Isabelle and Alexander by Rebecca Anderson

Genre: Historical Fiction, Romance
Publisher: Shadow Mountain
Publication Date: May 2021

Isabelle Rackham has accepted that her upcoming marriage will be a business match. Arranged to merge her father’s upper-middle-class status with Alexander Osgood’s prospering textile mills, Isabelle knows her position well. Her soon-to-be husband might be a coveted bachelor, but for him acquiring a wife is not a matter of love.

Life in Northern England is nothing like in her childhood home in the lake country. Dank and dreary, the soot from the mills coats Isabelle’s new surroundings in a perpetual gray hue, one that seems to seep into every corner of her life. Her husband, though courteous, seems to prefer immersing himself into the mill than spending time with her at home.

When an unexpected trip to Alexander’s country estate culminates in a tragic accident that leaves him paralyzed, Isabelle is propelled in a direction she never imagined. She must decide whether she can embrace the life she didn’t sign up for and the husband who does not love her.

In Isabelle and Alexander, Rebecca Anderson delivers a sweet story of overcoming the odds that transports readers to Victorian England and the mill country. It evokes a North and South (Elizabeth Gaskell) feel that this Mr. Thornton fan loved. Though immediately intrigued by the premise, the novel started off slow, but I became more engrossed after the accident and its consequent upheaval to the newlyweds.

In a time and age when many give up on marriage rather than put in the hard work necessary, a romance built on values and perseverance is a breath of fresh air. However, most of the time, I felt like a spectator in the corner rather than someone immersed in the middle of the events, which made it disappointing. Told in first person from Isabelle’s point of view, a large part of the information came through introspection. I wanted to be shown things instead of told.

As a non-point-of-view character, Alexander’s words and actions are vital to revealing his inner feelings, struggles, and changes. While we clearly see this come through when pushing his wife away, his subsequent softening isn’t as visible. It made his switch and the ensuing romance at the end feel rushed and sudden.

I liked both Isabelle and Alexander, but the scenes between them never achieved their full potential — again, mostly because of too much telling and not enough showing. I did enjoy watching Isabelle grow into her role as wife and mistress of the house even as she discovered herself as a woman and human being.

A stronger sense of setting also would have helped place the reader deeper in the tale. As is, the descriptions in Isabelle and Alexander didn’t always carry across the page, painting a clear picture of the scene and era. I saw a lot of promise in the writing, the characters, and the setting. Had I been less interested, I might have not cared so much about the details. But the story did capture me, making me wish I could submerge myself in the events instead of just scratch the surface. Creating characters that readers connect with is half the battle, and Anderson definitely accomplished that. I would recommend this book to fans of Victorian novels and arranged marriages, and I will keep my eyes out for more titles by this author.

Review copy provided by publisher via NetGalley as part of a blog tour. Thanks!

 

Character Spotlight: Elizabeth Goddard’s Terra and Jack

About the Story:

Former FBI Special Agent Jack Tanner is working as a detective in Montana when he comes across a body in the national forest during a search and rescue mission. He’s committed to finding the killer, even if it means working alongside his old flame, US Forest Service Special Agent Terra Connors.

When Terra discovers that the murder victim had ties to a powerful and dangerous trafficker of archaeological artifacts, the investigation takes a deadly turn–one that hits too close to home. As Terra fears she lacks the courage to face what comes next, Jack is more determined than ever to protect her. But he’s failed her before. And if he fails this time, it will cost them far more than just their hearts.

Join bestselling and award-winning author Elizabeth Goddard as she plunges you into a web of deceit made of hidden crimes, open threats, and long-buried family secrets in this gripping first book of an explosive new series.

Meet Terra Connor

Image Credit: Pinterest

Resembles: Actress Gemma Arterton.

Physical description: Terra has shoulder-length dark hair and bright blue eyes. She is a USFS Special Agent—normally plain clothes officers who carries concealed firearms, and other defensive equipment.

Age: 29

Job: US Forest Service Special Agent. Yes, that’s a thing. 🙂

Favorite part of being a US Forest Service Special Agent: Spending time in the outdoors and the vast reaches of the national forests.

Least favorite part of being a US Forest Service Special Agent: Seeing the destruction to natural resources caused by humankind.

Loves: Terra loves nature and hiking, which almost seems to go without saying. She has also studied archaeology and specializes in those aspects of her job.

Greatest struggle: Terra wants to live up to her mother’s legacy, and struggles to feel like she will ever be as good of a special agent as her mother was a ranger.

Family history: Terra’s mother was killed fourteen years ago during a SAR rescue on the mountain. At the base of Stone Wolf Mountain, the Rocky Mountain Courage Memorial honors those who died on the mountain. Terra’s brother Owen recently returned from the middle east where he was a warrant officer (helicopter pilot) and he lives with her grandfather who has a ranch at the base of Stone Wolf Mountain.

Meet Jack Tanner

Image Credit: Pinterest

Resembles: A young Chris Hemsworth

Physical description: Green eyes and sun-bleached hair. A strong, lithe physique—outdoorsy and rock/mountain climber as well as county detective.

Age: 30

Job: Former FBI special agent turned Grayback County Detective.

Loves: Loves mountain climbing.

Hates: That he keeps a secret that weighs on him every day. Hates that he believes his father was a bad man.  Jack wants to change his future so he won’t end up like his father. He hates that Robert Vandine, Terra’s grandfather, thought Jack didn’t come from good stock like he was so much cattle. He wasn’t good enough for Terra—so Jack left her, for her own good.

Greatest struggle: Jack wants to erase his father’s legacy and make something of himself, and somehow be good enough for Terra, though it’s far too late. 

Family history: His father was a drug addict and was killed, so Jack went to live with Aunt Nadine.

About the Author:

Elizabeth Goddard has sold over one million books and is the USA Today bestselling and award-winning author of more than 40 romance novels and counting, including the romantic mystery The Camera Never Lies–a 2011 Carol Award winner. She is a Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence in Mystery and Suspense finalist for her Mountain Cove series–Buried, Backfire, and Deception–and a Carol Award finalist for Submerged. When she’s not writing, she loves spending time with her family, traveling to find inspiration for her next book, and serving with her husband in ministry.

Connect with Elizabeth through her website, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Excerpt: Blackberry Beach by Irene Hannon

Chapter 1

The mystery woman was back.

Zach Garrett poured the steamed milk into the coffee mixture, creating his signature swirl pattern with the froth—all the while keeping tabs on the female customer who’d paused inside the door of The Perfect Blend, dripping umbrella in hand.

As she had on her first visit two days ago, the lady appeared to be debating whether to stay or bolt.

Wiping the nozzle on the espresso machine, he assessed her. Early to midthirties, near as he could tell—though the oversize dark sunglasses hid most of her features. A curious wardrobe addition, given the unseasonably heavy rain that had been drenching Hope Harbor for the past seventy-two hours.

He handed the latte to the waiting customer and angled toward his Monday/Wednesday/Friday assistant barista. “Bren, you waited on her Monday, didn’t you?” He indicated the slender woman with the dark, shoulder-length blunt-cut hair who continued to hover near the threshold.

Bren spared her a quick once-over as she finished grinding another batch of the top-quality Arabica beans he sourced from a fair-trade roaster in Portland. “Yeah.”

“Do you remember what she ordered?”

“Small skinny vanilla latte.”

“Did you get a name?”

“Nope. I asked, but she said she’d wait for her order at the pickup counter.”

In other words, the woman wanted to remain anonymous.

Also curious.

While it was possible she was one of the many visitors who dropped into their picturesque town for a few days during the summer months, his gut said otherwise.

And since his people instincts had served him well in his previous profession, there was no reason to discount them now.

So who was she—and what was she doing in Hope Harbor?

Only one way to find out.

“I’ll take care of her.”

“That works. I’ve already got customers.” Bren inclined her head toward the couple waiting for their pound of ground coffee.

Zach called up his friendliest smile and ambled down to the end of the serving counter. “Let me guess—a small skinny vanilla latte.”

The woman did a double take . . . took a step back . . . and gave the shop a quick, nervous scan. As if she was scoping out potential threats.

No worries on that score. There was nothing in The Perfect Blend to raise alarm bells. While several of the tables tucked against the walls and cozied up around the freestanding fireplace in the center were occupied, no one was paying any attention to the new arrival. The customers were all reading newspapers, absorbed in books, or chatting as they enjoyed their drinks and pastries in the Wi-Fi-free environment.

The door behind the woman opened again, nudging her aside.

Charley Lopez entered, his trademark Ducks cap secured beneath the hood of a dripping slicker.

“Sorry, ma’am.” He flashed her a smile as he touched the brim of the cap, pushed the hood back to reveal his gray ponytail . . . and gave her an intent look. “I didn’t mean to bump you.”

“No problem.” She dipped her chin and moved aside, putting distance between them. As if his perusal had spiked her nerves.

“Are you coming in or going out?” Charley maintained his hold on the half-open door.

“Coming in.” Zach answered for her. “I’m betting she’s in the mood for a skinny vanilla latte.”

“Excellent choice.” Charley closed the door.

“Bren will handle your order as soon as she finishes with her customers, Charley.” Zach kept his attention on the stranger.

“No hurry.” The taco-making artist who’d called Hope Harbor home for as long as anyone could remember moseyed toward the counter. “I doubt I’ll have much business at the stand, thanks to our odd weather. August is usually one of the driest months on the Oregon coast.”

“Any day is a perfect day for a Charley’s fish taco.”

“I may steal that line. It would be a great marketing slogan.”

“As if you need one. Your long lines are proof that word of mouth generates a ton of business.”

“That it does.” He winked, then directed his next comment to the woman. “If you haven’t visited my truck yet, it’s on the wharf. Next to the gazebo.”

“I may stop by.”

“Please do. First order for newcomers is always on the house.” He continued toward Bren.

Zach frowned after him. Everyone in town knew about Charley’s welcome gift of a free lunch for new residents . . . but this woman hadn’t moved to Hope Harbor.

Had she?

What did Charley know that he didn’t?

She edged toward the exit, and Zach shifted gears. He could pick the town sage’s brain later. In the meantime, why not try to ferret out a few facts himself?

Unless his skittish customer disappeared out the door first.

He hiked up the corners of his mouth again. “My assistant barista told me you ordered a small skinny vanilla latte on your last visit—but I’ll be happy to make a different drink for you today.”

Hesitating, she gave the room one more survey . . . then slid her umbrella into the stand by the door. “No. That’s fine.”

She was staying.

First hurdle cleared.

“Can I have a name for the order?” He picked up a cup and a pen.

Silence.

He arched his eyebrows at her.

She extracted a five-dollar bill and set it on the counter. “Keep the change. And it’s Kat. With a K.” She eased away.

Second hurdle cleared.

“Got it.” He jotted the name. “I’ll have this ready in a couple of minutes.”

She nodded and escaped toward a deserted table in the far corner—out of conversation range.

Blast.

Thwarted at the third hurdle.

He wasn’t going to find out anything else about her.

But what did it matter? Just because he was beginning to crave feminine companionship—and the pool of eligible women in town was limited—didn’t mean he should get any ideas about the first single, attractive female who walked in.

Yeah, yeah, he’d noticed the empty fourth finger on her left hand.

He mixed the espresso and vanilla syrup together, positioned the steam nozzle below the surface of the milk until the liquid bubbled, then dipped deeper to create a whirlpool motion.

Charley wandered over while Bren prepared his café de olla, watching as Zach poured the milk into the espresso mixture, holding back the foam with a spoon to create a stylized K on top of the drink. “Beautiful. You have an artistic touch.”

“Nothing like yours.” He set the empty frothing pitcher aside and reached for a lid as he signaled to the woman in the corner. “I wish my coffee sold for a fraction of what your paintings bring in.”

“Life shouldn’t be all about making money. My stand isn’t a gold mine, but I enjoy creating tacos as much as I enjoy painting. Customers for both can feel the love I put into my work. Like they can feel the love you have for this shop. It seeps into your pores the instant you cross the threshold. A person would have to be über stressed not to find peace and relaxation here.”

The very ambiance he’d hoped to create when he’d opened a year and a half ago.

“You just made my day.”

“That’s what it’s all about, isn’t it?” Charley motioned toward the foam art. “Why don’t you show that to your customer? Brighten her day.”

Not a bad idea. Perhaps it would elicit a few words from her—or initiate a conversation.

He set the cup on the counter as she approached and offered her his most engaging grin. The one that usually turned female heads. “Your personalized skinny vanilla latte.”

Lips flat, she gave his handiwork no more than a fleeting perusal. “Thanks.”

Not only was the lady immune to his charm, she had no interest in extending their conversation.

Fighting back an irrational surge of disappointment, Zach put a lid on the drink. “Enjoy.”

“Thanks.” She hurried toward the door, pulled her umbrella out of the stand, and disappeared into the gray shroud hanging over the town.

“I think my attempt to brighten her day was a bust.” He folded his arms as the rain pummeled the picture window.

“Oh, I don’t know. Sometimes the simplest gestures of kindness can touch a heart in unseen ways.”

Zach didn’t try to hide his skepticism. “Assuming she’s willing to let her heart be touched. The lady didn’t exude much warmth.”

“She may be hiding it behind a protective wall. Could be she’s dealing with a boatload of heavy stuff. That can dampen a person’s sociability.”

Zach’s antennas perked up. “You know anything about her?”

“Nothing much—though she seems familiar.” He squinted after her. Shook his head. “It’ll come to me. Anyway, I spotted her on the wharf Monday, sipping a brew from your fine establishment. She was sitting alone on a bench during one of the few monsoon-free interludes we’ve had this week. I got gloomy vibes. Like she was troubled—and could use a friend.”

Zach wasn’t about to question the veracity of Charley’s intuition. The man was legendary in these parts for his uncanny insights and his ability to discern more than people willingly divulged.

Present company included.

How Charley had realized there was an unresolved issue in his past was beyond him. He’d never talked about it to anyone. But the man’s astute comments, while generic, were too relevant to be random. As a result, on more than one occasion he’d been tempted to get Charley’s take on his situation.

Yet as far as he could see, there was no solution to the impasse short of returning to his former world and toeing the line—and that wasn’t happening. The new life he’d built these past two and a half years suited him, and now that he was settled in Hope Harbor, he was more convinced than ever his decision to walk away had been the right one.

“You still with me, Zach?” Charley’s lips tipped up.

“Yeah.” He refocused. “You think she’s a visitor?”

“I’d classify her more as a seeker.”

What did that mean?

Before he could ask, Bren appeared at his elbow. “Here you go, Charley.” She popped a cinnamon stick into his drink, snapped on a lid, and handed the cup over the counter.

“Thanks. It’s a treat to have authentic Mexican coffee available here in our little town.”

“We aim to please.” The door opened again to admit what appeared to be a family of tourists, and Zach lifted his hand in welcome. “Everyone must be in the mood for coffee today.”

“Count your blessings.” Charley raised his cup in salute. “I’m off to the taco stand.”

“I’ll try to send a few customers your direction.”

“Always appreciated. Maybe Kat will stop by.”

“You know her last name?” He kept an eye on the newcomers as they perused his menu board and examined the offerings in the pastry case.

“No. But I may find out if she visits my truck. Or she might come back here again and you can take another crack at breaching that wall she’s put up. See you soon.” He strolled toward the door.

The new customers began to pepper him with questions about the pastry selection, but as he answered, the image of the mystery woman sitting alone on a bench at the wharf—and Charley’s comment that she could use a friend—remained front and center in his mind.

If she was dealing with a bunch of garbage, he ought to cut her some slack for her lack of sociability today. Been there, done that—and it was a bad place to be.

Yet thanks to grit, determination . . . and the kind people of Hope Harbor, who’d welcomed him into the community he now called home . . . he’d survived.

Hard to say if the woman hiding behind the dark shades had similar fortitude . . . and if she was merely passing through, he’d never find out.

But if she stuck around awhile, perhaps in Hope Harbor she’d discover an answer to the worrisome situation Charley thought she might be wrestling with.

Taken from Blackberry Beach by Irene Hannon. Copyright © 2021. Used by permission of Baker Publishing Group. All rights reserved.

About the Author:

Irene Hannon is the bestselling author of more than fifty novels, including One Perfect Spring, Hope Harbor, Sea Rose Lane, Sandpiper Cove, and Pelican Point, as well as Dangerous Illusions and the Private Justice and Men of Valor suspense series. Her books have been honored with three coveted RITA Awards from Romance Writers of America, and she is a member of that organization’s elite Hall of Fame. Her many other awards include National Readers’ Choice, Daphne du Maurier, Retailers’ Choice, Booksellers’ Best, Carols, and Reviewers’ Choice from RT Book Reviews magazine, which also honored her with a Career Achievement award for her entire body of work. In addition, she is a two-time Christy Award finalist.

Connect with Irene through her website, Facebook, and Twitter.

Interview: Lynn H. Blackburn

When you walk into a bookstore, you make a beeline for what section? Christian fiction and Christian living, followed by Mystery/Thriller.

Favorite place to write: I have my own table at Panera. The lovely people at Panera don’t realize this, of course. 🙂 But that table has never let me down and when I’m stuck on a story or need to reach a serious word count, I will make the effort to get away to Panera. If a miracle occurs and I’m alone in my house, I love to write in our home library. But most often, I write in my home office.

Go-to writing snack or drink: Americano with cream or Iced coffee with cream – no sugar.

What does your writing nook look like? We turned a small attic storage area into an office a few years ago. It’s small but private, and I love it.

Something you must do or have to write: I have lots of preferences—time, quiet, instrumental music (especially film scores), no distractions—but the truth is that if I have to, I can write anywhere. Today I’m writing in microbursts while sitting in my living room listening to one child practice piano and helping another with a report on Diocletian. It isn’t ideal, but it gets the job done in a pinch.

Favorite (doesn’t that word just make you cringe?) writer resource: Scrivener. I write everything in Scrivener—manuscripts, blog posts, newsletter, this interview. Everything. I would be lost without it.

What book is currently on your nightstand? Redemption by David Baldacci and an early copy of Present Danger by Elizabeth Goddard.

Hard copy, e-reader, audio book: All 3. Hard copy is my forever favorite. Kindle Paperwhite for travel and convenience, and audio book for daily commuting, chores around the house, and evenings with a crochet or knitting project.

What was the inspiration behind Unknown Threat? I’m never completely sure how I got an idea for a book because it’s always a combination of things I’m interested in and ideas that I want to explore. For Unknown Threat, I knew I wanted the agents to be in danger, and that I didn’t want them to know where the threat was coming from. I’m a very organic writer, so I started with that. Then I was along for the ride with the characters, discovering it as I went.

Favorite part of writing Unknown Threat: I’ve always been fascinated by the U.S. Secret Service and am lucky enough to have a friend who was in a position to answer my questions. The Secret Service is so much more than the guys running alongside the presidential limo. I wanted to explore what happens in a smaller office, away from hustle of Washington, D.C. and I’m excited to continue looking at that with the next books in the series.

Hardest part of writing Unknown Threat: Getting to know a new cast of characters. I had spent several years with my Dive Team Investigations series characters and it was challenging to get into the new characters’ heads and learn their quirks and personalities. Challenging, but worth it.

If Unknown Threat was turned into a movie, who would you cast as the leads? I picture FBI Special Agent Faith Malone as a young Angie Harmon and U.S. Secret Service Special Agent Luke Powell as Theo James.

What is next? I’m currently writing the second book in the Defend and Protect series and a novella that is loosely connected to the series.

What else would you like readers to know?

I’m a homeschool mom so writing is far from being my full-time occupation. Sometimes I wish I could write faster and have books releasing more often, but I know this time with my kids is precious and will be over way too soon. I’m thankful that I can write now while they’re still at home and that they get to see me pursuing my passions and my dreams. I’m also thankful that this is something I’ll be able to do more of when they head out to follow their own dreams and aspirations.

About the Story:

US Secret Service Special Agent Luke Powell is lucky to be alive. Three of his fellow agents have died in unusual circumstances in the past ten weeks. Luke is devastated by the loss of his friends and colleagues, and his inability to locate the killer feels like a personal failure. He and his team are experts at shielding others, but now the protectors are in need of protection.

FBI Special Agent Faith Malone is driven to succeed and confident in her ability to solve every case she’s assigned. She’s been put in charge of the investigation into the unprecedented attacks, and with Luke’s life in danger, the stakes have never been higher. But it’s hard to know how to fight back when you don’t know who the enemy is.

Luke has teamed up with Faith before, but he’s not convinced she’s up for the job and she’s not convinced he’s telling her everything he knows. As more agents are targeted, Luke and Faith will have to learn to trust each other and work together to bring a killer to justice and prevent any more names from joining their fallen brothers and sisters on the Secret Service Wall of Honor.

Connect with Lynn through her website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest.

Cover Reveal: The Lines Between Us by Amy Lynn Green

Last year, Amy Lynn Green blew us away with her exquisitely penned debut novel, Things We Didn’t Say, and she is back to wow us once again. Coming in September, we will meet smokejumper Gordon Hooper and Army Corps member Dorie Armitage. Before we catch a glimpse of the cover for The Lines Between Us, let’s learn a little bit about their tale.

About the Story:

Since the attack on Pearl Harbor, Gordon Hooper and his buddy Jack Armitage have done “work of national importance” in Oregon as conscientious objectors: volunteering as smokejumpers, and parachuting into and extinguishing raging wildfires. But the number of winter blazes they’re called to in early 1945 seems suspiciously high, and when an accident leaves Jack badly injured, Gordon realizes the facts don’t add up.

A member of the Women’s Army Corps, Dorie Armitage has long been ashamed of her brother’s pacificism, but she’s shocked by news of his accident. Determined to find out why he was harmed, she arrives at the national forest under the guise of conducting an army report . . . and finds herself forced to work with Gordon. He believes it’s wrong to lie; she’s willing to do whatever it takes for justice to be done. As they search for clues, Gordon and Dorie must wrestle with their convictions about war and peace and decide what to do with the troubling secrets they discover.

The Cover:

What do you think? I love the vintage feel

Pre-Order Now!

Amazon * Baker Book House

About the Author:

Amy Lynn Green is a publicist by day and a freelance writer on nights and weekends. She was the 2014 winner of the Family Fiction short story contest, and her articles have been featured in Crosswalk, Focus on the Family magazines, and other faith-based publications over the past 10 years. This is her first novel.

Connect with Amy through her website, Facebook, and Instagram.