Out of the Embers

Out of the embersAuthor: Amanda Cabot

Series: Mesquite Springs #1

Publisher: Revell

Release Date: March 3, 2020

Rating: 5 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

New series, same beautiful hill country!

Every time Evelynn Radcliffe returns to the town where her parents were murdered, she always feels that she is being watched. It’s been 10 years since the awful day she was left an orphan. Although many people have left the orphanage she was placed at, she never did. Another young girl named Polly accompanied her today and when they returned, they found the orphanage, and all who were in it, burned to the ground. Wanting to put as much distance between herself and this place, Evelynn and Polly strike out to find a new place to live. They get caught up in a storm outside the town of Mesquite Springs in the Texas hill country where they meet local horse rancher, Wyatt Clark.

Wyatt has aspirations of leaving Mesquite Springs to see the world, or at least the country. Ever since his father was killed by Comanches, Wyatt has felt it was his responsibility to keep the ranch going. With a bit of luck, he has mange to produce a sought-after breed of quarter horses that folks like to use for racing and the Texas Rangers like using for mounts. He has no plans to have a family beyond his mother and sister. When he stumbles on Evelynn and Polly that night in the storm, they become quite the distraction, maybe just the distraction he needs in his life.

I’m a born and raised Texan, so when I get the opportunity to read books set in the beautiful Texas hill country, I jump on it. Amanda Cabot has never ceased to whet my appetite for Texas scenery in her stories. Being transported to the town of Mesquite Springs helped me distract myself from everything going on in the world today. I’m not usually big on historical romances or even western type fiction, but her books always keep me a happy reader. I enjoyed getting to meet the new characters in this setting. Evelynn and Wyatt were both damaged by the loss of one or both parents but had pushed on with their lives. They each had a hole to fill in their lives that they thought could be filled by something else when it turned out to be each other. Sam was easily unlikable from the first time that I met him. His environment growing up obviously fostered this issue, but it kept getting worse. I’m sure we will see him again, probably in the third book, but we will have to wait and see.

If you are a fan of the Texas hill country or historical romances, grab a copy of this book to get your mind in the right place!

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

The Star of Persia

Star of PersiaAuthor: Jill Eileen Smith

Publisher: Revell

Release Date: March 3, 2020

Rating: 4.5 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

Another great annotation of the story of Ester, told a little differently than I’ve always imagined!

Prior to his departure for war against Greece, King Xerxes decides to throw a months long banquet for all the nobles from the Persian provinces at his palace in Susa. Once the banquet was over, he threw another weeklong banquet for the people of Susa for having to deal with the previous few months. On the final night of the banquet after a generous portion of wine, King Xerxes is convinced to show off his queen to all the nobleman of the city. He calls for Queen Vashti to be presented in all her splendor, but she refuses him. Such an insult cannot go ignored and the King puts a decree in place to banish Vashti from the palace. After these events, the King is at a loss without his true queen and is convinced by his servants that he should perform a kingdom wide search of virgins until he finds a suitable replacement queen.

Esther is but a young Jewish girl living in the throngs of Susa. Orphaned after her parents died when she was young, she was raised by her cousin Mordecai. He has always protected her and has delayed arranging a marriage for her. When the King’s decree come out, he hopes to get Esther out of the city before she is discovered, but to no avail. She is taken to the palace where she quickly gains favor with all around her and becomes the King’s chosen queen within the year. But her troubles won’t end at being queen. She soon becomes caught in a battle between her adoptive father and the King’s highest advisor. She will have to risk her life to save her people.

It is no secret that Esther is my favorite book of the Bible. I love getting to read different adaptations of it and this one was very enjoyable. One of the different aspects of this adaption was the character of Queen Vashti. I had always pictured her as a self-absorbed person in my head who simply denied her husband what he wanted when he was drunk. I loved that the author did her research on the laws of Persians and Medes that gave more clarity to her choice. She wasn’t denying him, she was trying to help protect him by not breaking the law. This book brought her into a whole other light.

This book was separated into four parts. The first being that of Queen Vashti’s denial. The second part consisted of the search for the virgins. The third part was Queen Esther’s early reign as queen. The final part was of the battle between Haman and Mordecai. Each was well known but enjoyable being told from different points of view. If you enjoy biblical fiction, then this will no doubt be a delight.

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

The Sea of Lost Girls

sea of lost girlsAuthor: Carol Goodman

Publisher: William Morrow

Release Date: March 3, 2020

Rating: 4 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

An interesting thriller with one of the most satisfying endings I’ve read in a long time!

All Tess wanted was to leave her past behind her with her seventeen-year-old son Rudy. Her husband is a professor at the same boarding school she teaches at and Rudy attends. Life is so much better now than she ever thought it could have been a decade ago. Rudy has had a troubled past and finally Tess thinks he is thriving when she gets a call in the middle of the night from Rudy asking for her to come get him at their safe place. Rudy’s girlfriend is then found dead and Rudy becomes the prime suspect. That one phone call sets off a chain reaction that causes Tess’s world to slowly fall apart. With each day that passes and each new clue that turns up, Tess can see what is happening to her family and how it all connects to the past she thought was behind her.

The Sea of Lost Girls is a psychological thriller full of twists and turns with a satisfying ending rare in books such as this. There book format includes back and forth excerpts between Tess’s past and present giving readers a puzzle piece at just the right time in order to finish the whole puzzle. I really wasn’t sure what to think of Rudy or several of the characters at first, but as the story progressed, each character’s puzzle started to make sense and brought the whole story together by the last few pages. Goodman did a great job shaping these characters, even the characters that were irritating and dislikable. Each of these characters were written with their flaws evident but also in a way that made them relatable and easy to connect with. It can be easy to connect with the good and likable characters, but it isn’t always as easy to connect with the unlikeable characters. I had no trouble connecting with each and every one of them throughout the novel. A few of the minor characters you might think are unnecessary until you get to the end and see how they do play a crucial role in the overall story. While this was good, I wouldn’t say it was great, nothing really stood out as blowing me away, but nothing was particularly rough either. I recommend this to readers that enjoy a good psychological thriller with an ending just as satisfying as the entire story.

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

Shine

ShineAuthor: Dagny Griffin

Publisher: Tyndale House

Release Date: March 3, 2020

Rating: 5 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

A interesting, unique little book that opens lots of conversations with kids!

One person has the power to change the world and no one shows that better than eight-year-old Mia. As she makes her way through a cold, grey city, she shines a little joy on people and places, giving them color along the way. As those affected by her joy begin to take on color, they continue the pattern by coloring more of the world around them.

This is an interesting concept as it is a picture book without any words. As Mia begins her day, she is happy, excited, and full of love. As she goes out each day, she spreads her love and brings color to an otherwise grey world. I really enjoyed the concept of this book and getting to explain it to my four-year-old as we flipped the pages along. There is one person in the book who refuses to accept any of Mia’s joy and stays grey. She also works against Mia by taking away other people’s joy. I’m not fully sure what she is supposed to represent. Maybe it is showing that even though you have found happiness, not everyone will accept it from you as it has to be a personal choice? Or maybe she represents someone specific? Even so, it is a book that my son loves to pick up and he even took it as his favorite book for preschool show and tell!

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

The Eighth Girl

eighth girlAuthor: Maxine Mei-Fung Chung

Publisher: William Morrow

Release Date: March 17, 2020

Rating: 3.5 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

A book with some many personalities it will make your head spin!

Alexa Wu suffers from dissociated identity disorder (DID); but she is self-aware of the multiple personalities that she has living insider of her head. She believes her true self to the be the host. Her other identities represent certain aspects of her personality. Dolly is a young girl and has stayed the same age since she showed up. Runner stays in a constant angry and aggressive state. The fouls torment her regularly. Only a handful of people know about her other personalities. Her stepmother Anna, her best friend Ella, and her new psychiatrist Daniel.

Alexa relies mostly on Ella for emotional support. When Ella chooses to take a job at a lower class gentleman’s club, Alexa fears the worst. Ella’s life and that of her little sister are quickly placed in danger and Alexa gets drug into a web of deceit that she and her personalities must band together to save Ella.

So, I knew that going into a novel with the main character having DID that some of the secondary characters were going to be part of the personality. What I didn’t expect were how many of them were going to be part of it or who they would be. If that doesn’t pique your interest to read this book, then I’m not sure what will. The story line was a little slow to take off, but it quickly did and was fast paced with a very dark setting in London’s underworld. It wasn’t too difficult to follow which personality took control of Ella or when they were talking back and forth as the author did a great job identifying each voice. If you enjoy fast paced, twisted tales, this is your story for the year.

There is a lot of content including drinking, recreation drug use, explicit sex, and language that will make some readers uncomfortable.

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

Chasing the White Lion

white lionAuthor: James R. Hannibal

Series: Talia Inger #2

Publisher: Revell

Release Date: March 3, 2020

Rating: 4 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

With lots of action and gallivanting across the globe, Chasing the White Lion will leave readers on the edge of their seat!

Talia Inger has had to come to terms with the man that killed her father. As a CIA officer, Talia sees a lot and has learned to put up with a lot, which has helped her to be able to work with this man. With him and the help of his friend, Valkyrie, Talia is going to try to infiltrate the Jungle, a crowd sourced crime syndicate that is involved in trafficking of children. Each step Talia takes moves her closer to the top of the food chain in the Jungle and to the White Lion. With her team to watch her back, she goes full force into the Jungle to save lives and take down the White Lion.

The follow up to The Gryphon Heist picks up right where readers left off with Talia and her crew. The overall story is very enjoyable, but I have had a hard time connecting with the characters. I liked the story arc of Talia trying to rescue the abducted children. That particular part of the novel really pulled me in, as for the rest I just couldn’t connect and didn’t feel as if I had a vested interest in the characters. When Talia was working towards that goal, I could feel the passion coming from her and her crew. She had a really good dynamic with Val and the way they played off of each other helped to move the story along. I’m intrigued enough to continue with the series to find out who the ultimate “bad guy” is and what the end game will be. So much of the novel is spent in so many different settings the reader will feel like they are going on a trip across the world. This is one that readers will need to sit down and take their time with, not one to read if you are going to rush through and not pay close attention to detail. One of the things Hannibal is best at is the detail he puts into each scene; each change brings about a new picture in the mind of the reader, which I greatly enjoyed. Readers that love mystery thrillers will want to be sure and check this one out, after reading the first in the series.

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

Eight Perfect Murders

Eight Perfect MurdersAuthor: Peter Swanson

Publisher: William Morrow

Release Date: March 3, 2020

Rating: 4 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

With one plot twist after another, Eight Perfect Murders delivers a fun and clever thriller that readers will highly enjoy!

Malcolm Kershaw has always been a lover of mysteries but stopped reading them after his life got interesting enough. He now works at a small bookshop and helps write blog posts for the bookshop. When one of his posts titled, “Eight Perfect Murders” which includes the best of the best fictional murders such as, Agatha Christie’s A. B. C. Murders, Strangers on a Train, and others attract the attention of a killer and then the FBI. The FBI agent is looking for more information to tie the killings together and the killer is playing a game with Malcolm. The only way to protect himself is to investigate the killer before more ties connect to him. Malcolm feels the knot tighten around his neck with each passing moment.

After reading Before She Knew Him, I was pulled into Swanson’s writing and couldn’t wait to see what this one would bring. While the previous story pulled me in and kept me guessing until the very end, Eight Perfect Murders fell a little flat for me. The story itself was well written and enjoyable but didn’t leave me guessing and yearning for more. Malcolm had a lot of history that played into all he was going through and reflecting on the story I noticed a lot of little clues make more sense to what happened throughout. I haven’t read any of the stories referenced in the book, which might have helped me to enjoy the story more. There are also a lot of minor characters that could have probably been cut, as they haven’t lingered on my mind after finishing the story. I recommend this to readers that enjoy a mystery that ties into older classics, especially if you have read some of the them.

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

Hunger Winter

Hunger WinterAuthor: Rob Currie

Publisher: Tyndale House

Release Date: March 3, 2020

Rating: 5 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

Educational YA story of the German occupation of the Netherlands during World War II.

Thirteen-year-old Dirk has been charged with taking care of his younger sister Anna since his papa left to aid the Dutch resistance against the German Occupation. His mother died one night shortly after his father left and now his older sister Els has been captured by the Gestapo and likely tortured to learn the whereabouts of their father. When their neighbor comes in the night to warn Dirk about Els capture, he takes his younger sister and sets off to make it to their Aunts house in a nearby town. Along the way, Dirk and Anna face many uncertain challenges including informers, work camps, and deserting German officers. Dirk must rely on everything he learned from his father about staying alive as well as his wits if he is going to keep Anna safe.

I love getting new material that educates readers on lesser known areas about World War II. Sadly, I must admit that the most knowledge I have of the Netherlands during this time period comes from The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank. So, I was pleased to learn more about the occupation and the meaning behind Hunger Winter. I’m very happy that there are becoming more young adult novels that are educating our young about the past so that maybe we can avoid repeating it in the future!

Dirk was a protagonist that I enjoyed watch come of age. He had a lot thrust upon him at only thirteen years old and took up that challenge without complaining. He become well educated about what was going on around him but still managed to maintain some adolescent innocence. Els was a very strong spirited character and someone that I continually wanted to see escape. She was also very smart to catch her captors trying to trick her into revealing information.

I’ve started to build up quite a collection of YA novels from this time period and my nine-year-old son has begun to really become interested in them. This will definitely be added to the shelf!

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

One Little Lie

One little lieAuthor: Colleen Coble

Series: Pelican Harbor #1

Publisher: Thomas Nelson

Release Date: March 3, 2020

Rating: 5 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

By far the best Colleen Coble book I have read yet! With engaging characters and a story line that will draw readers in from the very beginning, Pelican Harbor promises to be an amazing new series!

After her father’s sudden retirement as police chief of Pelican Harbor, Jane Hardy is appointed chief to follow in his footsteps. She has no time to adjust to the position before her father is arrested and accused of a recent murder. For the last fifteen years, it has just been Jane and her father after they escaped from a cult. Since that time, Jane has been searching for her mother and answers to her past, like what happened to the baby she had that her father said died the day they left? As she is appointed chief, Reid Bechtol arrives in town for a documentary he is doing about Jane becoming chief. Reid follows her around town as she tries to solve the crimes plaguing their town. His calm demeanor helps her in the most stressful situations she has faced in a long time. Coming for the documentary isn’t Reid’s only reason for arriving in Pelican Harbor; he has his own secrets and once everyone’s secrets collide none of them will ever be the same.

Colleen Coble is quickly climbing her way up the ladder as one of my favorite Romantic Suspense authors. One Little Lie is her best book yet! I loved Jane as the protagonist. She is a strong character from the very beginning when readers meet her as a young girl going through a trying time and continue to see her grow into a strong capable woman. She doesn’t try to ignore the hard things she went through, which still come back to haunt her, but she uses that to help deal with what she faces each day. I loved the mystery of what happened and how it was written. I do still have a lot of questions that weren’t answered and am hoping they will come in the next book. Reid was an interesting character to say the least. If readers pay close enough attention, they might be able to figure him out before it is revealed. I was not the biggest fan of Jane’s dad as he is gruff, tough, and not very paternal, but I really think that is how the author wants readers to feel towards him. If you have never read anything by Colleen Coble, this would be a perfect time to grab the first in this new series and get drawn in by a great author. I recommend this book to fans of Romantic Suspense that are looking for a story with little fluff and a whole lot of heart, drama and an overall great story.

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

Before She Knew Him

Before she knew himAuthor: Peter Swanson

Publisher: William Morrow

Release Date: March 5, 2019

Rating: 4.5 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

One of the first books that kept me guessing and surprised until the very end in a very long time. I didn’t see that twist coming and I loved it! Before She Knew Him is one that will keep readers up at night!

Henrietta has had a troubled past, especially after being diagnosed with bipolar disorder. She finally feels like she has her medication in order and her life in control until she and her husband meet their neighbors next door. She starts to suspect the husband, Matthew, might be a killer when she recognizes an object in his office that belonged to a murdered man who lived close two years ago. The murder was never solved, and she has been fascinated by it ever since. Hen (short for Henrietta) wonders if Matthew could be the killer, and if so, has he only killed once? Or is there a string of bodies hiding in his past? As her fascination with him grows, she follows him and tries to figure out if he is planning another murder. Hen tries to tell someone, but with her troubled past no one believes her. Hen knows she can’t let him kill again without doing something. She vows to stop him, hopefully without becoming his next victim.

Before She Knew Him starts strong and ends even stronger. Even though Hen has a troubled past, she doesn’t let that keep her down. Her strength is what makes her a strong protagonist and kept me rooting for her throughout the entire story. I am happy to say that I didn’t see the twist coming until seconds before it was revealed. The story was written so well I wouldn’t have been able to figure it out if I had been looking for it. One of the first times this has happened in a very long time. When it was revealed, I just got a big smile on my face for how well Swanson pulled it off. Readers will find this somewhat similar to Hitchcock; you think you know what the mystery is early on but really there is so much more to it. There is a little bit of harsh language throughout, something readers that don’t prefer in their writing need to be aware of but it could have been so much worse. If you are someone who enjoys a great psychological thriller you will definitely want to add this to your list!

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