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


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.

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.