Firstborn

firstbornAuthor: Tosca Lee

Series: Descendants of the House of Bathory #2

Publisher: Howard Books

Release Date: May 2, 2017

Rating: 5 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

The sequel to The Progeny, my top pick for last year, had big shoes to fill, luckily it did not disappoint. 

After Audra Ellison went to extreme measures to erase her past from her memory, she has now come face-to-face with what she tried so hard to forget. These secrets she was willing to die to protect are now what make her more vulnerable than ever to both the Historian and traitors within their midst.  All her efforts to protect those she cares about seem to be falling short.  The man she loves, Luka, has fallen into the hands of the Historian and she is in a race to meet the demands to save his life.  Her powers are growing but also take a toll on her physically and emotionally.  With the help of her friends and unexpected allies, Audra risks everything in order to save them all and stop a four-hundred-year-old war between progeny and scion.  Just when things look their worst, Audra feels she is in over her head and isn’t sure if she can be the answer they are all looking for.

Fans of Tosca Lee’s The Progeny have been anxiously awaiting the sequel, Firstborn.  I have now read The Progeny three times; I had to reread it before starting Firstborn to make sure I remembered everything correctly and it was just as good as the first time.  With a book that good, it is hard for a sequel to live up to the hype.  Luckily Firstborn does not disappoint.  There is just as much suspense and tension as the first book and the ending was even more than I expected.  Audra goes through so much in a very short period of time when all things are considered.  She doesn’t know if she has the strength to be what everyone needs her to be and if she is strong enough  or what will she be like when it is all said and done.  One of the ways I determine a book is outstanding is if when I am reading it I see it playing out in my mind as a movie.  That can happen with a lot of books but the movie in my head isn’t always the best. Firstborn would be a blockbuster that doesn’t let up.  In a way, I wish this wouldn’t be the last book for the series, it’s so good that two installments just don’t feel like enough.  But on the other hand, if it were to be spread out over a few more novels, it would have made the story less enjoyable by having fluff and too much unneeded story.  Tosca Lee is the kind of author that everyone needs to read, either these books or one of her other works.  There is something for everyone out there. Firstborn is a book I will be recommending to everyone that enjoys a heart-pounding suspense ride that will take you to another world away from any troubles you might be having.  I know it is still early in the year, (at least for me reading this in February), but I am going to go ahead and name this my top pick of the year.  It will be hard for anything to top this.

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

Cycle One: The Invitation

InvitationAuthors: Bill Myers, Frank Peretti, Angela Hunt, & Alton Gansky

Series: Harbingers #1

Publisher: Bethany House

Release Date: April 4, 2017

Rating: 4 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

An intriguing tale of the supernatural by four of today’s top Christian suspense writers makes this a must read!

Broken into segments, the first is The Call by Bill Myers told from the viewpoint of a street hustling tattoo artist that sees the future and uses that to help a student at a psychic institute.  He is being trained to use his gifts to help world leaders but at a very high cost.  The next segment is by Frank Peretti called The Haunted.  Peretti dives deep into the darkness within us all in this supernatural case of murder centered within a mysterious house.  Third is The Sentinels by Angela Hunt which showcases a strange phenomenon of animals around the world mysteriously dying.  The fourth and final section is by Alton Gansky called The Girl.  It is a strange tale of a young girl found in the snow barefoot and holding a piece of parchment type paper.  After careful investigation, it appears she is not of this world and someone wants to kill her.  Brought together they make the first cycle in the Harbingers Series.

Invitation is a unique blend of several of the top Christian authors doing what they do best.  I must admit before this I hadn’t read anything by several of the authors.  I know Frank Peretti’s work and that is what drew me to this.  Oddly enough, his section was probably my least favorite.  When I first heard of the premise of this story I thought there were several ways it might work out.  Each author took a character and told the story from their point of view.  It wasn’t the same story over and over, instead it was a continuation.  When one section is over you go to the next character further in time.  This left me with several questions for how each section played out and how I thought it should have played out.  Overall the story itself was very interesting, even though I do still have some questions.  Since this is the first installment, my questions might still be answered in the next book.  At least that is what I am hoping.

With each author taking a section, it was clearly noticeable the way the writing changed with who the new point of view character was and that we were in a different story. I don’t want to say it was an exceptional story, it could have been, but fell short at several points for me.  With that said though, I still recommend this book to readers that love a supernatural story with suspense on every page.  Each author brought his and her own personal touches to their section making it unique.  The first section was the best to me and easily drew me into the story.  I enjoyed that so much I stuck with the entire thing and am glad I did.  I can’t wait to see what comes next.

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

Toward a Secret Sky

Secret Sky

Author: Heather Maclean

Publisher: Blink

Release Date: April 4, 2017

Rating: 5 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

A deliciously intriguing story that can’t help but be devoured. An adventure that needs to be read again and again just to let it all sink in.  There better be another book to follow because I want more.

Maren Hamilton is seventeen and has just watched her mother be buried. She is now left all alone and is sent to live with her grandparents in Scotland.  That wouldn’t be so bad except she had never met them.  It is hard enough fitting in at a new school, let alone one in a new country.  Just when Maren thinks she is starting to relax and feel like it could be home, she receives some of her mother’s things from her work, including an encrypted journal that makes her realize she never really knew her mother or others around her.  Now, she is in danger along with anyone she gets close to.  One by one, she pieces together the clues left by her mother but not before her small town becomes the victim of something evil.  Maren needs the help of Gavin, her newly appointed guardian angel, who she has quickly fallen in love with even though it is against all rules.  He may be her angel but they are also dealing with demons and forces of evil the likes of which she could never have imagined.  Before all is said and done, Maren will learn some of the hardest life lessons and hopefully come out the other side alive and better for it, or maybe not.

I thoroughly enjoyed everything about this book. There was just the right amount of action, romance, suspense, drama and even supernatural to keep me hooked throughout.  All of those together can sometimes be a difficult combination but it worked here flawlessly.  Maclean did an excellent job of bringing these characters, and the different settings, to life in a dramatic and beautiful way.  The main setting in Scotland is set up mostly by Gavin, which I liked.  This is the kind of story that I can see fans of the Twilight series falling in love with.  There is a lot of push and pull between the characters, especially Maren and Gavin; they want to be together but know it isn’t permitted.  When you have characters in this kind of situation it can become tiresome with the back and forth, but for some strange reason it worked here.  Maybe it was because nothing felt forced.  The characters did what they would naturally do and it showed with the way it came across on the pages.  All I must say is there better be another book to follow because I want more.  The ending wrapped things up nicely but also left it open easily for another to come.  I highly recommend this to young adults looking for a thrilling supernatural read that will leave them wanting more well past the last page.

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

Some Small Magic

Some Small MagicAuthor: Billy Coffey

Publisher: Thomas Nelson

Release Date: March 14, 2017

Rating: 4.5 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

Every book of Coffey’s dives a little bit deeper and a little bit darker.

Abel Shifflet’s life needs a little bit of magic. He was born with soft bones and messed up insides, which the other kids at school take advantage of.  He and his mom are very poor as she can only wait tables and any money they have tends to go to mending Abel’s bones when they break.  At a mountain revival in the hills outside Mattingly, Abel watches Reverend Johnny Mills heal others with the touch of a hand.  Abel can’t decide if it is real or just tricks, so he decides to seek out Reverend Johnny after the revival is over.  After Johnny takes his money for a “word”, he is soon overtaken by a spirit that tells Abel that he will find treasure, healing, and reward.

Soon after this meeting, with his mother upset about the money he lost to Reverend Johnny, Abel begins to clean the house for forgiveness. While cleaning he finds a treasure, several letters from the father he thought was dead.  With this new mystery, Abel decides it is part of the sign and decides to run away to find out the truth in the town of Fairhope, North Carolina.  With only his slow minded friend Dumb Willie for a companion, they hope the night train that runs by the trailer park.  But someone awaits them in the boxcar and the real danger begins.  Is there really magic in the world, big or small, that could help Abel?

I love Billy Coffey’s writing. I love that he is not scared to show the evil of the world in his books and through his characters.  But this book is really, really deep.  It’s really good, but does it ever dive deeper than anything he has written so far.  And if you’ve ever read one of his books, you know that you have to pay attention to the details, otherwise you’ll be reading along and realized that you missed the train somewhere and have to go back to find out where.

All of his books have a supernatural element. It is similar in regard to There Will be Stars with death, but not on the Groundhog Day aspect.  I’m still trying to figure out if this is more of a story about Abel or about Dorothy.  Both learn a lot in the pages of this book, so it could really be about either.  I so want to dive into who these characters are, but feel like I would be ruining the story for anyone who hasn’t read the book.  However, I will say that reading the chapters narrated by Dumb Willie are very powerful.  Coffey wrote these sections just as if the reader were mentally challenged.  The language, word order, and thought process is very powerful and makes the reader really consider these individuals throughout the world.

Unfortunately, I don’t think this is Coffey’s best book.  It is still really good, but it just didn’t do as much for me as some of the others.  This may be because I have become very attached to several of the main characters that appear in many of the novels.  Sherriff Barnett still appears briefly.  I also loved the reference to “time is a circle” with Dorthea Cash.  Be sure to read There Will be Stars to make that connection if you haven’t.

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

Beulah’s House of Prayer

beulahs-house-of-prayerAuthor: Cynthia A. Graham

Publisher: Smashwords Edition

Release Date: July 12, 2016

Rating: 4 1/2 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

Fans of the dust bowl history are sure to enjoy this contemporary read set in 1934 Barmy, Oklahoma.

When fifteen year old Sugar Watson sets foot off the train in Barmy, Oklahoma, she knew she had to leave as soon as possible. She didn’t even knew this town existed.  As a circus performer, she had been to some Podunk towns, but this was possibly the worst of all.  With no money and her dead father to bury, she had nowhere to go.  She wasn’t weak, she had been taught to use everyone to her advantage.  Then she met Beulah Clinton.  She drove up in her ox drawn wagon and gave Sugar a ride and a place to stay as long as she did her chores.

Soon she meets Homer Guppy, referred to as the devil himself from Beulah. Homer has had a rough upbringing since his mother left and now his father beats on him daily.  So Homer has turned to car thieving, arson, and several other destructive means as an outlet.  He is convince that Beulah has money buried somewhere out in the yard and spends his nightly hours digging around.  He and Sugar soon make an unlikely pair as they work together to try to find the money.  Sugar knows that as soon as she does she will be back on the train to Chicago.  Only one problem, she may be falling for Homer and if she does, will she ever leave Barmy, Oklahoma?

Cynthia Graham never ceases to grab your attention with a new story and this is no exception. She manages to bring characters together in a master tale that makes you wish is was twice as long.  Narrated by the oldest daughter of Homer and Sugar, Beulah’s House of Prayer is a collection of Sugar’s memories from her first year in Barmy, Oklahoma during 1934 and 1945.  There is not as much historical content of the dust bowl as some other novels of the area include, but focuses more on the two main characters and their story.  Graham even includes a bit of mystery in there with Beulah’s story, but it all flows smoothly.  Exciting and entertaining at its best.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest and thorough review. The views and opinions expressed within are my own.

The Occupied

The OccupiedAuthor: Craig Parshall

Publisher: Tyndale House

Release Date: September 1, 2016

Rating: 4 1/2 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

When the struggle with the devil becomes too intense, Trevor Black is forced to face it head on.

While in his teens, Trevor Black encounters spiritual forces beyond his own understanding that unknowingly follow him into adulthood. He has become a top notch attorney in New York City and is living the dream with a six-figure salary and a trophy wife. Before he can enjoy his success, he is somehow granted the ability to sense the invisible and see the dark forces at work in the world.  These dark forces turn their work towards him.  All of a sudden, he finds himself out of a job and being looked at as a religious kook.  His past comes back to haunt him as one of his hometown friends is murdered and the method is shockingly close to that of the murders he had been looking into in New York.  He makes his way home to find out what happened to his friend and see if he can help solve the case.  As he investigates, he realizes he is going to face his own demons as well as the supernatural ones.

It is hard to write a good supernatural mystery that seems as if it could actually take place, but Craig Parshall has done just that. The story follows Trevor from childhood all the way to adulthood. For that long of a span of time, it might seem to lose some of the story at times but luckily that wasn’t the case.  Parshall did an excellent job of spanning the time without losing the reader.  I haven’t read many supernatural books that keep me hooked and believing what is written.  It is just a difficult thing to write about so I have steered clear of it.  I feel as if this is the start of a new series and I am very curious to see where it might led from this point on.  Parshall has grabbed me with this story and I don’t have any desire to jump away from Trevor Black and what is to come.  I recommend this to anyone that enjoys a good mystery with a supernatural twist to it.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Tyndale House in exchange for an honest and thorough review.  The views and opinions expressed within are my own.