Trace of Doubt

Author: DiAnn Mills

Publisher: Tyndale House

Release Date: September 7, 2021

Rating: 4 out of 5.

With a fantastic protagonist and plot DiAnn Mills sucked me in to this story and held me tight!

It’s been fifteen years since Shelby Pearce confessed to murdering her brother-in-law and spent that time in prison. After being released on parole, she moves to the small town of Valleysburg, Texas to start over, but starting over won’t be as easy as she had hoped. When she was first convicted, FBI agent Denton McClure was a rookie working on her case. Shelby might have been convicted of murder, but she was also suspected of embezzling half a million from her brother-in-law’s non-profit organization. Now, Denton moves to Valleysburg to try and gain her trust and find out what happened to the money from all those years ago. The more time he spends with Shelby, the less he thinks she was responsible for taking the money and now she is receiving threats if she doesn’t disappear or commit suicide. In a case where nothing is as it seems, Shelby is now in a fight for her life and Denton isn’t sure who the villain is anymore.

This book had an absolutely fantastic start with a wonderful protagonist and plot that intrigued me and had me cheering for Shelby. She quickly became one of my favorite characters for the year and I love the plot.  At least, I love it all until about 80% of the way through the book.  Up to that point the story had me, I believed it all and couldn’t wait to see what would happen. Then I felt like we went from fiction to more far-fetched fiction and while still enjoyable, it just lost its believable quality. I love DiAnn Mills writing, her last book was her best by far, and I was hoping this one was going to surpass until things took a bit of a left turn. I realize that it’s all fiction, but her stories have always had such a believable quality to them that I feel like I’m one of the minor characters throughout the book. I’ve talked about this book with several of my reader friends who have also read it and while they noticed the same thing, they didn’t feel that it took as much away from the store.  I do think romantic suspense lovers will still enjoy the story and I’ll be curious to get their thoughts on the ending.

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

The Other Me

Author: Sarah Zachrich Jeng

Publisher: Berkley Books

Release Date: August 10, 2021

Rating: 4 out of 5.

A unique approach to a familiar concept.  An enjoyable read.

Kelly is attending the opening of her best friend’s art exhibit in Chicago.  As a fellow artist, she is a little jealous, but wouldn’t miss supporting her friend.  When she starts to feel a little sick, she heads to the bathroom where she opens the door and walks into an Italian restaurant far from her beloved Chicago.  What just happened?  Her whole family is there!  Even her screw-up brother, who has a kid?  What?  And someone is calling her name and touches her shoulder as she realizes that this is someone that she knew from high school and what’s more, he’s her husband!

As Kelly tries to navigate this new life and figure out what happened, she can’t shake memories of her life in Chicago.  Will the people there remember her?  Or is this a full alternate reality?  Can she get back?  Does she want to?

I absolutely love this kind of speculative fiction.  When I get a mind-twisting story that makes me stretch to figure out what is going on, it just makes me day even better.  While I’ve read this type of concept before in other books, I like how the author played out Kelly’s experiences.  As a reader, it makes you think about what life would be like if you had made different choices at crucial crossroads in your own life.  Needless to say, this story will have you wondering the whole way through until you hit the unforeseen twist of what really caused the crossover. 

There is quite a bit of language (understandably so with the experiences) and some minor sex scenes that aren’t terribly graphic but could make some readers uncomfortable.  I recommend this to mature readers who enjoy this genre.

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

The Secret Keepers of Old Grocery Depot

Author: Amanda Cox

Publisher: Revell

Release Date: September 7, 2021

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Amanda Cox knocks it out of the park with a story that has all the feels in just the right places! An emotional and inspiring story that is beautifully written and perfect to the very last page!

Set in both present day and the past, The Secret Keepers of Old Depot Grocery follows Sarah Ashby as she returns to her childhood home after her husband’s death. Along with her mother and grandmother, she works at the family grocery story she loved so much as a child. Her mother, Rosemary, announces that the store is closing much to the dismay of Sarah and her grandmother, Glory Ann, who work together to save the store. Rosemary worked her whole life to make sure Sarah would have a different life than the one she grew up with and hates to see her daughter follow in her footsteps.

In 1965, Glory Ann confesses to her family that she is pregnant out of wedlock and the father was sent to war and killed. She is then married to a man she has just met to save the reputation of herself and her family. Glory Ann promises herself she will never love again but it ends up being a promise she can’t keep.

Amanda Cox has done it again with a contemporary novel that blew me away with its complexity, emotional moments, and perfect mix of past and present problems that converge to a perfect ending with beautiful moments throughout. Usually a contemporary novel, especially one with half the story set in the past, is a slow read for me that has trouble holding my interest. Amanda Cox has become one of the exceptions. There was a solid connection between me and the characters. Sarah and her family are solid leads that are written in a way that readers will want to see them succeed in whatever their hearts are wishing for. I loved the way the past and present lined up to give glimpses of what was going to happen and lead to little surprises at the end. So much to love about this novel, the pacing, the relationships; nothing felt rushed, and the feel-good moments throughout. I recommend this book to readers that want a feel-good book with nothing too heavy or anything that you have to think too hard about.

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

Dark Intercept

Authors: Brian Andrews & Jeffrey Wilson

Series: Shepherds Series #1

Publisher: Tyndale House

Release Date: September 7, 2021

Rating: 5 out of 5.

An absolute hit and fantastic start to a new series by a powerhouse team of Brian Andrews and Jeffrey Wilson! You do not want to miss this one!

Navy SEAL Jedidiah Johnson wants to retire and leave the hectic and dangerous life of the SEALS behind him. On the night of his retirement, he gets a call from a childhood friend who desperately needs his help. Even though they have been estranged for years, Jed goes back to Nashville to help David and his wife Rachel, Jed’s first love. David and Rachel’s daughter has been kidnapped and the police have no leads. The history between Jed, David, and Rachel almost keeps him from coming to help, but the thought of an innocent little girl being hurt because of something he can’t get past is not something he wants on his conscious. As soon as he arrives, he finds himself in danger and mysterious forces work against his presence there to help. Soon he finds himself in a hard place, a place he never wanted to be again, a place with the voices back in his head. All things he believed he left behind when he joined the Navy come back to the surface. To save the missing girl, he must go to a place of faith he abandoned long ago to win a fight against good and evil.

This was my first book by this writing pair and I am kicking myself for having gone this long without discovering their writing. This story sucked me in from the first page and held on to me tighter than any story has done in a long time. I have been on a streak of reading several mediocre books and have been aching for something that really touched me and kept the adrenaline pumping. This was that story! I am so glad I picked this one up and gave it a chance. Not only is Jed a great main character, but every other character in the book also plays their roll to perfection. I knew without a doubt before I was even halfway through that this was going to be a series I would want to stick with. There is so much more to unpack with these characters; I want to know more about the history with Jed, David, and Rachel. The little it was touched on was just not enough to satisfy my thirst for their history. Give me more of Ben and his team, how they came together, and their backstories. The possibilities feel endless; I just hope Andrews and Wilson feel the same and keep the stories coming for the Shepherds. I recommend this book to anyone that loves a good, fast-paced military thriller with a spiritual aspect that gets dark but keeps the light.

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

Under the Bayou Moon

Author: Valerie Fraser Luesse

Publisher: Revell

Release Date: August 3, 2021

Rating: 4 out of 5.

An easy, enjoyable historical romance.

Intent on escaping her family’s expectations, Ellie Fields decides to branch out in faith and take a teaching position in the small town of Bernadette, Louisiana, far from her family’s home in Alabama.  But soon after arriving, she begins to question her decision.  There are only two teachers in the whole school and her furnished home turns out to be a cabin without any electricity, but at least it has indoor plumbing.  Deciding to make the best of it, Ellie starts teaching several Cajun children whose previous teachers have punished them for speaking French as English is the language that they should be speaking.  She quickly falls in love with the children and may become attached to a local fisherman before she has the chance to depart.

Overall, this is a good historical romance story set in the Louisiana bayou.  Part of the backstory deals with a hurricane, which is sobering considering the aftermath of Hurricane Ida.  The story is heavy on the emotional end for Ellie’s character because she is coming into her own without her family and making a new family in a new place.  She finds herself in some precarious situations, but overall, there is not a lot of tension to push the story forward at a rapid pace.  This particular story is one to slow down and enjoy.  I recommend this to readers who enjoy a slower pace with a love story that plays out without drama.

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

Constance

Author: Matthew Fitzsimmons

Series: Constance #1

Publisher: Thomas & Mercer

Release Date: September 1, 2021

Rating: 4 out of 5.

A Sci/Fi thriller with an intricate plot and high stakes that drive the story all the way never letting up until the very end!

Set in the near distant future, advances in science have brought about the ability to make human clones. It is something only the wealthy can afford and there is another group opposing cloning calling it an abomination. Contance “Con” D’Arcy isn’t wealthy but is gifted a clone by her aunt. Every month she must go for an upload of her consciousness that is kept stored in case something happens to her. One day Constance’s clone wakes up unsure of what has happened. She hasn’t had an upload in eighteen months and her original is dead. Secrets are buried deep, and it seems no one can be trusted. Con is now on a mission to find out what happened to cause her to be activated and what it all means for her and the rest of the world.

Constance is definitely for fans of science fiction; it is not for the faint of heart with all the action and thrills throughout. Constance started out strong but after it switched to her clone, she became an even stronger character. The line between science and what should and shouldn’t be done is very fine here and it isn’t glossed over. The “God” Complex is evident in a few of these characters and Fitzsimmons does a good job tackling this issue. The fact that this is only set twenty years in the future is a bit unnerving that things could go that direction in our lifetime. A few of the secondary characters and plot lines could have been left out and I still feel like the story would have flowed well. They might be important for the sequel though, which I feel certain is to come. There is a lot more story to be fleshed out with these characters and I would like to see the direction they take. I recommend this book to lovers of science fiction and dystopian books.

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

Poison for Breakfast

Author: Lemony Snicket

Publisher: Liveright

Release Date: August 31, 2021

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Anyone who has ever read a Lemony Snicket book will know the witty, philosophical quirkiness experienced within the pages of Poison for Breakfast.

Lemony Snicket has investigated many suspicious things over the years but none as suspicious as his own death. One morning after breakfast he receives a note telling him he has had Poison for Breakfast. Now he has the unpleasant task of figuring out what was poisonous and who would want to poison him. It is not a task Mr. Snicket is going to enjoy, but nonetheless, he has no choice but to solve this mystery.

I have always been a big fan of the Lemony Snicket series, even though it has been many years since I read the original books. When Poison for Breakfast came out, I was excited to dive into another Snicket adventure. It may be that it has been many years since I first read them and I am older now, but the magic of the Snicket universe just wasn’t there for me this time. My attention wasn’t held as well as I would have liked which is probably mostly due to the narrative style of storytelling. I do think this is a good, fun story for a certain group of young adults. If you are looking for a good, satire book, this is for you. It is mostly narrative which can slow the story down considerably. While this wasn’t a favorite of mine, I do think others will greatly enjoy it.

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

Heartless Heirs

Author: MarcyKate Connolly

Series: Twin Daggers #2

Publisher: Blink YA Books

Release Date: August 10, 2021

Rating: 5 out of 5.

A fantastic follow up to one of my favorite books from last year. So much action, drama, tension, and character connection to love.

After rescuing her sister from the dungeons and technocrats, Aissa and her friend Remy flee to the woods for safety. At one time, Aissa and her twin, Zandria were closer than two sisters could hope to be. After being trapped in the steel helmet and tortured, Zandria is having a hard time understanding how Aissa could fall in love with Aro, a Techno prince when they are the very enemy they are trying to take down. Remy still sides with his father, a Magi leader who refuses to believe his spymaster is a traitor. Their mission is now to find the secrets of the Alchemist Alliance and the key to healing the divide between the Technos and the Magi after centuries at war. The bond between Aro and Aissa grows with each day, and if they don’t find the answers, all they hold dear will be threatened.

I have been eagerly awaiting the release of this since I turned the last page on Twin Daggers. I quickly fell in love Aissa, Aro, Zandria and the rest of the characters. The connection between Aissa and her twin and then Aissa and Aro was the driving force to the page turning story. With the bond between the twins strained, the story took a different yet interesting turn, would they be able to regain their trust in one another or would the torture they both endured turn them against one another? Being able to establish the connection between the characters the way Connolly did kept me engaged with the story and what would happen to the characters. That relationship is more important to me than a strong plot. When I find characters, I love, I enjoy the story even more which is what happened with these books. Every conversation, fight and tense look was enough to make me nervous for what would happen and keep me envisioning myself in the room with the characters. This was a perfect two book series with just the right amount of character development, world building and magic. I recommend this book to those that love a good YA fantasy with characters that are easy to cheer for to succeed.

Chasing the Spotlight

Author: Sarah Anne Sumpolec

Series: Riverbend Friends #4

Publisher: Focus on the Family

Release Date: August 17, 2021

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The fourth book in the Riverbend Friends series gives readers a look into the life of Amelia.

Amelia loves the friends she has made in drama class, but lately she has been feeling a bit lost and lonely. With her big brother married and moved out and her parents busy with marriage counseling for their church, there isn’t much time or attention left for her. Her big sister Maggie couldn’t be more different from Amelia, whose love for theater is something none of the rest of the family understands. The new play for the school year is Peter Pan and Amelia is desperate for the lead role. When things don’t turn out the way she hoped, she wonders if chasing the spotlight is going to cost her the friends she made and all she was worked for.

The last book in the Riverbend Friends series gives readers a closer look into Amelia’s life. Of the four friends, I didn’t enjoy her story as much as the others. It was still good but didn’t draw me in as much as the others. Though I did enjoy the way they used some of what happened with Izzy to bring up tension in this story. All four of these books and their main characters are great books for young adult female readers. Chasing the Spotlight is a story with heart and a lot of character growth. Out of all the books, I saw more character growth with Amelia than any of the others. While the others went through a lot, Amelia had the greatest overall growth as a character. The nicest thing about these books is that they are clean, faith-filled, entertaining reads that I am happy to recommend to young readers. So many books these days, even the ones marketed to young readers, have so much questionable material that I have a hard time being okay telling young readers to enjoy them. I do recommend these books to young female readers, especially preteens that will get a good lesson from the pages within.

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

A Crocus in the Desert

Author: Nancy Canestrari Williams

Publisher: Lightbourne Creative

Release Date: May 29, 2019

Rating: 5 out of 5.

A fantastic resource for women dealing with fertility issues and need help with their faith through a difficult journey.

If you are one of the more than ten percent of couples that struggles with infertility, you are not alone. Many people think they are alone and have no one to talk to when it comes to the issues of miscarriage, childlessness, adoption and infertility. So many try to shoulder the burden of it by themselves when there are resources like this book available to help them out. This book offers not only devotions but prayers and real-life stories for readers to latch onto and use to help keep them afloat in their times of desperation. Most women have a strong desire to be a mother, from playing with dolls and stuffed animals to babysitting later in life, the maternal instinct is real and something that is hard to ignore. Even when we might not understand it, we must be willing to listen to and follow God’s plan for our lives so we can see the beauty in what He has in store for us.

Nancy Williams does a fabulous job of weaving the devotions, prayers and stories together to give readers a sense of hope, purpose and belonging when they can feel utterly alone in their desperation to have children. For me, I used this book as encouragement and a way to help others who might be going through this difficult journey in life. Such a beautiful way to help those around when it can seem that nothing will help. I recommend this book to those struggling with the issue of fertility or as a gift to someone in the family who might be struggling with the issue and in need of encouragement.