Review: The Whispered Word (Book #2: Secret, Book, & Scone Society Series) by Ellery Adams

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Nora Pennington, owner of Miracle Books, believes that a well-chosen novel can bring healing and hope. But she and the other members of the Secret, Book, and Scone Society know that sometimes, practical help is needed too. Such is the case with the reed-thin girl hiding in the fiction section of Nora’s store, wearing a hospital ID and a patchwork of faded bruises. She calls herself Abilene, and though Nora and her friends offer work, shelter, and a supportive ear, their guest isn’t ready to divulge her secrets. But when a customer is found dead in an assumed suicide, Nora uncovers a connection that points to Abilene as either a suspect—or another target. 

Summer’s end has brought other new arrivals to Miracle Springs too. Entrepreneur Griffin Kingsley opens Virtual Genie, a cyber business that unloads people’s unwanted goods for cash. With the town in an economic slump and folks hurting for money, Virtual Genie and its owner are both instantly popular. A patient listener, Griffin dispenses candy to children and strong coffee to adults, and seems like a bona fide gentleman. But Nora’s not inclined to judge a book by its cover. And when a second death hits town, Nora and her intrepid friends must help the new, greenhorn sheriff discern fact from fiction—and stop a killer intent on bringing another victim’s story to a close . . .

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Source: Purchase          Rating: 4/5 stars

The women of the Secret, Book, and Scone Society have only just gotten themselves out of a mess and looking forward to some down time when trouble quite literally walks through their collective door.  It’s just before closing time at Miracle Books when a gaunt young woman, clearly in need of help walks into the bookstore.  With nothing else to do but help her, the woman jump into action. 

Abilene is a hot mess and with very few words spoken, Nora and the girls know only the barest of facts about her.  What they do know is this: Abilene has suffered severe trauma, she is wicked creative, she adores books in the same way Nora does, and her baking skills are on par with Hester’s.  Each Society woman understands secrets and if they are going to help Abilene, they are going to have to help her feel secure and trust her new friends enough to open to up to them.  Always easier said than done.

Coinciding with Abilene’s mysterious arrival is the death of a local woman and the arrival of Griffin Kingsley.  The death is an apparent suicide and Griffin Kingsley is a huckster and a con man disguised as a legitimate businessman whose arrival is meant to help those in Miracle Springs struggling from recent tragic events.  Though Nora is uncomfortable with all the sudden change, her first priority is Abilene.  It isn’t until she and the Society begin investigating that they discover all three events are not only tied to one another, but intimately tied and bound to end in a very bad way. 

As the Society women work to help Abilene, each discovers that the young woman’s story stirs their own demons.  To silence their own demons, the Society women are going to have to help Abilene face hers, solve a murder, and reveal Griffin Kingsley for the fraud he truly is.  As expected, none of this is going to be easy and it is going to put at least two of the group in serious danger before the whole mess can be handled and put to rest.

The Bottom Line: This second installment of the series is far more complex than the first with, essentially, three plots in one book that all come together in the end.  Though they do all come together, it is a bit of a ride getting there.  Once again, my favorite character is Nora, who, despite her internal struggles, has emerged as the leader of the Secret, Book, and Scone Society.  With each new struggle and mystery, Nora comes a bit more out of her shell and into the light.  Nora’s confidence is at an all-time high in this read and while it initially causes some friction among the group, it all works out in the end as Nora fights to help a new friend.  Each of the women grows a bit in this book and I am so happy to see that kind of forward movement.  While I liked this story, I’m not sure I liked it quite as much as the first; there me the tiniest bit of a sophomore slump happening but that slump isn’t enough to keep me from the third book in the series.  Onwards and upwards, as the saying goes 😊

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Review: The Secret, Book & Scone Society (Book #1: Secret, Book, & Scone Society Series) by Ellery Adams

The Secret, Book & Scone Society (Secret, Book, & Scone Society 1) by [Adams, Ellery]

Strangers flock to Miracle Springs hoping the natural hot springs, five-star cuisine, and renowned spa can cure their ills. If none of that works, they often find their way to Miracle Books, where, over a fresh-baked “comfort” scone, they exchange their stories with owner Nora Pennington in return for a carefully chosen book. That’s Nora’s special talent—prescribing the perfect novel to ease a person’s deepest pain. So when a visiting businessman reaches out for guidance, Nora knows exactly how to help. But before he can keep their appointment, he’s found dead on the train tracks . . .

Stunned, Nora forms the Secret, Book, and Scone Society, a group of damaged souls yearning to earn redemption by helping others. To join, members must divulge their darkest secret—the terrible truth that brought each of them to Miracle Springs in the first place. Now, determined to uncover the truth behind the businessman’s demise, the women meet in Nora’s cozy bookstore. And as they untangle a web of corruption, they also discover their own courage, purpose, and a sisterhood that will carry them through every challenge—proving it’s never too late to turn the page and start over . . .

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Source: Purchase/Audible          Rating: 4/5 stars

When Nora Pennington came to Miracle Springs, she was looking for a place to hide as well as a fresh start.  Her past is her own and it is a guilt and shame that she may never get over, but Miracle Springs has, at least, helped her find some measure of peace.  Though she owns a book shop and constantly interacts with the public, Nora mostly keeps to herself lest her past become public knowledge.

In addition to owning a bookshop, Nora also has a knack for knowing exactly which books a person needs to help them heal.  Her insight was gained through a horrifying experience, but she and her little shop have become known for her abilities.  Nora isn’t the only one in Miracle Springs with a gift, or a secret and it is because of secrets and couple nasty murders that Nora begins to come out of self-imposed shell and really begin to trust and make good and true friends.

On the morning of the first murder, Nora was all set to work with a troubled man and help him find the healing he had come to Miracle Springs seeking.  Unfortunately, before she could meet with the man, he is pushed in front of a train and killed.  As one thing leads to another, Nora finds herself surrounded by three women, June, Estelle, and Hester, all of whom have a vested interest in finding the answers to the mystery of the dead man.  Each of the women has her own secret, her own reason for generally keeping to herself, but the shared goal of solving a mystery brings them together in a most unexpected way. 

For the women to even consider working together in such a dangerous way, they have to trust one another, and trust isn’t something that comes easy to any of them.  In a moment of bravery, Nora suggests that if they are to work together and trust one another, they are going to have to share their stories.  Each woman’s story is truly tragic, but as they grow closer, each feels comfortable enough to share and to commit a few minor crimes in the name of justice 😊  As the plot unfolds, the four women are shocked at what they discover and know that it is going to take all the courage and trust they can possibly muster to bring the culprits to justice.

The Bottom Line: What an excellent start to a new-to-me series and author!  I found this book to be fascinating in both the mystery and friendship aspects.  The mystery is twisty and turny, but just right for the cozy mystery genre and the friendship among the four women is beautiful.  I really do like broken soul stories and this book has four such souls who are each unknowingly looking for the other to help them heal and move forward with their lives.  Each of the four women is a unique character and voice that adds her own spice and flavor to the overall story.  Above all else, this is a story about friendship, acceptance, trust, and love that is brought to you by four fierce women looking to grow and become stronger and that is certainly accomplished through their friendship.  Add in the bonus of a fine mystery and one has the recipe for a fine read.

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Review: Miss Cecily’s Recipes for Exceptional Ladies by Vicky Zimmerman

52144818. sy475 No woman dreams of being unceremoniously dumped and moving back in with her mother on the eve of her 40th birthday. Food technician Kate Parker’s first response? Denial, long days under her duvet and bucket loads of cheesy pasta.

A reluctant Kate finds herself volunteering at the Lauderdale House For Exceptional Ladies. There she meets 96-year-old Cecily Finn – spiky and sharp as a pin, but the spark has gone out of her. She has resigned herself to the imminent End.

Having no patience with Kate’s self-pity, Cecily prescribes her a self-help book with a difference – it’s a 1957 cookery manual, featuring menus for anything life can throw at ‘the easily dismayed’. It promises the answers to essential life questions: ‘what shall one give to one’s rich aunt Emma that will be palatable but not prodigal; to one’s husband’s managing director, at once memorable and modest; one’s old love’s new love; the man one hopes will stay on after dinner; the man one hopes will not …‘.

Can Kate find a menu to help a broken-hearted woman let go? If Kate moves forward, might Cecily too?

The cookbook holds the secrets of Cecily’s own remarkable and heartbreaking story, and the love of her life. It will certainly teach Kate a thing or two.

So begins an unlikely friendship between two lonely and stubborn souls – one at the end of her life, and one stuck in the middle – who come to show each other that food is for feasting, life is for living and the way to a man’s heart is . . . irrelevant!

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Source: NetGalley          Rating: 5 HUGE stars

“As far as I can see, you’re doing life all wrong, blundering around like a fart in a pickle barrel.” ~ Miss Cecily

At 96-years-old, Miss Cecily has lived a wonderfully full life.  She has loved a man beyond all reason, she has survived a major world war, she’s read a laundry list of books and can quote most of them, she has become an expert cook, she’s a published author, and now she just wants to be left alone in her final years.  According to Miss Cecily, her time is coming soon, and she’s going to do and say as she pleases before the end finally, blessedly comes. 

Kate Parker is certain she has the perfect life until her boyfriend drops a bomb while away on vacation.  After a year and a half together and on the cusp of taking the next step, Kate’s boyfriend has a wobble that sees him returning to life as normal and Kate in a great state of depression and uncertainty.  On a whim, and in an effort to combat her loneliness, Kate decides to volunteer her time at the Lauderdale House for Exceptional Ladies.  On her first visit, Kate meets – or, more accurately – is verbally attacked by one Miss Cecily.  With nothing but venom in her words, Kate is certain she needs nothing to do with Miss Cecily.  As it turns out, Kate does need Miss Cecily and once she gets past the crusty exterior and venomous words, she finds a strong, intelligent, kindish, caringish woman who is lonely and needs Kate as much as Kate needs Cecily. 

Though Kate isn’t at all sure about any of relationships, she’s certain about one thing: cooking brings her comfort.  While talking with Miss Cecily about cooking and comfort foods, Kate discovers Cecily was once an incredible cook.  To that end, Miss Cecily loans Kate one of her favorite cookbooks.  Little does Kate know that the cookbook, as much as her friendship with Miss Cecily, is going to radically change her life.  For weeks, Kate not only carries around the cookbook, but uses it to help herself heal and, hopefully repair her relationship with her currently estranged boyfriend.  What Kate doesn’t quite yet understand is that the cookbook and Miss Cecily know more about life and love than Kate can even imagine and if she would just take a step back and really listen to both the words of the cookbook and Miss Cecily, she’ll find not only a life worth living, but an adventure she’s waited a lifetime to have.

The Bottom Line:  I absolutely LOVED this book!  This is a story of friendship and devotion at its finest and I absorbed every word like a fine meal.  Kate’s evolution from start to finish is simply amazing and it never would have happened without the poking and prodding of a crusty old woman with no edit button!  I have a soft spot for books featuring crusty old women and men, so Miss Cecily absolutely stole the show for me.  With her random yet applicable quotes to her sage advice about life, love, and cooking, Miss Cecily is exactly what Kate needs to help her through what has become the hardest moment of her life.  Through tough love, Miss Cecily helps Kate to see what her world really is and how it can be if only she would drum up the courage to make some changes.  I loved the give and take between Kate and Miss Cecily, especially towards the end of the book.  I won’t say I cried, but a softer heart certainly will, and the tears will be absolutely worth it.  In all, I found this book to be enlightening as well as entertaining.  A don’t-miss read if I’m being frank, and Miss Cecily would certainly appreciate the frankness 😊

Coming June 9, 2020: Goodreads| Amazon| B&N | Kobo| Paperback

Double Review: Cider Shop Mystery Series Books 1 and 2 by Julie Anne Lindsey

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Blossom Valley, West Virginia, is home to Smythe Orchards, Winnie and her Granny’s beloved twenty-five-acre farm and family business. But any way you slice it, it’s struggling. That’s why they’re trying to drum up business with the “First Annual Christmas at the Orchard,” a good old-fashioned holiday festival with enough delicious draw to satisfy apple-picking locals and cider-loving tourists alike–until the whole endeavor takes a sour turn when the body of Nadine Cooper, Granny’s long-time, grudge-holding nemesis, is found lodged in the apple press. Now, with Granny the number one suspect, Winnie is hard-pressed to prove her innocence before the real killer delivers another murder . . .

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Source: Purchase          Rating: 4/5 stars

Winnie Montgomery has nothing but fond memories from her childhood.  Though her flaky mother and father abandoned her, Winnie was loved and cared for unconditionally by her grandparents.  Growing up on the family apple orchard has taught Winnie the value of love, loyalty, dedication, and hard work, but all that may be threatened if she can’t find a way to pull the orchard out of debt. 

In the three years since her grandfather died, Winnie’s grandmother has been doing her best to keep the orchard afloat, but little by little she has fallen behind.  Though Winnie has been there to help, she didn’t know the extent of the financial difficulties until recently.  With a plan and a prayer, Winnie is determined to get things back on track and alleviate some of her beloved grandmother’s worry.  The last thing Winnie and her granny need is any more troubles or difficulties.

Then the surly neighbor shows up dead in there press . . . . this would be precisely the type of troubles or difficulties Winnie and her grandmother don’t need.  To make matters far, far worse, the body was found just as Winnie was making her pitch to the bank to loan her money to launch her cider shop on the orchard’s property.  To make matters far, far, far, far worse, the police think granny is the most likely suspect to have killed the old broad. 

Feeling the police aren’t doing all they can, Winnie begins to poke around and ask questions.  What Winnie discovers is that her surly neighbor wasn’t just surly with granny, but most people she had contact with.  As the suspect list grows, Winnie knows she is on to something big and far more dangerous than she ever could have imagined.  The deeper she gets in, the crankier the local (hot!) sheriff gets and the more concerned he becomes for Winnie’s safety.  By the time Winnie puts all the pieces together, she, her granny, and their orchard are in more danger than ever before and if they aren’t careful it’s all going to come crashing down around them.

The Bottom Line:  This first-in-a-series read has clearly been written by an experienced author who knows how to start a series, capture an audience, and not fall into the first book pitfalls.  This was a single sitting read for me and I enjoyed every word.  The pacing is perfect, the characters a well-rounded but with room for growth, the setting is beautiful, the food is wonderfully described, and the plot has just enough twists and turns to be exciting and engaging.  In all, I found this to be a fine start to a new series and one that has so much potential for growth and enjoyment.

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Thanks to Winnie’s new cider shop, Smythe Orchards is out of the red and folks can get their fix of the produce and other delectable products they love all year round. The locals are even booking the shop for events, including a June wedding! Winnie couldn’t be happier to see the barn filled to the rafters for the big bash—until her doting ex, Hank, is caught in a heated argument with the groom. Winnie plans to scold Hank after the party, but spots him running off instead. And when the groom turns up dead, apparently hit by the honeymoon getaway car, Hank is the main suspect. Now Hank is on the lam, and it’s up to Winnie to get to the core of the truth—before the real killer puts the squeeze on her . . .

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Source: NetGalley and Kensington Books          Rating: 4½/5 stars

Life at Smythe Orchards has always been about family, hard work, and community.  Unfortunately, in the last few months, it’s also been about trying to overcome obstacles, build a bright and successful future, and forget the tragedies of the past.  To that end, Winnie has finally been able to open her cider shop and the orchard is back in the black.  With life looking up, Winnie is ready to ride the tide of good feelings and see how her plans play out.  As always, the last thing Winnie and her granny need is any sort of trouble or difficulty. 

Trouble and difficulty are exactly what the two women get, in spades.

In the midst of Winnie’s first wedding hosting gig, the bride lets out a terrifying scream and is found crouched over the body of her new husband.  Just as Winnie gets to the bride and groom, she sees her ex-boyfriend fleeing the scene and in the days that follow he is completely MIA.  Though Winnie isn’t crazy about her ex, she is certain he isn’t a killer and if anyone can do anything to clear his name, it’s Winnie and her “insatiable curiosity.”  Unfortunately, until she can find her ex, Winnie won’t be able to get any answers to her questions.

As luck – or not! – would have it, Winnie’s ex has a nasty habit of breaking into her house and scaring the boojeebies out of her.  Every time Hank shows up, Winnie has a million and one questions for him, and Hank only seems to have one or two answers, or less.  Hank isn’t certain exactly who is involved or why, but he knows there’s a conspiracy and he got caught up as a patsy.  What’s more, Hank’s new squeeze is caught up as well and she’s even less knowledgeable about the whole mess than Hank. 

As Winnie continues to investigate, she inadvertently uncovers a huge and vastly profitable conspiracy that gets she and her best friend shot at, her livelihood threatened (again!), and her budding relationship with the sheriff placed on shaky ground.  The sheriff is not at all happy about Winnie’s involvement, especially when she winds up hurt and he comes face to face with her ex.  Once all the conspiracy business comes to light, even the sheriff must admit, Hank isn’t the guy.  Trouble is, no one can up with any solid evidence for who ‘the guy’ actually is. 

The Bottom Line:  As much as I enjoyed the first book in this series, I think this one has even more heft to it, which left me enjoying it just a bit more than book one.  Both Winnie and her granny are a bit more evolved in this story – I always like to see character evolution – and the plot is a bit more complicated which makes it a bit more interesting.  The cherry on top of all of this is the presence of one tiny little FAINTING GOAT!!  Are you kidding me?  Believe it or not, the cute little FAINTING GOAT fits right into the plot, right into orchard life, and right into the fabric of Winnie and granny’s lives.  I sincerely hope this series continues to grow as I am finding it to be one of my current favorites.

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Review: The Sweeney Sisters by Lian Dolan

49978226Maggie, Eliza, and Tricia Sweeney grew up as a happy threesome in the idyllic seaside town of Southport, Connecticut. But their mother’s death from cancer fifteen years ago tarnished their golden-hued memories, and the sisters drifted apart. Their one touchstone is their father, Bill Sweeney, an internationally famous literary lion and college professor universally adored by critics, publishers, and book lovers. When Bill dies unexpectedly one cool June night, his shell-shocked daughters return to their childhood home. They aren’t quite sure what the future holds without their larger-than-life father, but they do know how to throw an Irish wake to honor a man of his stature.

But as guests pay their respects and reminisce, one stranger, emboldened by whiskey, has crashed the party. It turns out that she too is a Sweeney sister.

When Washington, DC based journalist Serena Tucker had her DNA tested on a whim a few weeks earlier, she learned she had a 50% genetic match with a childhood neighbor—Maggie Sweeney of Southport, Connecticut. It seems Serena’s chilly WASP mother, Birdie, had a history with Bill Sweeney—one that has remained totally secret until now.

Once the shock wears off, questions abound. What does this mean for William’s literary legacy? Where is the unfinished memoir he’s stashed away, and what will it reveal? And how will a fourth Sweeney sister—a blond among redheads—fit into their story?

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Source: NetGalley and Harper Collins          Rating: 4½/5 stars

Outside of the death of their mother, the Sweeney sisters have always generally felt they had a lovely childhood.  Their mother was free-spirited and loving, while their father, a larger-than-life author always managed to overwhelm and overshadow most of the bad that plagues young girls.  Unfortunately, the death of their father breaks the spell.

Bill Sweeney slayed the literary world with his prose and in the years between books he’s educated the next generation of writers through his teaching.  Bill Sweeney was absolutely larger-than-life, and his daughters have always lived in his shadow and tried, in their own way to emulate his success in their chosen fields.  Tricia is a successful lawyer with her father’s drive and determination, Eliza is a successful gallery owner with a beautiful family, and Maggie is a free spirit with a creative streak a mile wide.  Each of the girls have spent their lives loving and admiring their father, but all that changes when they begin to pack up his life and discover his long-held secrets.

As the girls begin to pack up their father’s home and life, they discover his secrets didn’t just impact him in his time and place, but the girls in the here and now.  With each new revelation, the girls are forced to confront the fact, their father wasn’t at all who they thought he was, and he was, in fact, a selfish bastard with no one’s interests but his own in mind.  Even as they are dealing with their father’s lies and manipulations, each sister also must confront her own issues and accept that her own future has been radically altered by the whims of a man each thought she knew.

As if their father’s issues weren’t enough to manage and deal with, each sister also has to face the fact that her current life isn’t what she had hoped it would be.  Though she thought she loved her job and climb to the top, Tricia is beginning to realize she is actually quite miserable.  Eliza’s marriage isn’t at all what it should be and a few revelations from her husband turn her world completely upside down.  Finally, Maggie has to completely revamp her life if she doesn’t want to continue the cycle of depression she has lived with for so many years. Through the entire process, each sister learns her own value and worth, and discovers that though they each loved their father, they no longer have to live in his colossal shadow.  In fact, each sister discovers that in the light her life is complete, happy, and full of promise.

The Bottom Line:  What an emotional ride this book turned out to be!  The Sweeney Sisters is the story of broken women looking to heal themselves, accept the faults in their parents, and discover a life beyond what they’ve always known or thought they knew.  I particularly liked how each sister brought something unique to the table in this book and how their individual qualities eventually came together and complimented one another.  These sisters are strong and resilient, and they have to be in the face of the mess their selfish bastard of a father left behind.  I appreciated the Sweeney sisters and their determination to get through their trauma and act as fairly and correctly as possible in the face of impossible and often daunting decisions.  What’s more, I especially liked that the story tied up all the lose ends and left each the sisters in a far better place than where she started.

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Review: The Magnolia Sisters by Alys Murray

50355327. sy475 Harper Anderson has a to-do list longer than the Colorado river, and fields of tulips to tend to at her family’s flower farm in Hillsboro County, California. It’s her dream to run the business with her sisters when their father retires, keeping up traditions that began with her great-great-grandmother.

That is, if there’s a farm left to run. Rich out-of-towners looking for a slice of country living are hiking up the prices in town and it’s putting her family out of business. So she has no time for the arrogant LA tech mogul who makes her an offer to use their farm as his sister’s wedding venue. No amount of money could make up for the destruction it would wreak on next season’s crop. The sooner Luke Martin is on his way, the better.

But Luke isn’t willing to go. He’s been looking out for his sister ever since their deadbeat parents left them to fend for themselves, and he’ll do whatever it takes to make her happy. So when Harper’s newest farmhand leaves her in the lurch, he sees an opportunity to strike a deal. He’ll work on the farm for free if she’ll give him the chance to change her mind.

Harper and Luke each expect the other to crack first. What they don’t expect is the chemistry that sparks between them as they work side by side among the budding roses. But Luke’s presence is turning over more than the earth, and just as Harper is starting to let her guard down, he stumbles upon a secret that could spell disaster for the entire Anderson clan.

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Source: NetGalley and Bookouture          Rating: 4/5 stars

The Anderson sisters have been tied to their family farm since birth.  They are as close to one another as they are to their parents.  The sisters delight in the work they do, and each brings her own unique skill set to their work.  Harper is the tender of the fields and flowers, while her sisters run a flower shop and gift shop in town.  The Anderson sisters work hard and sleep well each night knowing they are bringing light and beauty into the world through their efforts and hard work.

Unfortunately, the hard work isn’t quite paying the bills the same way it used to, and the family farm is in something of a financial mess.  Of the three sisters, Harper is taking the news the hardest and desperately looking for income outlets that she hasn’t previously found.  Her farm and her flowers are everything and saving them is of the utmost importance.

As Harper is trying to suss out new sources of income, Luke Martin is in town to help his sister pull together the perfect wedding.  Since he was a teenager, Luke has looked after his younger sister.  Though she is now a successful adult in her own right, Luke is still entwined in her life and constantly on the lookout for things that will make her happy or her life a bit easier.  When his sister discovers the Andersons’ field of flowers, she has to have it for her wedding no matter the cost. Harper and Luke are like oil and water from the moment they meet.  Harper sees Luke as entitled and selfish while Luke sees Harper as entrancing, exhilarating, exciting, and exhausting woman he has ever met.  Hell is going to freeze over before Harper is going to subject her fields of flowers to a wedding, and Luke has got to come up with a plan to change Harper’s mind.  Unfortunately, the only plan Luke can come up with is going to work for the farm and having Harper as his boss. 

Hours into his new job, Luke is in pain – new boots! – but has no intention of giving up or giving in to Harper’s heinous to-do list.  If he’s going to help his sister, he’ll have to tough it out no matter what.  As his second day on the farm dawns, Luke is in even more pain, but Harper doesn’t seem to be quite so spicy.  In fact, from time to time, Harper even seems to be nice.  As the days pass and Harper and Luke get to know one another, their relationship deepens into something neither expected.  What’s more, Luke’s sister has become a huge part of the Anderson clan, a great and unexpected surprise to all.

As Harper and Luke are seemingly growing closer by the day, each is grateful for the budding relationship, but also wary.  Harper has, historically, not been the dating or getting attached type and Luke has a bit of a secret he doesn’t quite know how to break to Harper.  It she can’t get over his issues and his secret comes out in the wrong way, the blossoming relationship is going with wither and die before it ever really has a chance to grow. WOW!!  Did you see all those flower-related words in there? 😊

The Bottom Line:  I’m a bit disappointed in the Goodreads star rating for this book.  I feel like The Magnolia Sisters is something of an underrated little gem.  I found all the characters to be quite likeable and easy to root for, the setting to be lush and beautifully described, and the story itself to be entertaining with just the right amount of drama, not too much and not too little.  The author’s writing style is smooth and easy and with two more sisters, there is the promise of more books to come.  I’m totally on board with that plan, especially if Luke, Harper, and Luke’s wonderfully delightful sister make guest appearances.

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Review: Only When It’s Us (Book #1: Bergman Brothers Series) by Chloe Liese

51975973. sy475 Ryder: Ever since she sat next to me in class and gave me death eyes, Willa Sutter’s been on my shit list. Why she hates me, I don’t know. What I do know is that Willa is the kind of chaos I don’t need in my tidy life.

She’s the next generation of women’s soccer.

Wild hair, wilder eyes.

Bee-stung lips that should be illegal.

And a temper that makes the devil seem friendly.

She’s a thorn in my side, a menacing, cantankerous, pain-in-the-ass who’s turned our Business Mathematics course into a goddamn gladiator arena. I’ll leave this war zone unscathed, coming out on top…And if I have my way with that crazy-haired, ball-busting hellion, that will be in more than one sense of the word. 

Willa: Rather than give me the lecture notes I missed like every other instructor I’ve had, my asshole professor tells me to get them from the silent, surly flannel-wearing mountain man sitting next to me in class. Well, I tried. And what did I get from Ryder Bergman? Ignored. 

What a complete lumbersexual neanderthal.

Mangy beard and mangier hair.

Frayed ball cap that hides his eyes.

And a stubborn refusal to acknowledge my existence.

I’ve battled men before, but with Ryder, it’s war. I’ll get those notes and crack that Sasquatch nut if it’s the last thing I do, then I’ll have him at my mercy. Victory will have never tasted so sweet.

Review. Text on the string. Conceptual 3d image

Source: NetGalley         Rating: 4½/5 stars

Willa has more on her plate than the average college kid should!  Willa is an athlete, she’s trying to successfully get through her classes, and she’s the daughter of a single parent who has been in and out of the hospital for years.  Though she tries to juggle all the balls at once, a few things, like her grades in one of her business classes are suffering.  In the past, Willa’s professors have been willing to work with her, but this particular professor isn’t having any of that nonsense.  In fact, rather than helping Willa himself, he fobs her off on the silent lumberjack she typically sits next to.

Silent lumberjack is Ryder and he has no idea why the hot chick who sits beside him seems so anger  . . .  all the time.  When the professor offers up Riley’s help without his consent, Riley is suddenly faced with having to properly interact with the angry girl.  This ought to be fun!  For Riley, interactions with others have been difficult, at best, since he lost his hearing after a battle with meningitis.  Any time he has to expose himself to another and admit his difficulty with communication, he is vulnerable. Exposing himself to a demonstrably angry girl is going to be incredibly difficult. 

Though he isn’t looking forward to the first encounter, Ryder is pleasantly surprised by Willa’s response to his hearing impairment.  She doesn’t seem to care that their communications are different and once she begins to know Ryder, she grudgingly admits to liking the big lumber jack.  Make no mistake they still banter and bicker with one another, but the verbal jabs are more like foreplay than malice.  In fact, for weeks, as the two work diligently on a project for class, they become closer and closer. 

The time he spends with Willa is radically changing Ryder and his family so pleased with the changes.  For the first time in two years, Ryder is willing to begin work on his speech and hearing, he’s more willing to go out into the world, and he’s more willing to interact with his family.  For the first time in two years, Ryder is coming out of his shell and Willa is the reason for that.  The only trouble is, Willa is clearly holding back and Ryder has no idea why. If he can’t get her to open up and share her whole life with him, there isn’t going to be much of a future for them.

The Bottom Line:  I have to say, this book was quite a wonderful surprise.  There is a bit of everything in this book from laugh out loud humor (the whoopie cushion incident) to lovely naughty bits (the waterfall!) to emotional upheavals (Willa’s mother) to a few well-kept secrets (I’m not telling!).  Far and away the highlight of this book for me was Ryder with his lumberjack good looks to his fierce determination to live his life on his terms and at his pace.  Ryder is the polar opposite of Willa and that is exactly what she needs in her life, a perfect balance.  Though some of the topics and themes in this book are somewhat heavy, there are moments of levity that break up the sadness.  This is a rather good book and I am glad to say I not only stumbled upon it, but see that it is just the first in a series.

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