Friday, January 30, 2015

A Brush with Love by Rachel Hauck (Review)

A Brush with Love
by Rachel Hauck
A Year of Weddings 2 series, Book 2
Christian Fiction / Romance
Available January 2015
Zondervan
150 pages



About the Book
Ginger Winters is a gifted hairstylist with scars no one can see. The last thing she expects from the New Year is a new chance at love.

Overcoming a childhood tragedy, Ginger emerges from the pain and trauma with a gift for bringing out the beauty in others. From the top big city salons to traveling the world as personal stylist to a country music sensation, success was almost enough to make Ginger forget she would never be one of the beautiful people.

Almost. Now that she’s back home in Rosebud, Alabama and running her own salon, the truth remains: Ginger is still that girl, forever on the outside looking in. But she needs her confidence this weekend. She’s the acclaimed “beauty-maker” for the Alabama society wedding of the decade.

When high-school crush Tom Wells Jr. also returns to town and shows up at her shop looking for a haircut, Ginger’s thinly veiled insecurities threaten to keep her locked away from love, Despite Tom’s best efforts, Ginger can’t forget how he disappeared on her twelve years ago and broke her heart. Can she ever trust him again?

When Tom challenges her to see her own beauty, Ginger must decide if she will remained chained to the past or move freely into a new, exciting future.

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My Thoughts
I'm a huge fan of Rachel Hauck, and she pulled off a great novella with A Brush with Love. It's hard to truly develop a full story with interesting characters in so few pages, but Hauck manages to do just that. I truly enjoyed every aspect of this story and was sad to see it end.

How many romance stories have you read where the girl isn't the most beautiful girl in the world? Not many. Well, in this story, Ginger is beautiful, but because of a past tragedy which has left her covered with scars, she believes she is ugly. I loved this aspect of the book. The way Tom befriended her and helped her learn to see herself the same way he does. Beautiful.

If you're looking for a romantic story with a little more depth and a sweet end, A Brush with Love is just the story for you. [5 stars]

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher through Litfuse Publicity in exchange for my fair and honest review.

About the Author
Rachel Hauck is an award-winning, best selling author of critically acclaimed novels such as RITA nominated "The Wedding Dress" and RITA nominated "Love Starts with Elle," part of the Lowcountry series, the Nashvegas series and the Songbird Novels penned with multi-platinum recording artist, Sara Evans. Their novel "Softly and Tenderly,' was one of Booklists 2011 Top Ten Inspirationals. A graduate of Ohio State University with a degree in Journalism, she worked in the corporate software world before planting her backside in an uncomfortable chair to write full time in 2004. Rachel serves on the Executive Board for American Christian Fiction Writers and leads worship at their annual conference. She is a mentor and book therapist at My Book Therapy, and conference speaker. Rachel writes from her two-story tower in an exceedingly more comfy chair. She is a huge Buckeyes football fan.

  Rachel Hauck Online
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Monday, January 12, 2015

A League of Her Own by Karen Rock (Review)

A League of Her Own
by Karen Rock
Contemporary / Romance
Available December 2014
Harlequin Heartwarming
386 pages



About the Book
He was attractive, talented…and way off-limits. 

Heather Gadway may have been a world-class college pitcher and a top university coach, but she's a rank amateur when it comes to managing the Falcons, her father's struggling minor-league team. And when it comes to managing her aggravating attraction to Garrett Wolf, their talented new pitcher. It's going to be difficult enough to make it as the first female manager in the league and prove to her overly critical father she's worthy. No distractions. No missteps. And certainly no romances with players. Everything stands between them—including their troubled pasts—even as Heather's world falls apart and Garrett's the one who's there to catch her…

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My Thoughts
What a fun story! A League of Her Own is a great combination of romance, interesting characters (with lots of problems!), emotion, and baseball. The characters were well developed and multi-dimensional, which I appreciated. Yes, they had problems that affected them, but they were woven into the story so that those problems directed--but didn't take over--the story. The author did a great job at writing in an emotional way. I laughed and teared up at various points. Heather and Garrett were likeable characters, and I really enjoyed getting to know them!

I didn't even realize that this book was by Karen Rock when I started it. (Way to pay attention, right?!) I read another of her books last summer and really enjoyed it. I'll definitely be watching for more of this author's work in the future! [4 stars]

NOTE: While I generally read and review Christian fiction, this book was written for the general market. It is, however, a clean read.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my fair and honest review.

About the Author
Since Karen Rock’s grandmother passed her shopping bagfuls of Harlequin Presents as a teen, it’s been her dream to add her voice to the Romance genre. Now an author of YA contemporary romance, such as the CAMP BOYFRIEND series and Adult contemporary romance for Harlequin’s latest contemporary line, Heartwarming, Karen is thrilled to pen wholesome, tender, deeply romantic stories that all can relate to. When she’s not busy writing, Karen enjoys watching anything starring Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks, cooking her Nona’s family Italian recipes, and occasionally rescuing local wildlife from neighborhood cats. She lives in the Adirondack Mountain region with her husband, her very appreciated beta-reader daughter and two King Charles Cavalier cocker spaniels who have yet to understand the concept of “fetch,” though they know a lot about love.

Karen Rock Online
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Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Lizzy & Jane by Katherine Reay (Review)

Lizzy & Jane
by Katherine Reay
Christian Fiction / Contemporary / Romance
Available October 2014
Thomas Nelson
352 pages



About the Book
Lizzy and Jane never saw eye to eye. But when illness brings them together, they discover they may be more like Austen's famous sisters after all.

Lizzy was only a teenager when her mother died of cancer. Shortly after, Lizzy fled from her home, her family, and her cherished nickname. After working tirelessly to hone her gift of creating magic in the kitchen, Elizabeth has climbed the culinary ladder to become the head chef of her own New York restaurant, Feast. But as her magic begins to elude her, Paul, Feast's financial backer, brings in someone to share her responsibilities and her kitchen. So Elizabeth flees again.

In a desperate attempt to reconnect with her gift, Elizabeth returns home. But her plans are derailed when she learns that her estranged sister, Jane, is battling cancer. Elizabeth surprises everyone-including herself-when she decides to stay in Seattle and work to prepare healthy, sustaining meals for Jane as she undergoes chemotherapy. She also meets Nick and his winsome son, Matt, who, like Elizabeth, are trying to heal from the wounds of the past.

As she tends to Jane's needs, Elizabeth's powers begin to return to her, along with the family she left behind so long ago. Then Paul tries to entice her back to New York, and she is faced with a hard decision: stay and become Lizzy to her sister's Jane, or return to New York and the life she worked so hard to create?

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My Thoughts
Oh my! I'm not sure that I have adequate words to express how much I absolutely loved this book, but I'll give it a shot.

At first glance, this is a simple romance novel featuring a chef who is struggling to rediscover her creativity in the kitchen and leaves town to help her sister as she battles cancer. Of course, she meets a cute guy, flirts a little, and starts to have more than friendship feelings.

But Lizzy & Jane is about so much more than just romance or even self-discovery. It's about love and family and cancer and grief and loss and survival. It's about the intimate relationships between family members and how much it hurts to lose your mother and how even adults still need their moms and how important it is to stay close even when life pulls you apart. It's about sisters and caring for each other and sacrificing your dreams, wants, desires for another. It's about creativity and scenery and the mundane and the romantic moments in the midst of it all. It's about finding God in the middle of pain and tragedy and discovering hard truths about yourself along the way. It's about food and books. It's about more than just food and books though. It's about how those things tell others a lot about who we are and how they bring us together and help us build community with others. It's about serving and loving and giving. It's about the feast and how it can literally change our lives.

The book was absolutely beautiful. The story itself was moving, and the writing was magnificent. I found myself staying up way too late to keep reading "just one more page." But getting only 5 hours of sleep was totally worth it. Totally. 

The relationships between every person in the book were just stunning. Jane and Peter. Jane and Lizzy. Lizzy and Nick. Lizzy and the kids. Lizzy and her father. Lizzy and Jane and their mother. All the patients in the cancer center. And Cecelia. Just dynamite! And the result of all of these relationships is a rich, deep, story that felt complete. 

I loved the talk between Lizzy and just about everyone about what books they liked, what foods they enjoyed, what smells, sights, and touches they loved most. It made me think about my own favorites and how all of those things work together to paint a picture of me.

Some might think that there isn't a very strong faith message. And while it's true that there aren't a lot of direct conversations about the gospel, it's written all throughout the book—almost allegorical.

There are tons of references to Jane Austen, Hemingway, and other amazing works of literature. Sadly, I've read almost none of them (and have never really cared to), but reading Lizzy & Jane made me want to! (My TBR list has grown by leaps and bounds over the 355 pages of this book!)

It's only day 6 of 2015, and I can already tell you with certainty that Lizzy and Jane will be on my "favorites" list this year. Seriously. Go find a copy of this book and read it! [5 stars]

[One side note for the squeamish ... around page 175 there is a terrible accident involving a very sharp knife and Lizzy's fingers. The description is a little graphic, and I nearly got ill. But I'll just chalk it up to great writing (and a weak stomach!). If you ARE squeamish, just skip ahead a couple of pages, and you'll be fine. :)]

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my fair and honest review.

About the Author
Katherine Reay has enjoyed a life-long affair with the works of Jane Austen and her contemporaries. After earning degrees in history and marketing from Northwestern University, she worked as a marketer for Proctor & Gamble and Sears before returning to school to earn her MTS. Her works have been published in Focus on the Family and the Upper Room. Katherine currently lives with her husband and three children in Seattle. Dear Mr. Knightley is her first novel.

Katherine Reay Online
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The Wishing Season by Denise Hunter (Review)

The Wishing Season 
by Denise Hunter
Chapel Spring series, Book 3
Christian Fiction / Contemporary / Romance
Available December 2014
Thomas Nelson
336 pages



About the Book
She daydreams of whipping up sauces and souffl├ęs in her own restaurant. His heart is set on helping foster children. Both dreams are at stake. So are their hearts.

With grand plans to open her own bed & breakfast in Chapel Springs, PJ McKinley can't afford the most crucial part: the brick and mortar. But when the owner of a local historic home announces a contest and promises her property to the worthiest candidate, PJ makes a fervent wish and tosses her name into the hat.

Cole Evans is cool, confident, and successful, but he'll never forget his roots. He's thankful for how far he's come and knows his life could have turned out drastically different. If he can win the stately old mansion, he'll turn it into a home for children aging out of the foster system.

When the eccentric house owner narrows the entries down to only two applicants, she extends the contest, giving PJ and Cole one year to prove which one of them can make the best use of her beloved home. As the pair competes in close proximity, something deeper than rivalry sparks between PJ and Cole. And in this battle, they're likely to lose their hearts.

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My Thoughts
What a fun book! PJ and Cole begin as competitors but quickly realize they can help each other out. It was a lot of fun to see how their relationship developed!

I loved the mission that Cole was on to help kids who age out of foster care. His idea for post-foster care housing has actually led to some interesting conversations at home! (Don't you love when that happens?!)

I've said repeatedly that I love series that follow a family through several books, and this is a perfect example why. The Wishing Season primarily focus on PJ—but we also get to catch up with the rest of the McKinley family. One thing I thought was interesting was how much the rest of the family irritated me for treating PJ so poorly at times (and I LOVED them in the other books!). I guess that just goes to show what a great job the author did of helping me feel empathy for PJ!

I thoroughly enjoyed this visit to Chapel Springs and happily recommend this book (and the entire series!) to readers who love sweet, contemporary romances! [5 stars]

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my fair and honest review.

About the Author
Denise Hunter is the nationally published bestselling author of The Convenient Groom and The Trouble with Cowboys. She has won The Holt Medallion Award, The Reader's Choice Award, The Foreword Book of the Year Award, and is a RITA finalist.

In 1996, inspired by the death of her grandfather, Denise began her first book, writing while her children napped. Two years later it was published, and she's been writing ever since. Her husband says he inspires all her romantic stories, but Denise insists a good imagination helps too!

When Denise isn't writing she's busy raising three heroes-in-the making with her husband.

Denise Hunter Online
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