Character Spotlight: Liz Johnson’s Justin and Natalie

About the Story:

Fifteen years after she left Prince Edward Island, Natalie O’Ryan had no plans to return. But when her fiancé, music producer Russell Jacobs, books their wedding in her hometown and schedules a summer at Rose’s Red Door Inn, she sets out to put the finishing touches on the perfect wedding. But she can’t possibly prepare for a run-in with Justin Kane–the best friend she left behind all those years ago after promising to stay.

Justin’s never forgotten Natalie or the music career he always dreamed of pursuing. He’d been prepared to follow her off the island until his dad died and he was left to run the family dairy farm. He’s done the best he can with the life that was thrust upon him–but with Natalie back in the picture, he begins to realize just how much joy he’s been missing.

After Natalie’s reception venue falls through, she must scramble to find an alternative, and the only option seems to be a barn on Justin’s property. As they work together to get the dilapidated building ready for the party, Natalie and Justin discover the groundwork for forgiveness–and that there may be more than an old friendship between them.

Meet Natalie

Image Credit: Pinterest

Resembles: Jessica Chastain

Physical description: She’s a petite redhead with all the pale features of her Irish heritage. She has blue eyes and a smattering of freckles across her nose.

Age: 32

Loves: She’s exceptional at keeping track of the details and pleasing people. But what she really loves is verbally sparing with Justin, a pastime that she’s missed terribly in the last fifteen years.

Hates: Gossip—especially when she’s the one being gossiped about. And she hates being the center of attention.

Favorite flower: Purple orchids

Favorite song: One that Justin wrote called “On This Shore.”

Favorite cake: Caden’s lemon cake with raspberry filling and whipped lemon frosting.

Biggest struggle: She’s not always honest with herself about what she wants, and she struggles to tell her fiancée the truth about why she left PEI and never wanted to go back.

Background: She’s an only child with a childhood that was filled with pain and neglect. She longs to forget the past, but is stuck reliving it upon her return to PEI.

Work: She’s the concierge at a ritzy hotel in Nashville, serving many of Music City’s elite.

Meet Justin

Image Credit: Pinterest

Resembles: Christian Kane

Physical description: Justin is a stocky dairy farmer. He has black hair that he wears in a ponytail. He always keeps his sideburns long too. His eyes are a piercing blue, and he perpetually has a five-o’clock shadow.

Age: 33

Loves: He’s always dreamed of having a music career, but he’s settled for playing shows in his small PEI hometown. He spends his free time writing songs in his favorite place, an old lighthouse on his family’s property.

Hates: He hates watching Natalie pretend to be someone she’s not. And he hates having to pretend not to care about her while she’s engaged to another man.

Favorite song: “Good-bye, girl,” a song he wrote after Natalie left. It’s become a local favorite and reminds him how much she’s hurt him, and somehow that pain is better than letting her memory go.

Favorite cake: The same as Natalie’s. (But, really, he’s not picky about cake.)

Biggest struggle: He can’t seem to forgive Natalie for leaving the island and him behind.  

Background: Justin is the oldest of three siblings. When his father passed away, he took responsibility for his family’s dairy farm, which he runs with his mom’s help.

Work: Early morning chores on the farm, and now he’s agreed to fix up the old barn on his property for Natalie’s wedding.

About the Author:

By day Liz Johnson is the marketing director for a radio network. She finds time to write late at night and is a two-time ACFW Carol Award finalist. Liz makes her home in Tucson, AZ, where she enjoys theater, exploring local history, and doting on her nieces and nephews. She loves stories of true love with happy endings.

Connect with Liz through her website, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

Where There’s Smoke (Montana Fire #1) by Susan May Warren

Genre: Romance
Publisher: SDG Publishing
Publication Date: May 2016

In a world of men, renowned smokejumper Kate Burns’ life has revolved around proving she is just as good if not better than her male counterparts. No risk is too great to accomplish the job and silence the naysayers. However, she faces one problem — Kate fears fire.

Smokejumper supervisor Jed Ransom’s calm, level-headed personality clashes with Kate’s impulsiveness. Of course, she’d be the only woman he’s ever loved and the one he hasn’t been able to forget even after years apart.

When a wildfire ravages the Montana Mountains, Kate and Jed must put aside the past and their differences to train a new team of jumpers. With the discovery that they have an arsonist on the loose — one that’s targeting their team — it becomes evident that Kate and Jed may not come out of this one unscathed.

Susan May Warren transports readers to the rugged Montana landscape in Where There’s Smoke. The author brings to life the breath-taking beauty of nature and the devastation of fire. Readers should prepare to smell smoke everywhere they turn. I especially enjoyed learning about smokejumpers and seeing some of the struggles and perils that come with the job.

For the most part, Jed and Kate were sympathetic characters I could root for, though Kate was a bit of a jerk toward Jed a few times. The heroine’s heart-wrenching struggles with her father left me wishing they could have sorted out their differences before his death. I know, I know, then we wouldn’t have had a story.

Based on comments and reviews I’ve read, it seems that some of the characters have previously appeared in other Warren novels. Though I have not read the books in question, I didn’t have a problem following this story. I may have missed fun-to-know, secondary character backstories, but I didn’t miss any crucial information.

I would recommend Where There’s Smoke to Warren’s fans and romantic suspense readers.

Review copy provided by the author. Thanks!

Top Ten Tuesday: Best 2017 Reads So Far

Can you believe we’re already six months into 2017? I don’t know what it’s like where you are, but here, summer has kicked in with a vengeance.

For this week’s Top Ten Tuesday post, I will share my favorite reads for the first half of 2017.

Romance

On Love’s Gentle Shore by Liz Johnson

The book in one word: Hopeful

Fifteen years after she left Prince Edward Island, Natalie O’Ryan had no plans to return. But when her fiancé, music producer Russell Jacobs, books their wedding in her hometown and schedules a summer at Rose’s Red Door Inn, she sets out to put the finishing touches on the perfect wedding. But she can’t possibly prepare for a run-in with Justin Kane–the best friend she left behind all those years ago after promising to stay.

Justin’s never forgotten Natalie or the music career he always dreamed of pursuing. He’d been prepared to follow her off the island until his dad died and he was left to run the family dairy farm. He’s done the best he can with the life that was thrust upon him–but with Natalie back in the picture, he begins to realize just how much joy he’s been missing.

After Natalie’s reception venue falls through, she must scramble to find an alternative, and the only option seems to be a barn on Justin’s property. As they work together to get the dilapidated building ready for the party, Natalie and Justin discover the groundwork for forgiveness–and that there may be more than an old friendship between them.

Rescue Me by Susan May Warren

The book in one word: Exhilarating

When Deputy Sam Brooks commits to something, nothing can sway him–not just on the job as liaison between the Mercy Falls sheriff’s department and PEAK Rescue, but in his private life. He’s the one who stuck around to take care of his mother after his father’s accidental death. And he’s the one–perhaps the only one–who believes Sierra Rose is the perfect girl for him. Safe, practical, and organized, she’s nothing like her hippie, impulsive, bleeding heart sister, Willow.

Willow, however, has been in love with Sam Brooks for as long as she can remember. But she wants her sister to have a happy ending. Besides, Willow has other things to focus on–namely, nabbing the job as youth pastor for her small-town church. Best thing for her to do is to purge Sam from her heart.

Neither can predict the events that will bring them together in a fight for their lives in the forbidding wilderness of Glacier National Park. Stranded, injured, and with the winter weather closing in, Sam and Willow will have to work together to save a crew of terrified teenagers. As they fight to survive, they might just discover a new hope for love.

Mystery & Suspense

If I Run by Terri Blackstock

The book in one word: Unputdownable

Casey knows the truth. But it won’t set her free.

Casey Cox’s DNA is all over the crime scene. There’s no use talking to police; they’ve failed her abysmally before. She has to flee before she’s arrested . . . or worse. The truth doesn’t matter anymore.

But what is the truthThat’s the question haunting Dylan Roberts, the war-weary veteran hired to find Casey. PTSD has marked him damaged goods, but bringing Casey back can redeem him. Though the crime scene seems to tell the whole story, details of the murder aren’t adding up.

Casey Cox doesn’t fit the profile of a killer. But are Dylan’s skewed perceptions keeping him from being objective? If she isn’t guilty, why did she run?

Unraveling her past and the evidence that condemns her will take more time than he has, but as Dylan’s damaged soul intersects with hers, he is faced with two choices: the girl who occupies his every thought is a psychopathic killer . . . or a selfless hero. And the truth could be the most deadly weapon yet.

Women’s Fiction

The Memory of You by Catherine West

The book in one word: Haunting

Thirteen years ago, Natalie lost a part of herself when her twin sister died. Will traveling back to the family winery finally put the memory to rest, or will it completely destroy her?

When Natalie Mitchell learns her beloved grandfather has had a heart attack, she’s forced to return to their family-owned winery in Sonoma, something she never intended to do. She’s avoided her grandparents’ sprawling home and all its memories since the summer her sister died—the awful summer Natalie’s nightmares began. But the winery is failing, and Natalie’s father wants her to shut it down. As the majority shareholder, she has the power to do so.

And Natalie never says no to her father.

Tanner Collins, the vintner on Maoilios, is trying to salvage a bad season and put the Mitchell family’s winery back in business. When Natalie shows up, Tanner sees his future about to be crushed. He knows Natalie intends to close the gates, and he’s determined to convince her otherwise. But the Natalie he remembers from childhood is long gone, and he’s not so sure he likes the woman she’s become. Still, the haunted look she wears hints at secrets he wants to unearth. He soon discovers that on the night her sister died, the real Natalie died too. And Tanner must do whatever it takes to resurrect her.

But finding freedom from the past means facing it. For both of them.

Historical Fiction

When Tides Turn by Sarah Sundin

The book in one word: Sweet (Though the heroine would probably prefer useful or practical.)

When fun-loving glamour girl Quintessa Beaumont learns the Navy has established the WAVES program for women, she enlists, determined to throw off her frivolous ways and contribute to the war effort. No-nonsense and hoping to make admiral, Lt. Dan Avery has been using his skills to fight German U-boats. The last thing he wants to see on his radar is a girl like Tess. For her part, Tess works hard to prove her worth in the Anti-Submarine Warfare Unit in Boston–both to her commanding officers and to the man with whom she is smitten. When Dan is assigned to a new escort carrier at the peak of the Battle of the Atlantic, he’s torn between his lifelong career goals and his desire to help Tess root out a possible spy on shore. The Germans put up quite a fight, but he wages a deeper battle within his heart. Could Tess be the one for him?

With precision and pizazz, fan favorite Sarah Sundin carries readers through the rough waters of love in a time when every action might have unforeseen world-changing consequences.

Courting Morrow Little by Laura Frantz

The book in one word: Gripping

Morrow Little is haunted by the memory of the day her family was torn apart by raiding Shawnee warriors. Now that she is nearly a grown woman and her father is ailing, she must make difficult choices about the future. Several men–ranging from the undesired to the unthinkable–vie for her attentions, but she finds herself inexplicably drawn to a forbidden love that both terrifies and intrigues her. Can she betray the memory of her lost loved ones–and garner suspicion from her friends–by pursuing a life with him? Or should she seal her own misery by marrying a man she doesn’t love?

This sweeping tale of romance and forgiveness will envelop readers as it takes them from a Kentucky fort through the vast wilderness to the west in search of true love.

What are your favorite 2017 reads so far?

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Out of Darkness Excerpt + Giveaway

About the Story:

When her husband is killed by a car bomb on their wedding day, Elisabeth literally watches her dreams go up in smoke.  Three years later, she’s beginning to figure out life without Drew—with the help of his best friend and CIA partner Gabe. But Drew returns, and they must rebuild what was lost with international arms dealers on their trail and an ever shrinking list of people they can trust. Gabe should be at the top of that list, but his feelings for Elisabeth may stand in the way. All three of them end up in a fight for their lives that will test their loyalty to God, country, and each other.

Excerpt:

People pressed in around her, the same faces that had been smiling last week when Drew was at her side, except they’d traded in their festive colors for black and gray. Most of them simply hugged her and told her how sorry they were. Some cried too. A few tried to encourage her with well-intentioned but infuriating platitudes.

After hearing “he’s in a better place” one too many times, she wanted to scream. I don’t care! I want him here with me where he belongs.

“You look like you could use some fresh air.” Gabe’s hand cupped her elbow. “Wanna get out of here for a while?”

“Oh, I uh… I’m not sure I’m allowed to leave.”

“I don’t think anyone’s gonna try and stop you. And if they do, I’m packin’ heat.”

She let one corner of her mouth tilt up. “What about—?”

“I already cleared it with Mel and your mom. Let’s go.”

She didn’t argue. They went out the back doors, so she didn’t have to see the charred pavement across the street. He led her toward the little park and picnic shelter behind the church. Her heels dug into the dirt as they walked the path through the woods—which was more like fifteen or twenty trees grouped together, but had seemed like a forest when she and Drew played hide and seek there as kids.

Gabe laid his jacket down on the bench and gestured for her to sit. She arched an eyebrow. “Gabe, I could buy five of these dresses for what that suit cost.”

He rolled his eyes. “Would you please just sit? It’ll make me feel better… and it’s more like ten.”

She punched him lightly in the arm and sat, taking a deep breath. Everything felt lighter out here—like a harbor away from the storm. She closed her eyes and tipped her head back, feeling the breeze. Maybe hoping to catch just a whisper of Drew as it lifted her hair. But all she felt was Gabe.​

Giveaway:

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About the Author:

Erynn Newman is a pastor’s kid, raised in churches all over the Eastern Seaboard. Since earning her degree in Christian Studies, she has traveled the world and served as a missionary, a counselor, an ESL teacher, and a nanny. Though she has never worked with the CIA, her DVR contains a veritable Who’s Who of international spies. She is a Carolina girl, a wife, and Mama to a very busy little boy, two cats, and a gaggle of characters that live inside her head.

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

Purchase Out of Darkness and the prequel novella First Light on Amazon, or subscribe to Erynn’s newsletter to receive the novella for free.

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Rescue Me (Montana Rescue #2) by Susan May Warren

Genre: Romance
Publisher: Revell
Publication Date: January 2017

Deputy Sam Brooks doesn’t do anything half way — not his job with the sheriff’s department, his liaison position with PEAK Rescue, or his relationship with Sierra Rose. After all, safe, dependable and structured Sierra is perfect for him, and he’ll do anything to prove it to her, including help lead a church youth event with her polar-opposite sister.

Willow has loved Sam for as long as she can remember, but after her sister’s recent heartbreak, Sierra deserves a HEA (happily-ever-after) and Sam can give it to her. Not to mention, Willow has more important things to focus on than the handsome deputy, like landing the youth pastor job at her church. But when an outing to the Glacier National Park goes horribly wrong, more than just hearts are at stake. Sam and Willow must join forces to get the teenagers and themselves out alive.

Susan May Warren’s Rescue Me delivers an exhilarating and nail-biting journey of survival. Days after closing the book, I still felt the rain pelting my skin and the cold that burrowed deep in my bones. Warren masterfully brought the setting to life from the towering trees, freezing water, and narrow ledges. I endured the harrowing trek through the Glacier wilderness right alongside Sam, Willow, and the teens.

Sam is every bit the swoony hero even if a bit dumb for not seeing what — or should I say who? — was right under his nose all along. Despite having very little in common with Willow, I could root for her and loved the way she cared for and interacted with the youth.

The hospital scene toward the beginning seemed a bit unrealistic and farfetched. I can’t give away details because … you just have to read it. But it makes one protagonist appear stupid and the other act out of character given claims that follow later. The novel also ends with a few too many pairings to be believable, as though the author tied everything up with a neat little bow. Still, Rescue Me is one of the most enjoyable Warren novels I’ve read in recent years. I haven’t devoured one of her stories so quickly since Take a Chance on Me.

New developments occur in the hunt for Ian’s missing niece. While this book could technically stand alone, Ian and Sierra’s story and their search for his niece does arc throughout all we’ve seen in the series to date, so I would advise starting with the prequel novella (which is free!) and book one. I recommend the Montana Rescue series to romance and Warren fans alike.

Review copy provided by publisher via NetGalley. Thanks!

**Originally posted on Fiction Addict.

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