Book Review: ‘The Girl who Could Breathe Under Water’ by Erin Bartels

Following her bestselling debut novel, Kendra Brennan, is in a writing slump. She puts it down to the receipt of an inflammatory note from “A Very Disappointed Reader”. Believing she had a hunch to the identity of the note writer, Kendra decides to return to her old holiday cabin on the lake. She now owns it having inherited it from her loving grandfather who had recently passed away.

The story starts with Kendra ‘thinking’ in the second person to her old best friend, Cami, who she spent many wonderful summers as teenagers. However, they haven’t seen each other since the last time Kendra visited the lake, eight years ago. It was an unusual method of sharing the story but I found it tremendous and worked relatively seamlessly when Kendra jumped into 1st person POV.

I was quickly engrossed by Kendra’s recollections of her past summers and her relationships with the Rainier family: father Robert, mother Beth, and adopted children: Cami and Tyler. ‘That Summer’, her breakout smash debut story included many fictionalised elements of these summers on the lake. All the Rainiers, bar Cami, have returned for the summer. Kendra realises she must confront each of them to ascertain which one of them may be the “Disappointed Reader.”

Kendra’s on a tight deadline for her second novel and as she endeavours to start it along comes a stranger, Andreas, who has arrived announced to translate her debut into German. They soon develop a friendship as well as a professional connection.

This is an emotionally gripping story as Kendra confronts people and issues in her past that are terribly challenging. She discovers much about each one of her relationships with the Rainier family. Some of them indeed are quite a shock. But it’s what Kendra discovers about herself which I found most stirring. Self-absorption is one of our great struggles as humans and it’s in both returning to her past and drafting her second story that Kendra is able to self-discover much about herself. Further, the notion of stepping into another’s shoes before casting judgement or criticism is another valuable insight for Kendra.

Kendra’s fortunate to have a supportive ally in Andreas who demonstrates so many positive attributes in his gentleness and kindness while a certain naivety in the romance department.

It’s a powerful story that was so pleasurable to read as Bartels deals with some tremendously important personal matters which many of us can all relate to.

Bartels characters are very beautifully crafted humans, no cardboard cutouts here. Robert and Beth’s marriage, Tyler’s struggles as a child, Kendra and Cami’s friendship, Andreas’ passion for stories and willingness to listen to someone tell theirs, are all wonderfully brought to the stage.

I loved this story for its intricacy, powerful themes, wonderful writing which kept us guessing and the cast of characters.

I fell very blessed to have received an early ebook copy of the story from Revell as party of their Readers Program via NetGalley. This has no influence over my review.

Book Review: “Deadly Target” by Elizabeth Goddard

I’d read the first one in this series but this could be read as a standalone. The main characters in the first story are really just ‘bit’ players in this one and the plots aren’t related.

It took a little while to get into this story as the initial inciting event didn’t connect for me until later in the story. Goddard makes this quite an involved story with various potential possibilities for the antagonist which keeps you on your toes but also perhaps could have been connected with a little more precision.

I liked Erin Larson and Nathan Campbell. I particularly appreciated Erin’s anxieties and we spend a bit of time in her head as she grapples with her past and also running away from Nathan once before. Nathan is a good cop chasing after his father’s killer when specifically asked not to by his boss which makes him wonder whether his boss knows more than he’s letting on.

There’s some dramatic action with dam’s being blown up and chasing down mines which really keeps us guessing especially when everyone’s in darkness.

The suspense ratchets up in the end but it wrapped up a little quickly for me and the fact we need to be ‘told’ the who, what and why tells me the plot could have been more precise and easier for the reader to determine all the connections.

I enjoyed reading it and I look forward to the final in the series.

I received an early ebook copy as part of the Revell Readers Blogging Program via NetGalley with no expectation of a favourable review.

Book Review: “The Debutante’s Code” by Erica Vetsch

This was a delightful surprise for me. A Regency novel full of mystery and amateur sleuthing. I happily turned the pages as Lady Juliette, the debutante of the title, discovers her extended family is more than it seems.

Lady Juliette returns to London after 7 years at a Swiss school and is hoping to be met by her parents whom she hasn’t seen for the duration. However, they have disappeared to the family country estate on urgent business and Lady Juliette finds she will be escorted to her ‘coming out to society’ ball by her uncle, who has been tasked with looking after her.

It’s not long before mayhem erupts from one posh gathering to the next as a series of recently arrived artwork is being mysteriously stolen. It’s a lot of fun as our debutante gets stuck in the middle of it all and is thrown into the world of amateur sleuthing under the stewardship of her uncle.

Enter Daniel Swann, a local police detective who is tasked with investigating these thefts. But he is on his last chance to deliver for his pompous boss, or else he’ll be looking for a new vocation. It will take all of his intelligence and a share of good fortune for him to track down those responsible.

There a moments of madcap and suspense as a number of different players are caught up in the mayhem. Vetsch does a wonderful job keeping is on our toes with various layers of intrigue that keeps us guessing as to the culprit.

Juliette is a delightful character who is easy to like, so to Daniel, and we are left with many possibilities of what might eventuate in Book 2 of this fascinating and cleverly written series. I can’t wait to see where Vetsch takes us next.

I was very fortunate to be receive an early ebook copy as part of Audra Jennings blogging tour via NetGalley with no expectation of a favourable review.

Book Review: “Tacos for Two” by Betsy St.Amant

“You’ve Got Mail” is a movie I watch regularly as there is so much to like about it. ‘Tacos’ borrows from it in many ways including a romance that starts via online messaging (as against AOL email), the two lead characters duelling over similar career paths (this one Mexican food trucks), Rory Perez inspired by her great aunt and Jude Worthington coming from a rich pompous family, the patriarch of which is not a very nice fellow.

It was an easy fun read with two well crafted lead characters in Rory and Jude plus a supporting cast that had plenty of likeable people especially on Rory’s side. Like Rory and Jude looked forward to their ‘night time messaging date’ I looked forward to the next instalment in their cooking adventures and the will she/he, won’t she/he combative nature of their initial in-person connection.

One of the great aspects of the movie is that after initially sparring and hurting each other, the two characters: Kathleen Kelly and Joe Fox, spent time getting to know each other as regular friends do. This didn’t really happen in this story and St. Amant relied on the online connection to initiate healing in Rory and Jude’s relationship. Hence, it wasn’t as believable and tended to rely on the electricity of physical touch and passionate kisses.

Overall, I enjoyed Tacos for Two and if you’re someone who loves ‘You’ve Got Mail’ you’ll certainly enjoy whiling away some hours reading this enjoyable romance.

I was fortunate to receive an early ebook copy from Revell via NetGalley as part of the former’s ‘Revell Read’s” bloggers program with no expectation of a positive review.

Book Review: The Chase by Lisa Harris

We catch up with Madison James and Jonas Quinn three months after the end of The Escape. Madison has recovered physically from her wounds but it’s clear she is still struggling emotionally with not knowing who shot her and how they’re linked to her late husband’s killer.

She isn’t given any time to quietly settle back into the job as the partners are immediately called into a bank robbery that is going down. These robbers serve to form the backbone of the plot for the story. On escaping capture, the foursome thrill seekers separate and send Madison and Jonas on a series of illusive chases as they endeavour to avoid jail time.

Like all her stories, Harris keeps the pace fast as we move from scene to scene on the hunt for these wily robbers. Meanwhile, the connection between our two US Marshalls continues to develop and grow and for one of them in particular, taking their friendship to something more becomes increasingly desirable. I like how Harris is developing this relationship. It’s a bit like those classic old detective TV shows where the romantic tension between the two leads is ever present and you wonder that it’s just a matter of time before they get together.

I loved racing all around Seattle and exploring its sights as well as some pretty islands further north close to the Canadian border.

We’re left hanging at the end of the story on all levels which makes me want the third and final instalment to arrive quickly so I can see how everything gets wrapped up.

I received an early ebook copy of the book from the publisher as part of their Revell Reads Program via NetGalley with not expectation of a positive review.

Book Review: Come Back to Me by Jody Hedlund

This is my first Hedlund novel and judging by other reviewers this is a bit of a step away from her usual stories. Well, I certainly enjoyed this one and am looking forward to the sequel.

Time travel is always fun to read and Hedlund did a good job outlining how one travels from one era to another: modern England back to 1381 England. Hedlund gives us a fabulous view of the 1300s and the Peasant Revolt which Marian Creighton arrived in the middle of. As Marian, like us, is familiar with the current times, we’re all given a great education into the vast differences of medieval Canterbury. It was captivating to read.

The story actually has a great deal of suspense too which kept me turning pages. Will Marian find the source of the holy water and sufficient ampullae so she can both return to current times and heal her sister? The Peasant Revolt adds another layer of suspense plus a good dollop of fear with the cruelty of the leaders being ever present.

But perhaps what I reflect most on is the romance between Marian and Will Burnham. It’s really delightful to read. His chivalry, her strength of character and his willingness to allow Marian to be herself was good to read. The sensuality between the two is well written too. I suspect there’ll be some readers who’ll think it too much but I actually thought it added to the realism of the story and to its suspense. Will Marian and Will’s love be allowed to flourish or will Marian return to the future and be forever wondering what if?

This was a thoroughly enjoyable read and I’m keen to read the followup to see what happens next.

I received an early complimentary ebook copy as part of the Revell Reads blogger program via NetGalley with no expectation of a positive review.

Book Review: The Paris Betrayal by James R. Hannibal

This novel started with a bang just like you want a spy thriller to start. Bullets flying, bad guys fleeing, good guys mission isn’t as successful as planned and the fate of the world is in Ben Calix’s hands. Plus, we get some inside tips from the ‘How to be a Successful Spy Training Manual’ (in italics) which I really enjoyed.

We’re soon taken on a series of fast chases throughout Europe and Hannibal’s descriptions of the various settings were tremendous in helping us feel we were in the scene. Having travelled a few times to Paris I particularly loved ‘going back’ especially to my favourite cathedral, Notre Dame, and to be taken inside while it’s being repaired was a special treat.

The pace is relentless as Ben’s mission keeps being thwarted by both the bad guys but also apparently by his employer who has ‘set him afloat without a paddle’. The obstacles he confronts become increasingly dire especially as his support crew seem to have abandoned him or get seemingly eliminated.

In the background, we get a very cagey sense of the bad guys, a nefarious organisation dubbed Leviathan led by someone that goes by the moniker, Jupiter.

Surprisingly, I found after the first 100 or so pages I was struggling to stay interested. And this stayed with me for most of the novel which bothered me. As I would usually love this kind of story. By the end of the story I realised why I had this strange experience. Three reasons:

  • I really wasn’t that invested in Ben and his mission. I think all the action and obstacles denied Ben and the reader sufficient time to breathe so we could get to know the guy.
  • the bad guys were too nebulous for me. They only appeared a handful of times in discreet conversations between Jupiter and his side kick, Terrance, so we really didn’t get to know why they were doing what they planned.
  • the supporting cast were many and only flitted in and out of the story for a short period so again we never invested in them. Ben has a love interest in Giselle and then Clara, and perhaps did a few years back for Tess, but we really never learn much about any of them. I really wanted to like Clara, in particular, and we get some insight into her when she gets to tell the story for a chapter or two, but it didn’t continue to maintain my interest.

I thought the ending was clever as it surprised me. The author’s note at the back gives some insight into the background behind Ben’s development but it didn’t quite gel for me.

Overall, this is a quality spy story and judging by the many other positive reviews is one that appeals to many people.

I received an early ebook copy from Revell via NetGalley with no expectation of a favourable review.

Book Review: Present Danger by Elizabeth Goddard

This is a quality romantic suspense story with lots of moving parts that at times were a little hard to keep track of. With multiple investigative agencies involved, a fascinating story involving trafficked historical artifacts plus involved character backstories, there is a lot for the reader to juggle. Oh, and then there’s some romance.

I enjoy learning as I read and I appreciated the trafficked artifacts storyline as it was one I didn’t realise was still hot property (excuse the pun) in FBI circles.

The pace is good from page one and doesn’t really let up. There were a lot of ‘near misses’ that can become a little repetitive and loosen the suspense a little but it was a fun story that kept me guessing. I had no idea how it all connected and was pleasantly surprised when all was revealed.

I really enjoyed Terra and Jack’s characters. I liked their personal struggles and how they’d dealt with them in the years they were apart. I wasn’t convinced of their romance though but I’ll allow the fact they had previously been romantically involved to be the reason for that. Terra’s initial lack of trust was very understandable and Jack had to earn that back.

The story wrapped up a little too quickly but overall it was very easy to turn the pages as new information kept being revealed.

I’ll certainly keep reading Goddard’s stories.

I received a complimentary early ebook version from Revell via NetGalley with no expectation of a favourable review.

Book Review: The Indebted Earl by Erica Vetsch

I haven’t read any Regency for years and had heard a lot about Vetsch’s Serendipity & Secrets series so was keen to try the 3rd in the series for myself. And I was pleasantly surprised.

Charles Wyvern is a thirty-something naval Captain who had been at sea since he was twelve. He was excellent at his job but inexperienced at almost everything else including love. Sophie Haverly is a daughter of a duke, engaged to marry Charles’ best friend, Rich. Unfortunately, in their final battle, Rich receives critical injuries that he never recoveries from. His last dying wish is for Charles to ensure Sophie is well looked after and taken care of.

Charles is a bit stiff as a character. Vetsch does an excellent job of making him the career-navy man who is frankly a little dull. Sophie, meanwhile, is gregarious, courageous and enchanting. One could not think of a more unlikely couple.

Circumstances throw the two together and soon Charles becomes the Earl of Rothwell due to his estranged uncle’s passing. Not only does he come into a fortune, but three gorgeous girls, who his late uncle had acted as guardian for. Penny, Thea and Betsy really steal this story. Each wonderfully crafted by Vetsch, unique in their characteristics and personalities, they bring the best out in both Charles and Sophie.

In this #Metoo world, I cringed at times at the treatment and accepted position of the women in the story but marvelled at Sophie who is a tremendous character, perhaps a little too mature and responsible for a twenty year old but full of personality and spunk. Charles gradually grew on me as the girls in his life helped take him out of his comfort zone and become aware of things in his personality that he wasn’t previously.

The story is well paced with sufficient drama to keep the reader riveted to the page.

I received an early ebook copy from Kregel via NetGalley as a result of participating in Audra Jennings PR book tour with no expectation of a favourable review.

Book Review: Roots of Wood & Stone by Amanda Wen

This is a simply stunning time slip story with a wonderful sense of God’s grace and love threading through it.

Sloane Kelley was abandoned by her mom three days after she was born. She’s now 30 and has no clue who her birth mom is. Sloane has been lovingly raised by her adopted parents, however, continues to struggle with a sense of abandonment which continues to raise its ugly head in many of her relationships.

Annabelle Collins, half a century earlier in the 1860s, lost her parents when she was very young and joined her aunt and uncle on settling in the prairies in Sedgwick County, Kansas. Annabelle marries soon after to a local, Jack Brennan, who builds her a dream home where they raise their seven children. Annabelle is a mad diary writer and she documents all of her life in these diaries.

Sloane is an historian by profession and she inadvertently finds one of Annabelle’s diaries. This starts Sloane on her own adventure of discovering the history behind Annabelle’s life. To do this she needs to spend time in Garrett and Lauren Anderson’s grandma’s house and she becomes firm friends with the brother and sister as she heads deeper into the story of Annabelle.

Wen writes a beautiful story of love and loss, abandonment and reclamation, creating a wonderful assemble of characters whom its’ easy to fall in love with. It’s a really clever time slip story in how Wen brings the two life stories together without it being forced or unnatural.

It staggers me that this is a debut novel. There are so many wonderful descriptions of the county, the grand Brennan household that serves as the backdrop for much of the story, and the little tidbits like Sloane and Garrett’s passion for jazz. I frequently found myself with a contented smile on my face as I turned the pages.

If you’re looking for a delightful surprise, then Roots of Wood and Stone will certainly do that for you.

I received an early ebook copy via NetGalley as part of Audra Jennings PR Blog Tour with no expectation of a favourable review.