Light From Distant Stars

LIght from distant starsAuthor: Shawn Smucker

Publisher: Revell

Release Date: July 16, 2019

Reviewer: Jennifer S. Roman

Cohen Marah has lived near death his whole life.  As a young boy, his parents divorced, and his father moved into an apartment above a funeral home.  Later, Cohen works as a funeral director with his family.  One day, he enters the embalming room and finds his father on the floor, blood everywhere, and an embalming instrument shoved up through his father’s chin.  Freaked out because he thinks his father is dead and he is somehow to blame, he exits the room and leaves his father’s body for someone else to find.  Much to his surprise, he is called and told that his father is alive but in critical condition at the hospital.  The rest of the story takes place in the hospital as Cohen revisits some of his childhood memories and attempts to come to terms with his fragile relationship with his father.

The story bounces between the past and present, with readers finding out a lot about Cohen from the flashbacks.  His parents’ divorce is hard on him because they each took a child, so Cohen does not get to see his beloved sister as much as before.  He has a hard time making friends, and is especially thrilled when he meets a brother and sister at an abandoned, burned-out trailer that they used to live in.  He spends a lot of time with them when he can find them, but they are secretive and very rarely available to spend time with him.  Baseball is his one salvation.  It ties him and his father together and causes him to meet a girl, Ava, who turns out to be a reliable friend.  Present day Cohen turns to the church for healing while his father is fighting for his life, and it brings Ava back to him because she is the detective investigating his father’s injuries.  He knows he is a prime suspect, especially because Ava knows his background.  Cohen can’t tell for sure if he killed his father, or if his imagination is running away with him.  He’s hoping his more frequent meetings with the priest will help him figure it out.

Yes, this synopsis seems helter-skelter, but I promise that if you read through the book, it will make sense.  Once I started, I was hooked.  I too had a hard time deciding if Cohen’s memories and actions were real or just part of his imagination.  It was quick reading because it was so enthralling and fascinating, and yet, by the time it was over, I was just as confused as I had been throughout.  I am not sure if that was the author’s intent or if it was just me missing something really big, but I didn’t really get the final resolution of the story.

I really enjoyed the various characters throughout the book; they are messy, human, and ultimately interesting.  Cohen’s father’s misguided ways lead his family to shatter, and each family member deals with it in unique ways.  For Cohen, he is stuck with a fallen man who doesn’t seem to connect, and Cohen is left to his own devices.  His loneliness is a catalyst to a lot of the story, and it’s easy to see how things happen as they do.  His mother is just a side note to the majority of the story, but she plays a big part at the end.  His sister Kaye is the stability and normalness that Cohen so desperately wants, but being separated from her, he misses out on that.

I did enjoy the whole story until the confusing ending.  That is not to say that this is not a good book, but rather, I am one who needs things to be wrapped up at the end.  If you enjoy books that leave a lot up to the reader, you will be happy to read Light from Distant Stars.

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

 

The String

The StringAuthor: Caleb Breakey

Series: Deadly Games #1

Publisher: Revell

Release Date: July 16, 2019

Rating: 5 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

It has been a long time since I have read a debut novel that reminded me of the writing of seasoned writers that is a thrilling, elaborate, intricately woven story and deeply twisted all at the same time.

A ruthless psychopath decides to play a game by choosing participants and threatening those closest to them if they don’t play. The Conductor has been adding knots to his string to play out his own little plot. Both students and staff from the university are involved and university cop Markus Haas is at the center. His girlfriend and her daughters are taken and used as leverage as the Conductor gives him assignments, each harder and potentially deadlier as the game progresses.

Steven James, Ted Dekker, and James Rubart, these are the names I go to when I know I am going to get top-notch edge of my seat thriller. Now I must add another name to the list: Caleb Breakey. The String is the best debut novel I have read in a very long time. The story starts with a bang and doesn’t let up. With so many characters tied up in the string, the motives and real bad guys can get a little confusing at times but the story itself pulls you in at such a pace there is no time to think until the last page. Markus is a strong protagonist against an equally strong antagonist with a story that readers can’t help but fall in love with. It really is hard to believe this is the first novel by Breakey.  The way he interwove the story with so many different characters was extremely well done and not something many others could have done to this level. The story is wrapped up to an extent but left open beautifully for the next in the series. I foresee potential for several in this series but only if Breakey is able to continue the story in a believable way and build these characters to make readers have an even stronger attachment to them. In a way it reminds me of Steven James’s Patrick Bowers series showing a very deep, tightly woven plot with characters that can take you on a thrill ride and save the day all while making readers fall in love with them. I love the fact that this is an edge of your seat thriller but also clean, no language and no excessive blood or violence. There is still plenty of thrill to keep readers turning the pages but in a way that shouldn’t turn away readers that don’t want any foul language or crazy. bloody scenes. I recommend this book to readers that are fans of Dekker, James and Rubart and might be looking for a new author to throw in the mix and keep them reading long into the night.

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

Where I Was Planted

Where I was plantedAuthor: Heather Norman Smith

Publisher: Ambassador International

Release Date: July 16, 2019

Rating: 4.5 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

A very poignant and delightful read with characters readers will love to cheer for through the toughest of situations.

In 1961, ten-year-old Nate Dooley comes home one day to find his kitchen stocked with food and his Dad nowhere to be found.  He figures now is as good a time as any to be on his own. With a stray dog as his companion, Nate tries to hide the fact that his father is gone from everyone around him for as long as possible. He likes being in his home by himself and doesn’t want the county to take him away. Even though his father has left, Nate starts to realize he isn’t alone.  His heavenly father will never leave him and will always provide for him. Nate finds these provisions in the form of newfound friends, neighbors and family he never knew he had.

Where I Was Planted is a beautifully written novel with the most wonderful protagonist around in Nate Dooley. Set in the 1960s, things are different than they are today.  If a ten-year-old were left alone for any period of time today, it wouldn’t take long for authorities to be notified and things to change. I loved how independent Nate was but also the way he realized he needed a little help. No matter how grown up he felt or wanted to be, the fact remains he is still a little boy. Even characters that had a small role made a big impact and a lasting impression. I would have liked a little more insight into Nate’s dad and why he left without talking to Nate or anyone about his plans, I know it explains a little, but I felt that part of the storyline could have developed a little further to bring the story up a notch. Nate was wonderfully developed, and I found myself wanting to hug that little boy and tell him how strong he was. The story pace was perfect and not once did I find myself wanting to put it down and move on to something else. The ending tied up just right and left me satisfied with the whole story. This is the first book I’ve read by Heather Norman Smith, but I am sure it will not be the last. I recommend this book to those that enjoy historical fiction with heart and a good message. The religious message comes across evenly, not to strong but also not too weak.

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

Cold Aim

Cold aim

Author: Janice Cantore

Series: Line of Duty #3

Publisher: Tyndale House

Release Date: July 9, 2019

Rating: 5 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

The third installment in the Line of Duty series gives readers the best yet with more drama, action, adventure and romance than anything Cantore has written to date!

 After a wildfire ravages part of Rogue Hollow, Police Chief Tess O’ Rourke tries to get her town back on its feet when the FBI shows up asking Tess to harbor a witness in a human trafficking case. Tess’s gut tells her that this isn’t the best idea, the town is still reeling from the last traumatic event and to put them in harm’s way again goes against her better judgment.  When Pastor Oliver Macpherson, the man she has been seeing, continues to be an example of showing compassion to those in need, Tess decides to help the young girl. This isn’t the first time Rogue Hollow has been home to sheltering a victim of human trafficking; unknown to anyone in town a woman has been keeping her own secrets for years and may prove vital in helping Tess with this request from the FBI. Tess must decide who she can trust and what the right thing to do is in order to keep everyone safe.

 Janice Cantore uses her years of experience with law enforcement to craft a wonderfully written tale that readers can both relate to and enjoy each character and the situations they tackle. Each book that Cantore writes gets better: better characterization, better story lines and better romance and action. I have enjoyed the story arc of Tess and the people of Rogue Hollow. Tess has evolved into a chief the town can trust after proving herself time and time again. She may have come into town as an outsider but now feels this is truly home and the people around her are family. Her relationship with Oliver has played out in a manner that feels real and timed at a good pace, it’s not rushed and doesn’t drag. Over the course of these novels Cantore has been able to develop these characters, even the minor roles into ones that readers are invested in and want to see pull through in the tough times. My one criticism for this book would be the villain, Ice. At times he was referred to as Ice and other times as Royal. Ice was the nickname he got, and I didn’t have a problem with that, I had a problem with the lack of consistency throughout, the name was switched sometimes within the same paragraph and that was confusing. Once the nickname was given I wish it would’ve stayed consistent. Other than that, the read was very enjoyable, and I can’t wait for Cantore’s next great adventure. I recommend this to fans of Cantore’s books as well as anyone that hasn’t read any of her books.  Even though this is the third in the series it could easily be read as a standalone.

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

Tate

Tate.jpgAuthor: Susan May Warren

Series: Montana Marshalls #2

Publisher: Stonewater Books

Release Date: July 9, 2019

Rating: 5 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

The second book in the Montana Marshall series gives readers a look into the family troublemaker.  Fans of the series will not be disappointed by this cowboy.

Tate Marshall has always been considered the family troublemaker, not a trait he likes but one he can’t seem to get past. If he sees something wrong, he can’t stop himself from trying to make things right, no matter what it costs him. When he gets assigned to be the Bodyguard of Glo Jackson, daughter of a U. S. Senator and presidential candidate, he can’t help falling hard for her, which puts them both in danger. Glo is a member of the Yankee Belles, a country western band and a target for terrorist trying to keep her mother from running for president. The band takes a break as Glo helps her mother on the campaign trail. Tate continues to protect Glo until her mother fires him for breaking his promise to not pursue Glo romantically. Tate refuses to stay at arm’s length and will stop at nothing to keep the woman he is falling in love with safe.

Susan May Warren is by far one of the top Christian Romantic Suspense writers out there today. Her second installment in the Montana Marshall series keeps the tension and romance going full force. I absolutely loved the Montana Rescue series and was hoping this series would continue my love for Montana romance by Susan May Warren. Luckily, she nailed it with Knox and now Tate follows suit keeping my love for Montana Marshalls alive and kicking. Tate is such a strong character, even if he feels weak at times.  The little vulnerabilities shown throughout make him relatable and one that readers will want to cheer for. Glo has her own issues to work through and she doesn’t feel she deserves the love Tate is willing to offer. The backstory with her family brings everything to light and shows us why readers should cheer for her and Tate. The book also gives us a glimpse into other members of the Marshall family and helps set up what will come in future books. If you have read anything by Susan May Warren before, you will be familiar with her writing style will know what is coming but still enjoy every page. I have always loved reading her books; I know what I am going to get, a great love story with plenty of suspense to keep the story moving along. I recommend this book to fans of romantic suspense novels that are clean, fast-paced, and full of characters you will fall in love with.

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

Almost Home

Almost HomeAuthor: Valeria Fraser Luesse

Publisher: Revell

Release Date: March 5, 2019

Reviewer: Jennifer S. Roman

Set in rural Blackberry Springs, Alabama, during World War II, Almost Home takes a look at how people have to take time to get to know themselves before they can connect with others.  

Blackberry Springs is home to a variety of transplants looking for work after the war sunk the United States into tough economic times, and Dolly Chandler’s large family home-turned-boarding house is full to the brim.  A young married couple from the Midwest is there after selling the farm and needing a new income; a young war hero is there to set himself right after the war’s ravages on his mind; a married couple of college professors is there because nobody is attending school.  Along with a few locals, the newcomers manage to forge friendships and even some romance out of the destruction that the war inflicted on their lives.  Dolly and her husband act as guardians and even parents to some of these people who really need someone to rely on, and in the meantime, these visitors help Dolly reconnect with her family’s heritage through her home’s secrets.

This is one of those books that, just like the setting, is a warm, lazy summer day with a cold drink at the ready.  It’s no trouble at all to read the book and soak it all in, but by the end, you feel refreshed and full.  The characters all have flaws that, while sometimes obvious how they will be fixed, still show a human side that makes them likeable.  I can’t say the storyline is anything new or unique, but it is a warm, fun reflection on a time when people helped others who were often in the same dire straits that they were.  Old-fashioned and charming, Almost Home truly made me feel welcome.

I loved this book for its message and characters, and the subplot of adventure woven through tied it all together.  Some of it may not be entirely plausible, but it makes for a fun read that kept me entertained from the last page to the first.  Pick up this book for a fun summer read or a quiet weekend in.  It’s a sweet story sure to please.

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

 

All Manner of Things

all manner of thingsAuthor: Susie Finkbeiner

Publisher: Revell

Release Date: June 4, 2019

Rating: 5 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

A beautifully written masterpiece about a broken family learning to heal.

When Annie Jacobson’s father returned from the Korean War, he was the shell of the man that he was before he left.  His depression finally got to the point that he decided that his family would be better off if he left them.  So, he did.  Twelve years later, Annie is now out of high school working at the town diner.  Her younger brother, Joel, is fourteen and moving into 8th grade.  Her older brother Mike also works at the diner and has just told her he plans to enlist in the army.  His draft number will be coming up anyway, so may as well have some say in where he gets placed.  Her mother has been working ever since her father left to provide some semblance of home for them.   They’ve had their share of trials but have always managed together.

After Mike leaves for basic training, a family tragedy occurs, and Annie’s dad returns home after twelve years.  There is plenty of tension among the family members, but they will have to find away to work together.  As Mike corresponds through letters with each member of the family, the need for them to stay together becomes more apparent and they must work through twelve years of hurt, despair, and love.

I absolutely love this book!  I love that it is a snapshot into a family during this time and what each family member was going through.  I can only imagine that even though they didn’t feel like a normal family, several families were facing the same situations that were presented throughout this book.  I love that the family had to work out their issues with one another and learn to lean on each other.  Told from Annie’s point of view, she is a very strong character that can be overcome at times.  Several people lean on her for support and she finally meets someone that she can lean on when she needs it most.

Throughout this book, I become nostalgic for simpler times when there were no electronic gadgets that took time away from families.  This family really connected.  There were times that they were sitting on the front porch talking about the issues going on in the world that day.  Finkbeiner did a great job of making me feel like I was in the time period by dropping in major events that happened and referencing different television shows of the time.  I didn’t live during the Vietnam war, but I remember growing up in the 1980s and 1990s and having those type of moments with my family.

One of my favorite aspects of the book may have been all the literary Easter egg references.  From Travels with Charley by Steinbeck to A Wrinkle in Time, there were several of my favorite books mentioned.  I love it when an author throws in little tidbits like that to make me enjoy the book even more.

Fair warning, this book may make you emotional.  There are some very sad moments that occur that may leave some readers feeling depressed.  Even so, it is well worth picking up a copy of this book.  It is a clean read that will be sure to remain on reader’s personal bookshelves for years to come!

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

Storm Rising

Storm risingAuthor: Ronie Kendig

Series: Book of the Wars #1

Publisher: Bethany House

Release Date: July 2, 2019

Rating: 5 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

After years of serving under the command of someone else, Leif Metcalfe now has his own team to command, bringing his very own adventure more complicated than any he has faced before.

Leif Metcalfe has a difficult past and knows that it will be hard to push past all that to command his very own team. The time has come for him to step up and take charge. He and his team are tasked with finding the notorious Book of the Wars. They are not the only ones looking for it though. Iskra “Viorica” Todorova, a notorious Bulgarian operative gets to the book first. Iskra is being used by the man that kidnapped her, raped her and trained her to be a skilled assassin.  If she can bring the book back to him, she might be able to secure her freedom. As both Leif and Iskra work to secure the book, strange storms blow up around the world that foreshadow the wars described in the book. To get away and secure her freedom, Iskra will have to do the one thing she thought possible, trust someone. Leif doesn’t know if he can trust Iskra but he also knows it might be his only way to secure the book and stop the destruction before it is too late.

If you are a fan of Kendig’s Tox files, you will not want to miss Storm Rising. Many of the same characters are back with Leif including Mercy Maddox (one of my personal favorites in this and I can’t wait to see more with her). I loved the pace of this stor; it was very detailed but not so much so that it took me out of the story. The Tox Files got so deep with the archeology aspects that it can be hard to keep up with everything happening sometimes, still a great story though. Here we get a much lighter story that reads very smooth and will easily keep readers engaged throughout. Ronie Kendig has always had a way of weaving a story that is so rich in history, suspense, and characters that are drawn together in a way that feels natural and real. With each new novel she just gets better and better. This is by far her best work, especially with character development and a natural flow with the relationships and how they fit together smoothly. When dealing with a team like this, there are a lot of characters and at times it can seem like a few too many but as the story plays out readers discover the need for each one. With the next book, I hope to see even more development for these smaller roles.  As I said earlier, my favorite character in this book was Mercy, she is feisty, real and exhibits such energy that I can’t wait to see her further develop. She has so much potential as a lead character and I would love to see that for her. I recommend Storm Rising to fans of Kendig’s earlier work, but if this is your first time picking up a book by Ronie Kendig you won’t be lost. Even with the tie in to the previous series, new readers will be able to pick up and follow along with the story without a problem. Another great addition to my library.

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

Murder in Liberty City

Murder in Liberty City

Author: Rachel McMillan

Series: Van Buren & DeLuca Mystery #2

Publisher: Thomas Nelson

Release Date: May 28, 2019

Rating: 4 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

As Van Buren and De Luca help the residents of North End Boston, they find themselves investigating their own relationship!

 Three years have passed since the infamous case of murder at the Flamingo Club that left Hamish shot on the club floor.  His nefarious cousin Luca Valari has vanished back to Chicago but may have an opportunity to return to Boston to pursue some racketeering for the possibility of the United States entering the second great war.  Meanwhile, Hamish and Reggie have been building up their investigative practice of Van Buren and De Luca.  The pair have grown much closer during the time, but still haven’t crossed any lines of intimacy.  They get a call from Pete Kelly, who has been using the harbor area in the North End for black market business for years but keeps the tenants with decent prospects and jobs.  The prestigious architectural firm Hyatt and Price (the same firm that the Vaughn of Reggie’s past is employed) is working to develop the area into affordable housing.  But after learning of Hamish’s connections to his cousin Luca, Kelly steps away from working with them.  Shortly after, Hamish receives a visit from a colored farm league baseball player for the Boston Patriots, Errol Parker.  Errol has always been on the receiving end of pranks, but lately they’ve escalated to threats.  Hamish and Reggie agree to investigate this and shortly a murder takes place at the stadium.  As the investigation continues, all the events that have been taking place begin to become intertwined and it will take both of them to figure it out.

 Although three years has passed from when the previous book ended, it was evident that Hamish and Reggie have grown closer.  The was a parallel investigation of their personal relationship to that of the murder that was being investigated.  It was put through a very trying time in this book and readers will finally get to see what it is made of.  The previous book did a great job of setting up a new series including character development and the scenery of the time of the North End of Boston.  Since that had already been done, this book just took that previous momentum and carried it forward.  There wasn’t as much descriptive scenery, but both Reggie and Hamish continued to develop.  Several of the supporting characters from the previous book continued in their progress as well.  As a reader, I still didn’t like Vaughn because of his relationship with Reggie, but he was such a good guy and had matured.  Dirk of course was still lowly and easy to dislike.   I still enjoy the series and will be looking forward to what comes next.

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

A Family of Strangers

Family of strangers

Author: Emilie Richards

Publisher: MIRA Publishing

Release Date: June 25, 2019

Rating: 4 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

No matter how much we think we know someone, even the closest to us can be hiding deep, dark secrets that could affect everyone.

 It is hard growing up in the shadows of an older sibling you feel can do no wrong. Ryan Gracey has spent her entire life watching her perfect older sister, Wendy. achieve everything she went for. Ryan tried her hardest to be her own person and not live in the shadow of her sister but still got overlooked. Wendy was about to go to college when Ryan was born so the two have never been extremely close. When Wendy calls Ryan saying there has been a murder and she might be accused, Ryan uses her expertise from her podcast looking into cold cases to help figure out what kind of mess her sister has gotten into. All this while taking care of Wendy’s two girls and helping take care of her father who just had heart surgery. The more Ryan digs into the past of her sister, the more sinister things start to look and the more she starts to question what she has always thought was the truth about their lives.

 How well do we ever really know someone? Even if they are part of our family, can we ever really know someone? These are great questions that really made me think while reading this book. The beginning started a little slow but once the story started going it really picked up and the last few chapters were irresistible. I loved the way Richards brought about the secrets the family had been keeping and how it all intertwined throughout time and reached farther than Ryan could have realized. I didn’t like or trust Wendy from the very beginning, her story never added up and the lack of emotion she showed for her family was shockingly well written. I enjoyed the relationship that developed between Ryan and her nieces, it wasn’t rushed and felt natural and timed perfectly. Once I got past the first half and had the setup of the story fully established, the story it read quickly and was very enjoyable. If readers want a story that will keep them guessing until the very end they will enjoy this very much.

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