Swimming in the Deep End

swimmingAuthor: Christina Suzann Nelson

Publisher: Kregel

Release Date: September 25, 2018

Rating: 5 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

This book is a prime example of how everything can come full circle.

Izzy Cline is a terrific swimmer who has a dream of competing in the Olympics.  At least until she realizes that she is pregnant.  Still in high school, she and her boyfriend Travis had plans.  He was going to be the first in his family to go to college and he would do it on a baseball scholarship.  Izzy would swim in college and at the Olympics.  That all seems like a distant dream now.  At least nothing can tear her and Travis apart.

Izzy’s mom Jillian is pinning her hopes on her daughter.  But when she sees that Izzy is pregnant, it conjures up painful memories of her past.  As she tries to force Izzy to do things her way, she begins to cause a huge rift between herself and the rest of the family.  Will she be able to deal with the issue before the family is completely torn apart?

Travis’s mom Margaret wants a different life for her son than she had.  Travis father was a drunk who was rarely around with Travis’s older brothers and once Travis was born he pretty much took off.  But this pregnancy worries Margaret that the will get trapped in the same kind of life she is in and she wants to make sure this doesn’t affect her dreams for him.

Stacey Frey and her husband have just moved to the area.  Not able to conceive children of their own, they have recently gone through a horrible adoption experience and have been healing to try the process again.  God works in mysterious ways and Stacey begins to get involved in a home for young mothers.  As events begin to play out, an unexpected story of healing affects all four main characters.

This was one of the most interesting books that I have read where the main characters are all interconnected.  At least three separate stories that appear to have little relevance with each other begin to weave a pattern until they are fully intertwined.  Nelson has always done a great job of taken women with a broken spirit as her characters and forming them into someone that is strong and both supported and supportive.  This book is no different.  Each of these women has gone through a traumatic experience that has broken their spirit and it takes all of them to realize how to move forward.

I highly recommend this book to all readers.  It’s just a great story that should be read by all.

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

We Hope for Better Things

we hope for better thingsAuthor: Erin Bartels

Publisher: Revell

Release Date: January 1, 2019

Rating: 5 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

Three significant stories all woven together through a common theme of racial tension.

Elizabeth Basalm is a reporter for the Detroit Free Press who has just gotten a strange request from James Rich.  An elderly man, Mr. Rich asks Elizabeth if she is related to a Nora Basalm, as he has something of hers that needs to be returned.  It is a camera that has been in police evidence since the 1960s riots.  Elizabeth has never heard of Nora, but she has been trying to pin part of the riots activity on the elusive Judge Sharpe.  If these pictures have incriminating evidence, she might just be able to punch her ticket to major headlines.  But to do so will mean opening doors that some people want to be left closed.

Nora Basalm lives in Detroit’s Bloomfield Hills, which is all upper class and all white.  In the 1960s, even though the north doesn’t have the Jim Crowe laws, there is still natural segregation.  While at an art expo, she stumbles on a photograph of her father looking angry and hateful, she finds the photographer and asks if he will take down the picture.  He agrees, but only if she buys him a new camera since the man in the photograph smashed his.  After she meets him again with the camera, she begins to learn more about the man that she might even have feelings of love.  But to fall in love and marry him might mean career and social suicide.  It seems neither race wants to see this relationship succeed.

The civil war has just broken out and Mary Basalm’s husband Nathaniel has decided to enlist leaving her behind at the family farm.  As she frets over his wellbeing, his trunk and a letter arrive one day.  Terrified of the worst, she opens the trunk to reveal a runaway slave named George has been packed inside of it.  As the war progresses, George and Mary become equals on running the farm and managing the affairs in Nathaniel’s absence.  Mary becomes to rely on George more than anyone else in her life, which begins to cause a huge rift between her and everyone she knows.

This was an incredible debut novel that tackles a subject that has been sensitive for centuries.  Bartels weaves three different stories that all center around racial tensions at three different time periods: present day, civil rights era, and the civil war.  The main characters of each story are involved in different interracial relationships, one in marriage, one in dating, and one that is completely forbidden.  Each story addresses the situation of the time period, but also shows how strong the main female characters are.  The entire book is educational, historical, entertaining, and unfortunately, sad.  All of the stories are also centered around a family farm house.  It’s sad to think of all the stories within a house that have occurred but have been forgotten over time.

I highly recommended this book for people who enjoy reading about controversy as well as about the time periods included.  Great book to start off the year!

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

Top Contemporary Fiction

As an added Christmas bonus, we are releasing our top picks for contemporary fiction!  This category was a little more difficult to narrow down to five, so we cut it to six!

sam hell1. The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell by Robert Dugoni

To call this book extraordinary doesn’t do it justice!  A change from his usual police procedural thriller, Dugoni has written a coming of age story with some of the best character development we have ever read.

Read the full review here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Everything We Give2. Everything We Give by Kerry Lonsdale

We’ve been waiting for the conclusion of this series for well over a year.  Ian’s story finally  makes everything come full circle to understand what has happened since the beginning.

Read the full review here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Send Down the Rain3. Send Down the Rain by Charles Martin

This was an incredible read that kept us engaged through the whole story.  Martin’s storytelling is flawless throughout and the characters spring to life and become your truest friends.

Read the full review here.

 

 

 

 

 

Under a Cloudless Sky4. Under a Cloudless Sky by Chris Fabry

Fabry’s past/present storytelling is once again a hit with this new read.  With forgiveness at the heart of this novel, it should be on everyone’s list!

Read the full review here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rainbirds5. Rainbirds by Clarissa Goenawan

Probably the most beautifully written book of the whole year.  Dealing with grief is never easy, but Goenawan puts a story into prose that is intriguing, mischievous, and well thought out!

Read the full review here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Just after midnight6. Just After Midnight by Catherine Ryan Hyde

While dog might just be man’s best friend, Hyde shows that a horse might just be woman’s best friend.

Read the full review here.

Just After Midnight

Just after midnightAuthor: Catherine Ryan Hyde

Publisher: Lake Union

Release Date: December 4, 2018

Rating: 5 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

While dog might be man’s best friend, Hyde shows that horses may very well be a girl’s best friend.

Faith has left her husband after taking all that she can take and heads to her parents’ California beach house. She doesn’t know what the future holds, but knows she has to do it on her own. She never expected to get involved helping a young girl running away from her father and trying to deal with the death of her mother. Sarah is living with her grandmother after her mother’s death. It was ruled a suicide but Sarah knows more than she has told the authorities about what really happened to her mom. Sarah’s grandmother is trying to get custody of her and needs to keep her away from her father. Faith ends up taking Sarah on a journey to try and lift her spirits. Her father has sold her beloved horse and together Faith and Sarah spend the summer following the horse from show to show and learning a lot about themselves in the process.

Catherine Ryan Hyde has solidified herself as one of the very best in writing literary and women’s fiction. Her writing gets to the reader’s heart and soul, showing that there is still kindness in the world. I loved everything about this book. The characters were relatable, strong and yet not afraid to show their sensitive side. I thought the story would be more about Faith and what happened with her husband but instead it was more about Sarah and how she is dealing with the problems she is facing with the loss of her mother and her father’s involvement in what happened. The relationship between Faith and Sarah blossoms and shows that the two need each other even if they don’t realize it. The way Hyde builds these characters and makes the readers care deeply what happens is better than almost anyone I have read before. She is able to get to the heart of the story and keep us enthralled so much so that it is hard to believe the story is over until the last page is turned. I recommend this book to readers who love a good story with characters they will fall in love with. Those that love a story about horses will also enjoy this story but being a horse lover is not a requirement to enjoy.

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

Start Without Me

Start Without MeAuthor: Joshua Max Feldman

Publisher: William Morrow

Release Date: October 30, 2018

Rating: 4 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

Big issues are explored using families and holidays to see how things can be bigger than just one person.

When Adam decides to go home for Thanksgiving after years of avoiding his family for his music and drinking, he knows he shouldn’t expect much. They have all seen him at his worst and he feels that no matter how hard he tries, he won’t be able to get anything right. Marissa is dealing with troubles in her marriage and being a flight attendant always away from home doesn’t make things any easier. After she runs into Adam in an airport restaurant on Thanksgiving morning, the two end up forming an unlikely bond dealing with their past, families, and what will happen as they go forward.

Holidays can be hard dealing with family and all the drama that comes with the stress of seeing those that are supposedly on your side. Joshua Max Feldman shows this with the interesting dynamic between Adam and his family mixed with Marissa and her family. Circumstances beyond their control bring them together. This is not your typical feel good holiday story; there is much more downheartedness to the characters than upbeat and positive. I found both Adam and Marissa very depressing. They were both going through a lot and some of their attitudes and actions made sense; however, some of it though just made me want to smack them and tell them to get a grip and move on with their lives. I will say that the book was a good length and kept to a good pace making it easy for the reader to turn the pages quickly and see what the outcome might be. I would recommend this for a very mature audience as the language can be very mature and the sexual aspect as well.

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

Snowfall on Lighthouse Lane

Snowfall on lighthouse laneAuthor: JoAnn Ross

Series: Honeymoon Harbor #2

Publisher: HQN Books

Release Date: October 30, 2018

Rating: 4 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

What a way to kick off the holiday small town romance season!

Aiden has tried to outrun his past from Honeymoon Harbor when he joined the marines. Even after he got out, he stayed out of the pacific northwest and joined up with the Los Angeles Police Department.  But when he and his partner get ambushed, Aiden gets shook when his partner is killed.  After quitting the force, Aiden returns to the pacific northwest to become a hermit and live out his days; unfortunately, his partner follows him as a ghost.  With much convincing from Honeymoon Harbor’s mayor, Aiden’s dad, he returns to his hometown to become chief of police.  But his past is waiting for him when he returns.  His old flame Jolene Harper has also returned back home and she might just be the most difficult thing he has had to deal with.

Jolene Harper also ran from her past as the poor girl. There is plenty of history between Jolene and the mean girls of the area, but she just let it make her better.  Now in the big leagues of make-up design for movie sets, Jolene finds that people are fickle no matter where you go.  When she gets a call that her mother has a suspicious lump in her breast and refuses to have it check out, Jolene returns home to help her deal with it.  But she didn’t count on Aiden being in town either.  The only boy she ever really loved, can she take being in the same town as him again?

Could there be a better candidate to open the holiday small town romance season? I think not.  This was really a fun book to read that was played out by an expert.  Everything fell into place right when it was supposed to.  The main characters were perfectly flawed so that you could relate to them and still pull for them at the same time.  The villains, if that is what you want to call them, had just the right amount of distastefulness to keep the reader against them.  I can’t think of a better book to draw me into the holiday romance.

There is some strong language throughout this book as well as some scenes that would be better suited for mature audiences.

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

The Stranger Game

The Stranger GameAuthor: Peter Gadol

Publisher: Hanover Square Press

Release Date: October 2, 2018

Rating: 4 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

Intriguing concept of mistaking personal connection for stimulation.

Rebecca has had an off and on relationship with Ezra for several years. It started in college and has spanned most of their professional life.  When they go cold, they never separate for more than two weeks.  Ezra even followed Rebecca to the west coast after she took a job as an architect because he just couldn’t live without her.  But now he has gone missing.  When Rebecca checks his apartment to make sure he hasn’t hurt himself, she finds a print out of an article describing a phenomenon called the stranger game.  This game has people following random strangers to see if they can determine where they are going or what their life is about.  But society has taken the original concept and made it darker, now working to seduce victims that they are following.  They even begin staging violence to heighten peoples senses for playing the game.  In some cases, people just disappear.  Will Rebecca ever be able to find Ezra?  Or is he gone for good?  Just another stranger in a game?

The concept of this novel was really intriguing. It is basically saying that people have lost personal connections and have become isolated, lonely, and depressed.  Even when they have a relationship, they are still depressed because they don’t connect the way that nature intended.  Enter the stranger game.  This game allows people to imagine how another person’s life is lived, what they might be thinking, where they might be going, what they will be doing after that.  But the initial rules are never to make contact and never follow the same person twice.  But I suppose rules are meant to be broken and society has a knack for doing that.  It is terrifying to think that something like this could actually happen.  The book indicates that almost everyone starts playing the game.  Players are following players that are following players.

Overall it is a mystery and it is really a great read. I don’t want to give anything away, but you should really pick up a copy of this book.  It is worth your time.  There is some harsh language throughout the book as well as some mild sex scenes that still are more suited for mature audiences.

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