#BookReview: The Wedding Ranch by Nancy Naigle

Awkwardly Titled Slow Burn Hallmarkie Romance. This is one of those romances where it feels like Naigle was leaning perhaps a bit too hard into her Hallmark stories – as this one is dang near a cross between a Hallmark movie and something similar to Great American Country’s Heartland. If you like small towns and saying your prayers and going to church… yeah, this story is going to be right up your alley. If you’re opposed to any of the above, and particularly if you’re strongly/ vitriolically opposed to the above… maybe just skip this one and save yourself some time and spare the author a bad review over something that was never going to be a good fit for you to begin with.

But for those who *do* enjoy this type of story – and clearly, there is a large enough segment of the population to make a comfortable career within this space across several different mediums of art – this is a pretty solid story that goes down pretty well how you expect. A lot of small town interaction, some ranch riding, some will they/ won’t they (even though this is a romance and you *know* they eventually will), and being that this is of the “good Christian story” type, you know there isn’t going to be anything beyond a light kiss or so.

No, the biggest real criticism of the book is, as some others have mentioned, the titular venue only plays a minor role – which could be explained away more if this were Book 2 in a series, as it often feels that it is. And yet, from everything I’ve been able to see on Goodreads and elsewhere, this is truly a standalone book. Though *technically*, I suppose, the “Ranch” includes more than just the venue… including much of where this story takes place. So in a larger sense, it may actually work in the end. This still doesn’t excuse such *deep* backstory that seriously, this could have even been a Book 3, with Book 1 and 2 focusing on the creation of the venue and Book 2 focusing on some aspect of the friends in Raleigh. (Obviously perhaps not Lori herself, but the male friend – who features prominently in the couple here initially getting together and then again in the end of this tale – would make for a good center piece for one of these theoretical earlier book.)

Overall this is still a strong tale of its type, and well told. Very much recommended.

This review of The Wedding Ranch by Nancy Naigle was originally written on November 18, 2022.

#BookReview: A Light In The Forest by Melissa Payne

Strong Story Well Told – Yet Very Preachy As Well. I’ve been reading Melissa Payne’s books since the very first one, and I can assure long time fans that while this book is in fact quite preachy on a couple of subjects in particular (more on that momentarily), it is also her usual quite strong storytelling here. For people that haven’t read Payne yet, this is a good one to start with *if you don’t have issues with the topics she is preachy about here*. (Otherwise go with literally any of her other books – The Secrets of Lost Stones, Memories In The Drift, or The Night Of Many Endings.)

The preachiness here is *mostly* around trans/ LGBT issues, though there is also a fair amount of “country men who don’t agree with my opinion on these issues are all backwards a**h***s”. (I’m not going to say outright misandry, because there *are* a few male characters who are both country and shown in quite positive lights – so long as they agree with particular views on the above issues.)

Beyond the preachiness though, there *is* a genuinely strong story here. Perhaps not quite as strong as the prior works by the author, all of which created strong dust storms no matter where they are read, as this reader’s eyes got watery no matter what environment he was reading them in – and *that* never actually happened with this book. Still, as a story of finding oneself even in tragedy – a few times over – and how traumas can last to new generations, this really was quite a strong tale. And heck, there are even elements of the tale that the most hyper militant pro-LGBT types probably aren’t going to like much either, but discussing those gets *way* too far into spoiler territory to mention beyond the simple fact that they exist.

Overall truly a strong tale well told, and one that while preachy, is still readable and enjoyable by most anyone – one that even if you would normally be put off by the preachiness, it is still a tale strong enough to push through those feelings and read anyway. Just please, if you do that, don’t lower your rating because of the preachiness. Do what I did here, and put your thoughts on that subject in the text of the review. 🙂
Very much recommended.

This review of A Light In The Forest by Melissa Payne was originally written on November 2, 2022.

#BookReview: A Homestead Holiday by Elizabeth Bromke

Complex And Short Tale. Bromke manages to show that if a storyteller is truly great, they can manage to pack quite a bit of complexity into a still short-ish (seemingly less than 200 page) book. Here, Bromke manages to show a teacher’s passion for her particular craft, a son’s devastation over losing his father, and how the two can come together in some very unexpected ways. Heck, she even manages to toss in elements reminiscent of Mr. Holland’s Opus (without the actual concert). And again, all in a short-ish book and *while still telling a compelling romance tale* to boot! Truly excellent work. Very much recommended.

This review of A Homestead Holiday by Elizabeth Bromke was originally written on November 1, 2022.

#BookReview: Charlie by James Beltz

Interesting Twist On The Series. With the first two books in this series – which is held together primarily by being the adventures of a buddy cop pair – the mysteries were of a more paranormal nature. With this one, Beltz creates an interesting challenge as a storyteller while taking the series in a more science fiction direction. This ultimately still has the same general tone and structure from the first two tales in this series, and thus series fans will most likely still enjoy it. And hey, for those that like tales with interesting characters, this is absolutely one of those as well. Keeping this review completely spoiler-free is challenging even on this end… *because* of the challenge Beltz gave himself as an author. So it will be interesting to read future reviews of this tale as they come out to see how they handle that. 🙂 Overall this was a solid yet also very different book in its series, and the series feels like Beltz could take it almost as long as he wants to – even though he is very open about having written these first three books back to back to back all at once before releasing them a month apart several weeks later. Very much recommended.

This review of Charlie by James Beltz was originally written on October 1, 2022.

#BookReview: The Personal Assistant by Kimberly Belle

Meganets And Pre-Networks. Ok, I know what you’re thinking – what does computer networking and the Internet have to do with this book? Well, on some level, it is somewhat obvious – one of our main characters is a social media “influencer” with a million followers. But on another level… Belle actually manages here to show the pitfalls and advantages of two different eras of human history, perhaps without even being cognizant of doing this, just seeking timelines that worked for the story she was telling and making the other details work around that. Yet speaking of details, there are some wrong ones here, particularly around guns – which anyone who follows Belle’s own social media knows that the anti-gun paranoia expressed by one main character is at least somewhat close to Belle’s own real life feelings (though, to be clear, I am not saying the character’s specific motivations for these feelings are anywhere near Belle’s, as I have never seen any public comments from her anywhere near those specific actions). Specifically, guns are not “registered” anywhere in Georgia, not even in Fulton County (home of Atlanta and generally heavily left-of-center of American politics, much less non-Atlanta Georgia politics). Still, going back to the main thrust of this review, Belle truly does do a remarkable job of showing just how easily today’s meganets can be used for harm… while also showing that the pre-meganet era was still pretty dang bad itself. All told this is a remarkable tale that manages to bring elements to the general setup not often seen anywhere else – and never seen before in my own reading within the genre – and thus this alone is quite commendable. Very much recommended.

This review of The Personal Assistant by Kimberly Belle was originally written on October 30, 2022.

#BookReview: Alaska For Christmas by Jennifer Snow

Cold Weather Rescues, Amnesia, and Christmas Romance In Alaska! This is a solid tale with a few cold-weather rescues on both land and sea for the Port Serenity Coast Guard and our leading male… including one where he has to rescue our leading female… only to later discover she now has amnesia from her ordeal! It is at this point that the actual Christmas Romance portion of the novel sets in, and here too Snow does her usual strong romance work, including featuring some dates that seem possible only in Alaska or similarly northern locales. For those “clean” / “sweet” romance types… umm… this isn’t exactly erotica, but the reader is in the room for certain situations. So if you’re not a fan of such scenes… well, they’re fairly standard in most romance novels and this one is included there. Overall a strong novel that fulfills all the standard RWA rules while telling a fun and at times harrowing tale. Very much recommended.

This review of Alaska For Christmas by Jennifer Snow was originally written on October 16, 2022.

#BlogTour: Home Sweet Christmas by Susan Mallery

For this blog tour, we’re looking at the second book in a series of Hallmark Christmas Romance-type tales that feels like it was only tangentially related to its first book, The Christmas Wedding Guest. For this blog tour, we’re looking at Home Sweet Christmas by Susan Mallery.

Here’s what I had to say about it on Goodreads:

Hallmarkie Christmas Tale. This was a solid Christmas tale with a pair of romances in small town Washington State that features a *lot* of meddling by a mother/ “adoptive” mother who wants grandkids. You’ve got the expected small town charm, the native-who-left-and-came-back part of the couple (for one of the two romances), the out-of-towner (for the other), the successful businessman, the “normal” guy with a major (yet amazing) secret… basically, everything any Hallmark Christmas Romance movie enthusiast expects to see in their stories. And Mallery, as usual, does a solid job of using her 400 ish pages to fully flesh out this story without ever feeling overly long in the process. Truly a solid story well told, and a worthy addition to this series and Mallery’s overall catalog. Very much recommended.

After the jump, an excerpt from the book followed by the “publisher details” – book description, author bio, and social media and buy links.
Continue reading “#BlogTour: Home Sweet Christmas by Susan Mallery”

#BlogTour: The Road To Christmas by Sheila Roberts

For this blog tour we’re looking at a somewhat innovative “shotgun road trip” approach to a somewhat standard-type Hallmark Christmas tale. For this blog tour we’re looking at The Road To Christmas by Sheila Roberts.

Here’s what I had to say about it on Goodreads:

Hallmarkie If Hallmark Did Road Trips. This is one of those almost 80s-cartoon feeling… “interesting”… blends of road trip tale and Hallmark Christmas tale. There are three separate road trips going on here – grandparents, parents, and siblings – all going their own routes and having their own adventures along the way to joining up with youngest sister and her husband and newborn for Christmas. There’s some hilarity, some heart strings being pulled, some solid road trip fun, some solid Christmas fun, a lot of small town charm – in multiple small towns, also in departure from pure Hallmark format – and a healthy dose of moralizing/ preaching about the joys of family and the sacrifices we sometimes make for them. (Which is where the “almost 80s-cartoon feeling” comes in.) Ultimately a solid blend of a few different popular formats, and the “shotgun” approach also works quite well and is fairly innovative. Ultimately this is a solid tale well told, and is very much recommended.

After the jump, an excerpt from the book followed by the “publisher details” – book description, author bio, and social media and buy links.
Continue reading “#BlogTour: The Road To Christmas by Sheila Roberts”

#BlogTour: Taken Before Dawn by B.R. Spangler

For this blog tour we’re looking at the most intense Casey White series book yet. For this blog tour we’re looking at Taken Before Dawn by B.R. Spangler.

You Probably Won’t Want To Read This Right Before Bed. In this next chilling installment of this series, we get what is quite possibly Spangler’s most chilling villains to date – and the most direct threat to Detective Casey White since I picked up this series around book 4 or so. One sequence in particular, taking up somewhere around a quarter of the book or so, is so truly chilling that the title of this review was warranted – you’re not going to want to try to go to sleep while reading/ soon after reading this particular section. I don’t want to give anything away, so I’ll be a bit oblique and note that there is a popular horror franchise that is actually *less* chilling, though around the same type of idea, as what is going on here. Before and after this section, the book is actually more of a “standard” Casey White series police procedural. We get to see the team doing its thing both professionally and personally, including how later developments in the series (again, being vague to avoid giving anything away) continue to play out. Certainly one of the better books in this series, which is saying quite a bit itself, and arguably the best to date – which is saying *quite* a bit. I know this thing releases almost a full month after I’m writing this review, but BR… Imma need number 8 like, *now*. Very much recommended.

After the jump, the “publisher details” – book description, author bio, and social media and buy links.
Continue reading “#BlogTour: Taken Before Dawn by B.R. Spangler”

#BookReview: Buck’s Pantry by Khristin Wierman

Interesting Story Marred By Divisive Politics And Too Long “Epilogue”. Given the setup for this story – and this may be on the publisher, as I’m talking about the description here – it seemed that the “event” (which is spoilery to disclose the nature of) would consume much more of the book. Instead, it is over little beyond the 50% mark, and a solid 33 – 40% or so of the tale is the *aftermath* of the event in question. And while there is a lot of interesting storytelling here with strong points about how complicated humans are, it wasn’t what the description led this reader to believe he would be getting into. Still, this was not enough of a concern to deduct a star, but it needed to be discussed in this forum.

What led to the star deduction was actually the author’s divisive political commentary, where one character in particular explicitly proclaims to another “You’re a _______?!?!?!?” (again, not naming which direction as it is a touch spoilery). The rest of the tale from this point is the other person apologizing and only being “redeemed” for changing their entire belief system to match the first person’s. Not only is this not realistic – and despite this tale being fiction, most everything else here is solidly grounded in realism – but it is also shall we say “less than helpful” in this already divided time. This reader had hopes that such a proclamation could lead to each side working together and understanding each other more, which would have been phenomenal and even transcendental in these times of hyper-division. Instead the author took the easy route and steered hard into what is likely her own viewpoint, essentially proclaiming everyone else to be savage brutes unworthy and incapable of having differing opinions or even being worthy of redemption without being forced to conform.

Overall this is still a compelling tale and a worthy read. Recommended.

This review of Buck’s Pantry by Khristin Wierman was originally written on September 6, 2022.