Since Valentine's Day just passed...I'm going to start out today with a romance book...but scroll down for Southern Fiction, Mystery & Thriller, and Non-Fiction new releases! You won't be disappointed!
Amish Sweethearts (Leslie Gould)
They've been best friends for years, but as high school ends, Zane Beck can't help but look at his Amish neighbor, Lila Lehman, with different eyes. Her controlling father sees only one future for Lila, though, and arranges for her to be courted by an upstanding young Amish man. When Zane sees the two together, his plans for the future crumble, and he impulsively enlists in the Army, following in his father's footsteps. However, the passing of years and the distance between them isn't enough to halt their now hidden feelings for each other. If being together used to be difficult, it's now impossible, especially with the Amish opposed to war. Zane's service takes a dramatic turn when he's sent to Afghanistan. Being on the front line and the reality of taking a life has him questioning whether he can continue to serve or not. But all choices have consequences--both his and hers. With Lila preparing to marry another, will these one-time sweethearts ever find the life together that they both still long for?
Zane and Lila were characters in Amish Promises (the first book in this series), though that book focused more on their parents. They were children then, but have matured into adults with a deeper relationship in this second book. Since one of them is Amish, and the other is not, you can imagine the difficult position this puts them both in. Lila tries to resolve the situation by dating a nice Amish boy, but can not get over her feelings for Zane. Zane tries to move on by joining the army, where he, too, is exposed to new relationships. As the Amish are a peaceful community, and against, war, this puts another check into the minus column for any chance of Zane to have a relationship with Lila.
There are some Pennsylvania Dutch words sprinkled through the book, but it is not overwhelmed by them, as I’ve seen in other Amish books. The Amish in this book are depicted much more realistically, too (or what I imagine to be realistic – they seem more like real people), rather than being put up on a pedestal.
While Amish Sweethearts can be read as a stand alone book, you will probably want to read Amish Promises, the first book in the Neighbors of Lancaster County series, first. It also looks like this book is set up to be part of a trilogy, so expect to see more from this author as we follow some of the characters (maybe the ones currently in their Rumspringa?) into mature relationships. Also, I’d like to see what becomes of the friendship between Adam and Trudy (Zane and Lila’s younger siblings), if the third book fast forwards another decade. I don’t want to say much more because that will spoil the ending of this book!
Book 1 in the series – Amish Promises
The Hearts We Mend (Kathryn Springer)
Thirteen years ago, Evie's firefighter husband was killed in the line of duty, leaving her to raise their young son, Cody, alone. Now, Cody is marrying the love of his life, and as he packs up his belongings, the house feels as empty as Evie's heart. But for all her planning and mad organizational skills, Evie could never have anticipated the dramatic shift her life is about to make.Tattooed, rough-around-the-edges Jack raises quite a few eyebrows in the tight-knit community of Banister Falls. Where Evie's life is stream-lined, Jack's approach to living is moment-by-moment. But as Evie gets drawn into Jack's world—a world that isn't as safe or predictable as the one she's worked so hard to create—he challenges her to open her eyes to the problems outside the walls of the church. Jack doesn't make Evie feel comfortable, but he definitely makes her feel something. Something she hasn't felt since Max passed away—or, maybe ever. Because even though Jack isn't anything like her late husband, he just might be everything she needs.
I hadn’t read The Dandelion Field before reading this book, so came into the story a little bit behind. I do feel like I would have been able to connect much better with the main characters if I had read it first, and will be going back to catch up on the back story now. Bannister Falls is a small town where all the people are connected, either by marriage or friendship. It seems like a nice small town, the kind where folks genuinely care about each other. One of the big themes underlying this book is letting go – letting go of the past, letting go of plans for the future, and just surrendering to the moment. It is set up for another book, perhaps it will be a trilogy? Either way, until I have gone back and read the first story, to get the full background, I still felt a sense of disconnect with the characters. I received this book in exchange for an honest review.
Book 1 in the series - The Dandelion Field
Change of Heart (Courtney Walsh)
A Colorado senator’s wife, Evelyn Brandt seems to have it all. But her carefully constructed life comes toppling down when the FBI crashes her society brunch with news that her husband has been arrested for embezzlement, and he’s far from repentant. It turns out this was only the start of his indiscretions―for which he has little regret. As the weeks following the scandal turn into months, Evelyn withdraws, even shirking her duties with the philanthropic Valentine Volunteers. The inquisitive women of the group are determined not to let Evelyn’s divorce destroy her. They have big plans for her to use her long-forgotten artistic talent to reimagine the city’s iconic lamppost hearts. But doing so will force Evelyn to work closely with Trevor Whitney, her ex-husband’s former best friend. Though she and Trevor used to be close―and he’s been letting her hide in his guesthouse―his gruffness conveys his unease with the situation. Amid the beauty of Trevor’s farm and the comfort of a paintbrush, Evelyn starts to reclaim the dreams she sacrificed to become the perfect politician’s wife. And as creativity inspires them both, Whit begins to see the girl he fell in love with before his friend―and his own mistakes―stole his chance. Possibilities for a new beginning emerge, but long-kept secrets threaten to ruin everything. After so much time, is a change of heart too much to hope for?
Change of Heart is book two in this series, following PaperHearts. Paper Hearts was about the dichotomy of the good and bad in life, and how to become comfortable with both. Change of Heart follows that trend with much more maturity. This time, the characters are surrendering their personal will, and their dreams, in maturity and responsibility, as they discover a deeper understanding of self. The beginning of the book was pretty slow, but it was worth sticking through to the end.
Book 1 in the Series - Paper Hearts
Room for Hope (Kim Vogel Sawyer)
Neva Shilling has a heavy load of responsibility while her husband travels to neighboring communities and sells items from his wagon. In his absence, she faithfully runs the Shilling Mercantile, working to keep their business strong as the Depression takes its toll, and caring for their twins. When a wagon pulls up after supper, Neva and her children rush out—and into the presence of the deputy driving a wagon carrying three young children. The deputy shocks her with the news that Warren and his wife have died, insisting it was their last request that the three children go live with “Aunt Neva.” Neva’s heart is shattered as she realizes that Warren’s month-long travels were excuses for visits with his secret family. She wants nothing more than to forget Warren, but can she abandon these innocent children to an orphanage? Yet if she takes them in, will she ever be able to see them as more than evidence of her husband’s betrayal and love them the way God does?
I love Kim Vogel Sawyer’s books. She has a style of writing that transports you to the setting and makes you feel like a part of the story. In this one, I was transported back to the Great Depression, in rural Kansas. (Many of her books are set in Kansas, which means that I truly _can_ feel like I’m there, since they are places we see daily.) Her quiet, peaceful life is turned upside down by the unthinkable actions of her husband. She is devastated, and you as the reader are angry for her. I like how the story is told through different points of view, allowing us to get inside each character’s head. This is one of those stories that you’ll struggle to put down at bedtime! I’d be interested in seeing a sequel of how these new relationships play out over time.
The Secret to Hummingbird Cake (Celeste Fletcher McHale)
When all else fails, turn to the divine taste of hummingbird cake. In the South you always say “yes, ma’am” and “no, ma’am.” You know everybody’s business. Football is a lifestyle not a pastime. Food—especially dessert— is almost a religious experience. And you protect your friends as fiercely as you protect your family— even if the threat is something you cannot see. In this spot-on Southern novel brimming with wit and authenticity, you’ll laugh alongside lifelong friends, navigate the sometimes rocky path of marriage, and roll through the outrageous curveballs that life sometimes throws . . . from devastating pain to absolute joy. And if you’re lucky, you just may discover the secret to hummingbird cake along the way.
Set in a small Louisiana town, this is a story of three best friends and the struggles they walk through together. It’s told from Carrigan’s point of view, with a lot of extra humor and drama thrown in from her friends Ella Rae and Laine. They get into all sorts of hijinks, the kind that only life long best girl friends can find, and will leave you laughing all the way through! The book was a little slow to get started, but it was worth plowing through the beginning. The main theme of the book is friendship, and we see the three friends through all walks of fortune and struggle. Like all true southern women, they are loyal throughout, putting the bonds of sisterhood above all else. I laughed and cried as they got themselves into and out of their “unfortunate situations.” There is an underlying theme of fidelity and marital struggle, too. And if you’re wondering how on earth the Hummingbird Cake fits into the whole scenario, you’ll want to pay close attention to Laine’s character. If you’re a fan of southern chick lit, such as Fannie Flagg, Billie Letts, or Dixie Cash, you will probably love this new Southern chick lit novel!
Another note : I had never heard of Hummingbird Cake, and was curious. It is a spice cake made with pineapples and bananas. Also, the cake supposedly got its name because it makes you hummmmm with delight, like a little hummingbird flapping its wings quickly. If you want to make your own Hummingbird Cake, you can use this recipe from Paula Deen at the Food Network. It’s actually quite tasty!
The MisAdventures of Miss Lily series (Kalan Chapman Lloyd)
Three stories that follow good-girl Lily and bad-boy Cash from their high school years well into adulthood. Mystery, hijinks, and a whole lotta southern lovin' follow these two and their friends! These reads are as comfortable as a glass of sweet tea on a hot summer day - you'll find yourself laughing and rooting for the girls as they skirt the law in the fallout of this on-again-off-again relationship. Just read 'em!
Mystery & Thriller
Sugar Scars (Travis Norwood)
Living after the apocalypse really isn’t that hard for most of the survivors. The virus killed all but 1 in 10,000. The few remaining people are left in a world of virtually unlimited resources. Grocery stores overflowing with food and drink. Thousands of empty houses to pick from. But one survivor, a nineteen-year-old girl, requires more than simple food, water and shelter. As a type 1 diabetic her body desperately needs insulin to stay alive. With civilization gone, no one manufactures it anymore. She hoards all the insulin she can find, but every day marches toward the end of her stash of vials. She has a choice. Accept her fate and death, or tackle the almost insurmountable task of extracting and refining the insulin herself. Brilliant scientists struggled to make the first insulin. What hope does a high school dropout have?
This was a fabulous book - much better than expected! I was forced to lose nearly an entire night's sleep to finish it. :) It's not your typical apocalypse book, and I love how it brings a sense of hopefulness. Great for high school and above - mostly because of some sexual content.
The Newsmakers (Lis Wiehl)
Erica Sparks is a beautiful and ambitious reporter who has just landed her dream job at Global News Network in New York. And while it was hard to leave Jenny, her cherished eight-year-old daughter, in the custody of her ex-husband, Erica is determined to succeed in the cutthroat world of big-time broadcasting. She can only hope her troubled past won’t come back to sabotage her dreams. Although the wounds from her divorce are still fresh, Erica can’t deny the chemistry between her and her new producer, the handsome and empathic Greg Underwood. But a relationship is the last thing she wants right now. On her very first assignment, Erica inadvertently witnesses—and films—a horrific tragedy, scooping all the other networks. Mere weeks later, another tragedy strikes—again, right in front of Erica and her cameras. Her career skyrockets overnight, but Erica is troubled. Deeply. This can’t just be coincidence. But what is it? Erica will stop at nothing to uncover the truth. But she has to make sure disaster—and her troubled past—don’t catch up with her first.
The first thing I’d say about this book is that, while it’s touted as a Christian-themed thriller, it’s really not overtly religious in nature. There are a couple of subtle mentions of religion and God, but that’s about it. Also, and perhaps why it’s marketed here, for a thriller, there was very little foul language, and no sex or graphic violence.
The second thing, and first that I noticed, is the point of view the story is written in. It’s annoying. Third person present tense makes it hard to connect with a character, and I like to get directly involved in a book. Plus, it jumps all over the place at times. I’ve never read anything else from this author, so I’m not sure if it’s her standard writing style, or if she was trying something new. It didn’t work for me. While the storyline was easily predictable, based on the back of the book, it still had some twists and turns that kept me reading to the end. One thing the author did bring to the story was the intimate knowledge of journalism and a working newsroom, which contributed to the authenticity of the setting. She is a news commentator, and conveys the emotions and the minute details that make it a little bit easier to get into the story. The journalist headquarters is set up in the heart of the city, amid big news stations, and the aggression of working in such a place definitely comes through. After reading this, had I ever wanted to be a journalist, I would be re-thinking it. There’s conflict and romance, workplace struggle, and the mystery of the news events, but the biggest mystery of all is how the main character plays into the role that has been created for her by the higher ups, and how the puppeteers will play it all out in the end.
Sounds Like Teen Spirit (Tim English)
This 2016 edition of Sounds Like Teen Spirit provides hundreds of pairings of songs that appear to have "borrowed" their melodies from earlier songs. Readers will discover the music that influnced the songs of the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen and many more. Sounds Like Teen Spirit covers recent plagirism cases involveing Robin Thicke, Sam Smith and Coldplay as well as famous cases such as when George Harrison was sued over his song "My Sweet Lord" by the publishers of the Chiffons' "He's So Fine" Readers will never hear the familiar songs in quite the same way after reading Sounds Like Teen Spirit. For example, the Doors' "Hello I Love You" has the same melody and the Kinks' "All Day and All Night," and the riff that powered Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" is a variation on the guitar riff from Boston's "More than a Feeling." Sounds Like Teen Spirit explains that creative artists are influenced by a wide and often surprising range of sources. For instance, John Lennon's song "Imagine" may have have been influenced by a novelty song that his father recorded to cash in on his son's fame, and Bob Marley's "Buffalo Soldier" contains the melody from "The Banana Splits Theme!"
The author does a fantastic job of conveying some of the stupidest legal battles I've ever read about. There is nothing new under the sun...I just told my friend, who writes children's bestsellers, that the other day. He was a bit offended...but it's the same thing as the topic of this book. Art is art - it may not always be original, but if you take someone's premise and expound upon it, and make it better, that doesn't make it any less artistic. In cases of blatant plagarism, obviously there should be some repercussion; but just because a riff sounds the same, or the words "hey you" are used in both songs, does not mean it was plagarized. There are only so many computations, so many ways that things can be put together. And the people that hold the rights to the 'original' songs, probably were not the first to develop them either. That said, to loop back around, the author does a great job of making this book interesting, and pointed me in the direction of a few "new" promising artists...
I received some, but not all, of these books in exchange for an honest review.