Only Ever Her

Only ever herAuthor: Marybeth Mayhew Whalen

Publisher: Lake Union Publishing

Release Date: May 7, 2019

Rating: 4 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

The wedding of the century for a small South Carolina town becomes a search when the bride goes missing and the suspects are endless. 

Annie Taft has been the town sweetheart ever since her mother was murdered leaving her to be raised by her Aunt. With her wedding in four days, the town has come together to celebrate. Things are going according to plan until Annie disappears. No one knows where she is or what could have happened to her. To make matters worse, the man that was accused of killing her mother has been found innocent after all these years and released from prison right as Annie goes missing. Is he somehow responsible for Annie’s disappearance or once again being falsely accused?

As far as psychological thrillers go this one ranks high for me. There are a lot of characters to keep up with and at times it did get a little confusing, but by the end things tied together in a nice way. I must admit I did not see the little twist at the end coming, very nicely done on that part. I usually see twist coming but that one snuck up on me. The pace of the book was good, at times there seemed a bit much narration, which slowed the pace just a little. The frequent character changes and short chapters were nice to keep things moving. I was a little surprised there wasn’t more with Annie; I know the book is about her disappearance, but I felt a little mislead by the opening with her and how she was portrayed and how it ended. Several of the minor characters really brought the scenes to life and kept the story flowing when I might have been tempted to put it down. But I was glad I kept with it and let the story play out in its entirety. I read this in two days and enjoyed the story, I probably could have finished it in one sitting if life and kids needs hadn’t gotten in the way. I think it is one for readers that enjoy psychological thrillers and a good mystery. There is some adult content so I don’t recommend it for a younger audience, but the adult audience will enjoy the read.

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

By Invitation Only

By invitation only

Author: Dorothea Benton Frank

Publisher: William Morrow

Release Date: May 15, 2018

Rating: 4.5 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

A story of two families coming together and the hardships and blessings they face showing how love can be a beautiful and even brutal thing sometimes.

 When Diane English Stiftel finds out her son is engaged she plans a party to celebrate. She invites him, his fiancé and her family to the low country of South Carolina to their farm. Her brother Floyd and her parents help plan the celebration. When the bride-to-be and her family arrive, they see that they are marrying into a family completely different than their own. Susan Kennedy Cambria, the mother of the bride, has lived a very privileged life. Her husband Alejandro Cambria, a wealthy power broker in Chicago, has spared no expense in their lives and Susan has grown accustomed to this way of living. As the two families clash on money, how their children should live, and correct behavior, the young couple must learn from both sides of the family and see if they can find an outcome that will give them a happily ever after.

 The first part of this book was a little slow for me but once I got about two thirds of the way in I was hooked. The ending is where the tension picked up and made me really care for the characters. Dorothea Benton Frank did an excellent job of making characters I became emotionally connected to. At first, I really despised Susan, as was the author’s intent. Readers will connect with her on several different levels. Her character development is the best in the whole story and the way she evolves was beautifully written.  It’s funny, you might think the story is going to be more about the young couple, which in a way it is, but the focus is more on the mothers of the groom and bride and how this kind of thing can bring families closer together. I have never read anything by Frank before but am glad I decided to pick this one up. There was a great warmth about Diane and her side of the family, the differences between the two families, and how they contrasted with each other was beautifully written. The back and forth point of views between the two characters set a great writing style for this story and worked very well keeping me engaged in the story and turning the page to see what was going to happen next. I recommend this book to fans of southern family dramas with a lot of heart and excellent character development.

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

Swimming in the Deep End

swimmingAuthor: Christina Suzann Nelson

Publisher: Kregel

Release Date: September 25, 2018

Rating: 5 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

This book is a prime example of how everything can come full circle.

Izzy Cline is a terrific swimmer who has a dream of competing in the Olympics.  At least until she realizes that she is pregnant.  Still in high school, she and her boyfriend Travis had plans.  He was going to be the first in his family to go to college and he would do it on a baseball scholarship.  Izzy would swim in college and at the Olympics.  That all seems like a distant dream now.  At least nothing can tear her and Travis apart.

Izzy’s mom Jillian is pinning her hopes on her daughter.  But when she sees that Izzy is pregnant, it conjures up painful memories of her past.  As she tries to force Izzy to do things her way, she begins to cause a huge rift between herself and the rest of the family.  Will she be able to deal with the issue before the family is completely torn apart?

Travis’s mom Margaret wants a different life for her son than she had.  Travis father was a drunk who was rarely around with Travis’s older brothers and once Travis was born he pretty much took off.  But this pregnancy worries Margaret that the will get trapped in the same kind of life she is in and she wants to make sure this doesn’t affect her dreams for him.

Stacey Frey and her husband have just moved to the area.  Not able to conceive children of their own, they have recently gone through a horrible adoption experience and have been healing to try the process again.  God works in mysterious ways and Stacey begins to get involved in a home for young mothers.  As events begin to play out, an unexpected story of healing affects all four main characters.

This was one of the most interesting books that I have read where the main characters are all interconnected.  At least three separate stories that appear to have little relevance with each other begin to weave a pattern until they are fully intertwined.  Nelson has always done a great job of taken women with a broken spirit as her characters and forming them into someone that is strong and both supported and supportive.  This book is no different.  Each of these women has gone through a traumatic experience that has broken their spirit and it takes all of them to realize how to move forward.

I highly recommend this book to all readers.  It’s just a great story that should be read by all.

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

Just After Midnight

Just after midnightAuthor: Catherine Ryan Hyde

Publisher: Lake Union

Release Date: December 4, 2018

Rating: 5 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

While dog might be man’s best friend, Hyde shows that horses may very well be a girl’s best friend.

Faith has left her husband after taking all that she can take and heads to her parents’ California beach house. She doesn’t know what the future holds, but knows she has to do it on her own. She never expected to get involved helping a young girl running away from her father and trying to deal with the death of her mother. Sarah is living with her grandmother after her mother’s death. It was ruled a suicide but Sarah knows more than she has told the authorities about what really happened to her mom. Sarah’s grandmother is trying to get custody of her and needs to keep her away from her father. Faith ends up taking Sarah on a journey to try and lift her spirits. Her father has sold her beloved horse and together Faith and Sarah spend the summer following the horse from show to show and learning a lot about themselves in the process.

Catherine Ryan Hyde has solidified herself as one of the very best in writing literary and women’s fiction. Her writing gets to the reader’s heart and soul, showing that there is still kindness in the world. I loved everything about this book. The characters were relatable, strong and yet not afraid to show their sensitive side. I thought the story would be more about Faith and what happened with her husband but instead it was more about Sarah and how she is dealing with the problems she is facing with the loss of her mother and her father’s involvement in what happened. The relationship between Faith and Sarah blossoms and shows that the two need each other even if they don’t realize it. The way Hyde builds these characters and makes the readers care deeply what happens is better than almost anyone I have read before. She is able to get to the heart of the story and keep us enthralled so much so that it is hard to believe the story is over until the last page is turned. I recommend this book to readers who love a good story with characters they will fall in love with. Those that love a story about horses will also enjoy this story but being a horse lover is not a requirement to enjoy.

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

The Silver Shoes

The Silver ShoesAuthor: Jill G. Hall

Publisher: She Writes Press

Release Date: June 19, 2018

Rating: 4.5 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

So much fun getting to know these women and watch them achieve fulfillment in their lives.

Anne McFarland is in the middle of a cross country romance. Her boyfriend Sergio lives in New York City and she loves visiting the him and the city too, but she is currently residing in San Francisco.  While on a trip to visit Sergio, Anne stumbles into a vintage antique shop and finds a pair of old shoes that must have a story attached to them.  As an artists, these shoes give her an inspiration and she buys them.  She soon finds clues that leads Anne on a mission to uncover the shoes original owner.

In 1929, Clair Deveraux is a sheltered socialite that wants more out of life than to just be a pretty face for a future husband. She wants to go to university, but her father just wants to marry her off to someone who is twice her age for her financial well being.  While looking for some items in Macy’s, she befriends a young store clerk named Winnie who leads Clair on an adventure to a speakeasy and to discovering a new era of music that can’t keep her body still.  But when Clair’s father suddenly loses all their wealth in the stock market crash, she finds herself wrapped up in this new world in an effort to save her family.

This was a really fun story to relate to two different women in different eras. Both woman had different circumstances, yet were looking for fulfillment in life and each woman was able to find it.  The past/present crossover storyline seems to be really picking up popularity with several readers.  I have found that typically the reader relates to one character more than the other, which I think was more the case with Anne for me.  There was more similarities that I could identify with based on her life, but I still enjoyed both stories.  I enjoyed getting to know both woman as the author made it very easy to be able to do that.  The writing was clean and the storyline was fantastic.  I recommend this book to people who enjoy contemporary crossover romances and women’s fiction.

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

Heaven Adjacent

heaven adjacentAuthor: Catherine Ryan Hyde

Publisher:  Lake Union Publishing

Release Date: June 19, 2018

Rating: 5 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

A beautifully written novel of what is important in love and why we need to hold on to it when we find it.

After spending her entire life as a high-powered attorney in Manhattan, Roseanna Chaldecott has decided she has had enough after her best friend and partner suddenly dies. With only the clothes on her back and a tank of gas, Roseanna heads out of the city with no plans of return. Deep in the mountains of the Adirondacks, she finds a plot of land and a ramshackle farm that turns out to be her Heaven.  On the land are squatters she wants to get rid of to be alone, but doesn’t have the heart to turn them away. Roseanna starts working with her hands creating sculptures out of the junk found on the farm, which attracts attention she doesn’t want, including her son, Lance.  He wants her to come back to the city, which she refuses to do.  He isn’t the only one that wants her back, her partners at her law firm want her back or she might just lose all she has worked for her entire life.  She has to decide what it is she truly wants and can live without in order to be happy.

Heaven Adjacent needs to be read by so many, especially in the day and age we are living in.  Our culture has become so obsessed with the material things we have to offer that we have forgotten what is truly important.  Roseanna decides that things have to change for her after her best friend dies without having experienced all there is in the world.  She doesn’t want to work herself to death and regret the time she has had on this earth.  Taking time to find out what matters is so important, by slowing down and enjoying the simple things in life she is able to actually find happiness again.  I loved the idea of this because so many times we think that we need the newest and coolest things out there to be happy, but we don’t.  The characters were completely believable and completely in track with the actions they took and the consequences of those actions.  I loved how Hyde was able to bring these characters to life and draw the action forward without action scenes or major suspense.  She used tension in each scene in a different way to move the story forward and keep the reader entranced.  This story reminds us to stay encouraged and not lose hope in the difficult times but go back to the basic simple things in life and there we will find our happiness.  I recommend this book to readers that have enjoyed her work and are looking for a book unlike any they have read and one they won’t soon forget.

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

Becoming the Talbot Sisters

Becoming the talbot sistersAuthor: Rachel Linden

Publisher: Thomas Nelson

Release Date: May 1, 2018

Rating: 5 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

An unexpected surprise! One of my favorite books of the year so far!

Celebrity chef Waverly Ross has built one of the most successful shows on the Food Network. From the outside, she seems to have it all.  But there is one thing that she has yearned for that she has never been able to obtain: motherhood.  Her estranged twin sister Charlie Talbot has been running from a dark secret of her past and working as a relief aid worker in Hungary.  When the aunt that raised them passes away, Charlie and Waverly and reunited and begin the process of healing old wounds and building a relationship again.  Charlie even offers to be a surrogate so that Waverly and her husband can finally become parents.  When events take a turn that leave both sisters with the possibility of losing their jobs, the dream once again must wait.  But Waverly has a plan to save her show and she needs Charlie’s help to do it.

This is one of those “can’t judge a book by its cover” stories. I had no idea what I was getting into when I opened the cover of this book, but I’m so glad that I did.  The writing was phenomenal.  I loved how Linden developed the characters based on individual perspectives and then blended them together as the story progressed.  I also loved all of the behind the scenes descriptions of what goes on to make a successful cooking show.  Throw that in with travel across parts of Europe and you’ve got a masterpiece of a novel.

The scenery was fantastic throughout the book. Traveling across Europe in a book takes a lot of research into different settings and cultures and Linden really brought those to light.  But the emphasis on the relationship between Waverly and Charlie was probably the best part of the whole thing.  Throughout the book you love the sisters, then you hate the sisters; sometimes only one, sometimes both.  It felt real the whole way through.

Definitely a book that you need to add to you summer reading list. I may even read it again just to enjoy it a little bit more!

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

The House on Harbor Hill

house on harbor hillAuthor: Shelly Stratton

Publisher: Dafina Publications

Release Date: March 27, 2018

Rating: 4.5 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

An interesting use of past and present with multiple viewpoints to create a story worth reading and passing on to others.

Set in two different eras and with two different women going through similar struggles, Delilah Grey owns Harbor Hill and uses the large house to help others in need. She sees women going through abuse or struggles and brings them into her home in the only way she knows how to help.  Even though she was acquitted of her husband’s mysterious death many decades ago, she still isn’t sure if it was her fault or not and doesn’t know if she will ever know the truth.  When she takes in Tracey Walters and her two children she hopes to help this woman not knowing how desperate Tracey is for the help.  She has gone into hiding from her abusive husband and has no-where else to turn to.  When she arrives at Harbor Hill, she hopes to save some money and finally and have a fresh start with her kids.  Between Tracey and Delilah, there is enough scar tissue deep down that neither might every feel truly free unless they work together to face their fears and past to move on to a brighter future.

One of the points that worked best in this novel that is unusual is the back and forth from past to present. Usually jumps like that tend to take a reader out of a story and can stop the flow from progressing, but not here, I enjoyed the way Stratton used both timelines and point of views to fully tell the story.  It wouldn’t have worked any other way.  Each part tied all the others together with both characterization and the projection of the story line in a way that is rarely done these days.  I enjoyed the back and forth between Delialah and Aiden; even though they were not related, it was obvious they cared for each other and had the other’s best interest at heart, even if it wasn’t coming across at times.  Aiden took a little bit to get to like, and just when I did, his actions had me questioning if he was a character I wanted to cheer for or not.  Tracey’s story couldn’t have played out better.  The ending had the tension at an insane level, and without any crazy stuff that would normally be required to get the tension that high.  Overall I thought this story played our very well, there was some adult language that makes this not suitable for a younger audience.  With that being said, it would be a great read for anyone looking for a great story fueled by racial tension and social issues.

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

The Family Gathering

The Family gatheringAuthor: Robyn Carr

Series: Sullivan’s Crossing #3

Publisher: Mira Books

Release Date: April 17, 2018

Rating: 4 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

More second chances occur in Sullivan’s Crossing for more than just one new couple!

Dakota Jones spent several years of his life as an army ranger. But one decision to protect his men by defying a direct order left him discharged trying to figure out what to do with his life.  After a walkabout in Australia, he decides to head to Timberlake, Colorado to visit his brother Cal and meet his newborn niece.  His sister Sierra has also decided to stay in Timberlake with her fiancée Connie.  Shortly after arriving, he can understand why his family feels rooted her.  He also starts to meet the local women and has two prospects almost immediately.  Alyssa has a hair salon and Neely is a looker that comes on a little strong the first time he meets her.  In both cases, he is just not that interested.  He is interested in the bartender at a local bar and grille, but she is not interested in him.  Sidney has had a bad divorce and doesn’t know if she can ever trust men again, but Dakota is persistent.  However, the other women don’t like that they are not receiving his affection and he has picked up a stalker.  Can Dakota show this young woman that he is truly enraptured by her?  Or will someone beat him to the punch?

Of the Sullivan Crossing series, this book probably goes the deepest of any of the characters. Each main character is so real, flawed, and raw that they become alive instantly.  Dakota and Sid’s past romances were really tough to stomach based on the loss that each had.  Sierra and Connie’s predicament will likely make readers very emotional.  All this combined made the story fly off the page.  I couldn’t wait to get back to Sullivan’s Crossing after the last book as I was interested in what was going to happen to the final Jones sibling.  I couldn’t be happier with the outcome.  I would love to see this series continue with the family to see how the future plays out.

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

Before I Let You Go

Before I let you goAuthor: Kelly Rimmer

Publisher: Graydon House

Release Date: April 3, 2018

Rating: 4 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

A heart wrenching, emotional ride that is sure to make you reconsider your opinion on those affected through the story.

At 2:00 AM one morning, Lexie receives a phone call. Even before she looks at the phone, she knows exactly who it is: her sister, Annie.  Even though they haven’t spoken in two years, she knows what it is going to be.  Annie is high and in some sort of trouble.  Sure enough she’s high, but then she throws a curveball that Lexie didn’t see.  She’s also pregnant and in severe distress.  Lexie and her fiancé Sam must make the decision to convince Annie to go to the hospital before something worse happens to both her and the baby.  As she is stabilized, she tests positive for heroin, which opens a new legal battle for Annie.  In Alabama, if a women test positive during a pregnancy it is considered chemical endangerment of the child.  Annie’s only hope of ever seeing her daughter again is completing a rehab course at a court appointment facility while Lexie takes care of her daughter.  But is it too much to ask after all they’ve been through?

If you’ve never had to deal with a close relative going through addiction, this book may change your opinion on the matter. If you have had this situation, this book may be very difficult to read.  People should take the time to really research the brain when it becomes addicted to a substance and how it becomes addicted.  It is really remarkable to understand that it is an illness and not just a willpower issue that many people consider.  So much so that people often shame or belittle those with addiction problems, which actually drives them further down in the addiction process rather than help them.  This concept is seen here in this story.  The emotional frustration and tension is evident from the first chapter.  Fortunately, the reader gets to see Annie’s past through letters and discovers an understanding of how she got to be where she is.  I really appreciate all that the author has done to bring this issue to light and also educate readers on the different laws that govern issues such as this.

There is some strong foul language throughout the book that would be expected of the characters. Based on the content of the book, I recommend it for mature readers.

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