An Open Book: May 2023

The first Wednesday of each month, Carolyn Astfalk hosts #OpenBook, where bloggers link posts about books they’ve read recently. Here’s a taste of what I’ve been reading:


Windswept Way by Irene Hannon (Hope Harbor #9). Ashley decides to start over by purchasing a possibly haunted house with the intent of opening a special-event venue. The mysterious former owner, who lives on the property, and the equally mysterious and battle-scarred neighbor and landscape designer bring unexpected friendship and possible romance into her life. Eventually Irene Hannon will get tired of writing the Hope Harbor stories, and when that happens, I will miss them. I enjoy the recurring characters, which include main characters from previous novels in the series, the minister and priest who enjoy a friendly rivalry involving Bibles and donuts, Charley the artist/taco truck driver with more than his share of insight, and the seagulls Floyd and Gladys. (And it’s fun to speculate about who will figure in the next book, since there’s usually a hint or two.) One thing that has disappointed me, and maybe it’s a requirement of her publisher or something, but there are never any Catholic characters in the series except the priest. Jonathan, in this book, is estranged from religion until he has an eye-opening conversation with the Catholic priest—yet when he returns to church, it’s at the Christian church, not the Catholic one.


Save What’s Left by Elizabeth Castellano. A funny novel about a midlife divorcée who buys a beach house—which is being overshadowed by over-the-top new construction next door. Part of the story is told in emails to community leaders. It’s over-the-top and overly long; it felt like it was much longer than 304 pages and could have done with a good edit. But it would make a great beach read for the summer, especially if your beach umbrella is in the shadow of an enormous, ugly new AirBnB that ruins everyone’s view. This was a “Kindle First Reads” that I got for free as an Amazon Prime member. (Available June 27.)


Love Songs Suck by Becky Monson. I loved that each chapter of this book had a song title—I knew almost every song, and they all went well with the action of that chapter. Louella met Finn, a boy-band singer at a Nashville concert and felt an immediate connection, but she had a boyfriend. The singer recorded a hit single based on their meeting, and when it accidentally came out that she was the inspiration of the song, she’s swarmed by papparazzi, to the dismay of her extremely secretive now-fiancé. Kurt does not support her as she deals with instant seclusion, but instead she’s rescued by Finn. You can probably tell where this is going, but despite that predictable plot, this clean romance is an excellent, fun read.


Who Am I to Judge? by Emily Hanlon. This new cozy mystery from Chrism Press features a couple of Church Ladies in a hilarious personality clash, trying to clear the names of two of their favorite parish priests in the murder of a fellow parishioner. This story is populated by a cast of very quirky characters, almost over the top, and that’s all part of the fun. The mystery kept me guessing, and the characters’ foibles and fumbles kept me reading. And let me give you a little hint about Chrism Press: when you preorder the ebook directly from the publisher, you get it earlier than you would if you buy it on Amazon, but the price is the same! I love supporting a small publisher in this way.


A Girl Called Samson by Amy Harmon. Deborah, who had been bound out as an indentured servant since the age of 10, comes of age during the American Revolution and decides to pursue her dream of serving her country as a soldier. The only way to do this is to disguise herself as a man. I almost didn’t read this because I was afraid it would be an agenda-driven gender-bending kind of novel and I don’t have time for that, but I’m glad I put those preconceived notions aside: the book was not at all what I expected. Deborah was clearly playing a role, putting on a costume so she could do something that society wouldn’t permit otherwise. More than anything, I was impressed by her character’s emotional journey throughout the course of the story.


Cara by Maddie Evans (Always a Bridesmaid, book 4). Maddie Evans is particularly talented at writing dialogue that feels real, reveals the characters, and explores what makes a healthy relationship. In Cara, you’ll find a young woman relishing her hard-won independence, the man who tried to mold her in his image, a few side characters who deserve stories of their own, and a villain—a type of character who doesn’t always get as much space on the page in Evans’ stories, but who provides plenty of entertainment in this one.


The Secret Keepers of Old Depot Grocery by Amanda Cox. A split-time story centered on a tiny local grocery store that’s been in a family for generations. 60 years ago, pregnant and unmarried Glory Ann was forced into a marriage of convenience with the store owner (not the baby’s father). In the present day, her newly widowed granddaughter Sarah decides to rebuild her life by returning to her hometown and joining the family business, only to find that her mother was in the process of closing and selling the store. All three generations of women in the family have kept secrets, and all three have wounds that only the truth can heal.


A Novel Proposal by Denise Hunter. Writer Sadie leaves New York for the summer, headed for the Carolina coast where she’s tasked with writing a book in a new-to-her genre to cover an advance on a previous book contract that didn’t sell. But she has no inspiration to write romance, so she decides to feature her handsome neighbor in the novel’s plot, as the two of them seek to find the rightful owner of a beautiful engagement ring Sadie found inside a book. Yes, this clean romance is packed with so many clichés, but it’s definitely a fun summer read.


Give Me a Sign by Anna Sortino. Terrific story, well told. I didn’t want to stop reading! I appreciate that it was a clean romance (kissing only) and that there was minimal swearing. The author did a good job showing where dialogue was signed rather than spoken—this is a challenging thing to do in written work and I thought her solution was clever. The story was a good exploration of both the challenges that people who are Deaf or have hearing loss face in the world in general and with each other, and the various ways they can choose to communicate, without being heavy-handed. I was inspired to think more about how I respond to people with hearing loss, and how I can do better. I’ll look for more by this author. (Netgalley review; book will be available in July 2023)


nullJersey Girls Don’t Rule by Lisa Hess. I’m a big fan of Lisa’s fiction for adults, and I was sure she’d do just as well with a middle-grade/YA story. This one, featuring a 12-year-old main character, didn’t disappoint. Keesha’s dad is remarrying a woman with two younger daughters, and Keesha feels caught in the middle: she’s living with her dad and resents that his new wife and children are getting what she and her mother never did. Lisa excels at portraying characters with big feelings as they learn to express them. What I’m not a fan of is the Kindle Vello platform, where this story is available. It’s designed so you’ll read on your phone (which I don’t prefer) and you buy the story chapter by chapter.


Tilly in Technicolor by Mazey Eddings. A young adult with ADHD embarrasses herself in front of a cute guy on a transatlantic flight, only to learn she’ll be working closely with him all summer long and that he’s autistic. I’ve seen books with one neurodiverse main character before, but this is the first one I’ve come across with two, who fall in love with each other. Bundled beautifully into the story line is good advice about being aware of others’ needs and open to discussing your own. Heads up: also features homosexual relationships, premarital sexual relationships, and some crude language.(Coming in August 2023; Netgalley review.)


Caring for a Loved One with Mary: A Seven Sorrows Prayer Companion by Theresa Kiser. A beautiful book that I’m still praying my way through (it’s meant to be savored slowly). It’s rare that I’ll recommend a book I haven’t yet finished yet, never mind purchase a copy to give to someone else, but that’s exactly what I did with this prayer book by Theresa Kiser (new from Our Sunday Visitor). Read my full review. 


Holy Habits from the Sacred Heart: Ten Ways to Build Stronger, More Loving Relationships by Emily Jaminet. This is a down-to-earth, concrete book that shows you 10 habits you can develop that will bring you closer to Jesus. Emily Jaminet once again has found a way to share her love of the Sacred Heart of Jesus with today’s reader. This book from Ave Maria Press is packed with do-able advice for building spiritual muscle while you build up your relationships. I like the reflection questions at the end of each chapter, which you can use for journaling or for group discussion. (Netgalley review)


Links to books in this post are Amazon affiliate links. Your purchases made through these links support Thank you!

Where noted, books are review copies. If that is not indicated, I either purchased the book myself or borrowed it from the library.

Follow my Goodreads reviews for the full list of what I’ve read recently (even the duds!)

Visit today’s #OpenBook post to join the linkup or just get some great ideas about what to read! You’ll find it at Carolyn Astfalk’s A Scribbler’s Heart and at!

Copyright 2023 Barb Szyszkiewicz

2 thoughts on “An Open Book: May 2023

  1. Oh my gosh. I just saw this!!! Thank you so much for the review and the kind comments.
    Emily Hanlon

  2. Hanlon’s book sounds delightful! And thanks for the tip on preordering with Chrism press. Also, I don’t often pick up contemporary romance, but I think you’ve convinced me to try out Give Me a Sign-the book sounds like it has a great premise and interesting story!

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