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.

How the Light Gets In

how the light gets inAuthor: Jolina Petersheim

Publisher: Tyndale House

Release Date: March 5, 2019

Rating: 5 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

The emotional conflict is so intense throughout this book that I couldn’t put down.

Ruth has been living in Ireland with her mother and two daughters while her husband has been in Afghanistan with his father working as doctors for a relief organization.  One night, the hospital that they are working at is bombed, killing both men.  Ruth takes her daughters and travels to Wisconsin to a Mennonite community to bury her husband and father-in-law.  Ruth hopes that being in the community will give her a chance to grieve and let her girls get to know their grandmother, Mabel.  Her husband’s first cousin, Elam, allows Ruth and Mabel stay in his house during this time.

Elam is a quiet, introverted man who has overseen the cranberry farms production for years but has never settled down to make a family of his own.  When Ruth asks Elam to allow her to work during the cranberry harvest, he allows her to work even though he doesn’t really need her.  Her work ethic impresses Elam and he and Ruth begin to build a friendship with the promise of blossoming into something more that they both have been missing.

With a promising future on the horizon, Ruth receives work that her husband may not be dead after all, which threatens the true happiness she has found with Elam as well as Elam’s fulfillment from Ruth’s companionship.  What is the right path to choose?

Jolina Petersheim has always had a knack for writing stories that stir up controversy amongst her readers.  But she has really elevated the sense of conflict within this book.  I love conflict; it is what moves a story along and keeps the reader engaged.  This particular book has some of the best figurative examples of these emotions splayed across the pages that I was hooked from the beginning.  The opening paragraph begins with the burial of her husband and by the second page there is already conflict between Ruth and her six year old daughter Sofie.  And it only escalates from there.  And it was such an emotional conflict that I couldn’t help but feel as though I was Ruth and was experiencing the same things in life.  On part of the flashbacks, I had personal experiences of what Ruth was describing, so it made it even easier to connect with this fragile woman, who had been broken long before her husband’s death.

I enjoyed how Petersheim paralleled the story of Ruth throughout the book.  From being widowed and living with her mother-in-law to gleaning cranberries in a bog in Wisconsin rather than wheat in a field.  The tragedy and redemption was told quite well throughout the story.  However, just when there seemed a happy ending in sight, something had to crop up and suddenly make life more difficult.  And this happened several times, which had me close to tears.  At one point I had to put the book down because I was just plain mad that Petersheim would do this to a reader.  But as I read along, she redeemed the story just as Ruth was redeemed.  Funny how she was able to even bring me into the story of redemption personally.

This book will definitely wreck you as you read it, but it is worth it.  I’ve loved all of her books, but this one is in a category of its own.  This will be one of my highest recommendations of the year!

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

Brunch at Bittersweet Cafe

brunch

Author: Carla Laureano

Series: Supper Club #2

Publisher: Tyndale House

Release Date: February 5, 2019

Rating: 5 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

A sweet savory treat that will leave the reader’s palate thirsting for more of this scrumptious tale.

 After seven years living in Denver, Melody Johansson feels she is going nowhere. Baking is her passion, more so than her love life. As she is working late one night at a chain bakery she meets Justin Keller, a private pilot who has been stranded when his car gets stuck in the snowstorm. She is instantly attracted to him, but her luck hasn’t always been the best and is afraid to have another disaster. Justin is also attracted to Melody but doesn’t want to start anything new at the moment. His luck hasn’t always been the best either and he is fixing to try and open a new business in Florida with his sister and brother-in-law. Trying to deny their attraction to each other is no use, Melody and Justin begin a full-on romance, but when Melody falls into an unexpected sum of money she uses it to open her dream café with her best friend. Now she must decide if she has made the right choice in her dream job and if it is worth the cost of losing her dream guy.

 I guess when I started this I didn’t realize it was second in a series. However, having not read the first didn’t affect my enjoyment of this in any way. The story was cute with a great romance that played out very efficiently and I really enjoyed the way the characters came about finding themselves with the difficult choices they were facing. Melody is a strong independent woman who doesn’t need a man to feel a sense of accomplishment. When she meets Justin everything seems right, except for the fact that he is fixing to move away and since she is starting her own business she can’t go with him. It gives just the right amount of tension to draw the reader in and keep them intrigued throughout the story. The secondary characters were all well fleshed making me want to go back and read the first book in the series to fully see Rachel’s story, and anxious to see what happens in the next with Ana. One aspect that really played out well was the relationship Melody had with her mother. For most of the book, I didn’t think much about it but the last interaction they had really made me smile, it was written really well, and I think if it hadn’t been in the book would have been lacking. Overall this was a very enjoyable read and I recommend to readers who enjoy a good contemporary read with a romance that will leave happy hearts everywhere.

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

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.