Gilt Hollow

gilt-hollowAuthor: Lorie Langdon

Publisher: Blink YA Books

Release Date: September 27, 2016

Rating: 5 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

A mystery of danger and intrigue that will leave you turning the page until the very end!

Willow Lamott has known since the day her best friend Ashton Keller was sent to prison that there was no way he could be guilty of killing one of their classmates. But with three eye witnesses, she was the only one on his side. Of course, when Ashton pleads guilty, it doesn’t help the case.  He spent four years in juvenile hall before being released and allowed home to Gilt Hollow.  His parents have moved away and haven’t spoken to him since he was convicted.  Willow and her mom and brother have moved into his old house as the caretakers of the estate.  Ashton is back at school determined to get revenge on those that sent him away.  Willow watches him and sees he has changed over the years and starts to wonder if he really is as innocent as she has believed all along.  Ashton came back to clear his name but seeing Willow again and being back in her life makes him want to be as innocent as she has always seen him as.  As he finds clues to the truth of what happened to send him away, dark secrets come out and Ashton realizes his coming back to Gilt Hollow might have put everyone he loves in grave danger.

I rarely I cannot put a book down, but this one just might fall in that category. I picked it up thinking it looked interesting.  I am always looking for a good YA story that I can recommend to entice young readers to give a try.  This one fits the bill and then some.  The story hooked me from the beginning and kept me from being focused on much else.  The relationship between the characters was so enchanting that I couldn’t wait to see if they would end up together of if there was something deeper going on.  Willow is the type of character that many young girls will easily be able to relate to.  She is not very popular so she shuts herself away in her studies and tries to find solace in the things she can control.  After her years of defending Ashton, she too has become an outcast.  It would make it an easy transition that they would pick up their friendship right where they left off, but that’s not the case.  I actually liked the way Langdon went with this.  It would have been easy to have them back to being all buddy-buddy, but she didn’t take the easy way out.  She let the relationship between Willow and Ashton develop as it rightfully should.  The characters acted in a believable manner, not just in a way that has been overdone through the years in YA novels, and for that I am thankful.  Ashton had years of angst built up inside him that could have led him down a horrible path, and almost did a few times.  This is my first book to read by Lorie Langdon but I am positive it won’t be my last.  I highly recommend this to readers young and old.  It’s not just for young adults.  Older readers will easily find themselves sucked into the story and enchanted by the characters.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Blink in exchange for an honest and thorough review. The views and opinions expressed within are my own.

Life After Coffee

life-after-coffeeAuthor: Virginia Franken

Publisher: Lake Union

Release Date: September 13, 2016

Rating: 3 1/2 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

Being a mom is hard! When Amy O’Hara loses her job and has to stay home with her kids, she finds out just how hard that life can be.

Amy O’Hara has been the bread winner for the family for as long as they have been a family. Just when she is on the verge of a breakthrough discovery that could save the coffee bean from extinction, she loses her job and her self-worth.  Now her days are filled with carpools, PTA meetings, and cleaning puke off of everything.  Her husband, Paul, locks himself away to write the next great screenplay and leaves her to figure out how to be a parent.  It doesn’t take long for her to realize she has no clue what to do with her time with her children.  As they are running out of money and options, Amy’s ex-boyfriend comes into the picture asking to give Paul a job with his movie company.  This offer doesn’t come with no strings attached; her ex now wants to rekindle their past romance.  The choice is even more difficult than trying to live without the caffeine she has come to depend on in so many ways.

Being a mom is one of the most difficult and rewarding jobs there is in life. I have two young boys and there are times I don’t know what to do to just make it through the day.  Amy has never had to deal with that.  Always rushing off to work and leaving Paul to handle the kids.  I know a lot of working moms, some chose to go to work when they could stay home.  Others it’s not a choice, they have to go to work in order for their family to make enough.  I stay home, I’m one of those people that it is just who I am, I have to stay home with my kids.  In that aspect, it was hard for me to relate to Amy at the beginning of the story.  I found it difficult to believe that Paul would immediately go from 100% with the kids and doing things around the house to zero, only wanting to work on his screenplay and not do anything with the family or around the house.  A transition period as Amy worked her way into finding her groove staying home and Paul working would have been a nicer way for the story to play out in my opinion.  The dynamic with the kids and their mom played out nicely throughout.  Amy herself had a nice transition from beginning to end.

There was some language throughout that could have been cut while keeping the story’s intent. With that in mind, I would recommend for mature readers only.  It was a very quick read that I think working moms in particular will enjoy.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from TLC book tours in exchange for an honest and thorough review. The views and opinions expressed within are my own.

Composing Temple Sunrise

composing-temple-sunriseAuthor: Hassan El-Tayyab

Publisher: Poetic Matrix Press

Release Date: June 1, 2016

Rating: 4 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

How one man’s writer’s block spurred a life changing journey through unknown terrain!

Hassan El-Tayyab has known his share of challenges. Being born with a cleft pallet left him with several painful surgeries throughout his first twenty years of life.  Being an Arab-American in Massachusetts also didn’t help his social status at school, particulary after September 11th.  Having his family torn apart by his dad’s drinking when he was young and an abusive romantic relationship that recently ended didn’t help either.  But now he has been laid off from his special education job in Boston.  And to top it all off, he hasn’t been able to write a song in months.  So, he decides to take a trip across the country and post an ad for a riding partner.  A young woman named Hope Rideout agrees to split the gas and time with him and they embark on a journey to California.  All too soon it is over and they part ways.  Now Hassan is facing the reality of what to do with his life.  He meets up with another young woman who posted to have him drive some stuff back to MIT.  On a chance encounter, he winds up at a metal working shipyard in Berkley where he begins to find himself in metal working art on a piece called Fishbug that is going to be displayed at Burning Man in Nevada.  They group appreciates Hassan’s help and work so much that they give him a ticket to Burning Man.  There he meets many more colorful characters, sorts out the meaning of his life, and finally composes his first song in a long time!

This book was inspiring if not informative. I had never heard of Burning Man, so I had to look it up.  Once I did and say the aerial photograph, it all made a lot more sense when he was talking about street layout and how it is a small city.  It really is!  Back to the book.  The emotion that Hassan pours into this book is very evident.  From his relationships to his physical pain.  But he doesn’t let the story get the reader down.  For every challenge, he has a humorous story that balances it out.  I really enjoyed all the experiences and characters that he met at Burning Man.  His story will be an inspiration to many.

There are some sexual encounters as well as occasional harsh language throughout the book; therefore I recommend this book to mature audiences.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Poetic Book Tours in exchange for an honest and thorough review. The views and opinions expressed within are my own.

Mattie’s Pledge

matties-pledgeAuthor: Jan Drexler

Series: Journey to Pleasant Prairie #2

Publisher: Revell

Release Date: September 20, 2016

Reviewer: Jennifer S. Roman

Mattie Schrock and her family are on an expedition west to Indiana with two other Amish families in hopes of joining a new settlement there.  Their current settlement is questioning Amish ruling and being more lenient about the ways of life, which is not sitting well with their beliefs.  Mattie is thrilled that her childhood friends, whom she hasn’t seen in about ten years, are part of the journey.  She is especially excited that Jacob Yoder is part of the group; she had a special connection to him years ago and still has feelings for him.  Of course there are some causes for concern during this trip: Jacob’s mother, who is pregnant, is having complications from the pregnancy; a trio of horse thieves with Cole Bates as the leader follows the group to try to steal the Amish horses while Cole tries to steal Mattie’s heart.

The caravan starts in Brothers Valley, Pennsylvania, and works its way West to Indiana, where the group hopes to join a tiny Amish community already there.  The group leaves in April and finds many adventures along the way; the early spring weather is wet and muddy, so wagons frequently get stuck in ruts.  The sheep they are herding along with them want to veer off the path to find the fresh greenery before dropping the year’s lambs.  Each wagon has to cross the swollen and dangerous rivers on rafts, risking tipping over and losing everything, including lives.  The horse thieves are interested in the beautiful Amish horses, and additionally, Cole tries to win Mattie’s heart.  He keeps tempting Mattie, who wants to head all the way west to Oregon, to run away with him and start a new life far away from her friends and family.  As the group crosses dangerous and mosquito-infested swampland, the situation comes to a head.  Mattie has made a promise to Jacob to consider his marriage proposal, but will she keep it?

Jan Drexler does a great job of describing the land and the people of the story; there is a brief mention on the author’s page about how she has followed the route that the Amish families took back in the 1840s.  Because of this, she knows what encounters they likely had and how they had to overcome obstacles.  Her ability to describe personalities and situations allows for the reader to conjure up everything as it takes place.  I have read several Amish-themed books before, so I am familiar with a lot of their lifestyle and beliefs, but she is able to create a world that anyone who is not familiar with the Amish can understand.  Her thoroughness in researching the travels of these people helps to bring the story to life.

Because this book is written in a time when traveling was a hardship, some events may appear harsh to readers.  The horse thieves are violent and have no issue with killing someone who gets in the way.  Compared to things shown on television today, however, they will appear mild.  There is a slight bit of profanity throughout the book, but nothing overly offensive.  For these reasons, I recommend the book for mature readers.  Those who love stories about the Amish, a good historical novel, or a sweet romance will enjoy Mattie’s Pledge.

Beulah’s House of Prayer

beulahs-house-of-prayerAuthor: Cynthia A. Graham

Publisher: Smashwords Edition

Release Date: July 12, 2016

Rating: 4 1/2 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

Fans of the dust bowl history are sure to enjoy this contemporary read set in 1934 Barmy, Oklahoma.

When fifteen year old Sugar Watson sets foot off the train in Barmy, Oklahoma, she knew she had to leave as soon as possible. She didn’t even knew this town existed.  As a circus performer, she had been to some Podunk towns, but this was possibly the worst of all.  With no money and her dead father to bury, she had nowhere to go.  She wasn’t weak, she had been taught to use everyone to her advantage.  Then she met Beulah Clinton.  She drove up in her ox drawn wagon and gave Sugar a ride and a place to stay as long as she did her chores.

Soon she meets Homer Guppy, referred to as the devil himself from Beulah. Homer has had a rough upbringing since his mother left and now his father beats on him daily.  So Homer has turned to car thieving, arson, and several other destructive means as an outlet.  He is convince that Beulah has money buried somewhere out in the yard and spends his nightly hours digging around.  He and Sugar soon make an unlikely pair as they work together to try to find the money.  Sugar knows that as soon as she does she will be back on the train to Chicago.  Only one problem, she may be falling for Homer and if she does, will she ever leave Barmy, Oklahoma?

Cynthia Graham never ceases to grab your attention with a new story and this is no exception. She manages to bring characters together in a master tale that makes you wish is was twice as long.  Narrated by the oldest daughter of Homer and Sugar, Beulah’s House of Prayer is a collection of Sugar’s memories from her first year in Barmy, Oklahoma during 1934 and 1945.  There is not as much historical content of the dust bowl as some other novels of the area include, but focuses more on the two main characters and their story.  Graham even includes a bit of mystery in there with Beulah’s story, but it all flows smoothly.  Exciting and entertaining at its best.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest and thorough review. The views and opinions expressed within are my own.

When Love Arrives

when-love-arrivesAuthor: Johnnie Alexander

Series: Misty Willow #2

Publisher: Revell

Release Date: September 20, 2016

Rating: 4 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

Getting revenge is never as easy as it sounds, something Dani Prescott is about to find out.

Dani Prescott has grand ambitions of getting revenge of Brett Somers, the man who bad mouthed her mother, the pilot of the plane crash that killed his parents. Her mother died in the crash as well.  After watching him in an interview that blamed her mother, she set out to find something on him that would make him look just as bad.  Now she finds herself out on a date with him.  Not what she had planned.  As things progress she starts to think he might not be the man she thought he was and her plans quickly unravel.  Brett knows Dani is hiding something, he just isn’t sure what.  He doesn’t want to push her, he has secrets of his own.  As both of their secrets come to light, they have to decide if what they were starting to feel for each other will outweigh the truth of the past.

When Love Arrives is a story that readers of the Christian, contemporary romance genre will really enjoy.  The story starts with Dani and Brett meeting and Dani’s plans falling apart as she finds herself on a date with Brett.  Thinking maybe she can use this to her advantage, she agrees to go and has an unexpectedly nice time. I can understand being upset if someone bad mouths a family member you care about, but the extremes that Dani goes to, or plans to go to, in order to get back at Brett are a little farfetched.  She sets out to get revenge on him and instead falls in love with him.  I can kind of see that happening but some things just didn’t fall in place as well as they could have.

Overall there is nothing that stands out in this story as something that will really grab you and hook you. I liked the aspect of Brett finding out he had a son and the way he played that out.  In trying to establish him as a good guy instead of the young, immature, screw-up he had been in the past was a nice way to go about showing his changes.  The story had a nice flow and didn’t take very long to read.  I didn’t realize until I was finished that this was the second book of the Misty Willow series but I didn’t see that as a problem.  Having not read the first, I don’t think it would matter if you read them in order or started with this one.  The overall theme of finding forgiveness instead of looking for revenge was nice.  The only way to be happy is to find those good positive things instead of hanging onto the negative.  A lesson we all need to remember from time to time.

Photographs from the Edge

photographs-from-the-edgeAuthor: Art Wolfe; Rob Sheppard

Publisher: AmPhoto Books

Release Date: September 20, 2016

Rating: 5 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

As breathtaking as the pictures are, the stories behind them will intrigue you even more!

Art Wolfe has been in the professional photography business through four different decades. He has had the opportunity to photograph for several different publications including National Geographic and Smithsonian.  Now, he has compiled some of his favorite photos from each decade to bring forth a new book that highlights not only the pictures, but also where he shot them, how he shot them, and what type of equipment he used to get them.  During this time he used both film and digital and it is very difficult to differentiate between the two as they are all just that good!

The photos are arranged by decade, beginning with the 1980s and moving into the present day 2010s. Each photo is supplied with three different narratives: a general narrative, the nature of the photo, and a photo tip.  The book is also not dedicated to a particular type of photography.  He provides several different photos on landscapes, culture, people, wildlife, night sky, and time lapse.  It is easy to see why he has had such a successful career.

I love all of the pictures in this book. I have already gone through it several times, just looking at my favorites.  But I also really enjoy learning how he got the shot.  When reading publications with pictures, I often think about how they must have just been in the right place at the right time.  Sometimes that is true, but throughout the book Wolfe discusses several occasions where the shots were actually staged.  Even so, it still takes a lot of work and local cooperation to make this happen.

Any art lovers or photographers will enjoy this book. Highly recommended!  Especially if you are a photographer aspiring to have pictures in magazines for the trade secrets.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Penguin Random House in exchange for an honest and thorough review. The views and opinions expressed within are my own.