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.

When Tides Turn

When Tides TurnAuthor: Sarah Sundin

Series: Waves of Freedom #3

Publisher: Revell

Release Date: March 14, 2017

Rating: 4 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

A historical romance that is as frustrating as real love, which makes it all the better!

Tess Beaumont has always been thought of as just a pretty face, and she is tired of it. The Navy has recently opened programs for women and Tess decides this is her chance to put her brain to use as much as her pretty face has been in the past. It is hard work and initially she still must overcome the perceptions she has lived with all her life, but eventually the hard work pays off and she sees herself making a difference.  Love is the farthest thing from her mind, until Lt. Dan Avery shows up.  She has known him for years, especially being close with his sisters.  But when he shows up in uniform, something deep inside her stirs with feelings she hasn’t had in years.  She is determined to stay the course with her work and not let love get in the way.  Dan feels the same way, he doesn’t want love to distract him from his duties, even though he can’t deny the attraction he feels for Tess.  As things heat up in the Navy, there are also conspiracies Tess begins to investigate within her own circle of friends that put her in danger.

When Tides Turn is a book that I initially wanted to give up on, but I’m glad I didn’t.  The ending was well worth the wait; although, the first half of the book wasn’t my favorite.  I did not like Tessa until the end.  I think my problem with Tessa had to do with her attitude towards herself.  She had a problem with being seen as a pretty face and the way it came across to me was more of her being conceited and full of herself.  Yes, she might be pretty, but the way she kept thinking it and trying to keep it from being used against her in any way just rubbed me the wrong way.  And then, when someone she cares for calls her beautiful, she blows up and loses it, not the best way to play that scene out for me.  Other than that, I really enjoyed the book, especially the scenes with Tess investigating her group for spies and the danger that brought about.  I am usually very much into military dramas but that part of the story didn’t get me as much for some reason.  I found myself glossing over the parts on the ships and submarines to get to the rest of the story, it wasn’t as compelling as the rest.  The relationship with her and Dan was a little rocky and back and forth, which is very much like real life, making it more believable.  I think readers that enjoy Christian, historical romances will enjoy this one.

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

Redeeming Grace

redeeming-graceAuthor: Jill Eileen Smith

Series: Daughters of the Promised Land #3

Publisher: Revell

Release Date: February 14, 2017

Rating: 5 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

Another well-known story of redemption told beautifully.

Many people know the story of Ruth, or at least they think they do. But is it really Ruth’s story?  Or Naomi’s story?  When Elimelech and Naomi leave Bethlehem with their two sons to find relief from the famine, they come to the land of Moab.  Moab is land that worships gods made of stone and wood, which the people offer human sacrifices to.  But Elimelech isn’t worried as the land he is harvesting is very plenty and bountiful.  But when he is suddenly mauled by a bear on his way home from the town, things begin to change in Naomi’s life.  Suddenly both her sons plan to take Moabite women as their wives rather than from their own people.  These two women are Orpah and Ruth.  As the years go own, Naomi’s sons become more engrossed in the culture and working the land rather than returning home until they suddenly become ill and die on the same day.  Now in grief, Naomi plans to return home, but releases the holds of her two daughters-in-law so that they may return to their families.  Orpah leaves and returns, but Ruth journeys back with Naomi to Bethlehem, but will she be welcome?

I end the synopsis here because if you do not know the story of Ruth, I want you to read this fantastic fictional account. I have always loved the history that Jill Eileen Smith brings to her stories and how the details always seem to fall into place.  The book of Ruth in the Bible is very short and may appear vague when you read it.  It may leave you with questions as to why was Ruth so loyal to Naomi?  But I believe it is really more about the change in culture over time with regard to the Bible.  When the Israelites would have heard the story of Ruth recited, they would have known the importance of land possession and the kinsman redeemer.  Today, the common person probably doesn’t have the same biblical knowledge as they did at the time.  Thankfully, this book really takes on the story and tells it in such a way that makes it extremely understandable.  This is one of my favorite stories and this book just makes it that much better.

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

The Lost Girl of Astor Street

astor-streetAuthor: Stephanie Morrill

Publisher: Blink YA Books

Release Date: February 7, 2017

Rating: 5 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

Losing your best friend at age 18 is horrible, but in mafia riddled 1924 Chicago, there’s no shortage of suspects as her killer.

At age 18, Piper Sail doesn’t have much to worry about or so it seems. One of the affluent Presley girls, Piper is finishing school and hoping to go to a university so that she can side step all the questions about finding a husband and settling down.  Her father is getting ready to be remarried, which is not one of her favorite topics to discuss.  She and her neighbor Lydia have been friends forever and recently Lydia has started to have seizures.  Instead of getting help, her parents have asked Piper to keep it a secret, even from Lydia.  Lydia herself is smitten with the family’s chauffeur, so when her parent’s want to send her to the Mayo clinic in Minnesota, she is devastated.  Lydia tells Piper that she is going to tell him how she feels and the neighbors that she cannot watch their child this summer.  Then that night, Lydia disappears.

When Piper realizes that Lydia didn’t just run away with the chauffeur, she is determined to find out what happened to her friend. But being a young woman in Chicago is no easy task, especially in 1924.  Piper enters a world of speakeasies, mafia, gambling, and nastier underbelly activities that Chicago has to offer.  Was it the chauffeur?  Why was she afraid of the neighbor kid’s dad?  Why is the handsome detective so interested in her?  Who is her brother’s new girlfriend?  As Piper unrolls the answer to each question, will she be able to find Lydia before it’s too late?  Or was Lydia even the intended target?

This book is truly a great read of YA fiction crossed with historical fiction. This is not something that you will typically see teens reading, but Morrill does a great job of making this an interesting mystery coupled with some unforgettable characters that is sure to be a hit with any audience.  Piper is a determined young woman that many will find they identify with.  She doesn’t believe the police are looking in the right places, so she takes up her own investigation.  What she doesn’t realize is that other female characters in the book begin to admire her.  She becomes a bit of a role model to those characters and will undoubtedly be to some readers as well.

I like that Mariano humored her throughout the book and then fell in love with her. Their chemistry was natural and played out very well.  My only nitpick was that I felt it wrapped up too fast.  I wish there would have been a bit more played out between Piper and Alana, but I also realize that you can’t draw out too much without possibly losing this genre’s attention.  A must read for YA historical fiction lovers.

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

Murder on the Moor

murder-at-the-moorAuthor: Julianna Deering

Series: A Drew Farthering Mystery #5

Publisher: Bethany House

Release Date: January 31, 2017

Rating: 4.5 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

Another murder, another mystery, and Drew and Madeline are back to solve it!

As Drew and Madeline Fathering get ready for another typical night, the phone suddenly rings with a request to speak with Drew. One of Drew’s old schoolmates, Beaky Bloodworth, is calling with a request for his help.  He has read about Drew’s amateur sleuthing in the newspapers and wants his help to investigate some matters going on up in Yorkshire at his newly inherited lodge.  As it turns out, the local vicar has been recently murdered and no one can figure out why or who would do it.  Beaky’s recently wedded wife, Sabrina, is now hearing things in the lodge and getting rather scared about it.  Drew and Madeline consent to coming to help, but may be stepping off into more than what they expect.  Soon after arriving, they begin meeting many of the residents around the small town as well as the neighbors, who had bad blood with Beaky’s uncle.  There is also a gamekeeper on the property who could give Don Juan a run for his money.  Add a local poacher that lives on the moor and there are more than enough suspects as to who would want to run Beaky and Sabrina off the moor.  But why kill the vicar?  Then when another murder takes place, it has connections to both Sabrina and Beaky’s uncles.  Can Drew and Madeline solve it before they become the next victims?

Julianna Deering writes such fun loving mysteries. I love reading these stories and have been so happy that the common characters always return for each new installment.  I thought I was going to be a little disappointed that Nick Dennison wasn’t going to be in this one, but then he showed up at just the right time, as usual.  However, after five mysteries, I’m beginning to find that I’m a pretty good sleuth right alongside Drew and Madeline.  I actually had this one figured out pretty well into it.  Well, I should say I knew who-did-it, but not actually who it was.  I should have though, so she still has that on me.

I also love the way that we’ve seen Drew grow spiritually throughout the books. He has really gotten some depth to his character.  And the witty banter between himself and Nick is always there.  Not as much in this particular book, but I still love it.  I recommend the entire series, but this one is still a good stand alone as well.  No matter the age, pick up one of these and give it a try!

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

The Spartan Dagger

the-spartan-daggerAuthor: Nicholas Guild

Publisher: Forge Books

Release Date: December 27, 2016

Rating: 4 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

A wickedly exciting cat and mouse game set in Ancient Greece!

As young Protos and his parents leave his dying uncle’s house, two young Spartan soldiers emerge in the dark with no other intention to kill them for sport. At his father’s command, Protos runs away as his parents are slaughtered by the two soldiers.  One of the soldiers than takes off for him, but he is careless and Protos manages to knock him out and then steal his dagger.  When he wakes up, Protos then kills him.  When the other soldier finds that his brother has been killed, he declares that he will find this boy and hunt him down.  His name is Eurytus.  The next day, Eurytus and four more Spartans return to find Protos and go to his uncle’s house.  When they cannot tell him where he went, the Spartans murder the entire family just as Protos returns to witness.  He then leads the soldiers into a trap where he single handedly relieves them of their heads and throws them at Eurytus.  Now a personal battle between the two has been waged.

As time goes on, Protos moves onto Thebes where he becomes one of Sparta’s main enemies. Throughout assassination attempts, battles, and quarrels, Protos and Eurytus come to understand and respect one another.  They are not friends, but neither of them can imagine life without the other.  The thought of a future without looking forward to vengeance fills empty.  But no one can live forever and someone must win the battle between the two.

If a book could play chess against itself, this would be a master game. The strategy that is set up in this book between Protos and Eurytus is very well played out by both of the characters.  It is always one of them makes a move and the other counters and then so on and so forth.  I was engrossed within the book very quickly and enjoyed the entire story.  The historical setting and characters played out interestingly for history too.  Specifically the diplomats of Thebes.  If you’ve never read a book about this location in this era, your eyes may be opened.  If really gets into great, yet disturbing, detail on many aspects of the way of life.  Even so, the back and forth between the two main characters was great.  With many of the movies today that depict Ancient Sparta, you find yourself rooting for them.  However, that is not the case in this book.  For once, I was rooting against them and for a common slave that was a natural born warrior, but reluctant leader.  But aren’t those the best kind?

There was very little foul language in the book. However, there was a lot of graphic violence.  Also, there was a lot of implied sex and sexual activity throughout the book.  Nothing really graphic, but enough that some readers will get uncomfortable, especially the parts with underage kids.  However, I understand that this is what went on in that time and to be historically accurate, some of it has to be depicted, even if it gives some shock value.

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