Book Review: Stray

Stray – Joni Johnson – Independently Published – published 22 March 2017

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Synopsis

Lila Baxter, 17, is abandoned at a gas station in a small town when her father, who was taking her to live with her grandmother, has a lapse in sobriety. Lila is left alone, unsure of where she is, with no money, and no cell phone. Gas station cashier Vance Larson, 18, offers to help the unwanted girl. And how does Lila repay him? By unwittingly unhinging Vance’s whole life. Fixing the trouble she’s caused is next to impossible. And will any of it matter when her father returns?

My thoughts

Stray’s synopsis promised exactly what I love in YA fiction – tortured teens and a touch of romance. It reminded me of a story I read and loved many years ago by Cindy C. Bennett.

Lila has just graduated high school. She knows she only has a few days until she must find her own place to live, but she doesn’t expect her father to pack her into his truck and drive halfway across the country. And, despite his disinterest over the past years, nor does she expect him to abandon her in a small town in the middle of nowhere. Alone and unsure what to do she accepts the help of Vance, a (admittedly handsome) guy she meets, who takes her home. There she experiences the love of a family for the first time as Vance and his mother, Vicki, welcome Lila into their home and lives.

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Book Review: Twig

Twig – Aura Parker – Scholastic – Published November 2016

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Synopsis

Finding friends isn’t easy when no one can find you!

One, two, three. One, two three.

Why won’t someone play with me?

Heidi is a stick insect, long and thin like the twig of a tree. It’s her first day at Bug School, where she hopes to learn lots and make new friends. But no one will talk to her . . . and no one will play with her at lunch. No one notices her at all – not even her teacher Miss Orb. Perhaps she’s blending in with the branches a little too well! Finally, Heidi speaks up for herself and Miss Orb comes up with a plan to help Heidi stand out.

Aura Parker’s winsome illustrations are a pure delight. Kids of all ages will pore over the adorable details and enjoy the numbers and counting elements throughout the story. The endpapers are a delight and each includes a search-and-find activity.

My thoughts

I fell in love with this picture book when I first saw the end pages. I didn’t even need to read the story or flick through further to know it was going to be a gorgeous book.

Are you a bit different from those around you? Do you stand out? Or maybe you are so different no one even sees you? That’s the problem Heidi has. No one sees her. Heidi is tall and thin, just like the twig of a tree. It is her first day of school, but it is hard to make friends when no one notices you in the playground and you can’t join in the classroom activities if no one knows you’re there.

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Book Review: Life After

Life After – Katie Ganshert – Waterbrook – Published 18 April 2017

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Synopsis

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.

My thoughts

Confession: I’ve never read a book by Katie Ganshert before. Now, I am asking myself why? WHY NOT? Exaggerated forehead smack, Tate style. So I picked up Life After because it sounded really good and my Goodreads friends were giving it great reviews. And now I have learned my lesson and I will definitely be reading more of Katie Ganshert’s books. Life After is a beautiful, incredible book. Moving, sad, and uplifting. It digs deep, faces some really hard questions and packages it all up in a story that is incredibly enjoyable to read.

Autumn Manning was the sole survivor in a tragic attack that killed twenty-two others. Twenty-two lives that she obsesses and worries over each night. Twenty-two unfinished stories. When Reese Elliott, the daughter of one of those twenty-two people, reaches out to Autumn, their lives become entangled, forcing hidden truths into the light and maybe even starting a new future for Autumn and the Elliott family. Continue reading

Book Review: Heart on the Line

Heart on the Line – Karen Witemeyer – Ladies of Harper Station #2 – Bethany House – Published 6 June 2017

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Synopsis

Grace Mallory is tired of running, of hiding. But when an old friend sends an after-hours telegraph transmission warning Grace that the man who has hunted her for nearly a year has discovered her location, she fears she has no choice. She can’t let the villain she believes responsible for her father’s death release his wrath in Harper’s Station, the town that has sheltered her and blessed her with the dearest friends she’s ever known. 

Amos Bledsoe prefers bicycles to horses and private conversations over the telegraph wire to social gatherings with young ladies who see him as nothing more than an oddity. His telegraph companion, the mysterious Miss G, listens eagerly to his ramblings every night and delights him with tales all her own. For months, their friendship–dare he believe, courtship?–has fed his hope that he has finally found the woman God intended for him. Yet when he takes the next step to meet her in person, he discovers her life is in peril, and Amos must decide if he can shed the cocoon of his quiet nature to become the hero Grace requires.

My thoughts

Heart on the Line features a long-distance, technology-assisted romance. Yes, this is still a historical romance, with a touch of drama and excitement, set in the charming women’s colony of Harper’s Station.

Grace Mallory has found refuge at Harper’s Station. The murder of her father sent her into hiding, running from the man who wishes to silence her and retrieve the documents Grace’s father secreted away. When Grace is warned by a friend over the telegraph wires that danger is heading her way she knows she must prepare. Amos Bledsoe has long been intrigued by the telegraph operator Miss G. When he overhears her issued a dire warning he races to her aid. The time together might give him a chance to propose a courtship, if they can outwit Grace’s pursuer.

It was an absolute pleasure to return to the wonderful world Karen Witemeyer has created. Harper’s Station and it’s colourful inhabitants are quickly become fondly familiar. There is never a dull moment.

Karen Witemeyer is wonderfully gifted at writing charming romance – heart-pounding and perfectly suited to the historical setting. Even before meeting Grace, Amos is quite smitten. And then, when he does meet her, he promptly falls head over heels. Grace is a little more reserved with her ardour (hard not to be), and takes the time to assess Amos, his character and motivation. He is not what she first expected, but he slowly proves himself to her.

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Book Review: Lucy’s Book

Lucy’s Book – Natalie Jane Prior, Cheryl Orsini (ill.) – Lothian – Published 28 February 2017

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Synopsis

LUCY’S BOOK captures that special connection between a child and their favourite book, as well as celebrating the way sharing stories can bring people together.

Lucy’s mum takes her to the library every Saturday. Lucy loves to read, but there is one special book that she borrows over and over again. The book is shared between friends, dropped in the ocean, flown to China and even made into a banana sandwich. But what will happen when everyone’s favourite book goes missing?

My thoughts

Lucy’s Book is a charming and delightful story that perfectly captures that magic moment when a book and a person first meet and change each other forever.

When the librarian hands Lucy a book and says “I think you’ll enjoy this one,” she couldn’t predict what would happen next. It becomes Lucy’s book. Her favourite. The book she wants to reread a hundred times. Lucy borrows it many times, shares it with her friends, takes it on holidays, and then discovers it has been removed from the library shelves. Desperate, Lucy begins a search to find her book.

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Book Review: What Hope Remembers

What Hope Remembers – Johnnie Alexander – Misty Willow #3 – Revell – Published 2 May 2017

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Synopsis

When Amy Somers loses her job as a lobbyist, she moves to Misty Willow, well aware that she’s crossing bridges she’d burned years before. With all the mistakes she’s made and the uncaring things she’s done–even to her own family–she can hardly believe that happiness will find her, especially when Gabe Kendall, her first crush and her first kiss, rides back into her life atop a buckskin mare.

A former Marine, Gabe is at loose ends after serving a prison sentence for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. He sees beyond Amy’s hard exterior to the girl he once knew and loved, and he longs to see her open her heart. Yet with his vision clouded by shame for his past and fears about the future, he finds it difficult to see the path ahead.

But the memory of that long-ago kiss just may have the power to reignite a romance that brings out the best in both of them.

My thoughts

To say I was excited to read this book would be a massive understatement. I have loved both books in the Misty Willow series so far and the books just keep getting better, so I knew What Hope Remembers was going to be awesome. I was right – it is certainly a beautiful story. Amy and Gabe are characters who both have so many issues to overcome and their story of reconnection is founded in the sweet love of their adolescence.

Gabe has returned to his Aunt’s farm after many years away, first deployed overseas and then in prison. The farm is now rundown and vastly different from that of his childhood memories. But his aunt’s love remains the same and the community is far more welcoming than he ever dreamed. But the biggest surprise comes when he learns that Amy, his first love and the woman who has always held a place in his heart, has also returned to Misty Willow. Amy has decided to leave her old life behind. She is ashamed of who she has become and yet doesn’t know what to do to turn her life around. Rebuilding the relationships with her brother and cousin and their wives seems a good place to start. As Amy and Gabe reconnect they have many secrets and fears to face, while an outside threat attempts to keep them from rekindling their childhood romance.

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Book Review: Sweetbriar Cottage

Sweetbriar Cottage – Denise Hunter – Thomas Nelson – Published 13 June 2017

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Synopsis

When Noah and Josephine Mitchell discover their divorce was never actually finalized, their lives are turned upside down.

Following his divorce, Noah gave up his dream job, settling at a remote horse ranch in the Blue Ridge Mountains of northern Georgia, putting much-needed distance between himself and the former love of his life. But then Noah gets a letter from the IRS claiming he and Josephine are still married. When he confronts Josephine for the first time in months, they discover that she missed the final step in filing the paperwork and they are, in fact, still married.

Josephine is no happier about the news than Noah. Maybe the failed marriage—and okay, the botched divorce—was her fault, but her heart was shattered right alongside his, more than he would ever believe. The sooner they put this marriage behind them, the better for both of their sakes.

But when Josephine delivers the final paperwork to his ranch, the two become stranded in his cottage during the worst spring snowstorm in a decade. Being trapped with Josephine is a test of Noah’s endurance. He wrestles with resentment and an unmistakable pull to his wife—still beautiful, still brave, and still more intriguing than any woman he’s ever known.

As they find themselves confronted with each other and their shared past, old wounds surface and tempers flare. But when they are forced out into the storm, they must rely on each other in a way they never have before. Josephine finally opens up about her tragic past, and Noah realizes she’s never been loved unconditionally by anyone—including him. Will Noah accept the challenge to pursue Josephine’s heart? And can she finally find the courage to trust Noah?

My thoughts

Sweetbriar Cottage is a delightful contemporary romance, one that tugs on your heart and encourages you to take a chance and rediscover the healing power of love.

When Noah Mitchell discovers that his divorce with Josephine was never finalised, to say he is shocked might be an understatement. After the marriage ended, he gave up his job and retreated into the mountain, away from town and reminders of what happened and what he lost. Now, though, he and Josephine must reconnect if they want the divorce to be filed. Josephine is just as shaken as Noah when she learns of the news and sets out to smooth the process as much as she can, after all she feels the end of the marriage was her fault. But a sudden and dangerous storm leaves her stranded at his ranch and when they are forced to confront the wild weather, they also discover that confronting their past just might lead to healing for them both.

Sweetbriar Cottage is a standalone novel. It is written from both Noah and Josephine’s perspective during present day, but includes a number of chapter flashbacks to both the beginning of Noah and Josephine’s courtship and Josephine’s past. And that’s when this novel really digs its heels in and gets serious about the topics of faith, mistakes, and forgiveness.

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Book Review: Welcome To Country

Welcome To Country – Joy Murphy and Lisa Kennedy (ill.) – Black Dog Books

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Synopsis

Welcome to the traditional lands of the Wurundjeri People. We are part of this land and the land is part of us. This is where we come from. Wominjeka Wurundjeri balluk yearmenn koondee bik. Welcome to Country.

My thoughts

Welcome To Country shares the wonderful traditional words of welcome from the Wurundjeri People of Melbourne. It is beautifully written and the words flow gently over the pages, set against gorgeous illustrations.

In a day when showing respect to the traditional owners of the land is so key (though it has never not been important, I might add), it is wonderful to share the words traditionally used to welcome visitors.

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Book Review: Liberty: The Spy Who (Kind of) Liked Me

Liberty: The Spy Who (Kind of) Liked Me – Andrea Portes – HarperTeen – Published 6 June 2017

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Synopsis

What is a hero? Paige Nolan knows.

Edward Raynes, the young man who exposed America’s unconstitutional spying techniques, is a hero, even if half the dum-dums in the country think he’s a traitor. Or her parents, journalists who were captured by terrorists while telling stories of the endangered and oppressed. They were heroes, too. Were. . . or are—no one has ever told Paige if they’re still alive, or dead.

Not heroes? Anyone in the government who abandoned her parents, letting them rot somewhere halfway across the world. And certainly not Paige herself, who despite her fluency in five languages and mastery of several obscure martial arts (thanks, Mom!) could do nothing to save them.

Couldn’t, that is, until she’s approached by Madden Carter, an undercover operative who gives her a mission—fly to Russia, find Raynes, and discover what other government secrets he’s stockpiled. In exchange, he’ll reopen the case on her missing parents. She’s given a code name and a cover as a foreign exchange student.

Who is a hero? Not Paige Nolan, but maybe, just maybe, Liberty is.

My thoughts

Liberty – The Spy Who (Kind of) Liked Me is absolutely hilarious. It is a super fun, caper of a spy novel with an instantly likeable protagonist.

Paige Nolan’s parents, high profile journalists, are missing. They may be dead, Paige was never told. So when Paige is recruited from her (mostly) mundane college life by a spy (handsome, is younger than expected, and wears a suit very nicely), she is at first incredulous, then reluctant, but finally agrees knowing it might be the only chance of finding her parents.

The synopsis for this sounded fantastic, but it wasn’t until I started reading that I got an idea of just how awesome this book was going to be. I was captured from the first page and I didn’t not want to be released. The book is written in second person. Extremely hard to pull off and yet this book does it flawlessly. Paige is talking directly to the reader, warning them about the story to come, filling in a few details about how the whole thing came to be, and then providing commentary the whole way through the story. It is very well written, the reader is at once both in Paige’s head and right amongst the action.

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Book Review: Defy The Stars

Defy the Stars – Claudia Gray – Constellation #1 – Little, Brown Books – Published 4 April 2017

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Synopsis

She’s a soldier. Noemi Vidal is seventeen years old and sworn to protect her planet, Genesis. She’s willing to risk anything—including her own life. To their enemies on Earth, she’s a rebel.

He’s a machine. Abandoned in space for years, utterly alone, Abel has advanced programming that’s begun to evolve. He wants only to protect his creator, and to be free. To the people of Genesis, he’s an abomination.

Noemi and Abel are enemies in an interstellar war, forced by chance to work together as they embark on a daring journey through the stars. Their efforts would end the fighting for good, but they’re not without sacrifice. The stakes are even higher than either of them first realized, and the more time they spend together, the more they’re forced to question everything they’d been taught was true.

My thoughts

Don’t you just love it when a book surprises you? I was surprised by how much I enjoyed Defy The Stars. It just seemed to get better and better. It was clever. It was original. It had so much packed into it. It made me want to desperately read the next book in the series and yet, at the same time, I was totally content with the story just as it was. It made me fall in love with science fiction all over again and reminded me just how good it can be.

Noemi is a solider from Genesis, sworn to sacrifice her life to protect her planet from Earth’s forces who want to destroy Genesis just like they have Earth. Abel is a machine. One of the most advanced robots ever created. But 30 years stuck on an abandoned spaceship has left his wiring a little crossed and he longs for freedom. When Noemi discovers Abel while on a rescue mission, she also discovers that Abel holds the key to protecting her planet from Earth forever. She commands his help and together they explore the galaxy, putting into place her plan. But Abel is growing ever more human, and Noemi is running out of time.

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