The Beautiful Pretender by Melanie Dickerson

Melanie Dickerson has a gift for crafting engaging and entertaining fairytales for adults. Her second Thornbeck novel, The Beautiful Pretender, is perhaps my favorite of everything she’s written thus far (and I’ve enjoyed every single one of her stories).

Perhaps the peasant girl pretending to be a noble woman is not a new concept but the way Dickerson handles the nuances of the stories are pure genius. The Margrave of Thornbeck is being forced by the king to find a wife, but unwilling to succumb to a marriage similar to the one his parents had, he decides to test the character of the ladies in question. His chancellor and his wife (Jorgen and Odette from The Huntress of Thornbeck Forest) will setup scenarios in which to test the ladies’ reactions in certain situations.

beautiful pretender cover

Lady’s maid Avelina is forced to spend time in Thornbeck Castle under the guise of being Lady Dorthea. She is given two objectives. First, strengthen the alliance between Thornbeck and her home and second, don’t attract the Margrave’s attention or affections.

Both Avelina and Lord Thornbeck have preconceived ideas of what they’d prefer in a future spouse (and of course, neither of them is what the other is looking for) but as they spend time together and watch each other, their mutual admiration grows. But what will happen when Avelina’s secret is reveal? And can she save Lord Thornbeck from an evil and vindictive enemy? One who has murdered before?

A beautiful story of love—the kind Avelina tells Thornbeck upfront she’s looking for—and sacrifice, The Beautiful Pretender is one I will come back to when I’m craving a happy ending.

***Thomas Nelson Publishing provided me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest and fair review. All opinions expressed are my own.

Get Caught in Susan Sleeman’s Web of Suspense

Book three in Susan Sleeman’s Agents Under Fire Series, Web of Secrets, will leave you wanting to sleep with the lights on. The first two books of the series had some creepy villains but the one in book three, Van Gogh, is the definition of twisted and evil. After this one, I’m left wondering what kind of bad guy Sleeman will dream up next.

web of secrets cover

Becca Lange has dedicated her life to finding criminals with the FBI cyber team and helping foster children on the side. But one decision, made when she was a teenage, continues to haunt her—and she has the scars to prove her nightmare was indeed real. She has spent years studying and researching the man who held her and her foster sister captive, the man she managed to escape.

When a body of a teenage girl is found with the signatures of Van Gogh, the police ask for Becca’s help with the investigation. Determined to find out once and for all what happened to her friend, her sister, Becca agrees even though it means working with Connor Warren—the man who she can’t deny being attracted to.

From the first page, readers get a peek into the psyche of the villain as he tortures his victim. Throughout the book, his addled mind and skewed perception of reality are laid out in a way that is both unnerving and frightening, especially when he sets his sights on our heroine. Becca’s struggle with her past prevents her from embracing any future happiness—something she believes she might be able to have with Connor.

As a reader, I ached for Becca and what she’d been through, understood why she kept it a secret, and rooted for her to get justice. And I fell a little in love with Connor Warren, a man who works extra hard to put a smile on Becca’s face whenever he can. A man who is determined to protect her, even if it’s from herself.

If you’re a fan of romantic suspense, put this one at the top of your list!

***Bell Bridge Books provided me with a complimentary copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest and fair review. All opinions expressed are my own.

Dawn at Emberwilde by Sarah E Ladd

Dawn at Emberwilde

For whatever reason, I seem to have a hit-and-miss relationship with Sarah Ladd and her books. While I enjoyed The Curiosity Keeper immensely, her latest offering, Dawn at Emberwilde had me struggling through the first third. It wasn’t until about midway through the book where the story started to captivate me. With that said, I am glad I kept on reading.

dawn at emberwilde cover

Probably the thing that had me most aggravated about this book was the lack of interaction between the two main characters. Their conversations were brief, the two barely got to know each other beyond polite, formal interactions (some while in groups of people). Even the mystery of the Emberwilde Forest took a while to delve into. There could have been quite a bit more done with this to keep the action moving along.

Isabel Creston is a bit naïve and she doesn’t explore her gut feeling about a certain gentleman when she becomes uneasy around him Thankfully, she is smart enough to not give in to the urgings and expectations of her aunt. Colin Galloway is a good man but he should speak up for himself more often.

I’m sure a lot of this cunning and betrayal within families occurred during this time when land was passed through bloodlines. And again, this could have been explored more. It was almost as if the author had a lot of ideas she wanted to put in the book which led to a general pass over instead of deep exploration—and I would have preferred deep exploration of the relationships between Isabel and Collin as well as Isabel’s aunt and cousin or aunt and uncle.

Not a horrible story by any means, it was entertaining and just intriguing enough for me to keep pushing through the slow beginning. And of course, I had to make sure our heroine got her HEA in the end.

***Thomas Nelson Publishers provided me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest and fair review. All opinions expressed are my own.

Nashville: A City of Story

Music City USA. NashVegas. The Athens of the South.

Nashville has a few nicknames rolling around, but to me, the most important one is this: HOME.

Nashville at night

I’ve lived in the Nashville area for eighteen years and as I’ve worked on this blog post, one intended to share just a few highlights and attractions of this wonderful city, it’s occurred to me that this city is a lot like a good story.

Get pulled in with the excitement of walking the same road as some country music stars, stand in awe of the storied Grand Ol’ Opry and Ryman Auditorium where musicians dream of performing, and settle back into the easy rhythm that is life in the south. With a diverse cast of characters ranging from the famous faces of country and Christian musicians as well as some you may have seen on the big screen (Nicole Kidman, Johnny Depp, and Ashley Judd all have residences in Nashville) to those trying to break into the spotlight and the others who simply keep the city running.

In fact, I have a little challenge for you while you’re in town. Try and find three people who were born and raise in Nashville. It’s harder than you’d think. This city is full of transplants, people who’ve moved here to find the draw of big city amenities with a small town feel. We watch and wait with anticipation to see where this city will take us next.

It’s these things and many, many more that make this city special and unique. And while I’m here to introduce you to the city and offer a few suggestions of places to visit within walking distance of the hotel, it kind of feels like I’m sharing a chapter in the middle of a book, those parts that are hardest to write while you’re still unsure of where the story is leading you.

So here’s just a little taste…

nashville skyline

The tallest building on the left with the blue glass and the two towers is The AT&T Building, affectionately known around the area as The Batman Building (come on, you see it, right?). This building is a great point of reference anywhere downtown. It’s located between Third and Fourth Avenues behind the Ryman.

Our hotel is located about three Nashville blocks (approximately five city blocks) south on 5th Ave S. By the way, this town is hilly so if you plan to do some sightseeing, pack a comfortable pair of shoes!

Let’s start from inside the Omni.

guitar

What does one do in Music City USA? Visit the Country Music Hall of Fame, of course. This Nashville landmark is connected to the hotel. General admission tickets are $25.00.

Also located in the hotel lobby is the Hatch Print Show. Perhaps a group of authors can appreciate this historic letterpress shop that’s been in operation since 1879. Stop in and watch as the posters roll off the press.

The big building on the next street north is one of my favorites. The Bridgestone Arena (Broadway and 5th) is the home of the Nashville Predators.

Continue past the arena and you’ll hit the heart of downtown. Broadway. Take a right on this street for a variety of Honky Tonks, restaurants, and souvenir shops. Please don’t buy your Nashville souvenirs from the airport or the hotel gift shops. Not only will it help the city’s economy to shop from outside those areas, it will stretch your dollars further.

Just a few highlights along Broadway include:

shutterstock_208593031

Tootsie’s: This purple and white building is a honky tonk staple
The Big Bang: A dueling piano bar. Stop in and request a song
Ernest Tubb Record Shop
Jack’s Bar-B-Que
Margaritaville
Tin Roof Broadway
Boot Country (just in case you can’t leave Nashville without a pair of your own Cowboy boots)
Hard Rock Cafe

Broadway ends at the Cumberland River and Riverfront Park. Across the river, you’ll find the Nissan Stadium, home of our NFL football team.

shutterstock_65237896If you’re not ready for the hustle and bustle of Broadway, continue up 5th Avenue and check out the historic Ryman Auditorium. This church-turned-music venue is a Nashville Landmark. But if you want a tour inside, you’ll need to get there before the building closes at 4:00 PM.

Make your way back to the hotel along Second Avenue where you’ll find BB King’s and The Wildhorse Saloon (always good for dancing).

If country music isn’t your forte (and even though I’m a Nashvillian, I’m not a fan of this genre myself), there’s something a little more classy offered at The Schermerhorn Symphony Hall.

When you’re finished with your downtown tour, take a right on Demonbreun (pronounced Dee-mun-bree-un, not demon brewin’) to return to the hotel.

shutterstock_194649146

I hope you enjoy some southern hospitality (and survive the summer humidity) while you’re here. Honestly, my inclination when it comes to Nashville is to go on and on, but I narrowed it down for the sake of time (who can spend an hour online when they’re working on their own stories, right?).

This city is beautiful and welcoming. My prayer is you will take a little bit of Nashville home in your heart after this year’s conference.

To learn more about the ACFW conference, visit Cara Putnam’s blog and the ACFW conference site (prices increase June 26).

Thanks for stopping by. I can’t wait to see y’all in August!

If you have any questions about other things to see, do, or buy in Nashville, please leave it in the comments.

A Happy Ending for the Two Blue Doors Series by Hilary Manton Lodge

At the end of Reservations for Two, Juliette D’Alisa and her brother Nico had just opened their restaurant. While her professional life fell into place, her personal life fell apart. Her mother was diagnosed with cancer and she and Neil McLaren broke up. Again. This time for good. When her brother’s sous chef admits to taking an interest in her, Juliette turns to him for comfort.

together at the table cover

Together at the Table, the final installment in the Two Blue Doors series, finds Juliette and her siblings mourning the loss of their mother and dreaming of Neil and their time spent together, regretting the way they ended. Since the restaurant’s success keeps Juliette’s hands and mind busy, she throws herself into work, telling herself she’ll focus on other things later. When a trip to the waterfront brings her across the man in her dreams, Juliette isn’t sure how to proceed.

I love Juliette and the D’Alisa family. They are a tight-knit group who look out for each other. Juliette and her sister Cat’s relationship is a close one, one in which, despite the miles between them, they can share everything with each other. Adrien is a good guy—but not the guy I was rooting for in Juliette’s future.

Six months after her breakup with Neil, neither of them is the same person they were before. Both have grown. Both know a little better what they want in their lives (although Juliette still struggles with what she wants to do with her future). And as they spend a little time together and start talking again, they try and find footing as friends.

Juliette’s search for her missing family through her grandmother’s letters also continues and readers learn the truth about the missing Alice (Juliette’s mother’s twin sister who none of them knew about). The entire story is unraveled in the second half of Together at the Table.

Overall, a happy ending for Juliette and the D’Alisa family despite the heartaches that life brings along. Oh, and I can’t forget to mention the amazing recipes sprinkled throughout the book. Reading this one definitely made me hungry at times.

***Blogging for Books and Multnomah Publishing provided me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest and fair review. All opinions expressed are my own.