Beautiful Bad

beautiful bad

Author: Annie Ward

Publisher: Park Row Publishing

Release Date: March 5, 2019

Rating: 5 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

A compelling read that will keep readers guessing until the very last page and maybe even past that.  Just as the title states, this is beautifully written and full of fascinating characters from the beginning until the very end.

 Maddie is working oversees as a travel writer and spends her down time visiting her best friend, Jo. While hanging out with Jo, Maddie meets Ian who she is instantly attracted to but unsure if it is wise to pursue a romantic relationship in the war-torn middle-east. Nearly two decades later, they are married and living a somewhat perfect life in Middle America. After a recent camping trip that leaves Maddie with a bad injury and scared for her life and that of her young son, she attends a writing therapy session and tries to determine how to proceed. With a back and forth from Balkans to England and back to the U.S along with past to present timeline, everything comes together on the day of the killing with a shocking crime to solve and a sordid past uncovered.

 If you are the type of reader that enjoys a fast-paced thrill ride with tight scenes and characters that are full of surprises at every corner, this is one you won’t want to miss. From the first page with the back and forth in timelines and across the country, we see the characters grow and change. I have to say this is one of the best written novels with character growth that kept me guessing that I have read in a very long time. The first half of the book spends time setting up the relationship between the characters to bring everything full circle by the end. Throughout the pages, readers are left questioning why we love the way we do and what we are willing to do for those we love. There are two sides to every story and two sides to every person. We all have our best sides and our worst, which side we let take over says a lot about us. The back and forth between character and timelines might be a little confusing for some, but if you can keep up it will be worth it in the end. These characters, especially Maddie are so complex and full of surprises readers won’t have a choice but to be pulled into the story and feel a deep connection with what they are reading. I recommend this to readers that enjoy a psychological thriller with twists and turns at every corner.

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

God’s Favor

Gods favor

Author: Gary Wilkerson

Publisher: Chosen Books

Release Date: February 19, 2019

Rating: 5 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

When it can seem hard to find God’s favor in your life, that is when we need to look deeper to see all that we take for granted and thank God for all that he does that we might not even realize.

 As Christians we want to find favor from God. The problem is we can easily take for granted all that we are favored with and don’t even realize.  Pastor Gary Wilkerson gives us a more in-depth picture of what it really means to find God’s favor. Even when we don’t see it, God is pouring out his blessings, forgiveness, restoration, joy, peace, and so much more in our lives. By God pouring out this favor on us, we can in turn show his love and favor to family and friends. God’s favor isn’t meant to end with us, there is a whole wide world out there waiting to experience all God has to offer.

 When things are going well, it is easy to thank God for his favor and blessings. When things are not so great, that’s a different story. In this book, Wilkerson shows us in scripture how to look beneath the trouble we see and find a deeper blessing in the hard times. We are never promised a trouble free life if we believe, but we are promised that God will be with us through the good times and the bad. I have found lately that we must take these bad times for all they are worth and use them to help us appreciate the good times even more. One of my favorite lines in the book is at the beginning, “When things go south know that God is up to something!”  When it is hardest to see God working for us is when He is fighting the hardest to bring us what is best for us. It may not be exactly what we want, but that’s ok, it will be even better than we could have imagined if we will just remember who He is. God loves us and wants us to feel his favor, he is never against us and we can relish in the fact that He is always at work FOR us! I recommend this book especially to anyone going through a hard time finding God’s favor in their life and needing reassurance of His love.

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

Courting Mr. Emerson

Courting

Author: Melody Carlson

Publisher: Revell

Release Date: March 5, 2019

Reviewer: Jennifer S. Roman

Courting Mr. Emerson is a sweet romance that follows the usual love story formula, but instead of young characters, the protagonists are mature and ready for the second stage of life.  Stodgy Mr. Emerson is an English teacher at the local high school.  He follows routine and doesn’t have a car because he can walk to wherever he needs to go.  He uses a typewriter and listens to vinyl records.  Never married, he is content in his solitude in his small bungalow and avoids having to talk to the neighbors.  He is not mean; he just likes his own company and prefers order.  Realizing he has had enough, he accepts an early buyout and plans on retiring at the quickly-approaching end of the school year.

Willow, on the other hand, is a free spirit artist who owns an art gallery in town.  She meets Mr. Emerson when she requests a college letter of referral for her grandson, whom she has raised since infancy.  She is outgoing, lively, and a bit of a hippie.  She is also widowed and lonely.  Neither she nor Mr. Emerson see themselves as friends, let alone anything more, because they are so different, but of course life has an interesting way of working out sometimes.

In addition to stirring up a romance between the unlikely pair, both people deal with some issues severely affecting their lives.  Willow’s grandson is graduating high school, and his absent band groupie mother, Josie, comes to see him at Willow’s invitation.  Willow hopes to reconcile with Josie while establishing a relationship between Josie and the son she doesn’t know.  Considering that Collin doesn’t want a relationship with Josie, Willow knows she is facing an uphill battle.  George Emerson doesn’t even know he is facing any issues.  He is happy to live a retiree’s quiet life, until he realizes he isn’t.  He was raised by his grandparents after his parents died, and after his brother died in Vietnam, he is truly alone.  He loses his college sweetheart to a car accident and never finds anyone to love again.  He is an atheist because he believes that no god would give one person so much pain.  Willow, a true believer and spiritual person, helps George to see that maybe there is more to life than routine and solitude.

While I liked the general format of the story, I did have a problem with some of the characters.  Willow does seem to be a bit overwhelming, and I found it hard to like her.  Even though Mr. Emerson is surrounded by hundreds of teens every school day, he seems to be way out of touch with what is happening around him.  It is one thing not to participate in current activities, but to be unaware of them given his situation, seems to be unrealistic.  How everything falls into place for both of them by the end also seems to be a bit unrealistic, but given that is the nature of romance stories, it may be a bit more acceptable.

I did enjoy the book with some misgivings, and I believe that romance readers will enjoy the book as well.  It is tame as far as romances go, and there is nothing objectionable as far as theme or language is concerned.  Willow is a spiritual character, and as such does tend to push religion a bit.  All things concerned, Melody Carlson and romance fans will enjoy this book if taken at face value.

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

Midnight at the Tuscany Hotel

Tuscany

Author: James Markert

Publisher: Thomas Nelson

Release Date: April 9, 2019

Rating: 4 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

Another interesting book by Market, yet unlike anything I’ve read of his before.

 Vitto has just returned home after thirteen months spent in Europe at the close of World War II.  He witnessed the evils of war that refused to stay behind when he returned home.  Now back home, his five-year-old son doesn’t want anything to do with him and his father’s memory has left him with what doctors have begun to call Alzheimer’s disease.  He has nightmares and is a classic case of post traumatic stress, so he checks himself into a newly constructed VA hospital.  However, one night his father packs his bag and runs away.  After his wife Valerie comes for him, they travel to the one place that would have any semblance of normal for his father, The Tuscany Hotel.  Built and run by Vitto’s parents, the hotel used to be filled with artists, actors, and writers who were looking for inspiration.  Now the famed fountain in the center courtyard is mysteriously flowing again and Vitto’s father has started drinking from it and it seems that his dementia is disappearing.  When word gets out, the rooms begin to be filled again by people seeking control of their minds.  But does drinking this water come with a cost?

 I’ve read the author’s previous books and I must say that this was unlike anything he’s written before.  The story is told primarily at the end of World War II when Vitto returns home from the war.  However, there are also some occasional back stories thrown in concerning his mom, Magdalena, and her upbringing as well as when he and Valerie were kids at the hotel.  Markert does a good job of tying several of the loose ends together, but it’s done at random (almost as if he is trying to simulate a type of mis-organization for the reader).  There is also a lot of Greek mythology throughout the book as it relates to the layout and design of the hotel.  So, if you are not a fan of that, you will likely get bored with multiple areas of the book and the stories that go along with the architecture and sculptures within the hotel.  Ultimately it is a book about memories and how different individuals cope with painful memories.  Markert does a great job weaving his supernatural flair into the story as well, making it his own.

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

Knox

KnoxAuthor: Susan May Warren

Series: Montana Marshall

Publisher: Stonewater Books

Release Date: March 12, 2019

Rating: 5 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

Fans of Susan May Warren will not want to miss the beginning of the Montana Marshall series. This is by far the best I have read by her and am aching for the next installment!

After his father died, Knox Marshall knew he must settle down and run the family ranch. His dreams of becoming a professional bull rider put on hold so he can raise champion bulls for the National Professional Bull rider’s Expo. He has a good life on the ranch but starts to wonder if the best has already happened for him until he meets Kelsey Jones. Kelsey has a hard past, her parents were murdered, and she was beaten and left for dead when she was fourteen. Now she puts her past trials into her life as a country singer. No matter how far she goes though she can’t outrun her past to find the safe and secure future for which she longs. When she meets Knox Marshall, everything she has ever known is thrown out the window. With an exploding relationship and more danger around them than either could anticipate, this might be a recipe for disaster or the perfect romance in the making.

Susan May Warren is one of the very best romantic suspense writers on the market. Her Montana Rescue series is still one of my very favorite and as hard as it is for me to say this, I think Knox and the Montana Marshall series might just be even better. I absolutely loved the way she tied in characters from the Montana Rescue series flawlessly into this storyline. I can just see more of those characters popping up in future books in this new series. Tying the two series together in that way could be risky but now with Warren at the helm, she weaved storylines together that other writers wouldn’t dream of being able to make flow. It will be easy for readers to fall for Knox, as well as the other Marshall men, within the first few pages of reading. Knox is everything a cowboy heartthrob should be, and I loved reading about him. The chemistry between him and Kelsey was steaming off the page. Regardless of how much Kelsey wanted to steer clear of any romance, there was no getting past what her heart wanted. Her story line is one of my favorites. I was drawn in by her history and what she went through and how it affected her in the present that everything else flowed and kept me intrigued. I don’t want to spoil the story, but readers will be walking away from this wanting to throw the book at the wall (in a good way) and pacing the hall until they can get their hands on the next in the series. All I can say is if the rest in the series are half as good as the first, readers will have a new favorite author without a doubt. I recommend this book to fans of Susan May Warren and those that may not have read anything by her but love western romantic suspense.

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

Within These Lines

Within these linesAuthor: Stephanie Morrill

Publisher: Blink YA Books

Release Date: March 5, 2019

Rating: 5 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

A trying time mixed with a forbidden relationship makes for a great read!

In 1941, Evalina Cassano is an Italian American teenager living in San Francisco.  Her family owns a very successful restaurant and she has a bright future ahead of her after being accepted to attend Berkley.  But the heart wants what the heart wants and hers belongs to a young Japanese American boy named Taichi Hamasaki, the son of the produce farmers that help supply her parents’ restaurant.  The relationship is difficult enough as it is, but on December 7th, the Japanese strike Pearl Harbor and overnight America develops an anti-Japanese sentiment.  Tacichi’s family burn everything they own from Japan that night before the FBI interrogates them.  As the days continue, his family volunteers to go to an internment camp.  This will be a test on an already frowned upon relationship, but can their love remain within these lines?

This is a fantastic novel that explores the era of Japanese internment camps in the United States for young adults.  This was a dark time in our country’s history that is rarely brought to light because of the embarrassment of what was done.  This living situation were ridiculous and Morrill brought those to light in this book.  The hatred that was felt toward the Japanese during this time was misplaced at individuals who had nothing to do with the Japanese Empire.  I thought the author did a great job of showing this through a teenage relationship.  I especially liked how outspoken and hotheaded Evalina was (Italian for sure) and Taichi showed more characteristics of the Japanese culture with being more passive and trying to save Evalina the heartache of knowing just how miserable he really was.

Personally, I think that this book should be a welcome addition to middle grade reading classes.  It does a great job of showcasing the history and mixing it with characters that the age genre will enjoy!

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

Border Son

Border sonAuthor: Samuel Parker

Publisher: Revell

Release Date: March 5, 2019

Rating: 5 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

The story of the Prodigal Son continues in a turn that will leave readers’ emotions spinning after the very last page. 

When Edward Kazmierski receives a phone call saying his son needs him in Mexico, he isn’t sure he wants to go. It has been years since he has even thought about Tyler. They haven’t had the best relationship and Tyler hasn’t been one to reach out to his father either. After the initial phone call, he receives another from a federal agent wanting information on Tyler and two men show up at his house wanting to know if he knows where his son is.  All this leads Ed to head south of the border where his son has started a chain reaction with one decision that causes a ripple effect of pain and destruction for everyone involved. Even though Ed is going to rescue his son, he is first going to have to prove to Tyler that he still loves him and wants to help him out of the mess he has found himself in and try and get them both out alive.

Samuel Parker has a unique way of taking a story we are all familiar with, such as the Prodigal Son, and reforming it as a suspenseful page turner. The story is one of redemption and self-sacrifice. Ed must be willing to sacrifice everything to try and save his son who needs the redemption himself to try and turn his life around. The dynamic between father and son played out well; even though Tyler knows he needs his father’s help he is hesitant to accept it after feeling abandoned for so many years. Now that they are stuck together and have to rely on each other to find a way out to safety they find that even though they haven’t been close in years, there is still a connection that can never be broken. With short chapters that go back and forth on viewpoints, the story reads quickly and clearly, more so than if it had been from one solitary point of view.  I am really enjoying books that go in this multiple point of view format because it gives so much more of the story and keeps the pages turning much quicker. There is a true feeling of fatherly love throughout the story with not only Ed trying to help his son but also Roberto feeling the need to help this young man who had once helped him. Each character brought their own sense of need to the story in how they interacted and helped the other for their own reasons. Fans of Parker’s other novels will be sure to enjoy Border Son. And if you haven’t read anything by Samuel parker I highly recommend picking up a copy today!

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