Secrets of Worry Dolls

secrets-of-worry-dollsAuthor: Amy Impellizzeri

Publisher: Wyatt-McKenzie

Release Date: December 1, 2016

Rating: 4.5 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

Whispering your secrets to worry dolls is supposed to keep you from stressing, but it’s not always that easy.

Mayan tradition says that if you whisper your troubles to the Worry Dolls you won’t have to worry, they will do it for you. Kind of like a dream catcher to keep away the bad dreams.  The Mayan’s also have a calendar that says the world is about to end.  Mari and her daughter Lu have been through their fair share of tragedies.  Mari was supposed to be at the Twin Towers on 9/11 with her twin sister and father who died that day.  She was also supposed to be on a plane headed to Guatemala that crashes in her neighborhood.  Just as the plane crashes, Lu sees her world come crashing down just as quickly.  Secrets from both past and present come out and Lu has to find the strength to deal with them all on her own, if that is possible.

It is very hard to tell a story where you jump from past to present, along with alternating view-points. Many authors try this and it almost always falls flat.  Amy Impellizzeri may be the exception.  For some strange reason it worked here.  I am a twin so I found Impellizzeri’s use of twins in the story interesting, she did a good job showing the relationship and how losing her sister had an impact on Lu.  The chapters were short making the story flow just right.  There were a few points that things seemed to veer of topic but came back just as quickly.  I don’t want to give too much of the story away but I will say that even if it is hard to get into at times it is worth sticking with till the very end.  It would be nice if having Worry dolls and giving them our problems really did take them away, unfortunately it is harder than that.  I try my best not to worry but I fall short, just as we all do.  I love the concept here and the lessons taught in this book.  There were a few mature themes throughout making it not suitable for anyone beside the target audience age group.  Overall it was an enjoyable and I recommend it for those that enjoy an intriguing story with a few good twists.

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

Of Stillness and Storm

of-stillness-and-stormAuthor: Michele Phoenix

Publisher: Thomas Nelson

Release Date: December 6, 2016

Rating: 4.5 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

A gripping, emotional tale of loss, love, and devastation.

Lauren lives with her husband, Sam, and son, Ryan, in Kathmandu, Nepal. She works as an English teacher at a local university so that Sam can do mission work in the remote villages in the mountain regions of Nepal.  Unfortunately, rather than finding adventure in her home country, Lauren is getting frustrated with living in Nepal, dealing with the unsanitary conditions, traffic, pollution, monsoons, and only seeing Sam for a third of the year.  Worse, Ryan has been closing himself off from them since before they left the states and barely answers questions when directed at him.

After coaxing from one of her stateside friends, Lauren sets up a Facebook account. Within a day, she has been contacted by another friend, Aidan, from the past who was a huge part of her life before college.  As she is drawn into her conversations with Aidan, she finds herself shutting out her other life and her relationship with Ryan starts to suffer further.  How can she work to save the relationships she already has?

First of all, let me say that if you read this book, it is going to affect you emotionally. It certainly did me.  The story is told from Lauren’s point of view and switches between present day in Nepal and her past story including how she and Sam met, her relationship with Aidan, and Ryan’s plunge into depression.  But ultimately, the story is not really about Lauren so much as it is about Ryan.  Michele Phoenix has a ministry set up to support missionary kids and the struggles that they deal with.  It is very evident that Ryan struggles with abandonment from his father, but doesn’t know how to express it.  Even if he did, Sam would probably not have taken it as he should have.

Speaking of Sam, it was interesting to see a missionary as an antagonist throughout the story. I continually got frustrated with his character and even shocked that he would continue to abandon his family.  He had a lot of personal ambition that I believe he took to make his vision come true, even when he had roadblocks in his way that could have been warnings.

This is a very difficult read emotionally and the ending may leave you with more questions than answers, but overall it is extremely well written and presented.

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

In the Blue Hour

in-the-blue-hourAuthor: Elizabeth Hall

Publisher: Lake Union Press

Release Date: November 1, 2016

Rating: 3.5 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

The loss of a loved one is hard and it feels like they never really leave. That feeling lives where we can barely see it, in the blue hour.

When Elise Brooks has a dream about a car accident, she doesn’t think much of it, after all it is just a dream. Then a few weeks later, her husband is killed just like her dream.  She blames herself feeling that she missed the signs and could have somehow prevented his death.  Now she feels his spirit following her in the form of a raven.  There are forces at work beyond her understanding and she turns to both the Native American wisdom she grew up with and psychics, which she has always been skeptical about.  Clues lead her to take a journey after finding a mysterious address found in her late husband’s jacket.  She puts her trust in a new friend, Tom, or at least she hopes he is a friend, and follows the clues. Tom doesn’t believe in the supernatural but is happy to help Elise on her journey.  Together they will both find more than they could have ever imagined.

Let me start by saying that overall I really did enjoy the story. The way it was written, not so much.  The story started with mostly narrative, very little dialogue to move the story forward, and stayed that way throughout much of the rest of the novel.  When a reader opens a book to see if it might be worth their time and find page after page of narrative, it can be a turn off.  I know it is for me.  I think the story would have flowed much smoother if Hall had found a way to portray more of it through dialogue in some way.  This type of story does rely heavily on narrative, I get that, but when it causes me to want to skip over parts of the story just to get to something I deem more important.  However, had I done that with much of the narrative, I’m sure I missed a few key points that could have caused the ending to be a little less enjoyable, if not a little confusing.  The conclusion made me think that perhaps I was missing something from the beginning but it was all there just a little hard to follow at times.  It was still an enjoyable read, but not one I will pick up again.

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

Life After Coffee

life-after-coffeeAuthor: Virginia Franken

Publisher: Lake Union

Release Date: September 13, 2016

Rating: 3 1/2 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

Being a mom is hard! When Amy O’Hara loses her job and has to stay home with her kids, she finds out just how hard that life can be.

Amy O’Hara has been the bread winner for the family for as long as they have been a family. Just when she is on the verge of a breakthrough discovery that could save the coffee bean from extinction, she loses her job and her self-worth.  Now her days are filled with carpools, PTA meetings, and cleaning puke off of everything.  Her husband, Paul, locks himself away to write the next great screenplay and leaves her to figure out how to be a parent.  It doesn’t take long for her to realize she has no clue what to do with her time with her children.  As they are running out of money and options, Amy’s ex-boyfriend comes into the picture asking to give Paul a job with his movie company.  This offer doesn’t come with no strings attached; her ex now wants to rekindle their past romance.  The choice is even more difficult than trying to live without the caffeine she has come to depend on in so many ways.

Being a mom is one of the most difficult and rewarding jobs there is in life. I have two young boys and there are times I don’t know what to do to just make it through the day.  Amy has never had to deal with that.  Always rushing off to work and leaving Paul to handle the kids.  I know a lot of working moms, some chose to go to work when they could stay home.  Others it’s not a choice, they have to go to work in order for their family to make enough.  I stay home, I’m one of those people that it is just who I am, I have to stay home with my kids.  In that aspect, it was hard for me to relate to Amy at the beginning of the story.  I found it difficult to believe that Paul would immediately go from 100% with the kids and doing things around the house to zero, only wanting to work on his screenplay and not do anything with the family or around the house.  A transition period as Amy worked her way into finding her groove staying home and Paul working would have been a nicer way for the story to play out in my opinion.  The dynamic with the kids and their mom played out nicely throughout.  Amy herself had a nice transition from beginning to end.

There was some language throughout that could have been cut while keeping the story’s intent. With that in mind, I would recommend for mature readers only.  It was a very quick read that I think working moms in particular will enjoy.

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 Goodbye Year

the-goodbye-year

Author: Kaira Rouda

Publisher: Spark Press

Release Date: May 3, 2016

Reviewer: Jennifer S. Roman

The Goodbye Year focuses on the senior year of high school for a group of privileged teens and their families in an upscale beach neighborhood of California.  It centers around five seemingly perfect families as they try to prepare for the next stage of their lives.  While some have to redefine who they are, others have to come to terms with reality instead of what they think their lives are.  Some of the students struggle with college decisions and areas of study while others have family issues.

The story opens with Melanie, who recently moved with her family from the Midwest to Crystal Beach at her son Dane’s senior year orientation.  There she experiences a full-blown panic attack as she wonders what will become of her now that her children will all be gone from the house, assuming that her son, Dane, gets accepted somewhere.  She is so busy worrying about her life that she doesn’t notice that other families have their own issues.  Sarah and Jud have a “perfect” daughter and a seemingly perfect life, yet Jud travels a lot, and Sarah finds an unsavory secret about him.  Carol and Will live in a less affluent area and clearly don’t have the social status that their peers do, and their marriage is in trouble.  Will sees Carol as a strict, structure-oriented taskmaster and seeks someone outside of his marriage in order to feel good about himself.  Lauren, the woman seeing Will, is married to a successful car dealer and has a daughter, Kiley, who doesn’t fit Lauren’s expectations.  Kiley is a bit overweight, has piercings, and dresses goth.  Zoe is a single mom trying to keep it all together so that her son, Collin, has a good senior year.  Collin is accepted at NYU and hopes to make a name for himself once he graduates.  As the story develops, the characters intermingle and affect each others’ lives in ways they don’t expect or understand at the time.

I was not expecting the story to unfold the way it did, but I have to say, I am pleasantly surprised.  I expected a story of a mom who doesn’t know what to do with herself when her youngest child goes to college.  How she transitions from full-time Mom to empty-nester is what I expected; instead, it is more of a Peyton Place/Beverly Hills 90210 (the original) experience.  It’s fun, dramatic, and sometimes over-the-top, but always engaging.  I had a hard time putting this book down because I was so engrossed in what each character was doing.  There of course are a love triangle or two, some cheating, some deep dark secrets, and betrayal.  It’s a fun indulgence to enjoy during a marathon reading session because it really is hard to find a stopping point.  The characters are interesting and lively and the whole story is so Housewives of Orange County that it can be enjoyed while still driving home a point.  Additionally, while dysfunctional, the characters show warmth, redemption, and grace, which keep the book from being too much of a tacky soap opera.

The Goodbye Year is based on cheating, lies, and deception, so it does have some content that may be offensive.  People cheat, students get busted for drugs, and there is some mild violence.  A few profanities are used for effect.  While not an overly profound book, The Goodbye Year does entertain while providing insight into a time that most of us can recognize and remember with bittersweet fondness.  I highly recommend it for mature readers who enjoy a voyeuristic look into how people interact and handle life’s curveballs.