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.

Mending Fences

Mending FencesAuthor: Suzanne Woods Fisher

Series: The Deacon’s Family #1

Publisher: Revell

Release Date: February 5, 2019

Luke Schrock, fresh out of rehab, is apprehensive about returning to his Amish community.  He has hurt so many people and is not sure how he will be welcomed back into the folds.  He is given a second chance by the deacon, Amos Lapp, and his wife Fern, although he has to sleep in the office in the barn.  Amos and Fern have a penchant for helping wayward young people, and they have a young lady, Izzy Lapp, in addition to Luke, living with them.  Izzy knows Luke by reputation and makes it a point to ignore him or direct scathing comments toward him, all to Luke’s frustration.  He is so used to being able to charm any female, Amish or not, that he doesn’t understand why she holds so much animosity toward him.  Part of Luke’s condition of living with Fern and Amos is that he must begin his making amends part of the AA 12-step program.  He thinks just telling people sorry will be good enough, but Amos has other ideas.  Luke must apologize, hear how his actions affected others, and then try to fix the damage he has caused.  As Luke goes through his four-page list, he learns a lot about himself and about damages that others have incurred.

Luke has been mentioned in others of Woods Fisher’s books, but this is the first time he is the center of the story.  As the author develops her world of Stoney Ridge, readers can catch up on previous characters while meeting new ones.  It’s easy to feel as though these people are real-life friends and neighbors the more we read about them, and it’s no small feat not to be sucked into their lives, for the good.  We learn more and more about how the Amish live and how it is much more than being “simple.”  This book focuses on that message, of one’s love for and commitment to God, more than it has in any other book.  Forgiveness and redemption also play a big part in the story, and more than one character is able to heal as a result of that powerful lesson.

This new Bishop series explores the lives of the people of Stoney Creek who have been chosen to be the church and community leaders, and it is refreshing to see how so much of their lives parallel ours, yet on a much simpler level.  They face many of the same problems we do, yet they rely on their faith and community in order to solve them.  Hopefully readers can be entertained while learning something along the way.  If for nothing else, I strongly encourage readers of Amish Fiction or Christian literature to give this book a try for its sweet message of hope and forgiveness.

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

Between Before and After

Between before and afterAuthor: Maureen Doyle McQuerry

Publisher: Blink YA Books

Release Date: February 5, 2019

Rating: 4 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

A past/present mash up story between a mother and daughter that shows the similarities through the differences in age and time.

Molly is fourteen years old and has the weight of the world on her shoulders. Her parent’s marriage is falling apart, and her mother is falling into a deep depression. She knows her mother has been keeping a big secret, which is part of her problems. Molly helps look after her brother Angus and when her Uncle Stephen shows up claiming to have been involved in a miracle curing a young boy, things get even more interesting. Elaine, Molly’s mother, realizes she can no longer hide behind her stories she has loved and must face the truth of what he life has become. Going between 1918 New York and 1955 California, Between Before and After shows how a family can overcome adversity and find new life even in the most trying of times.

Between Before and After is a very interesting tale told in a unique way. The past/present mash up is becoming a very popular method of story delivery, but it is not usually told from more than two or three viewpoints. So, having multiple viewpoints can be a gamble, but it played out well in this scenario. In 1955 with Molly’s view-point, readers see very little of Elaine and what is going on in her head and how she is really involved with her family. She is much more removed than a normal mother figure would be. Reverting to 1918, readers get a glimpse into Elaine’s history, which makes everything in her present make much more sense. Molly and Elaine are the main characters, but the secondary characters are important and add greatly to the story. I especially liked Stephen and Mr. Seward. The last few chapters that were set in 1955 and the characters that were thrown together really brought everything full circle. I enjoyed the way that all played out; it made perfect sense and tied up the loose ends. At the end of some of the chapters, there were little snippets from Hansel and Gretel.  I understand how this tied into the story, but some readers may feel this takes away from the flow of the story and skip over these parts. I think shorter segments might have played out better and not have been as much of a distraction. Overall, I would recommend this book to young readers that enjoy historical novels with a great tie in between the timelines and viewpoints.

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