Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate

Genre: Drama
Publisher: Ballentine Books
Publication Date: June 2017

Memphis, 1939. Twelve-year-old Rill Foss lives aboard a river shantyboat with her parents and siblings. To the outside viewer, it might look like she doesn’t have much, but Rill has everything she needs. However, life as she knows it changes one night when her father must rush her pregnant mother to the hospital. While alone with her siblings, strangers arrive and yank the Foss kids from their home and toss them into a Tennessee Children’s Home Society orphanage. Despite false assurances that they will soon be reunited with their parents, the children soon discover the cruel truth. This forces Rill to fight to protect her siblings from a perilous and unknown world they can’t control.

South Carolina, present day. Born into affluence and prestige, Avery Stafford never dreamed her family tree could hide a scandalous history. But when a chance encounter with a senile woman stirs up questions, Avery works to track down her family’s long-held secrets — secrets that could destroy those she loves most or bring healing.

Heart-wrenching, riveting, and haunting, Before We Were Yours delivers an unforgettable tale that sticks long after the final page. Lisa Wingate pens a poignant and captivating tale of a disturbing time in history. Based on the real-life scandal of Georgia Tann, the director of an adoption organization that kidnapped and sold poor children to wealthy families, the story wrecks the reader while also proving impossible to set aside. Despite the hard topic, Wingate manages to weave a thread of hope throughout the tale.

Masterful storytelling, vivid settings, and raw, real characters ensured my total investment in the tale. I laughed, I cried, I suffered, I rejoiced, as I experienced the events right alongside the characters. Dual timeline stories are very rarely my cup of tea, and yet Wingate continually amazes and pulls me in with hers. For the romantics, though romance is not the dominant thread, a bit of a love story exists. I won’t give anything away, but he is amazing! I strongly recommend this novel.

Review copy provided by publisher via NetGalley. Thanks!

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The Memory of You by Catherine West

Genre: Romance, Drama
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
Publication Date: March 2017

Thirteen years ago, Natalie Mitchell’s life tailspinned when her twin sister died. That day, she not only lost her other half and best friend but also a part of herself. Since then, she has stayed away from her family’s winery, but when her grandfather suffers from a heart attack, Natalie has no choice but to return to Sonoma. With Maoilios failing and her father pushing to shut it down, Natalie must decide the fate of her family’s business and legacy, all the while fighting the nightmares of that horrible summer that have returned with a vengeance.

As the vintner on Maoilios, Tanner Collins wants nothing more than to get the winery back on its feet after a bad season, but Natalie’s arrival could render all his attempts in vain. Even though he’s battling his own issues on the homefront, Tanner is determined to prove to his childhood friend that they have something worth saving. However, the woman who now stands before him is nothing like the girl he remembers.

I only discovered Catherine West a few months ago. As with most new-to-me authors, I hesitated investing time and money on an author I didn’t know. I worried for nothing. I love the two books I’ve read so far.

The Memory of You delivers a heart-wrenching story that reaches the deepest parts of one’s soul. West tackles deep subjects while gently nudging the characters, and ultimately her readers, toward the Giver of hope.

Raw and realistic characters drew me in. Even though I hadn’t experienced some of the struggles they endured, I could connect with them. I came to feel their sorrows and joys, their failures and triumphs in my own skin. This rang true all the way from the hero and heroine to the secondary cast that surrounded them. Watching Tanner and Natalie reconnect after years and fall in love was pure delight.

The heroine wears a necklace with a zodiac charm which surprised me because it involves the study of astrology and is not consistent with the Biblical values otherwise promoted in the story.

The setting truly pops to life in this book and stuck with me long after I finished, giving me a severe case of book hangover. I longed to return to the wide expanse of vine-laden land and inhale the grape-scented air.

I strongly recommend The Memory of You to readers looking for a redemptive story with romance and family, and a book that doesn’t shy away from tackling the hard and messy issues in life.

Review copy provided by publisher. Thanks!

**Oiginally posted on Radiant Lit.

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The Whiskey Sea by Ann Howard Creel

The-Whiskey-SeaGenre: Drama, Historical Fiction
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
Publication Date: August 2016

As the daughter of the town’s late prostitute, Frieda Hope knows hardship. She is accustomed to whispers and rejection, and vows to provide a better life for her sister, Bea. When Silver, a kind fisherman, takes the two girls in, Frieda finds refuge and solace on the water. However, her plans crumble when Silver sells his boat to WWI veteran Sam Hicks.

The elderly fisherman believes Hicks will make a good husband for Frieda, but she has other ideas and convinces the young veteran to teach her how to repair boat engines. Nonetheless, it quickly becomes evident that her mechanic wages won’t cover putting Bea through teacher’s school. Determined to make Bea’s dream a reality by any means necessary, and now in the height of the Prohibition, Frieda becomes a rumrunner, succumbing to the lure of making big money fast. Things start to look up, especially once she meets a handsome Ivy Leaguer bent on winning her over. But choices have a way of catching up and Frieda finds herself grappling to find firm ground.

I don’t often read historical fiction and I’ve never picked up a Prohibition era novel, but The Whiskey Sea had me riveted from beginning to end. If I had to describe it in one word, it would be bittersweet. Ann Howard Creel pens a story of hope, heartbreak, and the choices in between.

I watched helplessly as Frieda steadily advanced toward a precipice of bad decisions, yet I couldn’t resist becoming entrenched in her story, desperately wanting to be her friend and help guide her out of her downward spiral. By the end, I felt that, for the most part, Frieda was repentant for her choices and actions. Though in an area or two, I did wonder whether she was sorry for what she’d done or for the outcome.

Hicks’ steadfastness, loyalty, and sense of morality made him my favorite almost immediately. My appreciation for him only grew as the story progressed. The author brought the setting to life so vividly that I could taste the ocean brine, see the coastal shoreline, and hear the cawing seagulls and breaking waves. Days after finishing the book, I still feel like I stand on the brink of that world. I need only to close my eyes and I’m back with Frieda, Bea, Silver, and Hicks.

As a fan of The Magic of Ordinary Days (both the book and Hallmark movie) also written by Creel, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to review this story. While the characters, setting, and time period differ greatly, a common thread and theme exists between the two. 

Readers should be aware that, while not predominant, there is some foul language, and though not described in graphic depths, there are moments of intimacy.

Review copy provided by publisher via NetGalley. Thanks!

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The Girl at the End of the Road by K. A. Hitchins

the-girl-at-the-end-of-the-roadGenre: Drama
Publisher: Instant Apostle
Publication Date: March 2016

The economic crash has sent Vincent Stevens life on a downward spiral. No longer able to afford his high-end lifestyle and trophy girlfriend, he retreats to his childhood home and village — the place Vincent thought he’d left for good. Determined to return to his successful London life, he begrudgingly settles into the mundane existence of familial obligations and small-town living.

When Vincent meets the eccentric Sarah Penny, he finds himself thrown further off balance. She doesn’t fall for his suave ways or carefully constructed façade and isn’t afraid to call him out on either. As he starts giving Sarah driving lessons and spending time with her, they forge a unique friendship and Vincent comes to question everything he values.

The Girl at the End of the Road brims with potential but unfortunately does not deliver. K. A. Hitchins tackles an often overlooked yet important issue — autism. I loved Sarah’s character. Her genuine and straightforward manner drew me and left me wanting to know more about her. While most viewed her as strange, damaged, and even to be pitied, Sarah possessed a clearer outlook and grasp of the truly important things in life.

My struggle came with Vincent. While Hitchins did a great job portraying him as shallow and materialistic, he had no redeeming qualities, which made him an unsympathetic and unlikable character. His supposed turn of heart didn’t come until the last fifty pages, but it wasn’t developed in a believable way. Throughout the entire novel, Vincent’s interest in Sarah didn’t come across as sincere. She presented a challenge. He wanted her because he didn’t like hearing no. He proved this further by stalking Sarah. Even after Vincent claimed that he accepted people different than himself, he showed otherwise in his total rejection and horrid treatment of Sarah’s “strange” friends. Considering he’s the protagonist and narrator, it made it difficult for me to get into the story.

At the end, the revelation of Vincent and Sarah’s supposed budding childhood love came out of nowhere and felt tacked on to justify a potential relationship between them in the present day. I finished the book feeling that Sarah had lowered her standards and sold herself short.

The large number of exclamation marks continually yanked me out of the plot. Told with a different protagonist or point of view, this might have been a really nice story. However, as is, I cannot recommend The Girl at the End of the Road.

Review copy provided by the author. Thanks!

The Sea Keeper’s Daughters by Lisa Wingate

the-sea-keepers-daughterGenre: Drama, Romance
Publisher: Tyndale
Publication Date: September 2015

North Carolina’s Outer Banks hold little appeal to Whitney Monroe. She left the place behind for a reason, but when her dreams go up in smoke, returning to the crumbling Gilded Age hotel might be her only option. Selling the Excelsior would answer a lot of her problems, but it doesn’t come without complications. Namely her estranged, grumpy stepfather who has holed up on the third floor of the building and refuses to budge.

Matters only complicate further when Whitney discovers an old necklace and shredded letters that make her question everything she thought she knew about her father’s family. With the help of some and the resentment of others who view Whitney as a threat to their livelihood, she must delve into the past before she can learn how to navigate into the future.

In The Sea Keeper’s Daughters, Lisa Wingate masterfully weaves the past and present to create two compelling stories that transport readers, carrying them through the beautiful yet harrowing journeys of two young women — modern-day Whitney and depression-era Alice. Though never a predominant feature of their tales, I enjoyed watching both women’s budding romances and getting to know the men who caught their eyes and hearts.

While the author brings the book to a satisfying conclusion, Wingate doesn’t wrap everything up into a perfect little bow. Instead, she leaves a few niggling questions, keeping this tale true to life.

Wingate delivers authentic characters and vivid description that make the story pop. Picking up one of her novels means total immersion, leaving me briefly disoriented whenever I’m forced to resurface. I strongly recommend this novel to anyone looking for powerful writing and a gripping plot. Congratulations on another incredible story, Lisa!

Review copy provided by publisher. Thanks!

**Originally posted on Life is Story.