The Buried Book

The Buried BookAuthor: D.M. Pulley

Publisher: Lake Union

Release Date: August 23, 2016

Rating: 4 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

Very good historical account of 1952 Detroit and rural Michigan seen through the eyes of a young boy!

Nine year old Jasper Leary has just been abandoned at his uncle’s farm by his mother. Sure she has left him here before, but she was full of deception today.  She just said they would visit for the day, but then she had a suitcase packed and everything.  Jasper doesn’t know when he will see her again, so he tries to fall in line with his older cousin on the farm.  Only problem is that he really misses his mom.  When he discovers the old family house still has his mom’s childhood diary in it, he knows he must try to find her.  Only problem is, so does everyone else it seems.  Even a Detroit detective has shown up asking questions about her and where she is.  After his father comes to pick him up and take him home, he stays with a neighbor and things happen in his apartment.  In an attempt to get away, he ends up at some places a kid should never be, including a peep show and alone on a bus back to his uncle’s farm.  Somehow, his mother is involved with the neighboring Indian reservation.  There is death, destruction, and drug trafficking, but what does Jasper’s mother have to do with it?

I was quite surprised at how much I enjoyed this book. The whole book is told from Jasper’s viewpoint and Pulley does a great job of having this read like a nine year olds mind.  And the trip down memory lane to 1952 was really fun too.  It was a different time and she did a great job of showcasing the back streets of Detroit as well.

There is some disturbing material throughout the book, but it is really just how it is. It’s not a shock and awe that the author is trying to go for, it is just what could honestly happen to a lone nine year old boy.  And all of the sexual taboo mentioned and portrayed throughout is not understood by Jasper.  So, while the reader understands what is going on (and likely cringing) Jasper is just as confused as ever and never really gets to a point that he does understand.  So, very well played out by Pulley.

Even so, I would not recommend this book for YA audiences. Likely that this book could be picked up by a university class at some point for a required reading.

I received a complimentary copy of this book through the TLC Book Tours. The views and opinions expressed throughout are mine.

The Sunlight Pilgrims

Sunlight PilgrimsAuthor: Jenni Fagan

Publisher: Hogarth

Release Date: July 19, 2016

Rating: 3.5 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

Dark, slightly depressing, slightly funny, mostly interesting, and very, very debatable.

Dylan McRae has just inherited his family’s cinema in the London Soho district. Only problem is, it is completely in debt and there is no way that he can save it.  Having lost his grandmother and then his mother six months later, he decides to take their ashes from London back to his gran’s homeland of Scotland to scatter them in the northern islands.  He will have to wait until the spring as it is November 2020 and with the jet stream cooling off, the temperatures have plummeted to below zero.  Forecasters are saying this will be the worst winter in history and a new ice age is upon us.  So, Dylan goes to stay at a caravan his mother purchased.  Upon arriving at the caravan park, he begins to meet his neighbors.  The first is a young girl named Stella and her mother Constance.  Stella was a boy named Cael until just over a year ago when she let everyone know she was being called by the wrong name and associated with the wrong gender.  Constance is a prepper who has been getting ready for a winter like this her whole life.  In the region of Clachan Fells, winters often get gray and stay that way.  Can the new relationship between the three of them see it through the winter?  Or will the new ice age take their identities?

The Sunlight Pilgrims is definitely a different read than what I have had so far this year.  I thought it was going to be more about prepping for a doomsday scenario, similar to several other books out there, but it was really more just about the lives of two people during a snapshot of time that happens to be during a doomsday scenario.  The main character of the book is Dylan.  The reader follows his life from the time after his mum had died in October 2020 to the end of March in 2021.  There is a little history that is brought in from time to time that deals with his family tree and connection to Constance and Stella, but it is mainly about his current actions.  The other main character is Stella.  There is some history with her that we don’t really get to know fully.  There was an event after her gender crisis that really shaped her personality that is mentioned but overall details are not really given.  I would have like to have delved a little further into that, but even so her point of view was probably the most interesting.

There is a significant amount of foul language in this book as well as the afore mentioned issue of gender identity crisis. There are likely several people who will find this book could be written in today’s time frame.  Fagan did a great job of portraying Stella’s emotions as a teenage girl even though she is still genetically a boy.  Made for a different spin in the main books that I’ve read this year.

Even though a large portion of this book is devoted to Stella and she is a youth, this is not what I would consider a YA genre novel. I wouldn’t recommend it until university age.

I received a complimentary copy of this book through the Penguin Random House blog program. The views and opinions expressed throughout are mine.

When Death Draws Near

When Death Draws Near.jpgAuthor: Carrie Stuart Parks

Series: Gwen Marcey Novel #3

Publisher: Thomas Nelson

Release Date: August 2, 2016

Rating: 3.5 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

Snakes! Why did it have to be about snakes?

Forensic artist Gwen Marcey has just taken on a case in Pikeville, Kentucky to help sketch a composite of a serial rapist. However, upon arriving in Kentucky, which is vastly different than her native Montana, she is quickly brought in to see a murder victim who has been found recently.  There is very little left of his face, but he appears to have been a victim of a snakebite.  She is then taken to the rape victim, who appears to not want to be bothered at the moment.  The next day she is gone.  Frustrated, she works on her sketch of the deceased man and the police successfully determine who he is.  But then strange things start to happen to her.  She’s almost run over by a black pickup truck.  She gets a threatening phone call telling her to leave.  Then a timber rattlesnake shows up in her hotel bed.  The sheriff then moves her to a friend’s home.  The sprawling summer estate of a politician houses more than just her.  In fact, it might even house a killer and a rapist.  Can Gwen solve the crimes before it is too late?

This was my first Gwen Marcey story, but I was impressed. There was some back history that I didn’t know about, but it didn’t hinder the story for a moment.  In fact, it made me want to go back to see what I had missed.  This book can easily be a standalone novel, so don’t let the fact that it is a third in a series stop you from giving it a try.

This is a story of a strong female lead character that often feels weak, as many people can surely relate. However, she finds the strength to persevere through her trials with God’s help.  She also makes a great connection with her estranged daughter during this book, which leads me to believe that there is some drama between the two characters in the previous two books.

The suspense was really good throughout the book. Early on, I thought I had it figured out.  In truth, I had half of it figured out, but not the way I had thought.  She definitely had a really good twist there at the end that I didn’t see coming.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Harper Collins in exchange for an honest and thorough review. The views and opinions expressed within are my own.

A Piece of the Sky, A Grain of Rice

A piece of the skyAuthor: Christine Hale

Publisher: Apprentice House Press

Release Date: July 1, 2016

Reviewer: Jennifer Roman

Written in four parts, A Piece of Sky, a Grain of Rice talks about Christine Hale’s struggle to have fulfilling relationships in her life.  A “surprise” baby with eight years separating her from her next sibling, Christine feels pressure from her demanding mother to be the best at everything.  Her mother equates performance with love, and Christine works hard to earn her mother’s love.  Her father disappears to work or to his basement refuge, so she doesn’t really have a relationship with him.  In her later years, she marries as a teen to escape her parents’ control.  She later has children with a different husband and realizes she is in no shape to care for them properly, so she gives custody to their father.  This in turn causes hurt feelings with her children, and she spends a great deal of time reestablishing a relationship with them while caring for her terminally ill new partner.

Having grown up in an emotionally abusive home with older parents who are starting to feel the effects of illness and aging, Christine has to figure out her own way so that she can lead a happy, healthy life.  She studies Buddhism and works with a sage teacher who sends her on retreats so she can learn in quiet solitude.  She furthers her education and creates new relationships with her aging and ailing parents and her adult children.  Things don’t always go right and they are not always easy, but eventually she comes to a peace that leaves her satisfied in how her life moves along.

This book is written in four different parts that describe different parts of her life, and oftentimes it takes a little while to figure out what that time is.  She uses the term “You” frequently to describe specific people or events that influence her, whether good or bad.  The prose is fresh and direct, even coarse at times, as she describes the less savory people and events that made her who she is today.  She shows in her writing how she has risen above the negative in order to accept and hold on to the positive, and it’s clear in her narrative what is good and what is not.

I really enjoyed Christine Hale’s story of how she made something of a difficult life and used Buddhist teachings to do so.  She highlights the struggles without claiming to be the victim; instead, she takes ownership of her situation and makes it better.  She admits to her faults and bares her soul when necessary.  Reading her book, I definitely got to know her better and found a vulnerable person who can inspire and teach her readers.  Some of this book deals with difficult subjects such as spousal rape and emotional abuse, so for this reason I recommend it for mature readers.  Anyone looking for an insightful look into a person’s emergence from modest and abusive beginnings will find this book to be engaging and hopeful.

I received a complimentary copy of this book through TLC book tours in exchange for an honest and thorough review.  The views and opinions expressed within are my own.

Realm of Darkness

Realm of DarknessAuthor: C.F. Dunn

Series: The Secret of the Journal #4

Publisher: Kregel

Release Date: July 27, 2016

Rating: 4 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

The fourth book in The Secret of the Journal brings things to the brink as Emma is forced to face her past as never before!

Emma and Matthew have professed their love in front of family and friends and are now married. They still have Matthew’s secret to haunt them, a fact that Emma still has to get used to.  Trying to be fully honest in their relationship, she discloses the full extent of her relationship with Guy Hilliard.  This explains to Matthew why she has found it difficult to fully trust him or anyone else.  It comes at just the right time too; shortly after she tells Matthew of her past Guy shows up and interjects himself into their lives.  He is on the way to steal her job and has started dating Ellie, Matthew’s great granddaughter.  Emma has to decide what lengths she will go to protect those she loves and if she can live with what she will have to do.

As the fourth book in the series, I’m pleased with the direction this one went. By inserting the link from Emma’s past and playing on that aspect, it took the story in a much better direction.  The tension was tight and the characters were in sync with each other as the story progressed.  I think this is something that was missing in the last few books.  Having Guy and the relationship he had with Emma start the book and then transitioning to how he was brought back into the picture really helped the story.  He was a purely evil character and nothing about him said differently.  With this being the fourth book in the series, I was afraid I wasn’t going to like the direction and give up, but that turned out to not be the case.  I will be anxiously awaiting the fifth and final in the series to see what happens with Emma and Matthew and the rest of the Lynes family.

I received a complimentary copy of the book from Kregel Publications for an honest and thorough review. The views and opinions expressed within are my own.

A Rope of Sand

A Rope of SandAuthor: C.F. Dunn

Series: The Secret of the Journal #3

Publisher: Kregel

Release Date: August 28, 2014

Rating: 3 1/2 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

Not quite as good as the first two in the series, but still an enjoyable read.

As Emma and Matthew continue their romance, the next step is for her to meet his family. She meets his seventy-year-old son, Henry, and learns of the many differences in his family compared to most everyone else.  She is spending Christmas at his family’s home and quickly realizes not everyone is happy she is in their lives.  Matthew’s great granddaughter, Maggie, is obvious in her dislike for Emma.  It isn’t until later when everyone realizes the implications of Maggie’s dislike and the means she is willing to go to keep her out of the family.  The one person she is most hesitant to meet is Ellen, Matthew’s wife.  They have both agreed that they will wait to be together until Ellen passes away, knowing it is just a matter of time.  As things progress, the need to keep the lies straight becomes harder, as does the danger of exposure of the ones she is starting to love and call family.

Overall I have enjoyed this series, but I have to say that since I have finished book three I feel that it could have been combined with book two easily. Both have a lot of scenes that felt like filler material.  Once the trial started things picked up.  The pace of the story from this point on was much better and enjoyable.  This series is labeled as Christian Fiction but does have some harsh language and sex talk, nothing graphic, but there nonetheless.  The sexual scenes are more talking of intent and does not go into much detail.  It is the language that bothers me, especially being labeled Christian Fiction.  While I think the writing is done well, I can’t help but compare once again to the Twilight series.  Fans of those will likely enjoy these even with the similarities.  I still recommend A Rope of Sand to readers that they pick this one up, but to work through the first half quickly to get to the best parts.

Death not be Proud

Death Not Be ProudAuthor: C.F. Dunn

Series: The Secret of the Journal #2

Publisher: Kregel

Release Date: June 1, 2013

Rating: 4 Stars

Reviewer: Jessica Higgins

The second book picks up where the first left off and answers some questions, but also leaves many to be answered!

Emma D’Eresby has left Maine and Matthew Lynes behind after the vicious attack she suffered by a psychotic professor at the college where she was teaching. Matthew might have saved her during the attack, but she still doesn’t know what to make of him.  Back home with her family, she is more distraught than ever.  She knows she is falling in love with Matthew, she just isn’t sure exactly what he is.  All signs point to him not being “normal,” but she doesn’t know more.  As her physical and emotional state continues to deteriorate, her parents invite an old family friend to come evaluate her.  During their conversation, Emma realizes that this doctor has spoken to Matthew more than thirty years before, and his description matches the Matthew she knows now.  She goes into research mode and determines that Matthew has roots close to her home.  Using the journal, she is led to understanding Matthew’s secret.  Unexpectedly, Matthew arrives and professes his love for Emma.  She now must decide if she can trust him and he has to decide if he can share all of his deep secrets with her, things he has told no one before.

Once again I find myself comparing this second book in The Secret of the Journal to the second book in the Twilight series.  Not once is a vampire mentioned here, but I find the similarities between Emma and Bella striking.  They are both smitten by a tall dark man and taken with him before they realize what is happening.  They also know that he might not be the safest person for them to be with but they refuse to see the logic in that and follow their hearts regardless.  Emma uses her skills as a researcher to determine what Matthew has been hiding.  These attributes suited her well.  I’m not sure if it was intended, but Matthew came across as too mean and rough at times.  In the first book, the obvious love he had for her was seen with the care he took in tending to her needs, especially after her injuries.  I like the way Emma isn’t portrayed as totally dependent on someone and completely helpless.  She does rely on Matthew but at times you can see the fighter in her come out.  The negative reviews I’m seeing for this mostly go with having not read the first in the series making this less enjoyable.  I think it is important to read the first before diving head first into this one, mainly to understand the context of the relationships and how they might change throughout.  I did like the dynamic change between Emma and her father.  That relationship really developed the best of all of the characters, which probably shouldn’t have been the case since Emma and Matthew are the main characters.  Overall this was an enjoyable read and very quick.  I recommend romance lovers, especially those that enjoyed the Twilight series pick this up and give it a go.

I received a complimentary copy of the book from Kregel Publications for an honest and thorough review. The views and opinions expressed within are my own.