Book Review: The Invincible Summer of Juniper Jones by Daven McQueen

Today is Juneteenth. What is Juneteenth, you ask? Good question. I’m a 38 year old Caucasian women of Dutch descent and just heard about Juneteenth on social media this week. 38. Years. Old. and I knew nothing about a holiday that reflects on an important aspect of Black history, when Union Soldiers arrived in Texas with the news that the war had ended and that the enslaved were now free. I probably can’t do justice in explaining all the details of significance, so I’m going to tell you to Google (or, click here) and then ponder what it would be like to find out you were emancipated 2 1/2 years before you were told. Two. and. a. half. years. I’ll never clearly be able to understand or relate. Lord knows, we’ve come a long way since then, but in all honesty, I don’t think we’ve come nearly far enough. There’s still a lot of hate and inequality in this world and that needs to change. We need to do better. We need love. We need hope. We need people to speak up and speak out and stand up for their friends and neighbours.

One of the most heartrendingly beautiful books I’ve ever read

This post isn’t actually a history lesson, or a conversation on civil rights, but a book review. Seriously. I requested “The Invincible Summer of Juniper Jones” more than three months ago. I downloaded the ARC in February. A few days ago, I decided Young Adult fiction might be the right tonic to get out of a reading slump as *sometimes* (but not always) YA fiction can be a little lighter or less complex. As this title was released this week, I thought I’d give it a go. I was mistaken in thinking it might be light (although there were shimmers of brightness throughout) or less complex. I’ll be purchasing the book for re-reads this weekend.

The novel throws you back to 1955, where you’ll land in small-town Alabama. The narrator is Ethan Harper, a biracial child who’s had some trouble at school and is sent to live with his white Aunt and Uncle in a community that is anything but tolerant. He’s befriended by the strange and lovable oddball title-character, Juniper Jones. Juniper has decided that the summer of ’55 will be the most epic ever, and doesn’t really give her new accomplice a choice but to join her, and their adventures are recounted in beautiful, immersive writing.

There is a lightness and hope that is weaved throughout their summer, but also a heaviness and complexity that comes with the illumination of racial tensions and the wrong-mindedness of the era. You cannot help but to fall in love with Juniper and feel a tenderhearted affection towards her. On the other hand, your heart will break for Ethan over and over again – you’ll want to draw him into a protective bubble and shelter him from the hatred he encounters while wanting to bash some sense into his adversaries. This book will swallow you whole, chew you up, spit you out, and leave you with big emotions to process, but it also brings to light some very unfortunate aspects of history, while balancing the strength and value of true friendship.

The author weaves some unexpected moments in and you’ll be gasping for air as you bawl your eyes out more than once. It’s one of the most heartrendingly beautiful books I’ve ever read. It’s recommended for 12 & up (grades 7 – 9) and the author, Daven McQueen, acknowledges that difficult subjects are broached and offensive terminology is used. While I would recommend it unabashedly, if you have a particularly sensitive tween/teen, you may want to read it first, and then use it as a platform for conversation afterwards. For myself, it was a 5 star read for sure and most definitely one of, if not my most, favourite books of 2020.

My thanks to the author and publisher for the complimentary title via NetGalley. All opinions expressed are my own.

Published by: Wattpad Books
Publication Date: June 16, 2020

Book Review: A Single Spark by Judith Miller

If you are a fan of historical inspirational fiction or Judith Miller in general, you’ll love this new release from Bethany House! A Single Spark, coming out on June 2nd, captures a pivotal era in American history and I actually learned more about the war efforts from the perspective of women left behind during the Civil War and the danger they faced while lending support to an epic cause.

Wanting to do her part in the war effort, Clara McBride goes to work in the cartridge room at the Washington Arsenal, the city’s main site for production and storing of munitions. She’s given the opportunity to train new employees and forms a friendship with two of them. All seems to be going well, especially when one of the supervisors shows interest in her.

Lieutenant Joseph Brady is an injured army officer who, no longer able to lead troops into battle, has been assigned to a supervisory position at the Washington Arsenal. While Clara has caught his eye, he also makes it his mission to fight for increased measures to prevent explosions in the factory.

But when suspicions rise after multiple shipments of Washington Arsenal cartridges fail to fire and everyone is suspect for sabotage, can the spark of love between Joseph and Clara survive?

Judith Miller sparks interest through her lively and easy-to-read historical offerings. This title in particular, has characters you’ll love, characters you’ll despise, emotion, and mystery! The gentle romance weaving its magic between the pages will endear you. Overall, it’s a 4-star read for anyone who enjoys clean, simple historical fiction with a dash of love and strong elements of faith.

I received a complimentary copy of this title via NetGalley with thanks. Opinions expressed are my own.

Blog Tour: The Secrets of Love Story Bridge by Phaedra Patrick

I’m excited to be sharing my thoughts amidst a bevy of select readers celebrating the recent release of Phaedra Patrick’s charming new book, The Secrets of Love Story Bridge, which hit shelves on April 28th!

From the Publisher:

Fredrik Backman meets The Cactus in THE SECRETS OF LOVE STORY BRIDGE (Park Row Books; April 28, 2020; $25.99 US/$32.50 CAN), in which a cynical single father has a surprise encounter on the famous love lock bridge, sparking a journey of self-discovery that may lead him to a second chance at love.

Single father Mitchell Fisher hates all things romance. He enjoys his job removing padlocks fastened to the famous “love lock” bridges of Upchester city. Only his young daughter, Poppy, knows that behind his disciplined veneer, Mitchell grieves the loss of her mother, Anita.

One fateful day, working on the bridge, Mitchell courageously rescues a woman who falls into the river. He’s surprised to feel a connection to her, but the woman disappears before he learns her name. To Mitchell’s shock, a video of the rescue goes viral, hailing him as “The Hero on the Bridge.” He’s soon notified by the mysterious woman’s sister, Liza, that she has been missing for over a year. However, the only clue to where the woman could have gone is the engraved padlock she left on the bridge.

Mitchell finds himself swept up in Liza’s quest to find her lost sister. Along the way, with help from a sparkling cast of characters, Mitchell’s heart gradually unlocks, and he discovers new beginnings can be found in the unlikeliest places…

My Thoughts:

From the very first page you’ll be invested. Phaedra Patrick weaves a remarkable story that will keep you engaged page after page. From the mystery of the woman in the yellow dress to the juggling act of parenthood after loss, she brings to life in moving way a very complicated tale. Strong notes of grief and sorrow prevail throughout the novel, but are balanced with humour, hope, and healing. Our characters make mistakes – oh so many mistakes – but they also come to realise that in life and in love there is no such thing as perfection.

I did find all the story threads a little distracting at times and the mystery, when revealed, a little ridiculous – a bit too much of a hot mess for my liking… but, I still read the majority of this title in a single session and stayed up way past my bed time because I didn’t want to put it down. We will take a lesson from the author and recognize that something can be fantastic and wonderful without being perfect. Overall, it was highly enjoyable (even though it made me cry!) – not as a light read, but as a heartwarming tale of making it through, scars and all, and the joy of finding those who help us grow and thrive. It’s charming, completely feel-good, and even a little bizarre.

My thanks to the publisher, Park Row (MIRA |Harlequin | Harper Collins), for providing a complimentary copy of this title to read and review. You can purchase for yourself through any of the links below or your favourite local bookseller.

THE SECRETS OF LOVE STORY BRIDGE
Author: Phaedra Patrick
ISBN: 9780778309789
Publication Date: April 28, 2020
Publisher: Park Row Books

Buy Links: 
Harlequin 
Barnes & Noble
Amazon
Amazon.ca
Books-A-Million
Powell’s

Phaedra Patrick is the author of The Library of Lost and Found, Rise and Shine, Benedict Stone and The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper, which has been published in over twenty countries around the world. She studied art and marketing, and has worked as a stained-glass artist, film festival organizer and communications manager. An award-winning short story writer, she now writes full-time. She lives in Saddleworth, UK, with her husband and son.

Social Links:

Author Website
Twitter: @PhaedraPatrick
Instagram: @PhaedraPatrick
Facebook: @PhaedraPatrick
Goodreads

Book Review: The Brideship Wife by Leslie Howard

Those who know my reading tastes know I grew up on historical fiction – Laura Ingalls Wilder was a close companion in my formative years, alongside Anne of Green Gables, and others as the year went by. Even now as I’ve matured (ha!) my reading tastes have expanded to some degree, but a well-written work of historical fiction will always have a special place on my shelf, and of even more prominence if it has ties to Canadian history.

Simon & Schuster Canada approved my NetGalley request for the soon-to-be-released title, The Brideship Wife, by author Leslie Howard. Inspired by the history of the British “brideships,” this captivating historical debut tells the story of one woman’s coming of age and search for independence—for readers of Pam Jenoff’s The Orphan’s Tale and Armando Lucas Correa’s The German Girl.

Amid mad bursts of baking and a well-overdue tidy & sort project, I have spent the last few days curled up in the company of Charlotte and a supporting cast of characters as they travel from the upper echelons of British society with it’s restrictive double-standards and scandals to the lawless lands of early British Columbia with promises of independence and opportunity. This novel was illuminating, heartfelt, infuriating, heartbreaking, and overall just so delightful to read.

The author touches on so many aspects of history that it’s easy to forget about in the romanticism of days gone by. She brings to light little-known aspects of the settling of British Columbia and history of Canada – not all of it as wonderful as we would like. Her characters are well-developed, the story is well-paced, and every page is a wonder of descriptive narratives that will move you back in time. This is a highly recommended read and I truly hope to see it on a number of bestsellers lists across Canada, perhaps keeping company with The Forgotten Home Child – another beautiful work of historical fiction from a Canadian perspective. Regardless of whether you’re from our Great White North or any far reaches across the globe, you’ll enjoy this peek into a women’s quest for independence and the experiences that shape her.

Leslie Howard grew up in Penticton, British Columbia, where she developed a passion for the province’s history. A graduate of Ottawa’s Carleton University in economics and political science, she now divides her time between Vancouver and Penticton, where she and her husband grow cider apples. The Brideship Wife is her debut novel. Connect with her on Twitter @AuthorLeslieH or on her website LeslieHoward.ca.

My thanks to Simon & Schuster Canada for the opportunity to read and review this title. Watch for it to hit shelves on May 5th!

Book Review: Stay with Me by Becky Wade

As we’ve come to love Becky Wade as a leading author of inspirational contemporary fiction, Stay with Me, her soon to be released novel, pulls no punches when it comes to the delivery of a relevant and moving tale. Permeated with real-life struggles, family secrets, and a scintillating romance, this newest title conveys all you would expect and more.

Tackling tricky issues like the balance of public image and faith, addiction, family secrets, and old wounds, Stay with Me is a poignant and compelling work of contemporary fiction. Well-developed characters, strong emotional ties, dynamic chemistry, and threads of intrigue furnish a well-written novel in a beautiful setting. Sam and Genevieve are soulful and real as the hero and heroine struggling with facades. Both must fight their own demons while learning to heal and trust in this touching gem of inspiration.

Stay with Me will be released on May 5th and is the keystone to what should be an engaging new series (Misty River.) Wade delivers hope and redemption wrapped in a charming and artful package you won’t want to put down. Elements of humour (hello, nod to Goldilocks), a lively romance, and tugs to the heartstrings make this title work for me!

My thanks to the publisher for the complimentary copy of this title via NetGalley. All opinions expressed are my own.

Published by: Bethany House
Publication Date: May 5, 2020

Book Review: Sunrise on Half Moon Bay by Robyn Carr

Robyn Carr is one of those writers that I will always invest time in – usually without disappointment. She authored by beloved Virgin River series (that I may not think Netflix did the best job of bringing to screen…) and a number of other titles that I’ve truly enjoyed. In general, what she does works and I find the cadence of her writing truly appeals to me. When I was initially invited to participate in the HarperCollins blog tour celebrating the release of her newest title, Sunrise on Half Moon Bay, I didn’t have to think twice. Of course I was going to participate. I went ahead and downloaded the digital ARC (advance reader’s copy) and then promptly forgot to confirm my participation in the tour. Whoops! Regardless, I’ve read the book and I’m sharing my thoughts.

Set in the stunning coastal town of Half Moon Bay, California, Robyn Carr’s new novel examines the joys of sisterhood and the importance of embracing change.

As always, the characters – whether you like them or not – are real. Real issues, real drama, real feelings. I didn’t love either of the lead characters when I started, but I was interested in their stories, and by the final chapter, they felt like friends (valued despite their flaws!) The voice of this novel, the descriptions, the dialogue, the characters, the setting – speak to the strength within us and the bonds of family. It spoke to triumph in change (or despite change), personal growth and maturity, the treasures of friendships. It didn’t however, truly speak to me.

It was easy to read and typically quick-moving (but not fast-paced, but not mind-boggling) – you don’t have to invest a lot of deep thought or heavy reading sessions to “get it”. It is, at face value, a feel-good, cuddle on the couch, piece of women’s fiction – a great way to pass an evening or two – while offering simple reminders about the value of finding your way and standing up for yourself. There were a few twists, but I wish it had a bit more scenery and perhaps a few more dynamic interactions. It’s not a world-changing piece of literature, but it worked for a Friday night read – a good title to toss in your bag for poolside lounging, sitting in airports, or tucked away on your back deck to escape the kids.

My thanks to the publisher for the complimentary copy of this title via NetGalley. Opinions expressed are my own.

Published by: Harlequin / Mira
Publication Date: April 14, 2020 (Available now!)

Book Review: Storing Up Trouble by Jen Turano

This will be a pretty quick review – no small talk before I jump right in. This is mostly because I finished this title last night and want to share my thoughts “fresh.”

Bethany House approved my NetGalley request for Jen Turano’s upcoming novel, Storing Up Trouble. It’s the third installment in the American Heiresses series, but can very easily be read as a standalone. (I know this because I’ve not read the previous titles but most definitely will be adding them to my to-be-read list!)

A Delightful Whirlwind of Enjoyment

Turano is known for her humour and inspirational stories and this title does not disappoint on that front. If it were a person, I’d describe it as that loud, sweet, somewhat chaotic friend that brings liveliness and occasional puzzlement in every encounter. It’s a delightful whirlwind of enjoyment!

With a blend of adventure, snicker-inducing scenarios and dialogue, danger, oddball characters, and sweet romance this book is a fast-paced get-ready-for-a-ride work of art. It also manages to romp through the very pivotal history of suffrage and worker’s rights in North America in a delicate balance of important facts and quirky situations.

As it is inspirational fiction, faith and purpose play a foundational role in the overall story. It is a clean, sassy, sweet work of historical romance. Overall, I can do nothing but recommend this title. My only complaint is that I binged my way through it and now I feel a little lonely.

Published by Bethany House. Publication Date: May 5, 2020

My thanks for the complimentary copy. All opinions expressed are my own.

Book Review: One Little Lie by Colleen Coble

Being required to stay home with my troops has reinforced how much I need alone time for everyone’s safety. To say some days we’re a little edgy is an understatement. I’m trying to find balance between expectations and reality and still ensure we’re all getting the space and/or attention we need.

After work and chores and sometimes right in the middle, I’m making my way through my NetGalley titles. Hooray for books to keep us sane when the world is tipsy turvy. My latest read was Colleen Coble’s One Little Lie published March 3rd.

From the publisher:

“It started with one little lie. But Jane Hardy will do everything in her power to uncover the truth in this gripping new romantic suspense.”

Coble packed this novel full of intrigue, twists, and turns. More than once I questioned the tangle that must be her mind – and as she’s a talented mystery/suspense writer – I mean that as a compliment. There was so much to unravel in this novel and the pace just didn’t stop. It was gripping, emotional, and had me wondering until the very last page.

The romance element was a little lacklustre, but I think it has potential. As the story continues through a three-part series, I have hope that this aspect will develop throughout.

The characters and plot as a whole are well constructed as a suspense. with cults, law enforcement, murder, conspiracies, and a small coastal town, the romance takes a back seat to the overall quick moving insanity of the murder plot.

“I received a complimentary copy of this book courtesy of Thomas Nelson Fiction. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.”

Book Review: The Blue Cloak by Shannon McNear

Read with Caution – Gripping and Evocative

I feel compelled to admit that I’m not sure I will find the proper words for this particular review. The Blue Cloak by Shannon McNear was a riveting, emotional work of fiction that took a very close look at the Harpe brothers and their crimes from the perspective of an acquaintance of one of their wives/victims. It is part of the True Colors series by Barbour about historical, American crime. Most of the titles I’ve read to date have characters expressing a strong faith-based element or struggling to find their faith as they live through a connection to these true crimes.

Going into this one, I had no idea who the Harpe brothers even were. Let me tell you… they were pure evil, serial killers, sadists, degenerate criminals. They were evil incarnate. If you’re like me, having no previous knowledge of their crimes or terror inflicted on families and travellers in late 1700s Tennessee and surrounding areas, this book was a disturbing introduction to these less-than-upstanding characters of American history. The author does address the difficulty in walking the fine line between the gruesome telling of their crimes and doing justice to the historic, factual events and honoring the victims while still presenting a “wholesome” piece of Christian fiction. Not an easy task…

This novel is graphic and grisly and dark. On the other hand, it has moments of hopefulness, healing, and romance. McNear balances it well so the darkness doesn’t overwhelm the tale – and yet darkness is the body of the unfortunate events depicted – it leaves a stain or heaviness behind.

It’s quite difficult to explain my reaction to this one. It was intense. The novel is very well-written and you may cry more than once – at least I did. It was gripping and evocative. I highly recommend it, but I recommend it with a bright strobing word of caution. You may feel a little banged up upon completion, especially if you’re a sensitive soul. The “true crime” aspect makes it difficult to process and will have you questioning how humanity can be so broken.

My thanks to the publisher for the complimentary copy of this title via NetGalley. All opinions expressed are my own.

Published by: Barbour Books (Barbour Publishing Inc.)

Publication Date: March 1, 2020

Book Review: The Rebel Bride by Shannon McNear

The Daughters of the Mayflower series has been a collection that I’ve been enjoying off and on. I haven’t read all the books yet, but I’ve picked up a title here and there. Thankfully, each book has been easily read as an independent publication, but as a whole they work well highlighting different eras and situations in American History from the landing of the Mayflower to WWII. I recently read The Blizzard Bride – one of the upcoming titles in the series, to be published in February. (Spoiler: it was great!) Further back, I was provided with an Advanced Readers Copy of The Rebel Bride and it was also great.

An Enjoyable Wholesome Piece of Historical Fiction

Once in a while, you will find a title or two that will trigger some nostalgia of days gone by. The Rebel Bride by Shannon McNear did this for me. It brought me back to anti-social evenings as a young teen, curled up in my bed, ignoring my family, quite lost in fictional tales of American history with incredibly strong female leads and their often heroic male counterparts – the books that led me to believe that woman can persevere through anything, and that while a man isn’t needed, he is a wonderful sidekick in the struggles of life.

The Rebel Bride is set in Tennessee during the Civil War. Our heroine is a quiet, peaceable woman who is caught between the Union and the Confederacy as the tensions of war literally camp on her doorstep and flood her home. Not only must she deal with wounded soldiers from both sides, her family is suffering a number of losses and hardships. She is a remarkably strong woman with pain and fear and struggles who can pull up her bootstraps when needed. She’s often stubborn and more impulsive than she ought to be – acting in the best interest of her family, but not always being able to control the outcome.

Without giving away the whole story, I can say that this one captured my interest. It was fast-paced, heart-wrenching, and even frustrating at times. Watching the characters struggle with loyalties, issues of faith, and the delicate tendrils of a mismatched romance in a dangerous time pulled the heartstrings. The action in the story provided enough danger and excitement to keep things interesting.

Ms. McNear did a remarkable job of creating a picturesque novel of courage – overcoming stereotypes and presenting a vivid recreation of the emotions one might face in such an uncertain era. While it wasn’t a dark tale (and I’m sure the Civil War left a big ol’ cloud of darkness and despair behind every battle) it was an emotional journey of strength with a happy ending in a not-so-happy element. A recommended read for those who enjoy wholesome historical fiction – with drama, danger, and romance aplenty.

Publication Date: December 1, 2019
Publisher: Barbour Publishing, Inc. | Barbour Books

I was provided with a complimentary Advanced Reading Copy of this novel via NetGalley courtesy of the publisher. All opinions expressed are my own.