Since You’ve Been Gone

Author: Tari Faris

Series: Restoring Heritage #3

Publisher: Revell

Release Date: September 7, 2021

Rating: 4 out of 5.

If you loved the first two books in this series, you’re in for a treat with the third!

After spending a few years in Costa Rica helping her brother’s mission organization, Leah Williams returns to her hometown of Heritage, Michigan, keen on revitalizing her grandfather’s business: The Want It Find It store, abbreviated WIFI for short.  Sure, the acronym is a bit misleading, but she can’t help but want to try to make it as grand as it was for her as a kid.  When she goes to the bank to get a loan, she expects to meet with Dale Kensington, who is well known throughout town and a hard nose for business.  Instead, she finds that she is working with his nephew Jon, who made her life in high school insanely difficult.  She tries to find anyway that she can avoid him, but utterly realizes that she will have to put their differences in the past and work alongside him as a business partner.  Can this relationship get any worse?

So, if you’ve read the first two books, then you know how the formula is going to for in this series:  two relationships spring up between people that you would least expect that have to reconcile their differences to make it work.  Two of the people are from Heritage and the other relationship has one from Heritage and one outside.  Ultimately something happens from the past that jeopardizes one of the relationships, but then the “wronged” person learns something they did for them that makes them realize they love them and BAM, you have a future marriage.  All that said, the story lines of the characters are all different and each resonates differently with readers.  I love the return of Madison Westmore from the first book, who was such a disliked character.  Her maturity and backstory will soften readers’ hearts towards her and make all enjoy the story!

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

The World Played Chess

Author: Robert Dugoni

Publisher: Lake Union Publishing

Release Date: September 14, 2021

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Robert Dugoni has done something no other author has ever been able to do: write a book about war that I couldn’t put down! The World Played Chess is a fantastic book with life lessons for all.

Vincent Bianco just graduated high school in 1979 and all he wants to do is enjoy his summer before going to college and maybe make a little beer money. His sister’s boyfriend gets him a job working as a laborer on a construction crew where he meets two Vietnam vets that give him a better world education than any he could have received in school. Fast-forward forty years ahead and Vincent has his own son getting ready to leave for college when he receives a journal from William, one of the vets he worked with that summer decades ago, full of life lessons that help him prepare himself and his son for what lays ahead for them.

Robert Dugoni is by far one of the best authors I have ever read. He has a way of writing a story that goes deeper than most and characters that will pull you by the heartstrings. Never in my life did I think I would enjoy a book about war, just not my genre that interested me. But The World Played Chess is written so beautifully that I couldn’t help but enjoy every page. It didn’t matter if it was Vincent’s point of view or William’s time in war, I couldn’t help but want to know how the story would turn out and if these characters would have their happy ending. The way the life lessons of one character would influence the life of another and each one grew better because of the exchange. Usually, my favorite genre to read is suspense thrillers, they move fast and keep me hooked better than most. But anytime I pick up a Robert Dugoni book, I know I am going to have a fantastic read on my hands, it doesn’t matter if it is one of his suspense books or contemporary, it will be a book to remember. I could think all day and not come up with a single bad thing to say about this book; there is a little bit of language, but it is not written for a younger audience. I recommend this book for all adults that love a good contemporary novel with honest characters you will fall in love with and each chapter full of life lessons we can all walk away feeling better for having read the words written.

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

Trace of Doubt

Author: DiAnn Mills

Publisher: Tyndale House

Release Date: September 7, 2021

Rating: 4 out of 5.

With a fantastic protagonist and plot DiAnn Mills sucked me in to this story and held me tight!

It’s been fifteen years since Shelby Pearce confessed to murdering her brother-in-law and spent that time in prison. After being released on parole, she moves to the small town of Valleysburg, Texas to start over, but starting over won’t be as easy as she had hoped. When she was first convicted, FBI agent Denton McClure was a rookie working on her case. Shelby might have been convicted of murder, but she was also suspected of embezzling half a million from her brother-in-law’s non-profit organization. Now, Denton moves to Valleysburg to try and gain her trust and find out what happened to the money from all those years ago. The more time he spends with Shelby, the less he thinks she was responsible for taking the money and now she is receiving threats if she doesn’t disappear or commit suicide. In a case where nothing is as it seems, Shelby is now in a fight for her life and Denton isn’t sure who the villain is anymore.

This book had an absolutely fantastic start with a wonderful protagonist and plot that intrigued me and had me cheering for Shelby. She quickly became one of my favorite characters for the year and I love the plot.  At least, I love it all until about 80% of the way through the book.  Up to that point the story had me, I believed it all and couldn’t wait to see what would happen. Then I felt like we went from fiction to more far-fetched fiction and while still enjoyable, it just lost its believable quality. I love DiAnn Mills writing, her last book was her best by far, and I was hoping this one was going to surpass until things took a bit of a left turn. I realize that it’s all fiction, but her stories have always had such a believable quality to them that I feel like I’m one of the minor characters throughout the book. I’ve talked about this book with several of my reader friends who have also read it and while they noticed the same thing, they didn’t feel that it took as much away from the store.  I do think romantic suspense lovers will still enjoy the story and I’ll be curious to get their thoughts on the ending.

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

The Other Me

Author: Sarah Zachrich Jeng

Publisher: Berkley Books

Release Date: August 10, 2021

Rating: 4 out of 5.

A unique approach to a familiar concept.  An enjoyable read.

Kelly is attending the opening of her best friend’s art exhibit in Chicago.  As a fellow artist, she is a little jealous, but wouldn’t miss supporting her friend.  When she starts to feel a little sick, she heads to the bathroom where she opens the door and walks into an Italian restaurant far from her beloved Chicago.  What just happened?  Her whole family is there!  Even her screw-up brother, who has a kid?  What?  And someone is calling her name and touches her shoulder as she realizes that this is someone that she knew from high school and what’s more, he’s her husband!

As Kelly tries to navigate this new life and figure out what happened, she can’t shake memories of her life in Chicago.  Will the people there remember her?  Or is this a full alternate reality?  Can she get back?  Does she want to?

I absolutely love this kind of speculative fiction.  When I get a mind-twisting story that makes me stretch to figure out what is going on, it just makes me day even better.  While I’ve read this type of concept before in other books, I like how the author played out Kelly’s experiences.  As a reader, it makes you think about what life would be like if you had made different choices at crucial crossroads in your own life.  Needless to say, this story will have you wondering the whole way through until you hit the unforeseen twist of what really caused the crossover. 

There is quite a bit of language (understandably so with the experiences) and some minor sex scenes that aren’t terribly graphic but could make some readers uncomfortable.  I recommend this to mature readers who enjoy this genre.

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

The Secret Keepers of Old Grocery Depot

Author: Amanda Cox

Publisher: Revell

Release Date: September 7, 2021

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Amanda Cox knocks it out of the park with a story that has all the feels in just the right places! An emotional and inspiring story that is beautifully written and perfect to the very last page!

Set in both present day and the past, The Secret Keepers of Old Depot Grocery follows Sarah Ashby as she returns to her childhood home after her husband’s death. Along with her mother and grandmother, she works at the family grocery story she loved so much as a child. Her mother, Rosemary, announces that the store is closing much to the dismay of Sarah and her grandmother, Glory Ann, who work together to save the store. Rosemary worked her whole life to make sure Sarah would have a different life than the one she grew up with and hates to see her daughter follow in her footsteps.

In 1965, Glory Ann confesses to her family that she is pregnant out of wedlock and the father was sent to war and killed. She is then married to a man she has just met to save the reputation of herself and her family. Glory Ann promises herself she will never love again but it ends up being a promise she can’t keep.

Amanda Cox has done it again with a contemporary novel that blew me away with its complexity, emotional moments, and perfect mix of past and present problems that converge to a perfect ending with beautiful moments throughout. Usually a contemporary novel, especially one with half the story set in the past, is a slow read for me that has trouble holding my interest. Amanda Cox has become one of the exceptions. There was a solid connection between me and the characters. Sarah and her family are solid leads that are written in a way that readers will want to see them succeed in whatever their hearts are wishing for. I loved the way the past and present lined up to give glimpses of what was going to happen and lead to little surprises at the end. So much to love about this novel, the pacing, the relationships; nothing felt rushed, and the feel-good moments throughout. I recommend this book to readers that want a feel-good book with nothing too heavy or anything that you have to think too hard about.

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

Dark Intercept

Authors: Brian Andrews & Jeffrey Wilson

Series: Shepherds Series #1

Publisher: Tyndale House

Release Date: September 7, 2021

Rating: 5 out of 5.

An absolute hit and fantastic start to a new series by a powerhouse team of Brian Andrews and Jeffrey Wilson! You do not want to miss this one!

Navy SEAL Jedidiah Johnson wants to retire and leave the hectic and dangerous life of the SEALS behind him. On the night of his retirement, he gets a call from a childhood friend who desperately needs his help. Even though they have been estranged for years, Jed goes back to Nashville to help David and his wife Rachel, Jed’s first love. David and Rachel’s daughter has been kidnapped and the police have no leads. The history between Jed, David, and Rachel almost keeps him from coming to help, but the thought of an innocent little girl being hurt because of something he can’t get past is not something he wants on his conscious. As soon as he arrives, he finds himself in danger and mysterious forces work against his presence there to help. Soon he finds himself in a hard place, a place he never wanted to be again, a place with the voices back in his head. All things he believed he left behind when he joined the Navy come back to the surface. To save the missing girl, he must go to a place of faith he abandoned long ago to win a fight against good and evil.

This was my first book by this writing pair and I am kicking myself for having gone this long without discovering their writing. This story sucked me in from the first page and held on to me tighter than any story has done in a long time. I have been on a streak of reading several mediocre books and have been aching for something that really touched me and kept the adrenaline pumping. This was that story! I am so glad I picked this one up and gave it a chance. Not only is Jed a great main character, but every other character in the book also plays their roll to perfection. I knew without a doubt before I was even halfway through that this was going to be a series I would want to stick with. There is so much more to unpack with these characters; I want to know more about the history with Jed, David, and Rachel. The little it was touched on was just not enough to satisfy my thirst for their history. Give me more of Ben and his team, how they came together, and their backstories. The possibilities feel endless; I just hope Andrews and Wilson feel the same and keep the stories coming for the Shepherds. I recommend this book to anyone that loves a good, fast-paced military thriller with a spiritual aspect that gets dark but keeps the light.

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

Under the Bayou Moon

Author: Valerie Fraser Luesse

Publisher: Revell

Release Date: August 3, 2021

Rating: 4 out of 5.

An easy, enjoyable historical romance.

Intent on escaping her family’s expectations, Ellie Fields decides to branch out in faith and take a teaching position in the small town of Bernadette, Louisiana, far from her family’s home in Alabama.  But soon after arriving, she begins to question her decision.  There are only two teachers in the whole school and her furnished home turns out to be a cabin without any electricity, but at least it has indoor plumbing.  Deciding to make the best of it, Ellie starts teaching several Cajun children whose previous teachers have punished them for speaking French as English is the language that they should be speaking.  She quickly falls in love with the children and may become attached to a local fisherman before she has the chance to depart.

Overall, this is a good historical romance story set in the Louisiana bayou.  Part of the backstory deals with a hurricane, which is sobering considering the aftermath of Hurricane Ida.  The story is heavy on the emotional end for Ellie’s character because she is coming into her own without her family and making a new family in a new place.  She finds herself in some precarious situations, but overall, there is not a lot of tension to push the story forward at a rapid pace.  This particular story is one to slow down and enjoy.  I recommend this to readers who enjoy a slower pace with a love story that plays out without drama.

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

Constance

Author: Matthew Fitzsimmons

Series: Constance #1

Publisher: Thomas & Mercer

Release Date: September 1, 2021

Rating: 4 out of 5.

A Sci/Fi thriller with an intricate plot and high stakes that drive the story all the way never letting up until the very end!

Set in the near distant future, advances in science have brought about the ability to make human clones. It is something only the wealthy can afford and there is another group opposing cloning calling it an abomination. Contance “Con” D’Arcy isn’t wealthy but is gifted a clone by her aunt. Every month she must go for an upload of her consciousness that is kept stored in case something happens to her. One day Constance’s clone wakes up unsure of what has happened. She hasn’t had an upload in eighteen months and her original is dead. Secrets are buried deep, and it seems no one can be trusted. Con is now on a mission to find out what happened to cause her to be activated and what it all means for her and the rest of the world.

Constance is definitely for fans of science fiction; it is not for the faint of heart with all the action and thrills throughout. Constance started out strong but after it switched to her clone, she became an even stronger character. The line between science and what should and shouldn’t be done is very fine here and it isn’t glossed over. The “God” Complex is evident in a few of these characters and Fitzsimmons does a good job tackling this issue. The fact that this is only set twenty years in the future is a bit unnerving that things could go that direction in our lifetime. A few of the secondary characters and plot lines could have been left out and I still feel like the story would have flowed well. They might be important for the sequel though, which I feel certain is to come. There is a lot more story to be fleshed out with these characters and I would like to see the direction they take. I recommend this book to lovers of science fiction and dystopian books.

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

Poison for Breakfast

Author: Lemony Snicket

Publisher: Liveright

Release Date: August 31, 2021

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Anyone who has ever read a Lemony Snicket book will know the witty, philosophical quirkiness experienced within the pages of Poison for Breakfast.

Lemony Snicket has investigated many suspicious things over the years but none as suspicious as his own death. One morning after breakfast he receives a note telling him he has had Poison for Breakfast. Now he has the unpleasant task of figuring out what was poisonous and who would want to poison him. It is not a task Mr. Snicket is going to enjoy, but nonetheless, he has no choice but to solve this mystery.

I have always been a big fan of the Lemony Snicket series, even though it has been many years since I read the original books. When Poison for Breakfast came out, I was excited to dive into another Snicket adventure. It may be that it has been many years since I first read them and I am older now, but the magic of the Snicket universe just wasn’t there for me this time. My attention wasn’t held as well as I would have liked which is probably mostly due to the narrative style of storytelling. I do think this is a good, fun story for a certain group of young adults. If you are looking for a good, satire book, this is for you. It is mostly narrative which can slow the story down considerably. While this wasn’t a favorite of mine, I do think others will greatly enjoy it.

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

Heartless Heirs

Author: MarcyKate Connolly

Series: Twin Daggers #2

Publisher: Blink YA Books

Release Date: August 10, 2021

Rating: 5 out of 5.

A fantastic follow up to one of my favorite books from last year. So much action, drama, tension, and character connection to love.

After rescuing her sister from the dungeons and technocrats, Aissa and her friend Remy flee to the woods for safety. At one time, Aissa and her twin, Zandria were closer than two sisters could hope to be. After being trapped in the steel helmet and tortured, Zandria is having a hard time understanding how Aissa could fall in love with Aro, a Techno prince when they are the very enemy they are trying to take down. Remy still sides with his father, a Magi leader who refuses to believe his spymaster is a traitor. Their mission is now to find the secrets of the Alchemist Alliance and the key to healing the divide between the Technos and the Magi after centuries at war. The bond between Aro and Aissa grows with each day, and if they don’t find the answers, all they hold dear will be threatened.

I have been eagerly awaiting the release of this since I turned the last page on Twin Daggers. I quickly fell in love Aissa, Aro, Zandria and the rest of the characters. The connection between Aissa and her twin and then Aissa and Aro was the driving force to the page turning story. With the bond between the twins strained, the story took a different yet interesting turn, would they be able to regain their trust in one another or would the torture they both endured turn them against one another? Being able to establish the connection between the characters the way Connolly did kept me engaged with the story and what would happen to the characters. That relationship is more important to me than a strong plot. When I find characters, I love, I enjoy the story even more which is what happened with these books. Every conversation, fight and tense look was enough to make me nervous for what would happen and keep me envisioning myself in the room with the characters. This was a perfect two book series with just the right amount of character development, world building and magic. I recommend this book to those that love a good YA fantasy with characters that are easy to cheer for to succeed.