Book Recommendation ~ Looking Glass Lies by Varina Denman

Book Description:

A poignant and relatable novel, Looking Glass Lies captures the war women wage against themselves, and the struggle to see beauty reflected in a mirror not distorted by society’s unrelenting expectations.

For most of her adult life, Cecily Ross has compared herself to other women—and come up short. After a painful divorce from her emotionally abusive husband, Cecily returns to her hometown of Canyon, Texas, looking to heal.

But coming home isn’t what she expects. In a town as small as Canyon, her pain is difficult to escape—especially with her model-perfect ex–sister-in-law working at the town’s popular coffee-shop hangout. With help from her father, a support group, and an old friend who guides her to see her own strengths, Cecily may have a shot at overcoming her insecurities and learning to love again.

The true test comes when tragedy strikes, opening Cecily’s eyes to the harmfulness of her distorted views on beauty—and giving her the perfect opportunity to find peace at last.

Narelle’s Thoughts:

Wow. That’s what I thought when I finished reading, and I read the book fast, within twenty-four hours. I’ve been a fan of Varina Denman’s writing since I read her debut novel, Jaded, and Looking Glass Lies didn’t disappoint.

The story opens with a prologue. We meet Cecily Ross when she’s curled up in the back of her closet in her LA home, hiding away from the world and her emotionally abusive husband. Brett is addicted to porn and has shattered Cecily completely by wanting a divorce.

Fast forward eleven months and Cecily has returned to her home town of Canyon, Texas. She stays in her childhood home with her dad who’s a widower and park ranger. Her father is worried about her and he asks the local therapist, Doctor Graham Harper, to call her.

Graham had a secret crush on Cecily in high school when she was dating her future husband, Brett Ross. Graham has overcome his teenage drug addiction and has a busy practice in town. He offers Cecily a receptionist job. Instead of providing counselling, he sets Cecily up in a women’s support group with married mom of four Shanty and college student Nina.

Cecily meets with Shanty and Nina at Midnight Oil, the local coffee shop owned by celebrity sports star Michael Divins. Cecily struggles to deal with her gorgeous and perfect looking ex-sister-in-law, Mirinda, who works at the cafe and is dating Michael.

Cecily learns that to become emotionally healthy she needs to confront and deal with issues from her past. Secrets are revealed that rock the small community of Canyon and challenge them to face the lies they believe. Body image issues are a core theme in the story, plus the devastating effects of porn addiction and other emotional issues.

The characters are realistic and they deal with real world problems in the story. Edgy issues that may be uncomfortable for some readers are addressed, and the story has a Christian worldview with only a few references to faith.

The sweet romance between Cecily and Graham is complicated. A hero who’s a therapist will, by definition, be cautious in his personal life. Cecily and Graham develop a friendship that is challenged by the events in the story.

I highly recommend Looking Glass Lies to readers who enjoy edgy and realistic Christian romance stories that deal with tough issues.

Looking Glass Lies releases on May 2, 2017. It’s available for pre-order in print and on Kindle, and will be available in Kindle Unlimited.

Many thanks to Waterfall Press and NetGalley for the Advanced Reader Copy.

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Book Recommendation ~ Unraveled by Heidi McCahan

Unraveled

 Book Description:

Blind-sided by her fiancé’s questionable behavior, Lauren Carter returns to the one place she’s managed to avoid, the small Alaskan town she used to call home. She’s spent years running from her scandalous past and now she’s forced to confront an uncertain future.

Blake Tully, wildly successful owner of Emerald Cove’s new whitewater rafting and kayaking business, finds Lauren’s unexpected reappearance in his life ignites old feelings. Although she broke his heart once, he longs to give his childhood sweetheart a second chance.

Will Lauren allow her shameful secret to define her? Can Blake forgive her when he discovers the reason she’s been hiding?

Follow the story of these two shattered hearts as they discover the beauty of grace and forgiveness.

Narelle’s Thoughts:

Unraveled is the first book in Heidi McCahan’s Emerald Cove series. We meet Lauren in Portland, Oregon, when her life is in chaos. She needs to find a new job, her car is falling apart, the girl who shares her townhouse may be addicted to prescription painkillers, and her fiance bails on the vacation they’ve planned to visit her family in Alaska.

Lauren is very concerned about the future of her relationship with her fiance, who is a surgeon and supposedly a good catch. When she arrives in Emerald Cove, Alaska, she’s perplexed to discover her attraction to childhood sweetheart, Blake, hasn’t gone away. She ran from Blake and her family to start a new life in Oregon. She has hidden a big secret from everyone in Emerald Cove. A secret that still haunts her eight years later.

Blake was devastated when Lauren left him, and he struggled to get his life back on track. He now owns a successful whitewater rafting and kayaking business with his brother, and he’s intrigued by Lauren’s reappearance in his life. His faith is strong and he has forgiven Lauren for walking out on their relationship. He’s a lovable hero who is very different in character to her self-absorbed fiance.

Lauren’s beloved granny is struggling with health issues and she is admitted to the hospital. Lauren’s parents want her to stay longer in Emerald Cove to help out at the family owned inn. When Lauren’s engagement is called off, she has no compelling reason to return to Portland. The Emerald Cove setting is stunning – who wouldn’t want to take an extended vacation in a gorgeous location in Alaska?

We journey with Lauren as she reconnects with family and old friends, and questions the direction of her life. A long held secret in Lauren’s family is exposed, and Lauren’s growing relationship with Blake is threatened by her inability to communicate and talk with him about why she left Emerald Cove. When all of Lauren’s past secrets are exposed, her lukewarm faith is challenged and she risks losing what she values the most – a future with Blake.

Unraveled is an emotion-charged and powerful story that delves into some big issues that can confront families. The characters make mistakes and have to deal with the consequences of their decisions, often many years later. I loved the small town setting of Emerald Cove, and the well developed minor characters added to the authenticity of the story.  I highly recommend Unraveled to contemporary romance readers who enjoy small town reunion romance stories.

Learn more about Heidi McCahan and her books at her website.

Read a FREE sample of Unraveled (Emerald Cove Book 1) at Amazon.com

Book Recommendation ~ Jaded: A Novel (Mended Hearts Series Book 1) by Varina Denman

Jaded

Book Description:

As a child, Ruthie was shunned by the local congregation. Thirteen years later, Ruthie’s heart begins to stir when an attractive single preacher arrives. But their relationship is bitterly opposed—unearthing a string of secrets which threaten to turn the church, the town, and her world upside-down.

Jaded is the rare novel that is both love story between a woman and man … and God and His church. Plunging deep into the waters of shame, forgiveness and restoration, it will resonate with every woman who’s experienced a loss of heart … and a thirst for hope.

Narelle’s Thoughts:

I enjoyed reading Jaded, and it’s one of those books that has hidden depths and layers that become more apparent as the story progresses. Ruthie and her mother live in a small Texan town. She works two jobs to help her mother pay their bills. Ruthie’s father left when she was seven, and her mother was kicked out of their church not long after her father abandoned their family.

Ruthie is wary of church people and their judgmental attitudes. Her mother suffers from depression and has withdrawn from the world. Ruthie is embraced and loved by her aunt, uncle and cousin, JohnScott, as she grows up in a town where she’s ostracicised by the church congregation through no fault of her own.

Dodd, the new maths teacher at the school where Ruthie works, is also the new preacher in town. Ruthie and Dodd are drawn to each other, despite their differences and Ruthie’s reluctance to date a preacher. Not everyone in town is happy to see Dodd and Ruthie together, and secrets are revealed that blow apart the social perceptions held by many town folk.

I highly recommend Jaded to romance readers who are looking for a powerful and challenging romance story that isn’t afraid to delve into the the unsavory aspects of human nature. Readers who have been hurt by the church will identify with Ruthie and her plight in the story.


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Book Recommendation: I Always Cry At Weddings by Sara Goff

I Always Cry At Weddings

Book Description:

Ava Larson is going to bring all the other brides to tears.

Engaged to a wealthy NYC socialite’s son, Ava is ready to set the city abuzz with her glamorous wedding. At least until she realizes her relationship isn’t what it should be. Then, in a move as daring as a red satin dress, she does the unthinkable–she calls it all off and makes a promise to God that from now on, she’ll save sex for marriage.

She’s convinced the future is hers for the taking, especially when an undercover cop promises a new romance…and an unexpected friendship with the homeless guy under her stoop brightens her days.

But when her carefully balanced life teeters out of control, weddings aren’t the only thing to make her cry. Ava has to figure out what life she really wants to live…and what in the world love really means.

Narelle’s Thoughts:

I Always Cry at Weddings is Sara Goff’s delightful debut novel set in New York City. The story is a contemporary romantic comedy that’s different to many other books in the Christian fiction genre. Ava comes across as a little shallow at the start of the story. She has spoiled princess moments, and she takes for granted the privileges that accompany her glamourous New York City lifestyle.  We see Ava evolve and grow as the story progresses and her life circumstances become more challenging.

Ava has everything she could want from a financial perspective, and a bright future with a fiance who can provide a life of luxury and comfort.  Her future mother-in-law adores her, and she is forced to deal with a very personal crisis as her wedding day draws closer.

We journey with Ava as she calls off the wedding and deals with the aftermath. Her life is no longer mapped out for her, and she struggles to regain her feet and find purpose. The urban setting is brought alive in the story, and the sensory detail draws the reader into the vibrant New York City setting. Ava’s dating escapades have a realistic edge. We see the city through her eyes, including the good, the bad and the ugly.

Ava’s faith journey is not really apparent until later in the story. The spiritual content is subtle, and Christian themes of social justice are infused in the story. The large majority of the characters don’t hold Christian values and beliefs. As a result, the story includes situations that we don’t often see in Christian fiction stories that are populated with Christian characters.  Conservative readers may be offended by some of these situations. The characters make mistakes and have to live with the consequences of their poor judgment. Ava is at times naive, and she’s also determined to take some big risks to achieve her goals.

The characterisation is excellent and the story contains strong romantic elements.  The minor characters add additional layers to the story. I was intrigued by Chris, a homeless man who slept outside Ava’s apartment complex on a flat cardboard box with his dog for company. The story has humorous moments and twists and turns that kept me guessing and led to a satisfying ending.  I highly recommend this book to readers who are looking for realistic and entertaining contemporary Christian fiction in an urban setting that tackles social issues.


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Book Recommendation: Sway by Amy Matayo

Sway

Book Description:

Falling in love is a beautiful thing. Unless you fall for the wrong person.

Finally settled after a tragedy-laden life, 24-year-old Caleb has found security in his faith, his friends, and his career. It’s the life he’s always wanted—simple, predictable, and safe. Enter Kate Hawkins, the attractive 21-year-old stranger he rescues from a bar fight who has an odd affinity for the color pink and a unique sense of humor.

It doesn’t take long to realize their connection is intense, but after only a handful of dates, a shocking revelation surfaces. Lines are drawn, sides are taken, and loyalties are decided as their newfound relationship is brought to a sudden halt.

But unlike most couples who split, avoiding each other is impossible. As daily interactions become unbearable, one realization becomes clear: they’ve both fallen hard for the absolute wrong person, which leaves both scrambling for a way to make it right.

Narelle’s thoughts:

I enjoyed Sway, and I read it very quickly once I was a few chapters into the story. My Aussie friends recommended the book to me, and I’m glad they did because I may not have read the whole book without their recommendation. When I’m browsing books, I usually read part or all of the sample. My thoughts on the opening pages determine if I’ll keep reading. Sway is written in first person and opens in a seedy bar in Oklahoma City. Initially I felt like I was reading a new adult romance story about a group of young people with questionable morals who were looking to hook up. That’s not my usual choice of reading material, and I would have missed out on a great story had I tossed it aside and not continued reading.

Caleb is a fascinating character who has overcome enormous obstacles to reach a place where he’s content with his life and has a purpose. The first person viewpoint means we are inside his head, and we receive a largely unfiltered male point of view that is mild in language compared to many general market romances, but more overt and descriptive than the typical Christian romance. Conservative readers who prefer very sweet romances may not be comfortable with this aspect of the story.

Kate is a naive and sheltered twenty-one year old who is dragged out to a bar by her friends to celebrate her twenty-first birthday. I thought this aspect of the story was odd until I remembered the legal age for drinking and going to bars is twenty-one (it’s eighteen in Australia). Kate’s so-called friends abandon her in pursuit of one night stands, and Kate finds trouble very fast.

Caleb’s reasons for being in the bar are made clear later in the story. He’s attracted to Kate from the moment she walks into the bar, and he can’t keep his eyes off her. Before long he recognises that Kate’s in trouble, and he rescues her. This is the start of their relationship, although all is not as it seems.  One third of the way into the story we learn more about Kate and Caleb’s very different backgrounds, and the secrets that are revealed blow apart their preconceived ideas about each other and their developing romantic relationship.

The plotting and character development in the story is brilliant. We see both Kate and Caleb challenged by the events in the story and forced to face their greatest fears. Can their new love survive what looks like insurmountable obstacles in their path? This is the story question that stayed with me until the very end, and I found the ending both delightful and satisfying.

I was also challenged to think more about the big issue raised in the story. We haven’t seen as much controversy around this issue in Australia, and it was insightful to gain a broader understanding of American culture in this specific context. I recommend Sway to readers who enjoy realistic and edgy Christian romances that deal with contemporary issues.

buy the book from The Book Depository, free delivery

Read a FREE sample at Amazon.com

Book Recommendation: The Wedding Game (Reality Show Book 1) by Amy Matayo

The Wedding Game

Cannon James has a plan: Sign on as a contestant for his father’s new reality show, marry a blonde hand-picked by the producers, and walk away two million dollars richer. It’s all been arranged. Easy. Clean. No regrets. Until Ellie McAllister ruins everything by winning the viewer’s vote. Now he has to convince America that he’s head over heels in love with her. Not easy to do since she’s a walking disaster.

Ellie McAllister has her own problems. She needs money, and she needs it now. Despite her parent’s objections and her belief that marriage is sacred, she signs on to The Wedding Game…and wins. Now she’s married to a guy she can’t stand, and if she wants her hands on the money, she has six months to make voters believe she loves him. Not easy to do since he’s the most arrogant man in America.

It doesn’t take long for Ellie and Cannon to realize they’ve made a mess of things…even less time for their feelings for one another to change. But is it too late for them? More importantly, can the worst decision they’ve ever made actually become one of the best?

Narelle: I enjoyed reading The Wedding Game, Book 1 in the Reality Show series. I admit to being a skeptic regarding the marriage of convenience plot in contemporary romances. It works beautifully in historical romances because it wasn’t uncommon for people to marry for reasons other than love. It’s a hard plot to write successfully in the Christian/inspirational contemporary romance genre because we believe marriage is sacred and not something to be entered into lightly. Exceptional character motivations are required to make a modern day marriage of convenience romance story both realistic and believable.

The Wedding Game nailed the character motivations for both Cannon and Ellie and set up a story full of emotional conflict for both characters. Ellie is a small town girl who is thrust into the celebrity spotlight when she wins ‘The Wedding Game’. She’s also hiding a big secret that she’s desperate to keep under wraps in order to protect the privacy of a loved one. Ellie comes across as snarky and rude during her initial interactions with Cannon. As the story progresses we learn why she believes he’s arrogant and an all round horrible person. Cannon is a wannabe actor who has lived a self-indulgent rich kid Beverly Hills lifestyle and made decisions that please his powerful and wealthy father. In a momentary act of defiance, Cannon chooses Ellie, America’s sweetheart, instead of the beautiful blonde who was his father and the producer’s first choice.

The camera’s follow Cannon and Ellie’s daily lives as they share a made-for-tv apartment in LA and fight constantly. They can’t stand each other at the start of their temporary marriage and their enforced close proximity creates a lot of drama that’s filmed for their weekly reality tv show. Their romance is rocky and the sensual tension between Cannon and Ellie builds during the story. Cannon has secrets of his own and a whole new set of problems arise when Cannon and Ellie start to care for each other. The faith element in the story is very low key and readers who are looking for a romance with a strong faith message may be disappointed.

I recommend The Wedding Game to readers who enjoy a light hearted contemporary romance that’s a little bit edgy and has humorous moments.

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SPLASH! Interview with Jan Thompson, author of Draw You Near

Draw You Near

Book Description:

While on vacation in Savannah, Georgia, a year ago, Lars Cargill bought a small watercolor painting to hang in his estate in England. The more he stared at the artwork, the more he wanted to meet the woman in the painting. This summer, Lars returns to Savannah to find the elusive real-life Lady and the Sea. Problem is, the artist says she doesn’t exist. Of course, he doesn’t believe her. Otherwise he wouldn’t be showing up in her art classes and around town where she paints local scenes. He doubts she has the heart to turn him away, not when he shows her that he has artistic potential.

Abilene Dupree is busy trying to make a living as an artist and art teacher in Savannah. She sells commercial art, not personal stories. Although much of her heart goes into her paintings, she doesn’t reveal her soul, not even to the clean-cut guy with cute dimples who is searching for the woman in her Lady and the Sea painting. She keeps telling Lars that the illusive woman in the painting doesn’t exist. Well, the more she tells him that, the more she begins to believe her own words. Before she could give him the real answers he seeks, Lars’ own past shows up and he has to decide on his future. Will their relationship be like an unfinished painting?

Narelle: Welcome, Jan. Can you please tell us more about the setting for Draw You Near.

Jan: Savannah and Tybee Island are two of my favorite coastal Georgia towns by the Atlantic Ocean. I go there quite often. In fact, I had been researching coastal Georgia for my colonial fiction and Civil War series when the idea came to me to write a contemporary series in the same towns to contrast life now with life then. However, it took several more years before I was able to get to this series, and here it is, finally.

Narelle: I’ve always wanted to see the Atlantic Ocean and visit the US East Coast. A lovely location for your research. How does your novella fit with the SPLASH! water theme?

Jan: In Draw You Near, Savannah artist Abilene Dupree keeps her personal life out of her commercial paintings except one, a watercolor painting she called Lady and the Sea. That one painting has now brought Londoner Lars Cargill back to the coastal town and into her art world. Can she hold him at bay before he invades her personal space and paint his way into her heart?

Narelle: Abilene’s watercolor painting sounds intriguing. Is your novella connected to a series?

Jan: Yes. Draw You Near is the third novella in my Savannah Sweethearts series of multiethnic contemporary Christian novellas celebrating faith, hope, and love. Meet local Christians going about their daily businesses when they meet the loves of their lives. Or not. What is God’s will for each of them?

Savannah Sweethearts is all about life by the sea, which in essence, is not much different from life in landlocked cities. Inherently, the human nature is such that we all have in our hearts a need for the Lord, for His salvation, sustenance, and sanctification. There are seven books in the Savannah Sweethearts series, each showcasing a different aspect of man’s need for God and for one another against a backdrop of ocean, sand, and sun.

Savannah Sweethearts Series: www.janthompson.com/savannah

Narelle: Jan, I’m looking forward to reading your Savannah Sweetheart books. Thanks for visiting today and sharing more about Draw You Near with our blog readers.

janthompsonauthor

Jan Thompson blends inspirational women’s fiction with clean Christian love stories to celebrate the grace of God and hope in Jesus Christ. Whether they are multiethnic contemporary Christian romance, international romantic thrillers, or regional historical fiction, Jan’s books are for readers who love inspiring stories of faith, family, friends, and yes, happy endings. Always. Jan is also an avid reader and enjoys reading good books on pleasant days. When she is not busy writing and publishing, she is a wife, mother, educator, family scribe, and chief of staff to the family cat.

Website: www.janthompson.com

Book News: www.janthompson.com/newsletter

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 NINE Refreshing Romances Filled with Faith!

Releasing June 23 and available for pre-order on Amazon Kindle for 99 cents.