To Wager Her Heart

To Wager Her HeartAuthor: Tamera Alexander

Series: Belle Meade Plantation #3

Publisher: Zondervan

Release Date: August 8, 2017

Rating: 5 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

A brilliant work of historical fiction coupled with a meant to be romance sure to consume many readers.

In 1871 Nashville, Alexandra Jamison comes from a high society family that requires her to put her family’s best interest above her own. Two of her older brothers left the state and married to get away from their father, while her third brother perished in the war.  In an effort to make her own life, she fell in love with a scholar that believed in racial equality only to lose him to a train accident at Dutchmen’s Curve just outside of Nashville.  Now with her father intent on marrying her to a wealthy older gentleman, Alexandra makes the decision to leave her family to teach at the freedman’s college Fisk University, but the cost is far greater than she anticipated.

Sylas Rutledge is a young railroad owner from Colorado intent on expanding his rail system by bringing the railroad to General William Harding’s Belle Meade Plantation. But he is going to have to bid against several other railroaders to win.  Being in Nashville brings an emotional torment to Sylas as his father was on his final run as an engineer when he perished in the train wreck of Dutchmen’s Curve and was blamed for the incident.  Intent on clearing his father’s name, Sylas attempts to track down the truth while trying to win the railroad bid.  But Nashville wealth has still not fully accepted racial equality and at what cost will Sylas be willing to make to ensure he wins the railroad bid?

I’m always a little weary when I start third book in a series; however, this is a perfect example of a standalone novel that has no need of a series. I felt immediately drawn into the story and the characters.  The conflict that was introduced almost immediately between Alexandra and Sylas keep the story propelling forward quickly making me want to see what the outcome would be.  Alexandra has her share of hardships and  I can’t begin to imagine what she (and all those who actually encountered) the Dutchmen Curve wreck.  And then to have her father turn his back on her for her beliefs, which I know was not uncommon of that time period.

I immensely enjoyed the setting of Belle Meade Plantation and getting to know some of history’s supporting characters such as Uncle Bob. I also enjoyed that the author referenced other major historical events as well.  I enjoy getting to research what I read as I read it.  My only complaint was that the actual Dutchmen Curve wreck occurred in a different time period, which was acknowledged by the author.  However, I understand that the conflict created between the characters of this even made for a terrific plot.

Highly recommended for lovers of historical fiction!

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

The Writing Desk

The Writing DeskAuthor: Rachel Hauck

Publisher: Zondervan

Release Date: July 11, 2017

Rating: 5 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

A romance that spans the ages, and continents, to bring people together even in the hardest of times.

After her first book became a runaway success, Tenley Roth feels the pressure to bring another hit. However, due to the pressure, she is unable to get any words on the page.  During this time, her estranged mother calls asking for Tenley to help her through chemotherapy in Florida.  Shortly after arriving, she ends up meeting a furniture designer that shows her what real romance is about.  Tenley finds an old desk at her mother’s house that she uses to try and kick-start her new book.  The desk has history to it that ties everything together between the families and past writing.

Birdie Shehorn is the daughter of old money who wants to be her own person and not have her parents make her every decision, especially about who she will marry. Birdie wants to write novels and get her stories out in the world, a difficult feat for an unknown woman in this time.  Her mother is working behind her to get her future set the way she believes it should be, which is not want Birdie wants.  Tied together through time and circumstances, Birdie and Tenley find that even though their circumstances are not what they want, they can make the best of it if they follow their hearts.

This is one of those books that at first I thought I was going to give up on, the back and forth between the timelines and characters was a little confusing and took me out of the story. However, by the end of the book, it worked together so well.  The decisions made by each character and how it brought about the actions and reactions of those around them was done incredibly well.  Rachel Hauck did a fantastic job bringing about the sympathy for Tenley and the hard times she went through with the decisions she made and the consequences she had to face.  The relationship between Jonas and Tenley was a nice slow build up instead of an instant attraction that exploded into a full-blown romance that took over the whole story.  Even though this is an inspirational novel, it never gets preachy in any way that would be a turn off to some.  One of the nicest aspects is this is a story of forgiveness and redemption and how it can soothe the soul.  This book will be great for those that love romance and a story of hope and moving on to make the best of a situation.

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

High as the Heavens

High as the heavensAuthor: Kate Breslin

Publisher: Bethany House

Release Date: June 6, 2017

Rating: 4.5 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

Fantastic historical fiction, mystery, and redemption all in one terrific story!

In 1917 German occupied Brussels, Evelyn Marche is just trying help the Allies while working as a nurse for the Red Cross. She believed that she had lost many of her family members during the occupation, until she recently learns that her brother and sister were able to escape a work camp train and flee to France.  She also believed herself to be a widow of the war until a plane crashes near her hospital and she finds her husband was a survivor, but also an Allied spy.  Now she must figure out a way to save him without jeopardizing her position.  But being apart three years has changed both of them.  The more they learn about each other, the more secrets between them are uncovered.  Will they be able to be a family again if this war ever stops?

As usual, Kate Breslin does a great job weaving a story together set in war ravaged Europe. Not much focuses on the Great War itself, but on the internal war within Evelyn.  She has gone through so much in a short period of time that has really challenged her faith, as I have to believe it would have mine as well.  The treatment she received the first night of the occupation as well as losing most of her family members would easily tear up someone’s soul.  Simon’s had to rely on his faith to make it through multiple POW camps just to hope to see his wife again.  Setback after setback, he still managed to make it through and trust in God.  He was a very likable character that we all need to have a friend that resembles him.  If you are going through inner struggles today, I suggest you read Eve’s story.

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

A Name Unknown

A name unknownAuthor: Roseanna M. White

Series: Shadows over England #1

Publisher: Bethany House

Release Date: July 4, 2017

Rating: 4.5 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

Are a thief and an author really that much different?

Rosemary Gresham is one of the best thieves in England, even pulling off a museum heist. Now with England on the brink of war with Germany, everybody’s loyalty is being examined. Who better to find documents to exploit someone’s disloyalty than a thief?  That is exactly what Rosemary has been hired to do.  Peter Holtstein has the King’s ear and many believe that he is loyal to Germany given that his German parents left England so that Peter could be born in Germany to maintain citizenship.  But this may be the biggest challenge Rosemary has ever accepted.  Disguised as a librarian hired to help catalogue Peter’s massive library, Rosemary must try to find letters or record archives that prove his is sympathetic to Germany.  But she isn’t allowed in his study where he spends most everyday typing.  What could he be doing that involves typing all day?

This was a fun and well thought out story. I always enjoy literature during the Great War period as it typically provides a lot of conflict throughout the story, but this particular story had mostly inner conflict that occurred within Rosemary.  Her character development was fun to watch.  She grew from being a street rat thief to finally believing in God after seeing someone who chose to do good to help her.  The romance was brief but the growing feelings for each other were a welcome part of the story.  It didn’t center around that, it actually centered around the theme of God’s love and that is what made the story so worthwhile.  I’ll be very interested in the future installments of this series.

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

Freedom’s Price

FreedomAuthor: Christine Johnson

Series: Keys of Promise #3

Publisher: Revell

Release Date: June 6, 2017

Rating: 5 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

Can Pirates of the Caribbean characters come to life in an alternate book?  

Catherine Haynes is facing a difficult situation. With both of her parents now deceased, her cousin has taking control of their estate, but must pay a stipend to Catherine until she is wed.  Now he is in a hurry to get her married and sell the estate.  Rather than succumb to his wishes, Catherine decides to take a severance from him and sail to her mother’s homeland of Louisiana to meet the family that doesn’t know she exists.  Along the way, she is shipwrecked on the island of Key West, where she meets dashing Captain Tom Worthington, who may be the only man she has met that can match her wit, which infuriates her more.  Even so, Catherine and Tom find themselves drawn to one another even though each has their own plans.  Would it be better to stay with Tom in Key West or venture to an uncertain future in New Orleans?

This was a fun historical fiction read that had me picturing Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann from Pirates of the Caribbean. Not because of their situation, but because of their personalities.  There was lots of fun, wit, and action throughout the book.  But there were also valuable lessons learned about trust and love.  Johnson did a great job of setting the scene in pre-Civil War New Orleans.  I hadn’t realized that England had already abolished slavery by that time period, so I was happy to get to do some research based on the book.  I also love the Key West area, so anytime I get to go there in my mind is well worth it.

Even though this was the third in the series, it is easily a standalone. I recommend reading it even without a copy of the first two.

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

Ascension of Larks

AscensionAuthor: Rachel Linden

Publisher: Thomas Nelson

Release Date: June 20, 2017

Rating: 5 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

Making the hard choice is never easy, but in some cases, it is a leap of faith that just might prove worth it in the end.

Magdalena (Maggie) Henry loves her life of traveling and being a renowned photographer. She is a free spirit and has never been tied down to anyone or anything before.  When her best friend Lena calls to say her husband, Marco, has died in an accident on the lake, she drops everything to go help her friend.  Maggie has always been secretly in love with Marco and being at their house with the family is harder than she thought it was going to be.  Maggie gets a call from her boss to give her a once in a lifetime opportunity to compete for the biggest award in the photography community.  Naturally, she doesn’t want to pass it up.  However, she must now decide between her career and being there for some of the only family she has ever had is the hardest decision she has ever had to make.  She knows what her heart is telling her to follow the magic of being with a family and settling down, but will she be able to make the decision?

This is not my normal go to book for a quick enjoyable read, but was worth every minute of my time. The setting was beautiful!  I love the islands of the Pacific Northwest, and every time Maggie went for a run I imagined myself on the beach with her.  While this is marketed towards women, it is one that male readers can still find enjoyable.  Lena finding out the problems her husband has left her with is something that probably happens far more often than any of us realize and was addressed well.  Lena had a hard time dealing with the stress of everything but was fortunate enough to have wonderful people in her life she could rely on to help her through the difficult times.  The few almost romance scenes were done well and not rushed.  I can’t stand to read a scene where you know the relationships are being rushed and completely not believable.  There are religious aspects to the book but nothing that is too “in your face” that might put readers off.  Linden did a fantastic job of writing a smooth flowing dialogue as well as narrative scenes.  I enjoyed the message Linden drove home of no matter how bad your situation is, the grass isn’t always greener on the other side, but at the same time seeing the other side can show you a little bit of what you are missing in life.  I recommend this to readers that enjoy a story with heart and a message that will touch them and help them if they are struggling through a difficult time.

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

Naomi’s Hope

Naomi's HopeAuthor: Jan Drexler

Series: Journey to Pleasant Prairie #3

Publisher: Revell

Release Date: June 6, 2017

Reviewer: Jennifer S. Roman

The third and final installment in the Journey to Pleasant Prairie series finds a newcomer, Cap Stoltzfus, joining the two groups of Amish who have arrived in LaGrange County, Indiana, in the 1840s.  One group is from Ohio, and one group is from Pennsylvania.  Although one group is considered more progressive than the other, they live and work together across a wide area separated by marsh and forest.  They make miles-long treks on Sundays for church services and during the week to help their neighbors with chores.  Cap finds himself settling in nicely, and is especially happy when he meets Naomi Schrock, a single girl who lives with her family and son near Cap’s new cabin.  She has rescued a young boy whose family perished in a deadly storm, and even though her neighbors accept it, some people gossip that the boy, Davey, is the product of a sinful relationship.  Cap is determined to get to know Naomi while finding out the truth of Davey’s coming to live with Naomi.

Meanwhile, a new preacher has arrived in the settlement, and he brings back horrible memories for Cap.  Shem Fischer used to bully Cap when they were boys, and while Cap does his best to forgive Shem and put that experience in the past, he can’t help but feel that Shem is stirring up trouble throughout the settlement.  Rumors fly, people refuse to help one another, and there is talk of breaking the church into two different sects.  Shem seems to be behind all of it, but Cap has no proof.  It’s up to the other members of the church to see Shem for his bad behavior and keep him in check.

I have enjoyed the first two books in this series, so I was excited to read the final book, as well.  I have to admit that I had no idea there could be such Peyton Place-like drama playing out in an Amish settlement in the middle of Indiana, but after reading this book, it’s a whole new possibility.  People are quarreling over where to hold church, how to plant and harvest crops, and what to serve for Sunday dinner.  Married people have their eyes on someone other than their spouses, and rumors fly like birds.  This is probably not typical of the average Amish settlement, but in this book, it was quite common.  While the Amish are not immune to drama and conflicting personalities, it seems like this is an awful lot for a small new community.

I enjoyed the characters this book has, including the many newcomers.  Several main characters and side characters have personal conflicts that need to be addressed, and they realize that until they give them up to God, the issues won’t go away.  This causes stress in a few relationships, and the people involved learn how to work together instead of apart.  There are many lessons for the characters to earn, the biggest being to trust God above all others.  While some of the drama may be a bit over-the-top, the storylines and true commitment to living a simple life make the book a worthwhile read.

This is a charming book that does not contain violence, sex, or foul language.  For this reason, I recommend this book for young adult readers and up.  Fans of Amish fiction, Amish romance, or a good clean story about the settling of America will enjoy the story.

Alabaster

AlabasterAuthor: Chris Aslan

Publisher: Lion Hudson

Release Date: November 18, 2016

Rating: 5 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

A well-known story told from a different perspective.

Miriam and Martha have had their share of a rough life. When they were children, their mother died leaving them with their father and younger brother.  Even so, they still made the best of it.  That is until the day that their father helps a leper, who leaves them a small alabaster jar for helping before he dies.  Nothing seems that odd until one day Miriam notices a small white patch on his back.  Soon the priest and his wife come to observe the patch and quarantine the family.  But the patch does not recede, so their father must leave the community for good and venture out to the lepers.  But fate does not stop there.  Martha has no money for a dowry and remains single, but she is quite the busybody.  Miriam gets married to a young man who helps the priest, but his mother and sister are scornful to her and it might have been better never to marry.  Their brother, Eleazar, runs away from the community with a friend when they are of age, with intentions never to return.  That is until they meet the doctor in the north that has been able to cure leprosy.

This book was a great read that keep playing with my mind. Once the book got started, I began to wonder if this might be one of the well-known stories of Jesus in the bible.  The more I read, the more it sounded likely.  And then I discovered that it was.  It was told from a completely different perspective than I had ever heard it before.  But it was still masterfully told.  The emotions of Miriam were vastly different than I would have pictured them, but there were still very believable.  I love it when stories like this pop up and change the way I have always observed things.  Well done!

There is some implied sex scenes, one of which is a rape scene, but it is not graphic. I would recommended this to young adult readers and up.

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

Sandpiper Cove

Sandpiper coveAuthor: Irene Hannon

Series: Hope Harbor #3

Publisher: Revell

Release Date: April 4, 2017

Rating: 5 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

The third book in the Hope Harbor series brings the romance to a whole new level. Romance lovers will not want to miss this one.

Lexi Graham is the Hope Harbor police chief and is being pulled in too many directions at once. She has her son to take care of along with the residents of Hope Harbor, who have been dealing with a string of theft and vandalism.  All of this is more than enough to keep her busy and leave zero time for anything else, romance included.  With being so busy, she is caught completely off guard when she finds herself attracted to one of the victims of vandalism, Adam Stone.  To make matters more complicated, Adam is an ex-con.  He came to town after getting out of prison trying to make a new start.  When Lexi catches one of the vandals, she talks to Adam about trying to be a mentor to the boy who is going through a tough time at home and could use his influence.  Adam isn’t sure he is the right person to help the boy, but feels God leading him to try.   Together Adam and Lexi work to make a difference in the lives of those they can reach and see if there is anything left to make work between the two of them.

This story is one of second chances. Lexi needs a second chance at love and Adam needs a second chance to prove he can be a good person.  He doesn’t come to town looking for love and doesn’t think he deserves it either.  I like the way he doesn’t want feel as if he isn’t good enough for Lexi, (even though deep down that is how he feels.)  He has several people in town looking out for him who tell him that he doesn’t have to be the same person that spent time in prison.  He did his time and now he needs to be willing to move on from that.  I love the message of knowing it is ok to make mistakes as long as we learn from them and move on to do the work God has planned for us to do.  Sometimes we tend to beat ourselves up over things that we need to let go of.  If God can forgive us, then we should be able to forgive ourselves and move on too.  Irene Hannon is one of the top Christian Romance writers and it is for good reason.  She can weave good story with a message and characters we want to see happy. Sandpiper Cove has all of that and more.  It is the third in the series, some of the characters are the same, Charley is back and you can’t help but love him, and some are new.  You don’t have to read all to enjoy each separately, which is nice.  I recommend this to readers that love a good, clean romance story that will put a smile on your face.

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

Long Time Gone

Long Time GoneAuthor: Mary Connealy

Series: The Cimarron Legacy #2

Publisher: Bethany House

Release Date: February 28, 2017

Rating: 4 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

A charming western romance with action and adventure at just the right spots.

After the patriarch of the Boden family is injured in what appears to be an accidental landslide and sent to Denver for treatment, the rest of the family is left to handle the ranch and quickly uncover it was no accident. Justin Boden is now in charge of the ranch and after seeing his father hurt and now his brother Cole, shot and in critical condition, he feels in over his head.  The doctor trying to save Cole has an assistant, Angie Dupree, that is a distraction to Justin.  Angie came to town to stay with her aunt after her life didn’t go as planned.  Justin and the rest of the family must work together, with the help of Angie, who he is quickly falling for, and a few others to figure out who is out to get their family.  Things are turning out to be much bigger than they first thought and danger is around every corner and deadlier than they could have imagined.

The best thing about a Mary Connealy book is that it is a quick read that is enjoyable. However, sometimes the books can be unmemorable, especially when you read a lot.  It has been a while since I read the first in the series and didn’t remember a whole lot of it before starting this one.  In a way that is good because I can say that if readers haven’t read the first book, they will still enjoy this one.  It does help for some background information with the parents and what the family is facing.  But it is not completely vital to have read the first before starting this one.  I read these and enjoy them while I am reading them and then move on to the next on my list, whereas with some I hate to put it down because it was so good.  I liked the storyline of Justin and Angie, I could see where they were heading and everything felt natural for the characters as they got to where they needed to be.  I’m hoping the third book will go into Cole and his relationship to come, ( I could be wrong but I’m guessing he will fall for Melanie.)  I recommend this book to readers than enjoy a good, clean, historical romance with cowboys, action and a little humor sprinkled in for good measure.

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