Girl Unknown

Girl UnknownAuthor: Karen Perry

Publisher: Henry Holt & Co.

Release Date: February 6, 2018

Rating: 4.5 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

A twisting, gritty tale that isn’t over until the very last word, building to an incredibly tight finale that no one will see coming!

David and Caroline Connolly have had their share of marital troubles over the years, but with work and patience, they have worked through their problems. With two kids, having to care for David’s aging mother, and both trying to advance their careers, the stress can be overwhelming at times. But nothing prepares them for their biggest trial of all when one day a student of David’s at the university comes and says she is his daughter.  David’s past of the fleeting romance he had before he met and married Caroline comes rushing back at him. Now he finds out that out of that romance came a child, a child he never had a chance to know until now. The entire family is thrown into the chaos that ensues from the announcement and the ripple effects are more than any of them could have imagined.

This story had so many twists and turns, and just when I thought I had it all figured out, I was wrong. The back and forth point of views between David and Caroline really give the reader extra insight into the story and wouldn’t have been the same had it been focused solely on only one of their points of view.  It can be confusing going back and forth like this, but the author did a great job tying up loose ends and showing the different sides to the characters.  The family had a very complex dynamic and even though they had problems, they were dealing with them all realistically.  I think that was one of the best parts for me; it was very believable and didn’t have moments that made me roll my eyes in disbelief that can so often happen. It took until the very last page, but all loose ends are taken care of and there are even some surprises thrown in that readers will have no idea they should have been expecting, which was a nice touch.  I recommend this book to mystery and suspense lovers that enjoy a book about a family that isn’t what it seems from the outside.

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

The Women in the Castle

Women in the Castle

Author: Jessica Shattuck

Publisher: William Morrow

Release Date: March 28, 2017

Reviewer: Jennifer S. Roman

The Women in the Castle tells the story of the intertwined lives of three seemingly unconnected women during World War II Germany.  Taking place in a Bavarian castle that used to host high society parties and socials, the novel shares the stories of three women, each strong in her own way.  Marianne von Lingenfels is the heroine; she is the wife of Albrecht von Lingenfels, a prominent resistance leader.  She promises her longtime childhood friend, Connie, also a resistor and colleague of Albrecht, that she would protect his young wife Benita and their unborn child.  Sure enough, the resistance fails, and Marianne both men, along with a few of their conspirators, are hung for their treason.  Marianne is spared because Albrecht has stayed in high esteem with prominent Nazi leaders.  The other resistance leaders’ families are not so lucky; Connie’s son Martin ends up in an orphanage, and Benita ends up as a private mistress to a group of Russian soldiers.  Marianne tirelessly searches for them and finds Martin, then Benita, and she takes them to the castle for protection.  Life is hard and dismal; they have very little food or fuel to keep warm in the cold German winters.  Along comes a fellow resistance leader’s wife, Ania, and her children.  Marianne does not recognize Ania’s name in Albrecht’s documentation, but not wanting to be one to leave someone out in the cold, she gladly takes them in.  Together, they establish a life for themselves while protecting some very dangerous secrets.  Unfortunately for Marianne, her life is black and white, while the others have all lived in some shade of grey.  Instead of growing together as a lifelong family, things fall apart when they don’t go the way Marianne thinks they should.

Throughout the book, readers are engaged in life of Germans, both Nazi and resistance, during World War II.  They see the fear and horrors that people experienced, as well as the hunger and hopelessness.   The narrative jumps from one year to another, from one person’s perspective to someone else’s.  As the story unfolds, readers learn about each person and their motivations.  Nobody, including Marianne, is as innocent or as helpless as others might think.  Each has shown remarkable courage when needed, but at the same time, they are ashamed of other actions.

This is one of those books that has garnered a lot of buzz in the short time it has been on the market, and it’s easy to see why.  Each character is complex, and while maybe not likeable, relatable.  Every character has a major flaw that makes them more realistic to readers.  And, each one has a likeable quality that may take some digging to find, but it’s there.  By the end of the book, I had a good grasp on who each character was and her motivations.  I knew who I would be friends with in real life.  This was a well-written book with characters who definitely evolved throughout the story and gave me reason to keep turning the pages.

One thing that really appealed to me was the history infused in the book.  I have read quite a few historical fiction books on World War II, particularly on Europe’s perspective, and while I don’t consider myself an expert on the topic, I had a good idea of what to expect.  I was pleasantly surprised to learn many new facts and nuances about the war.  Just to be sure they weren’t literary license, I looked them up, and while names may have changed, certain circumstances and events really did happen.  In my opinion, the real events being incorporated into the story made it even better.

The only thing that detracted from the story, in my opinion, were the German phrases thrown in from time to time.  While they definitely add authenticity and interest to the story, if they weren’t explained, which many were not, it caused some frustration on the reader’s part.  Still, it is a small distraction and certainly not enough to take away from the fantastic writing and storytelling.

Violence and profanity appear throughout the story, and some cruel acts of war are described in detail.  Adults and mature teens will take a lot from the book.  It is a work that any lover of WWII-era historical fiction needs to read.

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

The Defiant

The DefiantAuthor: Lesley Livingston

Series: Valiant #2

Publisher: Razorbill

Release Date: January 23, 2018

Rating: 5 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

Girl power like none other! This book has everything you look for in an action packed female powerhouse of a story.

Fallon thought things would be different, better after becoming the Victorix and being the top female gladiator out there. And she was right, but not in the way she expected. She might have won Caesar’s love and admiration, but she also won the hate of his enemies and all those wanting to take her place.  Soon after winning, Fallon and her sister gladiators find themselves at war with another rival gladiator academy that want to take their place and put Fallon out of the competition for good.  Along with her life and those she cares for, Fallon faces the prospect of losing the man she is falling in love with, Roman Soldier Cai.  When the battle heats up and tensions rise, Fallon has to decide whom she can trust and those she finds trustworthy might be surprising.  With her sister in danger and a tribe of amazon warriors thrown in the mix, the battle is just beginning and the stakes are higher than ever.

This is one of those books that I have been anxiously waiting for since the last page of the first book, (and that was before I even knew there would be a second in the series). I loved everything about this book: the strong female leads, the action, the romance, the history, everything!  Fallon is just the right mix of a strong spirit and caring individual that you want to know her, be her friend, and see yourself as that character.  I loved the mix of action with seeing the girls having to find different ways of getting along in order to deal with the situations they are thrust into.  I love action books with strong female characters. However, that can also be a fine line to draw between the character being strong and not over the top. Fallon is definitely a leader and strong but I loved that she is shown with a few weaknesses making her relatable.  I also loved the way we got to see her and Sorcha interact a little more.  So many characters that even though they might have only had small parts made the story, it wouldn’t have developed into what it was without them.  Little bits of humor were sprinkled throughout keeping the story light and flowing at all time.

Livingston did an outstanding job with this sequel making it continue the story and add to it so beautifully the reader will be yearning for more. I’m not sure if there will be any more in the series. I can only hope there is because I would love to see more adventures from these characters.  I highly recommend this book to readers who love historical fiction with action packed scenes and characters they can route for till the bitter end.

High Treason

High TreasonAuthor: DiAnn Mills

Series: FBI Task Force #3

Publisher: Tyndale House

Release Date: February 6, 2018

Rating: 4 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

The FBI Task Force faces its toughest case yet trying to protect a Saudi Prince from assassination and keep feelings professional at all times.

When FBI Special Agent Kord Davidson is assigned to the protection detail of his friend, Saudi Prince Omar bin Talal, he hopes to enjoy some time with his friend and also help strengthen relationships between the two countries. He doesn’t expect to be chasing an assassin and finding treasonous members of the prince’s staff out to see him eliminated.  CIA agent Monica Alden is called in to help Kord. Their first impressions of each other are not favorable making it difficult for them to work together. After showing her skills, Kord decides that maybe Monica could be an asset to their team and the two work tirelessly to protect the prince.  Finding the assassin and those working with him prove to be more difficult than either imagined as they always seem to be one step behind.  As the danger increases and more lives are put on the line, Kord and Monica have to dig deep to keep all alive.

Over the years I have come to really enjoy the writing of DiAnn Mills. She writes strong characters, male and female alike, that have to deal with seemingly impossible situations gracefully.  Throughout the course of her novels, readers see characters put aside their differences and work together to solve their cases. High Treason has all the makings for a great romantic suspense novel, but it didn’t pull me in like the previous in the series.  I think the problem for me was having such a diverse group of characters, not that I’m against diversity in any way, I just had a hard time connecting with these characters.  I did enjoy Monica as she was a great character and I think her strengths were played too well, especially towards the latter half of the novel. Kord and Prince Omar were harder for me to connect with.  Mills did a great job of portraying the cultural differences the characters had to be aware and respectful of. While it was hard for me to connect with the prince, I still feel he was written well, along with his sisters and the men working for him.

I would recommend this novel to those that like romantic suspense novels with a sprinkling of faith and characters that, even though not always easily relatable, are written well and will give you something to think about. While this wasn’t my favorite DiAnn Mills novel, I still enjoy her writing and will be looking forward to her next work.

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

The View from Rainshadow Bay

Rainshadow bayAuthor: Colleen Coble

Series: Lavender Tides #1

Publisher: Thomas Nelson

Release Date: January 23, 2018

Rating: 5 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

The start to this new series is a page-turner from start to finish that left me aching for more.

Being a single mom and raising her five-year-old son alone is not something Shauna ever expected to happen to her. After her husband Jack dies in a climbing accident, she is left to provide for herself and her son while always fearing she will lose the little she has left.  When another loved one close to her dies mysteriously, Shauna is convinced her life is in danger.  She thinks she has no one to turn to when her late husband’s best friend, Zach Bannister, comes to help. She hasn’t forgiven him for always pushing Jack to the next big risk, which she blames for his death.  Zach wants to do anything he can to prove to Shauna that he feels horrible about what happened to Jack and wants to be in her and her son’s lives. The more they uncover the more someone wants things to stay hidden and the more danger they all end up in.

Colleen Coble is one of the best Christian romantic suspense writers out there. The start of this new series is a perfect set up for what I expect to be a great series. Shauna and Zach have an obvious connection that both try to avoid and fight for as much of the novel as possible. It’s not something they take lightly after what happened to Jack; the appropriate emotion is displayed by both and at the right times. The protagonist’s identity is reveled at the end but enough clues are given throughout that it doesn’t come as a surprise or seem out of place. One of the best aspects of the novel was the emotional connection with the characters. When any of the characters ended up in a dangerous situation, the emotional connection drove the story more than any other tension would have. I can’t wait to see how this series continues. I recommend this to readers that like a strong emotional connection to their characters that will drive the story to the last page and leave them aching for more.

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

The Tunnels

The TunnelsAuthor: Greg Mitchell

Publisher: Crown

Release Date: October 18, 2016

Rating: 5 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

History lovers will love this exciting description of the first year of escapes under the Berlin wall.

In August of 1961, a physical barrier was erected separating the already tense division between East and West Berlin. Germans who lived in East Berlin but worked in the West were suddenly found unemployed.  Families were separated, but many felt the wall wouldn’t last.  They expected to see it come down any day as a failed experiment.  Slowly, the barbed wire fence become concrete and finding a weak area to cross or escape was getting more and more difficult.  However, a few people with a passion to see their fellow Germans free worked to figure out a way to tunnel under the wall and bring escapees into the West.  Some were successful, others not as much. The Tunnels explores these expeditions as well as the tensions between Washington, Berlin, and Russia during one of the most tense times in history.

Prior to this book, I knew about the Berlin wall, but not about what all it represented and how much it divided families across the city and country. Reading the descriptions about how oppressed the East was and how people trying to escape were killed and the propaganda was used to make them look like their death was a good thing was appalling.  It is hard to believe that this was just over fifty years ago.

Mitchell did a great job presenting this book in a way that read more like a novel than a nonfiction historical account. It was fascinating, quick to read, and educating.  Since reading this, I have shared it with over readers who felt the same way.  I really enjoyed getting to find out more about the time frame and how the Kennedy administration handled the situations and how it impacted the Cold War.  I highly recommend this book to anyone interested about the wall or just about the era itself.

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

Sunday Silence

Sunday SilenceAuthor: Nicci French

Series: Frieda Klein #7

Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks

Release Date: January 9, 2018

Rating: 4 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

A very enjoyable read; however, it is recommended to read the previous installments to enjoy it even more!

Frieda Klein is often consulted by the police for her help in difficult cases, but when a body is found beneath her floorboards, she becomes a suspect in a murder case. While the body appears to have been dead a few months, the main suspect, besides Frieda, has been dead seven years. Is he really dead? Or did he inspire a copycat to carry on his work?  Frieda finds herself, and everyone she cares about, being targeted and in danger. With each day that passes, the body count gets higher and everyone involved wonders who is really behind the death and destruction.  Is anything as it seems?

This started out very promising for me but I felt as though I were missing some key elements to the story part way through. I do believe if I had read the previous installments I would have enjoyed this one much more. But since I haven’t, I’ll say that the story has great potential and fans of the series will most likely find this one more enjoyable than those that haven’t.

French did and incredible job building the setting and the characters did seem to have a bond I could tell has been built up over the series. Frieda is put in a very difficult situation and while she is the one people go to when they have a problem, she doesn’t have anyone to talk to about her problems making it an internal struggle.   Seems to be a common issue for several people that when they need someone, they have no one to turn too.

I recommend this to fans of the series and those that enjoy the mysteries. Also, if readers enjoy stories set in Europe, this is a must read.

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

Purchase a copy of this book at Harper Collins.