The Conqueror

Author: Bryan Litfin

Series: Constantine’s Empire #1

Publisher: Revell

Release Date: October 13, 2020

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

Litfin’s Ancient Roman world brings light to members of the early church and the push for Constantine’s conversion.

Brandulf Rex, a barbican warrior from the Germani tribe, has worked his way through the ranks to become one of the youngest speculators of the Roman military.  Now serving the great Emperor Constantine, he has been stationed as both a personal bodyguard and spy for the Emperor.  The three remaining rulers of the tetrarch, Constantine, Licinius, and Maxentius, have become involved in a civil war.  Each rules a portion of Rome, but any of the three would love to be the sole Emperor of the Republic.  Rex is sent on a mission with two other speculators to breach and observe the situation in Rome under Maxentius and infiltrate the ranks of the Pretorian Guard.  Upon arriving in Rome, Rex happens to meet a young woman trying to escape a death sentence in the Colosseum.  This meeting changes Rex’s life in a manner he never could have expected.

Lady Flavia Junia is a senator’s daughter and known Christian in the early church.  At seventeen years old, she is fortunate to have not had to endure the religious persecution of the previous rulers, but Maxentius could be easily persuaded to begin again.  When her father’s political opponent finds a way to have Flavia accused of going against the emperor’s order, she is sentenced to death by way of facing wild animals in the Colosseum.  When she tries to escape and crashes into the arms of a tall, blonde, barbarian, he vows that he will save her.  The adventure this sets the two on puts them in a front row seat for a civil war.

It’s no secret that I thoroughly enjoy a well research novel concerning ancient Rome and Litfin did not disappoint.  The Conqueror is filled with rich Roman history and lush tidbits of the early church in Rome.  Several well-known historical characters that played a part in Christianity becoming the official religion of the Roman Empire make an appearance throughout this book.  Litfin did a great job explaining the events that led to the battle between Constantine and Maxentius as well as a great depiction of the actual battle that led to Maxentius’s fall.

Liftin also does a fantastic job of the portrayal of Roman politics at the time and the ramifications and consequences of different events and actions.  His knowledge of architecture of public buildings was also astounding as he was able to describe buildings and areas, but not bog down the storyline.

The book is very detailed, so readers that prefer a light and casual read will probably need to find something else.  However, if you’re a fan of this time period and history, it will definitely need to find a way to your bookshelf.  There are sexual references made throughout that depict that time period that is being represented, but nothing lewd or inappropriate.  There are also several scenes of violence, but it is a war book after all.

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

Remember Me

Author: Mario Escobar

Publisher: Thomas Nelson

Release Date: September 15, 2020

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

A glimpse into the Spanish Civil War bringing to light an often overlooked part of World War II.

Marco never anticipated the path that his life would take.  He was the oldest of three children, the two younger siblings being sisters.  His father owned a printing press and his mom worked at a theatre. They didn’t have much, but they had each other.  That all changed when the fascist party began to try to overthrow the Republic of Spain.  His parents were arrested, but released, and realized that they needed to keep their children safe.  Before the country was torn in two, Marco’s mother got them passage on a ship to Mexico, which was welcoming refugee children from Spain.  Sent to a school in Morelia, Marco and his sisters quickly realized that not everyone was happy that Spanish children were being housed in Mexico.  As the civil war raged on in Spain, a similar war was happening inside Marco.  He loved his homeland, but he hated what they were doing to it.

The Spanish Civil War of 1937 does not appear in mainstream books like Hitler’s war.  Historians refer to it as one of the bloodiest wars and it completely decimated the country.  In a war, no one really wins.  The opposing political views could easily be transposed into the today’s world.  Escobar does a fantastic job showcasing the war and how the aftermath affected the citizens.  Brothers were willing to kill each other over opposing viewpoints rather than find a compromise.  It’s hard to imagine such a time, but it needs to be remembered.

Marco became the story’s central character as he aged.  From boyhood on, he witnessed the hate in the world.  Hate between the fascist and the communist.   Hate between Spaniards and Mexicans.  I never realized how different the cultures between the two countries were and how faith and religion was viewed between the two.  There is a lot to learn in this book and if you pick it up, I hope you see it through.  It is very violent and includes some unfortunate horrors, such as homosexual rape.  Many people may get uncomfortable, but the read is worth it to understand history.

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

Bodies in the Tiber

Author: Vincent B. Davis II

Series: Sertoris Scrolls #3

Publisher: Thirteenth Press

Release Date: May 15, 2020

Rating: 5 Stars

Review: Jessica Higgins

Davis moves the series from the battlefield to the battle of the senate.  Who knew that today’s politics so mimicked Rome’s over two thousand years ago?

Quintus Sertoris has just returned from the northern battle against the Cimbri to secure Rome’s borders.  Hailed as Hero of the North, Quintus is uncomfortable with all the public attention.  He only wants to find his family and start to rebuild his relationship.  He soon learns that his wife has perished by her own hand and is reunited with his servant, his nephew who is also is adopted son, and his true love Arrea.  But he has changed and so has everyone else.  Quintus soon learns that Marius wants Quintus to become a senator to show support for his consulship and elected party.  Quintus left the noble party years ago because of the corruption of politics and has misgivings but finally decides that maybe he can do some good in the world.  What he discovers is that while Rome may be secure at her borders, the Republic is on the brink of collapse within!

I’ve enjoyed all the Sertoris Scrolls, but this one was enjoyable as a political thriller.  What was interesting was how the political parties spend more time trying to stay in power than they actually do for the good of the Republic.  Sound familiar?  Like maybe it could be written in today’s world?  As always, Davis did a great job on his research for the time period and cast of characters.  I’m a huge fan of Ancient Roman history, so I’ve already done a tremendous amount of research on the time period before I read these books and I’m always pleased to see how accurate they are. 

Quintus continues to grow as a noble character, even though he had a bit of a stumble throughout this book with his drinking and depression.  However, I’m glad to see that he was able to overcome and continue to do what he thinks is right even when wrongs continue to confront him.  I’m not going to divulge much, but I’m extremely happy about an event in this book that previously frustrated me in the second.  I think those that read through the book will understand once they read it.

There is quite a bit of harsh language and violence throughout the book, so I recommend that only mature audiences select this title.  Lovers of the time period will surely enjoy this!  I hope to see this series continue!

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

Stories That Bind Us

Stories that bind usAuthor: Susie Finkbeiner

Publisher: Revell

Release Date: June 2, 2020

Rating: 5 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

Set in the civil rights movement of the 1960s, this story could just as easily be told today!

When Betty married her high school sweetheart, Norman Sweet, she had dreams of a long life together.  But after 20 years of marriage, her husband felt ill one afternoon and quickly passed due to a heart attack.  They’d had a good marriage filled with love and lots of bakery treats from the Sweet Family Bakery that they helped run.  But she quickly fell into depression and if not for her sister-in-law, she might have stayed there.  Then one day she had a surprise visitor at her door, her estranged sister and her five-year-old son.  Betty forges a bond with her biracial nephew and learns the ugly truth about the world as well as herself.  She reflects upon stories that her mother told her growing up that begin to bind their family’s relationships even tighter.

Susie Finkbeiner is a master at storytelling.  Her books can bring historical events into a picture that allow readers to see what happened in a new light.  From the dust bowl to the Vietnam War to the Civil Rights movement, she doesn’t capture the high points of the era and press on.  What she captures is so much more beautiful and crucial to our understanding of the times.  She captures everyday life of a normal person and family.

Betty is this person.  An average white female living in Michigan.  She’s far from the throes of the racially charged south and she sees the news, but largely ignores it as it does not directly affect her.  But when she meets her nephew Hugo, that begins to change.  She never sees him as anything more than a little boy, which is all that he is.  And her family only sees that as well.  But other people in the town do see him as different and she quickly realizes how ugly people can be.  I hope that readers are able to take this book to heart and begin to understand the importance of true relationships with one other.  As the stories Betty shares throughout the book bind her and Hugo, so do they bind us as readers!

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

What Momma Left Behind

What momma left behindAuthor: Cindy K. Sproles

Publisher: Revell

Release Date: June 2, 2020

Rating: 3.5 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

With plenty of tension, heart and trying moments, this is a book historical fiction readers will not want to miss!

Deep in the Appalachian Mountains in 1877 the “Fever,” influenza and typhoid, are ravaging the land leaving many orphaned children with no one to care for them. Worie Dressar is seventeen when she is left on her own after her mother’s death. She quickly finds out that her mother had been taking care of the orphaned children in the area and the more she takes in the more she finds. Her two brothers aren’t much help, one is a drunk and the other a greedy man who wants anything their mother left behind. As she grows, Worie realizes the power of love and forgiveness as she cares for her Momma’s children.

Let me start out by saying that historical fiction set in this particular time period is not my normal genre to read. I just haven’t been able to relate to it as well as other periods that hold my interest better. However, this was a good stor. At its heart is a story of forgiveness, love and how what we don’t know or understand, if given time, will all come to make sense. By the end of the story, a lot of what Worrie goes through comes to make sense. The way her mother went about leaving her doesn’t make sense; so many things she could have made known before and not made it so difficult for her children. Being set in the 1800s, seventeen is considered grown and old enough to have a family, yet Worie acts immature and like a little brat much of the time. The way she acts doesn’t suite her and what she is supposed to be portraying. I couldn’t find many redeeming qualities throughout the book. I’m sure that there are many readers who will enjoy this so much more than I did. I did enjoy a few of the characters, the pastor, Ely and Bess made the story so much better than if they had not been written in. I would recommend this to lovers of Historical fiction, especially those that enjoy reading about the Appalachian Mountain region.

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

The Book of Lost Friends

Book of lost friendsAuthor: Lisa Wingate

Publisher: Ballantine

Release Date: April 7, 2020

Rating: 5 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

Wingate again brings history to life with a tale based on real world events that will reconnect people!

Louisiana in 1875 is in the full swing of post-civil war reconstruction. Hannie Gossett is now a free colored woman, but with no place to go she remained on the Gossett Grove planation and entered into a share cropping contract with the master of the planation. But when he goes to Texas to bring back his troublesome son, it is believed that he has been felled by some ill luck and perhaps dead. One night, the half-breed creole daughter of the master’s mistress shows up to seek her inheritance. When his rightful daughter, Missy Lavina, and her half-sister, Juneau Jane set off to find out the truth about his will, Hannie knows that she must tag along to find out the truth so that she can keep her share cropping land. She could never have imagined this trip would have spanned across half of Texas and introduced her to more truth than she had ever known.

In 1987, Benny Silva has taken a teaching job in Augustine, Louisiana to assist in forgiveness on her student loan. The first day in class she learns the truth about this school, no one really cares. She is just a babysitter for a group of kids between the bells. Almost all the kids are from impoverished families and many don’t have enough food to eat. When a guest speaker spurs the movement of a project in her classroom that excites her kids, things start to take a turn for the better, until members of the community that don’t want things to change get involved. Benny decides that she will do whatever it takes to get her kids to improve their learning and participation at school, even if it cost her the job.

I love how Lisa Wingate can connect the past and present (or at least closer to the present in this case) with a book. The Book of Lost Friends centers on the Lost Friends column that was published in Southern newspapers that reconnected families separated by slavery. Several of the actual stories are shared throughout the book in-between chapters. Both stories were powerful. Hannie become the matriarch of the town of Augustine, but not before a lifetime of adventure that developed the book. Benny was able to connect seemingly worthless kids to their past ancestors and give them hope for the future. I’m not sure which story that I enjoyed better. As always, her research on the time period is spot on. I enjoyed reading about the Texas hill country during this time period with references to present day Menard and Fort McKavett.

I hope that as many readers as possible will enjoy this book as with her previous.

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

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.