Book Recommendation ~ Muffins & Moonbeams: Baxter Family Bakery Book One (Arcadia Valley Romance 3) by Elizabeth Maddrey

Book Description:

Malachi Baxter is happy to hide in the background and manage the business-end of the family bakery. He’d much rather live in the online world of computer games where he can explore the galaxy and no one has to know he’s deaf.

Ursula Franks designs websites during the day and spends her evenings battling alien races online where relationships are easy and uncomplicated. When she agrees to design a website for the local Community Supported Bakery, she has no idea that Malachi is the real man behind her online persona’s best friend and her own secret crush.

As the two work together on the website, they uncover an attraction, but will they be able to put aside past hurt and insecurity to find love?

Welcome to Arcadia Valley, Idaho, where a foodie culture and romance grow hand-in-hand. Join my friends and me as we release a book every month set in Arcadia Valley. You’ll enjoy meeting old friends and making new ones as each of the six authors’ books intertwine with the previous stories in this Christian romance series. Get started with Romance Grows in Arcadia Valley and follow along at Arcadia Valley Romance dot com to make sure you don’t miss any installments!

Muffins & Moonbeams is the first full-length novel in the Baxter Family Bakery series set in Arcadia Valley. It follows the novella, Loaves and Wishes, that was introduced in Arcadia Valley Book 1, Romance Grows in Arcadia Valley. Get your copy today to spend more time baking with the Baxter family.

Narelle’s Thoughts:

I enjoyed reading Muffins & Moonbeams. We first meet the Baxter brothers In Elizabeth’s Arcadia Valley novella, Loaves & Wishes. While reading the novella I really wanted to learn more about Malachi and discover his romance story in the first full length book in the Baxter Family Bakery Romance series, Muffins & Moonbeams.

Malachi lost his hearing when he was a young child and he has learned to lip read. He speaks well although he’s self conscious and worries about how people will relate to him. Ursula is an introvert who has social anxiety. She prefers to escape into her online gaming world rather than relate to people in the real world.

I have a family member who struggles with social anxiety and it was insightful to view the world through Ursula’s eyes. I really enjoyed Malachi and Ursula’s romance and how their unique challenges and character strengths created a fun and fascinating story.


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Book Recommendation ~ Then There Was You by Kara Isaac

Book Description:

Paige McAllister needs to do something drastic. Her boyfriend can’t even commit to living in the same country, her promised promotion is dead on arrival and the simultaneous loss of her brother and her dream of being a concert violinist has kept her playing life safe and predictable for six years. Things need to change. A moment of temporary insanity finds her leaving her life in Chicago to move to Sydney, Australia. There she finds herself, against many of her convictions, as a logistics planner for one of Australia’s biggest churches, and on a collision course with her boss’s son.

Josh Tyler fronts a top-selling worship band and is in demand all over the world. But, in the past, his failed romantic relationships almost destroyed both his reputation and his family. He’s determined to never risk it happening again. The last thing he needs is some American girl tipping his ordered life upside down. Especially one who despises everything he’s ever worked for and manages to push every button he has.

When Josh and Paige are thrown together to organize his band’s next tour, the sparks fly. But can they find a way to bridge the differences that pull them apart? Or will they choose the safety and security of what they know over taking a chance on something that will require them to risk everything?

Narelle’s Thoughts:

I finished reading Then There Was You with a smile on my face after shedding a few tears toward the end of the story. We first meet Paige McAllister in Chicago at her nineteen year old sister’s wedding. Paige’s absent and commitment phobic long term boyfriend shows up late to the wedding and she takes the bold step of breaking up with him. She impulsively declares that she’s moving to Australia and staying in Sydney with her cousin, Kat.

Josh Tyler is the lead guitarist and singer in an internationally successful Sydney megachurch worship band. His parents are the founding church pastors and the media delight in giving his family bad publicity by creating fake news. Josh is aloof and wary of strangers, especially women. He’s over thirty, living at home with his parents, and single for a reason after making bad relationship decisions in the past.

Paige and Josh first meet when they catch the same flight from Chicago to LA, en-route to Sydney. Josh’s first impressions of Paige stay with him and give him an interesting perspective on her character. His belief that his parents always make wise decisions as leaders of their church is challenged when his mother employs Paige as a logistics manager for their upcoming women’s conference.

Josh and Paige are forced to work together on the church campus in suburban Sydney. Josh comes across as a bit full of himself and entitled. He lives in a tight knit megachurch bubble where he spends his time recording music and travelling the world with the worship team. He makes some big assumptions about Paige without checking his facts.

Paige is seemingly on a mission to make decisions that will make her life more miserable. For example, she picks the job at the megachurch despite her horrendous past experiences as a volunteer worker at a US megachurch. A few Google searches could also have made Paige’s life easier. Paige is carrying a truckload of emotional baggage that’s hinted at early on in the story but not fully revealed until later.

Josh and Paige develop a sort-of-friends romance where the emotional barriers stay up for a large chunk of the story. Once I got to know Josh and Paige and understood why they behaved in certain ways, I wanted to see them overcome all the obstacles in their romance to achieve their happily-ever-after. They are both challenged to take risks and grow in their faith during the story.

Then There Was You also has a connection to Kara’s previous books. Paige’s cousin, Kat, who travels the world as a makeup artist, is Allie’s best friend who we first meet in Close To You. I recommend Then There Was You to contemporary romance readers who enjoy the movie 10 Things I Hate About You style of romantic comedies with poignant moments.


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Book Recommendation ~ Can’t Help Falling by Kara Isaac

Book Description:

RT Reviews Top Pick, October 2016

A funny, heartfelt romance about how an antique shop, a wardrobe, and a mysterious tea cup bring two C.S. Lewis fans together in a snowy and picturesque Oxford, England.

Emelia Mason has spent her career finding the dirt on the rich and famous. But deep down past this fearless tabloid-reporter façade, there’s a nerdy Narnia-obsessed girl who still can’t resist climbing into wardrobes to check for the magical land on the other side. When a story she writes produces tragic results, she flees to Oxford, England–home to C.S. Lewis–to try and make amends for the damage she has caused.

Peter Carlisle was on his way to become one of Great Britain’s best rowers–until he injured his shoulder and lost his chance at glory. He’s determined to fight his way back to the top even if it means risking permanent disability to do so. It’s the only way he can find his way past failing the one person who never stopped believing in his Olympic dream.

When Peter and Emelia cross paths on her first night in Oxford, the attraction is instant and they find common ground in their shared love of Narnia. But can the lessons from a fantasyland be enough to hold them together when secrets of the real world threaten to tear them apart? Cobblestone streets, an aristocratic estate, and an antique shop with curious a wardrobe bring the world of Narnia to life in Kara Isaac’s inspiring and romantic story about second chances.

Narelle’s Thoughts:

I enjoyed reading Can’t Help Falling and loved the English setting in Oxford. The story chronologically follows on from Close To You and I recommend reading the books in order. Jackson and Allie from Close to You are minor characters in Can’t Help Falling.

Emelia Mason is an American who creates a brand new life for herself in Oxford, England. She changes her appearance and does her best to forget about her previous life as tabloid journalist Mia Caldwell. She’s desperate to obtain a job at a charity based in Oxford to make amends for a tragedy that took place as a consequence of her tabloid story.

Peter Carlisle is the second son of a viscount. He’s struggling to recover from a shoulder injury that killed his Olympic dreams on the Great Britain rowing team. His older brother is a brilliant rower who is living Peter’s rowing dream. His brother treats Peter like a doormat and the reasons behind their dysfunctional sibling relationship unfold during the story.

Emelia and Peter first meet when he discovers her hiding in a wardrobe in an antique store. They share a mutual attraction despite the weirdness of the situation and her seemingly unhinged obsession with Narnia. Peter also finds the elusive teacup in the wardrobe that completes the tea set he has collected over the years for his mother. The next meeting between Emelia and Peter is also unique and their paths cross when Peter becomes her boss at his late cousin’s charity. They share a common goal of fundraising an enormous sum of money to prevent the charity from folding.

Emilia is determined to hide her past connection to Peter’s family and her big secret threatens to destroy their growing relationship. The faith element, in particular Emelia’s faith journey, is an intriguing aspect of the story that deepens the characterisation. The Narnia connection is fascinating and adds to the humour in the story.  I highly recommend Can’t Help Falling to readers who like fun contemporary romances, and especially for readers who are familiar with the writings of C.S. Lewis.


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Book Recommendation ~ Close To You by Kara Isaac

Book Description:

A disgraced scholar running from her past and an entrepreneur chasing his future find themselves thrown together—and fall in love—on a Tolkien tour of New Zealand.

Allison Shire (yes, like where the Hobbits live) is a disgraced academic who is done with love. Her belief in “happily ever after” ended the day she discovered her husband was still married to a wife she knew nothing about. She finally finds a use for her English degree by guiding tours through the famous sites featured in the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit movies. By living life on the road and traveling New Zealand as a luxury tour guide, Allison manages to outrun the pain of her past she can’t face.

Jackson Gregory was on the cusp of making it big. Then suddenly his girlfriend left him—for his biggest business competitor—and took his most guarded commercial secrets with her. To make matters worse, the Iowa farm that has been in his family for generations is facing foreclosure. Determined to save his parents from financial ruin, he’ll do whatever it takes to convince his wealthy great-uncle to invest in his next scheme, which means accompanying him to the bottom of the world to spend three weeks pretending to be a die-hard Lord of the Rings fan, even though he knows nothing about the stories. The one thing that stands between him and his goal is a know-it-all tour guide who can’t stand him and pegged him as a fake the moment he walked off the plane.

When Allison leads the group through the famous sites of the Tolkien movies, she and Jackson start to see each other differently, and as they keep getting thrown together on the tour, they find themselves drawn to each other. Neither expected to fall in love again, but can they find a way beyond their regrets to take a chance on the one thing they’re not looking for?

Narelle’s Thoughts:

I enjoyed reading Close To You, the debut novel by my New Zealand author friend Kara Isaac. I will confess I’m not familiar with Tolkien’s works… I’ve never read the books, I rarely read fantasy, and I saw a couple of the Lord Of The Rings movies at the cinema. The movie scenery inspired me to bump travelling to New Zealand higher up my travel wishlist.

You don’t need to be a Tolkien fan to enjoy this book. I identified with Jackson and his confusion as he was surrounded by die hard fans living their dream of dressing up and touring the various movie settings in New Zealand.

Allison (Allie) Shire, their PhD qualified Tolkien expert tour guide, is struggling to emotionally deal with her past mistakes and move on. She has a toxic relationship with her mother that emotionally cripples her. Her mother views Allie’s so-called failings as a personal slight against her and their family’s reputation. Her mother doesn’t empathise with her daughter’s difficult situation with her estranged and hopefully soon-to-be ex-husband. Allie has been betrayed by people close to her and has big self-esteem and trust issues. This includes trusting God and believing that God could love her for who she is. We meet Allie in Chapter One when she is literally and metaphorically hiding her true self in a Hobbit costume.

Jackson Gregory has an overdeveloped sense of responsibility and believes it’s his job to rescue the people he loves and those who have made the mistake of trusting him with their life savings. He’s desperate to convince his elderly Uncle Louis to invest in his new business venture so he can right the wrongs caused by his failed business venture. Jackson’s ex-girlfriend betrayed him and he’s determined to safeguard his heart and fix his life, his way. He turned his back on his childhood faith from small town Iowa to live a glamorous and opulent lifestyle in LA.

The romance that develops between Allie and Jackson is both entertaining and frustrating. They come from different worlds and hate each other on first sight. Their inability at times to speak honestly and openly creates mishaps and humour in the story.  Allie, in particular, hides behind sarcasm and snark to protect her fragile heart.

The witty dialogue and Tolkien references and stunning New Zealand setting create a fabulous combination for a fun contemporary romance. The minor characters, including Jackson’s Uncle Louis,  add wisdom and frivolity to the story. The faith element is drawn out more toward the end of the story when Allie and Jackson are working through their emotional issues. I highly recommend Close to You to readers who enjoy contemporary romances, and especially readers who are also Tolkien fans.


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Book Recommendation ~ Sprouts of Love by Valerie Comer (Arcadia Valley Romance 5)

Book Description:

Can love sprout amid a tsunami of vegetables?

Single mom Evelyn Felton takes on another part-time job managing a greenhouse and garden project for Grace Fellowship. Formerly homeless, she’s thrilled to offer truckloads of fresh produce to the Arcadia Valley food bank.

If only Ben Kujak weren’t running Corinna’s Cupboard singlehandedly, he’d be delighted to be on the receiving end. But Evelyn and her dynamo daughter, Maisie, won’t take no for an answer, even if it means restructuring Ben’s charity.

Soon Ben finds himself wishing they’d transform his personal life, too, but can true love sprout when their pasts collide with the present?

Narelle’s Thoughts: 

Have you been reading the Arcadia Valley Romance series? If not, go check out these stories. The prequel novellas for the full length books in the series are available for 99 cents in Romance Grows in Arcadia Valley.

I’m a big fan of series books. I especially love continuity series with interconnected stories and characters who pop up in different stories. It’s like you become reacquainted with old friends when you read a series that’s set in a small community.

Sprouts of Love is Book 1 in Valerie Comer’s Garden Grown Romance series and the fifth release in the Arcadia Valley Romance series.

In the prequel novella, Sow in Love, we meet Evelyn Felton and her adorable ten year old daughter, Maisie. Fast forward to Sprouts of Love, and the living trust we learn about in Joanna and Grady’s romance story is ready for harvest.

Evelyn is a single mother with three jobs. She’s doing her best to earn enough money to pay the rent on her dingy apartment and provide for Maisie. Evelyn has a heart for homeless people because she has been there. Her adult life has been a long financial struggle. She has appreciated the help she received when times were tough, and the life changing assistance from her mentor.

Ben Kujak lost his wife and young daughter in a car wreck. Five years later, he’s investing all his time and energy into running a soup kitchen that’s financed by a trust that is run by his late wife’s family.

Ben initially rejects Evelyn’s offer of free fresh produce for Corinna’s Cupboard. He’s feeding forty people and doesn’t have time to fuss with fresh food preparation. He’s intrigued by Evelyn and attends a Sunday Service at Grace Fellowship where he learns more about Evelyn’s connection to the innovative greenhouse garden project.

A delightful romance develops between Ben and Evelyn, and he can’t help but love Maisie as if she was his own daughter. Evelyn and Ben’s background and family history create a number of obstacles in the story. I empathised with the heartache they had both experienced, and their need to heal and forgive those who had wronged and hurt them.

The issue of homelessness was sensitively addressed in the story. I learned more about the specific issues facing women who find themselves in desperate financial situations.

Ben and Evelyn’s faith was challenged as secrets were revealed. They both had to deal with issues from the past that threatened their future.

I highly recommend Sprouts of Love to readers who are looking for a fun and thought provoking contemporary romance with a garden fresh food theme.

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Book Recommendation ~ The Cowboy’s Christmas Baby by Carolyne Aarsen

 

the_cowboys_christmas_baby

Book Description:

A Family For Christmas 

No one expected Erin McCauley to arrive in Saddlebank, Montana, with a baby…and no wedding ring. Especially not Dean Moore, who cared for Erin but knew the by-the-book girl would never go for a hard-living cowboy like him. While helping renovate Erin’s new home, Dean realizes he’s still in love with her—and with her beautiful daughter. As far as he’s concerned, past mistakes don’t have to define them—but guilt is holding Erin back from seeing that Dean is offering exactly what she’s longing for. Because if she lets him, he’ll give her the home—and the family—she’s always wanted.

Narelle’s Thoughts: 

A contemporary romance with a handsome cowboy holding an adorable baby on the cover has to be a winner, right? Carolyne shared her thoughts on the cover and book title in an Inspy Romance post here. 

I really enjoyed reading this book. The Cowboy’s Christmas Baby is the third book in the Big Sky Cowboys series. Each book features a McCauley sister.

Erin McCauley was the good girl who had spent most of her life trying to do the right thing. But she has a secret she hasn’t shared with her sisters or her late father. A secret drenched in guilt and shame that has tested her faith and resulted in her becoming a single parent. The story opens with Erin returning to Saddlebank, Montana, to introduce her six week old daughter, Caitlin, to her sisters.

Dean Moore has had a crush on Erin for years. Erin was the unobtainable girl who was too classy to date a rodeo cowboy like him. She rebuffed his advances years ago when she spent her summer holidays staying on her father’s ranch. Her twin sister is set to marry his brother. Dean works in construction and is recovering from a rodeo injury that has left him with a limp and a lot of pain in his leg.

Dean is stunned by Erin’s return to Saddlebank with her baby. He’s charged with renovating her house on the ranch. Sparks fly as they spend time together and form a close friendship. Dean dotes on Caitlin and he doesn’t push Erin to share her story about Caitlin’s father.

Caitlin wants to put down roots in Saddlebank and raise her daughter with family close by. Dean has matured and now has a strong faith. She starts to rely on him and view him as a potential husband and father for Caitlin. But her past mistakes haunt her and threaten her future with Dean.

I loved the emotional depth in the story and how both Erin and Dean had to overcome their fears and face the reality of their life circumstances. We see Erin’s struggles and triumphs as she bonds and loves on her gorgeous baby.

I recommend The Cowboy’s Christmas Baby to readers who enjoy heartwarming Christian romance. It’s a standalone story that features cameo appearances from characters in the Refuge Ranch series that’s also set in Saddlebank. I also loved the unique proposal scene in the Epilogue.

Carolyne has a new release in February from Love Inspired: Courting The Cowboy (Cowboys of Cedar Ridge Book 1)

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Book Recommendation ~ Her Minnesota Man by Brenda Coulter

Book Description:

A HEARTWARMING CHRISTIAN ROMANCE NOVEL

Tender, funny, and thought-provoking, this novel is one you’ll remember long after you’ve turned the last page.

Rock star Jackson Bell has just given his heart to God. Resolved to abandon his wicked lifestyle and eager for instruction in Christian living, he heads home to Owatonna, Minnesota and the girl-next-door he’s secretly loved for years. Dismayed to find Laney Ryland in the midst of a faith crisis, “Jeb” quickly formulates a plan: He’ll help Laney get her faith back, and then he’ll find her a good Christian man to marry so she can get started on that big family she longs for.

It won’t be easy, watching another man slide a ring onto Laney’s finger. But she deserves only the best, and Jeb means to see that she gets it. Now if only her great-aunts, those pesky 79-year-old matchmaking triplets known as the Three Graces, will just stay out of his way . . . .

Narelle’s Thoughts:

I really enjoyed reading this book. Jeb and Laney were fascinating characters with a complex history that set the stage for a compelling romance. Jeb’s desire to turn his back on his old rock star lifestyle and learn how to live according to his new found faith was both realistic and endearing. Laney was juggling the many responsibilities in her life, and struggling with her faith and her inability to meet ‘Mr. Right.’

I loved journeying with Jeb and Laney as their unique friendship became something more. The ‘Three Graces’ were adorable and interesting characters who added many moments of humour to the story. I highly recommend this book to those interested in reading a fun and inspiring contemporary romance.

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Book Recommendation ~ Rainbow’s End novella collection

Book Description: 

Join a geocaching adventure in the spectacular Lake of the Ozarks wilderness, with Lyssa, the enthusiastic volunteer who can’t see past her own plans; Madison, a city girl paired with an outdoorsy guy who gets on her very last nerve; Hadley, who doesn’t know enough about guys to realize she’s met a womanizer; and cautious Reagan, who meets an equally cautious guy. Will they find the treasure they’re looking for … or something else entirely?

Back Cover blurb: 

It’s always an interesting group of strangers who show up for the first annual Rainbow’s End geocache hunt, and the spectacular scenery along the bluffs of the Lake of the Ozarks is just one reason…

Topaz Treasure by Valerie Comer

Lyssa, hoping she can get over her fears and point folks to the treasure found in Jesus, is startled to find her former college professor among the group. Will he upset her mission?

Beneath the Surface by Annalisa Daughety

City girl Madison is annoyed that her sister signed her up and then bailed – but now she’s been paired with a complete stranger! Worse, he’s one of those outdoorsy types.

Love’s Prize by Cara C. Putman

Reagan has always played it safe, doing everything by the book. And then she meets her brother’s frat brother, a guy who’s got his life mapped out, too.

Welcome Home, Love by Nicole O’Dell

After winning her life-long battle to get fit, Hadley can’t wait to meet the people who didn’t know her “before”. But Brad is that species of guy she has no experience with: a player.

God only knows if this adventure in the woods will lead to heartache… or love.

Narelle’s Thoughts: I really enjoyed reading this novella collection. Each romance centers around the Rainbow’s End geocache hunt. I learned more about geocaching in each story and I liked the outdoors summer setting. The stories run concurrently and one of the novellas has a suspense element. I recommend this novella collection to those looking for fun romance stories with an outdoors theme.

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Book Recommendation ~ A New Resolution by Rose Dee

Book Description:

Resolution Island is a safe haven for Anika Deumer. A chance to fulfill dreams, find her place in the world, and a new life for her and young son, Kye. But her dreams of a future are shattered when her son’s security is challenged, and the rich and privileged Texan, Nate, sails into the bay. Now Ani must not only fight for her son, but also a growing attraction she has to the one type of man she loathes.

Nate Hollingsworth is on a mission. He needs to fulfill his mother’s last wish and change his life. Dropping anchor in the idyllic Resolution harbour, he didn’t anticipate becoming involved in illegal fishing, a murder or an unexpected attraction to the most exasperating woman he has ever met.

The Australian tropical Island, Resolution, sets the scene again for adventures, dreams and new beginnings. A New Resolution is the final book in the Resolution trilogy, following Back to Resolution and Beyond Resolution.

Narelle’s Thoughts:

I enjoyed reading this book. Anika (Ani) is a fascinating character with an indigenous islander heritage. She lacked parental guidance as a youngster and was rescued by distant relatives, Aunty and Uncle. Starved for love, Ani made a decision that changed the direction of her life.

Nate has lived a life of privilege in Texas and his decisions follow in the pleasure seeking footsteps of his father. His mother’s untimely death sends him on a sailing adventure to far North Queensland.

The first third of the book provides the lead up to Ani and Nate’s first meeting at Resolution, which I would have liked to have seen happen earlier in the story.  The sparks fly when they finally meet and a fun romance develops along with a mystery surrounding the source of the illegal fishing on nearby islands.

Ani and Nate discover their faith during the story and they have both experienced intimate relationships with previous partners. This aspect of their lives is explored in a realistic manner in the story. The level of sensuality is higher than the typical Christian romance and includes a bikini top wardrobe malfunction scene that could potentially offend some readers.

The story portrays the very real challenges facing those who seek to uphold Biblical standards of purity outside of marriage. It doesn’t sugar coat the struggles facing people who are not used to suppressing their lustful desires.

I recommend A New Resolution to those looking for a realistic and edgy contemporary romance set in an Aussie tropical island paradise.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the author.

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Book Recommendation ~ No Substitute by Susan Diane Johnson


Book Description:

First loves never last . . . except when they do. When Amy Welsh returns to Goose Bay as a substitute teacher, she has no intention of seeing Quentin Macmillan, the man who once left her waiting in the rain clutching her suitcase and dreaming of becoming his wife. Seventeen years later, his teenage daughter shows up in Amy’s class with plans to reunite her widowed father with the woman he has always loved. When the assignment is forgiveness and healing, will this young teacher pass the test?

Narelle’s Thoughts:

I’m delighted to share my dear friend, Suzie Johnson’s, debut novel with you. Suzie is also one of my critique partners and she writes under the names Susan Diane Johnson and Suzie Johnson.

I really enjoyed reading No Substitute, a fun and light hearted reunion romance between childhood sweethearts Amy and Quentin. Amy returns to Goose Bay, hoping to get past her teenage infatuation with Quentin once and for all. She never knew the real reason why their teen romance ended and Quentin married someone else so soon after she left town. Quentin’s teenage daughter is in Amy’s class, and she sets in motion a plan to push her father and Amy together.

Amy and Quentin are fascinating characters who deal with situations that challenge their faith. Amy grows in her faith as she rediscovers Goose Bay and her love for Quentin. He is a lovable hero who is doing his best to raise his teen daughter on his own. We see Quentin’s faith in action and his willingness to forgive in difficult and challenging situations. A very cute duck named Rufus also features in the story, set in Washington State. I highly recommend this book to those looking for an entertaining and inspiring Christian romance with a forgiveness theme.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the author.

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