Realm

RealmAuthor: Alexandrea Weis

Publisher: Vesuvian Books

Release Date; May 14, 2019

Rating: 4 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

Behind every great leader is the woman he loves, even if she is not his queen.

Roxana is the daughter of a Persian tribal chief who stands at opposition to Alexander the Great.  But when he is territory is conquered, Roxana’s father must make a treaty or lose his life.  He decides to make peace with Alexander and offers his son to serve in his service.  Later that week when they are having a great banquet, Roxana is presented as the daughter of the chief.  Alexander is quickly taken by her exquisite beauty and knows that he must have this woman as his wife, which comes a quite shock to everyone.  The leader of the Greeks marry a Persian?  Certainly not!  But yes, Alexander wills it, so it does happen.  Roxana, who is immensely terrified, is suddenly thrust into a marriage with the most powerful man in the world.  She comes to love Alexander as he is tender and thoughtful to her.  He appreciates her intellect and quick wit that can match his own.  But being married to the most powerful man on earth has its own consequences.  She must watch out not just for Alexander but also for herself as jealously and treachery lurk at every turn.

I love a good historical fiction novel that incorporates actual events within the story to make it seem more alive.  Alexandra Weis did a tremendous job in her research to bring the story of Roxana to life.  Many have heard of Alexander the great, but history books haven’t done such a great job of teaching about Roxana to the masses.  She was no doubt unparalleled in beauty, but I loved that she was smart, knew multiple languages, and could match Alexander the Great in a game of wits.  It’s fun to see strong females in lead history roles when so many were suppressed.  That said, Roxana was a wide range of emotion, but I think that is true to what someone would have been feeling in her position.  From thrilled to sorrow to strength, she embodied it all.  I would love to see more stories like this one come to life.

I received a complimentary copy of this title from the publisher.  The views and opinions expressed within are my own. ;\lsdpriority5

The Woman in the White Kimono

Woman in the white kimono

Author: Ana Johns

Publisher: Park Row

Release Date: May 28, 2019

Rating: 5 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

One of the best Japanese literature selections that we’ve seen!

 In 1957, tensions continue to run high in American occupied Japan.  The Japanese industry is still working on recovery and families that previously enjoyed a lavish lifestyle are looking at diminished returns.  Naoko Nakamura’s family is facing this possibility and her father arranges a marriage to try to solidify a partnership for his company.  Naoko has her own plans as she has given her heart to an American sailor and wants to live for true happiness.  When her family discovers that she has conceived his child, it causes a huge amount of disgrace and she is outcast while her beau is on an American tour.  The consequences of her choice will haunt her all the days of her life and cause unknown ramifications for future generations.

 Tori Kovac has been taking care of her dying father when she discovers a letter in his mail from Japan.  After he dies, she reads the letter and begins to discover that the man she has always known as her father had another life that she never knew about.  As the secrets begin to unravel, she wonders if she ever truly knew her father.  Without hesitation, Tori sets off for Japan to unravel the mystery that her father left in his wake.

 I’m a huge fan of literature set in Japan and this may be the best that I’ve read.  It’s a time slip novel crossing between 1957 and present day.  The amount of research that was put into writing this book is incredible.  Throughout Naoko’s story, everything felt like I was right there along side her during the time period.  From understanding the culture at the time to the emotions that were being felt within the country.  The pain that Naoko experienced was also so raw that it could have only been based on a true story, which is very sad indeed.  My eyes stung with tears as I read what had happened to these poor women during a dark period.  I’m glad that the author felt compelled to bring this era to light to help people understand what occurred so that we can learn from it as a society.  I also enjoyed that this was a novel free from foul language, which shows that a great story can be accomplished just on the merits.

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

Westside

WestsideAuthor: W.M. Akers

Publisher: Harper Voyager

Release Date: May 7, 2019

Rating: 4 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

Funny how tiny mysteries have a way of asserting themselves into bigger problems!

Manhattan Island, New York in 1921.  Things have gone amiss for several years in the Westside of Manhattan.  While the Eastside is prosperous, the Westside has a darkness.  Ten years ago, people started disappearing along with other objects.  In an effort to stop the madness, a thirteen-mile fence was constructed to separate the eastside and westside with guards to man the gates.  Several people left for the eastside, but not everyone.  One of those people is Gilda Carr, a detective who specializes in “tiny mysteries.”  After all, big mysteries just take up too much effort and energy.

While working a case about a missing glove, Gilda becomes witness to murders.  But not just any killings, murders using guns.  But guns have never worked on the westside, so how is it that these weapons work?  Before she knows it, she is wrapped up in the biggest case she could imagine between the two superpowers of the westside.  What is Even more interesting is that everything seems to connect to her late father.  Will this finally answer what truly happened to her father?  Or will it just lead her down another rabbit hole?

I’m not sure what I expected from this book, but I definitely got more than I bargained for.  I really enjoyed the sleuthing aspect of this novel, especially since Gilda didn’t really want to do it.  I bonded with her immediately, even though I’m not really sure why.  Her character was quirky, likeable, and just a bit facetious.   As a reader I couldn’t help feeling compassionate for her.  The dark fantasy of this was interesting too.  There have been a few dark historical fantasy novels involving Manhattan, but this one just seemed different.  My favorite parts of the story is where a tiny mystery would be solved.  It would just pop out of nowhere and reference back to a previous part of the story.  Well done.

There is some strong language throughout the book, so I would not advise this to younger readers.

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

The Refuge

The refugeAuthor: Ann H. Gabhart

Publisher: Revell

Release Date: April 30, 2019

Rating: 5 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

A historical romance showing how hard it can be to not only survive, but also find and make a lasting connection with the right someone in the hardest of times. 

Darcie and Walter Goodwin only want to survive the cholera epidemic ravaging the country.  The only way they see to survive is to join the Shakers who seem to have a way of steering clear of the disease. This is not meant to be a permanent stay, being with the Shakers means they can’t be together as man and wife, this community doesn’t believe in marriage. When Walter is killed in a boating accident and Darcie is left by herself to raise the child she finds growing inside of her, she is left with a difficult decision: does she stay and know that she and her baby will grow and have what they need or leave and find happiness and keep her family together?

I have always been a fan of Ann. H. Gabhart’s romantic suspense writing and wanted to see how the historical romance would compare.  Normally I am much more of a fan of suspense but have to say The Refuge was an enjoyable read with characters that made me feel for what they were going through and cheer for their small victories.  I thought that Gabhart did a very nice job showing the difficulties these characters went through with the illnesses ravaging the country and the lack of modern technology and medicines we have today to help with such matters. When you have to spend your time just being about to provide to live there doesn’t leave much time to find love. Men and women being together is more of a convenience of what each can do for the other instead of finding a true love and having to fight to be together. One thing about it though, marriage was not taken as lightly as it is today with the divorce rate so high, back then if you got married it was till death do you part. I liked the way that was mentioned so many times, it is something you must work at and not just throw away when you feel like it. Each of these characters had a responsibility and work they had to keep up with to keep the community running, it showed a great work ethic on their parts and is something that is lacking in today’s society. I think fans of historical romance will really enjoy this read.

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

The Noise of War

The Noise of WarAuthor: Vincent B. Davis II

Series: Scrolls of Sertorius #2

Publisher: Thirteenth Press

Release Date: April 8, 2019

Rating: 5 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

If you are a fan of ancient Roman history, then you need to get on this series! 

After the massacre of the Roman army by the Cimbri at Arausio, Quintus Sertorius finds that he is not the only survivor.  He lost his brother, 90,000 fellow soldiers, and his own eye, but he still has his good friend Lucius and his lover Arrea.  But such a crushing defeat weighs heavy on a man.  Eventually, he and Lucius discover about a dozen more survivors who Quintus then leads back to the Roman camp now commanded by Marius.  Once they arrive at the camp and begin to recover, Quintus reunites with Marius and meets his new legate Lucius Cornelius Sulla.  They have devised a plan for Quintus to become a spy and infiltrate the Cimbri camp.  Quintus realizes that this is likely suicide, but he feels compelled to accept the mission to avenge his brother and fellow soldiers.  As he embarks on this new quest, will he be able to muster the courage to help save the Republic?  Or is it all for naught anyway?

If you are a fan of ancient Roman history, then you need to get on this series!  Davis has dug up some great history that is not well known to many people, even those of us that frequent Roman history quite a bit.  He has chosen to chronicle out the life of Quintus Sertorius in this series of books.  The first book, The Man with Two Names, is of his early service in politics and joining the legion through the defeat of Arausio.  This new installment picks up where the previous left off and focuses on the continuation of his military service.  This installment also introduces readers to Lucius Cornelius Sulla, who is much more well known throughout history as a consul, and who future books will no doubt clash with as he and Sertorius lead opposite ends in a future civil war.  This book is rich with history of the Battles of Aquae Sextiae and Vercellae.  Sertorius character continues to be developed in this book as he goes from a leader, threw a period of self-pity, to becoming a leader again, who often second guesses himself but displays a brilliant military mind nonetheless.  One of my favorite parts of the first book was the developing relationship between Sertorius and Arrea.  There are aspects of this in the book, but I leave it up to readers to discover what is going on between them.

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

Far Side of the Sea

Far side of the seaAuthor: Kate Breslin

Publisher: Bethany House

Release Date: March 5, 2019

Rating: 5 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

A tale of war, pride, romance, and deceit told by the pen of a master.

Lt. Colin Mabry has had a tough go of his service in World War I.  After losing his hand in combat, he took some time away at a family farm before returning to duty.  Now stationed only a stone’s throw across the water to Paris, he is constantly reminded of the horrors of war when he hears the bombs.  As a code breaker, he deciphers messages all day long.  One day he comes across a message that is addressed to him.  A letter asking him to remember his promise and to meet at a café in Paris followed by the salutations of JR.  This could only be Jewel Reyer, the woman who saved his life and he promised to return for and gets permission to undertake this personal mission to Paris.

However, Colin is surprised to meet another young woman that is not Jewel, but rather her self-proclaimed sister Johanna.  She found Jewel’s diary and believes that she is being held against her will by a German officer.  After convincing Colin to help, they set out to find Jewel and bring her to safety.  As their trust within one another grows, so do their feelings toward each other.  But as they will discover, not everything is as it seems.  The danger they are heading into is not only treacherous but filled with espionage.  Can they really trust each other’s intentions and find Jewel safely?

Kate Breslin has a way of weaving readers into her stories so that they are not just observing the story but living it out.  I felt that I was right there with the characters for the entire journey.  I could feel what was unfolding and at times felt just a surprised at what the main characters uncovered.  Colin was flawed not just physically, but also with his pride.  This kept a tension between he and Johanna through much of the story.  Johanna was a broken person based on her past and always longed for a father figure.  She looked for the best in people and it wasn’t hard for her to find it in Colin.  This made the romance much more believable as it played out naturally instead of forced.

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

Midnight at the Tuscany Hotel

Tuscany

Author: James Markert

Publisher: Thomas Nelson

Release Date: April 9, 2019

Rating: 4 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

Another interesting book by Market, yet unlike anything I’ve read of his before.

 Vitto has just returned home after thirteen months spent in Europe at the close of World War II.  He witnessed the evils of war that refused to stay behind when he returned home.  Now back home, his five-year-old son doesn’t want anything to do with him and his father’s memory has left him with what doctors have begun to call Alzheimer’s disease.  He has nightmares and is a classic case of post traumatic stress, so he checks himself into a newly constructed VA hospital.  However, one night his father packs his bag and runs away.  After his wife Valerie comes for him, they travel to the one place that would have any semblance of normal for his father, The Tuscany Hotel.  Built and run by Vitto’s parents, the hotel used to be filled with artists, actors, and writers who were looking for inspiration.  Now the famed fountain in the center courtyard is mysteriously flowing again and Vitto’s father has started drinking from it and it seems that his dementia is disappearing.  When word gets out, the rooms begin to be filled again by people seeking control of their minds.  But does drinking this water come with a cost?

 I’ve read the author’s previous books and I must say that this was unlike anything he’s written before.  The story is told primarily at the end of World War II when Vitto returns home from the war.  However, there are also some occasional back stories thrown in concerning his mom, Magdalena, and her upbringing as well as when he and Valerie were kids at the hotel.  Markert does a good job of tying several of the loose ends together, but it’s done at random (almost as if he is trying to simulate a type of mis-organization for the reader).  There is also a lot of Greek mythology throughout the book as it relates to the layout and design of the hotel.  So, if you are not a fan of that, you will likely get bored with multiple areas of the book and the stories that go along with the architecture and sculptures within the hotel.  Ultimately it is a book about memories and how different individuals cope with painful memories.  Markert does a great job weaving his supernatural flair into the story as well, making it his own.

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

Within These Lines

Within these linesAuthor: Stephanie Morrill

Publisher: Blink YA Books

Release Date: March 5, 2019

Rating: 5 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

A trying time mixed with a forbidden relationship makes for a great read!

In 1941, Evalina Cassano is an Italian American teenager living in San Francisco.  Her family owns a very successful restaurant and she has a bright future ahead of her after being accepted to attend Berkley.  But the heart wants what the heart wants and hers belongs to a young Japanese American boy named Taichi Hamasaki, the son of the produce farmers that help supply her parents’ restaurant.  The relationship is difficult enough as it is, but on December 7th, the Japanese strike Pearl Harbor and overnight America develops an anti-Japanese sentiment.  Tacichi’s family burn everything they own from Japan that night before the FBI interrogates them.  As the days continue, his family volunteers to go to an internment camp.  This will be a test on an already frowned upon relationship, but can their love remain within these lines?

This is a fantastic novel that explores the era of Japanese internment camps in the United States for young adults.  This was a dark time in our country’s history that is rarely brought to light because of the embarrassment of what was done.  This living situation were ridiculous and Morrill brought those to light in this book.  The hatred that was felt toward the Japanese during this time was misplaced at individuals who had nothing to do with the Japanese Empire.  I thought the author did a great job of showing this through a teenage relationship.  I especially liked how outspoken and hotheaded Evalina was (Italian for sure) and Taichi showed more characteristics of the Japanese culture with being more passive and trying to save Evalina the heartache of knowing just how miserable he really was.

Personally, I think that this book should be a welcome addition to middle grade reading classes.  It does a great job of showcasing the history and mixing it with characters that the age genre will enjoy!

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

The Triumphant

The triumphantAuthor: Lesley Livingston

Series: The Valiant #3

Publisher: Razorbill

Release Date: February 12, 2019

Rating: 5 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

The last book in the Valiant series wraps things up better than readers could have hoped for bringing the series full circle. Fans of the series will not want to miss out on this thrilling finale.

Fallon and her band of gladiatrix sisters have won their battle and reclaimed the Ludus Achillea, but it came at a price. Cai, Fallon’s love has lost his Decurion rank and is now having to serve as one of Caesar’s Gladiators for helping in the uprising. Fallon is fighting for his freedom and learns that Caesar’s enemies are planning revenge. These enemies assassinate Caesar and leave Fallon and the others with no one to protect them and on a mission to save Cleopatra, who could very easily be their next target. They must work together to free Cai and get Cleopatra out of the city before the bloodshed spreads.

I have loved this series since the first book came out. The female gladiators are strong, resilient and determined in every challenge they face. This is the perfect series for young girls looking for strong female leads that face the odds and learn from their mistakes and adversaries to come out on top. Fallon has always felt behind her sister and trying to prove herself. In this final book in the series, readers see her come into her own and find a strength she didn’t know she had deep within herself. I love the way she is shown strong but also flawed and afraid at times. She relies on those around her to help her make the hard decisions and face the toughest of enemies. It took me a while to get through this because I had to make sure I didn’t miss anything. I needed soak in every word and detail to really get a connection with the characters and what is about to happen in the story. These stories really are the better stories that I take with me and remember long after I have turned the last page instead of looking back a year later and questioning if I actually read it or not. I would recommend that readers start with the first two in the series before reading this one, there is just too much back story that will keep this moving forward instead of seeming confusing. For readers that enjoy a great historical fiction with lots of action and strong female leads, I highly recommend The Triumphant, they won’t be disappointed.

Castle on the Rise

Castle on the Rise

Author: Kristy Cambron

Series: The Lost Castle #2

Publisher: Thomas Nelson

Release Date: February 5, 2019

Rating: 5 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

Three more stories centered around a new set of castle ruins.  This series is fantastic!

 As Ellie and Quinn’s wedding approaches, Ellie’s friend Laine Forrester travels to France with her daughter Cassie to attend.  Shortly after the wedding, Ellie drops a bombshell concerning her health to Laine and explains that she and Quinn will be traveling to Ireland to visit his estranged family over a personal mater.  She asks if Laine and Cassie will come along because of her experience with antiques.  But Laine has been holding secrets of a failed marriage from Ellie as well.  Quinn’s brother Cormac has become a welcome distraction in Ellie’s life and Cassie has become quite taken with him as well.  Once in Ireland, Laine begins to learn the history behind the family’s pub that has been in business since the late 18th century and all the events that the pub has survived in the past.  When Laine discovers that the family has been left a castle estate, she begins to help catalogue the items left there, including several pianos.  But no one could believe the role this castle has played in the revolution and rebellion throughout Ireland’s history.

 There have been a lot of reviews about the controversy of this book.  First of all, this is a work of fiction.  The author did a great job portraying the time period that each of the stories are set.  The language and phrases used by the characters fit both with the location that the book is set in as well as the time period.  There was some negativity mentioned about alcohol, which is part of the culture of Ireland and the fact the part of the book is set at a pub yields that this is going to be part of the story.  I challenge readers to not get taken in by minutia, but just to enjoy the stories that have been presented to them.

 As far as the stories go, I enjoyed this book more than the first.  Laine’s story is that of a broken woman who has been dealt blow after blow in life.  She needs a strong companion, who has historically been Ellie, but with Ellie’s condition she won’t be able to fully rely on her.  Enter Cormac who is something of a dark horse that finds a way to Laine’s heart.  The companion stories of the 1916 Easter weekend uprising and the 18th century revolution also completed the story of the present in multiple ways.  If I dive to far into these I’m afraid that I’ll start to reveal spoilers, so I encourage you to pick up a copy of this book to find out more!

 The first book centers around Quinn with the second on his brother Cormac, even though neither is the primary character.  Given that this is a trilogy, will the next book be told with their sister Kiera?  I would love to see this story told with a member of their family as the primary character, but I’ll guess I’ll have to wait until next year.

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