Book Review: Like Never Before by Melissa Tagg

Like Never BeforeLike Never Before (Walker Family #2) 

Maple Valley became Amelia Bentley’s haven after her heart and her dreams of a family were shattered. But her new life as a newspaper editor is shaken when the small-town paper is in danger of closing. Her one hope: A lead on an intriguing story that just might impress the new publisher…if only she new who he was.

After his biggest campaign success yet, widowed speechwriter Logan Walker now has the chance of a lifetime–a spot on a presidential campaign. But his plans are interrupted when he finds out he’s inherited his hometown newspaper. He travels home intent on selling the paper and spending some much-needed time with his young daughter before making the leap into national politics.

But instead of a quick sale and peaceful break from his hectic career, Logan finds himself helping Amelia chase her story. She’s scrappy, but wounded. He’s dependable, but lost. They may butt heads more than expected, but a series of leads on Maple Valley’s quirky unsolved mystery is just the start of the sparks that fly in the office and in their hearts.

REVIEW:

There are certain things I know will bring me smiles: purring kittens, Broadway musicals, Disney movies, Jane Austen adaptations, trips to Barnes and Nobles. The underlying theme of this list–the belief that love conquers all. (Well, maybe that Barnes and Nobles trip doesn’t quite fit that statement, but hey, this *is* my list…and I can find many “love conquers all” stories in B&N.)

And if I want one of those “love conquers all” stories that will make me smile, I know without any doubt that all I need to do is pull a Melissa Tagg novel off the shelf. That’s right, reader friends. Some stories make your heart flutter with the sweet delight of first love; others make your heart pound with the spice; and some make you swoon with the romance. Melissa’s novels have a little bit of all of that, ensuring that no matter what kind of love a reader longs for, they will find it amongst her witty dialog, punchy plots, and quirky characters.

Witty dialog, punchy plots, and quirky characters are enough to make a novel successful, but I fully believe that readers keep coming back for more of Melissa’s books because of the heart of the stories. Melissa crafts characters and storylines that speak to the  heartaches, joys, loves, and dramas that we all experience. Like Never Before demonstrates her natural ability to reach people on a heart-level through seemingly ordinary circumstances (in the book) but truly beautiful life lessons (woven into the story through her unique author voice).

I’ve long loved Melissa’s novels for all those reasons mentioned above, but in Like Never Before I noticed what first caught my attention last winter with her stand-alone novella: this author’s craft is strong, unique, and improved upon in each book she writes. Like Never Before stands out from Melissa’s preceding novels because of her use of wit in her dialog and prose, deep plot lines, and comedic timing. While Melissa’s novels are always funny, the wit and comedic timing in Like Never Before actually had me laughing out loud. She also deepened her story with a historical subplot that strengthened her character’s motivations and added a layer of complexity to her writing. These two elements alone tell me that Melissa is more than capable–and likely will–make a name for herself in a niche market of authors who can write complex contemporary romance novels.

Like Never Before is now one of my favorite novels ever. I am so excited to read Melissa’s future novels, including the next novel in the Walker Family Series (starring Beckett)!

Rating: 5 stars


About the Author: 

Melissa TaggMelissa Tagg is a former reporter, current nonprofit grant writer and total Iowa girl. She’s also a multi-published novelist, writing romantic comedies in the banter-filled style of her favorite 1930s and 40s classic films. Her latest book, Like Never Before, was named by Publishers Weekly to their spring 2016 “Religion and Spirituality” Top 10 list. When she’s not writing she can be found hanging out with the coolest family ever, watching old movies, and daydreaming about her next book. Melissa loves connecting with readers at http://www.melissatagg.com and on Facebook and Instagram.
Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.
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Book Review: Surrendered by Kariss Lynch

SurrenderedSurrendered by Kariss Lynch (December 2015, FaithHappenings Publishers)

With a promise to love, will one final test break them apart?

With a wedding on the horizon, Nick Carmichael and Kaylan Richards prepare to commit themselves to one another and their future together. But for Kaylan, every step closer to the big day brings with it more disaster as she struggles to learn the sacrifice of joining the Navy SEALs. While she gains a new family, she will also gain all the secrets that come with it.

In the middle of wedding plans, Nick is called away on one last mission. And this time, he will be forced to cooperate with the woman he fears and hates above all others: known terrorist, Janus. Can Nick find a way to forgive the woman who threatened his family and fight with her to take down one of the world’s biggest arms dealers?

As the clock ticks closer to the wedding day, Kaylan and Nick fear Janus’s actions will cost them everything. Putting aside their uncertainty, they battle for their love, for family, and for the boldness to do what is necessary. Victory is possible, but as they come to find, it will only come with surrender.


 

REVIEW:

Our interests and passions can stir a thirst for knowledge in much more than just that one particular topic that originally peaked our curiosity in a certain subject. For me, that movie, Pearl Harbor (Jerry Bruckheimer, 2001), while the beginning of my interest in World War Two history, also initiated a passion to preserve and understand the lifestyle that members of the United States military, along with their families, live for every day. Writers such as Kariss Lynch, author of the Heart of a Warrior series, bring stories of the military life to readers and show the struggles and joys of those committed to defending the United States of America.

Surrendered, the third book in Lynch’s debut series, is a beautiful story of a Navy seal and his fiancee as they learn to give love and life to each other and their Savior in the midst of a military career and new relationship. I absolutely loved this book and cannot recommended both Surrendered and Lynch’s other two books in the series enough. Surrendered is filled with authentic characters, heart-wrenching emotion, nerve-wracking dilemmas, and lessons of faith, love, and hope in God and family. By the end of the first chapter I knew that Surrendered would be on my favorites of 2015 list–in fact, it is my favorite contemporary of the year–and I had to force myself to read slower because I did not want to finish the book.

Lynch writes with straightforward prose that embodies the authenticity of everyday life. Main characters Kaylan and Nick are so real that I felt as if I had known them my entire life. I cheered for these two as they fought to understand each other and give the other their desires and needs. Oftentimes when reading contemporary fiction I find bits of advice to follow from the characters, but with Surrendered the relationship between Kaylan and Nick demonstrated in its entirety that one based on Christian values is not necessarily easy but most definitely fulfilling . Lynch’s characters strove to better themselves as individuals in an understanding that the other could not fulfill the role of a perfect companion. This portrayal is both necessary and a beautiful because both general market and Christian fiction typically sugar-coats romance with unrealistic expectations. With the backdrop of an oftentimes challenging and frightening profession influencing every aspect of Kaylan and Nick’s relationship, Lynch shares with readers how her couple is able to rely on God and their faith when so much is out of their control.

The culture of the United States is one that thrives on independence, determination, community, and success. We rarely take “no” for an answer and believe we can do anything we set our minds to. Surrender is not an option to Americans. But Lynch shows readers in this final book in her Heart of a Warrior series that surrendering can be beautiful when we put our trust in God and others before ourselves. This story is one that will forever be on my bookshelf. I am so excited to see what other stories Lynch will bring to readers and believe God has big plans for this author.

P.S. If my review hasn’t shown my love for this series enough, consider this story. Despite that Christmas time is usually for giving gifts to others, on December 23rd I visited my local Family Christian store to buy two gifts for myself: Shaken and Shadowed, the first two books in the Heart of the Warrior series. Nope, I couldn’t wait for Christmas to see if these books would be under the tree. I had to have them now, Santa!

RATING: 4.5 stars


 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Kariss LynchKariss Lynch began her writing career in third grade when she created a story about a magical world for a class assignment. Chasing her dream into college, she received a degree in English at Texas Tech University and fell in love with writing faith-based fiction about characters with big dreams, adventurous spirits, and bold hearts. Kariss is a diehard Texan, born and bred in Dallas, where she now works as a writer for a local communications ministry.

 

Book Review: The Widower’s Second Chance by Jessica Keller

the widower's second chanceAbout the Book:

Learning To Love Again

Idyllic Goose Harbor, Michigan, offers a fresh start for broken-hearted Paige Windom. In addition to securing a teaching job at the high school, she’ll fulfill her dream of helping at-risk teens in a nearby inner-city mentoring program. But Caleb Beck, a handsome yet overprotective widower and the center’s founder, doesn’t want Paige anywhere near the place. He’s afraid she’ll get hurt just like his late wife. Paige knows she can do a lot of good for the kids and Caleb himself. If only she can show him how to let go of his fear, maybe they’ll both find a way to reopen their wounded hearts.

Goose Harbor: Love is in big supply on the shores of Lake Michigan.

Review:

Harlequin’s Love Inspired series covers every genre imaginable—from historical to contemporary to Amish, Christian fiction authors have given Harlequin fans a line of books to enjoy no matter the reading preference. Despite the prolificacy of the line, until this month I had chosen to not read the Love Inspired line because the smaller size of the novels indicated I would read the books too quickly to be worthwhile.

Reader friends—I was wrong and will gladly admit that statement to you as many times as needed. I enjoyed The Widower’s Second Chance very much; I will be reading more from the Love Inspired Line; and I will absolutely read more from author Jessica Keller without any hesitation. In the tradition of “don’t judge a book by its cover,” I now also believe that size is not indicative of a good story. A heavy tome does not equal a more comprehensive plot, and a thin volume does measure to a shallow novel. I learned through The Widower’s Second Chance that the Love Inspired line condenses a meaningful story into a small package through deep characters and inspirational growth.

Jessica Keller first novel in the Goose Harbor series, The Widower’s Second Chance, centers on hurting protagonists whose faith is grounded but shaken after traumatic personal experiences. Either main or secondary, Keller’s characters make this novel shine as they take their unique viewpoints on life and love and share them with others. Caleb, and overprotective widower, is a perfect male protagonist—he is wounded yet strong, brooding and handsome, overbearing but protective. I couldn’t help but love him, even with his zealous-but-wrong mindset that he had to save everyone from themselves. Paige is the all-American girl-next-door that every female wants to be at some point in her life. She is pretty but doesn’t know it, feisty and loveable, and just fun to read about. Paige and Caleb make the perfect pair; their characteristics and quirks balance each other, but clearly they will have a dynamic relationship that takes work. Keller’s choice to make Paige a Caleb fit but also flawed—much like a true relationship for readers—brings an authenticity to her novel that makes her story relatable.

All of the characters in The Widower’s Second Chance are thoroughly created and unique; however, the smaller size of the Love Inspired novels means the authors have to sacrifice some aspects of novel writing that otherwise would create a deeper story. Despite that I enjoyed the characters in Keller’s novel, I did feel the novel lacked characterization. Many times throughout The Widower’s Second Chance I noticed that I sympathized with Caleb and Paige—but I did not empathize with them. One concession that Love Inspired authors make when writing for this line is the “show versus tell” choice that writers and readers are inundated with by teachers and the publishing industry. Showing—using action, dialog, and other writing tools—draws readers into the story directly while telling—plainly stating—does not require readers to use their imagination. The word count for Love Inspired, which creates those smaller novels, limits the amount of showing readers have come to love and instead requires authors to use a bit more “telling” in the novels.

Jessica Keller is quite a good author and handles this change of “show versus tell” with graceful writing. Her setting, Goose Harbor, is exquisitely created with vivid descriptions of an idyllic lakefront town and its accompanying culture. Characters that remain in the background of The Widower’s Second Chance enhance the story’s plot and are vital to realism of the novel. The emotions in this novel are authentic and, at times, heart-wrenching. Keller enhances the emotions in The Widower’s Second Chance with a story that is unique and needs to be told. Her focus on this story, along with challenges in faith that are true and believe in both life and novelization, bring this novel a level of believability that will have readers picking up her book more than once.

Keller’s second book in the Goose Harbor series, The Fireman’s Secret, releases in early 2015, and I cannot wait to read it. I read The Widower’s Second Chance in less than a day, so I know I will love this author’s follow up to her lovely Goose Harbor beginning.

Rating: 3.5/5 stars

About the Author:

A Starbucks drinker, avid reader, semi-professional fangirl, and chocolate aficionado, Jessica spends way too muchjessica keller time on Tumblr and Twitter. She writes both Young Adult Fiction and Romance.

As a child Jessica possessed the dangerous combination of too much energy coupled with an over-active imagination. This pairing led to more than seven broken bones and countless scars.

Oddly enough, she’s worked as a zookeeper, a librarian, camp counselor, horse wrangler, housekeeper, and finance clerk, but now loves her full-time work in law enforcement.

She lives in the Midwest with her amazing husband and very giggly daughter.

  • Winner of the 2011 Golden Pen
  • Winner of the 2011 Where the Magic Begins
  • Winner of the 2011-12 Rattler Writing Contest (Contemporary Category)
  • Winner of the 2011-12 Rattler Wrting Contest (Spec. Category)
  • Overall Grand Prize Winner 2011-2012 Rattler Writing Contest Awards
  • 2012 ACFW Genesis Award Semi-Finalist

Find Jessica on the following

Review: Kept by Sally Bradley

ALERT: for the second year in a row, Sally Bradley’s Kept was a finalist in the American Christian Fiction Writer’s Genesis contest! Let’s celebrate Sally’s success by purchasing and promoting her debut novel!

kept RGB front lower resolution

SYNOPSIS:

Life has taught Miska Tomlinson that there are no honorable men. Her womanizing brothers, her absentee father, and Mark, the married baseball player who claims to love her—all have proven undependable. But Miska has life under control. She runs her editing business from her luxury condo, stays fit with daily jogs along Chicago’s lakefront, and in her free time blogs anonymously about life as a kept woman.

Enter new neighbor Dillan Foster. Between his unexpected friendship and her father’s sudden reappearance, Miska loses control of her orderly life. Her relationship with Mark deteriorates, and Miska can’t help comparing him to Dillan. His religious views are so foreign, yet the way he treats her is something she’s longed for. But Dillan discovers exactly who she is and what she has done. Too late she finds herself longing for a man who is determined to never look her way again.

When her blog receives unexpected national press, Miska realizes that her anonymity was an illusion. Caught in a scandal about to break across the nation, Miska wonders if the God Dillan talks about would bother with a woman like her—a woman who’s gone too far and done too much.

 REVIEW:

In an environment increasingly shadowed by promiscuous behavior with little worldly consequences but deep emotional baggage, Miska Tomlinson and Dillan Foster battle their fears and prejudices to find love.

Sally Bradley’s debut novel, Kept, first caught my attention because of its characters. Baseball runs strongly in my family, so naturally I was intrigued by Bradley’s choice of profession for one of her novel’s leading men. While the baseball aspect of Kept influenced the author’s story, I am actually pleased to say that the sport factors little into my positive rating of the novel. I loved many things about Kept—including Bradley’s insertion of athletics into the characters’ lives—but it was the Biblical storylines, deep emotional characterization, and themes of redemption, love, and judgment that make Kept a standout novel.

Christian fiction is a blossoming genre that continues to grow within the publishing industry. As in any consumer-driven outlet, Christian fiction tends to have its strongholds: Amish, World War Two, and contemporary romance consistently drive its sales. The nature of Christian fiction sets the genre apart from its partners—if a Fifty Shades of Grey type novel is bestselling in the ABA market, it tends to follow that CBA novels will market novels of the opposite nature in hopes that more conservative, evangelical readers will be drawn to Christian fiction. A growing number of Christian fiction readers, however, are vying for novels with more realistic plotlines and accessible characters. Sally Bradley has hit upon this niche—Kept is a story of hard-hitting situations faced by authentic characters challenged by their surroundings and fighting for their faith against insurmountable odds. Bradley is not afraid to address the questionable choices people make and does not shy away from situations that are normally hidden from the Christian market. Kept surpasses excellence because Bradley handles these situations with delicacy and grace. The tough situations her characters encounter are fully described, but she digresses from explicative language and details in favor of straightforward steps that show how and why God wants better for His children.

I believe that Christian fiction needs more authors who are comfortable writing novels similar to Kept because readers can learn so much from true-to-life characters that experience the situations we face on a daily basis. Kept does not sugarcoat the challenging feelings and situations that people experience. Bradley’s characters show that Christians are just as susceptible to frustrations, fear, joy, and relief that others come across. Her novel takes compelling one step further in showing readers that people can come out of their pasts and move forward from the negative emotions through Jesus’ love and God’s mercy. In laying out these feelings with empathic prose, Bradley opens up Christians in a way that that older Christian fiction was unable to do so through the pleasing—but unrealistic—novels of the past.

Kept is an exciting, compelling, and thoroughly pleasing novel that engages readers through authentic characters and rich storylines. Bradley, in addition to her writing career, is also an editor. Her storytelling and writing skills are, therefore, above standard; Kept reflects her skilled background with excellent prose, a strong plotline and structure, deep characterization, and realistic dialog and setting. Of course, I admit that Bradley’s romantic hero definitely is a strong point her novel. Dillan Foster, in addition to his handsome appearance, is a swoon-worthy hero that any lady would love to fall in love—and many female readers most definitely will. One of the author’s romantic scenes brought a huge smile to face and actually made my heart beat fast and ache for the two characters. Bradley succeeded in creating a chaste and pure, but still incredibly romantic and fulfilling, story in Kept. Her novel is a beautiful example of why God wants His children to wait for the physical intimacies of romantic relationships. She shows how a man and woman can still experience and demonstrate their affection for each other in a pure manner. Kept is fast-paced; I never wanted to put the novel down and frequently stayed up late reading when I long should have been asleep or completing other tasks.

RATING: 5/5 stars


 

Sally BradleyABOUT THE AUTHOR (from author website)

Sally Bradley has worked for two publishers, writing sales and marketing materials, sorting through the slush pile, and proofreading and editing fiction. She has a BA in English and a love for perfecting novels, whether it’s her work or the work of others.

A judge in fiction-writing contests, Sally is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers, The Christian PEN, and the Christian Editor Network. In 2000, she left the working world to have her first child. She now runs Bradley Writing and Editing Services from her home outside Kansas City. A mother of three, Sally is married to a pastor who moonlights as a small-town cop. When she’s not writing, she’s reading, doing laundry, and rooting on her favorite Chicago sports team of the season.

You can find Sally at Sally Bradley, Writer on Facebook.