Review of:  Christmas in Evergreen: Tidings of Joy

Nancy Naigle

This is an adorable, heart-warming Christmas romance with all the festive trappings of the season and more!   Reading this makes you feel like you are whisked away to an enchanted place.  Sure enough, dreams come true in Evergreen, where Christmas magic always abounds.  I absolutely loved the author's inspired creativity with elements such as a wishing snow globe and the mystery of the time capsule!  This book centers around the story of Katie, a newcomer to Evergreen who is a bit jaded and skeptical.  She is there on a vacation to gather inspiration for her writing and get away from her mother who is trying to control her career.  She meets Ben, a local resident, who quickly sees that Katie needs help to believe in true love and kindness.  Their love story is the perfect holiday treat and is enhanced with secondary romances between more of the town's citizens.  I haven't seen the movie or read the other books, but I do think it probably would have made this book flow better if I was already familiar with the cast of characters.

Review of:  The Key to Love

Betsy St. Amant

Bri Duvall works in the same bakery store, The Pastry Puff, where her beloved mother was renowned for her French-inspired desserts.  The store’s owners, elderly sisters Agnes and Mabel, have developed a reputation for their matchmaking abilities; however they are in danger of losing the business to developers – something Bri couldn’t stand to see happen since she lost both her parents in a car accident when she was 18.  Now that she is in her late 20’s, she has fallen in love with the “idea” of love – and waits for a fairy tale-like romance to happen to her like the one that she believes her parents once had (but which, she discovers, they never really did).  She meets Gerard, a jaded reporter who avoids commitment at all cost due to his own tragic past.  He has been assigned (against his wishes) to cover the story of the matchmaking bakery sisters for a newspaper feature.  Neither Bri or Gerard are very relatable at the beginning of the book due to their extremely immature attitudes; however, they gradually softened and matured over the course of the story.  I wish the author had focused more on showing each person’s spiritual journey and how that led to changes in their hearts and relationships, rather than engaging in so much snark and stereotypes.  Was this a rom-com or a faith-based romance?  It seemed the author couldn’t decide and the book lacked focus somewhat despite the good premise.

Review of:  Endless Mercy

Tracie Peterson and Kimberley Woodhouse

Bethany House Publishers, $15.99 (368p) ISBN 978-0-7642-3250-3

Peterson and Woodhouse continue their Treasures of Nome series with the story of the youngest sister, Madysen.  While Madysen and Daniel’s romance take center stage, the authors continue to weave the ongoing tales of each of the Powell family members into the overarching study in family and faith.  Maddy is grieving the recent loss of her mother when her presumed-dead father shows up in Nome, complete with a second family [p. 17 ff].  As she and her sisters struggle to process this information and sift through their conflicting feelings towards their father, Maddy is tempted to run away from the home she loved and abandon her new sheep farm to become a star performer in a traveling circus [p. 48 ff].  She enjoys the attention and lavish gifts showed upon her by Buddy Merrick, the circus owner [p. 82 ff].  But is he sincere or just a trickster looking to use her for money?  Maddy’s feelings are further conflicted when she meets Daniel, the grandson of her wise mentor, Granny Beaufort, who has returned to Nome after fruitless years searching for gold in the Yukon [p. 31 ff].  Daniel befriends Madysen but has turned his back on God after experiencing life’s suffering [p. p. 43 ff].  Through their friendship, both learn to trust God and his Word to guide them and discover both peace and love result [p. 196 ff]  Peterson and Woodhouse do an excellent job of creating a believable cast of characters with plenty of heroes and heroines to root for, as well as evil conmen and criminals waiting for justice to be served.  Readers are advised to begin with the first book in the series to familiarize themselves with the many characters and backstory before continuing with subsequent installments.  [January 2021]

Review of:  A Sugar Maple Valentine (A Sugar Maple Romance Book 3)

Belle Bailey

Reviewed:  October 17, 2020

This Valentine’s Day romance is absolutely charming!!  The story follows Rose, who is a matchmaker, as she hosts a special weekend getaway for clients at the Sugar Maple Bed & Breakfast.  Rose is definitely easy to like as a protagonist – she is kind and generous, and very dedicated to making sure her guests feel welcomed and comfortable.  The activities she plans are fabulously romantic and creative!  Taylor is a botanist and professor of biology who planted the herb and flower gardens and built the gazebo on the B&B’s grounds.  His aunt used to be the owner before she passed.  She left the estate to Taylor hoping he would continue her legacy by running the inn.  That was never in Taylor’s plans, however, and he puts the estate up for sale.  Rose begs him to wait until her event is over, and he agrees to help her make it a success since she hadn’t been informed of his aunt’s passing.  They get to know each other as they work together side by side.  Rose falls in love with the town and the home, and Taylor rediscovers his love of cooking and the beauty of what he left behind.  Their romance is beautifully written and the small-town setting at wintertime serves as the perfect backdrop.  A wonderful Valentine’s Day romance!

Review of: Christmas at Fireside Cabins

Jenny Hale

Reviewed:  October 13, 2020

This is feel-good romance, set in a quaint little town at Christmas.  Lila and her three best friends plan to spend a week in December together on a girls' getaway vacation, which may be their last as their lives are going in different directions.  However, once they arrive at their resort destination, they find it is vastly different than the brochures had led them to believe - the cabins are run-down, the landscaping neglected, and in fact the whole town and people it in feel anything but cheerful or festive.  However, the friends decide to make the best of it and celebrate their time together.  In so doing, they meet Theo, the grumpy owner of the coffee bar, and Eleanor, the grieving widow and owner of the resort.  The ladies soon take Eleanor and everyone else under their wing, determined to help the community and spread some Christmas cheer.  While the premise of the story is wonderful, I didn't quite believe that four women with such incredibly different backgrounds and personalities would be friends, much less live in the same apartment complex.  The characters were a little too stereotyped for my taste.  I found Theo's backstory to be much too unbelievable as well.  However, it was a charming story featuring characters with good hearts and a happy ending. Hence, I'd still recommend this book for a feel-good holiday romance read.

Review of:  Love at the Christmas Festival (A Sugar Maple Romance Book 2)

Belle Bailey

Reviewed:  October 12, 2020

This is a sweet and clean Christmas romance set in the beautiful little town of Sugar Maple, Tennessee, home of the Oakleaf Manor estate and accompanying farm.  The farm is hosting its first winter holiday festival where local artisans and craftsman will sell their wares and children can come visit “Santa” at his special cottage.  Holly is a graduate student looking to make ends meet by accepting a part-time job as an elf.  She meets Nick, the young man playing the role of Santa, as well as peers Tonya and Dylan.  The four soon become entangled in a love quadrangle – who will end up with whom?  Readers will be charmed by Nick, who has a heart of gold much like the jolly old elf himself, root for Holly and her family, and love to hate the conniving Tonya!  Fans of the series will especially enjoy appearances of regular characters and the community coming together to make a positive difference in the lives of many.  The only thing that would have pushed this into a 5-star ranking would have been a good editor to take care of some minor inconsistencies.  A great choice for a sweet holiday romance.

Review of:  A Perfect Amish Romance

Shelley Shepard Gray

Gallery Books, $16.00 (320p) ISBN 978-1-9821-4839-3

From the author of the beloved Walnut Creek novels comes the first in the “The Berlin Bookmobile” series featuring Sarah Anne, a 60-something widow who accepts a part-time position delivering library books to the Amish community [pp. 1-6 ff]. Sarah Anne tries to live up to her own expectations of the “perfect” librarian and keeps a journal of her activities and interactions to learn from [p. 5 ff]. As she forms personal relationships with the readers she serves, she becomes a trusted and compassionate confidante [p. 17 ff]. However, Sarah Anne has difficulty treating herself with the same grace [p. 19]. Through sharing her love of books and hearing people’s own stories she learns to let go of rigid standards and embraces the opportunity to give and receive kindness and mercy [p. 292-294]. Readers will be delighted with Sarah Anne’s gentle matchmaking between Aaron, a young Old Order Amish man secretly seeking to obtain his GED, and Kayla, a New Order woman in her 20’s who agrees to tutor Aaron as she mourns her mother’s early passing and father’s descent into depression [p. 16]. The romance between Aaron’s younger sister, Tiny, and her childhood friend, Joel, is similarly fraught with themes of perfectionism and hidden struggles which subtly run throughout the work [p. 57 ff]. Gray’s characters feel like intimate friends who deal with loss and longing and are shaped by transformative powers of love, hope, and faith. A set of discussion questions is included as an appendix. Book clubs will find this work a treat and readers will eagerly await future installments in this imaginative and tenderly written series.  [Jan]

Review of:  Christmas Charms

Teri Wilson

Reviewed:  October 6, 2020

I don't know what I was expecting when I picked up this book (I'm always game for a clean romance with a cute cover), but it FAR exceeded my expectations.  The storyline was a stroke of genius on the part of the author - so imaginative, fun, and perfect for the holidays!  The main character, Ashley, left her tiny home town to chase big dreams in the Big City.....only to find herself working round-the-clock and with a boyfriend who tells her he has no intention of proposing.  She copes with her heartbreak and unplanned time off by going home to visit her parents.  On the train ride, she meets a mysterious woman who gifts her - what turns out to be - a magical charm bracelet.  Charms keep coming to life as Ashley reconnects with the home in her heart and the people she left behind but never stopped loving.  The 2nd chance romance between her and Aidan is swoon-worthy.   Without question, should be made into a movie.  I may even have to buy a hard copy of this book to look at on my shelf and re-read at every Christmas season!

Review of:  Feels Like Easy (Willow Glen Book 1)

Caroline Hollis

Reviewed:  October 4, 2020

This clean romance features Laura, a woman in her late 30’s who takes a vacation to her idyllic home town of Willow Glen, CA, escaping from her non-stop career as a producer in San Francisco.  There, she meets up with her older sister, Maggie, a successful attorney, and both reflect on their childhood and consider making major changes in their lives.  Laura has never been married, realizing she has never truly considered her own happiness a priority.  Maggie has a college-age daughter and is in the process of finalizing her divorce, only to realize she is pregnant.  The author focuses mainly on Laura’s romance in Book 1 of this series – her love interest in David, a musician and widower, although we see hints of a romance between Maggie and their family friend Rick.  I enjoyed this book as the writing is excellent and the settings are described beautifully with much attention to detail.  However, there are a lot of similar  characters or similar storylines (several women finalizing divorces, several college-age daughters, several nice single men about the same age, etc).  Also everyone in the book is single and has a dog (or 2), which I found pretty funny.  I’d like to see Maggie redeem herself in the next book, as her choices at the end were extremely selfish which I felt went against her character as she was painted as having excellent values.  This being said, I think this is a great start to the series and I’d definitely be interested to find out what happens in the next book!  Fans of Suzanne Woods Fisher (like me) would definitely enjoy this book, which is a true compliment to the author.  Enjoy!