and enjoyable. Through the course of their story you come to care so much about these characters that you almost forget they aren’t real. Normally I speed through books but this time I dragged my feet a bit. I didn’t want it to end.

  • A few scenes are for mature audiences.

A huge thank you to #NetGalley and #JillShalvis for allowing me to read this! I received an advance review copy for free, and I am leaving this review voluntarily.

To buy your copy of this book, please consider doing so from this link via BookShop. I receive a tiny commission, but more importantly, BookShop is an online bookstore that contributes 75% of each book’s profit margin to independent bookstores. You can even select the bookshop you want to support via Find a Bookstore.

The Jigsaw Files – #1-3 – Sharon Sala

⭐⭐⭐⭐ for all three

Overall: I loved them. I read the first book on Monday, the second one on Tuesday, and the third, I read Wednesday and Thursday. (Life got in the way) Can’t wait for book #4.

PI Charlie Dodge knows what it’s like to have something important disappear. His wife, Annie, suffers from early-onset Alzheimer’s, causing her to remember little of the life she shared with her husband. Charlie has devoted his career to saving what he can—missing people, threatened lives. But when prominent Denver multimillionaire Carter Dunleavy vanishes without a trace, Charlie and his assistant, Wyrick, discover missing doesn’t always mean gone.

It turns out Carter didn’t vanish after all—he’s gone into hiding. Someone in his inner circle wants him dead and now Carter needs Charlie to expose the culprit before the Dunleavy empire spirals into ruin. But with a tangled web of suspects looking to silence Charlie’s investigation, he’ll have to find Carter’s would-be killer and fast, before the traitor can finish the job.

My Thoughts

This is different from all of Sharon Sala’s other books (no romance) but there are still key elements will be familiar to long time readers (I’ve been reading her stuff since she was writing as Dinah McCall) such as seeing the view point of the “bad guy. ”

At first I was a little put off by Wyrick because she is so different from the typical heroine, but the more I learned about her, the more I loved her. Charlie and his devotion to his wife made my heart melt and Wyrick is a kick-ass woman with a tough no nonsense shell that protects who she really is. Charlie and Wyrick are the perfect team and I loved the first book so much I rushed to find the second the moment I read the last word. The language isn’t too bad but there is one scene (really a paragraph) that I found rather crass and I wished the author had skipped it. It didn’t add anything to the plot or storyline.

The clock is ticking…

When Charlie Dodge gets a phone call from a frantic woman stating her daughter has been kidnapped by her ex-husband and taken into a cult called Fourth Dimension, he takes the case without hesitation. The cult’s rumored purpose is to gather men with psychic abilities with the goal of breeding a race of people who have supernatural powers. Once accepted into the cult, men are given a young girl to marry in exchange for one of their own daughters.

The FBI has been monitoring the cult’s activities, but Charlie and his assistant, Wyrick, aren’t bound by the same rules as the feds. They head to the mountains of West Virginia to infiltrate the cult’s compound. The lives of children are at stake, and Charlie and Wyrick will risk everything to destroy the cult and its leader—no matter the cost—because this case is personal.

My Thoughts:

Oh I loved this one! I listened to the audio book most of the time ( I didn’t want to put down the book, so when I had no choice I switched to the audio book and then stuck with it) and the narrator was so great. The voice of Charlie!!! Oh, that’s a voice I could listen to for a long time. Anyway, I adored Jordan. Sometimes she seemed older than 12, but when you add in her physic powers and the stubbornness of a 12 year old girl, it worked. It goes to show that if one person has the courage to resist and stand up to what is wrong, it gives others the courage to do so as well. The storyline was fast paced through out the book and I never got bored. Charlie and Wyrick are still a favorite! Clean-ish: occasional language, not excessive.

He has nothing and everything to lose…

When a seventeen-year-old boy goes missing while camping with his buddies in the Chisos Mountains in Big Bend, the case is right up PI Charlie Dodge’s alley. Charlie’s reputation for finding missing people—especially missing kids—is unparalleled. Unfortunately, trouble seems to be equally good at finding him.

Charlie’s still in the thick of it when bad news arrives regarding his wife, Annie, whose early onset Alzheimer’s is causing her to slip further and further away. The timing couldn’t be worse. Thankfully, Charlie’s ride-or-die assistant, Wyrick, has his back. But when Universal Theorem, the shadowy and elusive organization from Wyrick’s past, escalates its deadly threats against her, it pushes both partners past their breaking points. Finding people is one thing; now Charlie will have to fight to hold on to everyone he holds dear.

My Thoughts:

This one wasn’t as fast paced as the other two, but still a great read. Charlie is losing his Annie at a faster rate and UT won’t leave Wyrick alone. The beginning had my heart pounding (don’t like heights, and when I hike I’m always worried about falling over the edge, even when it’s not warranted.) But after that, the cases take a bit of a back seat as each character has to deal with more problems in their personal lives. Cleanish: language, not excessive.

Willow Creek

⭐⭐⭐

Karen Ann Hopkins

Romance, Women’s Fiction

Published October 23, 2020 by Harper Collins, One More Chapter

When Katie Colter’s life was saved during a ferocious storm by Rowan Coblentz, an Amish boy from the neighboring settlement, she repaid his kindness with a kiss.  And in that one moment a forbidden love was ignited.  But when Katie’s father found the young lovers together, he banished Rowan, and Katie never saw him again…

Now, six years later, with her father dead and the family farm in jeopardy, Katie needs Rowan’s help.  But the shy young Amish boy she once knew has grown into a handsome and forceful man. 

The attraction between them is still as strong as ever, but Katie’s life is on her family farm, with the horses she loves, and Rowan’s place is within his sheltered Amish community.   Can their love find a way, or will it remain forbidden, forever?

My Thoughts:

There were things I really liked about this book and things I didn’t.

First off – I was expecting a clean read, typically Amish books are, and this is not one of them. This falls more into the romance genre than Christian genre. I tried to skip over the sex scenes as best as I could, and there were times I missed some important dialogue by doing so.

I liked the premise of his world vs hers and the forbidden love aspect. How many times have we longed for something we couldn’t have? 

At first I was really annoyed by how they treated each other and how they seemed to blow up at each other and overreact and once the author reminded me a couple of times that they were only 22, I dawned on me this was a maturity issue. Once I recognized that, I was able to move on past the annoyance for the most part. 

I didn’t really like Katie much through the first ¾ of the book. It seemed like Rowan was doing all the giving and she was doing all of the taking. There didn’t seem to be much of an acknowledgement that Rowan was contemplating giving up his entire life for her. I liked his chapters the best. 

I wish there had been more dialogue between them, delving deeper into who they are and more into the issues they faced as a couple and less focus on their attraction to each other. 

I’m curious if there will be a sequel to this for Rebecca. I wasn’t sure what to think about her character. I’m not sure how I liked how her mental illness (depression) was portrayed. I’m not sure if she was completely depressed and felt hopeless or if she was just being manipulative and based on what the author wrote, I’m not sure if she knew either. 

Love in Lockdown

⭐⭐⭐⭐

Chloe James

General Fiction, Romance, Women’s Fiction

Published November 23, 2020 by Avon Books UK

Sophia is afraid lockdown will put her life on pause – just as she was she was going to put herself out there and meet someone. When the first clap for the keyworkers rings out around her courtyard, she’s moved to tears for all kinds of reasons.

Jack is used to living life to the fullest, and is going stir-crazy after just days isolating. Until that night he hears a woman crying from the balcony beneath his. He strikes up a conversation with the stranger and puts a smile back on her face.

Soon their balcony meetings are the highlight of Jack and Sophia’s days. But even as they grow closer together, they’re always kept apart.

My Thoughts:

Throughout the first 40% of the book I kept thinking “too soon.” Where I am, we are dealing with skyrocketing cases and currently two of my kids schools, and the school I work at, have been shut down for 2 weeks due to a high number of cases. I kept putting the book down, shaking my head, thinking I just lived this, I don’t want to read about it. But then I would pick it up so I could find out what happened next. But I’m glad I kept going. The pacing is fairly slow the first half (I think that was part of my struggles as well) but then it picks up and gets going. Once that happened I was able to set aside my “too soon” feelings and really enjoy the story. I liked the community that came together through Jack and Sophia’s efforts and how they all learned to appreciate parts of the lockdown. Didn’t we all experience that as well this year? It was a relatable and charming story and I’m glad I stuck with it.

Honeymoon for One

⭐⭐⭐

Jennifer Peel

Romance, Women’s Fiction

Published 2017, 2019

Is there room for two on this honeymoon for one?

Piper Wyatt’s Christmas wish is to get promoted to manager at Blackstock Hotel and Resort. Not only does the promotion mean more money, but it means more time with her son and proof that she’s not such a disappointment after all.

Jace Petersen, successful owner of a national chain of sporting goods stores, finds himself alone and miserable on what should have been his honeymoon. That is until he literally falls onto the lovely Piper Wyatt. He’s intrigued with this woman who can fix a car in high heels. Too bad for him, he makes a horrible first impression, and Piper’s not allowed to mingle with the guests.

While Piper tries her best to steer clear of Jace during his stay, she can’t help but notice he’s not the man from their first meeting. But is he worth risking her promotion? Or is Jace right, Piper deserves more than she ever thought possible for herself?

Find out in this charming Christmas tale about finding love in the most unexpected place, a honeymoon.

My Thoughts:

I liked this one and I was immediately drawn into Piper’s world, but I felt like something was missing. I feel the length of the book (147 pages) greatly impacted the character development. Piper was a bit repetitive as she always rehashed “people expected more of me, I’m a mom now, I can’t take chances, etc.” I didn’t feel like there was that much dialog between those two so I couldn’t see why their relationship moved so fast. He never talked about his “left at the alter” situation beyond a few sentences and she never talked about her marriage and divorce beyond a few surface details. You get one tiny paragraph about Jace’s background (job, parents) but I never felt like I knew him.

All of these complaints aside, I really did like the book. Finn was cute, Piper was interesting and I cared whether or not she got the promotion she wanted. If you are looking for happily-ever-after entertainment without delving into nitty, gritty emotions, you will enjoy this book.

In Name Only

⭐⭐⭐

Jennifer Peel

Romance, Women’s Fiction

Published October 26, 2020

Dani Kramer used to think growing up in foster homes was the most difficult thing she would ever have to do until all her dreams come true. Married to the love of her life, Dr. Brock Holland, and running a foundation that specializes in finding jobs for kids out of foster care, Dani seems to have it all. What no one knows is that it could all go away tomorrow if anyone finds out about the precious secret she carries.

For Brock Holland, military doctor, life has always been about duty to his career and country. But when he’s captured during a joint allied training mission, thoughts of Dani, his best friend, the woman he’s tried for years not to fall in love with, help him not only survive but reevaluate his priorities. However, when he returns home, he finds Dani is pregnant. In a cruel twist, duty calls again. He must marry Dani to save her from becoming a political pawn in a dangerous game she didn’t know she had signed up to play.

But who will protect Dani’s and Brock’s hearts from each other? Or will they discover their marriage is more than only sharing a last name?

Content warning: This book contains sensitive material related to PTSD, brief military violence, and pregnancy. For more detailed descriptions that include spoiler alerts see the authors blog on her website.

My Thoughts:

First off, I think the cover is absolutely gorgeous. It caught my eye immediately and just drew me in. This is the 2nd book in a series and while I don’t think reading the first book is a must, I think it would give the reader a better idea of who everyone is and their backstory.

There are things I loved about this book and things I didn’t but it was still worth reading through to the end. I’ve been sitting here for more than 30 minutes trying to figure out my feelings. I loved the marriage of convenience plot and I was glued to the book until I finished. I loved Dani but didn’t like her passiveness when it came to how unhappy she was. I get her background and her feelings of guilt played into that but she just went along with everything and everyone. I wanted her to fight for herself a little harder. There were some other things I just didn’t buy. I didn’t buy the boys devotion to their dad and the fact they couldn’t see how he was orchestrating everything around him. I thought the messiness of the relationships (and boy were they messy and complicated) were too easily and too quickly resolved. Ms Peel did a good job with the emotions surrounding the pregnancy complications. I’ve been there, done that, 6 different times and I thought she handled that well.

I don’t think this book was as good as the first, but I’m still looking forward to reading the third one when it comes out.

The Cookbook Club

⭐⭐1/2

Beth Harbison

MUST LOVE BUTTER: The Cookbook Club is now open to members. Foodies come join us! No diets! No skipping dessert!

Margo Everson sees the call out for the cookbook club and knows she’s found her people. Recently dumped by her self-absorbed husband, who frankly isn’t much of a loss, she has little to show for her marriage but his ‘parting gift’—a dilapidated old farm house—and a collection of well-loved cookbooks

Aja Alexander just hopes her new-found friends won’t notice that that every time she looks at food, she gets queasy. It’s hard hiding a pregnancy, especially one she can’t bring herself to share with her wealthy boyfriend and his snooty mother. 

Trista Walker left the cutthroat world of the law behind and decided her fate was to open a restaurant…not the most secure choice ever. But there she could she indulge her passion for creating delectable meals and make money at the same time.

The women bond immediately, but it’s not all popovers with melted brie and blackberry jam.  Margo’s farm house is about to fall down around her ears; Trista’s restaurant needs a makeover and rat-removal fast; and as for Aja, just how long can you hide a baby bump anyway?

In this delightful novel, these women form bonds that go beyond a love grilled garlic and soy sauce shrimp. Because what is more important in life than friendship…and food?

My Thoughts:

I’ve made it a point to be 100% honest in my reviews. This was a good-ish book, but it could have been great, and that’s disappointing. I feel a little cheated. With 4 different characters’ perspectives (Margo, Max, Trista, Aja) you never get to fully “bond” with any of them. There were quite a few plot points that were never explained (so frustrating!!) and there was a whole lot of telling instead of showing. I wonder if it went through extensive re-editing. There were contradictions, like information about Margo’s husband’s job, and I’m wondering if story gaps were parts that needed to be re-written. The women formed a cookbook club but we only got to see them at the book club once or twice. With-in a few chapters, the club took a complete backseat to the story and we only got to see the notes about the food from each meeting. I expected the book (based on how the story was flowing) to be a lot longer so the epilogue took me by complete surprise. 

A big thank you to #BethHarbison, #NetGalley and #WilliamMorrow for providing a free Advance Reader Copy. This is my honest opinion.

Christmas at the Island Hotel

⭐⭐⭐

Jenny Colgan

On the tiny, beautiful, and remote island of Mure, halfway between Scotland and Norway, a new hotel opening is a big event. New mother Flora MacKenzie and her brother Fintan are working themselves half to death to get it ready in time for Christmas. 

The new hotel’s impressive kitchens throw together two unlikely new friends: Isla Gregor is the hardworking young girl who has been a waitress in the island’s cafe, dreaming of a bigger, better life now that she’s at a proper fancy hotel. Konstantin Pederson is working his way up in the hotel’s kitchens too…but he is also, secretly, the only son of the Duke of Utsire. Konstantin has been sent to learn what it is to work hard for a living, before receiving his inheritance. Although he’s initially resentful, the place grows on him; he has never met anyone quite like Isla and her fellow Murians before. 

As the island’s residents and special VIP guests gather for the hotel’s grand opening gala, Christmas is in the air. But so are more than a few small-town secrets.

My Thoughts:

The 4th book in Jenny Colgan’s Mure series is a fun read. Predictable, but fun. It was nice to revisit the island and all the characters you have gotten to know in the previous 3 books plus a few new ones.  This is not a stand alone book. Lots of characters, lots of backstory, so you will be lost if you haven’t read the first 3.

A big thank you to #JennyColgan, #NetGalley and #WilliamMorrow for providing a free Advance Reader Copy. This is my honest opinion.