Review: High As the Heavens by Kate Breslin

High as the Heavens is an absolutely beautiful and riveting story of perseverance, hope, and mercy against the backdrop of WWI Belgium. Author Kate Breslin is now a new favorite and I must read her other novels soon!About the Book

High as the HeavensIn 1917, Evelyn Marche is just one of many women who has been widowed by the war. A British nurse trapped in German-occupied Brussels, she spends her days working at a hospital and her nights as a waitress in her aunt and uncle’s café. Eve also has a carefully guarded secret keeping her in constant danger: She’s a spy working for a Belgian resistance group in league with the British Secret Service. 

When a British plane crashes in Brussels Park, Eve is the first to reach the downed plane and is shocked to discover she recognizes the badly injured pilot. British RFC Captain Simon Forrester is now a prisoner of war, and Eve knows he could be shot as a spy at any time. She risks her own life to hide him from the Germans, but as the danger mounts and the secrets between them grow, their chance of survival looks grim. And even if they do make it out alive, the truth of what lies between them may be more than any love can overcome.

Review

This novel has all the appeal of –and promise to be– a classic in its genre: a vivid sense of place; plot elements inspired by real life events and people; relatable and complex characters; a romance that surprises and leaves you breathless with its strength; and, secrets, danger, and espionage (oh my!).

Drawing on the logistical complexities and melting pot of nationalities involved in The Great War, the suspenseful storyline keeps a steady pace with twists and makes the reader question just who to trust or believe. I have a new respect for Red Cross personnel who worked behind enemy lines, and citizens who risked so much while participating in underground communcations networks like La Dame Blanche. The espionage storyline alone had me nervous for Eve, Simon, and several other people who worked with them!

Side note: a few flashbacks take place closer to the beginning of the story and serve as the perfect tool to establish Eve and Simon’s personalities with a sense of normalcy (before the war changed so much). And, they also shed light on the relationship dynamic between the two of them. 🙂

Ok, now to talk about my favorite part of High as the Heavens: the romantic tension!!!! To say all I want to would give away an early surprise or two, so I’ll just have to tell you that Eve and Simon have a history. A close one. His literal crash back into her life is way more complicated than the synopsis hints. Because of this, they are both challenged with trust and the secrets they each harbor. This further complicates the way they must prioritize loyalties to family and country, but especially to each other. In their frustrating circumstance, the strength of the romance between the two of them is delightfully uncovered and shines a light on an overarching theme of hope. And oh, how their soul-deep connection is beautifully penned by Kate! I especially appreciated how Simon’s role embodied the characteristics of love — its patience, mercy, and edurance.

If you are a fan of history, WWI, romance, or even suspense, I say you should read this novel ASAP! Even if historical fiction is not your normal genre. If you want a second opinion, check out my author friend Rachel McMillan’s gushing review that convinced me to pick it up in the first place ;).

Thank you to Bethany House Publishers for the complimentary review copy of this novel. This is my honest review.

Mini Review: Life After by Katie Ganshert

It’s time for another mini review! I read this book in conjunction with a virtual book club on Facebook, The WaterBrook and Multnomah Summer Fiction Book Club. (Hint: they are reading 2 more books this summer… you can join any time!).

Life After by Katie Ganshert in roses.jpg

 

 Life AfterLife After by Katie Ganshert

About the book: It could have been me.

Snow whirls around an elevated train platform in Chicago. A distracted woman boards the train, takes her seat, and moments later a fiery explosion rips through the frigid air, tearing the car apart in a horrific attack on the city’s transit system. One life is spared. Twenty-two are lost.

A year later, Autumn Manning can’t remember the day of the bombing and she is tormented by grief—by guilt. Twelve months of the question constantly echoing. Why? Why? Why? Searching for answers, she haunts the lives of the victims, unable to rest.

Paul Elliott lost his wife in the train bombing and wants to let the dead rest in peace, undisturbed and unable to cause more pain for his loved ones. He wants normalcy for his twelve-year-old daughter and young son, to see them move beyond the heartbreak. But when the Elliotts and Autumn are unexpectedly forced together, he fears she’ll bring more wreckage in her wake.

In Life After, Katie Ganshert’s most complex and unforgettable novel yet, the stirring prose and authentic characters pose questions of truth, goodness, and ultimate purpose in this emotionally resonant tale.

My Thoughts: This book deals with the long-reaching aftermath of an event that forever marks and changes two separate lives. Even with its hard subjects, though, it is written with a flowing style that is easy to read (and the characters! I just adored Paul’s kids, Reese and Tate). It is profound in its simultaneous complexity and simplicity. I can easily recommend it to anyone, because everyone can relate: we’ve all asked “Why? Why do horrible, evil things happen in this world? Where is the hope, the divine plan?” Through the separate perspectives of Autumn and Paul, a bigger and intersecting picture of LIFE with all its joy, loss, and potential for happiness is revealed –and life can be a wonderfully unexpected masterpiece.

Review, Author Interview, & GIVEAWAY: The Whys Have It by Amy Matayo

Today is a happy day because I get to share my thoughts on author Amy Matayo’s new indie release, The Whys Have It, along with a fabulous interview she took the time to do, AND a GIVEAWAY of a signed copy of this book (US only).

What makes this even more fun, for me, is knowing Amy Matayo is a local author, of sorts. I didn’t know this for a while, but thanks to social media (high-five!), I discovered Amy lives in a city not too far from me in the northwest corner of Arkansas. (Someday I plan to stalk her and meet her in person). Anyway, the setting of this book is also a city I go to at least a few times a year: Springfield, Missouri. I can attest that the feel of the setting Amy portrays is accurate…. from the June heat to the crazy storms, I loved the familiar feel of it.

Now, on to more about The Whys Have It…..

About the Book

“His music holds the heart of America…but his soul holds a terrible secret.” 

The Whys Have ItChart topping pop musician Cory Minor has it all—fame, money, more women at his disposal than time to spend on them. He’s living the life most American men only dream of. Until an ordinary concert in Springfield threatens to destroy everything he’s worked for. 

As he and his band leave the arena for his next show, Cory’s tour bus crashes into two teenage girls, killing one girl instantly and leaving the other barely clinging to life. Lawsuits are threatened, tabloids are talking, and Cory’s idyllic world falls apart. But what no one knows is that this scene is all too familiar. Because this isn’t the first accident Cory has caused. This isn’t the first time he’s destroyed someone else’s life to save his own. 

It’s just the first time he’s had to face it head on. 

Small town girl Samantha Dalton has no one—no mother, no father, and now no sister. She’s lost everything in a world that celebrates excess. So when Cory Minor shows up at her doorstep offering money and apologies, she turns him away too. You can’t lose what you don’t have, and she can’t take another letdown, especially not from someone who has managed to rip away all she had left. Samantha has been fine on her own for years, she’ll be fine now too. 

At least that’s what she tells herself. 

But Cory won’t leave. He’s persistent in the worst possible way. 

Will Cory’s determination to make things right pay off in the end, or will Sam keep pushing him away until there’s nothing left to fight for? How can two people learn to rely on each other when life keeps hurting them both? 

Review

AM - TWHI (8)Life is full of challenges. For Cory and Sam in The Whys Have It, life dealt them unfortunate tragedies and pain. Ironically, each of them chose to react in opposite ways: Sam, to forge ahead, sometimes in bitterness, even at the cost of her own happiness. Cory, to run away, try to dull the pain with vices, and give in to self-loathing. The contrast between these responses is brought to life in the dynamic of their unlikely friendship. They gradually learn from each other, realizing hope is really worth the risk and second chances are possible through forgiveness.

Amy Matayo’s style is brilliantly complex. She portrays the emotional turmoil of grief, the lingering shadows of regret, and the ache of loss in the most relatable of ways. A light of joy shines through it all for Cory and Sam, though, sometimes in a small moment of camaraderie or friendship, eventually growing into a romance. I liked how their relationship showed what it means to accept another person for who they are, disregarding expectations or what they might deserve because of mistakes.

AM - TWHI (5)I’m beginning to recognize Amy’s signature snarky sense of humor she pours into her novels. At times it’s laugh-out-loud sarcastic, at others it had Sam (and maybe me) blushing from the double entendré of Cory’s unfiltered flirting. 🙂

The Whys Have It cleverly sits on a blurred line between secular and Christian fiction. Just enough portrayal of faith and a belief in a higher purpose combined with just enough grittiness and candor to push me out of my reading “comfort zone”, so to speak. I believe this novel will have a broader appeal because of its relatable style and the way it handles subjects like grief, forgiveness and even romance with a raw honesty. If you’re a fan of contemporary drama/romance, indie Christian ficiton, or even new adult romance, this is one story not to be missed!

Thank you to Relz Author Support Services and the author for a complimentary review copy of this novel. This is my honest review.

Interview with the Author

What inspired you to write The Whys Have It?

Seven years ago something happened in my hometown. A local high school girl went to a concert and was killed in a car accident on the way home. The accident didn’t involve the musician, but he did make a statement the next day. His statement stuck with me; the sadness in his tone, the underlying sense of guilt in his words. He wasn’t at fault, but I began to wonder what might have happened if he had been more involved. It’s the way my brain works. I read something–even something small–and my mind begins to spin. Originally I planned to make it more like the actual events. Later I decided to separate the two out of respect. Hopefully I have done that.

What message or theme do you want to communicate to readers with this story?

That forgiving yourself is as important as forgiving others. That you can’t outrun your past, but you can stand in place and face your future. That mistakes don’t have to define you; it is possible to start over and make a new ending. And that you are worthy of love, always.

What was most challenging about writing this story?

That I don’t plot. It’s always my biggest obstacle, because almost everything is off the cuff. I wish I were more organized, but I’ve come to terms with it.

Which character was your favorite to write?

Cory, because he’s the guy. The men are always my favorite, because I relate to them the most and they are sooooo much easier.

Just for fun:

Do you have any hobbies?

Well, writing and reading are my number one and two. After that–and to relieve stress–I paint (walls and furniture because I have no artistic talent), and I have a zigsaw for woodworking. And I walk all over my neighborhood every night, which is totally not a hobby but it’s somehow one of mine.

If you could live in any other time period in history, which would it be and why?

I would live next door to Anne of Green Gables and we would be bosom friends. I’m going to Prince Edward Island with my daughter in a couple weeks for this reason. Maybe if I wish hard enough?

What are you currently reading?

FanGirl by Rainbow Rowell

About the Author

AmyMatayoAmy Matayo is an award winning author of The Wedding Game, Love Gone Wild, Sway, In Tune with Love, A Painted Summer, The End of the World, and The Thirteenth Chance. She graduated with barely passing grades from John Brown University with a degree in Journalism. But don’t feel sorry for her – she’s super proud of that degree and all the ways she hasn’t put it to good use.

She laughs often, cries easily, feels deeply, and loves hard. She lives in Arkansas with her husband and four kids and is working on her next novel.

Connect with Amy

Website | Twitter | Facebook

Giveaway

Now, on to the giveaway fine print! Giveaway is for one (1) signed paperback, U.S addresses only, please. Giveaway is open 1 week until 7/13/17, 11:59 pm. CT.

To enter, comment with a valid email address and answer this question: What is one of your favorite songs?

Review: “Conspiracy of Silence” by Ronie Kendig

Review: “Conspiracy of Silence” by Ronie Kendig

Conspiracy of Silence is the first novel I’ve read by military fiction author Ronie Kendig, but it certainly won’t be the last! It’s book 1 in her new “The Tox Files” series, a riveting thriller following a former US Army Special Forces team as it battles a plague, politics, terrorists, and plenty of personal drama. Read on for more + my review!

About the Book

Four years after a tragic mission decimated his career and his team, Cole “Tox” Russell is persona non grata to the United States. And that’s fine—he just wants to be left alone. But when a dormant, centuries-old disease is unleashed at an archaeological dig where three Bronze-era censers are found, Tox is lured back into action. Partnered with an archaeologist and an FBI agent who’s an expert in deception, Tox and his team are pitted against a secret society, a plague dubbed the New Black Death, and a revered codex—which may hold the key to stopping the deadly outbreak.

Review

This book is a thrill ride from start to finish! If you’re reading this soon, you should buckle up and secure your armor and weapon before page 1 because you won’t want to stop reading until the final conflict is over. The location changes and hand-to-hand combat situations remind me of a Jason Bourne movie. With all the action, there is suspense and intrigue with a political thriller element. And, a slight family drama and romance plays out in the middle of it all!

Kendig expertly weavconspiracy-of-silencees Biblical history and modern Middle Eastern/Jewish culture into the story with skill and style. The ties to a plague in the days of Moses interestingly work into a twist on a biological weapon, of sorts. With mysterious characters and a possible secret organization behind it all, Kendig kept me anxiously guessing just what would happen next! Just when you think you can catch your breath, a surprise comes your way.

With all of the action and traversing the globe, the characters still have a strong presence throughout. “Tox”, in particular, is a steadfast example of honor and leadership with a classic guilty conscience, blaming himself for past calamities completely out of his control. He is an instantly likable hero to root for… especially where a certain prominent female is concerned. The ladies of this story, Tzivia and Kasey, hold their own in sticky situations, too.

I appreciated the subtle thread of faith and Divine orchestration in the events of the story. I suspect (and hope) we will learn more behind the layers of Tox and his team in stories to come because I still have some lingering questions. The interesting and brotherhood-like supporting cast of this novel promise more surprises to come. I don’t think I can come up with any more adjectives to describe this story without giving away too much. So, I’ll just say this is a military thriller to rush headlong into with both eyes open!

Thank you to Bethany House Publishers for the complimentary review copy. This review reflects my honest opinion.

Prequel Novella Info

the-warriors-sealIf you’re interested in reading this series, I HIGHLY recommend you start with the prequel ebook novella, The Warrior’s Seal! It’s FREE! (click here for Amazon page)

It sets the series up very nicely with plenty of action and intrigue in itself. It’s the backstory, if you will, of this team and the events that lead up to Tox’s predicament.

 

 

 

 

Review: “Where Two Hearts Meet” by Liz Johnson

Revisiting the quaint setting of Prince Edward Island, Where Two Hearts Meet (Revell) by author Liz Johnson presents a story of realizing dreams, accepting grace, and the joy of love born of friendship. This contemporary romance encompasses serious themes while maintaining a bright bearing on life. Readers will be happy to see returning characters in this second book in the Prince Edward Island Dreams series, though it can be read as a standalone title. (Book 1 was The Red Door Inn, click for my review).

At Rose’s Red Door Inn, chef Caden Holt has found a place to belong, turning out breakfasts and baked goods to treat guests vising the Island. Outside of her kitchen, however, she is less secure in her personal appearance and her accomplishments. When journalist Adam Jacobs arrives, Caden is challenged to leave her comfort zone and show him the wonders of the Island in hopes that his pending article will draw visitors to the Inn through the next season.

Where Two Hearts Meet.jpgAdam’s reasons for visiting the Island are not so simple. His time there is really a forced sabbatical instead of a leisurely vacation. And, his editor has high expectations for his next story – one that’s inexplicably connected to the Red Door Inn. When he begins to face the baggage leftover from the recent turmoil in his life, he finds respite in the beauty of his surroundings. Except maybe the peace he feels is more closely related to the cinnamon rolls, coffee, and unexpected friendship of Caden.

“Sweet” is an apt word to describe this story – from the setting, romance that grows from friendship, slight humorous moments, and to the various pastries Caden bakes up throughout. But Liz Johnson takes these characters much deeper than surface level with many layers to the story and nuances of emotion, dealing with themes such as guilt, bravery, and purpose.

Caden and Adam both face their own insecurities and consequently draw strength and encouragement from one another. While Adam thinks he might be falling in love with more than the island and its charming people, Caden starts to find a new freedom in pursuing her dreams with confidence. The setting itself proves to be an element of the story joining Caden and Adam with a lively cast of supporting characters who add humor and insight to the story.

While the drama and sweet moments unfold, a subtle message of grace shines through. Though none of these characters go through a prominent spiritual transformation, the growth of Adam and steadfast strength of Caden’s faith are key to the story. Each learns important lessons concerning trust and forgiveness.

The romance between Caden and Adam faces the requisite challenges and obstacles but is presented in a realistic manner, highlighting the way our lives intersect sometimes between personal and professional matters. When that definition blurs at the crux issue of the story, the consequences of a key choice show how deeply entwined these characters’ lives have become – a storytelling feat achieved admirably by Johnson. And I’ll leave you by saying the context of their first kiss and emotions of the moment made the scene one of the swooniest (is that a word?) of the year. I’m already looking forward to whatever Johnson has in store for more of this “family” of characters in the next book in the series!

Thank you to the publisher, Revell, for providing a complimentary review copy.  My honest opinion is expressed in this review.

Review: “The Lady and the Lionheart” by Joanne Bischof

Review: “The Lady and the Lionheart” by Joanne Bischof

Today I’m writing a long and gushing review of a recent independent release (yay for #indieauthors!) from Joanne Bischof, The Lady and the Lionheart. Its setting alone is intriguing: a traveling circus in Victorian-era Virginia. Combine that with a colorful cast of characters, most prominent being the enchanting lion tamer, a nurse in training, and a precious baby who will steal your heart, and we have a stage for a dramatic story of heart with hints of Beauty & The Beast.

About the Book

Two worlds collide when the circus comes to Victorian-era Virginia.

the-lady-and-the-lionheart

This book cover!!! ❤ I absolutely adore it! (especially the hat in her hand after knowing its meaning)

Raised amid the fame and mystique of the Big Top, Charlie Lionheart holds the audience in the palm of his hand. But while his act captivates thousands, it’s away from the spotlight where his true heart lies. Here he humbly cares for his pride of lions as if they were his brothers, a skill of bravery and strength that has prepared him for his most challenging feat yet—freeing an orphaned infant from the dark bondage of a sideshow. A trade so costly, it requires his life in exchange for hers, leaving him tarnished by the price of that choice.

As the circus tents are raised on the outskirts of Roanoke, nurse Ella Beckley arrives to tend to this Gypsy girl. All under the watchful eye of a guardian who not only bears a striking resemblance to the child, but who protects the baby with a love that wraps around Ella’s own tragic past,
awakening a hope that goodness may yet reign. When their forbidden friendship deepens, Charlie dares to ask for her heart, bringing her behind the curtain of his secret world to reveal the sacrifice that gave hope to one little girl—boldly showing Ella that while her tattered faith is deeply scarred, the only marks that need be permanent are his own.

Just then a child in the row behind Ella cried out, “Look, Mama!”

Charlie, dressed in his center ring finery, strode into the arena, as strong and strapping as ever. Face powdered and painted with two jagged teardrops under his eyes, he walked with stoic authority, tall boots forging a fresh trail straight toward his audience. Ella didn’t know a single man could hush a packed house with no words, but…then there was Charlie Lionheart.Add to Goodreads

Review

This is one book I kept hearing exclaimed by fellow bloggers AND some favorite authors, so I knew I had to see what all the fuss was about as soon as I could. And WOW, was it all well-deserved!

Let me continue by saying this is now one of my absolute favorite books! This story is a beautiful picture of the Gospel, of the freely given sacrifice, the love of Christ for His bride, the constant call for us to have a relationship with Him.

The dynamic (and romance) of Charlie and Ella is wonderful! They perfectly complement each other. Both have pasts filled with pain, and through this story we see how Charlie has chosen to react — and his encouragement for Ella to do the same — to choose hope. Charlie finds strength in Ella, I think. A determination to press on, a reassurance that his life choices were right, even though he feels like he doesn’t have much to offer.

Ella is longing for home in more than one sense (both earthly and heavenly belonging), though she doesn’t realize it until Charlie’s discerning presence arrives in her life.  And Ella, in turn, sees the contrast of Charlie’s response to some damaging things that have happened to him with her own responses.

Joanne Bischof creates beautiful scenes with each turn of phrase, conveying feelings with just a simple description. There was so much raw emotion expressed by Ella and especially Charlie that I couldn’t help being caught up in it all, tugging my heart with moments both bittersweet and joyous. And little Holland! She is so important as a catalyst between these two and a ray of light.

I want to mention the supporting characters because they contribute so much to the story, even the lions. They are gracious, important, and colorful (it IS a circus, after all!). The lions and corresponding circus act is so unique and intriguing! They are really just overgrown cats, and I was happy to see them portrayed with a little humor.

The message of this story resounds long after reading it. It’s impactful in its display of a pure love with raw — and sometimes painful — honesty. The underlying theme of sacrifice is beautifully realized as secrets are slowly revealed regarding Charlie’s past. I believe it’s a story I will come back to multiple times and see new truths and joys with each reading.

Connect with author Joanne Bischof

 Goodreads | Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

What about you? Have you read a story lately that’s completely blown you away with its beautiful message or themes?

Review: “A Lesson in Love and Murder” by Rachel McMillan

Join me today as we return to early 20th century Toronto (and Chicago!) with the notable lady detectives, Jem and Merinda, subjects of Rachel McMillan’s latest novel, A Lesson in Love and Murder. A delightful (and somewhat short) read, it furthers the story of these two as they find another adventure amongst dangerous criminal activities and a couple very eligible bachelors.

About the Book

From political danger to personal drama, life is about to get explosive…

The legacy of literary icon Sherlock Holmes is alive and well in 1912 Canada, where best friends Merinda Herringford and Jem Watts continue to develop their skills as consulting detectives.
a-lesson-in-love-and-murderThe city of Toronto has been thrown into upheaval by the arrival of radical anarchist Emma Goldman. Amid this political chaos, Benny Citrone of the Royal North-West Mounted Police arrives at Merinda and Jem’s flat, requesting assistance in locating his runaway cousin—a man with a deadly talent.

While Merinda eagerly accepts the case, she finds herself constantly butting heads—and hearts—with Benny. Meanwhile, Jem has her hands full with a husband who is determined to keep her out of harm’s way.

As Merinda and Jem close in on the danger they’ve tracked from Toronto to Chicago, they uncover a sinister plot to assassinate presidential candidate Theodore Roosevelt. Will they be able to save the day and resolve the troubles threatening their future happiness before it’s too late?

Independence, love, and lives are at stake in A Lesson in Love and Murder, the gripping second installment of the Herringford and Watts Mysteries series.

 

ReviewThis is another classic Jem and Merinda tale! We readers are slowly watching these two girls mature as they settle into private detective life. To elaborate on the adventure, action, and serious drama they traipse through during a case that takes them away from home and to bustling Chicago would be to reveal too much of the mystery and delight contained between the pages. Instead, I will outline a few observations of the growth of the characters themselves within this latest story.

Jem is coming into her own with more boldness and determination, which I think is a result of her now-married status, though Ray would scoff to think he’s encouraging her daring vocation in any way. Merinda has matured from her first ventures on the page, too, though hers is a slower and more subtle change. With this book, we glimpse her heart and deep caring friendship with Jem, though Merinda tries to hide the fact behind a toughened exterior. Merinda is at somewhat of a crossroads in her personal life, trying to hold on to her camaraderie with Jem while knowing the nature of their relationship is different now that Ray’s in the picture. And, a new maybe-love-interest for her is shifting her opinion on the possibility of a happily ever after.

For those of you reading this book just for Ray and Jasper, have no fear, they are back and just as stubborn as ever when it comes to their determination to be heroes. Jem and Merinda don’t put up with that for a second. Gladly, we do get to learn more about the both of them. And there’s a new man in town — also in uniform — a mountie, no less, of the Royal North-West Mounted Police. Benfield Citrone, or Benny, proves to be heroic in his own way, bringing a new contrast to the story in light of his wilderness background.

While it has its lighter and humorous moments, it still boasts a dramatic story dealing with real issues and hints at spiritual themes of trust. Rachel McMillan manages to capture the serious and enchanting moments of everyday life, the happiness and constant struggle, within the oppositions Jem and Merinda face in this story. While much is resolved by the story’s end, I am quite anxious to know how certain predicaments will be resolved in the upcoming novella and then series conclusion. Thankfully, they release in December and May, respectively, so I won’t have to wait long!

Sincere thanks to the publisher for a complimentary review copy.

See my thoughts on other books in this series:

#0.5 A Singular and Whimsical Problem

#1 The Bachelor Girl’s Guide to Murder (and author interview)

#1.5 Of Dubious and Questionable Memory