The Wedding Shop (Heart’s Bend #2) by Rachel Hauck

TheWeddingShop

Two women separated by decades. Both set out to help others find their dreams when their own have crumbled.

It’s the early 1930s, but Cora Scott is walking in stride as a career woman after having inherited her great aunt’s wedding shop in Heart’s Bend, Tennessee, where brides come from as far away as Birmingham to experience her famed bridal treatment. Meanwhile, Cora is counting down the days until her own true love returns from the river to make her his bride. But days turn into months and months to years. All the while, Birch Good continues to woo Cora and try to show her that while he is solid and dependable, he can sweep her off her feet.

More than eighty years later, former Air Force Captain Haley Morgan has returned home to Heart’s Bend after finishing her commitment to military service. After the devastating death of her best friend, Tammy, and discovering the truth about the man she loved, Haley is searching for her place in life.

When Haley decides to reopen the romantic but abandoned wedding shop where she and Tammy played and dreamed as children, she begins a journey of courage, mystery, and love.

As Cora’s and Haley’s stories intertwine through time in the shadow of the beloved wedding shop, they both discover the power of their own dreams and the magic of everyday love.

My Thoughts
★★★☆☆

 Sweet and Simple

This was a really sweet and simple story. I was drawn to the dual story lines, particularly Cora’s story. Cora and Haley share many similarities: ambitions, renewal of dreams and whose lives are both intertwined by The Wedding Shop, located in Heart’s Bend Tennessee. It was an interesting journey seeing Cora and Haley both find their happiness.

There is a small element of mystery regarding Cora’s life; as her story unfolds we understand that she is connected to Haley in more ways than expected. While I found Cora’s story slightly more interesting than Haley’s, I didn’t like her as much as I would have liked. I wanted her to encompass the “true love” quality of the story more and grow. As such, I saw a stubborn and indecisive Cora for much of the story but in the end she redeemed herself. On the other hand, I found Haley more likeable. There is an ease about her and a quiet strength that shows in her actions.

Overall, a sweet story with Christian undertones that speaks to the spirit of love and what it means to have dreams come true.

What do you think about dual storylines?
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Review: The Ultimatum (The Guardian #1) by Karen Robards

TheUltimatum

Thief. Manipulator. Con artist. Call it what you will—Bianca St. Ives is the best in the business. 

Growing up, Bianca St. Ives knew she was different from all her friends. Instead of playing hopscotch or combing her dolls’ hair, she studied martial arts with sensei masters and dismantled explosives with special-ops retirees. Her father prepped her well to carry on the family business. Now a striking beauty with fierce skills, the prodigy has surpassed the master.

She’s known as the Guardian. Running a multinational firm with her father, she makes a living swindling con men out of money they stole—and she’s damn good at it. She does things on her own terms. But her latest gig had a little hiccup—if you count two hundred million dollars and top secret government documents going missing as little. Her father also died on the mission. The thing is, the US government doesn’t believe he’s really dead. They’ll stop at nothing to capture Richard St. Ives, a high-value target and someone who has been on most-wanted lists all over the world for over two decades, and they mean to use Bianca as bait. With only a fellow criminal for backup and her life on the line, it’s up to Bianca to uncover the terrifying truth behind what really happened…and set it right, before it’s too late.

My Thoughts
★★★★

Action-packed from the start

Wow. This story wasn’t what I was expecting at all but in no way is that indicative of a bad thing. In fact, not expecting something opens up the opportunity to discover a really great story which is the case here. Before I go further I should mention that Karen Robards is one of my favorite authors; she writes engaging romantic suspense books and every time she has a new book out it’s almost guaranteed to be an auto-read …except for this book. I remember seeing it released and for whatever reasons I wasn’t keen on reading it right away. Perhaps because the storyline sounded different from her typical books or the protagonist didn’t appeal, whatever it was the book didn’t emerge as a must read right now. Now having read it, I can appreciate Robards’ books even more and see how diverse her storytelling can be.

Bianca St. Ives, the driving force behind The Ultimatum, pretty much has every quality you would want from an every day super-woman (think female James Bond). She’s intelligent, fierce, adaptable, resourceful, compassionate and not afraid to use her looks to gain her an advantage. The ideal femme fatale. She’s a force to be reckoned with and it was extremely fun getting caught up in sticky situations and fighting her foes alongside her. Her story is unique in the sense that although she’s serving her own form of justice, she’s doing so from the wrong side of it (aka con thief and liar, at least when she needs to be). What I really appreciated about her character is that she was capable of achieving her goals on her own without the need of a strong male counterpart.

The romantic element in this story is limited compared to her usual books but it didn’t feel lacking. In fact the tension between her and Colin “Mickey” felt enough and it would be interesting to see how it develops in future books. Even though he takes a back story it was refreshing to see that he does present a challenge to Bianca which keeps their interactions dynamic.

Despite being a super woman in her own right, Bianca does have a vulnerable side which is something I tend to look for in characters because it allows me a better “feel” for the character. There are instances where her vulnerabilities shows but it balances out her strengths.

This was action-packed from beginning to end with travels to exotic locations and interesting characters throughout. If a strong heroine is what you’re looking for this is a great story. I’m already looking forward to the next book!

Do you have any favorite strong heroines?

 

Review: The Coldest Fear (Shades of Death #3) by Debra Webb

TheColdestFear

A killer with nothing left to lose…

Afraid or not, Detective Bobbie Gentry has a monster to confront. The pain of losing her family and nearly her life to a criminal’s vile hunger is still fresh, but now the landscape is different. Now she’s not alone. Now she has Nick Shade to trust. Nick treats the terror of his past with vengeance. He’s dedicated his life to hunting serial killers, and he’d give up his last breath to save Bobbie. When a string of killings bloodies Savannah’s elite society and causes cold cases to resurface, Bobbie is captured in a city more haunted than Nick’s inescapable nightmares. And as the murderer strikes close, Nick and Bobbie will need to become even closer if they’re going to survive.

My Thoughts
★★★★

Riveting and suspenseful

Ever since I discovered the Faces of Evil books I have been a fan of Debra Webb. When I’m not sure of what to read she’s one of my go-to author, because I can always count on a riveting and suspenseful story and The Coldest Fear was no exception.

I’ve been following the Shades of Death books from the beginning and while some series tend to lose momentum or my interest, I’m still very much invested in these characters and want to see more. The books feature Detective Bobbie Gentry and serial killer hunter, Nick Shade who both face unimaginable nightmares. Bobbie’s story is so heart wrenching and yet instead of feeling pity for her, I admire her courage, resilience and determination to bring justice to her loved ones. Likewise, Nick, a man with a broken past who has seen the world he once knew twisted by a serial killer too close to home, is on a mission to hunt down criminals and prove that he is nothing like them. These characters are definitely my reason for reading these books. Bobbie is vulnerable and yet such a strong heroine and I can see how she and Nick are mutually drawn to one another. I hold these characters emotionally close and I find the plot supports them well. Over the course of the books, I’ve gotten closer to the characters and seen first-hand the characters battle evil, and grow in so many ways from learning to trust again and living with purpose.

The plot involves a missing children cold case. Bobbie is drawn into the case by a serial killer who is setting the stage to reveal a life-changing secret. Along the way elite members of the community are being murdered. As Bobbie and Nick chase down the killer they realize they are more connected than they first thought.

Debra Webb doesn’t hold back in creating her monsters and the scenes can be disturbing, and for me that makes the characters even more real. These are the moments that really showcase the evil but gives the characters the opportunity to fight and survive. I did find some aspects of the plot predictable but overall still a suspenseful read. I can’t wait for more books in this series.

Do you have any thriller/suspense recommendations?

Review: The Wedding Tree by Robin Wells

TheWeddingTree

National bestselling author Robin Wells weaves a moving epic that stretches from modern-day Louisiana to World War II-era New Orleans and back again in this multigenerational tale of love, loss and redemption.

Hope Stevens thinks Wedding Tree, Louisiana, will be the perfect place to sort out her life and all the mistakes she’s made. Plus, it will give her the chance to help her free-spirited grandmother, Adelaide, sort through her things before moving into assisted living.

Spending the summer in the quaint town, Hope begins to discover that Adelaide has made some mistakes of her own. And as they go through her belongings, her grandmother recalls the wartime romance that left her torn between two men and haunted by a bone-chilling secret. Now she wants Hope’s help in uncovering the truth before it’s too late.

Filled with colorful characters, The Wedding Tree is an emotionally riveting story about passion, shattered dreams, unexpected renewal and forgiveness—not only for others, but for ourselves.

My Thoughts
★★★★

Small-town charm

I’ve always adored Southern stories especially those set in small quaint towns and brimming with lively characters. Add to this a World World II aspect which is another theme I enjoy and this was a storyline that appealed immensely. Robin Wells isn’t a new author to me as I’ve previously read Still the One, and although it’s been awhile I do recall it being a great story.

So begins the story in Wedding Tree, a small charming town in Louisiana where Adelaide is recovering from a fall and Hope, her granddaughter is helping her transition to a new place. This provides Hope with the much needed fresh start after a painful divorce. Throughout the story it shifts to New Orleans where Adelaide’s wartime love story began in the 1940s. I really liked that the main characters all had an emotional obstacle to overcome: Adelaide has to come to terms with her past, Hope wants to build a new future and Matt (a widow who Hope connects with) is learning to move forward after a tragedy. I found the characters likable, spirited and approachable. Seeing them deal with their relationships gave me a chance to understand them better.

Although I liked the characters I wish their stories were more believable as a disconnect for me was that I found the relationships moved too quickly and needed to be fleshed out more. I felt the way the relationships developed weren’t realistic and that prevented me from seeing this as a believable love story. I did however enjoy the mystery which offered a few pleasant surprises along the way.

I wished I had liked the love story more, but I did like the insight into the relationships and the focus on love, loss and forgiveness. It’s a heart-stirring story and there were moments that jerked at my heart. It wasn’t the love story I expected but I wasn’t too disappointed because the characters’ journeys to self-discovery and forgiveness were poignant.

Do you enjoy wartime love stories?

Review: The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

TheBearandtheNightingale

At the edge of the Russian wilderness, winter lasts most of the year and the snowdrifts grow taller than houses. But Vasilisa doesn’t mind—she spends the winter nights huddled around the embers of a fire with her beloved siblings, listening to her nurse’s fairy tales. Above all, she loves the chilling story of Frost, the blue-eyed winter demon, who appears in the frigid night to claim unwary souls. Wise Russians fear him, her nurse says, and honor the spirits of house and yard and forest that protect their homes from evil.

After Vasilisa’s mother dies, her father goes to Moscow and brings home a new wife. Fiercely devout, city-bred, Vasilisa’s new stepmother forbids her family from honoring the household spirits. The family acquiesces, but Vasilisa is frightened, sensing that more hinges upon their rituals than anyone knows.

And indeed, crops begin to fail, evil creatures of the forest creep nearer, and misfortune stalks the village. All the while, Vasilisa’s stepmother grows ever harsher in her determination to groom her rebellious stepdaughter for either marriage or confinement in a convent.

As danger circles, Vasilisa must defy even the people she loves and call on dangerous gifts she has long concealed—this, in order to protect her family from a threat that seems to have stepped from her nurse’s most frightening tales.

My Thoughts
★★★☆☆

 Winterland mystique

The Bear and the Nightingale reads like an enchanting fairy tale full of magic, intrigue and old folklore charm. I remember coming across this book and finding everything about it appealing from the beautiful cover, the unique title and especially the interesting premise, and for the most part the story did not disappoint.

The story unfolded vividly, spinning a tale of an old Russia during a time when fairy tales were very much real and whose people’s beliefs hinged strongly on those tales. During the first part of the story and well into it, we meet Vasilisa, a young girl with an air of magic about her. She is well loved and protected by her family, but it’s not enough to shield her from the fate that awaits her. The story does take awhile to build and while I think it was necessary to describe these elements, the middle part did stall for me but I’m glad I continued reading. The latter part of the story did hold my attention as the plot begins to pick up when Vasilisa is forced to confront her fears and her foes. I’m looking forward to the next book.

Overall, this is a lovely story and very reminiscent of a traditional fairy tale filled with imaginative characters and a plot that starts slowly but finishes on a good note.

Do fairy tales-oriendted stories or re-tellings appeal to you?

Review: Titans by Leila Meacham

Titans

Texas in the early 1900s, its inhabitants still traveling by horseback and barely familiar with the telephone, was on the cusp of an oil boom that, unbeknownst to its residents, would spark a period of dramatic change and economic growth. In the midst of this transformative time in Southern history, two unforgettable characters emerge and find their fates irrevocably intertwined: Samantha Gordon, the privileged heiress to the sprawling Las Tres Lomas cattle ranch near Fort Worth, and Nathan Holloway, a sweet-natured and charming son of a wheat farmer from far north Texas. As changes sweep the rustic countryside, Samantha and Nathan’s connection drives this narrative compulsively forward as they love, lose, and betray. In this grand yet intimate novel, Meacham once again delivers a heartfelt, big-canvas story full of surprising twists and deep emotional resonance.

My Thoughts
★★★★

 Beautiful glimpse into a transformative era

With the backdrop of a turn of the century era that speaks to a time of emerging technologies and a shift towards new economies from vast farmlands to oil rich lands, I found the synopsis interesting. Titans is the first book I’ve read by Leila Meacham and I am looking forward to her other books, which I hope will hold the same charm and engrossing characters that I found in this story.

At the heart of it all, despite the grand background it is a story about roots, exploring those of families, of people’s connection to their lands, and the role serendipity plays in bringing things full circle. The story has a strong core set of characters, each with a stake in the lives of the two main characters, Samantha Gordon and Nathan Holloway. Initially we see the course of their lives set out before them, in which their homes and families have been carefully cultivated with time, love and trust but as the story tells, their lives are soon put on a new course that will see them intersect in many ways.

The time period is an exciting one that was intricately described and made for an effortless background for the characters’ lives. I truly enjoyed seeing the characters go about their lives and I could lose myself for hours experiencing these daily happenings. These moments while seemingly mundane helped shaped the characters. At times the story was predictable but it didn’t detract from my takeaways. I found the story was successful in portraying the meaning of family and love. The trials and tribulations experienced by the characters were abundant and I appreciated that I was able to see the reasoning of the decisions made, as it made me want the characters overcome the obstacles all the more.

If you’re looking for a subtle historical saga this is a story that provides an interesting snapshot of a changing era and a story of families who are able to rise above it all by the strength of unconditional love.

The historical setting is one reason why I read this book. Prior I’ve never read about this particular era in Texas and the beginnings of the oil industry. What interesting book settings have you read?