Light From Distant Stars

LIght from distant starsAuthor: Shawn Smucker

Publisher: Revell

Release Date: July 16, 2019

Reviewer: Jennifer S. Roman

Cohen Marah has lived near death his whole life.  As a young boy, his parents divorced, and his father moved into an apartment above a funeral home.  Later, Cohen works as a funeral director with his family.  One day, he enters the embalming room and finds his father on the floor, blood everywhere, and an embalming instrument shoved up through his father’s chin.  Freaked out because he thinks his father is dead and he is somehow to blame, he exits the room and leaves his father’s body for someone else to find.  Much to his surprise, he is called and told that his father is alive but in critical condition at the hospital.  The rest of the story takes place in the hospital as Cohen revisits some of his childhood memories and attempts to come to terms with his fragile relationship with his father.

The story bounces between the past and present, with readers finding out a lot about Cohen from the flashbacks.  His parents’ divorce is hard on him because they each took a child, so Cohen does not get to see his beloved sister as much as before.  He has a hard time making friends, and is especially thrilled when he meets a brother and sister at an abandoned, burned-out trailer that they used to live in.  He spends a lot of time with them when he can find them, but they are secretive and very rarely available to spend time with him.  Baseball is his one salvation.  It ties him and his father together and causes him to meet a girl, Ava, who turns out to be a reliable friend.  Present day Cohen turns to the church for healing while his father is fighting for his life, and it brings Ava back to him because she is the detective investigating his father’s injuries.  He knows he is a prime suspect, especially because Ava knows his background.  Cohen can’t tell for sure if he killed his father, or if his imagination is running away with him.  He’s hoping his more frequent meetings with the priest will help him figure it out.

Yes, this synopsis seems helter-skelter, but I promise that if you read through the book, it will make sense.  Once I started, I was hooked.  I too had a hard time deciding if Cohen’s memories and actions were real or just part of his imagination.  It was quick reading because it was so enthralling and fascinating, and yet, by the time it was over, I was just as confused as I had been throughout.  I am not sure if that was the author’s intent or if it was just me missing something really big, but I didn’t really get the final resolution of the story.

I really enjoyed the various characters throughout the book; they are messy, human, and ultimately interesting.  Cohen’s father’s misguided ways lead his family to shatter, and each family member deals with it in unique ways.  For Cohen, he is stuck with a fallen man who doesn’t seem to connect, and Cohen is left to his own devices.  His loneliness is a catalyst to a lot of the story, and it’s easy to see how things happen as they do.  His mother is just a side note to the majority of the story, but she plays a big part at the end.  His sister Kaye is the stability and normalness that Cohen so desperately wants, but being separated from her, he misses out on that.

I did enjoy the whole story until the confusing ending.  That is not to say that this is not a good book, but rather, I am one who needs things to be wrapped up at the end.  If you enjoy books that leave a lot up to the reader, you will be happy to read Light from Distant Stars.

I received a complimentary copy of this book 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.

A Family of Strangers

Family of strangers

Author: Emilie Richards

Publisher: MIRA Publishing

Release Date: June 25, 2019

Rating: 4 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

No matter how much we think we know someone, even the closest to us can be hiding deep, dark secrets that could affect everyone.

 It is hard growing up in the shadows of an older sibling you feel can do no wrong. Ryan Gracey has spent her entire life watching her perfect older sister, Wendy. achieve everything she went for. Ryan tried her hardest to be her own person and not live in the shadow of her sister but still got overlooked. Wendy was about to go to college when Ryan was born so the two have never been extremely close. When Wendy calls Ryan saying there has been a murder and she might be accused, Ryan uses her expertise from her podcast looking into cold cases to help figure out what kind of mess her sister has gotten into. All this while taking care of Wendy’s two girls and helping take care of her father who just had heart surgery. The more Ryan digs into the past of her sister, the more sinister things start to look and the more she starts to question what she has always thought was the truth about their lives.

 How well do we ever really know someone? Even if they are part of our family, can we ever really know someone? These are great questions that really made me think while reading this book. The beginning started a little slow but once the story started going it really picked up and the last few chapters were irresistible. I loved the way Richards brought about the secrets the family had been keeping and how it all intertwined throughout time and reached farther than Ryan could have realized. I didn’t like or trust Wendy from the very beginning, her story never added up and the lack of emotion she showed for her family was shockingly well written. I enjoyed the relationship that developed between Ryan and her nieces, it wasn’t rushed and felt natural and timed perfectly. Once I got past the first half and had the setup of the story fully established, the story it read quickly and was very enjoyable. If readers want a story that will keep them guessing until the very end they will enjoy this very much.

 I received a complimentary copy of this title 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.

The Pages of Her Life

Pages of her lifeAuthor: James L. Rubart

Publisher: Thomas Nelson

Release Date: May 21, 2019

Rating: 5 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

If you have never read a James Rubart book, you are missing out!  He is one of the best authors I have ever read. The Pages of Her Life is another home run for this very talented author.

Allison Moore thought starting her own architecture firm with her best friend was going to be the best thing ever, no more working in the corporate world and having to answer to others. After her divorce and the death of her father, she needs something good in her life. While she enjoys working with her best friend and not having to answer to anyone, things are tougher than she would like to admit. When her mom tells her that her father had been living a secret double life and has left them almost half a million dollars in debt, she knows she must do something to help. As Allison searches for ways to help, she is gifted a journal which she pours her heart into. With each passing day, her problems seem to intensify and so does the mystery of her new journal. The words she writes in the journal begin to disappear and are replaced by new ones that help her see her situation in a new light.

James Rubart is quickly becoming one of my go to favorite authors. If I see he has a new book coming out, I am all over it. This is the third book I have read by him and it fully lived up to my expectations. His writing style is unlike that of anyone I have read before. He has a way of writing a story that goes so deep with characters that will pull you in better than most. I loved the way Allison and her brother stepped up to help their mom when they found out she was in need. Their mom was trying to do what all moms do and keep her kids from worrying but in the end, they had to come together as a family and work together to solve the difficult problem.

Readers need to go into this book with an open mind for what they will find within the pages. It is not your normal feel good read; this will require readers to go deeper and examine their faith and aspects of their own life. Rubart did an outstanding job of character development with Allison as she goes through trials and tribulations in her personal and professional life. I despised Derek and Linda, but that is ok as these are not characters we are supposed to like, and I loved how real the dislike for them came across. Fans of Rubart’s writing will notice characters from previous novels making an appearance. I almost feel there is a little more that could happen for a few of the characters. The storyline itself wrapped up nicely but I became so invested in these characters I would like to see more with them. I highly recommend this to readers that enjoy a story that will draw them in to the supernatural and explore elements of faith not often written about in such an entertaining and enjoyable story.

Pieces of Her

Pieces of Her

Author: Karin Slaughter

Publisher: William Morrow Publishing

Release Date: May 21, 2019

Rating: 4 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

What do you do when the person you thought you knew best turns out to be a stranger with a life that you never could have imagined that has now put your life at risk?

 Laura has spent the last thirty years protecting herself and her daughter Andrea from her past. A past she isn’t proud of and wants to keep secret. When they go out to celebrate Andrea’s birthday, a shooting throws their world into turmoil. Andrea sees a side of her mother she has never witnessed before and finds out that before her mother was Laura, she was someone completely different. Piece by piece, Andrea works to figure out who exactly her mother is and what is causing her past to attack them all. Without her mother giving her information she needs, Andrea travels across the country collecting the puzzle pieces to put it all together and keep them both alive.

 Aside from the incredibly harsh language used throughout the entire novel, this was an incredibly engaging read. The story, the characters, and the predicaments they found themselves in kept me hooked throughout. I loved the concept of the book and how the characters had such intricate pasts that caught up with them in the end. The back and forth timelines took a little bit to keep up with who was who and how it related in the past compared to what was happening in the present timeline. Andy had trouble getting her words and thoughts out at times which was a little irritating, I wanted to see more out of her. I do think she had good growth as a character along with her mother. The “bad guys” didn’t really evolve much for me, they started bad and they stayed that way. This was a very engaging and enjoyable story for me but I do wish the language would have been toned down, it just wasn’t necessary to the extent it was used. I do recommend this to readers that enjoy a great mystery. This is the first book by Karen Slaughter and I enjoyed the writing style and will be tempted to pick up more in the future.

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

The Eighth Sister

the eighth sister

Author: Robert Dugoni

Series: Charles Jenkins #1

Publisher: Thomas & Mercer

Release Date: April 9, 2019

Rating: 5 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

Robert Dugoni’s newest series starts off with a stellar story that will hook readers and keep them guessing until the very end. Another well-crafted story by one of the very best.

 Charles Jenkins thought he had left his spy days behind him decades ago. He has a wife, son, and a new baby on the while with his security business is falling apart.  Just when things are at their worst, his past comes back into the present when his former bureau chief shows up with an assignment for him that could save him financially. He must travel to Moscow to find a secret Russian agent supposed to have been killing members of a US spy cell known as the seven sisters. With no other alternative, Charles agrees to the mission and heads to Russia where he finds what he least expects, the eighth sister. His mission doesn’t go off without complications and he finds himself trying to escape with no help from his country and risks his life to get back to his family he left behind.

 In typical Robert Dugoni fashion. readers are given a thriller that is unlike anything written by most authors out there. When Dugoni writes a thriller, readers are going to be pulled in and given a story they will be thinking about for days after they turn the last page. I loved the way he tied in David Sloane even though this was not a David Sloane novel. Charles Jenkins looks to be a stellar lead character for this new series and is able to bring in secondary characters that I can’t wait to see how they are further developed in future novels. The first half plays out as more of a spy thriller and the second half goes more into a legal thriller. Each are great in their own way and are still able to drive the story forward with tension between the characters and what is going to happen. This is very different from the Tracy Crosswhite series, which is my absolute favorite series. I was a little skeptical going into this that it wouldn’t live up to my expectations, but I am happy to say this was another great read by Dugoni.  I really enjoyed the start to this new series and can’t wait to see what will come next. I recommend this to readers that enjoy Dugoni’s writing style and a great spy/legal thriller. If you have never read anything by Dugoni, the start of this series would be a great place to begin your journey.

 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.

Beautiful Bad

beautiful bad

Author: Annie Ward

Publisher: Park Row Publishing

Release Date: March 5, 2019

Rating: 5 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

A compelling read that will keep readers guessing until the very last page and maybe even past that.  Just as the title states, this is beautifully written and full of fascinating characters from the beginning until the very end.

 Maddie is working oversees as a travel writer and spends her down time visiting her best friend, Jo. While hanging out with Jo, Maddie meets Ian who she is instantly attracted to but unsure if it is wise to pursue a romantic relationship in the war-torn middle-east. Nearly two decades later, they are married and living a somewhat perfect life in Middle America. After a recent camping trip that leaves Maddie with a bad injury and scared for her life and that of her young son, she attends a writing therapy session and tries to determine how to proceed. With a back and forth from Balkans to England and back to the U.S along with past to present timeline, everything comes together on the day of the killing with a shocking crime to solve and a sordid past uncovered.

 If you are the type of reader that enjoys a fast-paced thrill ride with tight scenes and characters that are full of surprises at every corner, this is one you won’t want to miss. From the first page with the back and forth in timelines and across the country, we see the characters grow and change. I have to say this is one of the best written novels with character growth that kept me guessing that I have read in a very long time. The first half of the book spends time setting up the relationship between the characters to bring everything full circle by the end. Throughout the pages, readers are left questioning why we love the way we do and what we are willing to do for those we love. There are two sides to every story and two sides to every person. We all have our best sides and our worst, which side we let take over says a lot about us. The back and forth between character and timelines might be a little confusing for some, but if you can keep up it will be worth it in the end. These characters, especially Maddie are so complex and full of surprises readers won’t have a choice but to be pulled into the story and feel a deep connection with what they are reading. I recommend this to readers that enjoy a psychological thriller with twists and turns at every corner.

 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.