Kate Clayborn’s recent Love Lettering invites readers to stroll New York City streets with a hopeful new friend. Meg and Reid met as Meg designed Reid’s wedding program, and he finds his way back to her office a year later because he discovers that she successfully guessed his relationship’s demise. Both at potential turning points in their life, they connect over their new goals. Clayborn utilizes the signs on the streets to give insight into the characters as they progress through their journeys on foot and in their hearts. They get their opportunities to step forward rather than stagnate, leaving readers with a reminder they too can face their obstacles to reach new heights. The signs point the way when they recognize the directives and follow.
Diana Biller’s debut novel The Widow of Rose House invites you into an atmospheric read perfect for the fall season. Though it takes place in a Gothic mansion in Gilded Age New York, it reads more like a modern love story. A possible ghost in a house Alva Webster moves into to restore serves as a vehicle for plot and character development. The setting details provide an escape, and the evolving love story invites reader engagement. Be warned neither the ghost nor the intimate scenes care to close doors. Yet also know Alva holds much more strength than may first meet the eye. This spooky tale has a hopeful outlook and demonstration of love.
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Jasmine Guillory’s latest romance Party of Two surpassed my expectations. With more substance and maturity than her previous stories, these characters had me not only rooting for their relationship but celebrating their personal growth. Lawyer Olivia Monroe and junior senator Max Powell have more age and career experience under their belts than the leads from The Wedding Date and The Proposal, and this serves to their advantage. They have a sense of their values and goals and take the time to consider how their next steps might or might not progress them. The communication and reflection may seem like they would slow down the story, but it allows the readers to savor the romance as well as contemplate healthy relationship adjustments.
I recently have reread The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins and have discovered a deeper appreciation than I had for it when I first tore through the first installment’s pages this time eleven years ago. In The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins paints us a society we tell ourselves differs greatly from ours but that deserves our attention as a warning. Children regularly face publicized death in a system citizens fear to speak against. When Katniss Everdeen volunteers in place of her sister Prim, she sees herself as sacrificing her life in place of Prim’s. Yet she ignites a spark of hope instead.
Though the first time around I brushed off Peeta Mellark, the male tribute from Katniss Everdeen’s District 12, I have found a deep appreciation for his steadfastness. Only glimpsed in this introduction to the series, he shows the most unconditional love and stable support of his team. Katniss may look to her interests first, even if they are foremost for her family, but Peeta holds true to his values. This requires a look beyond the supposedly boring exterior presented through his seemingly lack of strength. A second read allows this opportunity of greater study of all the characters as well as Panem’s structure as a society.
The Hunger Games has brought Suzanne Collins notoriety for a reason. The books have an action-packed plot, the love triangle expected in a YA book, and likable characters. Seemingly an escape from reality, it offers a springboard for considerations about sacrifice, unconditional love, strength in all its forms, control, and rebellion. It has stirred a lot of contemplation in my mind when it comes to sacrifice, unconditional love, and mental health, particularly where those topics merge. I owe this series a token of gratitude for helping me see the strengths of the Peeta in my life.
Emily Henry’s romantic Beach Read offers all you hope to find during a coastal getaway. Packed with the flirtatious fun expected in a romantic comedy, Gus and January’s banter have you grinning constantly. Both authors facing deadlines and writer’s block, the former rivals unite in creating a challenge to finish their new books. Clever connections to classic movies, budding love, and a fun story setup keep you glued to Beach Read. To prove the story goes beyond the “everything is roses” layer, it explores deep topics as well. These issues allow character and relationship exploration that seal the book as a full picture of love and personal growth.
Abby Jimenez’s latest romance The Happy Ever After Playlist came into my orbit thanks to Modern Mrs. Darcy’s Summer Reading Guide. The quick banter between Sloan and Tucker hooked me immediately. I found myself smiling at their quips, rooting for the relationship to evolve. The Happy Ever After Playlist maintained its fun tone throughout but unpacked some weight later in the story. Seemingly small yet realistic issues came to light, showing the characters making tough decisions to balance personal, career, and relationship goals. Themes of resilience and friendship abounded as Abby Jimenez’s characters moved forward in their lives. The story made a delightful escape as I stayed home and walked through the delights involved with falling in love, stepping forward in a career, and building emotional strength after setbacks by reading Sloan’s story.
My appreciation for Jodi Picoult has grown in the last couple years. She takes difficult topics and invites readers to contemplate them in ways they might not have otherwise. This story takes a common issue that we tend to not notice. Looking at racism through the eyes of a black nurse on trial, a white nationalist putting that nurse on trial while grieving his son’s death, and the nurse’s lawyer who witnesses prejudice she didn’t realize existed I noticed we all hold more prejudice than we like to think. As the characters interact with each other, they gain deeper understandings of all; I also gained an awareness of my own blind spots and felt encouraged to deepen my empathy. Each person faces very real obstacles, and each person has room to grow. This applies to readers as well. Though tough to read at points, I’m glad Picoult examined such a full spectrum of experiences and urged readers to consider where their perspectives fall and where they may grow in empathy.
In her book The Beauty of Broken: My Story, and Likely Yours Too former MOPS International CEO Elisa Morgan shares her openly broken story. Morgan shatters the illusion that Christian leaders have perfect lives. Through vulnerable anecdotes and reflection, she encourages readers to go deeper in their lives. A reminder that we all face unexpected obstacles flows through the pages not as a doomsday warning but as a message of hope that we have strength, guidance, and community in God. I appreciate most her willingness to share where she can see she missed the depth of her or someone else’s experience but has now recognized and learned from it. She reflects how she didn’t understand the complexity of her son’s struggle and now can see his efforts to overcome it; she also acknowledges how we must be honest regarding forgiveness. That means not ignoring or brushing it off with an, “it’s okay,” but really looking at it for the pain and dirt it is yet still maintaining connection with that person. Morgan has experienced a lot and has learned a lot from those obstacles because she had a willingness to look into those times, recognize God’s guidance, and apply what she learned.
I received a copy of Dreaming with God: A Bold Call to Step Out and Follow God’s Lead by Sarah Beth Marr from BakerBooks in exchange for a review.
Sarah Beth Marr shares her story of becoming a successful dancer and learning to follow God’s lead no matter the obstacles encountered. Her experience yields examples of how to trust God when it seems like the path to which you’re called may be impractical or even impossible. Faith comes into play as we trust God’s lead with our dreams and callings. This particularly reminds me that I need to believe God has a plan for me and following His lead ranks higher than what society expects. Even if it contradicts the cultural norm, God has a path marked. Marr experienced numerous setbacks and odds seemed against her, yet she honored God’s calling on her life and glorified Him through her discipline and stage presence. May we all learn to develop greater trust and discipline to follow where God leads.
Morgan Matson’s young adult book Save the Date makes a quiet yet humorous and heartfelt story surrounding a family gathering for an upcoming wedding. Charlie faces numerous common adjustments many readers may find familiar, and she faces them with an expected trepidation yet also with strength. It gets off to a slow start but becomes better as the events unfold and more of Charlie’s character gets revealed through her reconsidering how she views and engages in her relationships. The themes of family bonds, personal growth and reflection, making adjustments, accepting change, and moving forward all made positive messages.