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.

The Islanders

The Islanders

Author: Meg Mitchell Moore

Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks

Release Date: June 11, 2019

Rating: 4.5 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

The absolute best quick, fun summer read I have enjoyed in some time. Readers will not be disappointed by what is found within these pages.

 Anthony Puckett’s world changes after his debut novel spends two years atop the best sellers list. Before he can release his second book, something goes terribly wrong and he finds himself borrowing a beach house on Block Island from a friend to try and get his life back on track. Joy Sousa has founded a successful bakery on the same island with her daughter after her divorce over a decade ago. When a new food truck comes to the island taking business away from Joy, she must figure out a way to get her life and business back on track before she loses everything. Lu Trusdale reluctantly agrees to spend the summer with her two boys on the island at the request of her in-laws. Her husband goes back and forth to the mainland to work at the hospital leaving her to tend to the kids alone most of the time. At first, she was fine staying home with the kids, but as the years progressed she found herself missing something deep down and started to work on a secret project making her question if she made the right decision. During the summer, these three strangers will find their lives intertwined and must decide which road they need to take to secure the future they want most.

 I must admit when I started this book I wasn’t very sure I was going to like it. For some reason I just wasn’t feeling it on the first few pages; however, that changed very quickly. By about the third or fourth chapter I was hooked and flying through. I read this in two quick days. I enjoyed the fast pace, the way the stories between the characters intertwined, and the way it all wrapped up in the end. With multiple viewpoints tied to a back and forth perspective, readers get a much more thorough picture of what is happening in these characters lives. The Anthony story line was probably my favorite, I especially liked the little twist toward the end with his parents. (No spoilers but it is a good one).  The characters are all written so well, I cheered for them and I found myself frowning and getting angry with them at all the right moments. I can’t say much that I didn’t enjoy, there is some harsh language but not a ton which would be more suitable for the mature audience which it is written. This is the perfect read for anyone wanting a fun, summer beach read with a little bit of extra drama to spice things up.

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

On a Summer Tide

summer tideAuthor: Suzanne Woods Fisher

Series: Three Sisters Island #1

Publisher: Revell

Release Date: April 30, 2019

Reviewer: Jennifer S. Roman

Even close families can grow apart during the best of circumstances, and in the case of the Grayson family, it happened during one of the worst times of their lives.  Sisters Camden, Blaine, and Maddie Grayson were close despite their varying personalities, but after the tragic death of their mother, they seemed to grow apart.  Cam adopted her best friend’s son upon her friend’s death and put her business acumen to work in a high-stress job.  Maddie immersed herself in her social work studies, but became distant and unattached from anyone else.  Blaine went to community college but couldn’t decide on a major, so after several years without earning a degree, the school asked her to sit out so she could make some plans about her life.  They all thought their dad was taking things well until he told them out of the blue that he had sold their family home and bought a small island off the coast of Maine.  Thinking he was out of his mind and had gotten in way over his head, the girls take some time off and spend it with him, helping to get the former camp where he and their mother met back into working order.

While there, the Grayson family meets up with some friendly locals, while others are downright hostile.  Some welcome the chance to reinvigorate the island, but some are clearly against it.  As the story progresses and more characters show their true colors, we learn why they have such a problem with change.  Along the way, the sisters each do some soul searching and changing themselves as they finally acknowledge their denial to their mother’s death.

Suzanne Woods Fisher is generally known for her Amish fiction, but in it she always shows the humanity of the characters while they solve some kind of personal conflict.  This story is not about the Amish culture, but it does still stick to the same formula of having complex characters deal with a tough situation.  In this case, it takes until the end of the book to reveal why the mother’s death is such a huge impact on everyone’s life.

I tend to enjoy Suzanne Woods Fisher’s books for her likeable characters and interestingly complex situations.  This book definitely fit the bill, and I was immersed as soon as I picked it up.  It’s a quick and easy read, but the situations definitely stick with the reader long after being done.  I am still dreaming of owning my own island off the coast of Maine because of her ability to bring things to life and make them real.  Having a family member randomly buy such an island is not that common, but the family dynamics and conflicts definitely are, and even in such an idyllic setting, they show how difficult yet beautiful life can be.

The characters were all interesting, and except for the “villains,” likeable.  The scenery is described in such vivid detail that I felt as though I were there.  All in all, I really enjoyed this story and look forward to more in the series.

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

 

By Invitation Only

By invitation only

Author: Dorothea Benton Frank

Publisher: William Morrow

Release Date: May 15, 2018

Rating: 4.5 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

A story of two families coming together and the hardships and blessings they face showing how love can be a beautiful and even brutal thing sometimes.

 When Diane English Stiftel finds out her son is engaged she plans a party to celebrate. She invites him, his fiancé and her family to the low country of South Carolina to their farm. Her brother Floyd and her parents help plan the celebration. When the bride-to-be and her family arrive, they see that they are marrying into a family completely different than their own. Susan Kennedy Cambria, the mother of the bride, has lived a very privileged life. Her husband Alejandro Cambria, a wealthy power broker in Chicago, has spared no expense in their lives and Susan has grown accustomed to this way of living. As the two families clash on money, how their children should live, and correct behavior, the young couple must learn from both sides of the family and see if they can find an outcome that will give them a happily ever after.

 The first part of this book was a little slow for me but once I got about two thirds of the way in I was hooked. The ending is where the tension picked up and made me really care for the characters. Dorothea Benton Frank did an excellent job of making characters I became emotionally connected to. At first, I really despised Susan, as was the author’s intent. Readers will connect with her on several different levels. Her character development is the best in the whole story and the way she evolves was beautifully written.  It’s funny, you might think the story is going to be more about the young couple, which in a way it is, but the focus is more on the mothers of the groom and bride and how this kind of thing can bring families closer together. I have never read anything by Frank before but am glad I decided to pick this one up. There was a great warmth about Diane and her side of the family, the differences between the two families, and how they contrasted with each other was beautifully written. The back and forth point of views between the two characters set a great writing style for this story and worked very well keeping me engaged in the story and turning the page to see what was going to happen next. I recommend this book to fans of southern family dramas with a lot of heart and excellent character development.

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

Driftwood Bay

Driftwood bayAuthor: Irene Hannon

Series: Hope Harbor #5

Publisher: Revell

Release Date: April 2, 2019

Rating: 5 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

The newest installment in the Hope Harbor series brings the best romance yet with characters readers will quickly fall in love with and want to cheer on to the happiest of endings.

Hope Harbor seems to attract the right people at just the right time in their life. When Jeannette Mason needs a new start after losing everyone she has every loved, she retreats to Hope Harbor to start a new life with no intention of getting close to anyone. She feels that if she cuts herself off from everyone, she will keep herself from getting hurt again. Her plan works fine until Dr. Logan West shows up in town with his niece. He never thought he would become a father before he got married, but when his brother died overseas and his mom passes away, he becomes the sole guardian of a little girl he comes to love dearly. Both Jeannette and Logan find themselves in the middle of the town;s effort to help a Syrian family that has fled persecution and come to Hope Harbor. In the midst of helping others, Logan and Jeanette find what they least expected, love for those around them.

I was pleasantly surprised how much I enjoyed Driftwood Bay. I have always enjoyed Irene Hannon’s writing but am usually not as interested in romance as I prefer a little more action. For some reason, this story resonated with me.  I’m not sure if it was the interaction between Logan and Jeannette or the interaction between Logan and his niece. There was something about the way he did all he could to help an innocent child thrown into his life when he least expects it. There is love in his heart that he must let out to take care of her and even let anyone else in. Jeannette has a hard time trusting anyone and it isn’t until near the end that we find out her story and why she likes to keep everyone at arm’s length. I wish that would have been introduced a little sooner, so I could have felt more connected to her without wondering why she refuses to let anyone get close. Other than that, I thought the story flowed great and the characters were written in a way that really made me want to see them succeed. I loved the way Hannon wrote in the Syrian family, I would like to see them develop more in the next book. I love how each book in the series feels like a brand-new start and doesn’t have to be read with the others in the series to be enjoyable. I recommend this to fans of Hannon and those that enjoy a good romantic read.

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

We Were Beautiful

We were beautifulAuthor: Heather Helper

Publisher: Blink YA Books

Release Date: April 2, 2019

Rating: 5 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

An emotional novel that will make you want to laugh, cry, and reach through the pages to hug the characters tight as they go through their trials.

Mia Hopkins has had almost a year to deal with the car crash she was involved in that killed her older sister and left her face scarred. She has been told over and over that it will take time to heal and move on, but she doesn’t want to move on. The night of the accident is a blank to her; she can’t remember what happened that night and the little alcohol that was found in her blood doesn’t help matters. With her mother gone and not able to handle being around her and her father having to go away to work, Mia ends up going to spend the summer with her grandmother. Being in a new place and around new people, Mia tries to figure out how to move on and live the life she has left.

We Were Beautiful is a powerful read with a message that is hard hitting and can help those struggling with deep emotional issues who are having trouble moving beyond. Mia is scarred, not just on her face but deep inside emotionally having to life with what happened, and worse not even remembering what happened. The worst part of it all is the way she feels abandoned by her family. Her mom leaving her is the worst part of all, she knows she is hard to look at but having her own mother turn on her is worse than the accident itself. Being forced to go live with her grandmother turns out to be just what she needs. I loved the way Hepler brings out the best and worst in these characters, showing readers their flaws and heartaches and how they go about moving forward with their lives. We all have hard times and scars we must live with, inside and out. This is the first book by Hepler I have read, and I was incredibly impressed with the way she brought these characters to life leading me to route for them, cheer with their victories and cry with their hardships. While there wasn’t much action the story itself moved quickly. The tension between the characters and what they are going through is plenty to keep the pages turning and the reader pleased. I recommend this to young adult readers that want a story that will teach them a lesson about forgiveness and moving on in the hard times.

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

Low Country Hero

Low Country HeroAuthor: Lee Tobin McClain

Series: Safe Haven #1

Publisher: HQN

Release Date: February 26, 2019

Rating: 5 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

A fun romance with just the right amount of suspense to make for a great read.

Trying to protect her five-year-old twins, Anna George has left her abusive husband and fled to Safe Haven, South Carolina.  All she wants is a safe place to raise her girls and try and figure her life out. As she drives into the town, she finds what she thinks are some abandoned cabins and hopes to stay until she can get on her feet. She quickly discovers that the cabins are being refurbished by a contractor, Sean Dwyer, who catches her staying without permission. He is able to make arrangements with the owner for her to stay on the property and help him with the work. Sean remembers coming to Safe Haven when he was a young boy with his mother and two brothers to escape his abusive father. As soon as they arrived in town, his father found them and left with his mother, leaving the boys behind.  He wants to help Anna and her girls even though Anna is hesitant to ask for help. It doesn’t take long for Sean to fall hard for Anna and the girls, which scares him.  He has never wanted a family and now he seems to have found the one he can’t live without.

For me this wasn’t the typical romance I am used to and I loved it. The story was great, and I particularly enjoyed the way the characters came together at the right pace. They each had their struggles and used those struggles to relate to what the other might be going through. Anna was most concerned about her girls and how they would be affected with everything they were all going through. She isn’t looking for romance and after all she has been through it really is the last thing on her mind. Sean is a rough and tough kind of guy but shows a softer side when interacting with Anna and her girls. This is the first in the series and I for one can’t wait to see what happens next. There are a lot of secondary characters that need more fleshing out and can bring more life into a story already alive and kicking. Readers that enjoy a romance with characters with big hearts will love Low Country Hero.

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

Castle on the Rise

Castle on the Rise

Author: Kristy Cambron

Series: The Lost Castle #2

Publisher: Thomas Nelson

Release Date: February 5, 2019

Rating: 5 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

Three more stories centered around a new set of castle ruins.  This series is fantastic!

 As Ellie and Quinn’s wedding approaches, Ellie’s friend Laine Forrester travels to France with her daughter Cassie to attend.  Shortly after the wedding, Ellie drops a bombshell concerning her health to Laine and explains that she and Quinn will be traveling to Ireland to visit his estranged family over a personal mater.  She asks if Laine and Cassie will come along because of her experience with antiques.  But Laine has been holding secrets of a failed marriage from Ellie as well.  Quinn’s brother Cormac has become a welcome distraction in Ellie’s life and Cassie has become quite taken with him as well.  Once in Ireland, Laine begins to learn the history behind the family’s pub that has been in business since the late 18th century and all the events that the pub has survived in the past.  When Laine discovers that the family has been left a castle estate, she begins to help catalogue the items left there, including several pianos.  But no one could believe the role this castle has played in the revolution and rebellion throughout Ireland’s history.

 There have been a lot of reviews about the controversy of this book.  First of all, this is a work of fiction.  The author did a great job portraying the time period that each of the stories are set.  The language and phrases used by the characters fit both with the location that the book is set in as well as the time period.  There was some negativity mentioned about alcohol, which is part of the culture of Ireland and the fact the part of the book is set at a pub yields that this is going to be part of the story.  I challenge readers to not get taken in by minutia, but just to enjoy the stories that have been presented to them.

 As far as the stories go, I enjoyed this book more than the first.  Laine’s story is that of a broken woman who has been dealt blow after blow in life.  She needs a strong companion, who has historically been Ellie, but with Ellie’s condition she won’t be able to fully rely on her.  Enter Cormac who is something of a dark horse that finds a way to Laine’s heart.  The companion stories of the 1916 Easter weekend uprising and the 18th century revolution also completed the story of the present in multiple ways.  If I dive to far into these I’m afraid that I’ll start to reveal spoilers, so I encourage you to pick up a copy of this book to find out more!

 The first book centers around Quinn with the second on his brother Cormac, even though neither is the primary character.  Given that this is a trilogy, will the next book be told with their sister Kiera?  I would love to see this story told with a member of their family as the primary character, but I’ll guess I’ll have to wait until next year.

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

Forget You Know Me

Forget you know meAuthor: Jessica Strawser

Publisher: St. Martin’s Press

Release Date: February 5, 2019

Rating: 5 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

A wonderfully thought out story full of characters that develop beautifully and show us the importance of being there for each other in the good times and the bad.

It is rare to find a friend you can stay close to through thick and thin. Molly and Liza have always thought their relationship could withstand anything. After Molly married Daniel, Liza became an honorary member of the family with no one thinking twice about it. When Liza moved, the relationship became more awkward and strained than either of them wanted to admit. Their friendship may not be able to withstand all they thought, and Molly and Daniel’s marriage may not be as rock solid either. Trying to hang on to the last strands of their relationship, Molly and Liza plan a video chat to reconnect. Just when things are starting to warm up between them, Molly must leave the room to attend to a crying child. Liza waits for her to return, leading to the moment things change forever. Liza sees something on the camera that scares her for her friend. She calls the police and then gets in the car and drives all night to be where she thinks she is needed. When she arrives, she is turned away by an icy Molly, and left wondering what she actually saw and what has come over her friend.  None of them can pretend things are ok and they might never be again.

Forget You Know Me starts with a bang and doesn’t slow down until the last page is turned and the last question left is answered. Strawser did an amazing job of creating characters that are flawed but still clinging to that small hope that all they have done wrongs that can be righted and find their way back to that safe place they once knew and held dear. I had trouble following Molly’s motives at first, but as things play out it becomes clear why she is acting the way she is and by the last chapter we see the characters grow and develop in a way I didn’t really think possible at the beginning. I loved watching them learn what was happening and connect the dots to the bigger picture that was being played out. Molly, Liza, and Daniel are the main characters but even the secondary characters have enough material to flesh them out in a way I really started to care about them as if they were more involved than they were. Max may have been one of my favorite characters to be honest. This is the type of book that takes close concentration to see all that is happening and be able to connect all pieces, there was no skimming or skipping ahead to see what was going to happen and I loved that because I was engaged with the characters and didn’t want to miss anything that was going to happen. Molly might have had a lot going on in her life and felt no way out at times, which is something a lot of us probably feel in some form or fashion at some point in our lives, making her a very relatable character. I recommend this book to those that enjoy a great contemporary read with lots of mystery and a very satisfying conclusion. There is a bit of language making it more suitable for a mature reader.

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.