The Happiness Thief

Author: Nicole Bokat

Publisher: She Writes Press

Release Date: May 18, 2021

Rating: 4 out of 5.

A slow build to a great ending, The Happiness Thief turned out much better than I expected and was a very enjoyable read.

Natalie Greene has lived for years with uncertainty after the car crash that killed her mom and left her with unclear memories from the trauma. Her husband has left her for another woman and she reluctantly agrees to accompany her stepsister to a retreat in the Cayman Islands. Her stepsister is a Happiness Guru and Natalie is hoping to find some happiness on the trip. Instead she ends up in an accident that triggers memories and long held onto guilt of what happened to her mother.

Back home in Boston Natalie gets back to life as a food photographer and mother to her teenage daughter until an email arrives saying there is more to the accident in the Caymans than she was led to believe. As more clues come to light, Natalie realizes she has been lied to for a very long time and as the truth comes to light nothing is as it seems.

The Happiness Thief was a fun, quick read once I got past about the first third. There was a slow build, but once I got a little way in, the story picked up and had twists and turns in abundance. I loved the way each new clue unfolded a piece of the puzzle and it all came together in such a great way. Natalie was pretty easy for me to sympathize with and want to follow; however, I wasn’t fond of Isabel. Something about her just didn’t sit well with me but played out well in the end with how she was written in her story arc. Some of the secondary characters really brought a lot of what I needed to make the story mesh properly. At several different points throughout the story I enjoyed how Bokot showed we must do to find happiness for ourselves, we can’t rely on others to bring us happiness. I would recommend this book to mystery lovers that want a real page turner after a bit of a slow start.

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

A Dance in Donegal

Author: Jennifer Deibel

Publisher: Revell

Release Date: February 2, 2021

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Lovers of Ireland will absolutely love this book set in the Emerald Isle!

After her mother dies, Moira Doherty feels that she should leave her life in Boston behind and move to the village of Donegal in Ireland where her mother lived.  Unfortunately, her mother’s past left behind an unwarm welcome.  Will Moira be able to unravel the secrets and be accepted by the town?

It’s hard to believe that this is a debut novel.  The setting and descriptions of Ireland could only be written by someone who has personally experienced them.  Ireland is one of my favorite countries and favorite settings, especially since my heritage is mostly Irish.  It was easy to hear the accent from the natives in the book with the way that the language was written and the Gaelic names of the characters.  The story flowed well and the theme of trust was imminent throughout.  Fair play tcha, Jennifer Diebel!

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

The Orchard House

Author: Heidi Chiavaroli

Publisher: Tyndale House

Release Date: February 9, 2021

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Two great stories that crossover in ways you won’t expect!

Taylor has had a rough go at life.  Abandoned by her mother at a young age and left with her uncle.  The uncle ends up going to prison and Taylor is placed in the foster care system.  Then in 1995, she is adopted by her best friend’s parents and she now has not only a sister, but a family.  Even so, she still feels like she is outside of their love and is more of a hindrance than a gift.  But she and her new sister, Victoria, share a common interest: writing.  Living in Concord, Massachusetts right down the street from Louisa May Alcott’s home, The Orchard House, makes many a young girl dream of writing.  They have their ups and downs over the next few years, but one evening Victoria betrays Taylor in one of the worst ways she can imagine and there is no going back.

Just after the civil war, Johanna Suhre has become acquainted through letters with Louise May Alcott after Louisa used Johanna’s late brother John as the basis of her publication Hospital Sketches.  When Louisa decides to go abroad to Europe for a time, she offers an adventure to Johanna to come stay at Orchard House in her absence to help take care of the house.  While there, Johanna becomes smitten with the neighbor Nathan Bancroft who Louisa does not hold in high regard.  Could this romance be the end of their friendship? 

This is the first book that I’ve read by Heidi Chiavaroli, but WOW!  I was hooked at the beginning and couldn’t stop reading until I found out what happened in both stories!  It’s easy to get lost in one of the stories of a time-slip novel but it takes a very talented author to get readers to lose themselves in both stories.  I loved how much detail she paid to each time period, not only the 1800s but even 1995 and early 2000s.  It was fun to have the main character my own age for a change and reminisce about how things were back when I was in high school and college.  A walk down memory lane for sure.

I related most to Taylor.  I’ve haven’t had the rough beginning that she did, but it was so easy to cheer for her when she was wronged that you didn’t want her family to pull her back.  In the end, it worked out for the best, but the process was a little messy, which made it real.  I’ve known women like Victoria and those in her situation and it is really tough to deal with.  It takes a lot of time and emotional withdraws to get someone through those times.  I loved how the author was able to use those two stories to draw similarities, but it might be in such a way that readers won’t notice until is right upon them.  She also managed to show the importance of faith and a relationship with God in a subtle yet very real way!  Great story!

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

‘Til I Want No More

Author: Robin W. Pearson

Publisher: Tyndale

Release Date: February 2, 2021

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Great character development coupled with finding your self-worth makes this a must read for 2021!

Maxine has had her ups and downs in life, but she finally thinks that she has things in order.  She writes a column for a faith publication and is engaged to a young headmaster that oversees a local school.  Things seem to be going in the right direction.  But when they begin their year of premarital classes, things from Maxine’s past she has tried to put behind her begin to work their way back.  When the man that she fell in love with back in high school returns to town, even more skeletons emerge from the closet.  She’s trying to convince everyone that she is fine, but no one close to her believes it.  As they move closer to the wedding date, Maxine realizes that the secrets that she has been holding from everyone have to become known, which could alter her future.  She must look and learn what it means to be truly known and loved by the one who wonderfully and fearfully made her.

To put this book in context, it is geared toward Maxine’s character development, which puts it at a little bit slower pace than reading for action or suspense.  The focus is on her life and what she has gone through to get where she is and how she is not quite where she really needs to be with herself or with God.  I love that Pearson used some of the same characters from her previous book to help Maxine in her progression.  It’s always fun when a reader gets to visit characters from a previous novel to see how they are moving in their journey as well, almost like catching up with an old friend.  It’s very easy to form an emotional connection with Maxine and even get pulled down when she finds herself in despair.  As a reader, you just want the truth to come out for her so that she can finally begin to heal and stop spiraling downward.  This book just goes to show that even people who appear like they have it all together can be just a depressed as anyone else.

I’m not going to give anything away in this book, but just when you think you have something figured out about Maxine, the truth comes out and it throws you for a loop.  This happened multiple times.  I also liked the twist at the end that showed the one person she tried to keep in the dark already knew and that was causing more of a strain than anything else.  Great story to kick off the new year! I received a complimentary copy of this title from the publisher.  The views and opinions expressed within are my own.

All That We Carried

Author: Erin Bartels

Publisher: Revell

Release Date: January 5, 2021

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Tension coupled with redemption makes this a stellar tale!

It’s been ten years since Olivia and Melanie’s parents died in a car accident while they were away on a hiking trip.  Ten years since the sisters have really spoken to each other.  With reconciliation on her mind, Melanie asks her sister to join her on a hiking trip in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.  Olivia reluctantly agrees but does so on her terms; she picks the place and plans out the whole adventure.  While on the trail, the sisters face uncertainty, accidents, and disasters, which forces them to evaluate their lives, choices, and beliefs.

From the onset of the book, Olivia and Melanie could not be more polar opposite.  Olivia is a prosecutor that is a driven, goal-oriented, planner who has mapped out her life for any possible contingency that could occur.  Melanie is a free-spirited life coach with a YouTube following that believes the good in every belief system while trying to shut out the bad.  Needless to say, tension starts on the first page and doesn’t slow down until the epilogue.  These two women face all sorts of challenges in the wilderness that force them to rely on each other.  I love that both had to reflect on their view of spirituality to truly discover the truth about themselves and each other.  There are some twist and turns that will take readers for quite a bit of a ride, but those with siblings will likely find they have had some of the same arguments.

Bartels description of the beauty of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and that of Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore and Porcupine Mountains State Park easily drew me in.  I’ve not been to Michigan, but I’ve read a lot of stories set there and until now have really not had a desire to go.  The descriptions of waterfalls and that of Lake Superior made me research the park while I was reading the book and have now added it to my bucket list!  The pictures were so beautiful, and I never would have known about it!

I recommend this book to readers who enjoy a great story and like to see relationships restored!

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

Fragments of Light

Author: Michele Phoenix

Publisher: Thomas Nelson

Release Date: July 14, 2020

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

This story will hit so many women with words that need to be heard.

Cancer can take more than your body; it can take your spirit.  Ceelie understands that more than most.  After undergoing a double mastectomy, chemotherapy treatment, and reconstructive survey, the day she is finally free of everything turns out to be worse than the initial diagnosis.  Her husband wants out.  He’s finished.  This devastates Ceelie even worse than the cancer itself.  The man who vowed to be by her side through sickness and health decides she isn’t worth it anymore.  Shortly after this, her one friend and fellow cancer survivor, Darlene, finds out that her cancer has returned with a vengeance and after going through this twice, she is content to live out her days.  But before she goes, she has a request of Ceelie.  She wants her to help track down whatever happened to her father.  He returned home from D-Day and only stayed a few weeks with her mom and her before he left them with no explanation.  Darlene has harbored bitterness toward him her whole life but when some letters resurfaced, she decides she wants to know what really happened.  Will Ceelie be able to help her find out before it’s too late?

This was a powerful read, as Michele Phoenix books tend to be.  The raw emotion over the surgery and recovery could only be painted by someone who had experienced this herself.  All that pain was poured into Ceelie’s character and each reader could feel it alongside her.  There are definitely some dark moments throughout the book, but as the title states, fragments of light make their way through the darkness.  I loved Darlene’s character.  She was so spunky and energetic for a woman in her 70s that I hope to be her at that age, always encouraging others and living life to her fullest.  I also enjoyed the time slip aspect of this story set during Normandy on D-Day and what happened to change the life of Darlene’s father forever.  It takes all the way to the end to find out the truth, and when it comes, it is understandable but so sad at the same time.  I hope that readers find enjoyment and enlightenment through this book.

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

Side Trip

Side TripAuthor: Kerry Lonsdale

Publisher: Lake Union

Release Date: July 7, 2020

Rating: 5 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

Lonsdale shines as a master of relationship what-ifs play out in this two-sided story of love, growth, and loss!

Joy Evers has been carrying her sister’s death on her shoulders since it happened.  She gave up her interests of skateboarding and surfing to make her late sister’s dreams come true.  She went to UCLA and achieved a degree in chemical engineering and has lined up a job to develop a new line of lipstick for a large cosmetic firm in New York.  She decides to take a road trip down Route 66 on her way to New York from LA to check off the items from her sister’s bucket list before she begins the life she never wanted.

Dylan Westfield loves writing music, but he hates performing.  His dad and uncle were well known musicians and he has always been in the shadows except when his dad made him perform on stage.  Hid dad recently died and to obtain his inheritance, Dylan must travel along Route 66 and play the same dive bars that his dad did on his way to LA before he made it big.  Not only that, but he must drive the same car his dad did, which doesn’t even make it out of California.

By chance, both Joy and Dylan are at the same diner in Ludlow, California.  He manages to convince her to drive him to his gigs, but she has three rules.  1. No last names.  2. What happens on the road, stays on the road.  And 3. If they take a side trip, both parties have to agree.

Every year in July I look forward to a new Kerry Lonsdale book, which frequently shows up on my top 10 books of the year.  This year was no exception!  Readers are suddenly thrown into Joy and Dylan’s wild ride and find themselves tagging along for the adventure.  This book was both exciting and heart wrenching.  Readers will easily connect with either Joy or Dylan.  Told from both perspectives, it’s easy to get lost in both of their back stories, present stories, and future stories.

Joy carried the guilt of her sister’s death by herself and wouldn’t let anyone truly see her for who she was.  Dylan never wanted a serious relationship because the life of a musician isn’t kind to relationships, which proved true of his parents.  But when they are together, something special happens.  In her true fashion, Lonsdale’s books have an epic ending that nobody will see coming.  At first, I was really angry for what happened because I was cheering for both of them and then I was broken hearted.  But maybe a silver lining promise will keep readers fully engaged until the end!

There was a little difficulty at times when the story suddenly shifted between past and present without any kind of visible break, but it didn’t take long to figure out.  There is also a lot of language and well as implied sex that makes the book suitable for mature audiences.

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

More Than We Remember

more than we rememberAuthor: Christina Suzann Nelson

Publisher: Bethany House

Release Date: February 18, 2020

Rating: 5 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

Nelson’s work continues to shine!

One moment changes everything in the lives of three women.

Deputy Emilia Cruz is the first responder to the scene of an accident in the early hours of the morning. She discovers a two-vehicle head on collision which claims the life of a single mother to three boys. The other car contained the high school basketball coach who survived but is believed to have been drinking. This infuriates Deputy Cruz as her husband was a first responder fire fighter to an accident caused by an alcoholic the left his physically disabled. She’s more determined than ever to fight for justice regardless of who the victim is.

Addison Kilbourn is woken up in the night to find that her husband still hasn’t returned home from meeting someone in a neighboring town. She answers the door to find a deputy sheriff with news that her husband was in an accident and has been taken to the hospital. Life has been difficult enough moving to her husband’s hometown and living with her mother-in-law while they build their house, but she soon learns public opinion about her husband accident brands her family.

Brianne Demanno is trying to hide from her past and present. She always wanted to be a counselor and she got her wish, but after one of her patients committed suicide, she doubts her abilities and decides to delve into the solitude of artwork. When a deputy accidentally knocks on her door instead of the Kilbourn’s, she decides to go over and help the family by staying with the children so that the mom can go to the hospital. Brianne begins to connect with the kids and with their mom Addison, who may be the first real friend that she has had. Will this family be enough to pull her out of seclusion and help her start to live again?

One of the greatest aspects of Nelson’s writing is that she is able to connect her characters in ways that mimic real life. In every book that I’ve read by her, she brings multiple broken families together and connects them in a healing process. This book was no exception. Each woman’s story showed the immense struggle they were going through. Addison was insecure dealing with her husband’s accident, mother-in-law’s memory loss, and her oldest daughter that was now a teenage. Emilia struggled with her job, husband’s disability, and daughter’s friends. Brianne struggled internally with feeling inadequate. Each woman on their own would have faltered, but together they made bonds that helped them move forward. In some cases, it wasn’t even the relationship between the women, but between their kids. Nelson is becoming one of my favorite authors for this genre and I hope that others find her work encouraging too.

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

The Oysterville Sewing Circle

Oysterville

Author: Susan Wiggs

Publisher: William Morrow

Release Date: August 13, 2019

Rating: 4.5 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

The kind of special book that is made for book clubs! Women helping women and a warmth throughout that will leave readers smiling as they turn the last page.

 After setting off for the big city to launch a career in the fashion industry, Caroline Shelby has worked hard to prove herself to have it all explode in her face. With nowhere else to turn, she returns to her hometown of Oysterville, Washington. She isn’t returning alone, coming home with her are two children that become orphans when their mom, her friend died. It has been ten years since she left, and a lot has changed. When she arrives on her parent’s doorstep, she isn’t sure where her life is headed. It isn’t long before she runs into Will Jensesn, one of her oldest and closest friends until she left town. Will went into the Navy and was wounded causing him to return home with his wife Sierra, Caroline’s best friend. It doesn’t take long for Caroline to return to her favorite place in town, the sewing shop, and discovers secrets the town has been hiding for years. Finding a purpose with the secret, Caroline starts the Oysterville Sewing Circle and sees lives changed, especially her own.

 For me, the name of this book was very misleading. I was expecting one thing and ended up with something very different. This is a great women’s fiction domestic drama, lots going on in the pages of this story with so many life lessons we can learn from helping a friend to dealing with long lost love. Even if you think a book about sewing and fashion isn’t for you, give it a chance as there is so much more to this story. Caroline is a great protagonist, she has to go up against a lot, not only the people in the fashion industry but also taking on the responsibility of the kids thrust into her life. A lot of people put in her position wouldn’t have made the decision she did. The story flowed great, not only with all she went through but how others reacted to her and the way she kept her values at the forefront of all she did. The subject of domestic violence, drug abuse, and others tackled here are not easy, but when handled with care it can make for a story very much worth reading. I loved the way Wiggs dealt with these characters and the issues they faced. This is the first book I have read by Wiggs but can easily see myself picking up more by her. I recommend this book to readers that enjoy contemporary women’s fiction with a message and heart to the story.

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

Last Summer

Last SummerAuthor: Kerry Lonsdale

Publisher: Lake Union

Release Date: July 9, 2019

Rating: 4.5 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

A thrilling read that will leave readers guessing until they finally know the truth.

Ella Skye wakes up in a hospital to find that she has been in a car accident.  Initially, she can’t remember what happened but begins to remember some details of her life.  The one thing that she can’t remember is being pregnant for the last five months.  She can remember what happened five days ago, but no memory whatsoever of carrying a child.  She returns home to find a nursery that she decorated and all sorts of plans she had set up for a child.  Even her husband Damien, who never wanted children, seems to be devasted by this loss.  She and Damien’s relationship has been strained since the accident, but they seem to be finding some sort of new normal.  Then she gets a call from the magazine she works for to pick up where she left off on an interview with a world explorer named Nathan Donovan.  Amazingly, Ella can’t remember a thing about this man either, even after spending two weeks in solidarity with him.  With her husband begging her not to go interview him, Ella decides she must take the chance to find out if he can trigger anything about her lost memories.  What else can she lose?

If there is one thing that I’ve learned from Kerry Lonsdale, it’s that her books will always give you a dose of the unexpected.  Another thing is that the antagonist is always very crafty.  I loved getting to know Ella’s story just as I have her previous books.  This one had a bit of a twist to it at the end, which I had a feeling was coming, but still had me pleasantly surprised.  Ella is a strong confident woman, who must become very vulnerable to try to find out what happened in her past.  Having carried two children, I can’t imagine waking up to not being able to remember them.  That would an earth-shattering moment, which is obvious in her behavior.  I’m not sure I would have made the same choices in her place, but then again, I don’t share her past either.   Needless to say, this book stayed suspenseful, but not in a murder thrilling kind of way, just in a way that made me have to find out what happened.  The ending also leaves a potential opening for a follow up, but we will have to wait and see on Lonsdale’s intentions!

There is some strong language throughout the book as well as some sex scenes that make this a read for mature audiences only.

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