The Key to Everything

The Key to EverythingAuthor: Valerie Fraser Luesse

Publisher: Revell

Release Date: June 2, 2020

Rating: 4 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

With fun characters and a theme of restoration, this coming of age tale is perfect to kick off the summer.

Fifteen-year-old, Peyton Cabot, isn’t sure what to make of the life before him: stuck in a wealthy family, feeling like he doesn’t belong, and in love with a beautiful red headed girl. After losing his father in a tragic accident, Peyton decides to follow in his father’s footprints and take a life changing bicycle trip down the coast of Florida to Key West. Using his father’s map, he seeks answers to unknown questions and a connection to his father. Along the way, he meets many people who invest in him and change him. Some even become family. Arriving in Key West and reuniting with his love, he finds many answers and finds the peace he’s been seeking.

Set after the end of World War II, you can see a difference in the way people live. I can’t imagine letting my fifteen-year-old son go on an adventure like Peyton did. His character reads much older than fifteen. The relationships portrayed between Peyton and Lisa is often unbelievable when you think about their ages. Realizing that times were different is imperative when reading this book.

I loved many of the characters Peyton met along the way. His adventures were interesting and fun to read.

Peyton’s journey is best summed up in his own words, “You can’t follow anyone else’s path, like I tried to do with Daddy- like Daddy thought he had to do with Grandaddy. Somewhere along the way, you gotta draw your own map.”

I give this book 4 stars. It is well written and creative. The characters are well written and easy to connect to. Overall, an excellent book.

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

On a Coastal Breeze

on a coastal breezeAuthor: Suzanne Woods Fisher

Series: Three Sisters Island #2

Publisher: Revell

Release Date: May 5, 2020

Rating: 4 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

A great story to show that anyone can change!

Maddie Grayson is finally starting up her own counseling practice on Three Sisters Island. She leases space in a building that shares space for the local church office. The island has been looking for a new pastor for quite some time and one finally agreed to come parish the small island off the coast of Maine. On the opening day of her practice, Maddie hears a commotion and discovers that the new pastor is parachuting into town. This doesn’t surprise her as much as when she learns that the new pastor is someone who she went to school with from kindergarten to graduation named Ricky O’Shea. Ricky tormented Maddie throughout her entire school life and she thought she was rid of him for good. But what is he doing as a pastor now? Can Maddie accept him to be the man he is today instead of the boy he was?

The second book in the Three Sisters Island picks up pretty much where the first left off. Cam and Seth are engaged, but a project to get the island on reliable renewable energy has taken Cam’s attention away and causing some problems. Blaine is back home from culinary school and facing challenges in her life and with her palette. Maddie is getting her practice going and having sessions with some of the islands characters.

The story is mostly centered on Maddie, although all three sisters experience growth of some sort. Maddie had to overcome past hard feelings about Rick and many of the experiences she had at his hands are relived at the end of several chapters. But what made Rick decide to join the marines and become the man he is today just might surprise some of the readers. I also enjoyed Maddie’s therapy sessions with her sisters and her clients. It made each of the characters come to life. The next book is set to be Blaine’s story as she travels across Europe and I can’t wait to help her find herself.

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

The Best We’ve Been

Best weve beenAuthor: Beth K. Vogt

Series: Thatcher Sisters #3

Publisher: Tyndale House

Release Date: May 5, 2020

Rating: 5 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

Friction between family members is all too real! Readers will easily fall in love with this family!

After discovering her fiancé cheated on her, Johanna Thatcher has decided to protect her heart at all costs. Things get more complicated when she finds out she is pregnant. Over the years, friction between her and her sisters, Jillian and Payton, has gone up and down leaving their fragile friendship hanging in the balance. When the family finds out about Johanna’s pregnancy, it causes extra tension between the sisters as this is something Jillian has wanted and may not ever be able to have. To make matters worse, Johanna doesn’t even know if she wants to keep the baby. Each sister has her own life troubles to deal with along with the others and through it all they have to decide what their definition of family is and what they are willing to keep the family together.

When I started this I didn’t realize it was the third in a series; had I read the others I might have understood a little more of the backstory, but since I didn’t realize that until after finished the book, I’m happy to say it didn’t take anything away from the story for me and reads easily as a standalone. There was enough about each character that I felt like I knew them and had a feel for what they were going through. Johanna had a big character development throughout the story and I enjoyed watching her grow and change. Several of the milestone moments the Thatcher sisters go through can be heart wrenching, but in such a good way. I loved the way the story shaped each story of the sisters to bring the whole family together. There is a strong faith element with several characters but nothing that was too pushy and might turn a reader away from the story if that wasn’t what they were looking for. The target audience is going to find this a fast, enjoyable and touching read. With the little glimpses of Jillian and Payton’s lives, I want to go get the others in the series so I can fully know and understand the Thatcher sisters and all they have gone through the be who they are at this point in their stories. Even though this is the third in the series and can be read as a standalone, I do feel I would have gotten even more out of it if I had read the first two. Throughout the novel, Beth Vogt brings a sense of hope and encouragement for readers to cling to. I would recommend this to readers that enjoy a heart touching story with hope, laughter, love and so much more they can relate to.

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.

More Than We Remember

more than we rememberAuthor: Christina Suzann Nelson

Publisher: Bethany House

Release Date: February 18, 2020

Rating: 5 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

Nelson’s work continues to shine!

One moment changes everything in the lives of three women.

Deputy Emilia Cruz is the first responder to the scene of an accident in the early hours of the morning. She discovers a two-vehicle head on collision which claims the life of a single mother to three boys. The other car contained the high school basketball coach who survived but is believed to have been drinking. This infuriates Deputy Cruz as her husband was a first responder fire fighter to an accident caused by an alcoholic the left his physically disabled. She’s more determined than ever to fight for justice regardless of who the victim is.

Addison Kilbourn is woken up in the night to find that her husband still hasn’t returned home from meeting someone in a neighboring town. She answers the door to find a deputy sheriff with news that her husband was in an accident and has been taken to the hospital. Life has been difficult enough moving to her husband’s hometown and living with her mother-in-law while they build their house, but she soon learns public opinion about her husband accident brands her family.

Brianne Demanno is trying to hide from her past and present. She always wanted to be a counselor and she got her wish, but after one of her patients committed suicide, she doubts her abilities and decides to delve into the solitude of artwork. When a deputy accidentally knocks on her door instead of the Kilbourn’s, she decides to go over and help the family by staying with the children so that the mom can go to the hospital. Brianne begins to connect with the kids and with their mom Addison, who may be the first real friend that she has had. Will this family be enough to pull her out of seclusion and help her start to live again?

One of the greatest aspects of Nelson’s writing is that she is able to connect her characters in ways that mimic real life. In every book that I’ve read by her, she brings multiple broken families together and connects them in a healing process. This book was no exception. Each woman’s story showed the immense struggle they were going through. Addison was insecure dealing with her husband’s accident, mother-in-law’s memory loss, and her oldest daughter that was now a teenage. Emilia struggled with her job, husband’s disability, and daughter’s friends. Brianne struggled internally with feeling inadequate. Each woman on their own would have faltered, but together they made bonds that helped them move forward. In some cases, it wasn’t even the relationship between the women, but between their kids. Nelson is becoming one of my favorite authors for this genre and I hope that others find her work encouraging too.

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

The Solid Grounds Coffee Company

Supper clubAuthor: Carla Laureano

Series: Supper Club Novel #3

Publisher: Tyndale House

Release Date: February 4, 2020

Rating: 5 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

Another terrific installment to the Saturday Night Supper Club series!

Bryan Shaw is one of the best rock climbers in the world. After a climbing incident in Colombia involving his past flame, Bryan loses his sponsor, turning him into an unemployed hobbyist. The night before he plans to return to the States, Bryan is approached by a man who is in need on an interpreter to help with a ministry that converts farms used to grow drug products into coffee beans. This chance encounter leads to Bryan purchasing the coffee farm to see if he can put that BA degree he has to good use.

Ana Sanchez is a high-profile public relations specialist in Denver. She makes her living cleaning up other people’s messes and she is one of the best. When a high maintenance client puts her in the position of trying to cover up the drug overdose of an underage girl, Ana makes a judgement call, which saves the girls life but lands Ana on a paid suspension. Now with loads of time on her hands, she is not sure what to focus her time on.

When Bryan returns to Denver to start up a roastery business, he visits and old group of friends who run the Bittersweet Café. Ana is there too and while the two are polar opposites, Bryan offers Ana a business proposition to help get the roastery off the ground. She accepts the challenge and the two begin to work closely together. While neither is looking for a relationship, they become closer. Could this match bring fulfillment to their lives?

This series is such fun to read. Each installment has become like a member of the family or at least of the supper club on family and friends night. Even though this is the third in the series, it can easily be read as a stand-alone. I loved the story between Bryan and Ana. They both had to overcome their demons, Bryan in the early stages of the book and Ana in the later part, but they were still able to do it. Ana’s story spoke volumes to me. She had been through so much and always took failure as a personal blame and built walls up around herself so that even her most personal friends could not get through. Once those walls finally came down, she was a different person. I feel as though she could easily be one of my closest friends.

I’m not a coffee drinker, but I learned a lot about the process. It was very interesting to see what all goes into making a cup of coffee. Laureano did a lot of research into this process and if you love cover art, there is a story behind it that you can read about. If you haven’t picked up a supper club novel yet, then you need to grab a copy of one today!

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

Promised Land

Promised landAuthor: Robert Whitlow

Series: Chosen People #2

Publisher: Thomas Nelson

Release Date: January 14, 2020

Rating: 5 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

Another terrific story with one of my favorite characters ever written!

A lot has changed since Hana and Daud were married. They feel that they can no longer stay in their homeland of Israel because of enemies Daud made while working with the Mossad. They believe it is best to return to America and live in Atlanta, which is where Hana’s law office. Hana continues with her work and Daud sets himself up a company to assist corporations looking to open an office in the middle east as his primary employment, but the CIA likes to use him as a contractor. While on a covert mission to extract a Ukrainian scientist, events don’t go as planned and Daud becomes the suspect of interest in a disturbance, branding him as a fugitive in Egypt.

When Jakob Brodsky calls Hana about another client, she knows it will never be a dull moment. Jakob has a new case involving some artifacts that were stolen by the Russian government during World War II. His client is hoping to locate and recover them if possible. Hana agrees to help in a limited capacity as her firm only wants her time spent on billable clients. Her boss, Leon Lowenstein, has also asked Hana to participate in a Jewish information forum to share her story. Daud agrees to oversee security for the event to not only keep Hana safe, but also show people in the United States what attending an event is like in the middle east.

Hana likes the safety of living in Atlanta, but Daud feels the call of Jerusalem. While overseas for work, he stops over in Jerusalem to talk to someone about Jakob Brodsky’s case. He never knew the events set off by this trip would eventually put everything he loves in jeopardy.

I’d like to start off by letting people know that this is the sequel to Chosen People and while it can be read as a standalone, to get the full effect of the book and characters, I highly recommended reading the first book. Promised Land is the continuation of Hana and Daud’s journey together after they were joined in the first book. This story really focuses on struggles of a newlywed couple and their adjustment to a new life. Through it all, readers get to see the selflessness of both Daud and Hana and how they are willing to give up on their own dream to see their partner’s dream come true. Sure, there are times that each character struggles with the actions of the other, but Whitlow shows how important constant communication is in a marriage.

Hana is one of my favorite characters that has ever been put into print. Her actions and demeanor speak to my soul when I read about her. I loved how her habit of waking up during the night and praying carried over from the first book. She speaks life to me and I feel like I know her. That is an extremely powerful attribute to any book. I hope she does the same to other readers.

The only issue I have with the whole book was the lack of Emily’s presence. She was a consistent supporting character for Jakob in the first book and now she is reference by name only. Here is to hoping that there is a third book that will reprise her role.

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

Flowers From Afghanistan

Flowers

Author: Suzy Parish

Publisher: Harbourlight Books

Release Date: August 10, 2018

Rating: 4.5 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

A compelling redemption story for both self and marriage.

 After his two-year-old soon is killed in a tragic accident, Mac McCann signs up for a year long stint for overseeing security in a camp at Afghanistan.  Mac sees this as a way to get away from his troubles.  His wife is distraught that he is leaving but he is hoping that this will be a way for them to heal.  But he harbors a secret.  He feels that his son’s death is his fault and he doesn’t want to face his demons.  Once in Afghanistan, he meets other security workers that are there for a myriad of reasons, but many are there to escape problems.  However, the problems never really go away, they just seem to get worse.  As Mac continues his tour, he begins to view life from a new perspective and realizes his mistakes and that he must confront them in he wants to heal and move on.

 I thoroughly enjoyed this book as it was a clean read with redeeming qualities throughout.  Parish did a great job of weaving a story of a grieving couple struggling to heal.  But this book went way deeper than that.  She also brought to life many of the struggles that the both the locals in Afghanistan face as well as those that are over in an attempt to help rebuild the village life so that people can protect themselves.  Parish did a great job setting different scenes between Huntsville, Alabama and Afghanistan.  Her descriptive settings took to me each location in detail but didn’t detract from the story.  Mac and Sophie were wonderfully developed characters.  I could feel the hurt that they both carried and the anger between the two of them.  I could sense what was happening in their relationship before they could, which is the sign of a truly talented author.  I highly recommend this debut novel.

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

Overcomer

Overcomer.jpgAuthor: Chris Fabry

Publisher: Tynale House

Release Date: July 23, 2019

Rating: 5 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

A inspirational story that is sure to give readers what they need even when they weren’t looking for it.

Sometime life draws up a play that throws everything off.  When the largest manufacturing plant in Franklin closes its doors, it has unseen ramifications.  People now have to leave to find jobs in other places.  Other business close because of the reduced population.  Basketball coach John Harrison and his son Ethan can only watch as the championship quality team they had stacked for the year dwindles down to only four players.  Fortunately, Brookshire School that employs John and his wife Amy hasn’t had to close its doors, but they did have to take a pay cut.  Now without a team, John is struggling to fit in.  When the principal asks him to coach cross county, he reluctantly agrees because he doesn’t believe it is a real sport.  On the day of tryouts, he has one runner come forward and she has asthma.  As John begins to coach Hannah, he finds that he is about to embark on a journey that only God can control.

Sometimes God just knows what book you need to read next.  This was the case for me as I picked up this book to eagerly read about the upcoming feature film.  This story is very powerful and it makes you stripped to your core as a reader to evaluate who you are.  If everything you poured your time into were suddenly stripped away, who would you be?  What could you say about yourself?  Would you be proud?  Or would it make you reevaluate your life?

Having seen several of the Kendrick brother’s movies, I could easily hear the character’s voices as the book played out in front of me, just like one of their movies.  I haven’t read any of the novelizations before, but this one was very enjoyable.  I loved both John’s and Hannah’s stories.  Each was different but connected.  John was used in a way to bring healing to a family full of bitterness for over 15 years.  Hannah was finally able to stop filling her void with useless items and have it filled with love.  There are still some sad parts to the story, but it is worth the read.  Highly recommended for those who love the Kendrick brothers’ movies as well as those who enjoy Fabry’s unique writing voice.

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.