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.

The Nature of Small Birds

Author: Susie Finkbeiner

Publisher: Revell

Release Date: July 6, 2021

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Finkbeiner’s story telling shines in this tale of love, family, and discovery!

Bruce and Linda have been trying for years to have a second child with no luck.  They decide that the best option would be to adopt a little baby boy who needs a family, but when the call from the adoption agency comes in, it is not what anyone expected.  A little girl named Minh was a child airlifted during the fall of Saigon and the family who initially took her in has returned her to the agency.  Bruce and Linda have no qualms taking this child into their family but know that other family members won’t feel the same since Bruce’s brother died during the war and his sister’s husband returned home with war torn memories.

As the years pass, the family becomes more accepting, but little do they know all the challenges that Minh, now called Mindy, has faced in her upbringing in a small Michigan town during the 1980s and 1990s.  She recently discovered that an organization is working to restore the children lifted out of Saigon with their families.  With her family’s support, Mindy decides to reach out and discover more about her past to learn who she really is.

Wow!  Can Susie Finkbeiner write a story that makes you feel like you are part of the family and come away as friends.  Her ability to draw readers into the characters is such a gift.  Picking the book up for the first time makes it feel like you are about to read a classic story that you love, even though you’ve never read it!

The story is told from three perspectives at three different times.  The first is from Linda’s (mom) point of view in 1975 when they initially adopt Mindy and the challenges that they face during that time.  Fast forward to 1988 with Sonny’s (older sister) POV when she and Mindy and in high school and roommates.  Lastly is Bruce’s (dad) POV in 2013 when Mindy has discovered the possibility of reconnecting with her family.  It was fun to see the minor characters develop in one story and then mature in another. 

The theme is about family and supporting each other through difficulties.  I want to dive into this so much more, but its really better if you read it for yourself.  Easily one of the top books of 2021! I received a complimentary copy of this title from the publisher.  The views and opinions expressed within are my own.

Fool’s Luck

Author: Dave Milbrandt

Publisher: Ambassador International Publishing

Release Date: July 13, 2021

Rating: 4 out of 5.

A very different concept from what I normally read, which made for a fast and delightful story.

Myles Bradford was just an ordinary guy, taught high school while trying to be the best husband and father he could. All of that changed when he took a chance and bought a Powerball lottery ticket and won. With the winnings, he decided to run for President of the United States. He has very little experience in politics, except for running for mayor and having to drop out of the race when his son is diagnosed with cancer. His family isn’t as excited about his running as he is when he thrust most of the money into the campaign and starts traveling the country. Wanting to change the way things are done and being able to change them are two different things as Bradford quickly finds out. While his attention is pulled in different directions, he realizes that even if he wins the price might not be worthwhile.

Fool’s Luck starts out great with a unique premise and characters that are easy to like. Myles and his family are your run of the mill American family until his winning changes everything. The beginning was quick and easy to follow, the middle lost my attention, but the back half brought me back into the story. I’m not usually one to get into politics and stories that are of that nature, but this is more of a family story at heart, a story about wanting to do better and be better for others. That is what made it a good read, I didn’t really care about the politics part of the story, not something that interests me, but when Milbrandt got deeper into the family aspect I was involved; I wanted to see what would happen with the kids and his relationship with his wife because of the decisions he made after winning the money. The plot was original, the characters were flawed but relatable which readers will enjoy, and the pace easy to follow other than the middle that lost my interest with all the talk of politics. I read this in a little over a day, just a nice easy read that I didn’t have to think too much about which was nice. I recommend this book to readers that enjoy politics, family stories and a nice clean read.

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

The Letter Keeper

Author: Charles Martin

Series: Murphy Shepherd #2

Publisher: Thomas Nelson

Release Date: June 8, 2021

Rating: 5 out of 5.

If the first book in the series didn’t draw you in, this one is a sure bet!

Murphy Shepherd always leaves the ninety-nine behind to search for the one.  The one that no one else could find that’s being trafficked.  And he’s made a lot of enemies along the way that would love nothing more than to silence the man who has destroyed their profits once and for all.  Unfortunately, someone has found the ability to do just that and not only have they destroyed his beloved island, they have captured his new wife and teenage daughters.  Murphy must race against time with the tables turned on him to find his family before they meet a fate worse than death.

So, if you loved the rough, tough persona of Murphy Shepherd created during in The Water Keeper then you are in for a treat in this new book.  There is not as much action as the first book, but readers get to see the man behind the persona and really begin to understand who he is.  From childhood to university to how he become involved in this line of work.  In addition to all of this, readers get to know some of the supporting characters better including Bones and his daughter Ellie.  One of the most surprising elements of the book was developing the story of Casey, who was found at the end of the first book.  She develops into such a beautiful, yet fierce, character with some unexpected twist and turns along the way.

If you thought the first book mirror the move Taken, this was makes you think it will be like Taken 2, but it is much more than that.  Grab a copy as soon as you can!

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

A Piece of the Moon

Author: Chris Fabry

Publisher: Tyndale House

Release Date: April 6, 2021

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Fabry never fails to give readers a story that will be enjoyable with flawed characters that readers are easily able to bond with.

Gideon Quidley has achieved great wealth throughout his life and when he receives a divine vision telling him to hide his treasure based on bible verses, he sets out to do just that.  When people find out what he has done, treasure hunters search high and low based on the clues.  It becomes an obsession for some people.  For others, it’s become more of a joking matter.  In the small town of Emmaus, West Virginia, mooring radio talk show hosts Waite Evers and TD Lovett, tend to joke about the matter weekly.  But when one of TD’s estranged friends goes missing, he is suddenly pulled into the hunt for his friend over the treasure.  As TD dives into the clues, he begins to discover his own real treasure that isn’t just of this earth.

Leave it to Chris Fabry to set up an incredibly interesting tale that takes readers back to 1981.  I’ve never been disappointed in one of Fabry’s novels and this one kept me intrigued all the way through.  His characters are all incredibly flawed, just like real life, and have the ability to easily connect with readers.  Waite was just one of many, but he saw the good in everybody but himself.  TD felt he could never be more than he was and didn’t know what the point of trying was.  With plenty of supporting characters, readers will easily find someone to resonate with and cheer for throughout the book.  Fabry’s years of experience on the radio show with the technical knowledge included in this book!

The story centers around an earthly treasure of riches, but has a theme of discovering the treasure of ourselves with our heavenly father.  I love the way that this book ended.  I’m not going to say more than that, but I think all readers will enjoy the final wrap up!

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

Trial and Error

Author: Robert Whitlow

Publisher: Thomas Nelson

Release Date: February 2, 2020

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Suspenseful, intriguing, and makes readers cheer for the protagonist!

Eighteen years ago, Buddy Smith’s girlfriend skipped town with their newborn daughter and he hasn’t found them since.  Now a defense lawyer back in his hometown, he often takes cases where one of the parents has fled with a child. 

Gracie Blaylock is the county clerk and coach of the local girls’ softball team.  She and Buddy have been friends for years, but never had a romantic aspect to their relationship.  When one of the girls on the softball team abruptly stops attending practice, the other teammates know that something is wrong and confirm that she has runaway.  She knows it’s not the same as an abduction case but feels that Buddy would be best to pursue it.

As Buddy and Gracie work together to find out what happened to the missing girl, clues start to show up that could lead Buddy to find his own estranged daughter. 

Robert Whitlow has such a great ability to blend faith, suspense, and legality into his stories.  It’s easy to get lost in the story, even when there is not much of a legal thriller aspect.  With cases of parents abducting their own child on the rise, this book fits right in for current times.  I love the rural small-town Georgia setting to this book.  It made me to want to have porch conversations with some of the main characters.  I also loved all the characters throughout this book.  Everyone contained some sort of flaw that was able to improve through the course of the book.  Gracie is such a role model for me, similar to other characters he has written.  No one took a step backwards and it worked out for the better by the end.  We need more books like this in our library today!  I’ve always loved his writing and will continue to read his books!

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

2020 Top Time Slip Novels

One of our favorite genres is the time slip, where we get to enjoy both historical fiction as well as a present storyline. This is almost like having two novels in one and any of these books will keep you well occupied into the night!

The Edge of Belonging by Amanda Cox

A fantastic coming of age story about finding yourself in the darkest of times and learning that no matter what, everyone deserves happiness! The way the two stories of Ivy and Harvey intertwined kept us intrigued and made this an easy top choice.

Read the full review.

The Haunting of Bonaventure Circus by Jaime Jo Wright

Wright always delivers a spectacular tale that balances darkness and light and her newest release was no exception! This story is thrilling, mysterious, and moving focusing on brokenness, revenge, love, and a yearning to belong.

Read the full review.

The Book of Lost Friends by Lisa Wingate

Even though it made its way onto our historical fiction list (both timelines were historical), it is still a masterful time slip by Lisa Wingate. Both stories were intriguing and it took both to find out the truth.

Read the full review.

Fragments of Light by Michele Phoenix

This book had so much raw emotion that readers can’t help but feel for the characters involved. The healing encountered in this book makes it the icing on the cake.

Read the full review.

Fragments of Light

Author: Michele Phoenix

Publisher: Thomas Nelson

Release Date: July 14, 2020

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

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

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

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

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

The Water Keeper

Author: Charles Martin

Publisher: Thomas Nelson

Release Date: May 5, 2020

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

Martin’s writing never ceases to draw me in.  This was like a cross between Taken and RED.

Murphy Shepherd lives a very unique life.  Mostly in solitude, he lives on a island of the Florida Intercoastal Waterway in a seemingly abandoned church.  He has a lot of past and present secrets.  He is content with where he is at in life until he meets a young girl of about 16 named Angel.  She barges into the church one night while a ship is docked up by his island.  It quickly becomes obvious that she is drunk and likely high.  Murphy figures that she is being trafficked out of Florida but doesn’t want to get involved anymore as he is trying to put that life behind him.  There are only so many you can save.  As he sets out to spread the ashes of his mentor in the sea, he begins to pick up a few strangers along the way.  First is the most well-trained dog swimming along in the waterway.  Next is a former dancer turned waitress who wrecks a small craft in the waterway, and finally is a terminal disease-stricken man found lying in an alley.  As the story of his new shipmates unfold, he finds that they link to this young girl that stumbled in and out of his life a few nights ago.  Murphy finds that he has one last adventure left.

Charles Martin books are so enjoyable.  You can’t pick one up and not be drawn into the story almost immediately.  This book was no exception. I quickly found myself wrapped up in a story that was almost a bit like watching the movie Taken with Liam Neesen.  Then as the story tracked further, it was he picked up a few pieces from Island of the Misfit Toys that developed into RED.  Needless to say, it was a thrill ride of a story. 

Although the story deals strongly with human trafficking in the sex industry, there are several redeeming qualities throughout.  Some readers may be a bit squeamish during some of the scenes, but the story that unfolds is well worth it.  Murphy finally lets his wounds heal throughout the story and readers get to see the real side of him.  I’m thoroughly excited to see that this is the first in a series.  I can’t wait to find out what happens to these characters in the future.

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

The Sowing Season

Author: Katie Powner

Publisher: Bethany House

Release Date: October 6, 2020

Rating: 5 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

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

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

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

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

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

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