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Review: If You Knew by Barbara Meyers Tags: if you knew barbara meyers rnftb romance novels for the beach book blogs book reviews reviews lauren

Where are your kids? Turns out they’re at school, but they have a former porn star as a teacher’s aide, and a reformed junkie as a guidance counselor. The beauty of this novel is it will show you why there’s no problem with that situation.

What’s it About? 

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In a town filled with lies, is there room for one more? When widow Devonny Campbell arrives in tiny Red Bud, Iowa, she is determined to make a new life for herself and the child she carries. But when her former career in adult films is uncovered, she becomes the catalyst for a nasty political campaign which creates a tornado of controversy. High school coach and guidance counselor Luke Bradshaw knows one strong wind will collapse the house of cards he’s built to contain his demons. He’s falling hard for Devonny in spite of her past. And she might be what trips him up and exposes everything he’s kept hidden. But Devonny and Luke aren’t the only citizens of Red Bud forced to face the judgment of their peers. As the campaign turns vicious, deeply-buried truths are revealed and lifelong relationships are shattered. Can Devonny and Luke stick together? Or will too much truth tear them apart?

First Impressions

There’s nothing better than a romance novel that shatters any of your preconceived expectations, and this novel succeeds in doing that in abundance. The author does a fantastic job at introducing us to these characters in a somewhat slow and natural way. Devonny is a newcomer to the city of Red Bud, trying to find a peaceful haven after losing the love of her life, and locate a place to raise the child she’s just recently found out she’s going to have. Then you have Luke, a friendly local who is more than happy to welcome Devonny to this small Iowa town. He also can’t deny the attraction he feels for this quiet woman who also has a spark about her. At first, they seem completely “normal”, and silly me I thought this book would primarily tell a story of Devonny learning how to move on from her former love to find a romance with someone new. In a way, that’s true. However, we also slowly start to discover that these two characters have some unexpected surprises to share about their respective pasts. Little did I know this book would make me confront my own biases and prejudices, and learn the importance of acknowledging that who a person is now is often more important than who they once were.

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The Porn Star and the Junkie

As I previously eluded to, the author gives us a somewhat slow introduction to Devonny and Luke. It doesn’t open up right away with the description of a former porn actress moving to Iowa from LA, soon thereafter meeting a dashing man who also just so happens to be a reformed junkie. Instead, we start off seeing how they are both very friendly, caring people who just want to live a happy life. We’re rooting for them to find happiness with each other, and you can’t help but describe their burgeoning romance as “cute”. Devonny is obviously moving on from the tragic loss of her husband, Jack, to a quick illness, but she realizes that he wouldn’t have wanted her to wallow away in sadness. Especially with a baby on the way. Sure, her romance with Luke might seem a bit quick considering the recent death of her husband, but their chemistry feels so natural you sincerely believe they’re a perfect fit for each other. Luke must learn that Jack will always remain a part of Devonny’s life through their child, and Devonny has some of her own introspection to deal with in order to no longer see her feelings for Luke as a betrayal of the love she felt for her husband.

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Only after we see the base of their relationship, as well as the true nature of their characters, do we peel away at some of the details of their past. Devonny appeared in a number of adult films with her husband, and Luke has struggled with a history of alcohol and drugs. I’ll admit, when we first uncover the details of their pasts the irony was not lost on me over the fact that they both work in a high school with children. Doesn’t seem like the most thorough of background checks, amiright? But here is where I truly appreciated this novel. Why should we pass judgement on them for something they’d done in the past? It’s not like Devonny is teaching these kids how to give a good blow job for crying out loud, she’s tutoring them in math! As for Luke, why can’t he use the story of his triumph over drugs as something for these kids to admire? They’ve both been on a journey in life, and they’ve each had a few unexpected bumps and curves along the way. When we look at who they are today we find that they’re stronger because of the difficulties they’ve traversed in the past. Not to mention…we also learn they aren’t the only ones in this wholesome little town with secrets.

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The Lie of Middle America? 

A seemingly perfect town full of good-natured, respectable citizens. Sure, on the surface. But what happens when we look beneath the polite smiles, and look at the truth of what’s hiding underneath. As it turns out, it’s really a town full of secrets and lies. Let’s face it, we all have certain aspects of ourselves or our pasts which we’d prefer to keep hidden from others. Nobody’s perfect, and the citizens of this small Iowa town might like to think they live in an oasis that espouses family values, but it’s all an illusion. In a way, it was an illusion for Devonny as well when she chose to settle here, hoping that her previous career as an adult film actress wouldn’t become widely known to her neighbors, and she could find the perfect place to set up a home. Some secrets are more potent than others, including cheating spouses and hidden sexualities, but what’s most surprising is the fact that some of these people with their hidden lies are the same ones to judge Devonny when her past comes to light.

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We’ve all heard a variation of some quote or another about why this is the epitome of hypocrisy. Don’t judge others lest ye be judged. Those who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. Well, the people in this town basically live in a glass dome, and they’re apparently in the mood to chuck a few boulders in Devonny’s direction. We question if Devonny will be able to remain strong in the face of so much hatred, or if she’ll choose the easy way out and simply escape to another town where nobody knows her past. Let’s just say she’s not one to give up. She’s a fighter, but she’s also poised, friendly, and not one to lose her cool when being accused of corrupting the youth of Red Bud. Eventually Devonny realizes she has a number of allies on her side, and all of them take it upon themselves to show this town that it can be easy to judge someone for what they may have done in the past, but it’s more about how that past influenced who they are today.

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The Root of the Problem

“We all have a journey…And everyone has mountains and valleys and stumbling blocks. But there’s a purpose in everything. It isn’t always good versus bad. Everything isn’t white and black.” This is where the author shocked me yet again by applying this logic to our supposed “villains”. There are a number of key characters who seem determined to run Devonny out of town. They are characterized as the bad guys you hate to hate, who seemingly have no redeeming qualities. While we root for Devonny and Luke to succeed, we simultaneously root for these characters to fail. However, if we apply the same moral of the story to our villainous characters as well, we learn to acknowledge that their determination to see Devonny ruined “isn’t always good versus bad.” Just like Devonny and Luke, our hateful characters have pasts and motives of their own. By the end of the novel I wouldn’t say we necessarily come to lovethese characters who wanted to ruin Devonny’s chance of happiness in Red Bud, but we come to understand that everyone has a history of their own which influences the decisions they make in life. Sometimes they go down the wrong road, but that doesn’t mean they can never find their way back.

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*A copy of this book was provided for an honest review*

Series: Red Bud, Iowa, Book 1. I’m intrigued to continue on with this series. This first novel was full of engaging characters, and it’d be interesting to see what story each of them might have to tell.

Final Impressions: This book will really make you rethink how you look at other people, and cause you to pause before you pass judgement on others. The beauty of the moral lesson presented in this romance is that it never feels like you’re being preached to, or made to feel guilty for having those judgments. At times it’s simply our first reaction, but the true test is whether or not we can look beyond those first impressions to see the true nature of a person. It also makes us look at ourselves, and in a way admit our own faults when we try to find faults in others. This was definitely more than the simple “moving on from tragedy” romance I was expecting. We really saw a social message built in as well that I wasn’t expecting, but in the end appreciated.

Smut Level: Two words folks. Pregnancy hormones. Nothing too over-the-top erotic, but you’ll fan yourself a time or two.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $3.99 Kindle Price. Sandalstring Productions. 327 Pages

Review by Lauren, host of Romance Novels for the Beach

Review: A Tailor-Made Bride by Karen Witemeyer
Category: JUST A GIRL
Tags: karen witemeyere tailor-made bride romantic western western romance romance novels period romance 1800s just a girl book review

This was a beautifully written slow-burn romance that followed the internal struggles of two God-fearing people in Texas. There were times I was happy to get lost in the language and style of the writing and forgot I was reading a story. Plus, I love sewing, so I got a little giddy each time words like pleats and flounces were mentioned ;)

Hannah Richards is an apprentice dressmaker who is given a chance to run her own shop and takes the leap of independence. She keeps having run-ins with the local liveryman, J.T. Tucker, who makes it blatantly aware that he despises her, which cracks her new found self-esteem. I enjoyed that the story was realistic to the period, right down to the behavior of the characters--a lot of authors stray from that and it was refreshing to be taken back in time.

I wasn't sure what to expect from this book as I went searching for something on my shelf that I hadn't read (which was difficult to find!). This was one my sister had left behind and so I took a chance and dove in. For a debut novel, I was highly impressed with the artful writing style of Witemeyer. It was poetic and elegant. I don't seek out christian romance, which I wouldn't consider this, but each character looked to bible versus for direction and there was beauty even in the way the author presented those moments. What was most impressive was that the novel was basically a growing desire from beginning to end written from the POV of the two main characters, yet it never once got boring or repetitious as they struggled to understand their feelings. Well done. I'll gladly look for more by this author.

Review: Wind Chime Wedding by Sophie Moss
Category: JUST A GIRL
Tags: sophie moss wind chime wedding wind chime series contemporary romance book reviews

Review of Wind Chime Wedding by USA Today Award winning author Sophie Moss

Speaking as a veteran, I was highly impressed and grateful that Sophie Moss is the first author I’ve found who could actually nail what it feels like to be a veteran and the issues that are very real and important to them. Many books try to capture the essence of military life, the terminology, and the persona, yet most fail by trying to create overly-machismo characters in ridiculous situations, using generic phrases, and hyped-up resumes – not Sophie Moss, she gets it. Moss portrays a veteran in a realistic manner and fully captures issues important to them in a way that makes you feel neither ashamed or embarrassed to be a veteran or enjoy this beautiful story. Equally refreshing, the author has created the kind of story that makes you feel like you are the one falling in love.

Wind Chime Wedding is the story of Becca – a woman on the cusp of her long-overdue wedding to her childhood sweetheart, and a veteran trying to find his place in the “civilian world”. Sophie Moss creates an entire island of scented, swaying, and living scenery that you can both hear and taste as you walk down the docks and streets of Heron Island. Wind Chime Wedding introduces you to a community that becomes your friends and neighbors, playing out like a film of some peaceful place you have long lost. The character development of young and old in Wind Chime Wedding was obviously well-thought out through the heart and soul of the author – you quickly understand why she is a multiple award-winner. It’s amazing how many different issues Sophie tackles so effectively in this gem of a story – readers can feel themselves evolve on several levels through the struggles of her jump-off-the-pages characters. This is one of those books where you forget that you are reading, being pulled into a vortex of a world and faces you want to see to the end.

You can find more of Sophie's works here, including the prequel to Wind Chime Wedding, Wind Chime Cafe!

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