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.

The Essence of Nathan Biddle

Author: J. William Lewis

Publisher: Greenleaf Book Group Press

Release Date; June 1, 2021

Rating: 3 out of 5.

To be trapped in the mind of a confuse

Kit Biddle has been struggling with several things over the last year and it seems that it’s all coming to a head.  He attends a local academy that he has thrived at, but over the last few months his grades have started to drop.  He was a star in athletics and could run faster than anyone, but he just doesn’t care about practicing or participating for that matter.  His girlfriend (perfect in his own mind) feels that she can’t be committed to anyone and needs to play the field before she settles down.  His best friend, usually always good to cheer him up, feels Kit is acting too depressed to deal with.  The bulk of this depression may stem from an act that his uncle committed against his cousin Nathan claiming to be orders from God himself.

Being stuck with Kit as the protagonist made this book rather depressing to read.  As the reader, you see what is going on around him, but he just can’t see it for himself and it got quite infuriating at times.  Plus, being set in the late 1950s, did high school kids really read that much classical literature that would cause them to talk the way they did?  Maybe at this academy they do, but it seemed like something out of a Shakespeare story that was within a Shakespeare story, if you know what I mean.  I did enjoy once Kit started working through everything and seeing things more in the light, which was the point of the story.  I also thought the reference to Don Quixote were very well timed.

There is some occasional language throughout plus two moderately detailed sex scenes in the book.  I recommend this book for mature audiences.

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

Crave

Author: Tracy Wolff

Series: Crave #1

Publisher: Entangled Teen Publishing

Release Date: April 7, 2020

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Fans of Twilight will not want to miss this series that is fun, engrossing, and a swoon worthy read. Like Twilight but oh so different and oh so fun to read.

Grace’s world turned upside down when her parents died and she is sent to live with her only other family in Alaska, a complete opposite environment from her home in California. When she steps foot inside the academy where her uncle is headmaster of the boarding school, she feels as lost as Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz. The place is filled with monsters of all kind and the one thing they have in common is their hatred for her. Upon her arrival, Jaxon Vega gives her a warning that if she won’t leave, she better watch her back. It doesn’t take long though for him to follow her every move and vow to do all he can to protect her.

There are several aspects of this series that have totally hooked me. I was a huge fan of Twilight when it came out and looking back now, I can say it isn’t the best writing, but the story is engaging and the characters pull you in. Same thing can be said for Crave, the story is very intriguing, and I love the references to Twilight. Wolff doesn’t just play it off like no one here has ever heard of the series, instead she very cleverly adds nods to the other famous YA Vampire series.

Grace comes into the scene with lots of baggage and trying to figure out how to move on with her life with her parents gone. The last thing she expects to find is all the fantastical things the academy holds within. The way it leads up to revealing who and what all is around her is done beautifully. The story slowly unfolds but at just the right speed to keep the reader’s attention. There is a lot to unpack here and one of the best aspects of the story is the ending with the three chapters from Jaxon’s point of view. This gave so much more to the story than having to only rely on the single point of view, but it also was a tease with only three chapters of the story done this way.  Readers are left with a perfect cliffhanger ending that left me thirsty for more,

I am really happy I already have book two in hand and can start it right away and don’t have to wait for it come out, that would be torture. My only problem with the book is all the harsh language, especially with a target audience of teens and young adults I have a hard time with seeing some of those words. The story itself is good enough that I can overlook most of that and recommend to those that loved Twilight and enjoy a great read full of characters of all kinds.

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

‘Til I Want No More

Author: Robin W. Pearson

Publisher: Tyndale

Release Date: February 2, 2021

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Great character development coupled with finding your self-worth makes this a must read for 2021!

Maxine has had her ups and downs in life, but she finally thinks that she has things in order.  She writes a column for a faith publication and is engaged to a young headmaster that oversees a local school.  Things seem to be going in the right direction.  But when they begin their year of premarital classes, things from Maxine’s past she has tried to put behind her begin to work their way back.  When the man that she fell in love with back in high school returns to town, even more skeletons emerge from the closet.  She’s trying to convince everyone that she is fine, but no one close to her believes it.  As they move closer to the wedding date, Maxine realizes that the secrets that she has been holding from everyone have to become known, which could alter her future.  She must look and learn what it means to be truly known and loved by the one who wonderfully and fearfully made her.

To put this book in context, it is geared toward Maxine’s character development, which puts it at a little bit slower pace than reading for action or suspense.  The focus is on her life and what she has gone through to get where she is and how she is not quite where she really needs to be with herself or with God.  I love that Pearson used some of the same characters from her previous book to help Maxine in her progression.  It’s always fun when a reader gets to visit characters from a previous novel to see how they are moving in their journey as well, almost like catching up with an old friend.  It’s very easy to form an emotional connection with Maxine and even get pulled down when she finds herself in despair.  As a reader, you just want the truth to come out for her so that she can finally begin to heal and stop spiraling downward.  This book just goes to show that even people who appear like they have it all together can be just a depressed as anyone else.

I’m not going to give anything away in this book, but just when you think you have something figured out about Maxine, the truth comes out and it throws you for a loop.  This happened multiple times.  I also liked the twist at the end that showed the one person she tried to keep in the dark already knew and that was causing more of a strain than anything else.  Great story to kick off the new year! I received a complimentary copy of this title from the publisher.  The views and opinions expressed within are my own.