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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