Author: Cai Emmons

Publisher: Dutton Publishers

Release Date: September 6, 2022

Rating: 3 out of 5.

A very strange and unusual book that just didn’t hit home with me.

After they drop their only daughter, Pippa, off at college, Lu and George Barnes must figure out how to have a life with just the two of them. Over the years they have grown apart and now have very little to talk about. George spends most of his time at the local winery he owns while Lu would rather be outside in nature. College life is not what Pippa expected, she has trouble connecting to anyone except her zoology professor. As their relationship grows closer, Lu and George grow farther apart. Across the country women have been disappearing with no explanation and it is soon to approach the Barnes family changing things for them forever.

This book started out as an ordinary tale of families and how things change over time. But about halfway through it got weird, and not in a good way that kept me glued to the page. More of a “this is just plain weird and I’m losing my interest kind of way.” I had a hard time connecting with any of the characters and caring about what they were going through. The relationship and dynamic between Pippa and her parents was annoying, I can see the separation of her going off to college and wanting some space but the way she treated her mom turned me off and made me like her even less. I would have liked to see her grow as a character in different ways. This is the kind of novel that readers who enjoy a mystery of unearthly proportions will devour, but if that is not your type of read pass this one up.

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

Mona Passage

Author: Thomas Bardenwerper

Publisher: Syracuse University Press

Release Date: December 15,2021

Rating: 5 out of 5.

The bond between neighbors can be as strong as family! Such a strong debut novel!

Galan Betances is a Cuban who emigrated to Florida when he was young.  The trip was terrible and although his whole family was supposed to make the journey, his mother grabbed his sister and jumped off the raft at the last minute, leaving Galan with his father who was determined to leave Cuba behind.  Several years later, Galan is now living in San Juan, Puerto Rico when he hears of his mother’s passing.  His sister, Gabriela, is still in Cuba and she is a simple person who cannot care for herself and family seem to want to put her in an institution rather than take care of her.  Plus, the Obama administration is changing the policy where Cubans will be viewed as any other immigrant.  His only hope may be to try to smuggle her into Puerto Rico through the Mona Passage, which is carefully guarded by the United States Coast Guard.

Pat McAllister is a coast guard lieutenant who has just taken a station in San Juan, Puerto Rico.  He patrols the open seas in a cutter built to outrun and overtake human traffickers.  His new neighbor, Galan, has been a tremendous help to get him situated around the town and takes care of him like an older brother.  Pat watched his own older brother suffer from his time in Iraq and wants to do his country proud, but when he learns of Galan’s problems, he knows he faces a crucial decision in his life.  Will he be loyal to his country?  Or his best friend?

What a storyline to begin closing out 2021.  Having spent a large amount of time in San Juan and Aguadilla personally, I jumped at the chance to read this story.  Needless to say, the author has either spent some time on the island himself or did some great research.  His knowledge of the way of life in San Juan was impeccable from who hangs out at which bar to what beer is served.  Not to mention the description of local cuisine made my mouth water. 

Onto the story itself.  It takes no time at all to become friends with both Pat and Galan.  So much so that you grieve with Galan and want to knock some sense into Pat from time to time.  The characters were well fleshed out and realistic.  The tension that built up during the end of the story kept the pages turning so that I couldn’t put it down.  Sure, there is some language here and there, but nothing that takes away from the story.  There were also some sex related scenes, but nothing overally graphic. 

Both main characters battle inner conflict throughout the book all the way until the ending.  Now, I’m really not a fan of the ending of this book. I get the purpose of it, but still.  It’s just not the way I wanted it to go, but sometimes an author has to do what an author has to do!

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

Traveling Light

traveling-lightAuthor: Lynne Branard

Publisher: Berkley

Release Date: January 10, 2017

Reviewer: Jennifer S. Roman

North Carolinian Alissa Wells is responsible, punctual, and dependable.  She even lives in the same house she grew up in, so she has lived in her same home for over 30 years.  In all that time, it hasn’t bothered her that her life has gone on at an even keel, but when she goes through items she bought at a storage locker auction, she starts to question everything.  While going through her “winnings,” Al, as she is known to her friends and family, finds the ashes of a man she learns was named Roger Hart of New Mexico. Feeling some compulsion to return Roger to his home, she takes time a month off work from her editor job at her father’s small-town newspaper and sets out in her ancient VW with her three-legged dog, Casserole.

Almost immediately, Al finds another passenger in a teenaged waitress named Blossom.  She meets Blossom at one of the restaurants she visits one of the first days on the road, and Blossom asks Al if she can join her.  After learning that Blossom is going to see her father following a personal hardship, Al agrees, and the next thing she knows, Al has a chatty companion and a facebook account.  Somehow Blossom has set up an account without Al knowing it and has “friended” Al’s high school crush, Phillip.  Before she knows it, her travels are being documented on facebook, and she is receiving texts from Phillip, who divorced a few years ago.  Eventually, Blossom and Al are joined by Blossom’s ex boyfriend Dillon, and they make their way westward.

What starts out as a journey for someone else becomes a personal one as Al learns a lot from her trip and realizes that her life is just existing; she decides to start living her life instead.  Through her new friendship with Blossom and all that it entails, as well as her changed relationship with her father, Al is able to let go of a lot of baggage and do what makes herself happy.  She learns more about herself and that not everything has a happy ending; rather, it’s up to the individual to make the most of what is out there.  Most importantly, she learns that it is vital to look to the future instead of worrying about the past.

I enjoyed this book immensely and enjoyed how the story unfolded.  It read as a memoir of someone who has taken a similar journey, but it is strictly a work of fiction.  The book reads easily and is very easy to understand; the characters are likeable even with their flaws (well, most of them).  Rather than make everything sunshine and rainbows, Branard creates characters that are human, and therefore not always good people.  She shows that not everyone changes or realizes how they treat others, and that those other people act accordingly.  I enjoyed getting to know all of the characters, even though I may not have liked them all.

There is some profanity that may be offensive to some readers, but other than that and one couple conceiving a baby out of wedlock, there is no mention of violence, assault, or other objectionable behaviors.  I found the book to be heartwearming, fun, and “light.”  It definitely does not take on the dark side of something like Thelma and Louise, but instead proves to be a fun and inspirational read.  Older teens and adults alike should enjoy this book.

Where Two Hearts Meet

where-two-hearts-meetAuthor: Liz Johnson

Series: Prince Edward Island Dreams #2

Publisher: Revell

Release Date: October 18, 2016

Rating: 4 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

Sometimes love happens when you least expect it with someone you would expect!

Caden Holt has been the executive chef at the Red Door Inn on Prince Edward Island since it opened. She loves her work and also that she has time to teach cooking classes to youth in her town.  But all that may come to a screeching halt when she learns that the Inn is in financial trouble.  Her boss (and best friend) Marie has just received a letter that they will be receiving a mystery guest at the inn who is a journalist for a bed and breakfast magazine that will review their stay and possibly put their inn on the cover of the magazine.  Now Caden just has to figure out how to keep the mystery guest extremely happy throughout his or her stay.

Adam Jacobs is going on a forced sabbatical after his writing assignment in the Middle East resulted in the death of a young marine. Racked with guilt, his editor sends him to Prince Edward Island to rest at the Red Door Inn.  But this is not what Adam had in mind.  He is used to the hustle and bustle of Washington DC and doesn’t know if he will be able to actually rest, much less overcome his writer’s block.  He eventually begins researching and begins to find connections between the church in Boston that hosted the young marine’s funeral and the owner of the Red Door Inn.  What if his editor sent him here for a reason?  Possibly to blow open a big story that no one knows about?

This was a really quick and fun romance read. It is the second in a series, but easily stands alone on its own. The two main characters are flawed, but easily compensate each other.  Not to mention how insufferable one of the supporting characters was.  Johnson did a really good job of setting scenery around the island to really bring the reader to the setting.  There wasn’t much focus on the inn itself, but it is possible that it was created in the first book.  Now I’m going to have to go read that one.

Overall, I really enjoyed the story. I’m looking forward to more tales from the Red Door Inn.  If you enjoy clean romance novels that have some fun sprinkled in, then this one is for you!

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

Another Day, Another Dali

another-day-another-daliAuthor: Sandra Orchard

Series: A Serena Jones Mystery #2

Publisher: Revell

Release Date: October 18, 2016

Rating: 4 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

Serena is back with another mystery that just might be her last!

When Serena gets a call from her Nana, she knows whatever it is can’t be good. She has never been close with her, but now she needs a favor.  One of her neighbors has had her Dali painting stolen and replaced, but she doesn’t want it to be an “official” investigation.  Serena digs into the family and starts rounding up the usual suspects: son, daughter, son-in-law, and housekeeper.  Things start to go out of control from there.  On top of that, her colleague Tanner is investigating a case with the Russian mob that is now targeting Serena to get the investigation to drop.  With danger at every turn (and straightaway) Serena might have met her end, or at least the end.

This book pretty much picked up just after A Fool and His Monet let off.  However, I was happy that this book really delved more into Serena’s personal character.  I felt that I really got to know her more in this book and she really opened up about past feelings.  The family wasn’t as much as central core to this book, with the exception of crazy Aunt Martha, who I love!  The books wouldn’t be the same without her.  Serena is still clueless when it comes to both Nate and Tanner making plays for her love.  She is also not quite as scatterbrained in this book either.

I’ve not been to St. Louis, but it seems like a pretty dangerous place. The hood, mixed with the Italian mafia and now the Russian mafia makes it seem like a breeding ground for danger, especially a young female FBI agent.  Serena seems to find more opportunities to be randomly shot at or run over than any other character that I’ve read recently.  Keeps the book moving with a fast pace.  This is just a fun little mystery that is also a quick read!

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Baker Publishing Group in exchange for an honest and thorough review. The views and opinions expressed within are my own.

Everything We Keep

Everything we keepAuthor: Kerry Lonsdale

Publisher: Lake Union

Release Date: August 1, 2016

Rating: 4.5 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

Suspenseful, thought provoking, and just a good overall book!

Aimee Tierney has just had her life turned upside down. She just buried her fiancée.  On her wedding day.  If that weren’t bad enough, after the funeral a woman came by claiming to know that her fiancée, James, was still alive.  Aimee doesn’t believe her, but after realizing that she never saw the body, doubts begin to build in her mind.  A week after this, her parents announce that they have sold the family restaurant that Aimee grew up in and is currently sous chef.  With her world crumbling around her, she has to figure out what she wants to do and how to move on.  Eventually, she decides to open her own restaurant, which she uses the money given to her by her late fiancée’s brother.  In the process, she meets Ian, a photographer who is exhibiting his photos in a local gallery.  There is instant electricity between the two of them, but Aimee just can’t bring herself to act on it.  As the doubts begin to build and she continues to receive clues that James might be alive in Mexico, Aimee decides to go find out for herself.  Maybe she can finally either get James back or move on.

This summer I have been blessed with books that have made me think. This one was no exception.  Every time that I thought I have it figured out, the author kept pushing me in another direction.  I’m so glad that she did because it gave me a great ride.

Even though Aimee is twenty-seven, I would still consider this a coming of age novel. She has always been dependent on somebody her entire life and she is finally coming into her own.  She has to make her own decisions and then she finally makes the decision that affects her life from that point forward.  Along the way there is plenty of humor and tense romance to keep it interesting.

There was some occasional strong foul language and a couple of love scenes that weren’t explicit, but pretty easy to get the point of what was going on. I wouldn’t recommend this book to YA.  More to the twenty something crowd!

I received a complimentary copy of this book through the TLC Book Tours. The views and opinions expressed throughout are mine.

The Cantaloupe Thief

Cantaloupe ThiefAuthor: Deb Richardson-Moore

Series: Branigan Powers Mystery

Publisher: Lion Fiction

Release Date: June 27, 2016

Rating: 4 1/2 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

A great combination of mystery and heart that results in a fun, entertaining story.

Branigan Powers is set to run a story on the tenth anniversary of one of the only unsolved murders in Grambling, Georgia. Too many people have stayed silent about what they know of the murder of wealthy Alberta Grambling Resnick and it is time for the truth to come out.  She was stabbed in her home, and as the case is reinvestigated, there turn out to be more suspects than originally thought.  Brannigan has to do some major digging to get her story and the truth out.  She turns to the homeless community for help knowing they are the one group of people in town that know far more than they are given credit for.  However, the more she digs, the more the people around her end up in danger and even dead.  Soon things start to hit a little too close to home and she must decide if continuing is worth the risk.

Sometimes it is nice to sit down with a fun story that isn’t too intense but is still able to keep the pages turning quickly. That was the case for me with The Cantaloupe Thief.  I enjoyed just about every aspect of the book.  The characters were fun, I especially enjoyed Malachi; he was a character that was just right for everything he found himself involved in.  Branigan has a twin brother and that relationship played out nicely.  The name of the book makes it an interesting draw, but there is so much more to it than that.  Early on I thought I had it pegged who the bad guy was, but I ended up changing my mind on that several times.  Even so, in the end was very pleased with the reveal.  There is a lot of back and forth from past to present to talk about the murder and the way it has gone unsolved.  Sometimes that can get a little confusing, but I thought the author did a very nice job of working that to tie things up nicely without anything being too over the top or unbelievable.  This was just a fun interesting read. I am looking forward to the next Branigan Powers Mystery!

The Calling – Rachelle Dekker

CallingThe follow up to The Choosing takes things in a different direction, but not in a bad way. The Calling by Rachelle Dekker is a great sequel to what has the potential to be an excellent series. 

Carrington Hale convinced Remko Brant to escape the Authority City with her and now they are married and have a young daughter. He is the leader of the Seers and never before has he had so much at stake.  Time and time again he and his team infiltrate the city to attempt dangerous rescue missions that fail more often than succeed.  Damien Gold is the newly appointed authority President with dangerous ambitions and is bent on catching Remko and his group of rebels and destroying their message of hope and everything they represent.  Remko is losing control of his camp and is afraid everything he has worked so hard for might be slipping through his fingers.  His fears threaten to get the better of him, and if he fails to conquer them, he will lose more than he could have ever imagined.

The first book in the series focused on Carrington Hale, but here the focus is shifted to Remko with Carrington’s point of view sprinkled throughout. At first I wasn’t sure how I felt about this.   The first half the pacing was a bit slower but the second half more than made up for that. I found myself on the edge of my seat almost rushing through to find out what was going to happen next.  There is a similar quality to the writing by Rachelle Dekker to that of her father, Ted Dekker.  In a way I want to fault her for this and say she should find her own path and way of writing but I can’t.  She obviously learned from his way of writing and storytelling over the years, and why not?  It is an excellent teaching to follow.  Remko was brought to life, especially as the stakes grew and he struggled with facing his fears and what he was about to lose.  I enjoyed his point of view and really thought that pulled the story forward.  I recommend this book for those seeking adventure and action that pulls you deep into faith and all that you have to lose if you give into the fear surrounding us all.

Remnants: Season of Glory

Remnants3The final book in the Remnants series doesn’t disappoint with quality, but it does leave me wanting more stories with the Ailith.

The power of Andriana and the Remnants is growing, which causes the threat from Pacifica to grow as well. Pacifica’s plans for domination are coming close to collapsing as the Remnants try to win over Kellach and those who serve him.  Sethos and the Shiolite try to thwart them at every turn but are quickly finding themselves out numbered.  The people of the Way quickly draw more followers and those in Pacifica try to annihilate the Remnants and everyone that has chosen to side with them setting the stage for an epic showdown that will change the course of a world on the brink, possibly forever.

As I started this book, I was excited to see how the story played out but also very sad to know it was the last in the series. I have enjoyed this series and am pleased to say this final book was just as enjoyable.  From the very first book in the series I have devoured every page and anxiously awaited what would come next.  The writing has been flawless with a combination action, suspense, romance, and everything that makes a story worth reading.  Being marketed to YA, I loved how there were no aspects that would make me hesitant to recommend to that age rage.  Bergren has a way with words that kept me flying through the pages even when the action hit a bit of a lull and the romance heated up.  This story had a bit more romance than the previous two, but it was played out well with a realistic timeline of events between the characters.  Each character is so fully laid out and developed that each thing they do seems natural.  Dri and her desire to see Kellach with them even though she knows no one else feels the way she does all feels natural.  She knows she is alone in this but can’t keep from feeling the way she does and following her heart.  Don’t try to rush through this book!  Take enough time to soak in the story and enjoy the world created for you.  I don’t want to give any spoilers away so it is hard to say much more other than it was a great read!  I wish the series wasn’t over.  One of my favorite series and one I highly recommend!

Remants: Season of Fire

Remnants2The second book in the Remnants series gives a broader look at both the Remnants and Knights that left me desperate for more, in a good way.

After finishing their first mission, the Remnants and Knights are coming to terms with their powers, especially Andriana and her power of empathy. It is just the tip of the iceberg for what is to come.  She and Ronan have admitted their growing feelings for each other are more than just that of a Remnant and Knight.  Something that is forbidden.  Their bonds are tested when Dri is captured by their mortal and spiritual enemy, Sethos, and his master Keallach, emperor of Pacifica and also another Ailith.  Andriana thinks he can be turned back to following their calling but is alone in her belief.  She has to decide whether she really can pull him back to the way, or if Sethos’s web of darkness has him too far gone.

As the second book in the Remnants series started off I kept my fingers crossed. I enjoyed the first so much I was afraid I might be disappointed, as so often happens in a second in a series.  I was not.  I actually enjoyed this book even more than the first.  It took the first bit to set up the world and give the background giving this book the chance to expand.  I really enjoyed the fact that Bergren decided to write this story with more than one point of view.  In Remnants: Season of Wonder we only were allowed to see everything from Andriana’s point of view.  This is essentially her story and it makes sense to set it up from her POV but it left a lot of questions unanswered.  By showing both her point of view and Ronan’s I felt much more involved in the story and it kept me turning the page even faster.  At first it focused mainly on Dri’s point of view and then started slowly switching back and forth.  This style worked well because there was so much of the story where she wasn’t with the others.  The characters were even more relatable and driven making the story flow faster.

With the addition of new Ailith and the Knights, the story became more complex but also brought things together in a tightly woven web. This book is not only a fantasy action adventure but it is also the characters going on a journey.  A Journey of faith, emotion, trust, love, forgiveness and strength.  We see the characters strength and faith tested, all of them.  Even though Dri is the main focus of the series we get to see a more in depth look at all the Remnants.  Their gifts are becoming stronger the longer they are around each other.  A blessing but it also opens up something within Dri that could leave them all vulnerable to their enemies.  When things are looking darker than ever they have to find their way back together and make sure their bond to the Maker never wavers.