Map of the Heart by Susan Wiggs

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Map of the Heart will be published August 22, 2017. I was in the mood for a love story, and this one was a perfect fit. This is a modern-day romance mixed in with a healthy dose of historical fiction, historical mystery, and a forbidden historical romance.

36 year old widow and single mother, Camille, has shut off her own heart from feeling happiness or true love, since her husband died in a tragic accident five years prior. At that time, she also gave up her favorite past-time which brought her the most joy – photography.

Camille spends her days trying to figure out the best way to deal with her moody teenage daughter and aging father, whose cancer is fortunately in remission. Part owner of Oh-La-La, a home-goods shop in downtown Bethany Bay, the New England touristy beach town she calls home, Camille also has a film developing business. She specializes in developing and restoring very old film.

Enter Finn, Malcolm Finnemore, but known only as Finn. He’s a handsome historian and professor who specializes in war and military history and volunteers his time recovering lost soldiers remains to give families closure. His own father, a soldier, disappeared during the Vietnam War before Finn was born, and Finn has been unable to find any clues to locate him, until a lost roll of film from his father’s camera was uncovered. The film could be images of the last place his father was alive, and it could even lead to his whereabouts. Giddy with excitement at the prospect of getting closer to finding his father, he contacts an expert, Camille, to restore and develop the very old, important film for him.

What follows is a series of sparks, then fires, then uncertainty, and passion in a romance made for the movies. Oh la la, indeed!

Camille’s father, Henri, who grew up in Bellerive, France, receives a box found in the attic at Sauveterre, and estate in southern France where he grew up and that he owns. Inside are some puzzling items that belonged to Henri’s mother, Lisette, who died during childbirth. There is little to no resemblance between Henri and his presumed father, Didier. Camille and Henri begin to question whether Didier Palomar, mayor of Bellerive and a Nazi supporter who was killed shortly after WWII ended, is actually Henri’s birth father.

Henri and Julie, Camille’s daughter, decide to spend the summer in southern France at Sauveterre, despite Camille’s resistance. She finally gives in after Julie is involved in an accident at school and Camille is unsure whether Julie is the bully or the bullied. Julie is miserable, and a summer away with a mystery to solve may be just what she needs to snap back into a happier childhood. And, of course, Camille realizes that Aix-en-Provence where Finn lives is very close to Bellerive. A summer in beautiful southern France AND a handsome, charming, single man dying to meet up with her as soon as possible – any woman in her right mind would be crazy to turn that down! Thank goodness, for the sake of the story, Camille lets go and heads to France.

The story switches back and forth to the 1940’s as readers get to know young Lisette and her remarkable story. Once the truth about Henri’s real father and Lisette’s past are revealed, readers will not be able to put the book down. I know I certainly couldn’t!

Map of the Heart is well-written with equal parts heartbreak and romance. The romance isn’t too steamy, but subtle and implied. I felt transported back and forth between the beach town of Bethany Bay and the picturesque estate of Sauveterre in the Var – both places that I would love to be. I loved the story and even the ending, which I sometimes do not like in romantic fiction. Fans of Elin Hilderbrand and Kristin Hannah will love this story.

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The Seventh Plague by James Rollins

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The release date for The Seventh Plague, the newest installment in James Rollins’s Sigma Force series, is December 13, 2016. This happens to be my birthday, which is a pretty awesome birthday gift from my absolute favorite author! (Thanks, James!)

Though the novels do not have to be read in order for maximum enjoyment, I understand the need for starting at the beginning of a series. I am a stickler for that, myself. For a list of the Sigma Force series novels in order, click here.

As with all of Rollins’ Sigma Force series novels, The Seventh Plague is full of pulse-pounding action & suspense from the very first page. This is one of the (many) reasons I love his novels so very much. Another big reason is the thorough amount of historical & scientific research he completes and weaves into the stories. The notes section at the back of his novels are sometimes just as exciting as the story itself! It’s fascinating to find out what parts of the story are fact and which are fiction.

A British archaeologist, Harold McCabe, who has been missing for over two years is found in the Egyptian desert. Unfortunately, he dies before he is able to give any information that could lead to the whereabouts of the rest of the research team, including his son. A startling discovery occurs during the autopsy – his body had started to mummify while he was still alive. To make matters worse, those who had worked on McCabe’s body for autopsy become extremely ill with an unknown, but highly contagious disease that quickly spreads through Cairo and beyond, threatening to become a global crisis. An old love interest of Director Painter Crowe, Safia al-Maaz, happens to be McCabe’s colleague, and she reaches out to Crowe (and Sigma) for urgent help.

Commander Gray Pierce and his team (with some of the usual Sigma characters: Seichan, Monk, and Kowalski) set out, risking their lives as they discover a threat linked back to ancient history and biblical passages. Along for the adventures are McCabe’s daughter, Jane, and the old archaeologist’s prodigy and friend, Derek Rankin. As they try to piece together the puzzle from McCabe’s research, others are tracking them, trying to find answers as well. They are forced on the run by a cold-hearted, extremely skilled female assassin on par with the likes of Seichan. Gray and his team unearth clues in an ancient tomb beneath the desert sands, while Painter’s group must travel to a remote Arctic landscape in an attempt to stop the release of another set of plagues upon mankind. The novel is rich with historical details, involving famous figures Mark Twain, Nikola Tesla, and Henry Morgan Stanley.

The Seventh Plague moves forward at breakneck speed (in trademark Rollins style), switching back and forth between the action in the desert and that in the Arctic. Readers won’t be able to put the book down until the final page. Will all the Sigma team members make it out of this story alive? You’ll have to read it and find out for yourself. You won’t be sorry you did!

Fans of Steve Berry, Ken Follett, and  David Baldacci will surely enjoy any and all works by James Rollins. He is a master of blending historical mysteries and scientific discoveries into a terrific story, each and every time.

The Bone Labyrinth by James Rollins

The Bone Labyrinth will be published on December 15, 2015 by William Morrow.

I consider James Rollins to be the King of adventure suspense novels. He has been my absolute favorite author for a long time. The Bone Labyrinth is the newest installment in the Sigma Force series, featuring an amazing cast of characters including Gray, Seichan, Kat, Monk, Kowalski, and Director Painter Crowe. I’m normally not a fan of long running series, because I find myself being bored with the characters after two or three novels. However, I have read every single one of James Rollins’ books and loved each and every page of every book. He does a great job of focusing on different characters more intensely with different books, so as not to bore the reader with too much backstory or day to day kind of happenings. Like all of his Sigma series novels, The Bone Labyrinth started off with a bang and continued with breakneck speed through different countries with high stakes adventure and thrills. James researches the material for his novels with great intensity and includes a sort of fact or fiction section at the end of each novel. This is one of the things I love so much about his work – he shows the readers where his amazing ideas originated and also gives credit where credit is due.

In this particular story, Gray and Seichan are sent to assist in finding and protecting Dr. Lena Crandall, a young geneticist who is trapped in an underground cavern in Croatia, after a research assignment turns deadly & dangerous. After rescuing Lena and a young priest, they begin to follow clues that will take them through ancient tunnels in Ecuador and to the lost city of Atlantis. Meanwhile, Monk and Kowalski are sent to an Atlanta primate research center to talk to the other Dr. Crandall, Lena’s twin Maria, also a geneticist who is working with Baako, an intelligent gorilla she has trained and researched since birth. When Lena, Baako, and Kowalski are kidnapped and taken to China, the story becomes a rollercoaster ride as they begin a race for their lives. The story spans over 50,000 years of human history from the earliest Neanderthals to present day genetic engineering & modification. I won’t give much more of the plot, because I don’t want to give away any spoilers. It’s more fun to read and find out all the surprises as you go. Buckle up, readers…this is a wild read!

If you have never read a James Rollins book, I would encourage you to give one a try. They are absolutely amazing, and are hard to put down once started. I would start with the beginning of the Sigma series, which is Sandstorm, or read a stand alone novel (Deep Fathom, Ice Hunt, Amazonia, or Subterranean). I can’t wait for his next book!