The Curse of Misty Wayfair by Jaime Jo Wright

Genre: Mystery, Suspense, Romance
Publisher: Bethany House Publishers
Publication Date: January 2019

With little more than a name and place to direct her, Thea Reed arrives in Pleasant Valley to look for the mother who left her on the steps of an orphanage years earlier. When her search leads her to a mental asylum, Thea utilizes her skill as a post-mortem photographer to access the place. But her hunt unearths more than she bargained for. It reawakens the ghost of Misty Wayfair, a woman murdered decades earlier who townsfolk claim haunts the area and especially one family in particular.

A century later, Heidi Lane travels to Pleasant Valley, beckoned by a disconcerting letter penned by her dementia-ailing mother. Her search for answers leads Heidi to the ruins of an old asylum and the mysterious tale of the ghost believed to inhabit it.

Storytelling at its best, The Curse of Misty Wayfair delivers a spellbinding tale. An atmospheric and eerie read that haunts the reader long after its conclusion, Jaime Jo Wright seamlessly blends the past and present in a powerful story of identity and discovering it in our Creator.

Creepy without crossing into horror, Wright expertly uses vivid settings and descriptions to pin her audience to the edge of its seat and kick the heart rate up a notch, proving that one does not need to rely on blood and gore to deliver a deliciously suspenseful read.

The protagonists aren’t your typical (whatever that means) heroes. One won’t find a strapping FBI agent, modelesque detective, or brilliant lawyer but rather a gruff, grease-encrusted mechanic and a groundskeeper with tics and twitches. That is what makes them all the more loveable and heroic. They resemble people I know or can imagine encountering.

Wright masterfully created 3D settings that leapt off the page and had me feeling as though I experienced and interacted with the story world. Returning to reality proved jarring to say the least.

Despite only discovering Wright in December, I have already read all her novels. She has firmly planted herself at the top of my favorites list and become an author to emulate. Out of her three books, picking my number one choice would be impossible.

I strongly recommend The Curse of Misty Wayfair to readers who enjoy tales infused with a strong suspenseful element, a speck of romance, and a thread of faith. Now I’m off to re-read her stories because how else am I to make it until her next release in December?

Review copy provided by publisher. Thanks!

In the Shadow of Croft Towers by Abigail Wilson

Genre: Historical Fiction, Romance, Mystery
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
Publication Date: January 2019

Orphan Sybil Delafield leaves the only place and people she’s ever known to take up a new position as companion to an elderly woman. While on her way to Croft Towers, highwaymen rob the coach and Sybil’s life plunges into a spiral of lies, secrets, and danger.

When old Mrs. Chalcroft tasks her with delivering clandestine messages to town and Sybil recognizes a Croft Towers’ inhabitant as one of the highwaymen, she finds herself alone and with no one to trust. The threat increases, when fellow passengers of the robbed coach appear murdered. With nowhere to run or money to her name, Sybil’s only hope is to uncover Croft Towers long-held secrets.

In the Shadow of Croft Towers delivers a captivating tale of intrigue, danger, and love set to the backdrop of Regency England. Abigail Wilson pens a stellar debut in the vein of a Bronte novel — sans all the depressing bits. Gothic settings, mysterious characters, and secrets lurking behind every beam and column make tearing away from this story practically impossible. In fact, its absence left me with a hole the size of Croft Towers for days after finishing the tale.

Memorable characters leap off the page inviting the reader to come along for the journey. Sybil though too naïve at times and prone to do foolish things is so loveable one gladly forgives her. Mr. Sinclair, the nefarious highwayman, inspires the reader to happily toss caution and common sense to the wind and follow him anywhere. Move over, Mr. Rochester, a new gentleman has arrived in town.

Too many stutters and false starts in dialogue had the characters, in that aspect, sounding alike. While believable for hesitant Sybil, it didn’t ring true when it became a trait of several other characters as well. However, that proved a minor issue in the grand scheme of this incredible story and something the author will probably lose as she grows as a writer.

I strongly recommend this novel to historical fiction fans who relish stories of adventure and romance in the strain of Jane Eyre and Northanger Abbey. Without a doubt, In the Shadow of Croft Towers will go on my re-read shelf and I can already safely say it will be one of my top reads of 2019.

Review copy provided by publisher. Thanks!

**Originally posted on Radiant Lit.

Teal Paisley Tights by Barbara Brutt

Genre: Romance
Publisher: Vinspire Publication
Publication Date: November 2018

Life after graduation looks nothing like the image art-loving, paisley-wearing Jadyn painted in her mind. Instead of showcasing her masterpieces in galleries, she’s stuck in a low-paying, demanding consultant job displaying other people’s talents and products. When her tyrant boss sacks a coworker, Jadyn not only lands a heavier workload, but also the company’s biggest client who comes with an ultimatum — lose him, lose her job.

Jadyn’s incapacity to say no — be it to people or material things — has her cramming teaching art classes in her already bursting schedule, hunting for a new apartment when she fails to pay the bills, and angering two men when she doesn’t speak up about her true feelings. Stretched to the limit, Jadyn must learn that the biggest obstacle in her life is herself.

Teal Paisley Tights offers a story for anyone who has ever wondered where they fit. Barbara Brutt brings a fun, fresh voice to the fiction table ensuring a quick, quirky read. It amazed me how fast the pages zoomed by, which, with a busy schedule of my own, is the kind of book I need.

I did struggle to connect with the heroine who came across as immature, selfish, and often acted as though the people around her owed her. Jadyn also continually lied to get what she wanted. The friction between her and others, namely her sister, mother, best friend, and love interest, were as much Jadyn’s doing as theirs, if not more. It made it hard to sympathize when things crashed around her.

Also, I would have liked more depth in the romance department. The story picks up with Jadyn and Ethan starting to date, but I never witnessed what drew them to each other aside from a pretty face. For the most part their relationship seemed casual and superficial, but some moments seemed to allude to something deeper, which leaves the reader never quite sure where the pair stands.

The story would have also benefited from a clear theme or purpose. As is, it reads like Jadyn’s journal filled with the random events from her day-to-day life. It needed a thread to tie everything together.

Nonetheless, I liked the story and now want to go out and buy my own pair of paisley tights. Brutt has a voice and style to be on the lookout for as she hones her craft and grows as a writer. I’ll definitely keep my eyes open for more by this author.

Review copy purchased personally.

Brunch at Bittersweet Cafe by Carla Laureano

Genre: Romance
Publisher: Tyndale
Publication Date: February 2019

In the kitchen, baker and pastry chef Melody Johansson can create the most mouth-watering concoctions. In life, however, she can’t seem to make it past “go,” and after one-too-many disastrous relationships, she’s given up on love altogether. But when a snowstorm blows private pilot Justin Keller right to her doorstop, Melody dares to dream of life beyond mediocre.

Constantly jetting around the country, Justin doesn’t want a relationship. He has learned the hard way that the demands of a job in the air don’t mesh with a lasting romance. Not to mention, he’s preparing to move across the country and start a new business with his sister and brother-in-law. Yet something about Melody draws him.

Assuming that their interest will fizzle out with time and the strain of their unconventional work schedules, Melody decides to let things flow as they may. She also seizes the opportunity to open her dream bakery-café with her best friend, Rachel. However, as time passes, she finds herself falling in love with Justin and in a relationship that’s living on borrowed time.

Brunch at Bittersweet Café is exactly that…bittersweet. I love Carla Laureano’s writing style. She brings her settings to life in a way that makes the reader want to experience the places firsthand, and the imagery sticks long after the story ends. Despite having finished the book days ago, I can still close my eyes and in an instant see the world before me.

Melody’s best friends, Rachel and Ana, are the type of friends a woman wants at her side. I really enjoyed them. It was Melody, however, that I struggled to connect with and like.

From the get-go, Justin is upfront about his lack of faith. Disregarding this, Melody still pursues a romantic relationship. When her friends are understandably concerned and address the issues, Melody not only becomes defensive and angry, she views them as unreasonable and bad friends. She is even ready to cut them from her life if they won’t accept Justin. These things in and of themselves weren’t the problem. They are realistic. The problem came when the story ended with Melody “forgiving” her friends rather than acknowledging and learning that she and not they had acted unwisely.

As one would expect, being a book, everything ends up okay. Justin comes around on faith. Melody does grow up in one area (namely realizing that she can’t find happiness in a man or force a relationship), but the lack of tackling the other issues disappointed me. In real life, those types of actions and mentalities are dangerous and can lead to problems. I have seen friends and acquaintances enter a relationship with someone who didn’t share their faith — many times ignoring the advice of friends and family — and things didn’t end well, leading to heartbreak. So I would have loved to see these issues addressed more fully.

Fans of Laureano and the Supper Club series will still like this story even though it is not as strong as book one, The Saturday Night Supper Club. I do recommend staying away from a bakery while reading. I think I added a few pounds just from the descriptions of Melody and Rachel’s creations. I am now eagerly counting down the days until I can get my hands on Ana’s story!

Review copy provided by publisher. Thanks!

Rose in Three Quarter Time (The Vienna Trilogy #2) by Rachel McMillan

Genre: Romance
Publication Date: September 2018

Rose McNeil steadily scales the musical ranks at the Mozarteum in Salzburg. Her skill with the violin has landed her the first chair assignment with the Rainer Quartet under the direction of Oliver Thorne. But when her visa expires, she faces losing everything — her dream job, the city she’s come to love, and the growing friendship between her and Oliver.

The youngest conductor in the quartet’s illustrious history, Oliver Thorne had other aspirations, but a tragic accident destroyed his cello-playing career. Rose’s unparalleled talent inspires the British ex-pat to dream again, reviving hopes he believed long-buried. However, when her visa renewal is denied, he risks not only losing his first violinist, but the woman who has become increasingly dear to him.

Enter the plan: a marriage on ink and paper only. They will share name and rent, and flip a coin for the bed. She will play, he will conduct, and the rest of the orchestra will never know because fraternization between members is prohibited. However, one little complication exists — love. And marriage just might get in the way of feelings they desperately try to conceal.

Rachel McMillan composes another sweeping performance with Rose in Three Quarter Time. Loss, friendship, and love blend to form the perfect harmony in this tale of shattered dreams and the new hopes that take their place.

As someone who belongs to two countries but whose heart beats for yet another, I am amazed at how McMillan expertly extracts the essence of those emotions. Rose’s location, journey, struggles, and triumphs might be different, but I recognize the story because in many ways it is mine (sadly without an Oliver).

While the striking locales and vivid descriptions call me, it is the authenticity of McMillan’s characters that captivates me. These aren’t suave models and movie stars with all the right words and moves. They are genuine — in the awkward, messy, and exquisitely imperfect kind of way. Their beauty doesn’t stem from flawless skin or a six-pack, but from their realism. They are you and me.

Rose in Three Quarter Time does not stumble into the pitfall of so many novellas. At no point does it feel rushed. Perfectly developed, I didn’t walk away feeling like I’d only experienced half of the story or, worse yet, survived a hurricane of events and feelings in its attempt to cram it all in. Of course, that’s not to say I wouldn’t have loved to spend more time with Rose and Oliver — just try saying goodbye to this pair and Parcheesi the cat! I definitely recommend this tale to romance fans.

Review copy provided by author. Thanks!