Tiger Queen

Tiger queenAuthor: Annie Sullivan

Publisher: Blink YA Books

Release Date: September 10, 2019

Rating: 5 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

One of the best books I have read this year. Fast paced, action packed and full of adventure, romance, and tension at all the right moments.

Kateri has grown up thinking the Desert Boys killed her baby brother and mother, the queen. As the only living heir to the throne, she is forced to fight in the arena to prove herself. Every fight she wins puts her one step closer to ruling her people, but if she loses, she will have to marry her opponent and watch as he rules over the people her mother swore her to protect. When her final opponent ends up being her trainer, she knows there is no way she can win so she flees to the desert. If she can find the leader of the Desert Boys and get him to train her, she might have a chance to win in the arena. The more time she spends in the desert th,e more her perception is changed of her life with her father and all that she thought she knew. As she makes her way back into the arena, she has two doors to choose from, one leads to her happiness and the other a tiger.

Tiger Queen is the second book by Annie Sullivan and if she keeps this up, she will quickly be at the top of the pack of Young Adult authors. I loved her first book, but her second book is so much better. Tiger Queen has everything you want in a book, not just for YA, it is fast-paced, action packed, fun, and oh so much more. Kateri was the perfect protagonist, I connected with her from the very beginning. She is strong but also smart enough to know she is in over her head and must ask for help. When she leaves the palace and seeks out the help of the desert boys, the tension really picks up and I couldn’t wait to see what was going to happen. Each relationship had its own special dynamic that played to the characters strengths and weaknesses beautifully. I don’t want to give too much away but will say that there was a lot I didn’t see coming but smiled as it played out. Readers will fall in love with Kateri but also find themselves connecting with Cion, the leader of the Desert boys. While this is written as a standalone, I would absolutely love to see more of this story. So many of the characters have more story to be played out and I am aching to read more about the Tiger Queen and the people she rules over. I recommend this book to readers both young and old that love a fast-paced action packed read that they won’t be able to put down. There is no language that wouldn’t be appropriate for a younger audience and the violence is there but written so well young readers won’t have a problem with the story.

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

Diamond in the Rough

Diamond in the Rough

Author: Jen Turano

Series: American Heiresses #2

Publisher: Bethany House

Release Date: September 3, 2019

Rating: 5 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

Witty, hysterical, and all-around fun story!

 Poppy Garrison is a social misfit.  She doesn’t feel that she truly belongs in high society and wouldn’t be a part of the New York Four Hundred if she hadn’t had to agree to her grandmother’s terms to help save her family from financial ruin.  Every step she takes towards becoming high class seems to land herself in some sort of unexpected fiasco.  Through it all she keeps her wits about her if she can manage to make it through.

 After almost being plowed over by Poppy during the Gypsy Quadrille, Reginald Blackburn wonders if he will see her again.  To his surprise, he is requested to teach etiquette to Poppy by her grandmother, who admires his British manners.  If their first encounter is anything to judge by, he just bit off more than he can chew.

 I’ll admit that reading historical romance set in 1880s New York is not one of my usual go to genres.  However, this book was downright hilarious to read.  The situations that Poppy found herself in were so comical that I often laughed out loud.  The wit displayed by both Poppy and Reginald made the book flow so smoothly that I just had to keep moving forward to get a little bit more.  Not in a suspenseful way, but just in a way that you want to keep that feel good feeling as you read.  The character development was spot on throughout the entire book.  This is the first book that I’ve read by Jen Turano, but I can see why so many people see her as a go-to author.  It is also the second in a series, but easily reads as a stand-alone.  I recommend this to readers who love historical romances and to those who just want a good clean story.

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

The Disappearance of Alistair Ainsworth

alistar ainsworth

Author: Leonard Goldberg

Series: Daughter of Sherlock Holmes #3

Publisher: Minotaur

Release Date: June 11, 2019

Rating: 5 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

Great story, great mystery, and great pace!

 One stormy night, the occupants of 221b Baker Street receive an unexpected visitor.  An old colleague of Dr. Watson, Dr. Alexander Verner, comes to them with an extraordinary tale.  He was requested to make a house call to someone complaining of stomach pains, but not before he was blindfolded and taken by carriage to the house.  Once there, he realized that the patient did not have stomach pains and was actually signaling for help.  Unfortunately, he was unable to convince the captors that the man needed to be hospitalized, so upon being returned to London, he came strait to the Watsons and the daughter of Sherlock Holmes.  As the crew begin their investigation, it quickly becomes apparent that this is yet another national intelligence case and it appears to involve German spies as well as a group of unorthodox code breakers for the Royal Navy.  As the group unravels the clues, it seems that the German’s always have a head start which can only mean one thing, someone on the inside is working for the Germans.  With no time to spare, the group works alongside Scotland Yard and Naval Intelligence to rescue the victim before secrets can be released that will be devasting to Britain’s success in the war.

 These books are quickly becoming my favorite mystery series.  The demeanor between the three main characters is always entertaining.  I always find myself wandering how Joanna will end up solving the case.  She is intelligent, attentive, and very persistent.  Her character reminds me of Sherlock himself and I enjoyed getting to see the glimpse of her son in this novel.  He is very headstrong, but she knows what is best for him but allows him to make his own decisions, even if she might have had a bit of play in determining the outcome.  The story is very entertaining and the mystery will have you wrapped up quickly in trying to figure out the whole story, which only Joanna can truly unravel.

 Although this is a series, it easily reads as a standalone.  Fair warning though, if you do read this first, you will probably want to go buy the first two!  If you’re a fan of Holmes or just love a good mystery, give this a try!

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

King’s Shadow

Kings shadowAuthor: Angela Hunt

Series: The Silent Years #4

Publisher: Bethany House

Release Date: August 6, 2019

Rating: 4 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

As the silent years come to a close, the story of Herod the Great is put on display.

Salome is sister to Herod the Great.  Her family is from Idumean descent, who the Jews believe are inferior.  Herod was placed in power by the Roman Republic as a puppet king to rule over the lands.  Salome is determined to protect and defend her brother with her life as he once came to her rescue.  Unfortunately, sometimes his choices make that difficult to do.  His decision to marry Mariamne, daughter of Alexandra whose father was Hyrcanus the previous Jewish leader who was a Hasmonean.  They always speak ill of Herod and his family and plot ways to get the kingdom back.  Their offspring prove to be no better.  Herod begins to rule emotionally, his decisions often swift and sometimes unjust.  What will become of the Jewish nation?

Zara is a young Jewish girl who is selected to be handmaid to Salome.  She learns to trust her mistress and do her bidding indiscreetly.  However, as she ages, she sees the bitterness and lack of trust begin to tear the Herodians apart.  She continues to live selflessly, hoping to one day have a family of her own.

I have read a little into King Herod’s time, but have never delved as deep as what Hunt has just given me.  I thoroughly enjoyed seeing the historical timeline played out between Herod and Marc Antony of Rome with Cleopatra which lead to the battle with Octavian and eventually to Augusts Caesar.  I’ve dived much deeper into Roman history and was happy to see how well this all accurately connected.  As always, Hunt is a master historian that can easily weave the knowledge into her novels.  I haven’t found any book by her that I haven’t loved.  I also enjoy that she uses more minor characters from history to be her main characters so that readers get to witness the events in a first person setting.  I’ve heard of Salome, but more from the reference of Herodias’s daughter that ask for John the Baptist head on a platter.  So it was very interesting to see the story of her ancestor played out up through the birth of Jesus.

I recommend this book to historical fiction lovers, biblical fiction lovers, and people who enjoy Hunt’s work!

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

Castle of Concrete

Castle

Author: Katia Raina

Publisher: Young Europe

Release Date: June 11, 2019

Rating: 3.5 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

Historical novel from the eyes of a teenage girl in the collapse of the Soviet Union.

 The school year of 1990-1991 is ushering in a lot of change in Russia, especially in Moscow.  Democracy is starting to take shape with the face of Boris Yeltsin.  Gorbachev is starting to be forced out but isn’t ready to give it up just yet.  Sonya Solovay is experiencing several changes too.  She is finally able to live fully with her mother, who is a dissident of the Russian government.  She leaves her grandmothers in a small remote village and moves with her mother to the outskirts of Moscow.  To complicate things, they are Jewish and many of Russia’s disgruntled residents blame the Jews for their problems.  However, Sonya is determined to make a new life for herself at her new school.  She butts heads with some of the teachers but manages to strike up a relationship with the best-looking boy at school.  She finds it easy to fall in love, but her Jewish ethnicity may cause a problem.  When her mom decides that it may be best to move to America, Sonya is torn between her friends love for Russia and her love for her mother.

 This book is a prime example of why I love historical fiction.  I learned quite a bit about the social climate in Moscow during the fall of the Soviet Union.  I had no idea that there was such an anti-Semite feeling across the country during this time frame.  I would have figured earlier in the century but was surprised to find this out.  History aside, I had a lot of trouble connecting with Sonya.  I understand that she is a teenage girl out to make a new life, but she seems to just go about it all wrong.  I didn’t really understand the relationship between her and Reslan either.  If the intent was to see this time period though the eyes of a confused teenager, then it was definitely successful.  There is some tension throughout the book between Sonya and two of the boy characters, which plays out great at the end.  Stay through the end of the book and you will enjoy it.

 There is some foul language throughout the book as well as some implied young adult intimate scenes that makes is suitable for a mature audience.

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

Where I Was Planted

Where I was plantedAuthor: Heather Norman Smith

Publisher: Ambassador International

Release Date: July 16, 2019

Rating: 4.5 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

A very poignant and delightful read with characters readers will love to cheer for through the toughest of situations.

In 1961, ten-year-old Nate Dooley comes home one day to find his kitchen stocked with food and his Dad nowhere to be found.  He figures now is as good a time as any to be on his own. With a stray dog as his companion, Nate tries to hide the fact that his father is gone from everyone around him for as long as possible. He likes being in his home by himself and doesn’t want the county to take him away. Even though his father has left, Nate starts to realize he isn’t alone.  His heavenly father will never leave him and will always provide for him. Nate finds these provisions in the form of newfound friends, neighbors and family he never knew he had.

Where I Was Planted is a beautifully written novel with the most wonderful protagonist around in Nate Dooley. Set in the 1960s, things are different than they are today.  If a ten-year-old were left alone for any period of time today, it wouldn’t take long for authorities to be notified and things to change. I loved how independent Nate was but also the way he realized he needed a little help. No matter how grown up he felt or wanted to be, the fact remains he is still a little boy. Even characters that had a small role made a big impact and a lasting impression. I would have liked a little more insight into Nate’s dad and why he left without talking to Nate or anyone about his plans, I know it explains a little, but I felt that part of the storyline could have developed a little further to bring the story up a notch. Nate was wonderfully developed, and I found myself wanting to hug that little boy and tell him how strong he was. The story pace was perfect and not once did I find myself wanting to put it down and move on to something else. The ending tied up just right and left me satisfied with the whole story. This is the first book I’ve read by Heather Norman Smith, but I am sure it will not be the last. I recommend this book to those that enjoy historical fiction with heart and a good message. The religious message comes across evenly, not to strong but also not too weak.

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

Almost Home

Almost HomeAuthor: Valeria Fraser Luesse

Publisher: Revell

Release Date: March 5, 2019

Reviewer: Jennifer S. Roman

Set in rural Blackberry Springs, Alabama, during World War II, Almost Home takes a look at how people have to take time to get to know themselves before they can connect with others.  

Blackberry Springs is home to a variety of transplants looking for work after the war sunk the United States into tough economic times, and Dolly Chandler’s large family home-turned-boarding house is full to the brim.  A young married couple from the Midwest is there after selling the farm and needing a new income; a young war hero is there to set himself right after the war’s ravages on his mind; a married couple of college professors is there because nobody is attending school.  Along with a few locals, the newcomers manage to forge friendships and even some romance out of the destruction that the war inflicted on their lives.  Dolly and her husband act as guardians and even parents to some of these people who really need someone to rely on, and in the meantime, these visitors help Dolly reconnect with her family’s heritage through her home’s secrets.

This is one of those books that, just like the setting, is a warm, lazy summer day with a cold drink at the ready.  It’s no trouble at all to read the book and soak it all in, but by the end, you feel refreshed and full.  The characters all have flaws that, while sometimes obvious how they will be fixed, still show a human side that makes them likeable.  I can’t say the storyline is anything new or unique, but it is a warm, fun reflection on a time when people helped others who were often in the same dire straits that they were.  Old-fashioned and charming, Almost Home truly made me feel welcome.

I loved this book for its message and characters, and the subplot of adventure woven through tied it all together.  Some of it may not be entirely plausible, but it makes for a fun read that kept me entertained from the last page to the first.  Pick up this book for a fun summer read or a quiet weekend in.  It’s a sweet story sure to please.

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

 

All Manner of Things

all manner of thingsAuthor: Susie Finkbeiner

Publisher: Revell

Release Date: June 4, 2019

Rating: 5 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

A beautifully written masterpiece about a broken family learning to heal.

When Annie Jacobson’s father returned from the Korean War, he was the shell of the man that he was before he left.  His depression finally got to the point that he decided that his family would be better off if he left them.  So, he did.  Twelve years later, Annie is now out of high school working at the town diner.  Her younger brother, Joel, is fourteen and moving into 8th grade.  Her older brother Mike also works at the diner and has just told her he plans to enlist in the army.  His draft number will be coming up anyway, so may as well have some say in where he gets placed.  Her mother has been working ever since her father left to provide some semblance of home for them.   They’ve had their share of trials but have always managed together.

After Mike leaves for basic training, a family tragedy occurs, and Annie’s dad returns home after twelve years.  There is plenty of tension among the family members, but they will have to find away to work together.  As Mike corresponds through letters with each member of the family, the need for them to stay together becomes more apparent and they must work through twelve years of hurt, despair, and love.

I absolutely love this book!  I love that it is a snapshot into a family during this time and what each family member was going through.  I can only imagine that even though they didn’t feel like a normal family, several families were facing the same situations that were presented throughout this book.  I love that the family had to work out their issues with one another and learn to lean on each other.  Told from Annie’s point of view, she is a very strong character that can be overcome at times.  Several people lean on her for support and she finally meets someone that she can lean on when she needs it most.

Throughout this book, I become nostalgic for simpler times when there were no electronic gadgets that took time away from families.  This family really connected.  There were times that they were sitting on the front porch talking about the issues going on in the world that day.  Finkbeiner did a great job of making me feel like I was in the time period by dropping in major events that happened and referencing different television shows of the time.  I didn’t live during the Vietnam war, but I remember growing up in the 1980s and 1990s and having those type of moments with my family.

One of my favorite aspects of the book may have been all the literary Easter egg references.  From Travels with Charley by Steinbeck to A Wrinkle in Time, there were several of my favorite books mentioned.  I love it when an author throws in little tidbits like that to make me enjoy the book even more.

Fair warning, this book may make you emotional.  There are some very sad moments that occur that may leave some readers feeling depressed.  Even so, it is well worth picking up a copy of this book.  It is a clean read that will be sure to remain on reader’s personal bookshelves for years to come!

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

Murder in Liberty City

Murder in Liberty City

Author: Rachel McMillan

Series: Van Buren & DeLuca Mystery #2

Publisher: Thomas Nelson

Release Date: May 28, 2019

Rating: 4 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

As Van Buren and De Luca help the residents of North End Boston, they find themselves investigating their own relationship!

 Three years have passed since the infamous case of murder at the Flamingo Club that left Hamish shot on the club floor.  His nefarious cousin Luca Valari has vanished back to Chicago but may have an opportunity to return to Boston to pursue some racketeering for the possibility of the United States entering the second great war.  Meanwhile, Hamish and Reggie have been building up their investigative practice of Van Buren and De Luca.  The pair have grown much closer during the time, but still haven’t crossed any lines of intimacy.  They get a call from Pete Kelly, who has been using the harbor area in the North End for black market business for years but keeps the tenants with decent prospects and jobs.  The prestigious architectural firm Hyatt and Price (the same firm that the Vaughn of Reggie’s past is employed) is working to develop the area into affordable housing.  But after learning of Hamish’s connections to his cousin Luca, Kelly steps away from working with them.  Shortly after, Hamish receives a visit from a colored farm league baseball player for the Boston Patriots, Errol Parker.  Errol has always been on the receiving end of pranks, but lately they’ve escalated to threats.  Hamish and Reggie agree to investigate this and shortly a murder takes place at the stadium.  As the investigation continues, all the events that have been taking place begin to become intertwined and it will take both of them to figure it out.

 Although three years has passed from when the previous book ended, it was evident that Hamish and Reggie have grown closer.  The was a parallel investigation of their personal relationship to that of the murder that was being investigated.  It was put through a very trying time in this book and readers will finally get to see what it is made of.  The previous book did a great job of setting up a new series including character development and the scenery of the time of the North End of Boston.  Since that had already been done, this book just took that previous momentum and carried it forward.  There wasn’t as much descriptive scenery, but both Reggie and Hamish continued to develop.  Several of the supporting characters from the previous book continued in their progress as well.  As a reader, I still didn’t like Vaughn because of his relationship with Reggie, but he was such a good guy and had matured.  Dirk of course was still lowly and easy to dislike.   I still enjoy the series and will be looking forward to what comes next.

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

The Number of Love

Number of Love

Author: Roseanna M. White

Series: Codebreakers #1

Publisher: Bethany House

Release Date: June 4, 2019

Rating: 5 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

A mysterious read that crosses between A Beautiful Mind and Bing Bang Theory.

 Margot De Wilde understands mathematics and finds comfort in numbers.  After her family fled Belgium at the beginning of the Great War, Margot has found use for her talents as one of the lead codebreakers in the British navy.  An unconventional position for a woman at the time, but Margot is quite unconventional herself.  She does not notice any of the attentiveness of men and hopes to secure a professorship at a university after the war.  While at work one day, she meets a new young lady named Dot, who is to be serving as a secretary.  Dot has her own quirks and doesn’t like to leave her house but knows she must.  Margot and Dot strike up a mutual friendship where each person can accept their own faults.  But when Dot’s brother Drake shows up, things become much more interesting.

 Drake Elton serves as a spy for the British navy.  Fluent in three languages and having a grandfather in Spain who runs a prosperous shipping business gives him the perfect cover to set up a base of operations there.  But after a botched mission lands him in the infirmary in London, Drake dreads the recovery time.  His sister Dot comes to visit him quite often as does her friend the mathematician, Margot.  Drake has never met anyone like Margot, who is extremely intelligent and can match wits with Drake on any occasion.  When remnants from his mission in Spain begin to show up in London, Drake knows that he must return to duty to save his country and Margot.

 This was a very entertaining story from the beginning to the last sentence.  Margot became my best friend instantly and we had a great adventure throughout the journey.  Granted, I’m married to an engineer, so maybe math people are my friends.  Even so, the best way that I can describe Margot is like a female Sheldon from the Big Bang Theory.  She fully understands numbers and math but is completely oblivious to social norms.  The romance between her and Drake evolved in its own time and wasn’t forced like so many books attempt.  Everything flowed great and her armor was slowly chipped by Drake until it was worn down and she finally understood what it was to love and be loved.  I also appreciated the author weaving faith into the story and the trials and tribulations that Margot had to go through to become the woman she was meant to be.

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