Welcome to Book Chat with Julie! This month we have two romance selections that feature enduring friendships as well as courageous women who are forging their own path and finding their voice in the world. 

Our first book, Hearts of Briarwall by Krista Jensen is unusual because it is set in the Edwardian time period during the second Industrial Revolution when “progress” was happening too fast for some and too slow for others. Ms. Jensen uses J.M. Barrie’s play Peter Pan as a framework for the characters as each one tries to choose their life’s direction—sometimes with unexpected results.

Lydia is part of the Wendy League, a group of women who meet together to discuss “courage, aspirations, community, womanhood, and . . . men.” These friends want to help each other “fly.” Lydia pays close attention to any female guidance because she has grown up without a mother, since her parents were killed in a motorcar accident when she was six. Her older brother Andrew has done his best to raise her, but he struggles to see her as her own person.  

Andrew’s school chum Spencer comes to Briarwall to ask for financial backing for his business venture, and is shocked to find Lydia has grown into a beautiful woman—one he’d like to know better. However, he doesn’t want to let his attraction get in the way of his business with Andrew, so he holds back. Or tries to. He is drawn to Lydia in a way he can’t explain and their adventures and scenes are full of sparks. But their journey to a happily-ever-after is not easy as both Lydia and Spencer are trying to find their way in a bold, new world with people that don’t always seem to appreciate their thoughts and ideas.

Ms. Jensen easily paints the picture of what Edwardian England would have been like and her characters are engaging and memorable. Spencer is so earnest in trying to provide some security for his mother and sister that he puts aside any reservations to ask for his friend’s help. When that begins to unravel, he chooses another path that has far-reaching consequences for him and his future. Lydia is unsure of herself at times, wanting to please her brother, yet also yearning to make her own choices in life. She is a dichotomy of strength and vulnerability and readers will feel a pull of protectiveness for her as she tries to do the right thing. The romance with Lydia and Spencer was full of banter and fun, but was also balanced with a serious side as they navigated the situation with her brother. The secondary characters are well-drawn and add to the world of Briarwall seamlessly. I loved the Wendy League ladies and hope they all get their own stories, and I think Andrew is deserving of his own story as well.

If you are looking for a romance set at the turn of the century that is spirited and intriguing, then you won’t want to miss Hearts of Briarwall. This book will be available Aug.2, 2022.

Our second book is Healing Hazel by Jennifer Moore, the third installment in the Blue Orchid Society. I enjoyed the first two books in the series, but this one is unique because it takes place in the Spanish countryside, in the middle of a Civil War. Hazel is traveling to Spain to visit her father for Christmas, when her train is bombed, severely wounding some passengers, including Hazel’s traveling companions. Hazel has always wanted to finish her nursing training, but was unable to because of her panic attacks. When she is plunged into a situation where her skills are desperately needed, Hazel does her best to put her anxieties aside and focus on the patients.

Dr. Jim Jackson, a Red Cross doctor serving in Spain, isn’t so sure about her abilities, and doesn’t make anything easy for Hazel. She works hard to be of use, to prove to Dr. Jackson and herself that she can be the nurse she always wanted to be, and their newfound friendship may have the potential to blossom into more. They are in the middle of a battle zone, however, and trying to treat the soldiers and patients becomes more dangerous than anyone ever thought. If she survives, Hazel must choose a path that could hurt those she loves most. A battle rages all around her, and there’s one inside her heart as well.

Ms. Moore expertly takes the reader on a journey through Spain to a time when the Red Cross was fairly new and doctors were doing all they could to gain the trust of those they served. Dr. Jim Jackson had a rich backstory that we are given hints of as we see him struggle with his feelings for Hazel. He has suffered in his profession, wanting to save everyone and feeling defeated, at times, by his limitations. But that also means he has compassion and we see more and more of that as the romance progresses. Hazel has also suffered in her life and because of that, she doesn’t trust herself and her abilities. But Hazel rises to the occasion when she has to, and readers will admire her spirit. No matter what is thrown at her, she does her best to make the situation better—even though it doesn’t always turn out like she thought it would. The author has included an extraordinary secondary cast of characters and, combined with the detailed setting descriptions, you will feel as if you are in Spain with civilians, soldiers, and medical personnel whose lives are upended by a war that seems never-ending. This romance has a compelling action-adventure thread that will keep readers up late at night to see how it all turns out. I will definitely be reading this one again. Healing Hazel will be available September 8, 2022, but you can preorder it today!  

Behind the Scenes—A Chat with Krista Jensen

I enjoyed having a chat with author Krista Jensen to get all the scoop about her story, Hearts of Briarwall. If you’d like to hear more of our chat, you can tune into my Book Chat with Julie podcast. She will also be the featured guest at my Book Chat Book Club on August 23rdat 7:00 p.m. MT. If you would like to join the Book Club, you can click here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1055727957843897

Here’s a little bit of what she had to say.

Julie: What gave you the idea for this book?

Krista: I love Downton Abbey and I thought it would be interesting to take that setting and era, but give it a more middle-class vibe, with humor and banter that moved as quickly as the innovation of the time. I researched popular writers and artists of the era, came across Sir James Barrie and his new play, Peter Pan, and ideas blossomed from there.

Julie: Did you have to do a lot of research into this time period?

Krista: I’d already been researching the Regency era for some novellas I’d written, so I just kept going through the Victorian, then really focused on Edwardian England. As ideas came for the story, like the motor car theme, I totally deep-dived into that emerging industry. You have to get it correct—as correct as possible. It’s important to the story and it’s important to the readers. Lots of research before, lots of research during the drafting process. And more as I write the series.

Julie: Do you have an “invention” you are fascinated by?

Krista: I’ve always been fascinated by clocks and the evolution of time keeping and that shows up in “Briarwall.”

Julie: If you invented something what would it be?

Krista: I invent stories. Anything else I might think up would probably end up dangerous to the time continuum or something, ha.

Thank you so much for joining me for our book chat today. I hope you’ve found a new author to read this month!   

The Hearts of Briarwell by Krista Jensen published by Shadow Mountain, 288 pages, available in softcover, audio, and ebook on Aug. 2, 2022.

Healing Hazel by Jennifer Moore, published by Covenant Communications, available September 8, 2022.

After winning $10 in a second-grade writing contest, Julie Coulter Bellon knew she wanted to be a published author someday. That dream came true and she is now the author of thirty books. She is also a podcast host for Authors Off the Page and Book Chat with Julie.