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.

All Manner of Things

all manner of thingsAuthor: Susie Finkbeiner

Publisher: Revell

Release Date: June 4, 2019

Rating: 5 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

A beautifully written masterpiece about a broken family learning to heal.

When Annie Jacobson’s father returned from the Korean War, he was the shell of the man that he was before he left.  His depression finally got to the point that he decided that his family would be better off if he left them.  So, he did.  Twelve years later, Annie is now out of high school working at the town diner.  Her younger brother, Joel, is fourteen and moving into 8th grade.  Her older brother Mike also works at the diner and has just told her he plans to enlist in the army.  His draft number will be coming up anyway, so may as well have some say in where he gets placed.  Her mother has been working ever since her father left to provide some semblance of home for them.   They’ve had their share of trials but have always managed together.

After Mike leaves for basic training, a family tragedy occurs, and Annie’s dad returns home after twelve years.  There is plenty of tension among the family members, but they will have to find away to work together.  As Mike corresponds through letters with each member of the family, the need for them to stay together becomes more apparent and they must work through twelve years of hurt, despair, and love.

I absolutely love this book!  I love that it is a snapshot into a family during this time and what each family member was going through.  I can only imagine that even though they didn’t feel like a normal family, several families were facing the same situations that were presented throughout this book.  I love that the family had to work out their issues with one another and learn to lean on each other.  Told from Annie’s point of view, she is a very strong character that can be overcome at times.  Several people lean on her for support and she finally meets someone that she can lean on when she needs it most.

Throughout this book, I become nostalgic for simpler times when there were no electronic gadgets that took time away from families.  This family really connected.  There were times that they were sitting on the front porch talking about the issues going on in the world that day.  Finkbeiner did a great job of making me feel like I was in the time period by dropping in major events that happened and referencing different television shows of the time.  I didn’t live during the Vietnam war, but I remember growing up in the 1980s and 1990s and having those type of moments with my family.

One of my favorite aspects of the book may have been all the literary Easter egg references.  From Travels with Charley by Steinbeck to A Wrinkle in Time, there were several of my favorite books mentioned.  I love it when an author throws in little tidbits like that to make me enjoy the book even more.

Fair warning, this book may make you emotional.  There are some very sad moments that occur that may leave some readers feeling depressed.  Even so, it is well worth picking up a copy of this book.  It is a clean read that will be sure to remain on reader’s personal bookshelves for years to come!

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

No Place Like Here

No Place like Here

Author: Christina June

Publisher: Blink YA Books

Release Date: May 21, 2019

Rating: 5 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

An absolutely beautifully written coming of age story that will leave readers smiling long after turning the last page.

 After a year away at boarding school, Ashlyn Zanotti feels she has deserved a second chance to come home for her senior year of high school. As she prepares to head home and ask her parents for her second chance, she gets the news that her father is being sent to prison for tax evasion and her mother is going to rehab for exhaustion. With no one at home, Ashlyn is sent away to work with her cousin at a team building retreat center. Dreading the summer but knowing she has no other choice, Ashlyn decides to make the best of the situation which turns out to be more than she ever imagined. The center’s new manager is disorganized and makes more than her fair share of mistakes leaving Ashlyn with the difficult decision of staying quiet or standing up for what she knows is right.

 This book is the very thing that should be in all school libraries and recommended to young readers. I loved the way the story played out and the characters evolved. Ashlyn shows so much growth as a person having to deal with incredibly tough issues not only at her new job but with her family as well. Spending time with a cousin she barely knows is awkward enough but having others at camp find out about her father makes things even more difficult. Being a teenager at camp there brings about opportunities for a summer romance.  These moments played out both realistically and sweet. All of the relationships made sense, not once was I questioning why a character was acting a certain way, they all played their parts exactly as I felt they should. I disliked Deb, as was intended, she didn’t technically have a lot of page time but what she did have was memorable. June has a way of writing these characters that have no other choice but to get the readers hooked and become deeply emotionally involved with the outcome of each of the characters. I recommend this book to young readers looking for a good story to relate to and feel like they might be at summer camp with learning the life lessons along beside them. I also recommend this to adults that might need an insight into the emotions of the younger kids in their lives.

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

Brief Chronicle of Another Stupid Heartbreak

Brief chronicle

Author: Adi Alsaid

Publisher: Inkyard Press

Release Date: April 30, 2019

Rating: 4 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

A story of young love and the heartache that comes along with life lessons of moving on and finding a brighter side to a rough time growing up.

 With high school over and the summer ahead, Lu Charles wants it to be the best summer ever.  Unfortunately, life has other plan when her boyfriend dumps her causing her to have serious writers block for her relationship column. If she doesn’t get past her block and find material for her column at the online magazine Misnomer, she will lose her scholarship for college.  Her best friend thinks she should use the pain of her breakup to fuel her writing, but the emotion is too raw to write about. As she is sulking, she overhears a couple in the park planning to break up before leaving for college. She thinks they could be just the material she needs to write about and get her out of her block.

 This was a fun little book that probably could have been slightly condensed. The angst that Lu felt just didn’t resonate well with me. Her dilemma and heartbreak were real but the way she handled the situation wasn’t the best. The few sections with her writing from her column didn’t interest me, which I felt should have been one of the most interesting parts. However, I did enjoy the relationship dynamic between her and Pete; I wish this part would have been played out much more to enhance the story. I also would have liked to have seen a little more dialogue throughout the story, the sections with dialogue did move quickly and kept me engaged. The story itself was a cute idea and is one I think will resonate with certain readers, if you are not a young adult fan or fan of heartbreak books, this will not be the one for you. I do feel that fans of Sex and the City and the Carrie Bradshaw types will enjoy this read and find the humor in it to be just right.

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

Pretty in Punxsutawney

Pretty in Punxsatawney_RD3Author: Laurie Boyle Crompton

Publisher: Blink YA Books

Release Date: January 15, 2019

Rating: 5 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

A great coming of age story that shows how important it is to not judge a book by its cover and find what’s beneath the surface.

Andie loves movies more than most anybody she knows. When she moves to Punxsutawney with her family right before the start of her senior year in high school, she gets caught in her very own version of Groundhog Day. Being the new kid in school is hard enough but having to live the first day at a new school over and over again is even worse. Andie gets stuck in a time loop reliving the first day of school with only her realizing the day is repeating. After watching Pretty in Pink and other classic teen romances, she becomes convinced she needs to meet her true love and get a kiss to break the curse. Each day she tries to infiltrate a new clique and finds the best in each of them she never would have seen or known otherwise. With each passing day, she learns more about her new friends but also loses hope she will end the time loop and be able to continue with her life.

Confession time, I have seen neither of the main movies it talks about here: Groundhog Day or Pretty in Pink. Even so, I knew what the stories are about and was able follow along without a problem. This was a very cute story that has a lot of heart to it. I loved the way Andie used each new day as a way to learn something and bring all that together in the end to help solve her problem instead of getting discouraged to the point she gave up altogether.  Even though I found certain parts of it predictable, it didn’t take away from making me want to keep turning the pages to find out what was going to happen. Andie’s relationship with her parents played out well, the more she continued in the time loop the more worried they became with her behavior and with good reason. I enjoyed the fact that this is a YA read that is clean and not anything I would have concern letting my children read. I recommend this book to young readers that want a fun romance with heart, and maybe even older readers looking for a little nostalgia.

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

 

The Forgotten Hours

Forgotten hours

Author: Katrin Schumann

Publisher: Lake Union Press

Release Date: February 1, 2019

Rating: 3.5 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

Emotional, intense, and thought provoking.

 When Katie Gregory’s father was imprisoned for the statutory rape of her best friend, she never believed it to be true.  Her life fell apart and she had to change her name to get away from all the reporters and other people snooping around in her family’s life.  Now at the ripe age of twenty-four, she has a great job in Manhattan and finally a stable romantic relationship with an artist.  Her mother divorced her father and remarried, and her younger brother has had no interest in keeping in touch with their father or anyone else in the family for that matter.  Katie has always sought her father’s approval, even now that he is locked away.

 But the time for his sentence has almost been served and he is about to be released.  As Katie is the only one he has been talking to, he asks her to head back to the lake cabin to get it ready for him to stay at.  The same cabin where everything fell apart.  Going back to this place is the last thing Katie wants to do as it starts to dredge up memories that she would rather keep locked away.  As these memories start to climb back to the surface, Katie’s curiosity gets the best of her and she starts digging around to find out more information about the trial and the events.  But what she finds may change how she views the man whose approval she always needed.

 This book had a lot of promise, but it took a long time for it to deliver.  The story line was good and Katie played out her character’s insecurities as expected, but it just didn’t move along very quickly.  Katie was a fragile person, even though she had been moving on with her life after her father was taken away.  She was also very naïve, but is it really that surprising given what she went through?  It just goes to show that one random comment made in public can bring about a firestorm.

 The book jumps around between past and present quite a bit, with no indication that the reader was just transported back in time.  The reader then has to figure out when in the past this was.  It doesn’t always move chronologically, so it may be a memory from one of the summers that Katie and Lulu were together, to the first summer that they met, to the last summer they were together.  It got a little confusing and took away from the story to continually figure out how each scene tied into the overall plot.

 There is quite a bit of harsh language throughout the book as well as implied sex scenes including graphic description of statutory rape.  I recommended this book for mature readers.

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

One Day in December

One Day in DecemberAuthor: Josie Silver

Publisher: Broadway Books

Release Date: October 16, 2018

Rating: 4 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

What happens when you see the one, but can’t meet them?

All it took was a moment in her mundane little life. Laurie was sitting on a bus on her way to her flat from work during Christmas when she saw him sitting at the bus stop.  They’re eyes met and they both knew in an instant that it was a connection meant to be.  They would spend eternity together just like you read in the books and see in the movies.  As he made his move to get on the bus and come to her, the doors locked and the bus drove away.  No names.  No number.  No way to see each other again.  Her flat mate, Sarah, tries to cheer her up and begins to fix her up with other dates, but she has elevated the nameless man to a place where no other man can touch him.  Then one day Sarah wants her to meet her new boyfriend, Jack.  As luck would have it, it’s him, the man from the bus stop.  Sarah is like a sister to her and Laurie knows she would never jeopardize their relationship, not even for Jack.  What ensues is a story about changes in life, romance, and circumstances that affect all because of one day in December.

I honestly did not expect this book to be as good as it was. I thought it was going to be a girl finds love with best friend’s guy and in the end it all works out.  However, this was more of a raw look at life and what circumstances can do and how it touches several lives, not just two or three.  There were so many different tangent lines that it was fun to watch them all connect in the future.  Through it all were Laurie and Jack, even when they were with different people. Silver did a great job of keeping those two characters at the center and really letting the reader see who they were and fleshing them out.  This isn’t your average holiday romance.  In fact, I’m pretty sure there might be a movie about this in the future that will be an exciting movie.

There is quite a bit of harsh language throughout the book as well as some sexual content that will be better suited for mature audiences. If you like holiday romances, this is for you.

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

The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell

sam hellAuthor: Robert Dugoni

Publisher: Lake Union

Release Date: April 24, 2018

Rating: 5 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

To call this book extraordinary won’t do it justice! Dugoni has written a coming of age story with some of the best character development I have ever read.

Sam Hill started life different than everyone else. He was born with red pupils and ended up with the nicknames, “Devil boy” or “Sam Hell”.  His mother didn’t want him to believe the derogatory things said about him. She told him that God had a plan for his life and to have faith in God’s will.  Nothing she said did any good to comfort Sam, but he kept his head high with the help of his mother’s faith, father’s guidance, and his two best friends.  Growing up in the time he did, it was hard to have red eyes, but it was even harder to have dark skin, which is what made Sam gravitate towards the new kid in school, Ernie Cantwell.  Ernie was the only African American kid in Sam’s class and needed a friend as bad as Sam did.  Mickie Kennedy rounded out their group and she was a force to be reckoned with.  As Sam grows into adulthood, he questions if everything is by a plan or not.  Sam looks back on the life he has lived and takes a journey through the past and around the world to figure his world out for himself.  By the time he finishes his journey, his eyes are truly open to what matters most.

Robert Dugoni is by far one of the best authors I know. His writing is one that will transport you into the story and have you walking hand in hand with the characters.  His Tracy Crosswhite series is one of my favorite series to date and The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell is going to be right up there with some of my all time favorites, but for very different reasons.  Usually my favorite reads are the suspense thrillers, page-turners that keep you guessing about what is going to happen until the very end.  With this book, it was more of an immersion into the characters unlike any other I have ever read. The character development throughout this story is better than any I have ever read.  Each character brings the story to life in their own special way.  Sam has so many challenges but it is nothing he can’t handle.  And having to face those challenges helps mold him into the kind of man he needs to be to help others, a lesson we can all learn from.  Dugoni is well known for his suspense thrillers and legal thrillers so I wasn’t sure how this new venture would turn out for him but am pleased to say this will easily make my list of best of the year reads.  I recommend this book to all readers, especially those looking for a story with heart and a lesson for all to learn.

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

Under a Cloudless Sky

Under a Cloudless SkyAuthor: Chris Fabry

Publisher: Tyndale

Release Date: January 9, 2018

Rating: 5 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

A remarkable story bringing past and present events that collide that can only be reconciled with forgiveness.

In 1933, the mining town of Beulah Mountain, West Virginia has it shares of ups and downs. The mine owners have the ups and the workers have the downs.  But not all owners are unfair.  Jacob Handley agreed to be a financial backer of the mine if he could put measures in place that would make it more fair for the workers, including housing, food and supplies from a company store, etc.  However, other members felt that increasing the bottom line was the primary goal by whatever means necessary.  Even so, a friendship between Handley’s daughter, Ruby, and one of the mine workers daughters named Bean struck up and became inseparable.  Through Bean’s mama and their church, Ruby became saved and was baptized.  They were inseparable, until an unfortunate series of events set a massacre in place that would change their lives forever.

Several decades later in 2004, Hollis Beasley is trying to prevent the land in Beulah Mountain from being bought out by Coalman Coal and Energy. Unfortunately, the company has deep pockets with roots in the tax appraisal office that is making it impossible for the land owners to pay taxes on their land, forcing many to sell.  Ruby Handley Freedman now lives in Kentucky and is fighting her children to keep her independence.  Having not been back to Beulah Mountain since the massacre, the town has changed and the historical society has refurbished her old childhood home above the company store as a museum.  Feeling the need to return for forgiveness as well as to prove to her children that she can still take care of herself, Ruby takes off with no notice to head to Beulah Mountain.  This decisions starts a series of events that will change everyone’s lives in Beulah Mountain just as the day she left.

I have never been disappointed in a book by Chris Fabry, so it comes as no surprise that I quickly devoured this one as well. With a resounding theme of forgiveness throughout the book, Fabry weaves a tragic story planted with a seed of hope.  I was so caught up in both stories that I couldn’t pick which one I wanted to follow more.  Fabry also did a great job taking me back to 2004 with the reference to Switchfoot as well as a few other tidbits such as internet browsers of the past.  You don’t realize how much your forget until you’re confronted with it again.  And yes, Meant to Live is still playing in my head now much like it did then.

Ruby’s story was humorous, suspenseful, and downright terrifying at times. To hear about the poor treatment of people at any time in history (or present) is never an enjoyable experience.  However, we must learn what happened or we are doomed to repeat it.  I also liked that he showed how people prefer to sugarcoat the bad and focus on the good.  By understanding this, we can look past the surface and see the hurt that people are facing.

I always enjoy books that allow me to have a bit of a prediction and this one was no exception. I’m happy to say that my prediction of the story came true.  However, there was a twist that also happened as part of the prediction, which made it even better.  Be sure to pick up a copy of this great new book for 2018.  You’ll be glad you did.

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

Bridges

BridgesAuthor: Maria Murnane

Series: Daphne White #2

Publisher: Wink’s Link

Release Date: April 4, 2017

Rating: 4 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

The three musketeers are back with some shocking surprises that may throw readers for a loop!

Daphne has taken control of her life and is using her journalism background to write a novel based on the trip she and her two friends took to the Caribbean. It’s a great book, but all the agents she has sent it off to don’t feel it is within their representation area.  Then on a surprise video chat, Skylar drops a bombshell, she is getting married!  The upcoming 4th or July weekend brings the three of them back together for a bachelorette party.  However, there are more surprises in the work from both KC and Skylar.  Just because they look like they’ve got it together, doesn’t mean they don’t have problems.

I’m so happy that I read the first book in this series because a lot of it builds off what happened there. And it’s always good to come back to loveable characters when you start a new book.  It’s like getting back together with old friends.  That was the case in this book, I was just one of the musketeers along for the ride.  Daphne is back in her insecure mode after she sees how Skylar actually lives.  And it gets the best of her a couple of times.  This book really goes deeper into the problems that Skylar and KC have and brings everyone to a common level more than the first book.  There were definitely a couple of shockers that the author dropped in, but that’s what makes it fun.  You will enjoy this one, I guarantee it.

There is some mild language and some implied sex, but nothing graphic. I recommend this book to those who love a good coming of older age story.

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