Book Recommendation – All Made Up by Kara Isaac

Narelle’s Thoughts:

I initially had mixed feelings about reading All Made Up. On the one hand I love Kara Isaac’s writing. I trust her, after reading her first three books, to deliver a great story.

On the other hand I’m really not a fan of reality tv shows. I wasn’t sure if I’d like reading a contemporary Christian romance based around a Bachelor-style reality tv show.

Kat is an internationally renowned make up artist who has won an Oscar for her work in film. She’s in a tight financial situation and agrees to work behind the scenes of an Australian reality tv show that’s set in a Sydney mansion. Kat is stunned to discover the handsome farmer bachelor is Caleb, her first love who broke her heart when he abruptly ended their relationship.

Caleb is a farmer from Toowoomba in Queensland. His mother secretly sent in an audition tape because she wanted to see her son happy and married and settled on the family farm.

When Caleb is chosen at the last minute to be the bachelor, he feels compelled to do it to please his mother who is struggling with major health issues.

The producers quickly regret choosing Caleb because he’s terrible on camera and a potential financial disaster for the show. Caleb is awkward and uncomfortable around the large number of physically beautiful and scantily clad young women who are living in the mansion and competing for his attention and affection.

When Cat is directed by her boss to fill in as a contestant on the show, she grits her teeth and does her best to survive the circus that ensues. The whole set up is both humorous and sleazy, and I totally understood why Caleb hated his time at the mansion.

The first fifteen percent of the book was, at times, a bit icky to read. If I wasn’t a fan of the author, and if I didn’t trust her to deliver a great story, I probably would have tossed the book during those early chapters. The thought of reading an entire book set in the mansion was not appealing.

I’m glad I persevered with the story and kept reading. By the twenty percent mark the story had really picked up and was motoring along. There’s a big twist in the story that takes the tv show in a different direction and forces Cat and Caleb to confront their past.

In typical Kara Isaac style, the big secret reveal toward the end of the book is heartbreaking. Cat and Caleb reassess their faith and values and beliefs as they make tough decisions.

Fans of The Bachelor will love this romance story that provides a rare happy ending for a reality tv couple. Readers who you couldn’t pay to watch a reality tv dating show may struggle with the early chapters, but I encourage them to keep reading and journey with Cat and Caleb on their fun and humorous roller coaster ride to true love.

Book Recommendation – Snowy Summer by Patricia Weerakoon

Book Description:

Annie Samarasinghe has it all together.

Beautiful and brilliant, she has a medical career in Sydney and a fiancé in Sri Lanka.

But on the week of her wedding to childhood-sweetheart Sunil, Annie uncovers the shattering truth behind the façade of his business.

Forced to hide out in the Snowy Mountains, Annie changes her name and her story. When she meets the brusque and arrogant Roy Broughton-Knight, she discovers she’s not the only one hiding secrets. But the more she gets to know Roy, the closer Sunil comes to finding her.

Against the stunning backdrops of Sri Lanka and the Snowy Mountains, Annie and Roy learn to face the betrayals in their pasts and fight their fears. But how will they embrace the possibilities of a future?

Narelle’s Thoughts:

I enjoyed reading Snowy Summer, and I loved the cross-cultural aspects of the story. The story opens in the sleepy Snowy Mountains town of Jindabyne, Australia, where Annie meets Roy at a masquerade party.

Annie is attracted to Roy, despite being betrothed in an arranged marriage to Sunil. Sunil is her childhood best friend in Sri Lanka who she hasn’t seen for many years. We journey with Annie back to her home country, and experience her angst when her dream of a life married to Sunil in Sri Lanka is shattered.

Annie’s world is turned upside down and her life is in danger. She escapes Sri Lanka and returns to Australia to start over as Dr. Sheva, the new doctor at a small Jindabyne medical centre.

Roy is a carefree playboy from Sydney, Australia, who was born with a silver spoon in his mouth. He’s now hiding from the world on his family’s alpaca farm near Jindabyne, and he has a few secrets of his own. The women in his life have let him down. He’s slow to trust and wary of love.

Roy meets Sheva at the medical centre, and she reminds him of Annie. He can’t forget Annie and their chance encounter at the masquerade party. He’s attracted to Sheva, but he’s respectful of her cultural background and her faith that underpins her desire to wait for marriage. Sheva’s close friendship with the park ranger, Dan, ignites Roy’s jealousy and curiosity about Sheva’s past.

Snowy Summer is an action-packed contemporary Christian romantic adventure story with medical themes. It’s a more edgy read than the typical Christian romance, and possibly too edgy for more conservative readers.

Annie has trained as a surgeon, and she thinks about the human body in a more clinical way than the average person. Anatomical terminology that’s not usually mentioned in Christian romances is included the story.

The author is a retired Sexologist. She portrays the attraction between Sheva and Roy, and their thoughts about each other, in a realistic rather than euphemistic manner. There are situations in the story that definitely push the Christian romance genre boundaries.

I recommend Snowy Summer to romance readers who appreciate cultural diversity and are looking for a contemporary Christian romance that deals with real life issues. The blend of Aussie and Sri Lankan culture, and the stunning settings, was a highlight for me. I enjoyed visiting familiar places in Australia and learning more about Sri Lanka.

Book Recommendation ~ A Love Song For Kayla by Kimberly Rose Johnson

Book Description:

When two strangers cross paths their lives are forever altered.

Kayla Russell has all but given up on finding love until a new guy to town walks into her flower shop. There is something mysterious about him that intrigues her, but when she finds out the truth everything changes.

Derek Parker wants to leave his old life behind, but it proves to be harder than he’d anticipated when his past finds him. Now the woman he has come to care for feels deceived.

Will his secrets come between them and destroy what could have been something wonderful?

Previously published under the title A Valentine for Kayla.

Narelle’s Thoughts:

I enjoyed reading this book back in 2015 when it was first published. I recently re-read a few Valentine’s contemporary Christian romances and picked up this book again.

Kayla Russell made the decision many years earlier that she wasn’t going to settle and marry a man who didn’t meet most, if not all, of the items on her potential husband criteria list. She’s single and the co-owner of a flower store and it’s Valentine’s Day – her least favourite holiday.

Derek Parker is a musician who’s hiding away from the paparazzi in the small town where his mother lives. He is caring for his mother who’s recovering from a stroke, and he wants to simplify his life. His fame and successful music career has made him financially wealthy but it hasn’t brought him happiness.

Kayla meets Derek and she starts falling for him, despite her trust issues and without realising Derek’s true identity. Derek holds back on sharing his former life with Kayla, and he regrets his decision when his past catches up with him and complicates his life.

Their growing relationship is tested as secrets are revealed and difficult circumstances place obstacles in their path. A fun and satisfying romance develops as Kayla and Derek are challenged by their faith and learn that God’s plan for their lives may differ to their own.

I recommend A Love Song for Kayla to readers who enjoy fun and thought provoking contemporary romances with a cute Valentine’s theme.

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Book Recommendation ~ The Secret Life of Sarah Hollenbeck by Bethany Turner

Book Description:

Becoming a Christian is the best and worst thing that has ever happened to Sarah Hollenbeck. Best because, well, that’s obvious. Worst because, up to this point, she’s made her very comfortable living as a well-known, bestselling author of steamy romance novels that would leave the members of her new church blushing. Now Sarah is trying to reconcile her past with the future she’s chosen. She’s still under contract with her publisher and on the hook with her enormous fan base for the kind of book she’s not sure she can write anymore. She’s beginning to think that the church might frown on her tithing on royalties from a “scandalous” book. And the fact that she’s falling in love with her pastor doesn’t make things any easier.

With a powerful voice, penetrating insight, and plenty of wit, Bethany Turner explodes onto the scene with a debut that isn’t afraid to deal with the thorny realities of living the Christian life.

Narelle’s Thoughts:

I enjoyed reading The Secret Life of Sarah Hollenbeck, but I did initially have mixed feelings on whether or not I’d like the story.

At the start we meet Sarah and she comes across as a bit arrogant and self absorbed. Being in her head space (the book is written in first person point-of-view in an easy to read style reminiscent of chick lit) wasn’t exactly a pleasant experience. Sarah is the mean girl in her book club. She creates secret snide nicknames for the other attendees she looks down on, and she doesn’t actually know their real names.

Sarah’s ex-husband cheated on her, and Sarah’s way of coping with her divorce is to write a steamy romance novel. She hits the publishing jackpot and becomes a famous author with a lucrative book contract.

When Sarah becomes a Christian, her other life as a steamy romance author is a big problem. Her initial attraction to Ben is compelling, and they’re drawn to each other despite their differences. Ben is the widowed new pastor at her new church who has an adorable young daughter. He is taken aback by Sarah’s occupation, but he looks beyond the stereotypes of romance authors and the judgemental tendencies of church people to discover the real Sarah.

An aspect of the story I appreciated was Sarah’s struggle with her physical attraction to Ben. This fitted her background as a romance author who wrote raunchy scenes and an ex-wife who wasn’t loved and cherished by her former husband. Sarah’s emotional baggage is real and enormous, and it doesn’t instantly disappear when she becomes a Christian. Her life is messy and complicated and her impulsive nature leads her into trouble.

The last half of the book is where the story really takes off as secrets are revealed and Sarah is forced to confront the consequences of her life choices. Her faith and her relationship with Ben is tested, and we journey with Sarah and watch her change and mature during the story.

I recommend The Secret Life of Sarah Hollenbeck to romance readers who enjoy fun and entertaining contemporary romances.


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Book Recommendation ~ Christmas at Gate 18 by Amy Matayo

Book Recommendation:

Supermodel Rory Gray just wants to go home. After wrapping up a three-day high-fashion photo shoot overseas, she’s exhausted and ready for the holiday. A holiday that involves Hollywood parties, air-kissing the industry elite, and a whole lot of fakeness…but whatever. Once she gets through that torture, she’ll head to her beloved Seattle and the life of anonymity she misses so much. In less than twenty-four hours, she’ll be there.

Colt Ross has spent the past six months detaching himself from the Hollywood world he grew up in, and home is the last place he wants to be. But he’s been called back by his overbearing father for reasons he can only imagine. Likely reasons that involve taking over the family corporation or fund raising among Hollywood elite—something Colt has no interest in being part of. Not that he has a choice; when you’re the son of an industry executive, rubbing elbows comes with the territory. In less than twenty-four hours he’ll be home. After all this time away, home no longer appeals to him. Especially not at Christmas. Leave it to his father to ruin a holiday.

But when a late-season hurricane grounds both of their flights in the Dominican Republic, Rory and Colt find themselves stuck at the airport far longer than anticipated. As weather conditions worsen, they both begin to realize that this Christmas will be spent with strangers packed inside a single airport terminal—specifically at gate 18.

Rory and Colt are faced with a choice: band together in their misery or make this Christmas one they will never forget. For two people who aren’t real fond of the holiday, this Christmas might turn out to be the best they’ve ever had.

Narelle’s Thoughts:

I’m not a big fan of hanging around airports. I travel interstate for work and, if possible, avoid checking in baggage. When my flight home is delayed, I’m thankful the airport lounge serves a light dinner and always has soup as an option.

Rory Gray and Colt Ross are living an airport nightmare. They are stuck in a foreign country on December 23rd due to a hurricane grounding all flights out of the Dominican Republic.

Rory is a supermodel who doesn’t speak Spanish and forgot to pack a toothbrush and a change of clothes in her carry on. That makes her seem ditzy to Colt when he finds her lying beside him in the middle of the night in a crowded corner of Gate 18.

Colt is a bored playboy who has sworn off women. Six months earlier he ran away from his previous life where he worked for his domineering father. He has been summoned home to LA for Christmas.

Colt recognises Rory, although she doesn’t remember that they have previously met in person. During the story he discovers her inner beauty makes her outer beauty pale by comparison.

Rory is a loner who struggles to trust people and let go of past hurts. She’s attracted to Colt and likes that he’s not impressed by her celebrity status. She allows him to glimpse the real Rory during the few days they’re stuck together riding out the hurricane.

The story is funny and light hearted with a few poignant moments. The forced proximity is challenging for Rory and Colt in different ways.

Christmas at Gate 18 is a fun and clean romance novella with a few edgy elements that may be too much for conservative readers. The Christmas setting of a hurricane in the Caribbean was different and I enjoyed being stranded with Rory and Colt at Gate 18.


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Book Recommendation ~ A Season to Dance by Patricia Beal

Book Description:

Ana Brassfield has her path to the stage of the Metropolitan Opera House all figured out until her first love, renowned German dancer Claus Gert, returns to Georgia to win her back. Despite a promising start towards her ballet career and pending marriage to landscape architect, Peter Engberg, Ana wonders if her dreams of dancing at the Met are as impossible as her previous romantic relationship with Claus.

Then, an on-stage kiss between Ana and Claus changes everything.

Convinced the kiss is more than a one-time mistake, Peter breaks off their engagement. With an old dog crippled by arthritis and dreams deferred but not left behind, Ana moves to Germany to be with Claus. But the ghost of his late wife, Ana’s own feelings for Peter, and the pressure of earning a spot in a large ballet company are a high price for a shot at success. Ana seems on the verge of having everything she ever dreamed of, but will it be enough?

Narelle’s Thoughts:

I absolutely loved reading A Season to Dance. I read the book within twenty-four hours, during the time I should have been using to write my own book, because I just couldn’t put it down. I needed a bunch of tissues to mop up my tears toward the end of the story and my family had a late dinner because I lost track of the time.

It was a powerful story and an emotional read, but before I go into more detail there’s something I’ll share with you first. This wasn’t the first time I’d started reading this book.

Patricia’s debut novel released in early May and I’d planned to read and review it for my May posting date on Inspy Romance. I’ve known Patricia online for a few years through the group blog, International Christian Fiction Writers, and I was thrilled to see her debut book release. A Season to Dance had great endorsements and early reviews, and I’d set aside time after the release date to read the Kindle version.

There was only one problem. I read Chapter One and the ending chapter hook triggered a deep fear I’d been grappling with for eight months. The fear of losing my husband to a life threatening health issue. I read Chapter Two but it became too hard to continue reading. The characters were too real, the writing too vivid, the story too good and too painful to read at that point in time.

For Inspy Romance in May, I used this reading experience to springboard my ideas for the post I wrote on Hot Button Issues and Trigger Warnings in Christian Romance. And I prayed. A Season To Dance had revealed to me an issue in my life that I needed to work through and hand over in prayer. I made the decision to put the book aside and read it in His timing. At the same time I won a print copy from Patricia’s giveaway on the International Christian Fiction Writers blog. The print book sat at the bottom of a pile of books on my bedside table, waiting for its turn to be read.

Ana is a girl from small town Georgia who has big dreams of an international ballet career. Her goal is to dance at the Met in NYC.

Ana isn’t a Christian at the start of the story. This means she doesn’t hold Christian values and doesn’t follow Biblical principles regarding morality. She’s real and she makes mistakes. Her life is complicated and messy as she lives out the consequences of her unwise decisions. The bedroom door is closed but the reader is aware of the physical nature of Ana’s romantic relationships in the story.

A love triangle plays out between Peter, the landscape architect from back home and Claus, a successful German dancer who travels the world. I’m not usually a fan of the love triangle romance trope, but the unique twist it adds to the plot is brilliant.

We journey with Ana to Germany and Prague and also experience the angst in her complex journey to faith. The setting in Europe and Georgia is stunning. I enjoyed travelling with Ana and gaining an insight into the world of ballet.

The opening chapter doesn’t reveal the identity of her husband and it may seem odd to jump ahead in time at the start. In the second half of the book the importance of the placement of Chapter One makes sense and adds to the building tension in the story.

I loved the ending and closed the book with a smile on my face. The gospel message in the story is clear and powerful. The author’s note at the end of the book explains how the author herself became a Christian while writing the book.

A Season to Dance is contemporary romance I’d recommend to Christians and seekers who are exploring Christianity. It addresses the hard issues in life and how our inherent selfishness will hurt others, including the people we love.

Many thanks to Patricia for blessing me with a print copy. It’s now on my keeper shelf.

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Book Recommendation ~ The Last Summer by Brandy Bruce

Book Description:

For twenty-something Sara Witherspoon and her group of friends, a perfect Southern summer includes lake-house getaways, wedding planning, outdoor concerts, and a dash of romance. But for these seven friends who love each other like family, this year, summer rolls in with changes for everyone.

Sara’s longtime crush, Luke, has been her best friend for as long as she has been a part of the group. When Luke begins seriously dating another of their friends, Sara’s forced to deal with her hurt and jealousy, while outwardly try to support them both.

While Sara comes to terms with her own heart and her friends’ relationships, an unexpected handsome pilot from North Carolina and an old flame are thrown into the mix. Knowing her heart suddenly becomes much more complicated.

But as time unfolds and friendships begin to unravel, Sara and the others are presented with the reality of what a season of change does to old friendships and new love interests.

Does growing older mean growing apart?

Narelle’s Thoughts:

I really enjoyed reading The Last Summer. The book is written in first person point of view and we journey with Sara in a coming of age story with romantic elements.

Sara has had a secret crush on her best friend, Luke, since the moment they met at the singles group at church when she moved back to Texas. She was welcomed into their tight knit and fun loving group. The seven friends support and encourage each other as they do life together.

Their idyllic and comfortable friendship group is challenged by life changes and new relationships. When Luke starts dating Debra, one of her friends in the group, Sara struggles to cope with how the budding romance impacts her friendships with both Luke and Debra.

I loved the ensemble cast of characters who were both real and flawed. They made mistakes and had to live with the consequences of their decisions. The faith of each of the characters played an important role in the story and impacted their life choices.

I spent a large part of the book uncertain about how I’d like to see the story end. I love Brandy’s writing style and I couldn’t put the book down. I highly recommend The Last Summer to readers who enjoy contemporary Christian fiction that’s reminiscent of the 90’s tv show Friends.

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Book Recommendation ~ Then There Was You by Kara Isaac

Book Description:

RITA Award 2018 Winner – Romance with Religious or Spiritual Elements

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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