The Gypsy Moth Summer

Gypsy mothAuthor: Julia Fierro

Publisher: St. Martin’s Press

Release Date: June 6, 2017

Reviewer: Jennifer S. Roman

We all remember those summers of our youth, especially the ones in which we try to appear grown up while trying to fit in with the cool kids.  Maddie Pencott LaRosa tries to do just that the summer of ‘92 on a small island that is overwhelmingly white and divided by social class.  On the West side are the laborers of Grudder Aviation Factory, and on the East are the rich upper crust who run the factory.  Maddie’s mother comes from the East side, but after marrying Maddie’s abusive husband from the West side, they live in a small cottage off her grandparents’ estate with Maddie and her brother Dom.  Maddie wants more than anything to fit in with the rich girls at school, and she finally has an in.  When the prodigal daughter, Leslie Day Marshall moves back “home” after her parents’ deaths, she brings with her a black husband and mixed-race children.  Maddie immediately falls for Leslie’s son, Brooks, and invites him to hang out every night with her new friends.  Trouble starts happening for everyone involved as a historic gypsy moth “plague” invades the island and threatens to remove every bit of green within eyesight.

Told in six different perspectives, the story unfolds as each person brings secrets and revelations to the mix.  Maddie is hiding the fact that her mother is slowly killing herself with pills and alcohol, while her abusive father cheats on her mother.  Brooks, Leslie’s son, is not happy to be away from the city, where he is accepted and well-liked.  He feels uncomfortable around all the white people and is very careful.  Leslie has a mission of social justice now that she has her parents’ money and power.  Jules, Leslie’s black Ivy League-educated husband, is a botanist and works to revive the fabulous gardens at Leslie’s parents’ estate.  He doesn’t understand how Leslie can do the air-kiss socialite party thing when she is so quickly angered by these people’s actions towards the “help,” especially when they think Jules is the help.  Dom, Maddie’s brother, is a bit of an outcast and lives on the fringe of the island.  He drinks whenever he can and suspects he is gay, which makes him feel even worse about himself.  Veronica, Maddie’s grandmother, is hiding her terminal breast cancer diagnosis while keeping track of her dementia-riddled husband Bob, AKA the Colonel, as he wanders their property with a gun in tow.  Veronica has lived her life as a society woman and now realizes how fake her life is, so she vows to make some life-changing decisions that will hopefully benefit her grandchildren before it is too late.

There is so much going on in this 400-page book so I was glad I started it way before this review was due.  It brought back a lot of memories as I also was a teen (albeit a bit older) during the 90s and experienced many of the same world events as these people did.  The characters were appealing and interesting, and while not all were likeable, they were as the author intended.  It was easy to feel empathy for Dom and Maddie living the lives they did, and although at first Veronica was unbearable, she evolved into a person I was rooting for until the very end.  Brooks and Jules were quickly likeable, and one had to feel for them as they entered a very challenging world that would eventually make them miserable.  Each character had good traits and bad ones to make them interesting.

The story itself was interesting, but at times it either plodded along or had so much going on that it was difficult to follow.  For example, without giving away spoilers, first this would happen, then this happened, then something else happened, then another thing happened.  It was almost as if the author could not decide which challenge to throw at the characters, so she threw several of them at her.  Considering the book was long, there were plenty of opportunities to throw some wrenches into the system, yet they all seemed to happen at the end of the book and really didn’t do much for the story.  I did enjoy the overall premise of the book, but again, these wrenches thrown into the system detracted from how great it could have been.  I would have loved to have seen a little bit more focus on Leslie’s family and its story and how it related to her return to the island.  I would still recommend this book to friends, but would let them know my reservations about the second half.

This is a book that touches on a variety of hot topics and therefore contains violence, sex, and foul language.  For this reason, I recommend this book for mature readers.  Fans of coming of age stories, the 1990s, and family dysfunction will enjoy this book.

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

Freedom’s Price

FreedomAuthor: Christine Johnson

Series: Keys of Promise #3

Publisher: Revell

Release Date: June 6, 2017

Rating: 5 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

Can Pirates of the Caribbean characters come to life in an alternate book?  

Catherine Haynes is facing a difficult situation. With both of her parents now deceased, her cousin has taking control of their estate, but must pay a stipend to Catherine until she is wed.  Now he is in a hurry to get her married and sell the estate.  Rather than succumb to his wishes, Catherine decides to take a severance from him and sail to her mother’s homeland of Louisiana to meet the family that doesn’t know she exists.  Along the way, she is shipwrecked on the island of Key West, where she meets dashing Captain Tom Worthington, who may be the only man she has met that can match her wit, which infuriates her more.  Even so, Catherine and Tom find themselves drawn to one another even though each has their own plans.  Would it be better to stay with Tom in Key West or venture to an uncertain future in New Orleans?

This was a fun historical fiction read that had me picturing Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann from Pirates of the Caribbean. Not because of their situation, but because of their personalities.  There was lots of fun, wit, and action throughout the book.  But there were also valuable lessons learned about trust and love.  Johnson did a great job of setting the scene in pre-Civil War New Orleans.  I hadn’t realized that England had already abolished slavery by that time period, so I was happy to get to do some research based on the book.  I also love the Key West area, so anytime I get to go there in my mind is well worth it.

Even though this was the third in the series, it is easily a standalone. I recommend reading it even without a copy of the first two.

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

Under a Summer Sky

Under a summer skyAuthor: Melody Carlson

Publisher: Revell

Release Date: June 6, 2017

Reviewer: Jennifer S. Roman

Melody Carlson brings another sweet yet fun romance to her many readers in Under a Summer Sky: A Savannah Romance.  Nicole Anderson, art teacher in Seattle, is languishing teaching high school students.  She knows her lectures are boring and she is not creating art as she had hoped.  With summer break looming on the horizon, she hopes her summer is quiet and productive.  That is, until her mother shows up unexpectedly at the end of her school day on a Friday.  It turns out that her mother’s friends are taking a summer-long tour around the world, and her mother has recommended that Nicole manage the friends’ art gallery in Savannah while they are gone.

The trip is spur-of-the-moment, and Nicole has no formal training to run an art gallery, but she decides it would be fun.  Besides, her childhood crush, Alex, the son of her parents’ friends, is going to be around as he finalizes his divorce.  She knows she can rely on him to help her with the gallery, and maybe start up a romance.  What Nicole doesn’t expect, however, is that Alex is irresponsible with his teenage daughter Bernice.  Additionally, Amyra, her co-worker at the gallery is a snobbish, rude woman who tries to control Nicole.  To make matters worse, Nicole was told that she would be managing the gallery, not Amyra, but nobody told Amyra that.  Nicole must deal with her frustrated colleague while also trying to keep an eye on Bernice.

As the summer progresses, Nicole manages to sell several pieces of art at the gallery while signing new artists.  She realizes she is good at running the gallery and that she has feelings for Alex’ nerdy brother Ryan instead of Alex.  How this will play out with the boys’ sibling rivalry is anyone’s guess.

True to form, Melody Carlson has written a sweet romance novel set in a beautiful setting.  She brings just the right amount of conflict to make the story interesting while not going overboard.  The characters are likeable and realistic, albeit predictable.  Still, for a summer romance with plenty of southern charm, this book fits the bill.

Readers who take this book for its simple romantic story will enjoy it.  There are not a lot of complex situations or characters, but they are fun and easy to understand.  The romance is not bodice-ripper; rather, it’s the first stage of romance that involves butterflies in the stomach and hand-holding.  It’s a fun read that relies as much on the setting as the characters to tell the story.

This is a charming book that does not contain violence, sex, or foul language.  For this reason, I recommend this book for young adult readers and up.  Fans of Melody Carlson and sweet romances in general will find this book enjoyable.

Naomi’s Hope

Naomi's HopeAuthor: Jan Drexler

Series: Journey to Pleasant Prairie #3

Publisher: Revell

Release Date: June 6, 2017

Reviewer: Jennifer S. Roman

The third and final installment in the Journey to Pleasant Prairie series finds a newcomer, Cap Stoltzfus, joining the two groups of Amish who have arrived in LaGrange County, Indiana, in the 1840s.  One group is from Ohio, and one group is from Pennsylvania.  Although one group is considered more progressive than the other, they live and work together across a wide area separated by marsh and forest.  They make miles-long treks on Sundays for church services and during the week to help their neighbors with chores.  Cap finds himself settling in nicely, and is especially happy when he meets Naomi Schrock, a single girl who lives with her family and son near Cap’s new cabin.  She has rescued a young boy whose family perished in a deadly storm, and even though her neighbors accept it, some people gossip that the boy, Davey, is the product of a sinful relationship.  Cap is determined to get to know Naomi while finding out the truth of Davey’s coming to live with Naomi.

Meanwhile, a new preacher has arrived in the settlement, and he brings back horrible memories for Cap.  Shem Fischer used to bully Cap when they were boys, and while Cap does his best to forgive Shem and put that experience in the past, he can’t help but feel that Shem is stirring up trouble throughout the settlement.  Rumors fly, people refuse to help one another, and there is talk of breaking the church into two different sects.  Shem seems to be behind all of it, but Cap has no proof.  It’s up to the other members of the church to see Shem for his bad behavior and keep him in check.

I have enjoyed the first two books in this series, so I was excited to read the final book, as well.  I have to admit that I had no idea there could be such Peyton Place-like drama playing out in an Amish settlement in the middle of Indiana, but after reading this book, it’s a whole new possibility.  People are quarreling over where to hold church, how to plant and harvest crops, and what to serve for Sunday dinner.  Married people have their eyes on someone other than their spouses, and rumors fly like birds.  This is probably not typical of the average Amish settlement, but in this book, it was quite common.  While the Amish are not immune to drama and conflicting personalities, it seems like this is an awful lot for a small new community.

I enjoyed the characters this book has, including the many newcomers.  Several main characters and side characters have personal conflicts that need to be addressed, and they realize that until they give them up to God, the issues won’t go away.  This causes stress in a few relationships, and the people involved learn how to work together instead of apart.  There are many lessons for the characters to earn, the biggest being to trust God above all others.  While some of the drama may be a bit over-the-top, the storylines and true commitment to living a simple life make the book a worthwhile read.

This is a charming book that does not contain violence, sex, or foul language.  For this reason, I recommend this book for young adult readers and up.  Fans of Amish fiction, Amish romance, or a good clean story about the settling of America will enjoy the story.

The Promise of Pierson Orchard

51hkTM8SZVL._SX326_BO1,204,203,200_Author: Kate Brandes

Publisher: Wyatt McKenzie

Release Date: April 22, 2017

Rating: 4 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

Sort of like a soap opera, but with fracking.

Pierson Orchard has seen its share of hardship and tragedy. Started by Jack’s grandfather, it has much become a family business. Only the orchard is unforgiving and those that work in it never get a break. Jack’s father’s devotion to the orchard caused their mom to run. And now it has cost Jack and Leann their marriage. But when Jack’s estranged brother Wade returns to the town of Minden as an employee for Green Energy, a gas development business, folks in town start to listen to him because he can offer them money for their mineral rights. But when the first fracking well causing toxic trespass into Jack’s orchard, tension begins to run high in the town. Add the unfinished business that Wade left with Jack’s wife before he left, and things might come right down to a bloody pulp.

So, first off, this story is full of wonderfully flawed characters. Everyone one of them is damaged and has a chance for redemption throughout the story. Unfortunately, not all of them find it. I really enjoyed the science behind this story. I live in west Texas, where fracking is a normal part of life. Fortunately, it doesn’t happen around the area that I live, but it is still a widespread industry that affects employment and can easily become a highly charged issue. The same is true in this story. The townspeople always got along when they were in the same boat, but when they started getting money for their land, a type of social pecking order began to development. I also enjoyed have the story told form the four viewpoints of Jack, Wade, Leann, and Stella. That way I was able to easily understand what each character was feeling and how they were handling the situation.

There is some strong language throughout the story and one fairly explicit sex scene. I would recommend this book to mature audiences, especially if this is a field of interest to them.

 

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

 

Tosca Lee’s New Book!

The Lost Stories.pngIf you’ve read Tosca Lee’s book The Progeny, I hope you will agree that it was the best book in 2016.  At least I thought so, be sure to check out my review of it here.  Even more exciting is that the sequel Firstborn releases in ONE WEEK from today!  How exciting is that?  And if you are worried that the sequel doesn’t live up to it’s predecessor, I can assure you that you will not be disappointed.  This new book is just as incredible and I will be posting my review of it here very soon.

In the meantime, be sure to head over to Tosca’s site (http://toscalee.com/firstbornswag/) and check out what she has in store for those who buy the book!  She has some amazing swag to give away to those who buy the book.  And even more amazing swag if you buy two books (one for you and one for a friend)!

But to those that love to read (and write), you know that there are always stories behind the stories.  And Tosca has written those down and they are available to YOU!  Check out her site to find out how to get them!

Susan May Warren Interview

susan-may-warren

We were able to catch up with Susan May Warren and ask a few questions in anticipation of her upcoming July release A Matter of Trust.  She has a lot of interesting things brewing and we hope you learn something new about her as well!

Where did the idea for the Montana rescue series come from?

The Montana Rescue series is a six book series about the PEAK Rescue team, a search-and-rescue outfit located in the shadow of Glacier National Park. With a ongoing thread of mystery that runs through each book, each book highlights one member of the team, exploring their challenges, hopes and romances as they face danger and sacrifice. Set against the rugged, beautiful backdrop of Montana, the stories are taken from real-life events that show us just how faithful God in when our darkest fears come true.  It’s epic adventure and romance with a touch of wilderness suspense that I think my readers—both old and new—will love.

The next book, A Matter of Trust, is the third in the series, is it going to be the last or do you have any plans to continue with these characters? 

This is only the middle book! There’s sooooo much more fun ahead with the characters we met and come to love. Book four features Sierra, the team administrator;  book five features Ty, the co-helicopter pilot, and the final book is about Pete and Jess, the team EMTs.  And, of course, we still have to solve the mystery threat!

Do you prefer the romance or suspense scenes?

Oh, boy, I love them both. Both contain elements of risk and romance, right?  Because we fall in love with each other as we see our heroes or heroines save others. But there is always an element of risk when we give out our heart in a romantic scene. So, maybe the question is…is there really a difference between the two scenes in a well-written romantic suspense?

Which character in this series has been your favorite to write?

I think I love the romance between Pete and Jess the most—they’re both so capable, but have dark, painful secrets that keep them from giving out their hearts. I am enjoying watching their romance develop (or fall apart!)

When writing do you have any sort of routine to help you get the words flowing?

I talk through the scene with my writing partner, Rachel Hauck, before I start writing it, and that helps me know what I’m going to write and get into the emotion of the character. I also figure out the blocking (how the characters will move in the scene) as well as the stakes and tension of the scene. Once I talk it out, it’s much easier to start writing.

Who are some of your favorite authors and recent books you have read?

I’m a huge fan of Rachel Hauck—she’s my go-to beach read. And I love Ronie Kendig and Dee Henderson. I’m also a fan of Melissa Tagg and Beth Vogt. And I am a recent fan of Lori Benton.  As for recent books—I just finished Rachel’s newest book, The Wedding Shop.

What is on your to be read list?

I recently download a number of Tamara Leigh’s books, so I’ll be reading through her historical time-travel series. I also have Dani Pettrey and Lynette Eason’s newest books in the wings, so lots to fill up my weekends!

What project are you working on next?

I just finished the rough draft of Ian and Sierra’s story, book four in the Montana Rescue series, so I’ll be working on rewrites and editing that project. It’s set in the Caribbean, so maybe I need a little more research, too!