Wednesday, February 15, 2023

Book Review: Everything is Just Beginning


An Immersive Story of Music, Struggle, and Starting Over from an Award-Winning Author

Michael Sullivan is a talented lyricist and a decent guitarist, but since he was kicked out of his band (and his apartment), he's not sure he'll ever get a record deal. Living with his loser uncle in a beat-up trailer and working a dead-end job, Michael has little reason to hope for a better future. Until the invitation for a swanky New Year's Eve party shows up in the mailbox. It's for his uncle, with whom he shares his name, but his uncle is going out of town . . . 

On the effervescent night of December 31, 1989—as the Berlin Wall is coming down, the Soviet Union is inching toward democracy, and anything seems possible—Michael will cross paths with the accomplished and enigmatic young heir to a fading musical dynasty, forever altering both of their futures. 

Award-winning novelist Erin Bartels enchants with this story of two lonely souls who have exactly what the other one needs—if they could simply turn their focus from what is ending to what is just beginning.

My rating:

The best part of being part of the Revell Reads program is that by the time I actually receive the book, I've completely forgotten what it's supposed to be about, but I know that I obviously chose it for a reason—it's like a present from myself to myself, haha! 

When trying to figure out how I would describe Everything is Just Beginning, the first thing that popped into my head is that this book is an entire vibe.

Or, if my sister were a book. A bit too modern—1990 is kinda past the era of bell bottoms and The Beatles—but the vibe was still there. Rock & Roll and just kinda all-around vintage (sorry to all the 90s kids, but the book really did feel retro). Maybe it was the fact that Nicki's dad refused to listen to music for fun on anything other than vinyl.

So, overall, the vibe was on point. Kudos to Ms. Bartels for nailing a setting that had me hooked!

I loved Michael's character. He was so fun to read, and his depth of character was something that I loved watching develop. His struggle with forgiveness and his sense of duty both made for an unforgettable character.

Nicki was cool. I enjoyed her, she and Michael worked really well together...but idk, she seemed kinda flat? Which feels really weird to say, because she definitely wasn't perfect, nor overly flawed. Her struggles with her mom's illness really pulled on my heartstrings, but...maybe it was her attitude? Being an only child, she acted kinda entitled and was definitely used to getting her way, but she wasn't overly bratty or anything, and I liked reading her and Michael together. She was just kinda meh for me.

Uncle Mike was kinda a jerk that everyone loved because he could be charismatic when he wanted to, and it drove me up a wall. Probably partly because I know people like that. Dusty and Deb were flawless. I loved them to pieces. Selfless and hospitable and loved people like crazy. They were just...*chef's kiss*

The music was probably another reason I fell in love with the vibe. Not that I particularly enjoyed the music that the characters enjoyed (yes, I looked up nearly every artist mentioned), but that the characters loved music. And that just makes a person have a bond with someone even if they're fictional, ya know?

Also, when Deb talked about Glen Campbell giving her a guitar? I kinda maybe sorta majorly fangirled a lil bit. (he was my top-listened-to artist on Spotify in 2022 in case anyone wondered. Pretty sure I was in the top 5% or something)

The message was...there. Healing and moving on from the past and letting go and all that. It honestly was fantastic, I just...idk. The fact that Nicki and her parents were Christians was something that I really loved, and the way that they brought in Michael and practically made him part of the family was amazing (found family trope ftw, y'all). I guess it just bugged me that Michael, who was not a Christian, fell in love with Nicki. Which isn't a problem. Except that Nicki reciprocated. And it bugged me (don't be unequally yoked and all that) and, quite frankly, took away from the theme of the book a little bit for me.

But, all in all, I did love the book and would definitely recommend it for anyone looking for a bit of vibes in their life.

*I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher for promotional purposes. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

Saturday, December 3, 2022

Book Review: The Lost Melody by Joanna Davidson Politano

When concert pianist Vivienne Mourdant's father dies, he leaves to her the care of an adult ward she knew nothing about. The woman is supposedly a patient at Hurstwell Asylum. The woman's portrait is shockingly familiar to Vivienne, so when the asylum claims she was never a patient there, Vivienne is compelled to discover what happened to the figure she remembers from childhood dreams.

The longer she lingers in the deep shadows and forgotten towers at Hurstwell, the fuzzier the line between sanity and madness becomes. She hears music no one else does, receives strange missives with rose petals between the pages, and untangles far more than is safe for her to know. But can she uncover the truth about the mysterious woman she seeks? And is there anyone at Hurstwell she can trust with her suspicions?

Fan-favorite Joanna Davidson Politano casts a delightful spell with this lyrical look into the nature of women's independence and artistic expression during the Victorian era—and now.

My rating:

Wow. Um. Where do I even start?

"No such thing as a hopeless case."

I...uh...okay, y'all, I'm not sure what to say, to be honest. This book, I'm honestly left speechless. 

(But not for long, because when am I ever speechless for any measurable amount of time?)

The prose was beautiful but not overdone (more like woven throughout instead of distracting from the plot), the suspense was spooky and kept me on the edge of my seat, the romance was...honestly some of the best I've read. The attraction between the couple was sparked not by their physical appearance, but the kindness and compassion they saw in each other's hearts amidst the darkness and chaos of their circumstances, and it was the sweetest thing ever.

Vivienne herself was an amazing character. Her qualities, her struggles, and her flaws all made for an unforgettably realistic character that I honestly adored.

Same with Mitchell.

They both felt real and genuine that while the setting of the book basically placed me in a book-induced coma, I could. Not. Stop. Reading. Because of those two.

The Lost Melody is heavy. So heavy. I'm usually able to emotionally distance myself from such heaviness; call it a coping mechanism, call it insensitivity, whatever, but I can normally read things without being affected too much.

I was affected.

The first half of the book had me both longing to put it down and never pick it up again, and glued to the pages to see what would happen. Because, in the first half, there was no light. Just darkness and utter hopelessness, and yet, I found myself attached to Vivienne, and even though we had nothing in common physically or mentally (except our love for music), I was hopelessly attached and couldn't quit the book while she was still trapped in a home with barred windows.

*deep breath* okay. Let's try to get the rest of my thoughts sorted and expressed coherently.

There were spooky parts, obviously - hello, insane asylum with a rumored ghost - and I couldn't decide whether I loved the book or hated it.

And then I reached the second half.

Y' words.

"We're all of us told to walk in the light, but we don't. We simply wish to drag the light over to where we're already standing, so we may better see the path we've set out for ourselves."

This isn't a bloom-where-you're-planted book; it's so much more. It's about bringing light to the darkness, because your light isn't needed in broad daylight. It's about reaching past the outward eccentricities of a person and seeing them for who they really are - a human being created in the image of God. It's about saying "yes, Lord" when the thing you want to say the most is "please, choose someone else." It's about surrendering your plans and dreams to God and watching them unfold in a way you'd never imagined possible. It's about clinging to hope when there seems to be none. 

It's honestly one of the most inspiring books I've ever read.

*I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher for promotional purposes. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

Thursday, November 10, 2022

Book Review: Word of Honor by Hallee Bridgeman


FBI Special Agent Lynda Cutler is investigating an ecoterrorist organization in the Alaskan wilderness when her partner is taken captive and murdered before her very eyes. The only person who can identify the key players, Lynda gets assigned to take part in a joint operation in Istanbul to take the organization down.

As a woman in a Muslim country, she'll find it much easier to move around undetected with a fake husband. Unfortunately for her, the man assigned to play the role is none other than US Army weapons specialist Bill Sanders—the man who crushed her heart into a million pieces back in college.

With a cargo bay's worth of hurt and baggage between them, these two consummate professionals must play their parts perfectly if they hope to stop those responsible for bombing oil pipelines, killing innocent civilians, and threatening to destabilize the oil markets. But love long buried has a way of resurfacing at the most inopportune times—and protecting Lynda has become Bill's primary focus.

Series: Love & Honor, Book #2 (could be read as a standalone)

My rating:

That...was actually really good! I made what I thought was an unfortunate decision when I requested to review this one before I'd even read the first book, since I ended up disliking that one (read my review here). But, this one did not disappoint! (not that I had high expectations after the first *cough*)

I loved Bill. His personality was fantastic and funny and I really appreciated his character struggles. The arc seemed a bit stiff, but overall, Bill's character was much deeper than Rick's in book 1 (though I really love Rick and wish that we could have another story about him) (but it was really fun to see him in this book too). Lynda, as well, was an epic character. I loved the fact that while she was a kick-butt female agent, she understood her limits and didn't pretend to be indestructible. Put the two characters together and you've got a dynamic duo that's sure to be a hit!

The romance honestly didn't make me cringe (at least, not too much, haha), even though it was enemies to lovers...I think it was the fact that though both parties involved were forced into a situation that neither wanted to be in, they did their jobs and didn't let their attitudes get in the way of the mission. Of course they didn't get along, and of course there were a few times that I wanted to throttle them, but I could see where they were both coming from, and I didn't blame them, and that made all the difference in the world. Kudos to you, Ms. Bridgeman!

The suspense lasted through almost the entire book, and I think that's what made me enjoy it so much; it was much more of a military-suspense-with-a-romantic-subplot than its predecessor. The twists and turns (and trying to keep all the details straight in my pea brain) kept me reading, and overall I just really enjoyed it.

The faith aspect seemed kinda preachy (especially with about 95% of the characters being Christians, and the other 5% being the villains), but it definitely seemed more real to the characters than in the first book; Bill and Lynda both were putting effort into their faith 24/7, and I loved that it wasn't the cliché I-don't-spend-as-much-time-with-God-as-I-should-but-that's-going-to-change-now Christianity.

Overall, this one was great, and I'm seriously regretting my decision to not request the third book for next month!

*I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher for promotional purposes. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

What was the last book that you thought you were going to end up regretting but didn't?

Friday, October 14, 2022

Book Review: Honor Bound by Hallee Bridgeman

It may seem odd to seek peace by moving to a war-torn African country, but for medical missionary Dr. Cynthia Myers, it provided a way to escape a shallow life of unearned wealth, a philandering fiancé, and a father now square in the public eye as vice president of the United States. At least here she knows her work and life have meaning. But all that is thrown into chaos when she fails to save the life of a local warlord's mortally wounded son.

As part of the Army Special Forces "A-Team" on a mission to capture and subdue the warlord, Captain Rick Norton is compelled to use deadly force to save Cynthia's life. Enraged at the violence she witnessed and riddled with guilt that men died because of her, Cynthia tries to hold on to her anger--but an unwanted attraction is taking hold.

With two members of his team badly injured and rebels in hot pursuit, Rick will have to draw upon all his strength and cunning to get her out alive . . . because he's beginning to think they just might overcome their differences and be able to make a life together.

Series: Love and Honor, book #1

My rating:

I have just one question. 


(If you didn't read that in an old lady voice, you obviously haven't been cultured.)

Honor Bound started out great. A little stilted for my personal taste, but it's military suspense, soooo of course I definitely went in planning to give this puppy the benefit of the doubt.

The first third or so of the book took place in an African jungle, and while I cannot abide humidity and mosquitos, the fact remains that I was transported there and could practically feel the sweat dripping off my forehead. 

Unfortunately, that's pretty much all of the good I can think of to say. *grimaces* like I said, I went into this book with an open mind, excited to read military fiction, but the delivery was just...not there. What disappointed me the most, though, was that while the book is labeled as romantic suspense, it was definitely more like a military romance with a little suspense sprinkled in.

There was a lot of telling instead of showing - which I know is hard not to do, but it was throughout the whole book, unfortunately. Instead of seeing body language tell its own story, I was told the characters' feelings, which really pulled me from the story.

Aaand that gets me to the lovey-dovey part of the story. The novel is categorized as romantic suspense, so I knew going into it that I should expect just that - romantic suspense. The romance was about how I expected. The suspense, however, was...very disappointing. Even though there were suspenseful parts, it didn't have me on the edge of my seat. In fact, the only reason I got the book read within four days was the fact that I had the time and I was determined to get it read - not because it kept me hooked. After that first portion of the book, and then one sequence a couple of chapters later, the suspense was over and it was simply a romance.

It was your generic romance, with all of the she's-out-of-my-league and he-makes-me-feel-like-a-person drama, with of course the little twists and turns unique to the story. But there was something nagging at the back of my mind that I couldn't quite place...until I realized that this book could be about any character.

The characters themselves were...flat. I didn't feel particularly connected to any of them, and I couldn't especially relate to them.

Rick Norton could've been named Jerry Kramer and it wouldn't have mattered, because the book wasn't character driven; it was plot driven. There were no character arcs, no growth, no overarching theme. The only conflict in the book was the fact that he's a Green Beret, and she's a pacifist. And that just felt like unnecessary baggage that drove me up a wall.

And for my final point, the message of the story.

There was none.

All the characters are Christians, and that bugged me. I know it can happen, but it just felt forced, like they're Christians so that the book can be labeled Christian fiction. The characters talked about God, but it was more like He was a vending machine, y'know? Instead of including Him in everything and following His lead, they prayed when they needed help, talked about His goodness when their life was good, and thanked Him when the decisions they made (because they wanted things and not because He told them to) worked out.

This really felt like a squeaky-clean book about Christians. Not a faith-based book about believers. So...two stars. *sigh* which is disappointing, because I was really looking forward to this one (and, I mean, that COVER *heart eyes*)

*I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher for promotional purposes. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

Tuesday, March 22, 2022

Book Review: Malicious Intent by Lynn H. Blackburn

Dr. Ivy Collins, founder and CEO of Hedera, Inc., is ready to begin clinical trials of her company's cutting-edge prosthetic. Her work has been heralded by government, medical, and advocacy groups and everyone hopes the device will be a success. Well, almost everyone. Someone is trying to sabotage Hedera and the launch, but to what purpose—and how far will they go to get what they want?

Meanwhile, U.S. Secret Service Agent Gil Dixon can't believe he's finally been reunited with Ivy, his childhood best friend. Now that he's found her again, Gil intends to spend the rest of his life with her. But it will take all his skill to uncover the truth in time to save Ivy's life's work, her own life, and the innocent lives caught in the crossfire.

Perfectly balancing chilling suspense and uplifting romance, award-winning author Lynn H. Blackburn delivers a story of revenge, greed, and overcoming that you won't want to put down no matter how late it gets.

Series: Defend and Protect, Book #2 (could be read as a standalone)

My rating:

I loved book 1, so duh, of course I'm going to request the sequel to review! Unfortunately, I didn't love this book as much as the first, but it was still enjoyable and kept me on my toes.

First of all, I loved getting back into the lives of these characters. Zane, Gil, Luke, Faith, Tessa...I adore these folks. There didn't seem to be as much banter in this book, though, which was a huge disappointment after book 1. 

I enjoyed Gil's character, and his interactions with everyone, and the way he fiercely loved and protected both Ivy and his sister, but honestly, the only character growth I noticed was him reconciling with the past, and learning how to interact with Ivy. While this could be argued that this was the only character arc he needed, I personally believe that it just...fell flat.

And then let's talk about Ivy, shall we? Super intelligent, emotionally strong (but at her breaking point because who wouldn't be after being tortured with a curling iron), and very sweet. But again, there's no...depth to her character? Like Gil, she has to reconcile with the past and learn to know Gil again. The most inner conflict we see is stress because people are trying to kill her—which is definitely conflict, don't get me wrong, I just...I don't know how to put it into words, haha!

I guess the best way to say it is that it's definitely a plot-driven story...but not really a character driven story. Which is okay, as long as you still love the characters and the plot keeps you involved. But it just...fell very flat for me.

This is a short review (for me), buuuuut honestly, that pretty much sums it up. I enjoyed it, I'd recommend it to anyone looking for a clean romantic suspense novel (I didn't mind the romance, it was just pretty meh) with a good message (they trusted God, prayed, all that good stuff, and it was actually very good), I just personally didn't find myself super attached to the story, even during the suspenseful parts.

(And I think the name Daniel is absolutely epic. #iykyk)

*I received a complimentary copy of this book. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

And God said, "Let there be light," and there was light. (this has absolutely nothing to do with anything in this post, I just didn't know what to put here)

Tuesday, March 15, 2022

Book Review: The Italian Ballerina by Kristy Cambron

A prima ballerina. Two American medics. And a young Jewish girl with no name . . . At the height of the Nazi occupation of Rome, an unlikely band of heroes comes together to save Italian Jews in this breathtaking World War II novel based on real historical events.

Rome, 1943. With the fall of Italy’s Fascist government and the Nazi regime occupying the streets of Rome, British ballerina Julia Bradbury is stranded and forced to take refuge at a hospital on Tiber Island. But when she learns of a deadly sickness that is sweeping through the quarantine wards—a fake disease known only as Syndrome K—she is drawn into one of the greatest cons in history. Alongside hospital staff, friars of the adjoining church, and two Allied medics, Julia risks everything to rescue Italian Jews from the deadly clutches of the Holocaust. But when one little girl who dreams of becoming a ballerina arrives at their door, Julia and the others are determined to reunite the young dancer with her family—if only she would reveal one crucial secret: her name.

Present Day. With the recent loss of her grandfather—a beloved small-town doctor and WWII veteran—Delaney Coleman returns home to help her aging parents, even as she struggles to pick up the pieces of her own life. When a mysterious Italian woman claims she owns one of the family’s precious heirlooms, Delaney is compelled to uncover what’s true of her grandfather’s hidden past. Together with the woman’s skeptical but charming grandson, Delaney learns of a Roman hospital that saved hundreds of Jewish people during the war. Soon, everything Delaney thought she knew about her grandfather comes into question as she wrestles with the possibility that the man she’d revered all her life had unknown ties to Rome and may have taken noble secrets to his grave.

Based on true accounts of the invented Syndrome K sickness, The Italian Ballerina journeys from the Allied storming of the beaches at Salerno to the London ballet stage and the war-torn streets of WWII Rome, exploring the sometimes heart-wrenching choices we must make to find faith and forgiveness, and how saving just one life can impact countless others.

My rating:

This book hooked me from page one—and I mean hooked me. As soon as I started reading, I knew that there was no turning back or giving in to reading slumps with this one. The writing style is amazing and I cannot wait to read more books by this author.

(also can we take a moment to appreciate that BEAUTY OF A COVER.)

I'll start by talking about the historical part.

I fell head over heels for Court. I just...yes. So much yes. His sense of duty, his perseverance, his stubbornness...and the fact that he got injured. *cough* Maybe it also had something to do with the fact that he was a seriously flawed character and had to do what it would take to become respectable. I don't know. All I know is that Court was amazing and that he was my favorite, if you hadn't figured it out by now. I also loved Julia. Love love loved Julia. Loved her dedication, her commitment, and her courage to do what was right even when her legs threatened to give out from shaking so badly. Calla was adorable and rightly had everyone wrapped around her little finger. And then there's AJ, the sweetest guy ever, and one that will hold nearly as large a place in my heart as Court.

The plot was amazing. I mean, really—Syndrome K, two combat medics, a little Jewish girl, and a ballerina determined to make a difference just...floored me. I genuinely cannot say enough good about this plot line.

The other plot lines, though, are what docked it a star for me. Yes, I said plot lines. Plural. If it would've just been a dual timeline plot, that would've been fine; I'm not crazy about it, but if it's done well, I enjoy a good dual-timeline story. But this book incorporated three or four timelines, plus at least four different points of view. Three of those timelines are in the past; one is in the present. Honestly, it was just very confusing at first, and took me a bit to keep them all separate in my mind.

(also, Anton is a jerk and I cannot stand him.)

My favorite timeline, if you haven't figured it out by now, is when the majority of our cast of characters (aka Court, AJ, Calla, and Julia) are all together. I just...yes. *chef's kiss*

Court's point of view from pre-war was epic and gave good insight and made me love Penn and get annoyed with—yet respect—his father.

Julia's point of view from pre-war (and at the beginning of their traveling), again, gave good insight, but at this point I got sick and tired of Anton, and I was getting weary of all of the backstory. (if all of this had been put in the book in chronological order, it would've been fine, but I got sooo tired of jumping back and forth.)

The present-day POV...well...I have mixed feelings about this one. On one hand, I loved Del, and Matteo, and Italy, and everything. On the other hand, I usually found myself disappointed when I turned the page and saw a chapter with the heading "present day." We all obviously have our favorite points of view and are eager to get back to them, but I just...this one had me hooked in some places, and had me rolling my eyes at others because while I really enjoyed the characters, I didn't love the romance; I felt like the story could've been done just as well without it. (Though all the history nerds will disagree with me because of Del and Matteo's ancestors, but I digress.) I liked reading about the characters peeling back each layer of the mystery, but I also felt a sense of disappointment the original characters weren't there to tell them the story.

One last thought, though, before I end this super disjointed review: there's a plot twist at the end of the book that had me s h o o k. Like, I was NOT expecting that and IT MADE ME NOT OKAY AND I'M STILL REELING. Like...just GO READ THE BOOK SO YOU CAN SCREAM ABOUT IT WITH ME because if I talk about it anymore I'm going to give away spoilers. So.

*I received a complimentary copy of this book. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

Have you read a Kristy Cambron book? Which one would you recommend I read next?

Thursday, January 13, 2022

Book Review: Mercy Undeserved by Kristina Hall

Lillian Rossi had it all—a devoted husband, a new baby, and all the riches she’d dreamed of. But one January day changed everything. Now, the consequences of her late husband’s sins extend to her and her son, and Matteo, though only a baby, is the rightful heir to the Rossi empire, making him a target. 

Alberto Moretti promised to protect Lillian and her son, but he well knows the cruelty and desperation of the Rossi family. He served them all too long—until God set him free.

As Lillian and Alberto are thrown together in a race to save her and Matteo’s lives, their own sins and Stefano Rossi’s plans threaten to destroy them. Will they fall prey to the danger so close behind, or will they find mercy they’ve done nothing to deserve?

Series: The Moretti Trilogy, book #2 (could be read as a standalone, but some character confusion would be easier to straighten out if you read book 1 first)

My rating: 

That was a wild ride!

From gunfights to high-stakes car chases, you don't have to look any further for a faith-filled, action-packed suspense novel! (It makes for a great read if you need to kill time on an airplane, too. Not that I know from experience or anything. *cough*)

I really liked Alberto. He was a Christian, but that did not by any means make him a perfect character, and while I really couldn't relate to his struggles exactly, I was here. for. it. His effort to do the right thing and the way he struggled to trust God with his issues was inspiring.

Lillian was honestly a kinda 'meh' character for me. I can't really put my finger on a specific reason...maybe that she just seemed shallow, and her character felt kinda flat? I don't know. I did learn to appreciate her later on in the book, but she still just wasn't my favorite, even after her character arc. (but her love for Matteo? Awwww. So sweet.)

(Also, Alberto's interaction with 'the kid' #iykyk made me smile)

I knew going into this book that the Christian message would be strong (overly strong, honestly), so I'm going to try to not let it influence my review too much. You just have to understand that if you read a Hall book, it's going to be kinda preachy, and that's okay. I did really appreciate the message; the book was full of truth.

I would like to insert here, though, that honestly, I feel like the ending could've been handled differently? I mean, I can't really complain about it since it's completely my personal opinion. But. I feel like the message could've been driven home a bit better if...certain things...had actually happened...and someone would've *whispers* died. (sorry, I know I'm butchering this, I'm just trying to avoid giving spoilers here. If that was a spoiler, I'M SORRY) Like I said, it's totally just personal opinion.

So while I'm sitting here wondering why I chose four stars instead of three...I remember the plot and Scranton. Aaaah, y'all, I loved the plot. Injuries (there were a lot of those in this one *smirks*). Car chases. Guns. Bullets flying. A baby's screams. Cold cement. Handcuffs. Sacrifice. And Scranton.

Let me just take a moment and tell you 'bout my good buddy Scranton. I like him.

That is all.

*I received an e-copy of this book from the author for promotional purposes. All thoughts are my own.

What has your favorite read of 2022 been so far??