Book Recommendation – Brunch at Bittersweet Cafe by Carla Laureano

Book Description:

From the RITA Award–winning author of Five Days in Skye comes a sweet, romantic treat that will leave you hungry for more.

Baker and pastry chef Melody Johansson has always believed in finding the positive in every situation, but seven years after she moved to Denver, she can’t deny that she’s stuck in a rut. One relationship after another has ended in disaster, and her classical French training is being wasted on her night job in a mediocre chain bakery. Then the charming and handsome private pilot Justin Keller lands on the doorstep of her workplace in a snowstorm, and Melody feels like it’s a sign that her luck is finally turning around.

Justin is intrigued by the lively bohemian baker, but the last thing he’s looking for is a relationship. His own romantic failures have proven that the demands of his job are incompatible with meaningful connections, and he’s already pledged his life savings to a new business venture across the country―an island air charter in Florida with his sister and brother-in-law.

Against their better judgment, Melody and Justin find themselves drawn together by their unconventional career choices and shared love of adventure. But when an unexpected windfall provides Melody with the chance to open her dream bakery-café in Denver with her best friend, chef Rachel Bishop, she’s faced with an impossible choice: stay and put down roots with the people and place she’s come to call home . . . or give it all up for the man she loves.

Narelle’s Thoughts:

I enjoyed reading Brunch at Bittersweet Cafe and visiting with the characters I loved from Book 1 in the series. The Supper Club series follows the romances of three close friends who live in Denver, Colorado. Book 2 is Melody’s romance story. We first meet Melody in book 1, The Saturday Night Supper Club, where she is a pastry chef who quits her job at the upmarket restaurant, Paisley, not long after Rachel was forced out of the business. Brunch at Bittersweet Cafe opens with Melody working long and gruelling overnight shifts at a small chain bakery that pays her bills but stifles her creativity. She has been burned by previous relationships and is wary of falling for the wrong guy again.

Justin is a pilot for an elite airline with private jets who spends his working life flying wealthy people on domestic routes within the US. Justin doesn’t spend many nights at home in Denver, and his career choice has derailed previous romantic relationships. His sister married his best friend who is an aircraft mechanic, and they’re all planning to go into business together by investing in their own charter fleet business. An opportunity arises in Florida, which would be excellent for his sister who has long term health issues and needs to move to a warmer climate to improve her health. Justin’s dad is a retired United Airlines pilot and Justin grew up tinkering with planes. He owns a small plane that he built with his dad.

Justin flies home late on a snowy evening and attempts to drive home in his Mustang. He becomes stranded in the snow and sees a light on in a nearby bakery. Melody is baking on her own, and she lets Justin wait inside with her in the bakery while he waits for help to arrive for his car. Justin and Melody feel the attraction from the moment they meet, and they are drawn to each other during the hours they’re together in the bakery.

A fun and flirty romance develops, along with their emotional conflict due to the baggage they carry from the past. Justin is looking to move to Florida, and Melody is planning to open a bakery cafe with Rachel in Denver. Justin and Melody question if they can, or if they should, compromise on their life dreams and make sacrifices for love?

The food in this story is amazing, with a particular focus on artisan breads and pastry treats. Melody explores her creativity when she bakes at home and plates the delicious desserts and pastries to share on her Instagram account. Justin also takes Melody for a ride in his plane to the mountains! I recommend Brunch at Bittersweet Cafe to contemporary romance readers who like foodie stories with a light faith element that wrestle with real-to-life issues.

ACFW New Releases: October 2021

More in-depth descriptions of these books can be found on the ACFW Fiction Finder website


Perfectly Arranged by Liana George — Short on clients and money, professional organizer Nicki Mayfield is hanging up her label maker. That is, until the eccentric socialite Katherine O’Connor offers Nicki one last job. Working together, the pair discovers an unusual business card among Ms. O’Connor’s family belongings that leads them on a journey to China. There, the women embark on an adventure of faith and self-discovery as they uncover secrets, truths, and ultimately, God’s perfectly arranged plans. (General Contemporary from Scrivenings Press LLC)

Contemporary Romance:

Tacos for Two by Bestsy St. Amant — Rory Perez, a food truck owner who can’t cook, is struggling to keep the business she inherited from her aunt out of the red–and an upcoming contest during Modest’s annual food truck festival seems the best way to do it. Then maybe Rory will have enough time to meet the man she’s been talking to via an anonymous online dating site. Complications arise when Rory’s chef gets mono and she realizes she has to cook after all. Then Jude discovers that his stiffest competition is the same woman he’s been falling for online the past month. Will these unlikely chefs sacrifice it all for the sake of love? Or will there only ever be tacos for one? (Contemporary Romance from Revell – A Division of Baker Publishing Group) 

Riverbend Gap by Denise Hunter —She came in search of the family she’d always wanted—and found the kind of love she’d never dared to imagine. When Katelyn Loveland’s car veered off a winding Appalachian Mountain road, she thought she was done for. That is until local sheriff’s deputy, Cooper Robinson, came to her rescue. And though Katie narrowly escaped her brush with death, she still fell. Hard. She wasn’t the only one. But soon Cooper learns that the woman he’s more attracted to than any he’s ever met is his brother’s new girlfriend—and therefore unquestionably off limits. Yet, despite his best efforts, Cooper and Katie can’t seem to avoid running into each other. Or ignore the undeniable chemistry between them. As they grow closer, Katie shares the secrets of her past and the real reason she moved to their small North Carolina town. She also wins over Cooper’s welcoming and bighearted family. But they don’t know that her feelings for Cooper keep growing—all while she’s dating his brother. Soon the stakes of their emotional connection become higher than either of them could have imagined. Katie stands to lose the first family she’s ever had, and a scandal could doom Cooper’s campaign for sheriff’s office. Suddenly they find themselves on the precipice of another ledge—and forced to make a decision that could change their lives forever. (Contemporary Romance from HarperCollins Christian Publishing – Thomas Nelson and Zondervan)

Worthy of Redemption by Krystina Renae Rankin —Ashlynn Wilson left the small town of White Lake, Texas after tragedy struck on graduation night, taking the life of her best friend Victoria. Now, ten years later, she returns to help her parents after her father is diagnosed with cancer. When she arrives she finds herself having to face more than just memories after she discovers that the doctor treating her father is Victoria’s former boyfriend Heath Lancaster, the man Ashlynn holds responsible for her death. Even more surprising is that she is beginning to see him as a compassionate man of faith caring for her ill father; not the teenage boy who made poor decisions. Heath Lancaster has never really forgiven himself for his girlfriend’s death so he isn’t surprised that his former classmate hasn’t either. Now that Ashlynn is back in town, he hopes their interactions can be minimal. However, when a situation arises that she is uniquely qualified for, he realizes they are going to be spending far more time together than either one of them had planned. What’s more, he realizes he enjoys her company. As old hurts turn into friendship, and maybe even love, can Heath prove to them both that he’s a man worthy of redemption? (Contemporary Romance, Independently Published)

Home for Christmas
 by Cathe Swanson, et. al. — The 6th annual Christmas Lights Collection features active duty and veteran military members. (Contemporary Romance from Havilah Press Publications)

A Harvest Heart by Denise Weimer — Hope Richardson is good at just that—hoping. Problem is, she’s often disappointed—by fathers who die, boyfriends who ghost her, and lack of promotion at her event planning firm. It’s her twin sister, Faith, for whom things work out. When Faith’s fiancé lands an out-of-town job, Hope is called home to plan a wedding in the Georgia foothills … and jumpstart the tea room Faith was supposed to run with their mother. (Contemporary Romance, Independently Published)

The Billionaire’s Secret by Meghann Whistler — He’s a billionaire hiding a devastating diagnosis. She’ll do whatever it takes to help her sick, matchmaking mom. A freak accident throws them together, but will his big secret tear them apart? Inspired by 2 Corinthians 12:9, The Billionaire’s Secret is a sweet inspirational romance with a swoony hero, LOTS of entertaining banter, and a strong Christian message. (Contemporary Romance, Independently Published)

Historical Mystery:

Murder at the Empire by Cathe Swanson — They call him the Emperor. John Starek fills his theater with fine artwork and treasures. He’s particularly pleased to have one of the country’s first female organists – and he thinks Gayle Wells is the bee’s knees. Despite pressure from her social crusader mother, Gayle isn’t interested in changing the world. She just wants a car of her own – and a career playing the organ at the Empire movie palace would be especially ducky. Then the Empire’s treasures start disappearing and employees start dying. Are a few pieces of art really enough motive for the string of murders? Will Gayle be next? (Historical Mystery from Celebrate Lit Publishing)

Historical Romance:

To Stand in the Breach by Danielle Grandinetti — 1933, Wisconsin – Large animal veterinarian Katy Wells takes her patients’ welfare personally, so it’s no surprise when she stands up to angry farmers planning a milk strike or takes in an injured draft horse to save its life. But after a visitor from the past discovers her location and reveals a threat, she must choose between her work and her freedom, and whether to trust a man to keep her safe. (Historical Romance, Independently Published)

The Petticoat Spy by Elva Cobb Martin — A feisty Southern belle and a blockade runner ignite romance, faith, and fireworks to save Charleston during the American Revolution. (Historical Romance from Wild Heart Books)

A Family for Hazel by Linda Shenton Matchett — After the Civil War takes Hazel Markham’s father, and her mother dies of a broken heart, a friend of her parents hires Hazel as a companion. All is well until the woman’s lecherous son takes an interest in his mother’s assistant. When Hazel spurns his advances one too many times, the man frames her for theft, and she is fired. As a last resort she applies to be a mail-order bride, and to her dismay, her groom-to-be is a preacher. Will he believe her claims of innocence or reject her as unacceptable? (Historical Romance from Shortwave Press)

In Pieces by Rhonda Ortiz — Boston, 1793—Beautiful and artistic, the only daughter of a prominent merchant, Molly Chase cannot help but attract the notice of Federalist Boston—especially its men. But she carries a painful secret: her father committed suicide and she found his body. Now nightmares plague her day and night, addling her mind and rendering her senseless. Molly needs a home, a nurse, and time to grieve and to find new purpose in life. But when she moves in with her friends the Robbs, spiteful society gossips assume the worst. And when an imprudent decision leads to public scandal, Molly is tempted to take the easy way out: a marriage of convenience. In the wake of tragedy, these longtime friends discover a new intimacy. But slander, confusion, absence, and a wealthy, conniving bully stand between them. And with French spies on the loose, they not only have to rescue their reputations—they have to protect their lives. (Historical Romance from WhiteFire Publishing)

The Wrangler’s Woman by Davalynn Spencer — Corra Jameson doesn’t think of herself as a spinster and is content to spend quiet evenings with her books. Paper beaus, her sister calls them, teasing her about the stories Corra reads. But when a rugged widower asks her to come to his ranch for the summer to help him with his tomboy daughter, she sees opportunity to earn a side of beef for her sister’s family. Besides, she has nothing to lose in the arrangement. Except perhaps her heart. Re-released from the 2016 ECPA bestselling Barbour collection, The Cowboy’s Bride. (Historical Romance from Wilson Creek Publishing)

Christmas Tree Wars by Delores Topliff — Kris Lundquist, am ambitious New York City financial planner, comes home to Wisconsin for two weeks to help his Swedish-American Christmas tree grower dad meet a financial crisis. While there, he gets re-acquainted with Marcie Halvorsen, the idealistic forestry-major niece of their cranky Norwegian neighbor who is also home to solve a financial shortfall. Both enter contests to provide national Christmas tree to build their businesses and sales. Despite their relationship seeming as star-crossed as Romeo and Juliet’s, they fall in love and help their families and town rediscover the reason for the season. (Historical Romance from Scrivenings Press LLC) 

A Heart for the Sailor by Terri Wangard — Working as a Winnie the Welder during World War II, Evelyn builds submarines. She’s good at her job, but men begrudge women taking jobs in heavy industry. She dreams of the day her sailor comes home and the life they’ll have, but does Jerry dream about her? When a typhoon threatens the US Fleet in the Pacific, Jerry and his shipmates aboard the Tabberer rush to the aid of their fellow sailors. The typhoon prompts a greater awareness of what he wants in life. First, though, they have to survive. (Historical Romance, Independently Published)

A Deep Divide by Kimberley Woodhouse — After being kidnapped as a child, heiress Emma Grace McMurray has seen firsthand the devastation that greed causes in the world, and she wants nothing to do with it. When she discovers her father has offered her up as a bargaining chip to expand his empire, she disappears into the night. Determined to stay hidden, even if it means always looking over her shoulder, she finds herself working as a Harvey Girl at the El Tovar Hotel. When the son’s owner, Ray Watkins arrives at the hotel on business, he immediately admires Emma Grace, and though an attraction begins to form, she can’t let go of the deep-rooted fear that he’s just like every other wealthy man she’s known. When suspicious activity follows Emma Grace and Ray to the El Tovar, they are pulled into a mystery that stirs up their worst fears. And as shocking revelations come to light, they are left to question all they thought to be true. (Historical Romance from Bethany House (Baker) Publishing)

Romantic Suspense:

Deadly Connection by Kathy Harris — After fending off a would-be abductor, 27-year-old singer-songwriter Hannah Cassidy hides behind a car in the half-empty parking lot behind Pancake Pantry in Nashville. From there, she watches in horror as her attacker grabs another woman and pushes her into a nearby car. Within seconds, the vehicle speeds away. TBI Special Agent Jake Matheson may have planned a quiet day off and a date with Shannon―the only name her online profile revealed―for an introductory lunch, but after pulling into a parking space on 21st Avenue South, he hears a scream. He races to the back of the building and finds a frightened young woman bent forward and gasping for breath. Thrown together by uncanny circumstances and driven by the whys and what-ifs of secrets yet to be revealed, Hannah and Jake set out to find the connection between them before it becomes deadly. (Romantic Suspense/Thriller from Iron Stream Fiction (an imprint of Iron Stream Media))

Yuletide Cold Case Cover-Up by Jessica R. Patch — The mystery of her sister’s death is about to reveal some deadly answers…When her sister’s remains are found just before Christmas, cold case agent Poppy Holliday is determined to solve the years-old murder—even if it turns the killer’s sights on her. But her investigation with her straitlaced partner, Rhett Wallace, is stirring up the town’s old memories—and bitter grudges. And this killer will do anything to keep secrets buried. (Romantic Suspense/Thriller from Love Inspired (Harlequin))

Traces of Virtue by Robin Patchen — From her deathbed, Carly Garcia’s mother asked Carly to look after left her stepfather and her sisters. Carly is doing everything in her power to keep that promise, but now she has a new life to protect, this one innocent and vulnerable. She visits her ex to tell him a truth he doesn’t deserve to know… and witnesses his murder. Now, Carly’s on the run from killers whose faces she never saw. Braden Reilly is building a career in Coventry, New Hampshire, happy to put the drama of his crime-ridden Boston neighborhood behind him. When a woman he’s spent years trying to forget shows up on his doorstep, his first instinct is to turn her away. But the bruises on her arms and the fear in her eyes have him offering her sanctuary. The story she tells him makes his blood curdle. Together, they must discover who’s behind a murder nobody believes occurred before the killers catch up to Carly and her unborn child. (Romantic Suspense/Thriller, Independently Published)


A Flicker of Light by Katie Powner — For generations, the Jensens have raised their families in the small Montana town of Moose Creek, where gossip spreads faster than the wind. Yet some secrets need to be told. When twenty-one-year-old Bea discovers she’s pregnant on the heels of her husband losing his job, she’s forced to admit she needs help and asks her dad for a place to stay. But past resentments keep her from telling him all that’s going on. Grandma June is good at spinning stories, but there’s one she’s never told. Now that her mind is starting to fade, her time to tell it is running out. But if she reveals the truth before her memories are gone forever, the Jensen family will never be the same. (Literary from Bethany House (Baker) Publishing)


Memories, Murder and Small Town Money by KC Hart — When Katy Cross finds one of Skeeterville’s supposedly upstanding citizens dead in the dumpster behind the grocery store, she has to work hard to find the killer before any more of the town’s colorful citizens are harmed. (Cozy Mystery, Independently Published)

Speculative Fiction:

Book Title by Amanda G. Stevens — Unable for the last century to grow old or succumb to injury, Cady Schuster has lost a lot of people, some more recently than others. She’s trying to find new belonging in Harbor Vale, Michigan, among a welcoming little group of fellow ageless folk. Then she meets Paige, a mortal woman who needs a friend-and might need help.Paige’s husband rules their church with an authority unquestioned by his congregation. When Paige suddenly severs all communication, Cady determines to find her. Churchgoers warn her off, and the behavior of Paige’s husband proves a still bigger warning. Is this friend lost too, or can Cady help her? And how far should an ageless woman involve herself in the conflicts of mortals? (Speculative Fiction, Independently Published)


Ice Cold Blue by Susan Page Davis — Campbell McBride is now working for her father Bill as a private investigator in Murray, Kentucky. Xina Harrison wants them to find out what is going on with her aunt, Katherine Taylor. Katherine is a rich, reclusive author, and she has resisted letting Xina visit her for several years. Xina arrived unannounced, and Katherine was upset and didn’t want to let her in. When Xina did gain entry, she learned Katherine fired her longtime housekeeper. She noticed that a few family heirlooms previously on display have disappeared. (Thriller/Suspense from Scrivenings Press LLC)


Love on the Range by Mary Connealy — While his brothers and their new wives search for who shot him, Wyatt Hunt is temporarily bedridden and completely miserable. Somehow Molly Garner’s limited skills have made her the most qualified in their circle to care for Wyatt. But by the time he’s healed, she’s fed up with him and the whole ungrateful family. For even worse than his grumpiness were the few unguarded moments when he pulled at her heartstrings, and she has been long determined to never repeat her mother’s mistakes. But when another Pinkerton agent gets shot, they realize Hawkins isn’t the only danger. The Hunt brothers will have to band together to face all the troubles of life and love that suddenly surround them. (Western from Bethany House (Baker) Publishing)

Book Recommendation – Unkissable by Jaycee Weaver in Once Upon a Summer

Once Upon a Summer

Book Description:

Unkissable — Reality diva Charlotte Lavigne’s on-camera meltdown reminds former teen-TV prince Jaime Reyes exactly why he left Hollywood ten years ago. A chance encounter leads to a bargain that transforms them both. When it’s time to face her past, will their rediscovered love be strong enough to build a future together?

Narelle’s Thoughts:

Unkissable by Jaycee Weaver is a contemporary romance novella that’s a modern day twist on The Frog Prince fairy tale. The story opens with Charlotte having an on-camera meltdown in a Doir store. She impulsively runs away from her L.A. life, and lands in New Mexico with Jaime, her former co-star. Charlotte is spoilt and entitled, but she has a depth of character and inner strength that’s revealed during the story. This makes Charlotte likeable and relatable and different to the stereotype of the pampered princess reality tv diva.

Jaime left behind the hit teen tv show and Hollywood many years ago. He now works in his family’s restaurant business, and he offers Charlotte refuge and a place to stay at his family’s estate in the country. He’s seeking God’s will for his life, and he can’t turn his back on Charlotte during her time of crisis.

I loved the faith elements in the story. Jaime’s family are strong Christians, and Charlotte is challenged to consider Biblical truths and respond to the gospel message. I enjoyed reading Unkissable, and I recommend this fun novella collection to readers who like contemporary Christian romance with a modern fairytale twist.

Here are the Book Descriptions for the other novellas in the charming and fun Once Upon a Summer collection that I also recommend reading:

Embrace the enchantment of summer with these contemporary twists on timeless tales.

A New Beginning by Andrea Boyd — Who is she? Acacia Martin raised by an impostor mom serving a prison sentence for her sins, or Jasmine Callahan abducted at birth from a family she’s yet to meet? Luckily, she has Drake to help her untangle the mess that is her life. Will he ensnare her he art in the process?

An Ever After Summer by Toni Shiloh — The employees of In a Bind are terrified of Jean-Luc Thibodeaux, so Bellamy Larson hops on a plane to France to deal with the beastly client. Yet once she arrives, she’s convinced he merely needs a friend. Then her heart begins to want ever after, not just one summer.

Gwen and the Three Dates by Teresa Tysinger — Life isn’t a romantic movie, but Gwen Lochs is determined to find her leading man. When she joins a cheesy dating site, Gwen agrees to just three dates. Can Ben Smith watch his best friend and soulmate find someone else? A romantic comedy about searching for that just-right love.

Book Recommendation – Dusk’s Darkest Shores by Carolyn Miller

Book Description:

How can a meek wallflower help a returning war hero whose dreams are plunged into darkness?

Mary Bloomfield has no illusions. Her chances for matrimony have long since passed her by. Still, her circumstances are pleasant enough, especially now that she has found purpose in assisting her father with his medical practice in England’s beautiful Lake District. Even without love, it’s a peaceful life.

That is until Adam Edgerton returns to the sleepy district. This decorated war hero did not arrive home to acclaim and rest, but to a new battle against the repercussions of an insidious disease. Mary’s caring nature cannot stand to see someone suffer–but how can she help this man see any brightness in his future when he’s plunged into melancholic darkness, his dreams laid waste by his condition?

Adam wants no charity, but he’s also no coward. If this gentle woman can work hard, how can he do less? Together they struggle to find a way forward for him. Frustration and antipathy slowly develop into friendship and esteem. Then a summer storm atop a mountain peak leads to scandal–and both Mary and Adam must search the depths of their closed hearts for answers if they hope to find any future path with happiness at its end.

Best-selling author Carolyn Miller is back with a fresh series that will not only thrill readers eager for more of her work, but bring in new fans looking for beautiful writing, fascinating research, deftly woven love stories, and real faith lived out in the Regency period.

Narelle’s Thoughts:

I loved reading Dusk’s Darkest Shores and experiencing life in a small village in the picturesque Lakes District in Regency England. Mary is twenty-nine and has never had a suitor ask for her hand. She’s considered plain looking, and she has given up on any hopes of marriage and children. Her father is the village doctor, and she is his competent assistant who lives her faith by helping those in need. Her brother is away fighting in the war in Spain. Her pretty and flighty younger sister, Joanna, carelessly reminds Mary that she’ll always be a wallflower.

Adam is Mary’s brother’s best friend from childhood. He was an eligible bachelor set to inherit the family farm when he went to war, and he has returned a war hero with serious injuries. Adam is blind, and he has to learn to live with his disability and the knowledge that he may never regain his sight. He is supposed to be marrying Emily, one of Joanna’s friends. Emily is shallow and immature, and she doesn’t cope well when she learns of Adam’s war injuries.

Mary’s father asks her to assist Adam and his family in helping them with Adam’s rehabilitation. Mary has admired Adam from afar, and old feelings are rekindled as they spend more time together. Adam remembers Mary as the young girl who’d tag along with him and her brother on their outdoor adventures. Adam appreciates her care and her selflessness in assisting him and others in the village. He’s drawn to her gentle spirit and her understanding of the unique challenges he faces adjusting to life back on the farm.

Regency romances often focus on the nobility and characters who have a life of privilege. The characters in Dusk’s Darkest Shores are ordinary people with ordinary struggles set against the backdrop of the Napoleonic Wars taking place in Europe.

I loved the positive message in the story that true beauty is all about a person’s character and not their outward appearance. The subplot with Susan was heartbreaking, and highlighted how vulnerable young girls could suffer terrible injustice if they weren’t from a wealthy or powerful family. I highly recommend Dusk’s Darkest Shores to readers who like regency romances that sensitively address real-to-life issues.

Series Recommendation – Restoring Heritage by Tari Faris via Inspy Romance

Today I’m blogging at Inspy Romance and sharing my recommendation for Tari Faris’ Restoring Heritage series.

I loved reading Tari Faris’ Restoring Heritage contemporary Christian romance series set in a small town in Michigan. The series includes three trade length novels and two novellas with eight romantic pairings in the series. The full length novels each include a romantic subplot. Let’s take a closer look at the romances that span the series. The Restoring Heritage series opens with a prequel novella: P.S. Goodbye.

Read more at the following link here:

Read my full length book recommendations for Books 1-3 at the links below:

You Belong To Me

Until I Met You

Since You’ve Been Gone

Book Recommendation – Until I Met You by Tari Faris

Book Description:

When she hears that the small town of Heritage, Michigan, is looking for a new librarian, Libby Kingsley jumps at the opportunity. Little did she know the library is barely more than a storage closet stuffed with dusty, outdated books. What the community really needs is a new building. But the only funds available are those being channeled into the new town square, and the landscape architect in charge of the project wants nothing to do with her plans.

All Austin Williams wants to do is get the town square project finished so he can do right by the family business and then extricate himself from the town that reveres the brother who cost him so much. But the local media and the town’s new librarian seem to be conspiring against him at every turn. Will the determined bookworm find her way into his blueprints–and possibly even his heart?

Novelist Tari Faris invites you back to the small town with a big heart in this second book in the Restoring Heritage series.

Narelle’s Thoughts:

I enjoyed reading Until I Met You (Restoring Heritage, Book 2) and visiting with the characters in Heritage from book 1, You Belong With Me. Libby is looking for a new start and moves to Heritage to be closer to her brother, Luke. Her new librarian job in Heritage is not what she expected. She’s staying in Luke and Hannah’s home, and they unexpectedly need to go away due to Hannah’s hospitalisation for her high risk pregnancy.

Libby struggles with trust issues and anxiety from her past, and as a result she questions her ability to accurately discern the true character of the people she meets including Austin, her new next door neighbor. Libby’s dog escapes from the backyard, befriends Austin’s dog, and disrupts Austin’s plans to earn money from breeding his female pedigree dog.

Austin has moved to Heritage to complete the landscaping project of the town square, and use the funds to save the family business. His father has moved to a care facility, and it was his dad’s declining mental health issues that contributed to the family business experiencing financial stress. Austin feels like he’s second best and lives in the shadow of his brother. Nate is the beloved pastor in Heritage and the prodigal son who their father forgave and welcomed home. Austin knows the real Nate, and the secrets from Nate’s past, and their sibling relationship is difficult because Austin believes Nate is unreliable and can’t be trusted to be there for him. They present a united front and portray a good relationship for the media who are following the town square project.

Libby has to work with Austin to create a solution for the location of the town’s new library, and they both struggle with how to manage their growing attraction due to being hurt by past romantic relationships. Olivia is Libby’s new friend who wants to find a paid journalism job. She picks up freelance article work that leads her into hilarious situations in the name of research.

The romantic subplot with Nate and Olivia is a fun addition to the story. They have been friends for years, but Olivia can’t convince Nate to act on his feelings. Nate has his secrets, and he’s aware that his congregation doesn’t know the sordid details from his younger years.

I recommend Until I Met You and the Restoring Heritage series to contemporary romance readers who like friends-to-more romances with a strong faith element that deals with real-to-life issues. The story can be read as a stand-alone, but I do think I enjoyed it more because I’d already read You Belong With Me.

Book Recommendation – Since You’ve Been Gone by Tari Faris

Book Description:

Leah Williams is back in the quaint town of Heritage, Michigan, and ready to try again to make her business a success. But blank slates are hard to come by, and a piece of her past is waiting for her there. Heir to the Heritage Fruits company, Jonathan Kensington is the guy who not only made Leah’s past difficult, he also seems determined to complicate her present as well.

Jon is trying to prove to the Heritage Fruits board that he, not his manipulative uncle, should be running the business. The board insists Jon find a new owner for the building that will house Leah’s business. To avoid forcing a buyout of Leah’s part of the building, Jon strikes a compromise with Leah, and the two go into business together. With her vision and his know-how, it might work. And Leah might realize he’s loved her since high school. If only he didn’t keep on shooting himself in the foot by boxing her out of important decisions.

Sparks fly in this romantic story of two people who must learn to trust both each other and the one who called them to this journey.

Narelle’s Thoughts:

I enjoyed reading Since You’ve Been Gone, the third book in Tari Faris’ Restoring Heritage series. The story can be read as a stand-alone, but I’d recommend, if possible, to read the books in order. The series story arc follows the restoration of the town and the creation of a town square.

We finally meet Leah again, who has returned from Costa Rica where she was doing mission work with her brother. She is the last of her close group of friends to still be single, and she’s wistfully watching them move on to the marriage and babies stage of life. Caroline is Leah’s twin sister who we’ve met in earlier books in the series.

Jon has had feelings for Leah since high school. He’s a professional basketball player who recently returned from Spain, and he’s had custody of his seventeen year old sister since they lost the parents. He’s determined to save his late father’s business in Heritage, and help Leah revive the family retail business that Leah and Carolyn closed down a few years ago.

Leah has trust issues, and believes Jon hated her in high school. She’s a bit prickly at times when he’s around, and their romance has hurdles from their shared past to overcome. Jon is patient with Leah, and their romance follows an enemies-to-more story arc.

I loved the romantic subplot with Madison and Colby. Madison was engaged to Thomas in book 1, You Belong With Me, and she left town after she split up with Thomas. Madison returns to Heritage after her father passes away. With a reputation as a wild child, Madison wants to hide her unplanned pregnancy and impending single mother status from both the judgmental townsfolk and the means girls in the clique friend group that includes Leah. Colby is a Christian music star who’s hiding out in Heritage with his friend, Nate, to avoid the spotlight from a scandal connected to his band.

The meet cute between Madison and Colby is fun, and their romance is one of my favorite pairings in the series. I loved Madison’s journey to faith in the story. I recommend Since You’ve Been Gone to readers who like enemies to love romance stories with a relevant faith element that addresses real-to-life issues.

I received a complimentary ebook copy. Many thanks to Revell and Net Galley.

ACFW New Releases: September 2021

More in-depth descriptions of these books can be found on the ACFW Fiction Finder website.

Contemporary/Women’s Fiction:

The Gathering Table by Kathryn Springer — Winsome Lake, Wisconsin, is postcard pretty, but for personal chef Jessica Keaton it’s also a last resort. Fired from her dream job, Jess is starting over as a live-in cook and housekeeper. When she arrives, she finds her new employer is in rehab after having a stroke, and Jess expects she’ll be all alone in Elaine Haviland’s quaint house. A chef with no one to cook for. Instead, she encounters a constant stream of colorful visitors who draw her back into the world. (Contemporary/Women’s Fiction from Love Inspired (Harlequin))

Contemporary Romance:

The Heart of Splendid Lake by Amy Clipston — When Brianna Porter’s father unexpectedly dies, Brianna is steeped in grief and guilt—then left alone to clean up the mess. To make matters worse, a constant stream of real estate brokers begins marching through her property, offering to buy the family land. In particular, she keeps running into handsome real estate mogul Scott Gibson. As Brianna struggles to keep it all together, Scott finds his way into her heart. And as the two fight against their feelings, they just might find themselves forging a surprising and exciting new love at Splendid Lake. (Contemporary Romance from HarperCollins Christian Publishing (Thomas Nelson and Zondervan))

A Midnight Dance by Joanna Davidson Politano — All theater romances are tragedies. Ella Blythe knows this. Still, she cannot help but hope her own story may turn out different than most–and certainly different than the tragic story of the Ghost of Craven Street Theater. (Contemporary Romance from HarperCollins Christian Publishing (Thomas Nelson and Zondervan))

Historical Romance:

Brides of the Old West by Amanda Cabot — Four unlikely couples. Four unexpected chances at happiness. Four unforgettable stories of love and faith in the Old West. The Christmas Star Bride – Can a bakery owner who lost her one true love at Gettysburg twenty years ago and an itinerant artist who lost more than love during the war find a second chance at happiness, or is love only for the young? The Fourth of July Bride – She needs money to pay for her mother’s desperately needed eye surgery. He needs a way to stop his meddling mother from choosing his bride. Can the answer be a temporary courtship? The Depot Bride – Can a cattle baron’s daughter who’s practically betrothed to another man and a struggling writer who fears he has nothing to offer her find happiness as they create a commemorative book to celebrate the creation of the new Union Pacific depot in Cheyenne? The Unmatched Bride – When a confirmed spinster matchmaker accepts an unusual assignment and helps a wealthy widower choose the right mate for his daughter, can more than one couple have a chance at true love? (Historical Romance, Independently Published)

Daria’s Duke by Linda Shenton Matchett — After the death of her father, Daria Burke is thrust into the role of a servant by her stepmother. Locked in her room one night, Daria watches as the woman and her daughters sashay from the house wearing her mother’s gowns and jewelry. Realizing she’ll never be accepted as family, she flees the house and applies to be a mail-order bride. Then the sheriff arrives on the eve of her wedding with an arrest warrant. Can she prove her innocence or will she go to jail and lose her one chance at happiness? (Historical Romance from Shortwave Press)

Hers to Love by Sherrinda Ketchersid — Fiona McGowan, a beautiful Scottish widow without hope for a family of her own, travels to St. Mary’s Convent to become a nun. In route she is kidnapped by handsome Highlander Adam MacIntosh in a case of mistaken identity. Adam, laird of the MacIntosh clan, is attempting to free his brother held captive by the rival Fergus clan. The failure of his plan leaves him reeling with betrayal, death, and a wee babe in sore need of a healer. (Historical Romance, Independently Published)


The Notorious Noel Caper by Sally Carpenter — Nothing brings a couple together like murder. Former pop star Sandy Fairfax and his girlfriend, Cinnamon, find themselves sleuthing when bodies start dropping like snowflakes at the soon-to-open Santa’s Magic theme park where Sandy is the emcee for the televised Miss North Pole beauty contest–er, scholarship pageant. But will the beautiful contestants make Cinnamon jealous? The deadly Christmas season begins at a celebrity bowling tournament when a pinsetter plops down a body instead of the pins. Throw in surfing Santas, a seductive executive’s wife, a sleazy tabloid editor, an egotistical movie rival and a gift-wrapped death trap, and it’s the most wonderful time of the year. (Mystery/Cozy from Cozy Cat Press)

The Secret of Emerald Cottage by Julie Lessman — Twenty-five-year-old Molly Stewart—ex-Navy nurse and former evidence technician for the Charleston Police Department—has been burned by love. So when her friend, Pastor Chase Griffin, begs her to move to scenic Lake Loon to be a nurse and companion for Miss Lilly, his elderly landlady, she jumps at the chance. The secluded and cozy cottage on a clear mountain lake seems the perfect place to heal from her fiancé’s betrayal as well as indulge in one of her greatest passions—cozy romance. First with reading them by the bookcase and then hopefully, if dreams come true, writing and solving them one day as an author and detective. But when Miss Lilly’s estranged great nephew shows up, it’s no mystery as to why he and Molly butt heads. Because it only takes one stolen kiss—while she’s sleeping, no less—to discover he’s an even bigger player than the ex-fiancé who broke her heart. (Romance/Mystery, Independently Published)

Romantic Suspense:

Home Run by Cathe Swanson — Phoebe Schenstrom’s always been a bit bossy. After all, she’s the oldest of ten children, has worked as a nanny and run the children’s ministry at the Unity Plenkiss Community Center for three years. But when a clash – or two – with clients leads to her suspension, she needs to prove that she’s more than a babysitter. Her brother’s adventure camps for city kids might give her a chance to save her job, but he’s invited Ben Taylor to help with it, and Phoebe doesn’t want to give Ben the wrong idea… and she certainly doesn’t want thim to think he’s just her fall-back plan. It should have been a simple camping trip in the wilderness of the Upper Peninsula, but someone knew they were coming….(Romantic Suspense, Independently Published)

Personal Threat by Kimberly Rose Johnson — Christmas is supposed to be the happiest time of the year, but when Sally’s young daughter, Emma, becomes the target of child traffickers, and the little girl’s biological father wants Sally dead, the Christmas season takes a dark turn. Police officer, Dillon Brady, responds to a call for help at the home of his friend and Protection Inc. bodyguard, Sally Wilson. When their relationship tips beyond friendship, Dillon is determined no one will hurt Sally or her daughter again. Will his resolve be enough? (Romantic Suspense, Independently Published)

Speculative Fiction:

The Next Fithian: An Ordinary Teen on a Strange, New World by Rick Barry — Was this a new life – or a death sentence? When Rankin Johnson boards a flight to Israel, he expects an adventure in archeology. But the airplane comes under attack and explodes in midair. Rankin shouts, “God, I’m yours!” Instantly, he’s in some other place. An angel informs Rankin the Lord is pleased to accept his offer. He dubs Rankin “the next Fithian” – a messenger from God, not to Earth, but to planet Zemna in the alternate dimension. What happened to the previous Fithian? “He was killed,” the angel says before vanishing. (Speculative Fiction/Soft Science Fiction, Independently Published)

Book Recommendation – This Wandering Heart by Janine Rosche

Book Description:

In the first entry in the Madison River Romance series, Keira Knudsen gets the traveling opportunity of a lifetime, but when she reunites with her first love, Robbie, she learns that even a wandering heart needs a home….

No one in the quaint town of West Yellowstone, Montana knows that unassuming geography teacher Keira Knudsen moonlights as sensational travel blogger Kat Wanderfull. No one, that is, except for her first love, Robbie Matthews, who has just discovered the woman he is falling for online is the same one that broke his heart five years ago.

But Robbie has another problem: the mother of his daughter, Anabelle, has resurfaced after a three-year absence determined to rip Anabelle away from him. Robbie needs a steady paycheck for a chance at custody, and now, on the eve of a grand adventure that could give Keira a chance to flee her old, troubled life once and for all, she is in need of assistance.

With so much broken trust between them, Keira and Robbie must keep an arms-length away to make this partnership work. But the more time they spend together, exploring majestic places and sharing new experiences, the closer they get–until their secrets and dreams threaten to cost them everything.

Narelle’s Thoughts:

I enjoyed reading This Wandering Heart, set in a small town in Montana. Keira carries a lot of emotional baggage from her abusive childhood. She has returned to West Yellowstone to be closer to her long-suffering mother who is still experiencing domestic violence from Keira’s controlling father.

The story opens in Robbie’s viewpoint, and we first meet Keira when she turns down a very public marriage proposal. Robbie is a single dad who knew his ex-girlfriend and childhood friend had returned to town, but he didn’t expect to stumble upon a grand gesture wedding proposal featuring Keira and the high school principal.

Robbie has a complicated history with Keira, and it was his family who supported Keira in escaping her abusive and controlling father and moving away to college. Robbie is living on his family’s property by the river where they rent vacation cabins, and he’s now a builder who’s doing his best to support his three year old daughter, Annabelle, who was abandoned by her mother when she was a young baby.

Keira’s treading water as a geography teacher. Her dream is to turn her passion for travel blogging and her Kat Wanderfull persona into a full time career. She doesn’t trust people easily, and she is unaware the person she’s chatting with via online messages is Robbie.

A fun and messy romance develops as old feelings resurface and they both wonder if a second at love is possible. Robbie supports Keira’s dreams, but their relationship has to overcome major obstacles from their shared history. Keira’s desire to travel is at odds with Robbie’s need for stability for his daughter now his ex is taking legal action to get custody. Keira adores Annabelle and they share a close bond.

I loved the travel aspects in the story, especially the road trips that gave me a glimpse of the beauty in the national parks in Montana and surrounding states. Keira’s heart is torn between her desire for freedom that allows her to leave behind her difficult childhood and the prospect of a new life with love and family in the small town that holds bittersweet childhood memories. I recommend This Wandering Heart to readers who like second chances contemporary romances with a lighter faith element that aren’t afraid to sensitively address challenging emotional issues.

Book Recommendation – Roadtrip to Redemption by Laurie Larsen

Book Description:

It started as a trip to lose old memories. It became a journey to find her heart.

Leslie Malone faces an empty, lonely summer. Her marriage is over. Her daughter is overseas, living her dream. Her students are enjoying a carefree summer break. What’s the purpose of her life if she’s not a wife, mother and teacher? The idea of a roadtrip beckons her. Aimless wandering? Or inspired discovery? A woman of faith, she asks God for His guidance, then does her best to follow His direction. 

Hank Harrison is a quiet man, good with his hands, but short on words. He’s paid a heavy price for not forgiving his son for horrible mistakes made years ago, mistakes with vast consequences. Hank recognizes Leslie as an answer to his prayers, and together, they begin to mend their futures. 

Neither of them plans to fall in love. Will the worst summer of Leslie’s life become the season that redeems them both?

Narelle’s Thoughts:

I enjoyed reading Roadtrip to Redemption and exploring the beautiful Pawleys Island, South Carolina beach setting. The story opens with Leslie’s divorce from her cheating ex-husband being finalised. She’s a school teacher in Pittsburgh with a lonely summer ahead due to her college-aged daughter being awarded a fashion internship in Paris. Her ex-husband is a successful doctor who has moved on with his younger girlfriend, the family home is on the market, and Leslie prayerfully decides to take a roadtrip on her own and head to the beach.

The Old Gray Barn at Pawleys Island is the spacious beach house Leslie’s extended family visited for summer vacations when she was growing up. Leslie is curious to see if the beloved house with her happy childhood memories is still there, and if it has survived the hurricane seasons. Her road trip destination becomes Pawleys Island with detours along the way.

Hank is a widowed handyman with grown children who lives on Pawleys Island. His daughter, son-in-law, and adorable granddaughter run the local inn. Hank meets Leslie and she challenges him to reconsider some of his life choices. The story is told from Leslie’s point-of-view, and a lovely romance develops with a number of obstacles to overcome on Leslie and Hank’s road to happily-ever-after.

Leslie is one of those delightful characters with a sunny disposition who believes the glass is half full, not half empty. Her optimism is contagious and, instead of the circumstances of her divorce leaving her feeling bitter, she trusts the Lord to guide her to bigger and better opportunities. She makes mistakes, but she doesn’t let difficult circumstances dull her enthusiasm for life. I recommend Roadtrip to Redemption to contemporary romance readers who enjoy faith-filled mature aged character romances with a beach setting.