Book Review: The Witch of Willow Hall, by Hester Fox

the witch of willow hall
Image belongs to Harlequin/Graydon House.

Title:  The Witch of Willow Hall
Author:  Hester Fox
Genre:   Fiction, paranormal, mystery
Rating:   4.2 out of 5

The Montrose family left Boston to escape the rumors claiming a family scandal. Now ensconced in their new country home, Willow Hall, middle daughter Lydia wants nothing more than peace and quiet, to take care of her younger sister Emeline, and no more family scandals.

At first, things at Willow Hall are peaceful. Emeline cares only about looking for mermaids in the pond, and Catherine can’t seem to make up her mind if she’ll pursue their father’s new partner, John, or his best friend. Reading sounds much better to Lydia, at least at first.

But soon Lydia hears a woman wailing in the night and sees a pale boy in the gardens. The oppressive air around Willow Hall closes in around the family, and darkness hovers, along with memories from Lydia’s childhood. Lydia will have to discover the truth about Willow Hall—and herself—to grasp peace.

This novel is almost Gothic, almost a romance, and all spellbinding. Lydia was a wonderful character. I loved her from the beginning. She cares so much about her family—even the horrible ones—and does her best to save them from themselves. She’s dutiful, but she’s not blind to the faults around her. I’d actually love to read more about her. The Gothic feel of this novel is well-done, without being overpowering or too creepy. Catherine was such an inconsistent character. Sometimes, I almost liked her. The rest of the time, not at all. A very enjoyable book that I read straight through!

Hester Fox is an artist and author. The Witch of Willow Hall is her first novel.

(Galley provided by Harlequin/Graydon House in exchange for an honest review.)

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Book Review: The Ministry of Ordinary Places, by Shannan Martin

 

ministry of ordinary places
Image belongs to Thomas Nelson.

 

Title:  The Ministry of Ordinary Places
Author:   Shannan Martin
Genre:   Nonfiction, Christian
Rating:   5 out of 5

Many people dream of big ministries in places they feel at home in, surrounded by people like them. Shannan Martin found that that sort of ministry wasn’t her destiny at all. Instead, she ended up in a working-class neighborhood in Goshen, Indiana—okay, a neighborhood where sometimes finding a job to work at is hard—an ordinary place, surrounded by ordinary people who might be wildly different on the surface, but who are alike at heart:  struggling and in need of love.

Truly paying attention to both the big things and the small can open your eyes to the truth in the world around you, and Shannan built a home amidst people who were willing to do life together—no matter how hard that is at times. Sometimes, when God calls people to ministry, it’s not a Billy Graham-style of ministry. Instead, it’s smaller, quieter, and has a profound effect on the people around us, the people who make up our lives.

This book. This book. Usually when I read nonfiction, I can only read a few pages at a time, but I wanted to read large chunks of this at a time. Shannan’s writing is so powerful and evocative, full of truth that touches the heart and opens the mind to broader ideas of home—and what that can look like.

Shannan Martin is a writer and speaker. The Ministry of Ordinary Places is her newest book.

(Galley provided by Thomas Nelson in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review: Nightingale, by Amy Lukavics

nightingale+cover
Image belongs to Harlequin Teen.

Title:   Nightingale
Author:   Amy Lukavics
Genre:   YA
Rating:   3 out of 5

Seventeen-year-old June Hardie does not fit in. In 1951, young women are expected to want marriage and a family, and to know how to cook and clean and take care of their husband. June wants to write stories about alien abductions and travel the world as a writer. Her father forces her into a relationship with his partner’s son, and June finds herself practically engaged to the domineering boy, her dreams of becoming a writer shattering, along with June herself.

June ends up in an asylum, a hospital to help women get better. But things there don’t make sense. The words of the other girls make her realize she’s not the only one who thinks this, but those who speak up disappear or worse. And there’s something odd about the head nurse and the doctor. Maybe June really is losing or mind—or maybe there’s more to her story than she ever imagined.

This is marketed as horror, but I didn’t think it was scary—and I’m a big chicken. Instead, it was just weird. Okay, the complete lack of women’s rights plus what was expected of women was horrifying, but the rest of the books was just odd. June is an unreliable narrator at best, and I spent the entire book wondering what, exactly, the point was. The cover is beautiful, though.

Amy Lukavics writes horror fiction. Nightingale is her newest novel.

Book Review: Embolden, by Syrie James and Ryan St. James

embolden
Image belongs to LDLA Publishing.

Title:   Embolden
Author:   Syrie James and Ryan St. James
Genre:   YA, fantasy
Rating:   3 out of 5

Being half angel isn’t easy for Claire Brennan. Her mom and grandmother keep a constant eye on her. She must keep her angel boyfriend, Alec, secret from the local Watcher. She’s trying to find her angel father, who was kidnapped 16 years ago. She tries to avoid her vengeful enemies. And then there’s high school, with all its drama, including the school musical.

Claire is developing new powers, ones that will have every person in her life afraid, but it’s the only way to find her father and keep Alec safe. Except Alec is keeping secrets of his own, secrets that could prove dangerous for them both.

I read Forbidden and Embolden back-to-back. I like the premise of angels and Nephilim but have a few difficulties with the basic set-up of these books. Like, why is Alec, over a hundred years old, interested in a teenager? That’s a little creepy. No matter what he looks like, the life experience puts a pretty big gap between them. And Claire herself is…basically a selfish, clueless teenager. She has no problem using her powers on those around her. She only wants to talk about her problems and can’t understand her friends wanting to have their own lives. She’s willful, whiny, and childish, and somehow thinks it’s a good idea to tell all her friends the details of the whole angel/Nephilim world, which is supposed to be a secret. So, not smart, either. Again, interesting concept, but the characters detracted significantly from the execution.

Syrie James and Ryan St. James are a mother and son writing team. Embolden is their newest novel.

(Galley provided by LDLA Publishing in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review: Love in Catalina Cove, by Brenda Jackson

love in catalina cove
Image belongs to Harlequin.

Title:   Love in Catalina Cove
Author:   Brenda Jackson
Genre:   Romance, fiction
Rating:   4.5 out of 5

Vashti left Catalina Cove Louisiana over ten years ago after a teen pregnancy left her heartbroken and childless. She never had any desire to return. But with the death of her aunt and an inheritance of her beloved B & B, Vashti returns. And immediately gets a speeding ticket from Sheriff Sawyer Grisham.

Some things never change in Catalina Cove, but Vashti discovers that some things have changed. Despite that, she’s determined to leave the cove behind her for good. Until fate—and an unexpected benefactor—intervene, and she finds herself restoring the old B & B to its former glory, so she can run it.

When the biggest secret of her life comes to light, Vashi discovers that thing she thought to be true aren’t—and unimaginable change lies in their wake. And Sawyer and his daughter are right there beside her. Will she be able to face her new future, or will the past continue to haunt her?

I probably picked this up because it’s set near New Orleans, a city I love. I’m not sure if I’ve ever read any of Brenda Jackson’s books before, but I enjoyed this book a lot, and I’m interested to read the rest of the Catalina Cove series. Vashti was an interesting character, but I liked how honest she was with herself. I did see the “big” surprises coming, but they were handled very well, regardless, and I read this straight through in one sitting.

Brenda Jackson is a bestselling and award-winning author. Love in Catalina Cove is her newest novel, the first in the Catalina Cove series.

(Galley provided by Harlequin in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review: The Darkest Star, by Jennifer L. Armentrout

the darkest star
Image belongs to Tor Teen.

Title:   The Darkest Star
Author:   Jennifer L. Armentrout
Genre:   YA, fantasy
Rating:   4 out of 5

When Evie Dasher agrees to go to a club where humans and Luxen can both hang out, she never expects to be caught up in a police raid. Nor does she expect to find herself talking to the very attractive Luc, who annoys her from the beginning. But, one lost cell phone later and Evie finds herself back at the club in search of Luc.

With girls from her high school turning up dead—and left in public places—it’s not safe for Evie to go anywhere, much less with the mysterious Luc. She thinks he might be one of the Luxen, and the girls appear to have been killed by one. But Luc is hiding bigger secrets than that, and soon Evie finds herself right in the middle of a battle.

I’ve never read any of the Luxen books—or anything else by this author—so I was pretty neutral going in. I ended up enjoying the read, despite a few predictable “twists.” Luc was not the most likable character. I found him quite arrogant, and Evie has a few clueless moments, but I still enjoyed the read.

Jennifer L. Armentrout is an award-winning and best-selling author from West Virginia. The Darkest Star is her newest novel.

(Galley provided by Tor Teen in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review: Umbertouched, by Livia Blackburne

umbertouched
Image belongs to Disney Hyperion.

Title:  Umbertouched
Author:   Livia Blackburne
Genre:   YA, fantasy
Rating:   5 out of 5

Zivah and Dineas failed at their mission and barely escaped with their lives. They have information, but they have no proof of what they know. They desperately need to get home before Ampara attacks their people—who need to be warned of the looming danger.

Dineas spent months thinking he was an Amparan soldier—and now his fellow Shidadi warriors question his loyalty—as does he. Zivah made choices during their mission that broke her healer’s vows, and she’s not sure she can ever regain what she lost—especially when the leaders ask the unthinkable of her. She and the Dineas from Sehmar City were in love, but that Dineas is gone now, leaving both stumbling over their feelings and their history. As Zivah’s plague symptoms return, she struggles to come to terms with her reality—and Dineas fights battles of his own.

I loved Rosemarked, and Umbertouched is just as good! These characters and this world are so vivid and so compelling, that I just can’t put the books down. Zivah is a strong person, but she struggles under so many burdens, afraid to hope as she suffers. And Dineas is torn between two truths:  his whole life as a Shidadi warrior, and his brief time as an Amparan soldier.

Livia Blackburne has a PhD in cognitive neuroscience from MIT. Umbertouched is her newest novel.

(Galley provided by Disney Hyperion in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review: The Traveling Cat Chronicles, by Hiro Arikawa

the traveling cat chronicles
Image belongs to Berkley Publishing.

Title:   The Traveling Cat Chronicles
Author:   Hiro Arikawa
Genre:   Fiction
Rating:   4.5 out of 5

Nana is a proud stray cat who doesn’t need an owner, but he doesn’t mind the crunchies nice Satoru puts out for him. When Nana is hit by a car, he knows Satoru is the only one who can help him. One visit to a vet and a healed broken leg later, and Nana decides staying with Satoru isn’t so bad.

Life is good until Satoru tries to give him away. But Nana is smart and thwarts the exchange. Satisfied, Nana thinks all is good—until Satoru tries to give him away again. Soon the two are  traveling across the country in a silver van as Satoru visits scenes from his childhood—and soon Nana realizes there’s more going on that a cross-country vacation.

This is a charming, heartwarming book, and I ugly-cried at the end. True story. It’s hard to do a book written from an animal’s point-of-view well, and this one is so well done! Nana’s attitude—and his essential catness—is vividly drawn, and he’s one of the best narrators I’ve ever read.

Hiro Arikawa is an award-winning author. The Traveling Cat Chronicles is her newest novel.

(Galley provided by Berkley in exchange for an honest review.)

 

Book Review: Chosen for Christ, by Heather Holleman

chosen for christ
Image belongs to Moody Publishers.

Title:  Chosen for Christ
Author:  Heather Holleman
Genre:  Nonfiction, Christian
Rating:   4 out of 5

Most people spend their lives in search of something:  marriage, career, prestige, a better job, more education…but these things we plan on often leave us frustrated and searching for more. What if we started living as if we were chosen for a person, Jesus Christ, instead of a plan? A calling is about more than a plan. Turn that old way of thinking on its head and embrace your true identity.

Chosen for Christ is all about embracing your identity as being chosen by Christ—and what that really means for you and your life. This book was both inspiring and uplifting and gave me a whole new way to think about things. An excellent read!

Heather Holleman is a wife, mother, college teacher, and author. Chosen for Christ is her newest book.

(Galley provided by Moody Publishers in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review: An Irish Country Cottage, by Patrick Taylor

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Image belongs to Macmillan Tor/Forge.

Title:   An Irish Country Cottage
Author:   Patrick Taylor
Genre:    Fiction
Rating:   4 out of 5

Ballybucklebo is an Irish village in the countryside. Christmas is barely over when a fire destroys the cottage of Donal Donnally, but the family escapes unharmed. Now the village will have to rally around the family if they are to get back up on their feet. But at least the family—including the three young daughters and the dog—have each other.

Family is everywhere in Ballybucklebo.

Young Doctor Laverty and his wife, Sue, would love to start their own family, but haven’t been so blessed yet, so they turn to modern medicine in their search for a solution. Doctor O’Reilly must be very careful as he advises a married patient on how to avoid another dangerous pregnancy—the church frowns on such things.

This is the second book in this series I’ve read, and, granted, I love to read anything (well, within reason) set in Ireland, but this series is so peaceful. Set in the mid-1900s, it’s a genuinely different world—and one that seems so much better than our world now. An engrossing, quiet novel, full of vivid characters in a setting I’d love to visit.

Patrick Taylor was born in Northern Ireland and now lives in British Columbia. An Irish Country Cottage is his newest novel.

(Galley provided by Macmillan-Tor/Forge in exchange for an honest review.)