A Stolen Heart

A Stolen HeartAuthor: Amanda Cabot

Series: Cimarron Creek #1

Publisher: Revell

Release Date: March 14, 2017

Rating: 4 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

Cabot’s new trilogy set in the Texas hill country makes for a great new series.

When Lydia Crawford steps off the train the train in Cimarron Creek, she expects to meet her future husband. Instead she meets the sheriff, who informs him that her husband to be is missing.  And then tells her that his wife is frantic with worry.  Although Texas is known for its friendliness, just a few years after the civil war people still hold grudges and suspicion against any northerner in their presence.  Alone and in a new place, will Lydia be able to start over?  Or should she just return back home?

Amanda Cabot’s novels are always entertaining and seem to put the main character in very awkward situations. This remains the case for Lydia when she finds that the man she loves in married to someone else.  Then romance appears for this character in someone who would be an unlikely fit.  This is pretty much her formula, but one that works very well.  It is similar to her Texas Crossroads series, but set in the 1880s rather than present day.  If you like Texas historical fiction coupled with romance, this is a new series for you!

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

Alabaster

AlabasterAuthor: Chris Aslan

Publisher: Lion Hudson

Release Date: November 18, 2016

Rating: 5 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

A well-known story told from a different perspective.

Miriam and Martha have had their share of a rough life. When they were children, their mother died leaving them with their father and younger brother.  Even so, they still made the best of it.  That is until the day that their father helps a leper, who leaves them a small alabaster jar for helping before he dies.  Nothing seems that odd until one day Miriam notices a small white patch on his back.  Soon the priest and his wife come to observe the patch and quarantine the family.  But the patch does not recede, so their father must leave the community for good and venture out to the lepers.  But fate does not stop there.  Martha has no money for a dowry and remains single, but she is quite the busybody.  Miriam gets married to a young man who helps the priest, but his mother and sister are scornful to her and it might have been better never to marry.  Their brother, Eleazar, runs away from the community with a friend when they are of age, with intentions never to return.  That is until they meet the doctor in the north that has been able to cure leprosy.

This book was a great read that keep playing with my mind. Once the book got started, I began to wonder if this might be one of the well-known stories of Jesus in the bible.  The more I read, the more it sounded likely.  And then I discovered that it was.  It was told from a completely different perspective than I had ever heard it before.  But it was still masterfully told.  The emotions of Miriam were vastly different than I would have pictured them, but there were still very believable.  I love it when stories like this pop up and change the way I have always observed things.  Well done!

There is some implied sex scenes, one of which is a rape scene, but it is not graphic. I would recommended this to young adult readers and up.

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

A Trail of Crumbs

A trial of crumbsAuthor: Susie Finkbeiner

Publisher: Kregel

Release Date: March 28, 2017

Rating: 5 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

As the dust bowl rages on, so does the turmoil in young Pearl’s life!

Pearl Spence has been through more in her eleven years than most people have in a lifetime. Having to endure the dust bowl in the Oklahoma panhandle is bad enough, but finding out you’re adopted and then having you birth mother murdered before your eyes makes it seem like a cake walk.  On a rare nice day with a clear blue sky, Pearl hopes that new life is coming into Oklahoma, until she sees another raging duster heading their way.  This particular storm is going to do more damage than just skin deep, it will set a chain of events in place that will threaten to rip her family apart.

After A Cup of Dust, I was excited to hear that Pearl’s story was going to continue.  Having grown up with family members that lived during the dust bowl made me appreciate the research and time that the author put into her book.  I was happy that the first part of the book was still set in Oklahoma.  Then the remainder moved out to Michigan, which didn’t get the dust bowl but still had plenty of depression.  Reading this story, I wonder how much Pearl actually wrote of her own story.  I wonder if Susie Finkbeiner was sitting there and suddenly saw what happened to Pearl and thought “didn’t see that coming!”  I know there are some characters that have that ability and I could see Pearl in that role.

This story really created a civil war within Pearl, as with many kids who have the issue that Pearl has toward the end of this book. I really want to write more on the subject, but doing so will completely give away the climax of the book, so I’m not going there.  What I will say is that this is another great story that has raw emotion built into it so that you actually feel Pearl’s anguish.  And most importantly, her story is going to continue yet again coming February 2018!

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

Andi Under the Big Top

4431 cover 2.inddAuthor: Susan K. Marlow

Series: Circle C Stepping Stones #2

Publisher: Kregel

Release Date: March 28, 2017

Rating: 4 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

Another fun adventure for young readers that is just the right combination of excitement and life lessons we can all use.

Andi Carter is excited for summer! She is finally healed from the broken arm she got trying to do a trick on her horse and now the circus has come to town.  She has seen the circus once before, but was too young to fully remember anything, except for being scared of the clowns.  The most exciting thing for Andi is getting to see the champion bareback rider.  During the show, Andi and her family meet Henry Jackson, a young boy working in the circus.  Andi is a little jealous of Henry at first, working and hanging out with all the circus performers and traveling to new places.  That quickly changes after she learns that he ran away from home to join the circus and now he can’t leave.  Andi feels led to help him get free, but doing so might cost her more than she is willing to pay.

The second book in the Circle C series is another fun adventure for young readers. However, I don’t think I would say it is as good as the first.  I have a problem with the way it ended.  For me it didn’t take care of a few of the loose ends.  I don’t want to give anything away, but it was too quick without the explanations I would have liked to have seen.  The target audience of 7-10 year old children probably won’t notice, or if they do, they might not care, but it bothered me.  I liked the way Andi saw a wrong being committed and wanted to do something about it and help.  This is a good reminder for the readers to always try and do what is right.  The length of these books is just perfect for young readers to get a good story but not be overwhelmed by the amount to read.  I recommend this to kids starting out with chapter books that enjoy stories with animals and have some history to them.

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

Andi Saddles Up

4430 cover 1.inddAuthor: Susan K. Marlow

Series: Circle C Stepping Stones #1

Publisher: Kregel

Release Date: March 28, 2017

Rating: 5 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

A fun, quick read great for young readers ready to get started with an adventure.

All that Andi Carter has thought about is getting to her ninth birthday so she can be old enough to ride her palomino horse, Taffy, all on her own. When the day finally arrives, she is excited to receive her first saddle and gets ready for an adventure.  She wants to learn to do tricks like her friend, unfortunately her older brother Chad thinks that is too dangerous and won’t even let her try.  In an attempt to make up for it, he shows her to a super secret spot she can go to think and have her privacy.  It is here that she meets a new friend, Sadie.  The girls quickly become good friends until they find out their families are in the middle of a fight over the boundary of their lands.  They don’t understand the way adults must make a big fuss over things that don’t seem important to either of them.  More than their friendship will be tested as the fighting continues.

I picked up this book to see what it would be like for young readers like my son, who is in first grade. This is the perfect book for young readers looking for an adventure (when he saw me reading it he quickly wanted to start reading it himself).  Everything about this is great for kids starting out, the writing is quick and concise, the story has a bit of mystery and adventure, and it is just the right length to give them a sense of accomplishment without seeming overwhelming.  I also enjoyed the little lessons it gave throughout, teaching of how important it is to be kind and how kids look to see the best in each other even when the others around them just want to continue with a fight, no matter how inconsequential it may seem.  I highly recommend this as a series for kids and even parents to read together and enjoy.

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

Long Time Gone

Long Time GoneAuthor: Mary Connealy

Series: The Cimarron Legacy #2

Publisher: Bethany House

Release Date: February 28, 2017

Rating: 4 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

A charming western romance with action and adventure at just the right spots.

After the patriarch of the Boden family is injured in what appears to be an accidental landslide and sent to Denver for treatment, the rest of the family is left to handle the ranch and quickly uncover it was no accident. Justin Boden is now in charge of the ranch and after seeing his father hurt and now his brother Cole, shot and in critical condition, he feels in over his head.  The doctor trying to save Cole has an assistant, Angie Dupree, that is a distraction to Justin.  Angie came to town to stay with her aunt after her life didn’t go as planned.  Justin and the rest of the family must work together, with the help of Angie, who he is quickly falling for, and a few others to figure out who is out to get their family.  Things are turning out to be much bigger than they first thought and danger is around every corner and deadlier than they could have imagined.

The best thing about a Mary Connealy book is that it is a quick read that is enjoyable. However, sometimes the books can be unmemorable, especially when you read a lot.  It has been a while since I read the first in the series and didn’t remember a whole lot of it before starting this one.  In a way that is good because I can say that if readers haven’t read the first book, they will still enjoy this one.  It does help for some background information with the parents and what the family is facing.  But it is not completely vital to have read the first before starting this one.  I read these and enjoy them while I am reading them and then move on to the next on my list, whereas with some I hate to put it down because it was so good.  I liked the storyline of Justin and Angie, I could see where they were heading and everything felt natural for the characters as they got to where they needed to be.  I’m hoping the third book will go into Cole and his relationship to come, ( I could be wrong but I’m guessing he will fall for Melanie.)  I recommend this book to readers than enjoy a good, clean, historical romance with cowboys, action and a little humor sprinkled in for good measure.

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

The Orphan’s Tale

Orphan's taleAuthor: Pam Jenoff

Publisher: Mira Books

Release Date: February 21, 2017

Rating: 4.5 Stars

Reviewer: Jennifer S. Roman

Readers meet the first protagonist, Noa, in late 1944 Germany at a train station.  She has been put out of her home by her father after he discovers she is pregnant to a German soldier who occupied their Dutch home.  After giving birth at a girls’ home and having her baby immediately taken away from her, she finds a job cleaning the train station and living in a small closet there.  During her routine shift, Noa finds a train car full of Jewish babies.  One in particular calls to her because he resembles her own child.  Without thinking, Noa grabs the baby and runs away from the station.  She struggles in the cold snow of winter with a baby in tow before passing out from cold, exhaustion, and fear.  When she wakes up, the baby is in a warm basket with plenty of blankets and she is in a soft warm bed being cared for by a circus ringmaster.  He tells Noa he will keep her and the baby that she spontaneously names Theo, but in return she must perform on the trapeze with their current star, Astrid.

Astrid is the second protagonist.  She comes from a prominent circus family herself, but because she is Jewish, she is now in hiding.  Her parents have been taken by the Germans, and she does not know the fate of her brothers.  So far she has survived through her marriage to a German officer, but he had to put her out and divorce her per Nazi decree.  Now she performs with the circus and is NOT happy about having to train a runaway girl she presumes is a single mother.  Little does she know she and Noa will develop a very close friendship that will be her saving grace.

As the women get to know each other and develop a relationship through their close quarters and intense practice schedule, they share their secrets.  Things get worse as they travel to Nazi-occupied France, and there they put their friendship to the test as protecting one another becomes a matter of life and death.

Wow!  I am still reeling from this haunting novel of friendship and survival.  There are so many compelling characters that bring the story to life that it is hard to choose a favorite.  Astrid appears cold and unfeeling at first, but then we get to understand the hardships she’s endured.  By the end of the story, readers feel a real connection to her and experience a genuine hope for her happiness.  Noa immediately endears herself as she tries to save an innocent Jewish baby from certain death.  The ringmaster is a kind and caring person who not only wants his performers to be successful, but also goes out of his way to hide Jewish people right out in the open.  Peter is a clown bent on expressing his political views through his act no matter the consequence.  Each person has a backstory and secret that somehow gets exposed, often to the detriment of that person.  The characters are so well-developed and compelling that it’s hard not to relate to them on a basic human level.

I would be remiss if I didn’t say something about how the ending is a bit predictable.  Once we find out what Astrid has in mind, it’s easy to see how it plays out.  This is entirely a perspective thing as to whether it’s good or bad; I like to predict what will happen and then take gratification when I am proven right.  Other people like to be surprised right up to the very end.  Without spilling any plot secrets, I will say that even though I guessed the outcome, I enjoyed the parts leading up to it and the finale.

Even after taking a day to digest this book, I still find myself mulling over different parts of the story.  They all went together so well and made for a satisfying, if not haunting, scenario.  The author makes a point to mention at the end of the book that there were, indeed, circuses in Europe who went to a great deal of trouble to hide Jews during WWII.  This story, while fiction, is inspired by those events, and, in my opinion, did those events justice.  I cannot remember a time when I was so moved by a book, and I believe other readers will be also.

The book does contain violence and sexual situations, as well as adult themes relating to war.  There are some themes that may not be appropriate for younger readers or for those sensitive to the Nazi occupation in Europe.  Otherwise, this is a beautifully written book that shows the ability of the human spirit to overcome tragedy and make peace with the past.  I highly recommend it to mature readers.

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