The Kingdom of Oceana

OceanaAuthor: Mitchell Charles

Publisher: Butterhorse Media

Release Date: November 27, 2015

Rating: 5 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

A beautiful tale set on a beautiful island that makes for a fun and exciting read.

Sixteen-year-old Prince Ailani has always been in his brother’s shadow and feels that he is where he is destined to be. They live on the island of Hawaii, where there is adventure, surfing, shark taming, fire walking, and even a thousand-year-old curse that they are about to unleash on their paradise. The boys discover an ancient tiki mask at a forbidden burial ground. Then without knowing it, they set about a chain of events that will send the islands of Oceana out of control.  Prince Ailani must get in touch with his inner strength, and his ancestral spirit animal in order to overcome the obstacles they are about to face.

It pains me to say that I have had this on the shelf for a while and just now picked it up. This was a fun adventure that is rich in history and full of fun.  Mitchell Charles did a great job of creating a wonderful tale showing sibling rivalry at its most intense, magic, love and so much more.  While reading, I felt like I was on the islands, and wished I was there experiencing the beauty.  That’s the great thing about a well written book, it can transport you to a magical place you might never be able go to in real life.  The mythical elements were fun to read.  I particularly enjoyed the playful banter between Ailani and the Kahula.  It had just enough humor to keep me smiling but not so much that it took away from the suspense and mystery of the story.

Since I have finished I keep looking and hoping for a second book to come out and continue the story, fingers crossed it will still happen.   I think this could be considered a great YA read, especially with the length, not too long to intimidate younger readers but enough to fully flesh out the story.  I recommend this book to readers that enjoy a good thrill set in a beautiful and magical place.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher. The views and opinions expressed within are my own.

Long Time Gone

Long Time GoneAuthor: Mary Connealy

Series: The Cimarron Legacy #2

Publisher: Bethany House

Release Date: February 28, 2017

Rating: 4 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

A charming western romance with action and adventure at just the right spots.

After the patriarch of the Boden family is injured in what appears to be an accidental landslide and sent to Denver for treatment, the rest of the family is left to handle the ranch and quickly uncover it was no accident. Justin Boden is now in charge of the ranch and after seeing his father hurt and now his brother Cole, shot and in critical condition, he feels in over his head.  The doctor trying to save Cole has an assistant, Angie Dupree, that is a distraction to Justin.  Angie came to town to stay with her aunt after her life didn’t go as planned.  Justin and the rest of the family must work together, with the help of Angie, who he is quickly falling for, and a few others to figure out who is out to get their family.  Things are turning out to be much bigger than they first thought and danger is around every corner and deadlier than they could have imagined.

The best thing about a Mary Connealy book is that it is a quick read that is enjoyable. However, sometimes the books can be unmemorable, especially when you read a lot.  It has been a while since I read the first in the series and didn’t remember a whole lot of it before starting this one.  In a way that is good because I can say that if readers haven’t read the first book, they will still enjoy this one.  It does help for some background information with the parents and what the family is facing.  But it is not completely vital to have read the first before starting this one.  I read these and enjoy them while I am reading them and then move on to the next on my list, whereas with some I hate to put it down because it was so good.  I liked the storyline of Justin and Angie, I could see where they were heading and everything felt natural for the characters as they got to where they needed to be.  I’m hoping the third book will go into Cole and his relationship to come, ( I could be wrong but I’m guessing he will fall for Melanie.)  I recommend this book to readers than enjoy a good, clean, historical romance with cowboys, action and a little humor sprinkled in for good measure.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher. The views and opinions expressed within are my own.

If I’m Found

If I'm FoundAuthor: Terri Blackstock

Series: If I Run #2

Publisher: Zondervan

Release Date:  March 21, 2017

Rating: 5 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

The second book in the series but might just be Blackstock’s best book yet.  A tight, suspenseful story that will leave you begging for more.

Casey Cox is on the run for a murder she didn’t commit. She has just gotten away again from the man tasked to bring her in, PI Dylan Roberts.  He had her in his grasp but let her go.  She has been emailing him, insisting her innocence and he is starting to believe her.  He still isn’t sure he can trust her but each day a new piece of evidence turns up making her seem more believable than those after her.  Casey is trying to gather evidence about the murder she is accused of and others, exposing deep corruption within the department that is trying to frame her.  During her search, she also uncovers evidence of a child being abused and a man on the verge of suicide.  Even though she knows she should focus on staying safe and clearing her own name, she can’t help trying to help others, even if she ends up found in the process and killed before she would make it to jail.

I have been a fan of Terri Blackstock for a long time and must say this might be her best book. It is hard for a second book in a series to be that good, a lot of times it is just filler for what is coming in the third (and usually final) in the series.  I would advise reading the first in the series, just to have the background necessary to understand what the characters are going through.  The tension was at a whole new level for Blackstock making this the best I have read by her.  Casey and Dylan both have problems that make them flawed characters that we can relate to and want to root for.  We might not all be running from a murder we didn’t commit or have PTSD, but we all have problems.  At times the problems Casey finds herself in might seem a little hard to believe, but the way it is all set up with Casey being a people person and getting involved in others’ lives when she should be keeping to herself makes it easy to see how she could wind up in the situations she does.  With all the close calls that Casey finds herself in, I was on the edge of my seat and couldn’t put the book down.  It is only March but I have no doubt this will be in my top ten for the year.  I recommend this book to everyone that enjoys a good suspense thriller that is clean, without unnecessary crude language or sex scenes throughout.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher. The views and opinions expressed within are my own.

The Roanoke Girls

The Roanoke GirlsAuthor: Amy Engel

Publisher: Crown

Release Date: March 7, 2017

Rating: 3 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

Disturbing and creepy. That’s all I’m saying.

Lane Roanoke is fifteen years old and her mom has just committed suicide, which is really not surprising to her as she has been threatening it for most of her life. What is surprising is that her mom’s parents want Lane to come live with them in Kansas, which is vastly different than New York City.  Once she gets there, she is greeted by her cousin Allegra and they become like sisters, even look like sisters too.  Her grandparents are filthy rich from oil and she becomes one of the Roanoke girls, which pretty much gets you whatever you want.  However, one day she discovers the secret that drives all Roanoke girls either to run or to die.  She runs away and never looks back.

Eleven years later, Allegra has gone missing and Lane is called back to Roanoke. Even though time has passed, it feels the same as soon as she pulls up.  Everyone she left is still there and her messed up family is still the same.  But with Allegra gone, sights are now set on Lane to take her place as the next Roanoke girl.

This book was very disturbing and creepy too. I can’t delve too much into it because it would give away the context to the readers, but needless to say, this is not what I was expecting in some big Kansas farmhouse.  Still gives me the heebie jeebies.  One point that I do have to make is that I can tell this author has written YA novels previously.  The flow and characterizations still tended to show up as YA, which I actually like.  However, what I don’t like is when there is a great YA author that decides to go into mainstream adult fiction and it reads like a YA novel with lots of profanity and sex, which is a bit of the case here.  I’ve seen this happen with lots of great authors in the YA genre.  I like the YA better because it is usually cleaner.  I understand that this book had to have sex since that is the pretense of the whole things, but the profanity could have been cut way back.  This is why I only recommend this book to mature older readers.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher. The views and opinions expressed within are my own.

The Orphan’s Tale

Orphan's taleAuthor: Pam Jenoff

Publisher: Mira Books

Release Date: February 21, 2017

Rating: 4.5 Stars

Reviewer: Jennifer S. Roman

Readers meet the first protagonist, Noa, in late 1944 Germany at a train station.  She has been put out of her home by her father after he discovers she is pregnant to a German soldier who occupied their Dutch home.  After giving birth at a girls’ home and having her baby immediately taken away from her, she finds a job cleaning the train station and living in a small closet there.  During her routine shift, Noa finds a train car full of Jewish babies.  One in particular calls to her because he resembles her own child.  Without thinking, Noa grabs the baby and runs away from the station.  She struggles in the cold snow of winter with a baby in tow before passing out from cold, exhaustion, and fear.  When she wakes up, the baby is in a warm basket with plenty of blankets and she is in a soft warm bed being cared for by a circus ringmaster.  He tells Noa he will keep her and the baby that she spontaneously names Theo, but in return she must perform on the trapeze with their current star, Astrid.

Astrid is the second protagonist.  She comes from a prominent circus family herself, but because she is Jewish, she is now in hiding.  Her parents have been taken by the Germans, and she does not know the fate of her brothers.  So far she has survived through her marriage to a German officer, but he had to put her out and divorce her per Nazi decree.  Now she performs with the circus and is NOT happy about having to train a runaway girl she presumes is a single mother.  Little does she know she and Noa will develop a very close friendship that will be her saving grace.

As the women get to know each other and develop a relationship through their close quarters and intense practice schedule, they share their secrets.  Things get worse as they travel to Nazi-occupied France, and there they put their friendship to the test as protecting one another becomes a matter of life and death.

Wow!  I am still reeling from this haunting novel of friendship and survival.  There are so many compelling characters that bring the story to life that it is hard to choose a favorite.  Astrid appears cold and unfeeling at first, but then we get to understand the hardships she’s endured.  By the end of the story, readers feel a real connection to her and experience a genuine hope for her happiness.  Noa immediately endears herself as she tries to save an innocent Jewish baby from certain death.  The ringmaster is a kind and caring person who not only wants his performers to be successful, but also goes out of his way to hide Jewish people right out in the open.  Peter is a clown bent on expressing his political views through his act no matter the consequence.  Each person has a backstory and secret that somehow gets exposed, often to the detriment of that person.  The characters are so well-developed and compelling that it’s hard not to relate to them on a basic human level.

I would be remiss if I didn’t say something about how the ending is a bit predictable.  Once we find out what Astrid has in mind, it’s easy to see how it plays out.  This is entirely a perspective thing as to whether it’s good or bad; I like to predict what will happen and then take gratification when I am proven right.  Other people like to be surprised right up to the very end.  Without spilling any plot secrets, I will say that even though I guessed the outcome, I enjoyed the parts leading up to it and the finale.

Even after taking a day to digest this book, I still find myself mulling over different parts of the story.  They all went together so well and made for a satisfying, if not haunting, scenario.  The author makes a point to mention at the end of the book that there were, indeed, circuses in Europe who went to a great deal of trouble to hide Jews during WWII.  This story, while fiction, is inspired by those events, and, in my opinion, did those events justice.  I cannot remember a time when I was so moved by a book, and I believe other readers will be also.

The book does contain violence and sexual situations, as well as adult themes relating to war.  There are some themes that may not be appropriate for younger readers or for those sensitive to the Nazi occupation in Europe.  Otherwise, this is a beautifully written book that shows the ability of the human spirit to overcome tragedy and make peace with the past.  I highly recommend it to mature readers.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher.  The views and opinions expressed within are my own.

Eggshells

EggshellsAuthor: Caitriona Lally

Publisher: Melville House

Release Date: March 14, 2017

Rating: 3 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

An interesting debut novel that explores loneliness even when you don’t know you’re lonely.

Vivian just doesn’t fit in. Never really has.  She now lives in a house that was willed to her by her late Great Aunt in Northern Dublin.  She was raised to believe that she was a changeling and could travel to other worlds, which she now attempts to access by walking around new neighborhoods and mapping them out, just in case.  She isn’t very close with her sister, also named Vivian, but tries all the same.  She is a society misfit.  One day she places an ad for a friend named Penelope just to find out why it doesn’t rhyme with antelope.  She takes adventures all the time even when those around her don’t understand what is going on.

This was a very different kind of book. I’m not really sure if Vivian has a bit of mental illness or just absolutely no understanding of society, even though she is in her twenties.  I can honestly say that I’ve never personally met anyone like her, but it would be interesting if I did.  I had the same reaction as the people around Vivian when she often opened her mouth because it was surprising what would come out.  Even so, it was still interesting to see where the story led.  It was literally just a snapshot in time of her life and didn’t really end.  It just didn’t continue even though we know that Vivian is out there somewhere on holiday with Penelope.

It was humorous at times and confusing at times. There was some pretty harsh language with some of the characters, but it was pretty believable based on their characters.  I recommend this book to mature audiences.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher. The views and opinions expressed within are my own.

When Tides Turn

When Tides TurnAuthor: Sarah Sundin

Series: Waves of Freedom #3

Publisher: Revell

Release Date: March 14, 2017

Rating: 4 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

A historical romance that is as frustrating as real love, which makes it all the better!

Tess Beaumont has always been thought of as just a pretty face, and she is tired of it. The Navy has recently opened programs for women and Tess decides this is her chance to put her brain to use as much as her pretty face has been in the past. It is hard work and initially she still must overcome the perceptions she has lived with all her life, but eventually the hard work pays off and she sees herself making a difference.  Love is the farthest thing from her mind, until Lt. Dan Avery shows up.  She has known him for years, especially being close with his sisters.  But when he shows up in uniform, something deep inside her stirs with feelings she hasn’t had in years.  She is determined to stay the course with her work and not let love get in the way.  Dan feels the same way, he doesn’t want love to distract him from his duties, even though he can’t deny the attraction he feels for Tess.  As things heat up in the Navy, there are also conspiracies Tess begins to investigate within her own circle of friends that put her in danger.

When Tides Turn is a book that I initially wanted to give up on, but I’m glad I didn’t.  The ending was well worth the wait; although, the first half of the book wasn’t my favorite.  I did not like Tessa until the end.  I think my problem with Tessa had to do with her attitude towards herself.  She had a problem with being seen as a pretty face and the way it came across to me was more of her being conceited and full of herself.  Yes, she might be pretty, but the way she kept thinking it and trying to keep it from being used against her in any way just rubbed me the wrong way.  And then, when someone she cares for calls her beautiful, she blows up and loses it, not the best way to play that scene out for me.  Other than that, I really enjoyed the book, especially the scenes with Tess investigating her group for spies and the danger that brought about.  I am usually very much into military dramas but that part of the story didn’t get me as much for some reason.  I found myself glossing over the parts on the ships and submarines to get to the rest of the story, it wasn’t as compelling as the rest.  The relationship with her and Dan was a little rocky and back and forth, which is very much like real life, making it more believable.  I think readers that enjoy Christian, historical romances will enjoy this one.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher. The views and opinions expressed within are my own.