Mini-Review: The Secrets of Saffron Hall by Clare Marchant

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New bride Eleanor impresses her husband by growing saffron, a spice more valuable than gold. His reputation in Henry VIII’s court soars – but fame and fortune come at a price, for the king’s favour will not last forever…

2019
When Amber discovers an ancient book in her grandfather’s home at Saffron Hall, the contents reveal a dark secret from the past. As she investigates, so unravels a forgotten tragic story and a truth that lies much closer to home than she could have imagined…

Source: NetGalley and Avon Rating: 3/5 stars

The Bottom Line:  In the time between reading this book and writing the review, I forgot nearly everything about this book which tells me everything I need to know.  When I looked up the book on Goodreads, the details of the story came back, but so did the feeling of neither loving nor disliking this book.  This is a fairly typical past meets present story with Amber being the researcher in 2019 looking into the life and death of Eleanor, a 16th century woman who once roamed the halls of Amber’s beloved family home.  Researching Eleanor’s story helps Amber to overcome her own tremendous loss and heal from the pain generated by the loss.  Though she never intended to, Amber also brings peace to the spirit of Eleanor who has waited through the generations for just the right woman to come along and uncover her story.   Though I am a true fan of past meets present books, there isn’t anything here that really stands out for me, nothing that would allow me to highly recommend this read.  With that said, it is a decent read and if you’re looking for something to fill your time, this may be for you.

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Mini-Review: Solving Sophronia (Book #1: The Blue Orchid Society Series) by Jennifer Moore

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Lady Sophronia Bremerton is a far cry from the typical debutante, but she’s the toast of London’s upper class for one simple reason: she’s a society columnist for the London Illustrated News, and the gentry loves seeing their exploits printed in the gossip pages. But Sophie has bigger plans – she aspires to be an investigative reporter. When a stuffy ballroom at yet another Season proves to be nothing more than the usual rumor mill, Sophie seeks respite in the library alongside four other young women who, for their own reasons, are also looking for escape. As the conversation turns to their secret ambitions, the women form a sisterhood and a bold plan: they will make their dreams a reality, no matter the obstacles. Thus begins the Blue Orchid Society.

Hearing of a murder in a London rookery, Sophie seizes the opportunity to prove her skills. Detective Jonathan Graham doesn’t believe a civilian, a noblewoman at that, should be anywhere near a murder investigation, but Sophie insists on helping bring the killer to justice. Her investigative prowess doesn’t go unnoticed by the police, especially Jonathan, who can’t decide whether this intrepid reporter is a thorn in his side or the woman of his dreams. But as the case grows more complicated and dangerous, their very lives – and their hearts – may be at risk.

Source: NetGalley and Covenant Communications Rating: 4/5 stars

The Bottom Line:  I have always been a fan of stories that feature a woman well ahead of her time and place.  As if in answer to my very own heart’s desire, Solving Sophronia delivers just such a read.  Lady Sophronia is far more intelligent than most of society gives her credit for.  Though she is currently a gossip columnist, Sophronia has plans to break into the hard news division.  Lady Sophronia’s chance comes when she begins a serious investigation into a local murder.  Though she shouldn’t be poking around in police business, she has some help from the dashing Detective Jonathan Graham.  What’s more, Sophronia has the unconditional support of her fellow Blue Orchid Society members, a group of young women, who, like Sophronia are well ahead of most of their peers and certainly ahead of their time and place.  With that kind of support, Sophronia simply can’t fail.  I found this book to be entertaining as well as interesting.  I see a bright future for this series.

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Review: The Switch by Beth O’Leary

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When overachiever Leena Cotton is ordered to take a two-month sabbatical after blowing a big presentation at work, she escapes to her grandmother Eileen’s house for some overdue rest. Eileen is newly single and about to turn eighty. She’d like a second chance at love, but her tiny Yorkshire village doesn’t offer many eligible gentlemen.

Once Leena learns of Eileen’s romantic predicament, she proposes a solution: a two-month swap. Eileen can live in London and look for love. Meanwhile Leena will look after everything in rural Yorkshire. But with gossiping neighbors and difficult family dynamics to navigate up north, and trendy London flatmates and online dating to contend with in the city, stepping into one another’s shoes proves more difficult than either of them expected.

Leena learns that a long-distance relationship isn’t as romantic as she hoped it would be, and then there is the annoyingly perfect – and distractingly handsome – school teacher, who keeps showing up to outdo her efforts to impress the local villagers. Back in London, Eileen is a huge hit with her new neighbours, but is her perfect match nearer home than she first thought?

Source: NetGalley and Quercus Rating: 4½/5 stars

Since the death of beloved sister, Leena Cotton hasn’t exactly been firing on all cylinders.  To avoid dealing with the loss of her sister and her anger towards her mother, Leena has thrown herself into work.  But grief is a sneaky little monkey and at the moment Leena least expects it, her grief overwhelms her and causes her to blow a huge presentation at work.  While Leena is certain she is going to be sacked, her boss is sympathetic and allows Leena a two-month sabbatical.

What does a workaholic avoiding real issues of grief do for two months?  Of course, she switches homes with her 79-year-old grandmother.

For two months, Leena will live in her grandmother’s sleepy little country village and her grandmother, a sprightly and delightful Eileen will move into Leena’s London flat with her roommates.  For Eileen, the move to London is an adventure of a lifetime, a chance to do all the wild and crazy things she gave up when she married her worthless husband so many years ago.  For Leena, the time away is meant to help her heal, to let go of her anger, and to finally truly grieve the loss of her sister.  Oh, and she also has to maintain her grandmother’s active and full schedule as a member of the community. 

Leena’s first days and weeks in her grandmother’s home aren’t exactly easy.  She’s used to a frenetic pace, but life in the country is far from frenetic.  In fact, life in the country often starts a bit later in the day than in the city and generally a load of gossip and planning.  Oh yes, at the top of Leena’s to-do list is organizing the annual May Day celebration with a group of senior citizens who are, in turns, wonderful, cranky, mean, happily clueless, and generally hard of hearing. 

Meanwhile, back in London, Eileen is settling in nicely to her new home and thoroughly enjoying her time with her significantly younger flatmates.  Eileen spends her days wandering the city and her nights engaging in a youthful fling with a handsome gentleman and helping her young flatmates navigate their lives.  Though she misses her home and her friends, Eileen’s time in the city is proving to be exactly what she needed and what she was missing in her life.  What’s more, for the first time in many, many years Eileen feels as if she is making a real difference in the lives of others.

Once the training wheels come off and Leena understands the lay of the land, she dives right into her obligations and forges ahead at top speed.  With her skill set and tenacity, Leena begins to pull together one of the most impressive celebrations the village has ever seen.  Additionally, through her committee work, Leena has really gotten to know the villagers and in her own way has discovered both big and little ways to help improve their individual lives and situations. 

The Bottom Line:  I quite enjoyed this new twist on an old trope.  I found both Leena and Eileen to be wonderfully endearing characters who were both looking to heal in their own way.  By switching places and lives, both Eileen and Leena enjoyed a new perspective on life, love, and learning.  Each woman had significant ups and downs during their respective adventures, but the highs and lows were the places they found the most important lessons.  I found this book to be both entertaining and refreshing with all the feels from two very different age perspectives.  In truth, I found the best part of this book to be the view from the seniors; all that life and experience mixed with some truly hilarious moments made this an excellent read for me.

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Mini-Review: The Rebellious Rancher (Book #3: The Millers of Morgan Valley Series) by Kate Pearce

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After his father decides to leave the ranch to his older brother, usually calm, steadfast Ben Miller struggles to deal with his resentment. When he’s invited to develop a trail riding experience on the Morgans’ dude ranch, Ben jumps at the chance. Soon he’s assigned a mysterious client, an actress whose family secretly wants her removed from influences in LA. Ben’s determined to teach her to fend for herself. But he quickly discovers she’s more than a pampered pretty face . . .

Silver Meadow believes she’s preparing for a serious dramatic role—one that will free her from her controlling parents. She’s certainly not going to be controlled by Ben, especially when he takes her out in the middle of nowhere to learn how to survive. Yet gradually, far from her cell phone, Silver begins to open up to him about her life—and finds they have more in common than they thought. Soon a romance blossoms—but can a jet-setting movie star and a homebody cowboy find the best of both worlds?

Source: NetGalley and Zebra Books Rating: 3½/5 stars

The Bottom Line:  I am going to admit from the beginning, a load of my dislike for this book comes from the name of the female character.  I simply had a difficult time taking a character named Silver Meadow seriously.  Putting that aside, I rather enjoyed Ben and his difficult situation.  Ben Miller isn’t at all certain of his place in the world and if he doesn’t figure it out soon, he’s going to be both jobless and homeless.  When the opportunity to take on an extended trail ride job arises, Ben sees it as an opportunity to not only enjoy a bit of nature but take stock of his life and hopefully figure out a plan for the future.  Ben’s story, though entangled with Silver’s is the best part of this book and I liked reading about his evolution and his eventual life plan.  Ben works out a load of issues in a single read and though it’s complicated and often heartbreaking, it has to be done.  I liked Ben’s part of the story immensely, but Silver’s was harder to enjoy which left me at a lower star rating than I generally assign to this series and author.

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Review: The Little Shop on Floral Street by Jane Lacey-Crane

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Grace never thought she’d have to return home to Floral Street. Having spent most of her life building a successful career in London, she’s done everything she possibly can to avoid the flower stall that’s been in her family for generations. But when tragedy hits, she’s got no choice. It’s time to face the demons of the past and support her family.

Faith has returned home after years travelling the world. The baby of the family, she always struggled to find her place. She thought that her life would be different after a trip across the globe, but as she settles back into life in her childhood room she has to come to terms with the fact her life isn’t quite what she expected. And she has no way of getting out of the rut she finds herself in.

Faith and Grace have never seen eye-to-eye, always clashing, never forgiving. But they might just find a way to understand one another, to fight their way through their grief and come out stronger. By opening up, they’ll discover they aren’t so different at all. And family will always be there for you.

Source: NetGalley Rating: 4/5 stars

Grace has spent the better part of her adult life avoiding her parents’ home.  After a terrible experience as a teenager, Grace has distanced herself from her parents because she can’t trust herself not to out her father and devastate her mother. 

Though Grace largely refuses to see her parents, she does still have a close relationship with one of her two sisters.  The two confide most everything to one another and have become tremendous friends since their younger years at home.  Grace considers her sister her best friend so when she is tragically killed, Grace finds herself at a total loss.  She has to go home, she has to deal with her youngest sister, Faith, and she has to see her father.  To make matters far worse, Grace’s long-time boyfriend has no understanding or sympathy for her situation and can’t fathom why she is grieving or living with her parents, if only temporarily.

Grace’s time at home is beyond stressful.  Her father is gruff and grumpy as always, her mother is a total wreck, and her younger sister is home and back up to her old antics.  To help keep things settled, Grace agrees to man the family flower stall at the local market.  Her father has run the market all his life and while he expected Grace to take his place, she has made a name for herself with a much larger London flower company.  When Grace makes her way back to the flower stall, she is stunned to see how far into disrepair the market has become.  Most of her childhood friends have moved away or retired, the full press of shoppers is no more, and the few stalls that remain do a quiet business at best. 

As the family rushes toward the funeral and burial of their beloved member, Grace has to face some harsh realities.  Her father’s flower stall is failing, her mother is not going to recover from her loss anytime soon, and her younger sister may not be as big a brat as Grace has long suspected she is.  In fact, as the days wear on, Grace learns a great deal about her baby sister, including the inner strength she has and her ability to maneuver around the family dynamics like a pro.  As if the family drama weren’t enough, Grace is also faced with the very real prospect of her long-term relationship coming to an end.  Navigating life is hard and Grace has some serious decisions to make if she is going to survive it all and eventually be happy again.

The Bottom Line:  This is such a roller coaster of a read and sure enjoyed the ride.  One of my favorite things to see in a book is the evolution of a good character.  Grace is a good character and her evolution through tremendous grief is so wonderful to see.  Grace goes from a harried young woman who used to love her job and used to love her boyfriend, to a young woman who changes everything about her life including her job, her relationship with her family, and her boyfriend.  With each change, Grace comes a bit more out of her shell and begins to shine like her late sister always knew she could.  In all, an emotional read with a proper and rather lovely happily ever after.

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Review: Agatha Arch Is Afraid of Everything by Kristin Bair O’Keeffe

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Agatha Arch’s life shatters when she discovers her husband in their backyard shed, in flagrante delicto, giving the local dog walker some heavy petting. Suddenly, Agatha finds herself face to face with everything that frightens her…and that’s a loooooong list.

Agatha keeps those she loves close. Everyone else, she keeps as far away as possible. So she’s a mystery to nearly everyone in her New England town. To her husband, she’s a saucy, no-B.S. writer. To her Facebook Moms group, she’s a provocateur. To her neighbor, she’s a standoffish pain in the butt. To her sons, she’s chocolate pudding with marshmallows. And to her shrink, she’s a bundle of nerves on the brink of a cataclysmic implosion.

Defying her abundant assortment of anxieties, Agatha dons her “spy pants”–a pair of khakis whose many pockets she crams with binoculars, fishing line, scissors, flashlight, a Leatherman Super Tool 300 EOD, candy, and other espionage essentials–and sets out to spy on her husband and the dog walker. Along the way, she finds another intriguing target to follow: a mysterious young woman who’s panhandling on the busiest street in town.

It’s all a bit much for timorous Agatha. But with the help of her Bear Grylls bobblehead, a trio of goats, and a dog named Balderdash, Agatha may just find the courage to build a better life.

Source: NetGalley and Alcove Press Rating: 4½/5 stars

Agatha Arch has everything she could have ever dreamed of and hoped for, she has a marriage she is happy with, two sons she adores, and a writing career that is both successful and fulfilling.  What’s more, Agatha’s husband is patient and kind enough to accept her eccentricities and shield her from the things that frighten her.  The list of what frightens Agatha is long and extensive, but her family accepts and loves her, nonetheless.

To think her world would ever come crashing down is as foreign to Agatha as getting over her prodigious list of fears.  Yes, Agatha is comfortable in her existence and sees no reason for any part of it to change.  And then, one day Agatha stumbles across her beloved husband banging the local dog walker in the shed.  As if the infidelity weren’t enough, the dog walker’s last name is Bean and Agatha is terrified of beans.  For the first time in her adult life, Agatha Arch finds herself completely alone and unsure of how to move forward with her life. 

Because she is full of good ideas, Agatha decides on a course that is both self-destructive and borderline illegal.  First, she destroys the shed in her backyard, then she increases her visits with her therapist (Shrinky Dink!), and then she begins to obsess over her husband’s new life.  Obsessing over her husband’s new life means Agatha needs to do some research on stealth recon.  In short order, Agatha buys a ton of spy equipment and learns how to use a camera-equipped drone from a kid in the local park.  Spying on her ex-husband and his new squeeze isn’t the healthiest of plans, but it is all Agatha has.  What she sees is a blissful new life that even her boys seem to be enjoying. 

In Agatha’s spare time, she delights in pissing off people through her thoroughly blunt and brutally honest posts on the community Facebook page.  All but one woman seems to steer clear of Agatha and that one woman is determined to befriend Agatha and help her change her ways.  Agatha is completely confused by the woman’s motives and in typical Agatha fashion does all she can to push the do-gooder away.  Fortunately for Agatha, there are people in the world just as stubborn as she is.  Unfortunately for Agatha, her means and methods are attracting attention and it isn’t the good kind.

The Bottom Line: Yet again, I am totally befuddled by the Goodreads rating for a book.  I found Agatha Arch to be a totally refreshing read and one that I had a hard time putting down.  Agatha is such a broken individual and without the life-altering events brought on by her husband’s infidelity, she would have continued to live her life in the same way.  Without the crutch of her husband and his enabling ways, Agatha is finally free to deal with her issues and forge a new path for herself.  Though her means and methods are completely unorthodox, Agatha does as she always has done and that’s her way or no way.  I found this book to be heartfelt, trying, hilarious, troubling, and wonderfully original.  I can’t say I’ve felt that way about a lot of books given how many I read and have read so it is nice when I come across something like Agatha Arch that blows fresh air my way.

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Mini-Review: The Summer of Wishful Thinking by Eve Edwards

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Gemma Whitehall helps people tie the knot as the local registrar, but watching loved-up couples exchange their vows serves only to highlight what’s missing from her own life. Gemma can’t ignore the fact that life – and love – are slipping through her fingers.

Sam Ranworth has spent the best part of a decade building walls around himself after tragedy struck. The last thing he wants is to get tangled up in Gemma’s messy life.

When Gemma rents the ramshackle cottage on Sam’s neglected country estate, neither of them can ignore the spark of attraction. Can they leave the past where it belongs and take a chance on happiness?

Source: NetGalley and One More Chapter Rating: 4/5 stars

The Bottom Line:  I’m starting to feel like I may be reading books all wrong ☹  Yet again, I find myself quite enjoying a book that doesn’t seem to be fairing so well on Goodreads.  Outside of one wonky plot twist, I found this book to be a fun little read.  Gemma is a perfectly delightful if harried human trying to do the best for herself and her son.  Sam is a former cop looking for a second chance in life.  When Gemma, her son, Sam, and his aging father all come together on the grounds of Sam’s recently purchased estate, things get awfully interesting.  Sam and Gemma find a new relationship and Gemma’s son and Sam’s father make the most unlikely but completely endearing partnership.  There’s nothing new or groundbreaking here, but the story is solid, and the characters are interesting.  I wouldn’t move this one to the top of your TBR, but I wouldn’t leave it at the bottom either.  It’s worth a try and can easily be read in a sitting or two.

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Mini-Review: The Eyes of the Queen (Book #1: Agents of the Crown Series) by Oliver Clements

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After centuries locked in an endless cycle of poverty, persecution, and barbarity, Europe has finally emerged into the Age of Enlightenment. Scientists, philosophers, scholars, and poets alike believe this to be a new era of reason and hope for all. But the forces of darkness haven’t completely dissipated, as Spain hunts and butchers any who dare to defy its ironclad Catholic orthodoxy.

Only one nation can fight the black shadow that threatens this new age, and that is Britain, now ruled by a brilliant young Queen Elizabeth I. But although she may be brave and headstrong, Elizabeth knows she cannot win this war simply by force of arms. After her armies have been slashed in half, her treasury is on its knees. Elizabeth needs a new kind of weapon forged to fight a new kind of war, in which stealth and secrecy, not bloodshed, are the means.

In this tense situation, Her Majesty’s Secret Service is born with the charismatic John Dee at its head. A scholar, a soldier, and an alchemist, Dee is loyal only to the truth and to his Queen. And for her, the woman he’s forbidden from loving, he is prepared to risk his life.

Source: NetGalley and Artria/Leopoldo Co. Rating: 2/5 stars

The Bottom Line: I am the first to admit I am a sucker for a good bit of historical fiction, and I have a particular fascination with Elizabethan-era stories.  I dove into this book anticipating an excellent period piece but what I got is something I still haven’t quite wrapped my brain around.  I believe I lost faith and interest in this book very early on, but I continued with the book to the very end hoping it would take a turn for the better.  My interest was lost, and pure disbelief set in following the descriptions of Mary, Queen of Scots and how she spent her days locked away as a “guest” of Queen Elizabeth.  I can accept a lot of things and like to consider myself open-minded, but this description seems tremendously far-fetched and wholly unnecessary to the telling of this particular story.  To make matters worse, I found most of the characters to be somewhat unrealistic and completely out of synch with what history tells us about the people, time, and place.  The point of historical fiction is to take the real and blend it with fiction to create a dynamic and interesting read based in reality.  What I got with this book trends far more toward pure and somewhat fantastical fiction rather than historical fiction. 

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Review: For Whom the Book Tolls (Book #1: An Antique Bookshop Mystery Series) by Laura Gail Black

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Trouble follows Jenna Quinn wherever she goes. Fleeing some unsavory doings in her hometown of Charlotte, Jenna accepts her uncle’s gracious invitation to stay with him in small-town Hokes Folly, NC. In exchange, she’ll help him out in his antiquarian bookstore. But soon after she arrives, Jenna finds her uncle’s body crumpled at the base of the staircase between his apartment and the bookstore.

Before the tragedy even sinks in, Jenna learns that she’s inherited almost everything her uncle owned: the store and apartment, as well as his not-so-meager savings and the payout from a life insurance policy…which adds up to more than a million dollars. This is all news to Jenna–bad news, once the police get wind of her windfall. An ill wind, indeed, as a second murder cements Jenna’s status as the prime suspect in both deaths.

Jenna can hit the road again, taking her chances that she can elude trouble along the way. Or she can stick it out in Hokes Folly, take over the bookstore, and try to sleuth out her uncle’s killer. On the one hand, she’s made some wonderful new friends, and she feels she can thrive in the genial small-town environment. On the other hand, trouble knows her address–and so does the killer, who is determined to write the final page of Jenna’s story.

Source: NetGalley and Crooked Lane Books Rating: 4/5 stars

If it weren’t for bad luck, Jenna Quinn wouldn’t have any luck at all.  She’s flat broke, her car is on its last leg, and she’s just found her beloved uncle lying dead at the foot of the stairs.

Jenna moved to the small town of Hokes Folly, North Carolina for a fresh start.  Her uncle, a widower for many years, invited Jenna to live in his home and help him run his bookstore.  With nothing left to lose, Jenna packed her bags, ready to start again.  Unfortunately, Jenna’s fresh start is put on permanent hold when she finds her uncle dead in his own bookstore.  What’s more, because of her past and the most unexpected inheritance from her uncle, Jenna becomes the prime suspect in his murder. 

Though Jenna knows she had nothing to do with her uncle’s death, convincing local law enforcement is going to be difficult.  Her lawyer, a very sharp and savvy litigator, is having none of the accusations and allegations and advises Jenna to go about her life as best she can until the real killer is caught.  Going about her life isn’t going to be easy as her uncle left a right mess in the bookstore.  First up for Jenna is to hire some help and get the store into some semblance of order.  Next up, get to know the neighbors and learn the lay of the land.  Finally, do her own investigating into her uncle’s murder since the police have no real interest in looking beyond Jenna as the culprit.

As Jenna begins to make a place for herself in Hokes Folly, she also begins to learn of the town’s crazy history.  The inheritors of that history are two aged sisters who own the antique store next to Jenna and while one is polite, demure, and genuinely kind, the other is a bit banana pants crazy.  As Jenna quickly finds out, banana pants is the way of the town and if she’s going to make her home in Hokes Folly, she’ll have to learn to accept a little crazy.  To that end, Jenna hires a young man her uncle once fired for theft and the two whip the shop into shape.  Just as Jenna begins to feel the smallest bit of comfort and accept the reality of her new life, yet another huge monkey wrench is thrown into her plans.  This time, the monkey comes in the form of a formerly unknown heir to her uncle’s estate.

The Bottom Line:  I do love a good underdog story and Jenna certainly qualifies as an underdog.  I am also quite fond of quaint and quirky small towns, and Holes Folly certain meets the criteria.  When you add in a good story with twists and turns aplenty, you have a recipe for a fine first-in-a-series book.  With all the things I like about this series, I also have at least one big reservation, if this series is going to continue and be successful, there needs to be a larger cast of characters.  In this first book, there are a limited number of secondary characters and in cozy mysteries, it is generally the crazy cast of characters that makes or breaks the series.

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Mini-Review: A Highlander is Coming to Town (Book #3: Highland, Georgia Series) by Laura Trentham

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You better watch out. . .

Holt Pierson is dreading Christmas. His parents absconded to Florida for the season and left him to handle the family farm which will be his one day―whether he wants it or not. Driven by duty, Holt has always followed the path expected of him. But lately, he’s been questioning what he wants and where he belongs. Will assuming the responsibility of the Pierson farm make him happy or is there something―or someone―else out in the wider world calling to him?


To Claire Smythe, the Scottish lead singer of a touring band, Highland, Georgia, is the perfect place to hide . . .until a very handsome and deeply curious Holt begins to ask all the questions Claire doesn’t want to answer. As Holt draws Claire out from under and into the fabric of small-town life, can Claire put the past behind her and embrace the unexpected gifts of the season―including the new and lasting love?

Source: NetGalley and St. Martin’s Press Rating: 3/5 stars

The Bottom Line:  I have generally enjoyed this series greatly, but every series seems to have a speed bump and A Highlander is Coming to Town is that speed bump in this series.  Claire and her very prickly personality were quite hard for me to like and even knowing her background didn’t help much.  The highlight of this read is absolutely Holt Pierson.  Holt is an intelligent country boy with kindness and a bit of mischief rolled into his personality.  Holt is also patient and willing to work with Claire’s prickly bits to get to her softer and far less prickly underside.  Outside of Holt, the little old lady Claire works for is quite the delight.  Her age brings wisdom and her advice to Claire and Holt help facilitate a happily ever after for more than one person.  I can’t say I disliked this book, but Claire sure made it hard to like this book as much as the preceding two.

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