Long Time Gone

Long Time GoneAuthor: Mary Connealy

Series: The Cimarron Legacy #2

Publisher: Bethany House

Release Date: February 28, 2017

Rating: 4 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

A charming western romance with action and adventure at just the right spots.

After the patriarch of the Boden family is injured in what appears to be an accidental landslide and sent to Denver for treatment, the rest of the family is left to handle the ranch and quickly uncover it was no accident. Justin Boden is now in charge of the ranch and after seeing his father hurt and now his brother Cole, shot and in critical condition, he feels in over his head.  The doctor trying to save Cole has an assistant, Angie Dupree, that is a distraction to Justin.  Angie came to town to stay with her aunt after her life didn’t go as planned.  Justin and the rest of the family must work together, with the help of Angie, who he is quickly falling for, and a few others to figure out who is out to get their family.  Things are turning out to be much bigger than they first thought and danger is around every corner and deadlier than they could have imagined.

The best thing about a Mary Connealy book is that it is a quick read that is enjoyable. However, sometimes the books can be unmemorable, especially when you read a lot.  It has been a while since I read the first in the series and didn’t remember a whole lot of it before starting this one.  In a way that is good because I can say that if readers haven’t read the first book, they will still enjoy this one.  It does help for some background information with the parents and what the family is facing.  But it is not completely vital to have read the first before starting this one.  I read these and enjoy them while I am reading them and then move on to the next on my list, whereas with some I hate to put it down because it was so good.  I liked the storyline of Justin and Angie, I could see where they were heading and everything felt natural for the characters as they got to where they needed to be.  I’m hoping the third book will go into Cole and his relationship to come, ( I could be wrong but I’m guessing he will fall for Melanie.)  I recommend this book to readers than enjoy a good, clean, historical romance with cowboys, action and a little humor sprinkled in for good measure.

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

The Orphan’s Tale

Orphan's taleAuthor: Pam Jenoff

Publisher: Mira Books

Release Date: February 21, 2017

Rating: 4.5 Stars

Reviewer: Jennifer S. Roman

Readers meet the first protagonist, Noa, in late 1944 Germany at a train station.  She has been put out of her home by her father after he discovers she is pregnant to a German soldier who occupied their Dutch home.  After giving birth at a girls’ home and having her baby immediately taken away from her, she finds a job cleaning the train station and living in a small closet there.  During her routine shift, Noa finds a train car full of Jewish babies.  One in particular calls to her because he resembles her own child.  Without thinking, Noa grabs the baby and runs away from the station.  She struggles in the cold snow of winter with a baby in tow before passing out from cold, exhaustion, and fear.  When she wakes up, the baby is in a warm basket with plenty of blankets and she is in a soft warm bed being cared for by a circus ringmaster.  He tells Noa he will keep her and the baby that she spontaneously names Theo, but in return she must perform on the trapeze with their current star, Astrid.

Astrid is the second protagonist.  She comes from a prominent circus family herself, but because she is Jewish, she is now in hiding.  Her parents have been taken by the Germans, and she does not know the fate of her brothers.  So far she has survived through her marriage to a German officer, but he had to put her out and divorce her per Nazi decree.  Now she performs with the circus and is NOT happy about having to train a runaway girl she presumes is a single mother.  Little does she know she and Noa will develop a very close friendship that will be her saving grace.

As the women get to know each other and develop a relationship through their close quarters and intense practice schedule, they share their secrets.  Things get worse as they travel to Nazi-occupied France, and there they put their friendship to the test as protecting one another becomes a matter of life and death.

Wow!  I am still reeling from this haunting novel of friendship and survival.  There are so many compelling characters that bring the story to life that it is hard to choose a favorite.  Astrid appears cold and unfeeling at first, but then we get to understand the hardships she’s endured.  By the end of the story, readers feel a real connection to her and experience a genuine hope for her happiness.  Noa immediately endears herself as she tries to save an innocent Jewish baby from certain death.  The ringmaster is a kind and caring person who not only wants his performers to be successful, but also goes out of his way to hide Jewish people right out in the open.  Peter is a clown bent on expressing his political views through his act no matter the consequence.  Each person has a backstory and secret that somehow gets exposed, often to the detriment of that person.  The characters are so well-developed and compelling that it’s hard not to relate to them on a basic human level.

I would be remiss if I didn’t say something about how the ending is a bit predictable.  Once we find out what Astrid has in mind, it’s easy to see how it plays out.  This is entirely a perspective thing as to whether it’s good or bad; I like to predict what will happen and then take gratification when I am proven right.  Other people like to be surprised right up to the very end.  Without spilling any plot secrets, I will say that even though I guessed the outcome, I enjoyed the parts leading up to it and the finale.

Even after taking a day to digest this book, I still find myself mulling over different parts of the story.  They all went together so well and made for a satisfying, if not haunting, scenario.  The author makes a point to mention at the end of the book that there were, indeed, circuses in Europe who went to a great deal of trouble to hide Jews during WWII.  This story, while fiction, is inspired by those events, and, in my opinion, did those events justice.  I cannot remember a time when I was so moved by a book, and I believe other readers will be also.

The book does contain violence and sexual situations, as well as adult themes relating to war.  There are some themes that may not be appropriate for younger readers or for those sensitive to the Nazi occupation in Europe.  Otherwise, this is a beautifully written book that shows the ability of the human spirit to overcome tragedy and make peace with the past.  I highly recommend it to mature readers.

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

When Tides Turn

When Tides TurnAuthor: Sarah Sundin

Series: Waves of Freedom #3

Publisher: Revell

Release Date: March 14, 2017

Rating: 4 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

A historical romance that is as frustrating as real love, which makes it all the better!

Tess Beaumont has always been thought of as just a pretty face, and she is tired of it. The Navy has recently opened programs for women and Tess decides this is her chance to put her brain to use as much as her pretty face has been in the past. It is hard work and initially she still must overcome the perceptions she has lived with all her life, but eventually the hard work pays off and she sees herself making a difference.  Love is the farthest thing from her mind, until Lt. Dan Avery shows up.  She has known him for years, especially being close with his sisters.  But when he shows up in uniform, something deep inside her stirs with feelings she hasn’t had in years.  She is determined to stay the course with her work and not let love get in the way.  Dan feels the same way, he doesn’t want love to distract him from his duties, even though he can’t deny the attraction he feels for Tess.  As things heat up in the Navy, there are also conspiracies Tess begins to investigate within her own circle of friends that put her in danger.

When Tides Turn is a book that I initially wanted to give up on, but I’m glad I didn’t.  The ending was well worth the wait; although, the first half of the book wasn’t my favorite.  I did not like Tessa until the end.  I think my problem with Tessa had to do with her attitude towards herself.  She had a problem with being seen as a pretty face and the way it came across to me was more of her being conceited and full of herself.  Yes, she might be pretty, but the way she kept thinking it and trying to keep it from being used against her in any way just rubbed me the wrong way.  And then, when someone she cares for calls her beautiful, she blows up and loses it, not the best way to play that scene out for me.  Other than that, I really enjoyed the book, especially the scenes with Tess investigating her group for spies and the danger that brought about.  I am usually very much into military dramas but that part of the story didn’t get me as much for some reason.  I found myself glossing over the parts on the ships and submarines to get to the rest of the story, it wasn’t as compelling as the rest.  The relationship with her and Dan was a little rocky and back and forth, which is very much like real life, making it more believable.  I think readers that enjoy Christian, historical romances will enjoy this one.

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

Best Laid Plans & Other Disasters

best-laid-plansAuthor: Amy Rivers

Publisher: Wooden Pants Publishing

Release Date: January 17, 2017

Rating: 4 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

When life throws a curveball, hit it back!

Gwen Marsh has finally achieved one of her dreams of becoming mayor of the town of Cambria, Colorado. Just a stepping stone on the way to the Governor’s mansion.  But when she finds out that she is pregnant, things begin to fall apart.  The city manager is making her job miserable with her boyfriend Jason who worked in the city finance department.  Then Jason took a new job that required a lot of travel and they have been fighting a lot lately.  Plus his new flawless looking coworker appears to have a thing for him.  What else could go wrong?  Oh, wait!  Her estranged mother has suddenly appeared in town two weeks before her cousin Val’s wedding.  If she can get through the next two weeks, hopefully motherhood will be a snap!

I enjoyed this book much more than the previous, Wallflower Blooming.  I think that Rivers writing has improved and the story line flowed a lot better.  Plus, the tension between Gwen and Jason was a lot more believable as were the city politics.  Gwen is an exceptional woman who can accomplish anything that she puts her mind to and I believe that motherhood will be no exception to her.  She experienced a lot at once, but don’t we all know that storms come when least expected.  The book was also left open for Val to possibly be pregnant as well.  I wonder if we will get to continue on with these interesting characters.

There is some implied sexual content and mild language in the book. I would recommend this to mature young adults and up.

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

The Mermaids of Lake Michigan

mermaidsAuthor: Suzanne Kamata

Publisher: Wyatt-McKenzie

Release Date: February 14, 2017

Rating: 4 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

Definitely not what I was expecting.

Elise Faulkner loves her home close to Lake Michigan. She has never been one for social functions, as she is more prone to read a good book or send pen pal letters to other girls around the world that she has never met.  However, her mom wants her to be more like her sister, who has an active boyfriend and goes out all the time.  So, she sets her up with a neighbor’s granddaughter who is visiting.  When Elsie meets Chiara, she starts making a friend right away.  Chiara is different from other people and doesn’t care what anyone thinks.  She also doesn’t think any of the dreams that Elise has are weird.  They really hit it off great, but Chiara is far from a positive role model.  She is a drinker, smoker, and likes to skip school.  She even manages to talk Elise into taking a road trip into Chicago with her one weekend which will change Elise’s life forever.

This was a very different book than what I was expecting. First of all, it really reads more like a memoir than fiction, which is really kind of fascinating in itself.  Second, I didn’t realize that is was going to be set in the 1970s and the author did a great job of setting the scene for that.  From the beauty pageant to the parades, it really felt nostalgic when reading.  But the best part was the overall character development of Elise.  She started out what seemed very shallow and reserved, but grew throughout the story over her time with Chiara and then when looking for Miguel.  There was definitely a twist thrown in there that really ramped up the conflict of the story.  The point of view remained through an eighteen year old girl’s eyes.  Her experiences and memories really seemed true to the events that took place.

There is some language throughout this book as well as a mild sex scene. There are also some scenes that depict underage smoking, drinking, and drug use.  I recommend this for mature young adults and up.

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

Redeeming Grace

redeeming-graceAuthor: Jill Eileen Smith

Series: Daughters of the Promised Land #3

Publisher: Revell

Release Date: February 14, 2017

Rating: 5 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

Another well-known story of redemption told beautifully.

Many people know the story of Ruth, or at least they think they do. But is it really Ruth’s story?  Or Naomi’s story?  When Elimelech and Naomi leave Bethlehem with their two sons to find relief from the famine, they come to the land of Moab.  Moab is land that worships gods made of stone and wood, which the people offer human sacrifices to.  But Elimelech isn’t worried as the land he is harvesting is very plenty and bountiful.  But when he is suddenly mauled by a bear on his way home from the town, things begin to change in Naomi’s life.  Suddenly both her sons plan to take Moabite women as their wives rather than from their own people.  These two women are Orpah and Ruth.  As the years go own, Naomi’s sons become more engrossed in the culture and working the land rather than returning home until they suddenly become ill and die on the same day.  Now in grief, Naomi plans to return home, but releases the holds of her two daughters-in-law so that they may return to their families.  Orpah leaves and returns, but Ruth journeys back with Naomi to Bethlehem, but will she be welcome?

I end the synopsis here because if you do not know the story of Ruth, I want you to read this fantastic fictional account. I have always loved the history that Jill Eileen Smith brings to her stories and how the details always seem to fall into place.  The book of Ruth in the Bible is very short and may appear vague when you read it.  It may leave you with questions as to why was Ruth so loyal to Naomi?  But I believe it is really more about the change in culture over time with regard to the Bible.  When the Israelites would have heard the story of Ruth recited, they would have known the importance of land possession and the kinsman redeemer.  Today, the common person probably doesn’t have the same biblical knowledge as they did at the time.  Thankfully, this book really takes on the story and tells it in such a way that makes it extremely understandable.  This is one of my favorite stories and this book just makes it that much better.

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

The Newcomer

the-newcomerAuthor: Suzanne Woods Fisher

Series: Amish Beginnings #2

Publisher: Revell

Release Date: January 31, 2017

Rating: 4.5 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

A beginning novel about finding your true place in life.

Bairn Bauer has had rough life after being separated from his family and sold into slavery until he was bought to be a cabin boy for someone who was actually good. Then on a trip across the sea, he sparked up a romance with Anna Konig, who was coming to the New World from Germany with her Amish Church.  He was even reunited with his mother on the ship and his father once it arrived at Port Philadelphia.  But now they don’t want to talk about the lost years.  They just want to move on like nothing happened and have Bairn become a leader in their church.  But Bairn being a man of the sea can’t resist an opportunity he is given as a first mate on a ship running to England and back over the winter.  Will Anna wait for him upon his return?  Especially with a newcomer on the ship over named Henrik Newman?

Anna Konig has fallen in love with Bairn Bauer, but is pained watching his reunion with his parents. She knows it must be difficult, but hopes that Bairn can find a way to get along with his parents as they travel to the land that their bishop has warranted.  But when Bairn suddenly tells her that he is going back on a ship, she begins to question whether she ever rely or trust him.  As they travel to meet up with their bishop, a newcomer, Henrik Newman seems to have taken an interest to her.  His views are a little different, but he seems to be a natural leader.  When they arrive at the settlement, no one has seen or heard from the bishop.  When people begin getting restless for a new leader, they begin looking to Henrik and possibly to Anna to become his wife.  But what is in Anna’s heart?

I’m not a huge reader of Amish fiction, but I decided to give this one a try. I was very impressed with how much this story intrigued me.  I haven’t read the first in the series, but this on easily stands on its own.  The romance between Bairn and Anna played out very well, but was pained to see them part.  Then the events of the ship that Bairn was on that led her to believe he was dead easily played into Henrik’s hand.  I found Henrik very easy to dislike through the entire book, even up till the end.  At one moment, there was a pang of sympathy (only a pang), but it was quickly erased within the next few pages.  Not quite a happy ending, but definitely an open transition to the next book.  I’ll be looking forward to it.

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