Everything is Just Beginning

Author: Erin Bartels

Publisher: Revell

Release Date: January 17, 2023

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Bartels delivers yet another unparalleled story about friendship, conflict, and healing.

On New Years Eve of 1989, the world is changing and possibilities seem endless.  But for Michael Sullivan, its just another reminder of how his life is turning out.  After being kicked out of his band and apartment, he ends up sharing a room in his uncle’s trailer across the road from a sprawling mansion of a talented music artist and producer.  His uncle shares his name and goes by Mike, so when Michael stumbles on an invitation to a New  Year’s Eve party at the mansion and his uncle on an extended road trip in Vegas, Michael decides to test fate and go see how the other half lives.  While at the party, he meets Natalie, daughter to the music legends who live in the mansion.  Through this chance encounter, he learns more about music, more about this family, and more about himself than he could ever bargain for.

I love that Erin Bartels usually releases her novels around the start of the year because she sets the bar for what I expect of the year!   Each book is so different from the rest that you can’t help but be pulled into each new story.  Michael and Natalie’s story is just so good that you’ll want to read it again and again.  Set in the suburbs of Detroit, Michigan in 1990 brings back so many memories of life and music during that time, I just loved it.

As with most of her novels, the emotion is raw and laid out bare for all readers to see.  It deals with some heavy things that people deal with today, not just 30 years ago.  It is so easy to connect with her characters and have them draw you into their story so that you feel more like a participant than an outsider.  This will easily be one of my favorite books of 2023!

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

The Fifth Daughter of Thorn Ranch

Author: Julia Brewer Daily

Publisher: Admission Press, Inc.

Release Date: November 1, 2022

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Unique story set amongst scenic South Texas.

Emma Rosales is the heir to her family’s ranch, The Thorn.  As owners of the largest ranch in Texas, each generation of Rosales produce only one child, a daughter who inherits and runs the ranch.  For five generations this pattern has continued, and Emma is next in line, but not sure she wants the life set out for her.  While obtaining her veterinarian’s degree at Texas A&M University, Emma begins to wonder what it would be like to settle down in a small town with her own vet practice, but she still returns home after graduation.  One day while riding out on the ranch, her favorite horse breaks his leg, and she must put him down and walk back to the ranch house.  But what she discovers along the way will not only prevent her return home but change everything she knew about the ranch she has spent her life on.

This book turned into nothing that I expected.  I was intrigued by the setting of Southwest Texas, which is near the area I live and have traveled through much of it, so I always enjoy books set close to home.  I’m not sure what I thought I would get into, but this was very different than what I thought it would be.  That said, I still enjoyed the story of Emma and how she went from heir apparent to captive amongst an almost primitive tribe.  The story was written very well and believable given the different story lines between Emma and her mother Josie.  I also enjoyed the switchover to Kai when Emma become sick and turned into a shell of herself.  The ending, while partly sad due to what is implied by Kai working on the ranch, was still an overly happy ending with two people that seemed destined to be together.

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

The Take-Over Friend

Author: Carol Dines

Publisher: Fitzroy Books

Release Date: September 27, 2022

Rating: 4 out of 5.

While I would not classify this as a young adult book, it did have value within the pages for younger readers amid the challenges of growing up and friendships.

Frances has had a hard time since her best friend moved away and has felt very isolated after starting high school.  On the second day of school, she meets Sonja, the opposite of Fran’s introverted self. Sonja integrates herself into Frances’s family immediately as the girls declare themselves best friends. When Sonja’s family has trouble, she moves in with Fran and the two have to quickly discover that their fast friendship is going to be put to the test.

This book has a lot of good points dealing with young friendships and how hard it can be growing up and making friends. I understand being an introvert and wanting to have friends and what it’s like when someone comes on strong with an overpowering personality. This was a good premise but read slowly, and for a YA book, or any book for that matter, that’s not necessarily positive. As I was reading, I wouldn’t classify this as a Young Adult book, for it to be that I feel like it needs to be writing a little differently to engage the young readers. This will appeal to an eclectic group of readers but not any average reader that pick it up for a quick read.

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

Greetings from Asbury Park

Author: Daniel H. Turtel

Publisher: Blackstone

Release Date: April 5, 2022

Rating: 4 out of 5.

A look into the lives of children of a dysfunctional father.

A man dies, but life must go on for those around him.  Such is the case for three half siblings in the small New Jersey boardwalk town of Asbury Park.  The legitimate son David, the illegitimate son Casey, and the maid’s daughter Gabrielle.  All three have their own lives to consider, but when their father dies, the three are suddenly thrown together to cope with the aftermath.  Casey has been living in the city for some time but returns to Asbury Park for the summer to help.  He barely gets by and doesn’t want to ask for money.  Although David gets the lion’s share of the inheritance, he does get $50,000 and a house in Asbury Park, which is where he discovers his father’s maid lives with her daughter, who ends up being his half-sister.  Casey and Gabrielle really hit it off while his brother David begins to drink himself to death and buys anyone a round who will sit with him.  As the summer ends, some decisions have to be made that will again affect all three lives.

This is a good read that follows the lives of David, Casey, and Gabrielle as they all deal uniquely with their father’s death.  The story centers largely around Casey but throws occasional glimpses of Gabrielle’s life in for some backstory.  There are also some stories from supporting characters that add some context and ramp up the tension and climax of the story.  There is quite a bit of self-destruction in this story and sibling tension (not so much rivalry) that will makes readers side with different characters for different reasons.  It’s not so much just a story to read, but one to resonate with.

There is some foul language throughout and some implied sex scenes that will make this book recommended for mature audiences.

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

All That Fills Us

Author: Autumn Lytle

Publisher: Revell

Release Date: May 3, 2022

Rating: 4 out of 5.

A story that is more of a journey about healing and how hard life can be but there are still good people in the world!

Mel Ellis has an eating disorder and knows full well that it is killing her. She has been trying to get a handle on it for years with no luck. Rehab is her next step, but she can’t bring herself to go. Instead, she decides to do something memorable, walk a trail across the North American Wilderness. There is no way she has the strength, physically or mentally, to make this journey but she sets out anyway and leaves Grand Rapids, Michigan to walk all the way to Mount Rainier National Park in Washington State. The trip is hard and several times she almost doesn’t make it, except for the help and kindness of strangers along the way. She learns from each of these strangers and confronts the ghosts of her pasts to live through the adventure she has set out on.

I want to start with the good about this book. This is a hard story with real issues. Eating disorders are a horrible thing to live through for all those involved. And it does take a lot of courage to come back from that. Autumn Lytle does a fantastic job of portraying this. Maybe too good of a job at times, especially for someone who has never lived through that or knows what it is like to be in that situation. With that said, I did find myself annoyed at moments with Mel and her over the top counting of calories and excessive workouts. I say this not to be offensive in any way but as someone who has never gone through this type of thing to understand how hard it is to deal with feeling this way. For someone going through this, I would imagine that this would be a fairly accurate portrayal of dealing with an eating disorder and how it makes you feel. By the back half of the book, I could see a growth in Mel as a character and the way the story unfolded leaves something for everyone to relate to. It is not just about Mel having an eating disorder, it is about her finding her self-worth and loving herself before she can let anyone else love her. To me, that is the overall point of the story and it is a beautiful one that we all need to hear. I would recommend this story to anyone who needs to find a way to let go of the hurt and find a way to love themselves with a reminder that there are really good people left in the world that will come along at just the right time to help us in our hour of need.

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

Shaped by the Waves

Author: Christina Suzann Nelson

Publisher: Bethany House

Release Date: February 1, 2022

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Nelson weaves yet another intricate story involving the lives of multiple women who need each other to move forward.

Cassie has always felt at home with the ocean while living in Gulls Bay, Oregon with her aunt Shasta.  Her mother was killed in a car accident when she was very young, and Shasta came and got her in Seattle and brought her home to Gulls Bay.  But when she finds herself with an unplanned pregnancy, she decides to move to California and pursue her studies in marine biology where no one knows who she is.  One day she receives a call that changes her life, Shasta has had a stroke and she has been suffering from Parkinson’s for the last five years.

Cassie loads up her daughter Lark and makes the drive back up to Oregon.  There she finds the same people she left behind that treat her as if she was never away.  She soon realizes that she is going to have to be Shasta’s primary caregiver and suffers a series of worries and doubts that she won’t be good enough or strong enough to provide for both her daughter and Shasta.  In the midst of everything, pieces of a manuscript begin to appear outside the apartment that begin to make Cassie question everything about her past, especially when she finds out that a baby with her name is buried in a cemetery in Seattle.  What’s true and what’s not?

Christina Suzann Nelson always manages to craft characters who are hurting, yet strong willed, and make them become a reader’s best friend while trying to help them work out their problems.  I have been a fan of many of her books and this is an excellent addition to the collection.  Cassie will be many things to many different people.  Some will find strength with her as she goes about her struggles.  Others will find a companion to share their burdens with.  Still others will understand the complications of her hesitancy to enter a relationship as a single parent of a young child.  One thing is for sure, she is one of my favorite characters so far this year.

To say this is a difficult, emotional read is not to be taken lightly.  As my parents are aging, I really haven’t put much thought into the future of having to become a caregiver and this book will really make you explore that.  Other readers will probably find this an outlet to agree with the burdens that they are facing.  This will be a great addition to any library. I received a complimentary copy of this title from the publisher.  The views and opinions expressed within are my own.

The Winter Rose

Author: Melanie Dobson

Publisher: Tyndale

Release Date: January 11, 2022

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Check out the Q&A with author Melanie Dobson!

What a great time-slip novel to kick off 2022!  A fantastic read for the new year!

Occupied France in 1943 is a dangerous place to be, but when smuggling out Jewish children into Spain, it becomes treacherous.  Grace Tonquin was born into Hollywood fame and fortune but wanted nothing to do with it nor her mother.  After a party goes awry, Grace is taken in by her grandparents, Quakers in Oregon.  She loves the Quaker lifestyle and originally goes to France in the 1930s to help Spanish refugee children during the Spanish civil war.  She never imagined that just a few short years later, she would be smuggling children back into Spain for safe harboring.  When it is no longer safe for her to return to France, Grace accompanies two children across the Atlantic to meet their uncle, who is later found out to be non-existent.  As their primary guardian, Grace takes them back to Oregon to shelter them from the trauma of war and the Holocaust.

Several decades later, Addie Hoult lives a life of reckless abandon until she is given the choice of jail time or a fresh start at a girl’s home in Tennessee.  Through this second chance, she turns her life around with the help of the home’s parent couple.  Now a widow with a baby on the way, Addie’s father figure Charlie Tonquin has a rare cancer that requires a bone marrow transplant from a relative.  Though Charlie has no interest in sharing his past history, Addie finds a photograph of a young Charlie at a lake in Oregon.  In an effort to save the man who essentially saved her life, Addie takes the plunge into uncovering what happened to Charlie’s family.

What a great time-slip novel to kick off 2022!  It doesn’t get much better than this!  Readers will love reading between time to discover the connection between the two stories and finally seeing the outcome so desired through the whole story.  With descriptive French scenery, both present day and war-torn Europe, as well as rural Portland, readers will be transported throughout out space and time.  Addie has tremendous character growth as a young woman, even from the start of the story.  Charlie too shows that characters can grow when they are nearing the end of their life span.  Multiple elements of faith, doubt, hurt, and love show up throughout the story.  A great read for the new year!

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

The Girl Who Could Breathe Underwater

Author: Erin Bartels

Publisher: Revell

Release Date: January 4, 2022

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Bartels brings difficult conversations to light coupled with raw emotion in her latest novel!

Kendra Brennan is an author whose debut novel made a huge splash on best seller lists.  She was celebrated, gave several talks and tours, and was given a contract for a second book.  Through all the fan mail, one letter caught her attention: a very disappointed reader who seems to know her personally.  With this personal disappointment weighing on her, Kendra returns to the lake that she spent summers at as a child, at her grandfather’s cabin, now her cabin after his passing.  The letter has been causing writer’s block and she can only hope that this will make the words flow again.  But returning to the lake is unearthing ghosts from her past.  The antagonist from her first book returns in the flesh and he isn’t easy to face in person.  Perhaps she can resurrect a failed friendship with his sister before it’s too late.

Erin Bartels has become one of those authors that I read every book she writes without even reading the synopsis or looking at the cover.  The stories are just that good and the tension and internal conflict her characters have intensifies with each story.  The Girl Who Can Breathe Underwater is no exception to either tension or conflict.  Told from Kendra’s point of view at current day as well as remembering her past, specifically her friendship with Cami, readers get a glimpse into what happened to make Kendra become the woman she is.  She has so much personal growth in this book as a character, that readers can’t help but connect with her and hope that she manages to sort out her life.

Fair warning, this book will be difficult for some readers.  There is a scene of non-consensual sex in a manner that unfortunately happens all too often.  Some readers may have experienced this before, and it may dredge up past memories and feelings that would rather be forgotten.  The same can be said for one of the characters using drugs and alcohol to weaken a woman’s resolve to stop things from happening.  It’s uncomfortable, but the way it is written is so realistic that as a reader I hope it will help others heal and see that it is not their fault when they read it as well! 

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

2021 Top Comtemporary

Every year we have a genre with so many good books that we simply can’t narrow it down to just five. And why should we? Each of these authors brings a unique voice to their craft that makes us simply blend into the story and forget about reality for a little while! Enjoy our top picks for 2021!

After She Falls by Carmen Schober

Our top pick follows a young mixed martial artist who trades love for her passion only to find herself trapped in an abusive marriage. Readers will see not only fighting in the octagon but fighting internal battles as well!

Read the full review.

All That We Carried by Erin Bartels

If you want a story with tension and conflict, this is the book for you! Two sisters with years of hurt and anger between them finally have a confrontation in the middle of the Michigan wilderness. The raw emotion as well as beautiful scenery will draw readers in for the long haul.

Read the full review!

No More Words by Kerry Lonsdale

This start of this new trilogy begins with what Lonsdale does best, bringing family drama out front and center. Readers will be jumping to the wrong conclusions throughout the pages only to be shocked by the revelation at the end!

Read the full review!

The World Played Chess by Robert Dugoni

Dugoni is no stranger is our suspense/thriller list, but every once in a while he brings out a book in a different genre that is just as good. He has a way of writing a story that goes deeper than most and characters that will pull you by the heartstrings.

Read the full review!

A Piece of the Moon by Chris Fabry

Fabry has a way of making readers feel a part of the story and this is no exception. The first chapter will have readers hooked and then tag along with the different groups hunting for treasure.

Read the full review!

Provenance by Carla Laureano

Who doesn’t love an unlikely romance discovered in a small town nestled in the Colorado Rockies? With loveable characters and some references to past novels, this is one of her best!

Read the full review!

Seven Perfect Things by Catherine Ryan Hyde

Every time we pick up a Catherine Ryan Hyde novel, I am reminded why she is one of out favorites. The way Hyde writes these stories pulls me in and has us turning the pages as if we’re reading a thriller. Seven Perfect Things is by far our favorite of her novels, it didn’t take more than two pages to pull us into the story and kept us hooked the whole way through.

Read the full review!

The Letter Keeper by Charles Martin

Martin’s writing is like none other. All his stories are just feel good type stores, but the Murphy Shepherd series has such action and suspense packed in, it’s almost difficult to keep it tied to one genre. This is his best series so far and we can’t wait to see what comes next!

Read the full review!

Mona Passage by Thomas Bardenwerper

Another story laced with internal conflict. Plus it’s set in Puerto Rico, which is a past roaming ground, so it was fun to see the accuracy of the island throughout the pages!

Read the full review!

Facing the Dawn by Cynthia Ruchti

A story full of heart, faith, strength, and a longing to survive even during the hardest of circumstances.

Read the full review!

Boy Underground

Author: Catherine Ryan Hyde

Publisher: Lake Union Publishing

Release Date: December 7, 2021

Rating: 4 out of 5.

A very different tale of war, love and what it means to be wanted by someone and feel the love you have been deprived of for years.

Steven Katz grew up in 1941 as the son of a landowner in California. He doesn’t realize it at the time, but he is very different than others he hangs out with. His parents don’t approve of his new friends Nick, Suki, and Ollie who are sons of field workers in town. About the time he starts to hang out with them, Steven realizes that his feelings for Nick are more than just friendship. After Pearl Harbor is bombed and the US enters the war, Suki and his family are forced into an Internment camp, Ollie leaves to enlist in the war and Nick goes into hiding after he is falsely accused of a crime actually committed by his father. Steven hides Nick and spends his time trying to take care of the boy he is falling in love with. When Nick leaves, Steven tries to find him and ends up finding more than he bargained for about life, love and what it means to be happy.

This isn’t the normal book I would pick up and read but I have been a fan of Catherine Ryan Hyde for a long time and honestly didn’t know what it was about before starting it. The story was written really well, just like all of hers are. Even though the subject matter isn’t what I agree with and doesn’t follow my views, I enjoyed the story and the way it was written. Even though this is a story about a boy finding love in an unconventional way, especially at this time, it is really more about how he finds himself and learns to move beyond his family and how they have treated him over the course of his life. Steven learns how to be his own person and help others, even if it isn’t what his parents would approve of. He knows in his heart he is doing the right thing and he sticks with it, that is what made him a great character in my eyes. Catherine Ryan Hyde has a way of crafting stories and characters in a way that others just can’t do,;she makes these stories relatable in one way or another for everyone who reads them and wants to walk away from the story feeling changed, even if what the character feels and believes doesn’t match up with the readers beliefs.

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