Pudge and Prejudice

Author: A. K. Pittman

Publisher: Tyndale

Release Date: January 12, 2021

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Set in fictitious Northfield, Texas during 1984, this story takes readers on a journey similar to Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice!

Elyse Nebbitt and her family have just moved to Northfield, Texas and she is faced with finding her place in a new school. Elyse has always had trouble fitting in, being overweight hasn’t helped either. Her beautiful older sister Jayne quickly fits in and starts dating Charlie Bingley, one of the stars of the football team.  While Elyse can’t help but being attracted to Charlie’s best friend, Billy Fitz, Elyse is too insecure in her own body to believe anything could develop in that relationship.  Her new friend, Lottie, helps Elyse to accept herself for who she is and what she can become.

Pudge and Prejudice was just a fun read. I enjoyed the way the characters were laid out with different personalities. There is someone in this book for everyone to relate to in one way or the other. Pudge is bigger, a little insecure at times, but overall a fun character to read about. The rest of her family and friends she meets in her new town make for a well-rounded cast of characters that will leave readers smiling and nodding their heads at the different antics they get into. Her sisters are very different than her in size and attitude at times and the romance aspects of the book progress at a rate that is very relatable for teen angst and drama, although I will say that the end relationships did make me wonder if it was something that would really happen or just playing out well for the sake of the story.

Charlie and Billy are brought into the story to meet the girls by helping the family move in and one thing leads to another as our story progresses. The pace of the story was perfect for teens and anyone wanting a quick read that doesn’t require a lot of deep thought. Overall, this was a fun enjoyable read that I recommend to young readers, probably more suited for girls than boys, but the sports aspect of the story would appeal to male readers.

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

Check out our Q & A with the author!

All That We Carried

Author: Erin Bartels

Publisher: Revell

Release Date: January 5, 2021

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Tension coupled with redemption makes this a stellar tale!

It’s been ten years since Olivia and Melanie’s parents died in a car accident while they were away on a hiking trip.  Ten years since the sisters have really spoken to each other.  With reconciliation on her mind, Melanie asks her sister to join her on a hiking trip in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.  Olivia reluctantly agrees but does so on her terms; she picks the place and plans out the whole adventure.  While on the trail, the sisters face uncertainty, accidents, and disasters, which forces them to evaluate their lives, choices, and beliefs.

From the onset of the book, Olivia and Melanie could not be more polar opposite.  Olivia is a prosecutor that is a driven, goal-oriented, planner who has mapped out her life for any possible contingency that could occur.  Melanie is a free-spirited life coach with a YouTube following that believes the good in every belief system while trying to shut out the bad.  Needless to say, tension starts on the first page and doesn’t slow down until the epilogue.  These two women face all sorts of challenges in the wilderness that force them to rely on each other.  I love that both had to reflect on their view of spirituality to truly discover the truth about themselves and each other.  There are some twist and turns that will take readers for quite a bit of a ride, but those with siblings will likely find they have had some of the same arguments.

Bartels description of the beauty of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and that of Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore and Porcupine Mountains State Park easily drew me in.  I’ve not been to Michigan, but I’ve read a lot of stories set there and until now have really not had a desire to go.  The descriptions of waterfalls and that of Lake Superior made me research the park while I was reading the book and have now added it to my bucket list!  The pictures were so beautiful, and I never would have known about it!

I recommend this book to readers who enjoy a great story and like to see relationships restored!

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

2020 Top Contemporary Fiction

With Christmas in our review mirror, we are turning our attention to the start of a new year. Reflecting on this past year brought several great titles in contemporary fiction. It’s so hard to limit these our favorites, but here are our top recommendations!

Solid Ground Coffee Company by Carla Laureano

We’re not sure if it was the fact that we could smell the coffee beans roasting throughout this book, the mountain climbing adventure, or the sizzling romance that couldn’t be ignored between the two main characters. Whatever the reason, it found its way to the top of the list!

Read the full review.

The Water Keeper by Charles Martin

Martin’s tales are just plain great! If you’ve never read one, you need to pick up one today. This particular story does have a tie in with one of his previous novels that makes it even better when you’ve read both, but don’t let that stop you from picking up this book today. You’ll have action, adventure, and healing!

Read the full review.

Side Trip by Kerry Lonsdale

What happens on the road, stays on the road. And if you take a side trip, both parties have to agree! That’s the message in this insanely good, yet messy romance that occurs when two strangers inadvertently meet at a diner in California and agree to spontaneous road trip together following historic Route 66 to Chicago!

Read the full review.

Promised Land by Robert Whitlow

We couldn’t wait to get our hands on this sequel and we were not disappointed. The continuation of Hana and Daud’s journey was nourishment to our souls. Hana has become one of our favorite characters out of any book read. We only hope to see a future book!

Read the full review.

Brave Girl, Quiet Girl by Catherine Ryan Hyde

Each time we pick up a new Catherine Ryan Hyde story, we find ourselves amazed at how wonderfully she can write a novel. It doesn’t matter what the story is about, we are pulled in and fly through the pages each time. Each new book by Hyde explores themes that are relevant to today’s world and this is no exception, we see the problem of acceptance, love, homelessness and LGBTQ issues. There is nothing that gets graphic or too heavy into these topics, but it does bring to light problems that can be glossed over and easy to ignore.

Read the full review.

Fragments of Light

Author: Michele Phoenix

Publisher: Thomas Nelson

Release Date: July 14, 2020

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

This story will hit so many women with words that need to be heard.

Cancer can take more than your body; it can take your spirit.  Ceelie understands that more than most.  After undergoing a double mastectomy, chemotherapy treatment, and reconstructive survey, the day she is finally free of everything turns out to be worse than the initial diagnosis.  Her husband wants out.  He’s finished.  This devastates Ceelie even worse than the cancer itself.  The man who vowed to be by her side through sickness and health decides she isn’t worth it anymore.  Shortly after this, her one friend and fellow cancer survivor, Darlene, finds out that her cancer has returned with a vengeance and after going through this twice, she is content to live out her days.  But before she goes, she has a request of Ceelie.  She wants her to help track down whatever happened to her father.  He returned home from D-Day and only stayed a few weeks with her mom and her before he left them with no explanation.  Darlene has harbored bitterness toward him her whole life but when some letters resurfaced, she decides she wants to know what really happened.  Will Ceelie be able to help her find out before it’s too late?

This was a powerful read, as Michele Phoenix books tend to be.  The raw emotion over the surgery and recovery could only be painted by someone who had experienced this herself.  All that pain was poured into Ceelie’s character and each reader could feel it alongside her.  There are definitely some dark moments throughout the book, but as the title states, fragments of light make their way through the darkness.  I loved Darlene’s character.  She was so spunky and energetic for a woman in her 70s that I hope to be her at that age, always encouraging others and living life to her fullest.  I also enjoyed the time slip aspect of this story set during Normandy on D-Day and what happened to change the life of Darlene’s father forever.  It takes all the way to the end to find out the truth, and when it comes, it is understandable but so sad at the same time.  I hope that readers find enjoyment and enlightenment through this book.

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

Still the One

Authors: Susan May Warren & Rachel D. Russell

Publisher: Sunrise Publishing

Release Date: January 12, 2021

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

Readers of Susan May Warren’s Deep Haven Series will not want to miss this new edition set in Deep Haven written with Rachel Russell that will give you all the feels! 

When Cole Barrett returns to Deep Haven to deal with selling his grandfather’s house after he is sent to a nursing home with dementia, he only wants to get the house sold and leave. His memories of his grandfather and time in Deep Haven are not the best. The only good memory of his time there was a friend, Megan Carter. When he had to leave quickly as a teenager, he never even got to say goodbye to her and in the years that passed as he entered the army and served, he never forgot the kindness she showed him.

Megan is barely keeping her head above water. She and her nine-year-old son, Josh, live in the apartment above Cole’s grandfather’s garage and she works as a wedding planner to support her son by herself. His father has never been in the picture and since the rest of her family moved away, it has just been the two of them. When Cole shows back up in town trying to sell the house, she is furious that he left without saying goodbye, never kept in touch and is now trying to ruin her life by making her find another place to live. It doesn’t take long for sparks to fly between the two of them, something neither are ready for. Will they be able to work out their differences and find some common ground or end up at each other’s throats?

Let me start off by making a confession. Before reading Still the One, I had not read any of the Deep Haven novels. I have read many other novels by Susan May Warren and was well assured that I would enjoy this one. I was curious how a new author would compare to Warren’s style. Having said that, I am pleased to say I thoroughly enjoyed this story, Rachel Russell did a fantastic job of bringing these characters to light, making me have an immediate connection to them and letting the story progress at a perfect pace. With contemporary romance, if you read much in this genre, you know what you are going to get when you start the story, how it plays out depends on the skill of the author. I have come to expect a lot from the writing of Susan May Warren and loved the idea of her guiding a new author down this path. Even though I had yet to read any other novels in the Deep Haven series, I had no trouble following this one and enjoying the story. Cole and Megan had such a wonderful story and the way they had to intertwine their relationship with her son Josh being in the picture made me connect and root for them so much more. They are flawed, real, and emotional characters that made it more enjoyable for me, things didn’t work out picture perfect and nothing was rushed. This is one I highly recommend to readers that have loved the Deep Haven series and those new to it but are fans of Warren and Contemporary Romance writing.

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

The Sowing Season

Author: Katie Powner

Publisher: Bethany House

Release Date: October 6, 2020

Rating: 5 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

A delightful read that teaches readers about the need to slow down and care about others around them.

Gerrit Laninga has finally decided to sell his family’s farm.  At sixty-three, he has put in almost all his years on the farm, sacrificing his family and health along the way.  He carries the weight of his failures on his shoulders including the death of his brother, his estranged relationship with his wife and children, and now the farm.  Once he got home from signing the papers, he found his wife with a suitcase ready to leave in case he backed out of the deal and chose the farm again.  Can he begin to make amends in his retirement?

Rae Walters has grown up according to The Plan.  She will gain enough volunteer hours, get a part time job, make National Honor Society, become the society president, set the three-point shooting record for basketball in her high school, get accepted to Columbia University, and then attend Columbia Law.  But at fifteen years old, The Plan is starting to put a little bit of pressure on Rae as she begins drivers ed.  She has always found solitude in an old barn, but when she is discovered, she meets a bitter old man.  Is it possible that they could help each other?

This is the first book that I’ve read by Katie Powner, but I really connected with both main characters.  Gerritt’s transformation was just fun to watch.  I love how Hannie’s corgi, Daisy, decided to become his dog and how they became an inseparable pair, even when he acted like he didn’t want Daisy around.  It took a long time for him to finally realize what he needed to do, but he finally found grace.  Rae was your typical overachiever teenager.  She was confident on the outside, but wildly insecure on the inside.  She was scared to think of anything outside of The Plan because that is all she knew.  I’m glad to see that she was able to overcome that fear as well.

I feel like there is much more of this story to be told.  This is just a snippet into their lives, and I would love to find out what happens to them both in the future.  I recommend this to people who just need a good read this year!

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

Until I Met You

Author: Tari Faris

Series: Restoring Heritage #2

Publisher: Revell

Release Date: September 8, 2020

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

As the town square is restored, more relationships are restored between members of the town.

Libby Kingsley decides to take the job of the town librarian in Heritage, Michigan, the town her brother Luke has settled in.  Luke had been kidnapped from their family for many years and was just reunited with them.  Libby has also had her share of tragedy after the bookstore that she worked at in England was robbed by her boyfriend and she was held at knifepoint for cash and a first edition of Moby Dick.  Three years later, she decides to not let her fear control her life anymore and branch out.  When she realizes that the library is in the basement of the town hall, she tried to find a suitable replacement, which becomes the abandoned schoolhouse.  All she must do is convince the town council and a hot, but grumpy landscape contractor to agree to her plan.

Austin Williams wants to get his family business back on track.  But to do so, he must complete the revitalization project in Heritage, which is also the town that his brother serves as a pastor at a church.  To say that the two don’t get along is an understatement, so Austin wants to get this project over with as fast as possible.  When the new librarian throws a wrench in his plans, Austin gets more frustrated by the day.  But when he finds that she is not just book smart but can plan out ways to make his project stay within budget, he finds that he may need to reevaluate his life and his standards.

I enjoyed this book so much more than the first in the series!  Maybe the first book was just setting things up, but this story pulled me in so much more.  I loved Libby’s story, which may have been because she is such a book lover.  She had to overcome agoraphobia and a traumatic event with her boyfriend at the time.  Olivia was such a positive influence throughout the book and quite the opposite of Libby.  I thought casting them as roommates really brought out the best in both of them.  Austin and Nate’s relationship centered around stories that each had of the other.  Nate lived with a dark past that tormented him even though he knew he’d been forgiven by God.  He just couldn’t forgive himself.  Austin didn’t want to forgive Nate for the past and used it as a crutch to forge ahead.  All flawed characters in need of grace who pulled together when it was needed. 

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

The Edge of Belonging

Author: Amanda Cox

Publisher: Revell

Release Date: September 8, 2020

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

A fantastic coming of age story about finding yourself in the darkest of times and learning that no matter what, everyone deserves happiness!

Ivy Rose has been returned to her hometown to sort out the affairs of her recently deceased grandmother. It is the only place she feels she can go after the relationship with her fiancé ends badly. She is hurt and wants to know about her past, the one thing no one has ever been willing to share with her. Her Grandmother left her clues to the mystery of her adoption, but a key piece to the puzzle has gone missing.

Over two decades earlier, Harvey James found a newborn baby abandoned on the side of the road. Harvey is homeless and has lacked someone to love and have a real connection with until he finds this baby that needs him. He knows he needs supplies to take care of a baby and goes to the church for help and ends up intertwined with two people trying to help him and the young baby he has found. But Harvey has spent years staying away from others after a lifetime of being abandoned. What matters most is the safety of the innocent child and keeping her safe. Harvey is willing to do whatever it takes to make that happen.

In this beautifully written dual-time story, readers will have no choice but to fall in love with Ivy, Harvey and all those they touch. I must admit, I put off starting this book, just didn’t seem like one that would touch me, but was I wrong. I tackled each page of this novel with rabid enthusiasm to follow the stories of Harvey and Ivy. The dual-time story gave a great dynamic to what was happening to the characters and why they would react the way they did in the present timeline.  The romance aspect of the story was one of the best written I have read in a long time. Each relationship played out in step as I felt it naturally would have. Nothing was forced and each character resonated with me on a deep level. The gem of the whole story would probably be Grandma Pearl in the flashback timelines of the story; she was so spunky and loved everyone with a kind of love we all should strive to show. After reading this, I sat and just thought about the way these characters truly found themselves.  They may have had to go through some hardships, but they came out the other side stronger and better for it. I think if we would all focus on the hard times we go through and find the happiness at the end, like Ivy and Harvey were able to do, we would see our lives in a much better way. I recommend this book to readers that enjoy a story full of mystery, intrigue, drama, hope, and so much more!

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

Under Scottish Stars

Can two people who need new beginnings find one together?

Author: Carla Laureano

Series: The MacDonald Family #3

Publisher: Tyndale House

Release Date: July 7, 2020

Rating: 4 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

Serena Stewart is working to get her life back on track.  Her husband passed a few years ago, leaving her with two young children.  After the oldest child, Em, gets in a fight at her academy, she is given the choice to be withdrawn or expelled.  With little options, Serena decides to buy back her shares of the family hotel in Skye and return for at least the summer to figure things out.  While there, she begins to butt heads with the hotel manager Malcom Blake.  While the don’t get off on the right foot, they begin to learn to trust each other in more than just a working relationship.  While both she and Malcom have given up on their personal dreams to support their family, maybe together they can find a way to find a new dream.

Laureano always manages to write characters that I can relate with.  I wish that I had read the first books in this series to get the full back stories on all the supporting characters as well as any side stories that may have impacted both Serena and Malcom, but I quickly fell into step with both of them.  Both characters had to overcome hardships from loss and even when they thought they found a way forward to happiness; another challenge arose that really tested their will.  I loved the scenery descriptions that really brought the visual of the Scotland area, especially when dealing with the night sky.  Her books always make me want to travel to the location so that I can see it for myself and this was no different. 

I recommend this for those that love the series as well as contemporary romance.  If you are unsure because you haven’t read the others, this can easily be a standalone.

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

Side Trip

Side TripAuthor: Kerry Lonsdale

Publisher: Lake Union

Release Date: July 7, 2020

Rating: 5 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

Lonsdale shines as a master of relationship what-ifs play out in this two-sided story of love, growth, and loss!

Joy Evers has been carrying her sister’s death on her shoulders since it happened.  She gave up her interests of skateboarding and surfing to make her late sister’s dreams come true.  She went to UCLA and achieved a degree in chemical engineering and has lined up a job to develop a new line of lipstick for a large cosmetic firm in New York.  She decides to take a road trip down Route 66 on her way to New York from LA to check off the items from her sister’s bucket list before she begins the life she never wanted.

Dylan Westfield loves writing music, but he hates performing.  His dad and uncle were well known musicians and he has always been in the shadows except when his dad made him perform on stage.  Hid dad recently died and to obtain his inheritance, Dylan must travel along Route 66 and play the same dive bars that his dad did on his way to LA before he made it big.  Not only that, but he must drive the same car his dad did, which doesn’t even make it out of California.

By chance, both Joy and Dylan are at the same diner in Ludlow, California.  He manages to convince her to drive him to his gigs, but she has three rules.  1. No last names.  2. What happens on the road, stays on the road.  And 3. If they take a side trip, both parties have to agree.

Every year in July I look forward to a new Kerry Lonsdale book, which frequently shows up on my top 10 books of the year.  This year was no exception!  Readers are suddenly thrown into Joy and Dylan’s wild ride and find themselves tagging along for the adventure.  This book was both exciting and heart wrenching.  Readers will easily connect with either Joy or Dylan.  Told from both perspectives, it’s easy to get lost in both of their back stories, present stories, and future stories.

Joy carried the guilt of her sister’s death by herself and wouldn’t let anyone truly see her for who she was.  Dylan never wanted a serious relationship because the life of a musician isn’t kind to relationships, which proved true of his parents.  But when they are together, something special happens.  In her true fashion, Lonsdale’s books have an epic ending that nobody will see coming.  At first, I was really angry for what happened because I was cheering for both of them and then I was broken hearted.  But maybe a silver lining promise will keep readers fully engaged until the end!

There was a little difficulty at times when the story suddenly shifted between past and present without any kind of visible break, but it didn’t take long to figure out.  There is also a lot of language and well as implied sex that makes the book suitable for mature audiences.

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