I've read four Kristan Higgins novels so far this year, and I don't think I've rated any of them less than 4.5 out of 5. While this one was quite diff...moreI've read four Kristan Higgins novels so far this year, and I don't think I've rated any of them less than 4.5 out of 5. While this one was quite different from her Blue Heron series, it still had Kristan's trademark humour, quirky family relationships and a heroine who continually finds herself in embarrassing moments.
Some people seem to have disliked the first-person perspective of this novel, particularly as it provides very little insight into the hero's thoughts and feelings. Personally, I thought of this book more of a chick-lit novel than a contemporary romance, and for that reason I didn't mind that the book was told entirely from Maggie's point of view. Although the romance between her and Malone is important, a large part of the story focuses on her personal journey--dealing with her perpetual singleness, her dependency on her sister and the local priest, figuring out her relationship with her mother, learning to take pride in her business, etc. Her relationship with Malone wasn't necessarily tacked on at the end, but he also wasn't the only source of her happiness. I don't read a lot of chick-lit any more, but I really enjoyed this book. However, if you're wanting a standard romance, this might not be for you.
Given that this is one of Kristan's earlier novels, I didn't have such high expectations as I do for her more recent books, and for a while I was convinced that I'd figured out two big twists in the story. As it turns out, I was completely and utterly wrong, so the red herrings in this book were fantastic! There was one thing that I suspected towards the end, but that was only after I ruled out all the other options. This book definitely wasn't predictable, and I fell into some of the same traps as Maggie with my suspicions.
I didn't completely and utterly love this book, and if I had to pin-point one thing that occasionally bugged me, it's probably that it didn't always seem entirely realistic for Maggie to end up in so many embarrassing situations. I think this is a common trope in Kristan's books, but in this one it felt a little overdone at times, especially with some of the blind dates or situations with the priest. It isn't a major flaw, however.
While some people have complained about Malone being too silent for much of the book, I don't think I minded this too much. I guess I kind of like the strong, silent type of hero, who waits patiently for the right moment to show how he cares for the heroine, rather than a pushy guy who won't shut up. Malone's quiet personality made certain situations and moments all the more special simply because I could see he was making a special effort for Maggie. If you want a pushy alpha male, he's definitely not the hero for you, but I came to appreciate Malone.
My library has the second book in this series, and it looks like I picked up the third book for 59p on Kindle a few months ago, so I'll definitely be looking forward to revisiting Gideon's Cove. While this book had a different style from Kristan's newer books, it was still fantastically written and of a very similar quality. Highly recommended! 4.5*(less)
Carolyn Lapp knows that her chances of finding love are dwindling as she enters her thirties, but she can’t help but dream of finding a ma...more3.5 out of 5
Carolyn Lapp knows that her chances of finding love are dwindling as she enters her thirties, but she can’t help but dream of finding a man who will love her, faults and all. Abandoned by her boyfriend as a teenager, Carolyn found herself a single mother at the age of sixteen, and has devoted her life to raising her son and protecting him from the stigma of being born out of wedlock. Although Carolyn’s mother has always been supportive of her, her brother, Amos, is eager to marry her off to make her seem more respectable.
Although marrying for convenience isn’t what Carolyn imagined for her life, she finds herself tempted to settle for a comfortable situation when she befriends Saul, a widower with a sweet daughter. But just as Carolyn begins contemplating marriage to Saul, she meets Joshua Glick, a bachelor struggling to run his horse farm following his brother’s death. When Joshua hires Carolyn’s son, Ben, to work for him, they find themselves continually thrown together.
Joshua is far too busy with his farm to contemplate dating, but even he can’t deny that he enjoys spending time with Carolyn. But his mother is determined to match him up with someone she deems more suitable, and Carolyn is cautious about getting involved with someone who doesn’t know the truth about her past. How will Joshua react when he learns that Ben is her son, rather than her nephew? Will he also be held back by her past mistakes, or can they both look to the future and forge ahead together?
As I mentioned in my review of the first book in Amy Clipston’s Hearts of the Lancaster Grand Hotel series, I wasn’t sure if this new series would live up to Amy’s Kauffman Amish Bakery books, which were among the novels that got me hooked on Amish fiction in the first place. While A Hopeful Heart won me over in the end, A Mother’s Secret never really grabbed me or compelled me in the way that Amy’s other books have.
I will say that I liked the premise for this story, and the message that followed. While I’ve come across several Amish novels that focus on women who have had children out of wedlock, they’ve mostly focused on young adults or teenagers who quickly find a man who is willing to marry them and return them to a respectable position in the community. Carolyn’s situation is entirely different, and she’s borne the stigma of being a single mother for fifteen years. While some people have accepted her situation and think nothing of it, others can’t put the past behind them. Even in the English world, I’m sure that the way Carolyn is treated is very common. I thought that A Mother’s Secret contained a much-needed reminder that we cannot call ourselves Christians if we refuse to forgive people for their past mistakes, or continually remind them of how they have fallen short. Carolyn sought forgiveness in her baptism into the Amish church, a fact that is often forgotten by her brother.
Given the way she has been treated over the years, Carolyn has learned to let others make assumptions about her situation, which often results in people assuming that Ben is her brother or nephew, rather than her son. As a result of this, she lets Joshua believe that Ben is her nephew, and somehow he spends the majority of the book in denial of Ben’s true parentage. I wasn’t entirely sure how realistic this was—how likely is it that Ben never calls Carolyn “Mamm” in front of Joshua?—but it was necessary in order for a major conflict to occur. Ultimately, it made sense that Carolyn doesn’t automatically tell new people that she’s Ben’s mother, since she’s constantly trying to protect herself and her son from scorn and judgement. But after a while, the conflict with Joshua felt like it was far too drawn out, and I got kind of tired of waiting for Carolyn to tell Joshua the truth.
Joshua’s main conflict stems from his mother, Barbie, meddling in his life and wanting to match him up with the kind of woman she wants for a daughter-in-law. We already know Barbie from the first book in the series, so readers will be familiar with Barbie’s controlling ways and her dissatisfaction with her daughter-in-law, Hannah, who left the community to marry an Englisher. Barbie sometimes felt a little bit over-the-top and caricatured, but ultimately I realise that there are people who behave like her. My main issue with Barbie is the same one I have with Amos—at the end of the book, they both suddenly give up their pushiness as soon as they’re confronted, and admit to the errors of their ways. Given how stubborn both of them are for the entire book, it didn’t feel entirely realistic that they would have such a rapid change of heart.
I appreciated the chance to reconnect with Hannah and her daughters, who were the principal characters in A Hopeful Heart. Even if they didn’t feature prominently in the book, I’m intrigued to see where their stories go, and whether Hannah is able to reconnect with the daughter she left behind in the Amish community. Given that a lot of the characters in this book (Joshua, Barbie, Hannah and her daughters) were the main focus in A Hopeful Heart, I’m hesitant to recommend this as a standalone novel. I think it would be better appreciated by those who are already familiar with the characters.
Even if I didn’t find it as compelling as Amy’s previous books, I won’t deny that A Mother’s Secret is an easy read with an interesting storyline. I tried to put my finger on what it was that made this book not quite as engaging as Amy’s other stories, and ultimately I think my issues stem from the choppiness of the writing. Most of the scenes in this book are very short, some of them barely more than a couple of paragraphs. It was difficult for me to get truly sucked into the story and connect with a particular character because I would quickly be moved on to someone else. In places I also found the dialogue to be a little clunky and not always entirely realistic. While some characters (such as Carolyn’s mother and a friend at the hotel) give great advice to Carolyn, their manners of speaking made it sound more like they were regurgitating a speech than having a normal conversation.
Since I’m familiar with Amy Clipston’s earlier novels, it’s difficult for me not to compare them to A Mother’s Secret. Perhaps if this were my introduction to Amy’s writing, I would be less critical of it. As it is, I didn’t find this book as engaging as her previous books, but I didn’t dislike it either. A Mother’s Secret might not particularly stand out among the other Amish novels I’ve read recently, but it has an interesting premise and a sweet romance, as well as an important message about forgiveness.
I am absolutely loving this series, and I'm glad I only have to wait until September before the next book releases (and Jack is finally getting his ow...moreI am absolutely loving this series, and I'm glad I only have to wait until September before the next book releases (and Jack is finally getting his own story!)! Thankfully I still have a lot of Kristan's back-catalogue to work through while I wait.
Colleen isn't a character I became particularly attached to in the previous books, which made her story all the more enjoyable. I loved the premise of her being a matchmaker who was perpetually single, partially hung up on her high school sweetheart. Colleen was a fabulously flawed character--even if she loved to help everyone out with her matchmaking, she had her own ideals of how relationships should work, and it took her a long time to realise that sometimes people don't need to change in order to find happiness (like Polly and Bryce). My heart ached for her and the issues she had with her father, feeling like he'd abandoned the children from his first marriage, even if she did adore her half-sister. I particularly liked the details about her friendship with Savannah, her little sister, and the evolution of her relationship with her step-mother.
Lucas' backstory was also really interesting, and I became frustrated with how little Lucas' aunt respected him, just because he didn't come from a terribly respectable background. There were times when Lucas seemed a little selfish and stubborn, but like Colleen, he needed time to realise his mistakes and appreciate the good things that were already in his life. His relationship with his uncle and cousin were endearing, as were the little snippets we got with his sister and four nieces. Even if Lucas was a little too brooding at times for my taste, I loved his relationship with Colleen, and I was thankful that they were able to work things out, in spite of their past mistakes.
The Blue Heron series is starting to remind me a little of Robyn Carr's Virgin River, with the snippets of insight into the lives of the other characters in the town. Don't get me wrong, this story focuses entirely on Colleen and Bryce, but since Colleen works at the town bar and is friends with characters from previous books, we get to see how their lives are progressing. There are also fun cameos from minor characters who appeared previously, like the ridiculously young doctor at the hospital, and the quirky professor who taught at the same university as Tom. This continuity was a pleasant surprise.
I can't honestly think of anything I didn't like about this book. Like I said, it took a while for Colleen and Lucas to admit to their shortcomings, and until they did I found myself frustrated with them, but the culmination of those issues made this book even better. I think this is probably one of my favourite books of the year!
And as with the last book in the series, Amy Rubinate is a fantastic narrator. I highly recommend this audiobook!(less)
I don't read a lot of novellas, but I had some money left on an Audible voucher and this entire series was incredibly cheap at the time, so I decided...moreI don't read a lot of novellas, but I had some money left on an Audible voucher and this entire series was incredibly cheap at the time, so I decided to pick up the first Year of Weddings book. I haven't read any of Denise Hunter's books before, but I've heard a lot of great things about her, so this was a nice introduction to her writing.
For such a short story (it barely made it over the two hour mark on my audiobook), the romance doesn't feel too rushed. The story was concise, but there was plenty of time for Seth and Layla to get to know each other, and the secondary characters all felt relatively fleshed out.
Since this book is set in December and Layla is helping Seth decorate his house for a holiday tour, this would be a really sweet Christmas read. There are fun scenes where they go ice-skating with Layla's family, hunting for the perfect tree and Seth even sets off on a wild-goose chase to find a sleigh to decorate his garden with.
Considering the premise--that Seth blurts out that he and Layla are engaged while they're attending her ex-boyfriend's wedding and they decide to keep up the ruse because Seth adds respectability to her new career--this story could have been incredibly contrived. But it's made clear that Seth and Layla knew each other long before the wedding, and that Seth might have even asked her out if his friend hadn't jumped in first. Their romance felt pretty believable, in spite of the crazy premise.
I did wish we'd got inside Seth's head a little more. All I felt that I knew about him was that he'd always had a crush on Layla, and he felt responsible for introducing her ex (his best friend) to Layla's cousin, who he then married instead of Layla. There are some vague details about his family being gone and him owning a hardware store, but otherwise I felt like I got to know Layla a lot better than Seth. Every single one of Layla's actions made sense given what I knew about her, but I couldn't say the same for Seth. He didn't have an awful lot to overcome to get his happy ending.
Speaking of happy endings, I know that we're told that Seth and Layla have known each other for years, but their plans at the end of the book felt a little too quick for me. I wanted them to spend more time getting to know each other outwith the ruse of their engagement, and their decision in the final chapter just seemed a bit too rushed.
I got the impression that this story followed on from another book, perhaps even another series, so maybe if I'd read that I would have understood Seth and Layla's backstory a little better, and not felt that the ending was too rushed.
I'll definitely be on the look out for more books from Denise Hunter, and I recommend this novella for those wanting a quick, sweet, Christmas romance and an introduction to a new author. 4*(less)
Given that this book is only loosely related to the Virgin River series, I debated skipping over it. But since it was so cheap on Kindle, I decided to...moreGiven that this book is only loosely related to the Virgin River series, I debated skipping over it. But since it was so cheap on Kindle, I decided to buy it even if I didn't have terribly high expectations. The reviews for this novella are pretty mixed, but I ended up really enjoying it. For such a short novella, Robyn Carr manages to create a believable romance and make you care about the hero and heroine. Since I knew this book was written to promote the Zoe Institute, I didn't mind the constant references to the organisation, and thought that this book did a good job of highlighting the struggles facing single mothers. It made me realise how fortunate I am that, if anything did happen to my husband, I have plenty of family close to me who could help me out financially, emotionally, etc, since I don't work and wouldn't have any way to immediately support our child on my own. Even if the scenes at the support centre were brief, I appreciated the range of women featured--divorced women, widows, women fleeing abusive relationships, etc. Too often single moms are stereotyped as being irresponsible women who got pregnant with men who refused to account for responsibility. It runs a lot deeper than that, as Carr displays in this novella.
My main complaints about this novella would have to be that the situation with Dory's manager at the grocery store felt contrived, including the scene where he comes to confront her at her new place of work and the resolution of that situation. I know it was meant to show how some people treat single moms, but it just didn't flow smoothly, unlike the rest of the book. I also felt that the ending was very abrupt--I expected an extra scene between the hero and heroine, maybe attending the children's baseball game or something similar, but the story just ended.
The connection to Virgin River was loose, as I mentioned, but it also felt realistic. Mel and Paige both volunteer for the charity for single mothers, which seems believable given that Mel can provide help on medical services and Paige was once a single mother fleeing an abusive relationship. I did wonder if Ellie might turn up, since she was also a single mother, but maybe the author didn't want to overwhelm new readers too much. There are brief mentions of Mel and Paige's husbands donating items to the centre for the charity, and pitching in with the work. You could definitely read this book as a standalone, and it's a good introduction to the author's writing if you're debating trying out this series.
In spite of these small flaws, this was a very sweet romance that made for a nice, comfortable read while I was struggling with morning-sickness induced insomnia. I hope we get the chance to revisit Dory and Clay in a later Virgin River book! (less)
Every so often, I come across a Robyn Carr novel that just feels like it's missing something. It's not a complete dud, but the main storyline just isn...moreEvery so often, I come across a Robyn Carr novel that just feels like it's missing something. It's not a complete dud, but the main storyline just isn't compelling enough or strong enough to make me fall in love with it. Temptation Ridge was like this for me, as was The Chance. Thankfully, given the way Robyn writes, there are always enough sub-plots and cameos from familiar characters to keep my interest.
I wasn't sure if I was going to like Franci and Sean's romance, given that he seemed like such an alpha male playboy in the beginning. He was even pretty aggressive towards Franci when he first ran into her and wanted to catch up. Aggression and forcefulness are never romantic to me, but I feel like this isn't the first time this has popped up in one of the Virgin River books. Once they got over that hurdle and Sean sorted himself out when he realised that he had a daughter, I began to like him more. I expected that their storyline would be about them trying to figure out if they still had that spark that they'd had four years ago, whether their current lives could meld together for the sake of their daughter, and how Sean's military career would disrupt things. Instead...nothing really happened. There wasn't any conflict whatsoever. Franci made a few half-hearted protests to Sean hanging around all the time, and then they fell in love all over again and started talking marriage. Their storyline was wrapped up by 75% of the way into the book. Rather anti-climatic, to be honest.
I don't mind the way in which Robyn revisits old characters or introduces new ones around the main storylines in her books, but the structure in this one just felt all wrong. We'd get huge chunks of Franci and Sean's stories, then occasional snippets of other people. There was a fair bit of the story devoted to Sean's widowed mother, and a reasonable chunk about Noah and Ellie getting married. But there was also a random scene with Paul and Vanni, as well as maybe two about a food drive for Thanksgiving baskets for the homeless. Some of these snippets felt out of place, although I'm sure they were setting up for future books.
Maureen and George's story is probably what saved this book for me, and stops me from rating it lower. I wasn't sure how I'd like it, given that a few reviewers said it felt forced, but it was sweet seeing an older couple getting to know each other, in spite of their differences in background and family. Unlike Muriel and Walt's romance, which was full of sex scenes, this one was just sweet, since Maureen hadn't dated since her husband's death twelve years earlier. I appreciated this different approach.
Don't get me wrong, I still love Virgin River and enjoy revisiting the characters and seeing who comes along next. This wasn't a bad book in the slightest, it just didn't measure up to the last two, which I absolutely loved. Franci and Sean's story could have been interesting, but it ended up being weak and seriously lacking in conflict, and the structure of this book was all wrong. I'm hoping the next book is up to the usual standards. 3.5*
As always, Therese Plummer's narration is fantastic. I think I'd listen to the phone book on audio if she narrated it.(less)
I mainly picked up this collection since it included this story, which is part of the Virgin River series....moreMidnight Confessions by Robyn Carr ~ 4 stars
I mainly picked up this collection since it included this story, which is part of the Virgin River series. It could probably be read as a standalone, but I'm not sure how much non-VR fans would appreciate it? There were a few sections where someone summarised what had been going on with regulars in the town, which probably would have gone right over the heads of any newcomers to the series, or felt like a massive ton of info-dumping.
Given how many reviewers said that this was the weakest story in the collection, I found myself pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it. Sometimes novellas feel rushed as authors attempt to build a realistic relationship in less than a hundred pages, or to create a convincing HEA. Since this story takes place over the course of 24 hours, it was more like an introduction to Sunny and Drew's relationship. There were no marriage proposals or plans to stay together forever, but there was definitely hope offered to two people who were recovering from failed relationships. Personally, I really liked this approach.
It did feel like a little too much time was spent dwelling on the details of their past relationships, but otherwise I enjoyed getting to know Sunny and Drew, and I was definitely rooting for them to get together. The development of their relationship felt realistic given their pasts and the amount of time they'd known each other for, it was encouraging to see them setting aside their baggage and being hopeful about the possibility of a future together. Not too rushed or too short, this story was just right for their circumstances.
Midnight Surrender by Jean Brashear ~ 3 stars
Even if I only picked up this collection for Robyn Carr's story, it seemed silly not to read the others and try some new authors. This book is perfect for bath time--unless I'm particularly sleepy, I can read an entire novella in the bath!
That said, I struggled to get through this story. The characters just didn't appeal to me. The idea of a flirty, can't-be-tied-down independent woman falling for a good-guy definitely appealed to me, but Will ended up annoying me a lot more than I expected. I'm not a big fan of Alpha males, so I thought Will would be right up my alley, but he ended up being too pushy and judgemental for my liking. I actually found myself siding with Jordan, which I did not expect as she's my polar opposite.
The ending pushed this story up from a 2.5 to a 3 for me. For most of the book, Will bemoans the fact that Jordan is so lonely and she needs to join a big family like his in order to be happy, but he never shows any signs of compromising on his relationship expectations. From the minute he meets Jordan, he's demanding about what he wants from her, including talking about how she can't see other men because she'll be spending her time with him now on, what, the second or third time they run into each other? For a supposed good guy, he was way too forceful with Jordan. It's not until the end of the book that he realises he's been putting too much pressure on her and apologises, and then he sort of made his way back into my good graces.
Jordan was a more appealing character, surprisingly, but it takes a long time for her to admit that she's holding out on Will because she's scared of screwing up relationships like her parents did, and scared of letting him down. Like Will, she showed a lot more vulnerability and personality right at the end of the book.
There were definitely some fun moments with Jordan and Will's mutual friends, and some cute scenes where Will teaches Jordan some carpentry skills. For me, this story was just average. I wasn't rooting for the characters, primarily because the hero irritated me more than he endeared himself to me. If you like your heroes a bit more demanding and Alpha, he'll probably be perfect for you!
Midnight Assignment by Victoria Dahl ~ 3 stars
Having just finished this collection, I'm surprised that Carr was paired with these other two authors in the first place. Granted, her full-length novels usually have a couple of sex scenes in them, but in comparison to Dahl and Brashear, her addition to this collection was actually pretty sweet and could almost fall under the "clean" category.
The premise of this story is pretty standard--hero and heroine once kissed, years before, but couldn't be together, but they're thrown together for work and realise that the attraction is still there--but the storyline about the bank takeover and the various issues surrounding it made it a little more interesting. Elise and Noah come head to head over work issues, and are forced to spend more and more time together. Given that it's the holidays and they're both lonely, the inevitable happens and they end up falling into bed together, but still try to deny their feelings for each other.
I generally expect some sort of sex scene when I'm reading a mainstream romance--my cut-off is generally three sex scenes in a full-length novel, and one in a novella. This novella had three sex scenes, and honestly, I got a bit tired of it. I need more plot! I probably would have rated this book higher if it had a similar "steaminess" to Brashear or Carr's novellas.
Overall, the second-chance storyline was rather sweet, and the scenario was definitely different, but it seemed like there were too many sex scenes for such a short story.
This is the second novella collection I've picked up in 2014 because it contained one of Robyn Carr's novellas. I definitely preferred That Holiday Feeling to this one. I'm glad I got the chance to try out these new authors, even just to know that they're not really for me. For Virgin River fans, it's worth hunting this collection down for Drew and Sunny's story. I'm hoping we get to read more about them in later books in the series.
Although Carr's story gets a solid 4* rating from me, the collection as a whole is probably closer to a 3*.(less)