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If You Knew - Drama

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

The Noble Guardian

I had 3 favorite authors before I read this book; I now have 4.  An absolutely charming historical romance packed with suspense and finite details of 1800s England.

Abigail is fleeing a loveless home, being pushed onto the first suitor that offered her father his hand. Her journey to meet the baronet that will soon be her husband is thwarted at every turn by dangers and heartaches of the harsh realities of 1800s England. Samuel Thatcher has counted the days when he can leave his service as a magistrate, battling brutal highwaymen that leave a wake of death and agony in their path on the heath. Circumstance drops Abigail and a favor to a friend that he cannot refuse in the pathway to his dreams, ensuring his nightmare is not yet over. Michelle Griep tests each of her characters time and again making for an eye-opening emotional journey from start to finish.

The Noble Guardian is comparable to a PG version of Johanna Lindsay’s historical romances spliced with Les Miserables, and Gaskell’s North and South. Classed a Christian Romance, there’s no need as the religious undertones are merely true to the time and only bolster the fact that Ms. Griep is a master of time-warping a reader to another era. The time-relevant dialogue is transfixing and Griep paints a picture around every corner that puts you in the heart of early 19th century England, riding a carriage, and eating kidney pie. I can’t say enough wonderful things about this story – the pacing, description, plot, historical accuracy, the character evolution, the drama and suspense – it was an honor to read it. Beautiful – an adventure of misery and compassion on the open-roads of historical England.

Thank you to Barbour Publishing and NetGalley for providing me with this early reviewer copy. 

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