Out of the Embers

Out of the embersAuthor: Amanda Cabot

Series: Mesquite Springs #1

Publisher: Revell

Release Date: March 3, 2020

Rating: 5 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

New series, same beautiful hill country!

Every time Evelynn Radcliffe returns to the town where her parents were murdered, she always feels that she is being watched. It’s been 10 years since the awful day she was left an orphan. Although many people have left the orphanage she was placed at, she never did. Another young girl named Polly accompanied her today and when they returned, they found the orphanage, and all who were in it, burned to the ground. Wanting to put as much distance between herself and this place, Evelynn and Polly strike out to find a new place to live. They get caught up in a storm outside the town of Mesquite Springs in the Texas hill country where they meet local horse rancher, Wyatt Clark.

Wyatt has aspirations of leaving Mesquite Springs to see the world, or at least the country. Ever since his father was killed by Comanches, Wyatt has felt it was his responsibility to keep the ranch going. With a bit of luck, he has mange to produce a sought-after breed of quarter horses that folks like to use for racing and the Texas Rangers like using for mounts. He has no plans to have a family beyond his mother and sister. When he stumbles on Evelynn and Polly that night in the storm, they become quite the distraction, maybe just the distraction he needs in his life.

I’m a born and raised Texan, so when I get the opportunity to read books set in the beautiful Texas hill country, I jump on it. Amanda Cabot has never ceased to whet my appetite for Texas scenery in her stories. Being transported to the town of Mesquite Springs helped me distract myself from everything going on in the world today. I’m not usually big on historical romances or even western type fiction, but her books always keep me a happy reader. I enjoyed getting to meet the new characters in this setting. Evelynn and Wyatt were both damaged by the loss of one or both parents but had pushed on with their lives. They each had a hole to fill in their lives that they thought could be filled by something else when it turned out to be each other. Sam was easily unlikable from the first time that I met him. His environment growing up obviously fostered this issue, but it kept getting worse. I’m sure we will see him again, probably in the third book, but we will have to wait and see.

If you are a fan of the Texas hill country or historical romances, grab a copy of this book to get your mind in the right place!

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

The Star of Persia

Star of PersiaAuthor: Jill Eileen Smith

Publisher: Revell

Release Date: March 3, 2020

Rating: 4.5 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

Another great annotation of the story of Ester, told a little differently than I’ve always imagined!

Prior to his departure for war against Greece, King Xerxes decides to throw a months long banquet for all the nobles from the Persian provinces at his palace in Susa. Once the banquet was over, he threw another weeklong banquet for the people of Susa for having to deal with the previous few months. On the final night of the banquet after a generous portion of wine, King Xerxes is convinced to show off his queen to all the nobleman of the city. He calls for Queen Vashti to be presented in all her splendor, but she refuses him. Such an insult cannot go ignored and the King puts a decree in place to banish Vashti from the palace. After these events, the King is at a loss without his true queen and is convinced by his servants that he should perform a kingdom wide search of virgins until he finds a suitable replacement queen.

Esther is but a young Jewish girl living in the throngs of Susa. Orphaned after her parents died when she was young, she was raised by her cousin Mordecai. He has always protected her and has delayed arranging a marriage for her. When the King’s decree come out, he hopes to get Esther out of the city before she is discovered, but to no avail. She is taken to the palace where she quickly gains favor with all around her and becomes the King’s chosen queen within the year. But her troubles won’t end at being queen. She soon becomes caught in a battle between her adoptive father and the King’s highest advisor. She will have to risk her life to save her people.

It is no secret that Esther is my favorite book of the Bible. I love getting to read different adaptations of it and this one was very enjoyable. One of the different aspects of this adaption was the character of Queen Vashti. I had always pictured her as a self-absorbed person in my head who simply denied her husband what he wanted when he was drunk. I loved that the author did her research on the laws of Persians and Medes that gave more clarity to her choice. She wasn’t denying him, she was trying to help protect him by not breaking the law. This book brought her into a whole other light.

This book was separated into four parts. The first being that of Queen Vashti’s denial. The second part consisted of the search for the virgins. The third part was Queen Esther’s early reign as queen. The final part was of the battle between Haman and Mordecai. Each was well known but enjoyable being told from different points of view. If you enjoy biblical fiction, then this will no doubt be a delight.

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

Mercy House

Mercy HouseAuthor: Alena Dillon

Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks

Release Date: February 11, 2020

Rating: 3 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

A very deep, difficult book containing lots of heavy topics. Not recommended for the faint of heart or young reader, but a good story nonetheless.

Mercy House is a safe place for abused women run by Sister Evelyn and a group of fellow nuns. Evelyn wants to help these abused women because she knows what it is like. When she was first starting out as a nun with the Catholic Church, she was abused and has held it inside that the very man who abused her is none other than Bishop Hawkins. The nuns must hide many of the ways they go about helping the women who come to Mercy House as the church would condemn their methods and shut them down. Evelyn must use all her resources to save the ones she has worked decades to help and vows to let nothing get in her way. Her courage and drive to save Mercy House pushes those within its walls to work just as hard to keep their doors open and not let someone in power run all over them.

The overall storyline was good demonstrating hope and overcoming such difficult obstacles when everything else is going against them. Evelyn is a strong protagonist that female readers will enjoy getting to know. I enjoyed the way she would stop at nothing to keep Mercy House open for those she cared about. The storyline and the strong characters are what kept me reading. There were several points I wanted to stop reading as the content was a little too graphic for my taste, but I’m glad that I persevered to finish the story. Between the use of very harsh language and graphic sex scenes, I was turned off of the story. While this wasn’t my cup of tea, I feel that there is an audience out there that will be very entertained by this story.

For those that are interested, check out more on the book page at Harper Collins.

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

The Land Beneath Us

landAuthor: Sarah Sundin

Series: Sunrise at Normandy #3

Publisher: Revell

Release Date: February 4, 2020

Rating: 5 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

An ending that brings the series full circle and shows that three brothers can all be prodigal sons.

In 1943, Clay Paxton was betrayed by his two older brothers. After an unfortunate incident that led to all three brothers quarreling, his older brother Wyatt left out of town and took all of money Clay had saved to go to college for medical school. Later that same day, Clay found his other brother and girlfriend together in a more than friendly embrace. Now Clay has joined the Army and is working on becoming a Ranger at Camp Forrest, Tennessee. He has managed to put his past and his faults behind him as he focuses on becoming a Ranger. He knows that the battle ahead will be difficult, but he knows he will be a hero to those around him because he has dreams. In these dreams he dies in battle and he is looking forward to it.

Leah Jones has finally left the orphanage behind and is excited that her love for books has landed her a job as an assistant librarian at Camp Forrest. She hopes to be able to find the original orphanage she was left at with her two baby sisters and find a path to reunite with them. But one night outside the library she is brutally attacked but saved by her friend Private Paxton. When the results of the attack are life altering, Clay proposes a marriage of convenience, which will leave Leah with death benefits after he dies in battle. But the one thing that never of them expected was life without the other.

This was a fantastic conclusion to the Sunrise at Normandy series. Each book told the story of a wayward brother that ended up in a branch of the service at D-Day in Normandy. The final book wraps up all the chaos caused by a single event perfectly. I thoroughly enjoyed getting to see each brother grow in character in their respective book. Clay’s maybe the most difficult because he was wronged by both brothers. He was a genuinely nice guy, but he had a lot of personal growth to do and demons to overcome. It was interesting how each book related to the parable of the prodigal son. Both Wyatt and Adler were the brothers that left, but Clay was the brother that stayed and had to overcome the feelings he had developed against his older brothers.

Leah also had a lot of growth occur in this book. She started out as a naïve character, but quickly got hard knock lessons in a hurry. As a reader, you feel protective of her, especially after the ordeal that she goes through. The women in each book are just as unique as the brothers and it is fun to see how that complement each other. I also enjoyed getting to have some dialogue with the Paxton parents and see the family dynamic that occurred.

I love historical fiction during this era and Sundin makes the books very enjoyable. The romance isn’t forced and encouraged to play out. As a reader, I wanted to see these two get together and had a fretful moment at the end when I thought it might fall apart because of false pretenses.

One of the scenes in this book includes a rape. While not graphic, it may make some readers uncomfortable or cause distress for any reader that has been in this situation.

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

Interested in the first two books of this series?  Check out the reviews for The Sky Above Us and The Sea Before Us.

Warden of Eternity

wardensAuthor: Wardens of Eternity

Publisher: Blink YA Books

Release Date: January 21, 2020

Rating: 4 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

A slow start, but well worth sticking with until the final pages! The ending puts events in motion for a follow up I am dying to get my hands on!

For as long as she can remember, Ziva has been on her own. The only memory she has of her parents is of the day her mother abandoned her when she was three years old in New York City. It’s been fifteen years since they left her and Ziva is starting to discover she has powers she barely understands and no idea how to control them. The more she uses her powers, strange things begin to occur around her. When other worldly monsters start to attack her, others show up with powers like Ziva’s and explain the history she has missed out on growing up on her own. Sayer and Nasira have searched for Ziva and tell her that she is descended from Egyptian royalty and her magic has passed down from the time of the gods. They teach Ziva how to control her magic and give her the family she has looked for all her life. However, they are not the only ones that have been looking for Ziva and the magic she possesses. World War II is brewing around them and Ziva quickly finds herself at the center of a battle for power, uncertain who she can turn to for help and what it all could mean for her.

This book started a little slow and had a few bumps along the way but finished with twists and turns that I didn’t see coming. Ziva has to overcome struggle after struggle and she does so for the most part on her own. When she finds out there are others out there like her, she feels her spirits lifted for the first time in her life. The way she was portrayed helped me relate to her and wish for her to succeed. Not all the aspects of what happened to Ziva and how they got to the end point added up if a reader was paying close attention. Certain moments had me scratching my head trying to figure out how we got to the point we were at. The mythology and magic could have been fleshed out a little more instead of the reader having to try and figure out what the spells actually meant and how Ziva knew them. So much was left out I had trouble keeping up at times. I will say what saved this book for me was the ending. The last two chapters kept me glued to my seat unable to focus on anything else. I really hope there is more to come with this story, so many questions left unanswered and the relationships between the characters that I want to see further developed. I can’t wait to see what comes next. I recommend this book to young readers that are looking for a great story full of mythology, a little bit of history and plenty of action and adventure.

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

Wolf

wolfAuthors: Herbert J. Stern, Alan A. Winter

Publisher: Skyhorse

Release Date: January 23, 2019

Rating: 5 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

Well researched fictional account of Hitler’s rise to power.

In 1918, a young man wakes up in a German hospital with no memory. Referred to as Patient X, he undergoes major plastic surgery for shrapnel wounds that he received to his face, head, and body. As his physical scars heal, his memory continues to elude him. Once he had healed physically, X was transferred to a mental ward in Pasewalk Hospital near the Poland border. He began to see a new doctor and while his memory recollection falters, X is given an opportunity to assume the name of a fallen soldier, Friedrich Richard. He also befriends a new patient sharing his room who is being treated for blindness from a gas attack in the trenches. He comes to call this friend Wolf. Upon their departure of the hospital he learns Wolf’s true name, Adolf Hitler.

It was in Pasewalk Hospital that Hitler’s plans were put into motion. Originally a quiet painter and appreciator of art history and architecture, Hitler tied his emotions to his love of Germany. In spite of the gas attack, Hitler’s blindness was attributed the Fatherland’s defeat in the Great War. His doctor came to realize this and told Hitler that he was destined to be the one to lead Germany into a new era of greatness. Within minutes Hitler’s sight returned. Over the next fifteen years, Friedrich led an interesting life that remained entangled to Hitler. However, their views were not always in sync. Hitler keep Friedrich as his most trusted ally as the only person who knew the truth of what happened at Pasewalk. Friedrich also remained loyal to Hitler and often became the only voice of reason that the Fuhrer would entertain.

For someone who voraciously reads about World War II history and events that precede that war, I realized that I have not researched as much on the time frame from 1918 to 1933. I learned so much from this book. Even though it is a fictional account, the events and timelines all match up. And it wasn’t just Hitler’s history that was interesting, but about many of Germany’s industries that have been merged together with names we know today but were separate players during this time frame. This book also introduced some US history that we’re not rather proud of but is important to know about so that it doesn’t occur again.

One of my favorite aspects to historical fiction accounts is when it makes me go research the credibility of the book. I would spend a couple of hours reading through this and then spend another couple of hours researching out what I had just read. It all matched up. Several of the historical characters were fun to find out more about to see what they went on to do during the war. I think that this is one of the greatest compliments that an author can have. Job well done.

As for the story itself, it flowed great and I enjoyed Friedrich as the narrator. I can’t personally understand his willingness to drop everything at a moment’s notice to help Hitler. I’m sure it had to do with Hitler being (literally) his oldest known friend due to the amnesia. But there were times that Friedrich had a really good thing going and he ended up throwing it away. Even so, it was fun to see the adventures he had from working on a cruise liner, to a film scorer, to overseeing security for nightclubs.

There is some occasional harsh language throughout the book as well as multiple references to sex, underage sex, and other elements that will make some readers uncomfortable. I recommend this book for mature readers who enjoy the historical time period. Based on the merits of the research, I’m giving this book 5 Stars!

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

An Uncommon Woman

an uncommon womanAuthor: Laura Franz

Publisher: Revell

Release Date: January 7, 2020

Rating: 4 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

Franz shows why she is one of the elite authors of historical fiction during the prerevolutionary war time period!

Tessa Swan grew up the only daughter of a Scotsman in western Virginia during the 18th century. To say that she is an uncommon woman is an understatement. Living in the wild frontier borderland and having to fight off the local native American tribes has made her a bit rough around the edges and she’s not sorry for it, especially after her Pa was felled by a tomahawk. She’s seen friends be taken by the tribes and had to wonder what happened to them. When she meets the new Fort Commander, Clay Tygart, she can’t deny that there is something unspoken that passes between them. But as Clay tries to focus on his leadership duties, will she manage to distract him long enough for more than a passing glance?

Clay Tygart grew up wild after he was taken as a child by the Lenape tribe. After he was rescued, he made it his mission to keep other people safe from the same occurrence. He fought in the French and Indian War and become a hero, which resulted in a frontier fort bearing his surname. Once he arrives at Fort Tygart, he meets the Swan clan. The lone daughter named Tessa quickly garners his attention, but he knows that he must focus on being the commander now and not on a romance, which he has always easily avoided. When Tessa gets taken by the same Lenape tribe that kidnapped him as a child, he realizes that his heart has been taken captive as well. Clay knows he must get her back.

Laura Franz does a terrific job taking readers directly to the time period she is writing about. This has always impressed me about her books and An Uncommon Woman is no exception. I felt as though I was transported to the western frontier of Virginia in the opening scene while journeying down the river and spying the two native American tribes on the bank. The language she uses easily sets the scene and the use of dialect made me feel I was hearing the characters talk. She reminds me of reading James Fennimore Cooper but does it in the present. If you enjoy historical romance stories set in this time period, this is a must read to add to your shelf.

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

Ghost of the Bamboo Road

Ghost of bambooAuthor: Susan Spann

Series: Shinobi Mystery #7

Publisher: Seventh Street Books

Release Date: July 16, 2019

Rating: 5 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

I forgot how much I’ve missed these characters until I picked up this book!

As Hiro and Father Mateo make their journey to Edo to warn Iga assassins that their cover may have been comprised, they must stop in a rural mountain village along the way. Another Iga assassin has been stationed here to watch the travel road. They stop at the local ryokan to stay the night and discover that they owners are completing a mourning period. Hiro immediately senses that something is off about this village and wants to find the operative and leave as soon as possible. Unfortunately, that night there is a murder in the burial yard. The innkeeper’s mother is murdered and the village residents believe that a vengeful spirit is responsible. Another murder soon follows and the residents believe that the visitors are responsible for angering the spirit. Father Mateo’s servant Ana is soon accused of theft as well. In order to appease the local Samurai, as well as prove there is no such thing as ghosts, Hiro and Father Mateo begin to investigate the murders and the theft. Hopefully they will find the operative as well and all be able to continue their mission.

It has been quite a while since I had a Hiro and Father Mateo mystery. Way too long actually. I hadn’t realized just how much I had missed their constant banter and adventures. As a reader, I have enjoyed getting to watch the professional relationship between the two become much more personal. Even though they still don’t agree on everything, they can be respectful of each other and work together. This is a lesson from 1566 that could be applied to almost everyone in 2020. I also appreciated that this book focused on the mystery and a showing of Japanese customs as several of the previous books have done. One drawback that I had from the last book was the amount of detail that was given to describing the temples. I know that the author had just finished a pilgrimage and visited several of the temples, so the details were fresh on her mind, but it took away from the overall story. That said, every time I hear there is a new Shinobi mystery coming out, I get excited to continue the journey. I hope it takes several more books to complete the series.

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

Top Historical Fiction for 2019

Historical fiction is always hard to nail down because there are so many amazing books taking place a different times.  This year proved to be extremely difficult (as always) and there was no easy way to narrow it down to five.  So we didn’t!

all manner of things

 

1.  All Manner of Things by Susie Finkbeiner

Finkbeiner is a master at pulling readers into her settings.  We felt so connected with this family that we yearned for simpler times throughout the entire book.  The book has such raw emotion throughout that readers may find themselves shedding a tear or two.

Read the full review here.

 

 

 

 

Hyde-Stay-27325-CV-JK-v3.indd

 

2. Stay by Catherine Ryan Hyde

Each time we pick up a Catherine Ryan Hyde book we think  it can’t possibly be better than the last, but she proves us wrong every single time. Stay is a perfectly crafted tale of what it means to care for someone and love them enough to want them to stay in this world.

Read the full review here.

 

 

 

The Noise of War

 

3. The Noise of War by Vincent B. Davis II

The next installment in the Sertoris novels takes things to a new level.  The continuation of his progression into politics makes history come alive.  We can’t wait for the next book!

Read the full review here.

 

 

 

 

 

Within these lines

 

4. Within these Lines by Stephanie Morrill

A heart wrenching story about the Japanese internment in California as told through the eyes of a young Italian female in San Francisco.  This book will be great to explain history to today’s younger generation.

Read the full review here.

 

 

 

 

Number of Love

 

5. The Number of Love by Roseanna M. White

This book was like a new take on A Beautiful Mind.  We fell in love with the main character’s naivete and her ability to break coded messages.  This is one of our top picks to be make into a film!

Read the full review here.

 

 

 

 

Sins of the Father

 

6. Sins of the Father by Vincent B. Davis II

Who doesn’t love a good mafia story?  Davis’s ability to create worlds based on historical events is evident with this new series!

Read the full review here.

 

 

 

 

 

The Sky Above Us

 

7. The Sky Above Us by Sara Sundin

The second book in the Sunrise at Normandy series really progressed the story along.  Each book focuses on a brother who all become estranged because of one ill fated event.  Each went their own way and each entered a separate branch of the service.  Masterfully done!

Read the full review here.

 

 

 

Far side of the sea

 

8. The Far Side of the Sea by Kate Breslin

Heartbreaking, yet triumphant!  This story is a master of deception as well as a historical masterpiece.

Read the full review here.

Sins of the Father

Sins of the FatherAuthor: Vincent B. Davis II

Series: Consentino Crime Saga #1

Publisher: Self Published

Release Date: October 22, 2019

Rating: 5 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

Davis creates a new world that readers are sure to enjoy!

Alonzo Consentino leads a very influential Borgata in Sicily that has been in his family for generations. People look to him for protection and fortunately things have been relatively calm. That all changes one night when a young man shows up at his house with a mutilated hand who claims that a neighboring Borgata killed his parents in cold blood because they felt insulted. Alonzo knows that he must retaliate but hates to shed more blood. Violence continues to grow and the killings become more personal until Alonzo decides he has no choice but to immigrate to America with his family. Once in America, Alonzo realizes that he doesn’t have the status he enjoyed in Sicily. With little money to get buy, he accepts a loan to start a barbershop. With hopes to raise his kids with integrity, the past begins to catch up to them in their new home. Can he keep his family safe? Or are his children doomed to repeat the sins of their father?

Davis does an incredible job of building story worlds. First creating the worlds of Rome and the surrounding countryside in his Sertoris novels and now bringing prohibition New York to life. I was easily transported to this setting and felt like I was a part of the story throughout the entire book. I enjoyed being a part of the story and getting to see the characters flesh out. Watching Sonny grow up and understand how he become the man that parts of the book alluded to were very interesting. I haven’t read much in the way of mafia novels, but I enjoyed this one so much that I think it would make a great movie.

One drawback that I have is that I was not able to relate to Sonny Consentino the way that I was able to relate to Quintus Sertoris from Davis’s previous books. I’m not sure why and it didn’t take away from the story, but the connection just wasn’t there for me. The story was still amazing, and I recommend it to readers who love historical fiction and mafia novels. There is some occasional foul language throughout the book, some implied sex scenes, and mentions of a statutory rape. I recommend this book for mature readers.

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