Review (quick and dirty #5 FINALLY): Summer at the Little French Guesthouse by Helen Pollard 

I’m all caught up! Here’s the fifth and final Friday night quick and dirty book review: 

I love this series set in the French countryside! Emmy is a wonderful Jane-of-all-trades at Rupert’s lovely inn, and there’s no shortage of chick-lit drama. “Interesting” guests, crazy ex-wives, and family secrets drive the plot forward fast and furiously. I like that Emmy is soft-hearted yet doesn’t stand for any nonsense… and the other characters appreciate that about her as well. What most impresses me is how Pollard writes about real life issues with lightness and whimsy. GUESTHOUSE is so fun that you don’t even realize you’ve read about divorce, grief, mortality, trauma, and tolerance. All you feel is love, laughter and friendship — which are balms for all of life’s messy parts. C’est bon. 

-calliope

Buy SUMMER AT THE LITTLE FRENCH GUESTHOUSE

Review (quick and dirty #2): The Blessing by Wanda E. Brunstetter 

Love Amish books, and love the main character Heidi (and her husband Lyle). Brunstetter does a good job writing dialogue and action for this married couple without children. I enjoyed Heidi’s cooking classes and her visits with friends. But the secondary characters…. oh my. The unrealistic, over the top, and inconsistent personalities drove me crazy. I struggled to get through their stilted dialogue. The only reason I finished is because I always need to know how a book ends! Plot and main characters get 4 stars from me, but the execution of secondary character development completely failed. 

-calliope

Buy THE BLESSING

Review: Under a Summer Sky by Melody Carlson

This is a cute summer read set in Savannah, where we find art teacher Nicole house-sitting for a family friend and working at an art gallery. Nicole thought she’d have a quiet summer with plenty of time to paint, but instead finds herself overwhelmed with a difficult co-worker, childhood friends-turned-handsome-men, and a teenager who just needs a little love and direction. 

I loved all the references to art and architecture, the Savannah sunsets, and the diplomatic way Nicole finessed her way through a few unexpected situations. As usual for her novels, Carlson includes a little bit of God to illustrate his presence, but doesn’t use the novel to preach or proselytize. And as usual for my favorite summer reads, this one ends in a happily ever after. 

-Calliope 

Buy UNDER A SUMMER SKY

Review: Any Day Now by Robyn Carr

Sierra shows up at Sullivan’s Crossing and finds more than just her brother and sister-in-law with welcoming arms. Sierra finds a father figure, some peace of mind, and Connie (Conrad) the firefighter. 

Carr did a wonderful job pacing the romance and the family dynamics, making the relationships realistic as they grew. I liked that Sierra and Connie had a support system, and that the people around them were part of the fabric of the story – not just background characters. 

I’m not exactly a fan of the “quirky drifters appearing at the campground” type setting of these Sullivan’s Crossing books … but the endearing characters make up for it. 

-Calliope 

Buy ANY DAY NOW

Review: Kiss Me at Willoughby Close by Kate Hewitt

I love these quick and fun Willoughby Close novels. Trying circumstances send a person to Willoughby Close to rent a cottage on manor property. The person grows in various ways, gets a hand up if necessary, chooses a direction, and makes their life the best they can. Kiss Me is Ava’s story… and boy howdy does she need a cottage to live in after her rich husband dies and leaves her with next to nothing, not even one of their several homes. 

At Willoughby Close, Ava learns how to interact with people on a friendly and neighborly level, reach out when someone needs help, and show her true colors instead of putting on a façade. Ava finds more than just her strength at Willoughby… she also finds the handsome and sensitive alpha groundskeeper, throwing a wrench into all her plans to be independent. 

While Ava is surrounded by good people who want to help her, she does plenty of helping herself — and even taking the time for a young woman who could use a break. 

I love that Hewitt focuses on second chances, and it’s uplifting to see good people making something positive out of those chances. 

-Calliope

Buy KISS ME AT WILLOUGHBY CLOSE

Review: Return to Huckleberry Hill by Jennifer Beckstrand

This installment of The Matchmakers series is just as good as the rest were – and fine to read as a standalone. What sets this one apart is the angst! Most of Beckstrand’s other books are fun and flip, adventuresome and whimsical. In Return to Huckleberry Hill, Reuben deals with the demon of pride, and though I didn’t feel bad for him in the least, I did sympathize with those around him. 

Fern King, too, deals with demons. Oh how I wanted to cry for her — trying to be strong, always showing a cheerful face, never complaining, yet truly dying inside. Fern endures so much, and I really almost couldn’t take it! (I’ll never forgive you, Ms. Beckstrand, if Barbara Schmucker doesn’t get her due.)  But Fern also gets to see Reuben and her brother John in a new environment – and witness their growth (or lack of it). 

Anna and Felty remain the cute elderly couple that gets in everyone’s business trying to make love connections. I haven’t tired of them yet, and I’m almost endeared to Anna’s creative cooking.  

This is a non-traditional Amish novel in that it doesn’t center around faith and obedience as much as some might; yet Beckstrand gives the main characters the gift of self-reflection… something that made me want to be best friends with Fern, and let me forgive Reuben for almost all of his trespasses. 

-Calliope

Buy RETURN TO HUCKLEBERRY HILL

Review: The Last Chance Matinee by Mariah Stewart 

I’m so glad I started this series! Allie and Des find out they have a half-sister… and the trio is required to cooperatively restore an old theatre in order to get their inheritance after their dad’s death. Restoring a theatre – what fun!

Watching the three characters learn about each other and grow in themselves was great. Steward develops the characters evenly, even though the story is told through Cara’s eyes. The introduction of Allie’s daughter shows Allie’s heart – at a point in the story I had just about had it up to here with her! And Stewart’s illustration of Des’s flair for fashion gives positive personality to this third sister – and adds another light, fun aspect to the story. 

I love how open Cara is to new friendships with her sisters and the small-town neighbors watching them restore the theatre. Reading the story from Cara’s viewpoint was an exercise in optimism, hopefulness and adventure. And as I sit here writing this, I’m thinking I really can’t wait for the next book … so I’m signing off and checking the internet for Book Two’s pub date. 🙂

-calliope 

Buy THE LAST CHANCE MATINEE