Promised Land

Promised landAuthor: Robert Whitlow

Series: Chosen People #2

Publisher: Thomas Nelson

Release Date: January 14, 2020

Rating: 5 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

Another terrific story with one of my favorite characters ever written!

A lot has changed since Hana and Daud were married. They feel that they can no longer stay in their homeland of Israel because of enemies Daud made while working with the Mossad. They believe it is best to return to America and live in Atlanta, which is where Hana’s law office. Hana continues with her work and Daud sets himself up a company to assist corporations looking to open an office in the middle east as his primary employment, but the CIA likes to use him as a contractor. While on a covert mission to extract a Ukrainian scientist, events don’t go as planned and Daud becomes the suspect of interest in a disturbance, branding him as a fugitive in Egypt.

When Jakob Brodsky calls Hana about another client, she knows it will never be a dull moment. Jakob has a new case involving some artifacts that were stolen by the Russian government during World War II. His client is hoping to locate and recover them if possible. Hana agrees to help in a limited capacity as her firm only wants her time spent on billable clients. Her boss, Leon Lowenstein, has also asked Hana to participate in a Jewish information forum to share her story. Daud agrees to oversee security for the event to not only keep Hana safe, but also show people in the United States what attending an event is like in the middle east.

Hana likes the safety of living in Atlanta, but Daud feels the call of Jerusalem. While overseas for work, he stops over in Jerusalem to talk to someone about Jakob Brodsky’s case. He never knew the events set off by this trip would eventually put everything he loves in jeopardy.

I’d like to start off by letting people know that this is the sequel to Chosen People and while it can be read as a standalone, to get the full effect of the book and characters, I highly recommended reading the first book. Promised Land is the continuation of Hana and Daud’s journey together after they were joined in the first book. This story really focuses on struggles of a newlywed couple and their adjustment to a new life. Through it all, readers get to see the selflessness of both Daud and Hana and how they are willing to give up on their own dream to see their partner’s dream come true. Sure, there are times that each character struggles with the actions of the other, but Whitlow shows how important constant communication is in a marriage.

Hana is one of my favorite characters that has ever been put into print. Her actions and demeanor speak to my soul when I read about her. I loved how her habit of waking up during the night and praying carried over from the first book. She speaks life to me and I feel like I know her. That is an extremely powerful attribute to any book. I hope she does the same to other readers.

The only issue I have with the whole book was the lack of Emily’s presence. She was a consistent supporting character for Jakob in the first book and now she is reference by name only. Here is to hoping that there is a third book that will reprise her role.

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

Top Contemporary for 2019

It’s time to release our top picks for the contemporary category.  This category has stories set in modern times that focus on realistic fiction.  Any of these books are all around great reads, which is why we couldn’t narrow it to five!

how the light gets in

  1. 1Th
  2. 1. How the Light Gets In by Jolina Petersheim

This modern day retelling of the bibilcal story of Ruth is simply phenomenal.  There is so much raw emotion in this book that every reader will be affected.  However, we must warn you that there is a controversial ending that has left many readers unsettled.

Read the full review here.

 

 

 

Unscripted

 

2. Unscripted by Davis Bunn

This was easily one of our favorite stories of the entire tire.  This fun and easy read boasts some great character growth and Bunn’s trademark ability to engage the reader within the first paragraph.

Read the full review here.

 

 

 

Offscript

 

3. Off-Script and Over-Caffeinated by Kaley Rhea and Rhonda Rhea

This book may have just released but it was such a fun read that it quickly worked its way up our ranks.  When the Rheas get together to write a book, you know it’s going to be fun, witty, and good.

Read the full review here.

 

 

 

Last Summer

 

4. Last Summer by Kerry Lonsdale

Lonsdale is no stranger to our annual top contemporary selections.  Last Summer took us for one crazy ride that will keep readers heads spinning to the last page trying to figure out what actually happened.  She has created some devious characters in the past and this story is no exception.

Read the full review here.

 

 

Luis Velez

 

5. Have You Seen Luis Velez? by Catherine Ryan Hyde

Every single novel we’ve read by Catherine Ryan Hyde pulls us in further and shows that she is one of the best at crafting a story that pulls at readers’ heartstrings and character relationships that very few other authors could pull off.

Read the full review here.

 

 

Glitter of Gold

 

5. A Glitter of Gold by Liz Johnson

Johnson has a way of developing flawed characters that readers can easily relate to.  Set against the backdrop of picturesque Savannah, Georgia, its easy to get lost in the folklore of this story.  Oh, and there be pirates!

Read the full review here.

 

 

 

brunch

 

6. Brunch at Bittersweet Café by Carla Laureano

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

Read the full review here.

If Only I Could Tell You

If only I could tell youAuthor: Hannah Beckerman

Publisher: William Morrow

Release Date: October 15, 2019

Rating: 4 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

When is a lie better than the truth? Secrets come back to haunt in this chilling tale that will leave readers guessing as to who really knew what and the damage caused when we assume we know what happened.

Audrey always dreamed and wished for her daughters to grow up and be best friends to each other. Unfortunately as they grew up, a secret tore them apart and as adults now they no longer speak to each other and refuse to let their own daughters have anything to do with one another. Audrey has watched her family come undone over the last few decades and as her time on this earth is coming to a close, she wonders if there is any way to make her family whole again. What she doesn’t realize, is a secret from three decades ago is the root cause of the problem and confronting the truth might be the hardest thing any of them have ever had to do.

I wasn’t really sure what to expect when I picked up this book. What I got was an engaging story with a tight plot and tension in all the right places to keep the story flowing beautifully. The back and forth point of views between Audrey, Jess, and Lily combined with the timelines helped encompass the whole story and kept me from feeling lost at times. I really enjoyed the setting even though none of it was familiar to me; everything was written in a way that helped me be able to picture the houses, and office buildings and each different place the characters found themselves. Hannah Beckerman did an outstanding job of weaving the different layers of time and points of view together to craft a story that kept me guessing as to what the final outcome would be right up to the very last pages. Each character had a special message to bring to the story and I don’t believe it could have been told any differently than it was. A few of the storylines could have been cut without affecting the story, Audrey and her outings with her granddaughters seemed at little monotonous and didn’t add to the story, but that is one of my only negatives about the book. Overall it was a very enjoyable read and one I would recommend to readers that like a story that will keep them guessing with intriguing characters and real scenarios they might find themselves in.

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

Christmas in Winter Hill

Christmas in Winter HIllAuthor: Melody Carlson

Publisher: Revell

Release Date: September 3, 2019

Rating: 4 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

If you love a good Hallmark movie, you will enjoy this book

Krista Galloway has taken a job as City Manager in the small town of Winter Hill, famous for its Christmasville celebration.  Not being a fan of the Christmas season, Krista is hesitant, but knows this is a great opportunity.  She and her daughter settle into their small apartment and life in their new town.  Krista faces many challenges as a young executive taking on a big position.  She is slow to accept the idea of Christmasville that so many citizens adore, which makes some of the citizens question her.  The CFO of the town gives her a run for her money, challenging her authority.  While facing many of the challenges of putting Christmasville on in City Hall, Krista grows close to Conner Harris, the son of her assistant.  She and Emily are taken in by the Harris family, making Krista realize that life in a small town may not be so bad.  She even realizes that she finds some joy in Christmas, which up to this point has been a reminder of her difficult past.  After Emily wins a town contest, Krista and Emily move into “The Christmas House” but Krista believes that it is too good to be true. After fighting for the good of the town, Krista fears she will be turned away as the new-comer who wants to run it into the ground.  Truth is revealed and Krista is accepted as a member of the community.   Like all feel-good books, this one ends happily for Krista and Emily.

This book was an easy read and very spirited.  The Christmas theme was fun to delve into.  Krista has a difficult past, including growing up in foster care and a divorce.  Her fear of good happening to her can be off-putting at times, but in the end, she is redeemed and gets her happy ending.  This book lacked an emotional depth.  It was a light and easy read.  While feeling slightly bored with the book in the middle portion, the end really did bring me back in.  Krista was able to overcome her fears and see that she may have a future in this small Christmas centered town.  I even had a tear in my eye reading her daughter, Emily’s, letter she wrote to the Christmasville Council.  Overall, I enjoyed reading the book.

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

Unscripted

UnscriptedAuthor: Davis Bunn

Publisher: Revell

Release Date: October 1, 2019

Rating: 5 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

Davis Bunn gives readers a terrific story that will be sure to have them talking to others about the uniqueness of this book!

Danny Byrd has made quite the reputation for himself in Hollywood as being someone who is reliable in the film industry. As a behind the scenes accountant, he manages production of films with a tight crew that always make money.  However, that all changes when his business partner, and best friend, empties out all the accounts and leaves town with the money.  When checks start bouncing, only Danny is left to take the fall.  Now sitting in a jail cell, Danny begins to wonder if all his luck has run out.  Then he meets Megan Pierce, a high dollar LA attorney who has been hired to secure his release.  Megan has been struggling with her career herself and what she has sacrificed to work at her firm.  After she get’s Danny released, the two head to San Luis Obispo to meet with another legal firm that has a beneficiary package for Danny.  At this meeting, both of their lives change.  Can they both take advantage of a second chance?  And is there an attraction between the two that can overcome each person’s baggage?

This was just an overall great book! There are a few authors out there that I can just pick up and enjoy a good story and Davis Bunn has just added himself to the list.  There is not really a common theme that several other books out there follow.  This book has a message of redemption and Bunn subtly explores that with Danny.  It is so different from his science fiction and fantasy novels, that it just feels right.  The characters undergo a transformation for the better, tough conversations are had, and people are helped out in the end.  It reminds me a bit of Charles Martin’s writing in that its just enjoyable.  I hope that Bunn writes more stories like this that aren’t necessarily in a series, just a snapshot in time of someone’s life.

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

Flowers From Afghanistan

Flowers

Author: Suzy Parish

Publisher: Harbourlight Books

Release Date: August 10, 2018

Rating: 4.5 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

A compelling redemption story for both self and marriage.

 After his two-year-old soon is killed in a tragic accident, Mac McCann signs up for a year long stint for overseeing security in a camp at Afghanistan.  Mac sees this as a way to get away from his troubles.  His wife is distraught that he is leaving but he is hoping that this will be a way for them to heal.  But he harbors a secret.  He feels that his son’s death is his fault and he doesn’t want to face his demons.  Once in Afghanistan, he meets other security workers that are there for a myriad of reasons, but many are there to escape problems.  However, the problems never really go away, they just seem to get worse.  As Mac continues his tour, he begins to view life from a new perspective and realizes his mistakes and that he must confront them in he wants to heal and move on.

 I thoroughly enjoyed this book as it was a clean read with redeeming qualities throughout.  Parish did a great job of weaving a story of a grieving couple struggling to heal.  But this book went way deeper than that.  She also brought to life many of the struggles that the both the locals in Afghanistan face as well as those that are over in an attempt to help rebuild the village life so that people can protect themselves.  Parish did a great job setting different scenes between Huntsville, Alabama and Afghanistan.  Her descriptive settings took to me each location in detail but didn’t detract from the story.  Mac and Sophie were wonderfully developed characters.  I could feel the hurt that they both carried and the anger between the two of them.  I could sense what was happening in their relationship before they could, which is the sign of a truly talented author.  I highly recommend this debut novel.

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

The Accidental Further Adventures of the 100-Year-Old Man

100 yer oldAuthor: Jonas Jonasson

Publisher: William Morrow Books

Release Date: January 15, 2019

Rating: 3.5 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

Just plain hilarious!

After wasting away the millions that were in the suitcase discovered by Allan and Julius, they must figure out how to foot the bill of their luxurious hotel in Bali.  But before they do, Julius decides that a birthday surprise is in order for his good friend’s 101st birthday, complete with a hot air balloon ride.  But what starts off as an innocent day turns out to be anything but when a series of events leaves Allan and Julius alone in the balloon with a broken gas lever and the balloon suddenly whisking them across the Indian ocean.  Once they run out of gas and drop into a seemingly endless ocean with only two flares (make that one as Julius accidentally fires the first one into the ocean), Allan plans to make the best with the bottles of champagne they have.  Amazingly, a ship saw the flare and comes to there rescue, which happens to be a North Korean cargo ship that takes them directly to Pyongyang. Will Allan be able to talk himself and his friend out of this adventure?

So, I’ve not read the first one and can tell that I have definitely missed some back story as well as some hilarious witty banter from Allan.  Even so, this book still read just fine as a standalone, but I think I will likely go back and read the first to understand the whole story of what has happened.  As far as this book is concerned, it was like reading a cross between Forest Gump and a Dirk Pitt novel.  The adventures that these two get themselves into and the world figures that they meet up with is just insane and hilarious at the same time.  The author has taken advantage of pop culture for characterizing different world leaders including Donald Trump, Kim Jong-um, and Angela Merkel just to name a few.  So, if you are easily offended by any off handed characterizations of these individuals, this is probably not the book for you.  However, if you want a fun read that will leave you howling in laughter, then you’re welcome.

There is some strong language throughout the book, so I would not recommended this for young readers.  I would also recommended that you have a decent grasp of current events.

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

Send Down the Rain

Send Down the RainAuthor: Charles Martin

Publisher: Thomas Nelson

Release Date: May 8, 2018

Rating: 5 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

A great new story by one of my favorite authors!

Allie has had a rough life. What started as a promising childhood with loving parents owning a popular local restaurant was dashed when her father become addicted to gambling.  Once her father went into debt, he started drinking, which led to physically abusing her mother.  Her childhood sweetheart was lost to Vietnam.  Her first husband was lost to drugs and trying to put him through rehab cost her the restaurant.  Now her second husband has just been tragically killed in a crash with his semi not far from home.  Even though their marriage was far from perfect, being left alone again might be all that Allie can take of life.

Joseph’s life isn’t perfect either. His father left him, his brother and mother when they were young.  So they threw themselves into other things.  Joseph became good at physical activities such as karate.  His brother was good with people so he worked as a grocery sacker.  Joseph ends up shipped to Vietnam where he serves four tours, but each tour takes its toll.  He becomes a trained killer and is tasked to do things that never leave his dreams at night.  He can never shake all the bad that he is done in life no matter how much good he does.  This is why he has isolated himself in a cabin, but fate has ways of bringing people back together when they least expect it.

As usual, Martin brings an incredible story that life that is entertaining and heart wrenching all at the same time. Allie and Jo-Jo were meant to be together, but circumstances in life kept them apart.  And they were not perfect by any means.  That is one of the things I love most about the characters that Martin develops.  Each character is extremely flawed and from the outside you would probably want to avoid them if you ever met them.  But as you get to know them, their edges soften and you begin to understand them.  In fact, you actually want to be friends with them.  The unlikely cast of characters includes a drug addict, alcoholics, physical abuse, Vietnam war vet, and illegal immigrants.

This book is packed full of family issues, romance, PTSD, and even action with a Mexican drug cartel. But through all of the circumstances, wounds heal and they are able to become somewhat of a family.  The theme of the story is forgiveness and it takes the entire story for Joseph to finally accept that.  He has tried to atone for what the has done in the past through good deeds, but it is never enough.

There is so much that goes on in this book that the only way to understand it is to just read it. I highly recommend this book for readers that just want to enjoy a great story!

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

Becoming the Talbot Sisters

Becoming the talbot sistersAuthor: Rachel Linden

Publisher: Thomas Nelson

Release Date: May 1, 2018

Rating: 5 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

An unexpected surprise! One of my favorite books of the year so far!

Celebrity chef Waverly Ross has built one of the most successful shows on the Food Network. From the outside, she seems to have it all.  But there is one thing that she has yearned for that she has never been able to obtain: motherhood.  Her estranged twin sister Charlie Talbot has been running from a dark secret of her past and working as a relief aid worker in Hungary.  When the aunt that raised them passes away, Charlie and Waverly and reunited and begin the process of healing old wounds and building a relationship again.  Charlie even offers to be a surrogate so that Waverly and her husband can finally become parents.  When events take a turn that leave both sisters with the possibility of losing their jobs, the dream once again must wait.  But Waverly has a plan to save her show and she needs Charlie’s help to do it.

This is one of those “can’t judge a book by its cover” stories. I had no idea what I was getting into when I opened the cover of this book, but I’m so glad that I did.  The writing was phenomenal.  I loved how Linden developed the characters based on individual perspectives and then blended them together as the story progressed.  I also loved all of the behind the scenes descriptions of what goes on to make a successful cooking show.  Throw that in with travel across parts of Europe and you’ve got a masterpiece of a novel.

The scenery was fantastic throughout the book. Traveling across Europe in a book takes a lot of research into different settings and cultures and Linden really brought those to light.  But the emphasis on the relationship between Waverly and Charlie was probably the best part of the whole thing.  Throughout the book you love the sisters, then you hate the sisters; sometimes only one, sometimes both.  It felt real the whole way through.

Definitely a book that you need to add to you summer reading list. I may even read it again just to enjoy it a little bit more!

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

The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell

sam hellAuthor: Robert Dugoni

Publisher: Lake Union

Release Date: April 24, 2018

Rating: 5 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

To call this book extraordinary won’t do it justice! Dugoni has written a coming of age story with some of the best character development I have ever read.

Sam Hill started life different than everyone else. He was born with red pupils and ended up with the nicknames, “Devil boy” or “Sam Hell”.  His mother didn’t want him to believe the derogatory things said about him. She told him that God had a plan for his life and to have faith in God’s will.  Nothing she said did any good to comfort Sam, but he kept his head high with the help of his mother’s faith, father’s guidance, and his two best friends.  Growing up in the time he did, it was hard to have red eyes, but it was even harder to have dark skin, which is what made Sam gravitate towards the new kid in school, Ernie Cantwell.  Ernie was the only African American kid in Sam’s class and needed a friend as bad as Sam did.  Mickie Kennedy rounded out their group and she was a force to be reckoned with.  As Sam grows into adulthood, he questions if everything is by a plan or not.  Sam looks back on the life he has lived and takes a journey through the past and around the world to figure his world out for himself.  By the time he finishes his journey, his eyes are truly open to what matters most.

Robert Dugoni is by far one of the best authors I know. His writing is one that will transport you into the story and have you walking hand in hand with the characters.  His Tracy Crosswhite series is one of my favorite series to date and The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell is going to be right up there with some of my all time favorites, but for very different reasons.  Usually my favorite reads are the suspense thrillers, page-turners that keep you guessing about what is going to happen until the very end.  With this book, it was more of an immersion into the characters unlike any other I have ever read. The character development throughout this story is better than any I have ever read.  Each character brings the story to life in their own special way.  Sam has so many challenges but it is nothing he can’t handle.  And having to face those challenges helps mold him into the kind of man he needs to be to help others, a lesson we can all learn from.  Dugoni is well known for his suspense thrillers and legal thrillers so I wasn’t sure how this new venture would turn out for him but am pleased to say this will easily make my list of best of the year reads.  I recommend this book to all readers, especially those looking for a story with heart and a lesson for all to learn.

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