Twelve Days of Christmas Giveaway Hop

Welcome to the Twelve Days of Christmas Giveaway Hop, hosted by Stuck in Books!

Let’s talk about holiday traditions. I’m being deliberately inclusive here. I don’t celebrate Christmas, I celebrate Hanukkah instead. You may celebrate both, neither, or something else altogether. My husband and I kind of celebrate December, as in its a great occasion to give each other presents, whether there’s a holiday involved for either of us or not. And we both get a couple of paid holidays from work, which is also a nice thing to celebrate.

While I’ve never had a Christmas tree, for obvious reasons, I have always enjoyed decorating other people’s trees, especially since I’ve never had to clean up the mess. I’ve also had one or more cats continuously for the past “lo these many years” and cats and decorated trees only mix badly, messily, and with broken ornaments and shredded wrapping paper.

What about your holiday traditions, whatever holiday or holidays you celebrate this time of year? Answer in the rafflecopter for your chance at a $10 Amazon Gift Card or a $10 Book from the Book Depository to make your holiday just a bit shinier, whatever it might be.

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And for more great bookish prizes, be sure to visit the other stops on the hop!

Review: Heart Sight by Robin D Owens

Review: Heart Sight by Robin D OwensHeart Sight by Robin Owens
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: fantasy romance, futuristic, science fiction romance
Series: Celta's Heartmates #15
Pages: 416
Published by Berkley Books on December 5th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Journey back to the planet Celta with award-winning author Robin D. Owens in this novel about shadowed enemies and unimaginable psi power.

Muin "Vinni" T'Vine has been the prophet of Celta since he was six years old. A unique and lonely child, his strong psi power made most people wary of him. But now that he's older, he's ready to marry and protect the girl he's known was his HeartMate for years.

Avellana isn't as fragile as Vinni believes...nor as compliant. She fights to be considered Vinni's equal and a strong member of her Family and community. Both of them have kept Avellana's main power secret for over a decade.

But rumors of her strange psi talent are spreading, and Vinni is experiencing premonitions of danger to Avellana--even from the highest people of the land. When the whispers become threats, Vinni and Avellana must discover and defeat their secret enemies before they can finally claim happiness together.

My Review:

Heart Mate by Robin D. Owens new cover

After a rocky start (I didn’t like the first book, Heart Mate, the first time I tried to read it), Celta’s Heartmates has become one of my all-time favorite series. I look forward to the new book every year, and read it as soon as I get my hands on it.

As I did this year. In spite of the towering TBR pile, and reading commitments now stretching into February, I devoted one glorious day returning to Celta.

Celta is one of those places, like Pern (Anne McCaffrey), Darkover (Marion Zimmer Bradley) and Harmony (Jayne Castle) that sits right on the dividing line between fantasy and science fiction.

All of these series read like fantasy, where the residents have some kind of special powers – and of course Pern has dragons. But all of these worlds, including Celta, are lost Earth colonies, and their human residents arrived by spaceship sometime in the dim past of their planet. A dim past that they rediscover during the course of the series – or one that rediscovers them.

Celta and Pern are standouts in one particular aspect – they both feel liveable. These worlds are internally self-consistent, and, for lack of a better word, they both feel “real”. And they both feel like places where it would be not just possible, but actually reasonable, to live.

If only we could.

The Celta’s Heartmates series also features the best use of the fated mate trope I think I’ve ever seen. Some, but far from all, of the people of Celta have heartmates. And if they have them, they do discover who that person is during their rites of passage where they come into their “flair” (read as psychic or ESP) powers.

But the road is never easy.

Just because you know who your soulmate is, does not mean that the course of love will run smooth. There have been stories in the series where someone’s heartmate has died young, or where the protagonists just don’t have heartmates and have to make do with good, old-fashioned love.

The story in Heart Sight, however, is about two heartmates who are on a road that is filled with rocks, ruts and roadblocks, many of which have been put in place by Vinni T’Vine, the Oracle of Celta, all by himself. Unfortunately for him, the relationship that he’s messed up is his own, and his heartmate has finally called him on his manipulations and general oracular bullshit.

Because the one future that Vinni can’t see is his own. And the person most closely tied to that future is his heartmate Avellana. He can’t see her future, because he can’t see his. But he can sense when her future holds danger. Just not how much.

The story in Heart Sight is, in some ways, more Avellana’s than it is Vinni’s. Because Vinni has been an adult for some time, and has been the Oracle since he was six years old. He’s used to manipulating people for their “own good”.

But Avellana is supposed to be his partner in life and love. The one person that he should be able to confide in and lean on. And that can’t happen if he’s constantly sending her away “for her safety”. Or if he keeps thinking of her as weak and fragile. Because she is neither.

The only way to confront the danger is to face it, head on, together. And that’s the only way that they will have any future together worth having. Or any future at all.

Escape Rating A: I carried this around for a day, because I absolutely could not put it down. Even just five or ten minutes progress on “MORE STORY” was worth ignoring the rest of the world for.

One of the things I enjoy about Celta is that the place feels alive. Time passes, life moves on, things change. Readers first met Vinni when he had just inherited his title from his late grandmother, at the ripe old age of six. We’ve watched him grow up over the course of the series, always as a side character, sometimes significant, sometimes just a walk-on moment in someone else’s story, but always interesting.

Some of the other characters, Like T’Ash and Danith from Heart Mate, have matured into their powerful prime, while others, like many in the Holly Family, have gone from middle age to respected seniority.

The other part of the series that I love is that there is an overarching story of the changes and developments of Celtan society. The people are changing and their planet is changing them. There are forces that embrace those changes, and forces that are determined to fight those changes – with violence if necessary.

The danger that Avellana has faced all of her life is very real – and is part of that conflict. The arch-conservatives see her as an aberration that must be eliminated at all costs. And they don’t care how much collateral damage they do to get to Avellana. But, while the danger to Avellana was real and tied into the long-running conflict, the motives of the current avatar of those arch-conservatives strayed from being merely a dangerous enemy into downright nuckin’ futz. He was more dangerous – and more comprehensible – when he was thinking relatively clearly – even if that clear thinking was down a terrible path.

All in all, I am thrilled with my recent visit to Celta, and as always, I can’t wait to go back. The sooner, the better!

The Sunday Post AKA What’s on my (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 12-10-17

Sunday Post

The weather outside is frightful. Wet, cold, nasty stuff. Snow. It’s warm inside, though, and there are plenty of books to read and plenty of feline attention available. They do make very nice lap warmers – when they can be bothered to sit still, that is.

The year is definitely winding down, and blog hop season is certainly winding up. And we’re all making lists – lists of holiday presents and lists of best books for the year now passing. And occasionally even combining the two!

Current Giveaways:

$10 Gift Card or $10 Book in the December Book of Choice Giveaway Hop
$10 Gift Card or $10 Book in the Winter is Coming Giveaway Hop
Signed copy of Christmas at Thorncliff Manor by Sophie Barnes
$25 Amazon Gift Card + paperback copy of Back Home at Firefly Lake by Jen Gilroy

Blog Recap:

B Review: The Paris Secret by Karen Swan
B+ Review: The Lady Travelers Guide to Larceny with a Dashing Stranger by Victoria Alexander
Winter is Coming Giveaway Hop
B+ Review: Christmas at Thorncliff Manor by Sophie Barnes + Giveaway
B+ Review: Back Home at Firefly Lake by Jen Gilroy + Giveaway
Stacking the Shelves (265)

Coming Next Week:

Heart Sight by Robin D. Owens (review)
Twelve Days of Christmas Giveaway Hop
War Games by Jess Anastasi (blog tour review)
Big Sky, Loyal Heart by M.L. Buchman (review)
Amid the Winter Snow by Grace Draven, Thea Harrison, Elizabeth Hunter and Jeffe Kennedy (review)

Stacking the Shelves (265)

Stacking the Shelves

I’m in Atlanta, and it’s snowing buckets down here. I moved south to get away from this cold, wet, sticky white stuff. It may look pretty, but I’ve already been stuck behind one care who had no clue that you can’t slow down going uphill when the snow is still falling. On the other hand, Lucifer-cat is staring out of the window looking mighty glad not to be out in it. He got rescued just in time.

I got some books I’m really, really glad to have on a cold, snowy weekend, especially Lake Silence and Hurts to Love You. The second book will probably be hot enough I’ll need a fan. Lake Silence, will probably give me a completely different set of chills.

Stay safe and warm this weekend! Cuddle up with a good book. And a cat!

For Review:
A Dangerous Game (New York Confidential #3) by Heather Graham
Fast Burn (Body Armor #4)  by Lori Foster
Hurts to Love You (Forbidden Hearts #3) by Alisha Rai
Lake Silence (The Others #6) by Anne Bishop
The Ledberg Runestone (Jonah Heywood #1) by Patrick Donovan
Sisters Like Us (Mischief Bay #4) by Susan Mallery
Why Kill the Innocent (Sebastian St. Cyr #13) by C.S. Harris

Borrowed from the Library:
Be Free or Die by Cate Lineberry
Robert Lowell, Setting the River on Fire by Kay Redfield Jamison
The Ruin of a Rake (Turner #3) by Cat Sebastian

Review: Back Home at Firefly Lake by Jen Gilroy + Giveaway

Review: Back Home at Firefly Lake by Jen Gilroy + GiveawayBack Home at Firefly Lake (Firefly Lake, #3) by Jen Gilroy
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, small town romance
Series: Firefly Lake #3
Pages: 368
Published by Forever on December 5th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

A heartwarming small-town romance that will make you believe in love and second chances.

She has a million reasons to leave. Can he give her the one she needs to stay?
Cat McGuire's return to Firefly Lake is turning into much more than she bargained for. Sure, she missed the crisp pine-scented air and the comfort of having her family around her. But being home makes her feel less like the successful single mom she is--and more like the awkward teen who never fit in. It doesn't help that hockey-pro Luc Simard is back in town, too. Luc was her childhood crush, the hometown hero who never noticed her, and yet somehow he still makes her heart skip a beat.

Luc's homecoming has been bittersweet. He's lost his wife and his career, but there's no better place to start over than Firefly Lake. Coaching the local kids' hockey team makes him feel alive again, and he thinks his life is complete--until Cat arrives. The shy girl he always wanted to protect is now the gorgeous woman who's stealing his heart and making him believe in second chances. But how can he convince Cat that Firefly Lake is where she truly belongs?

In the tradition of New York Times bestselling authors Susan Wiggs and RaeAnne Thayne comes an emotional story about finding love in the most unexpected of places from Jen Gilroy.

My Review:

Second chance lake strikes again!

Firefly Lake really does deserve to be renamed “Second Chance Lake” because it seems like everyone who goes there, especially those who go back home there, discover a second chance at love, and sometimes even a second chance at life.

Cat McGuire needs a do-over. Or a restart. Or at least enough time to consider what her next step in life should be. As the sister of Nick McGuire (hero of Summer on Firefly Lake) she has some of the same baggage that Nick did. Their dad didn’t just leave their mother when they were kids, he ran out of town just ahead of everyone finding out that he’d cheated a whole lot of people out of their money. Think of him as a small time Bernie Madoff who faced fewer consequences.

But Cat, already considered the town oddball as an intellectual whiz kid, found herself the center of more attention than any child could reasonably cope with. Which she, of course, avoided by retreating even further into her books, making her stand out even more.

The one person who stood up for her against all the bullies was budding hockey star Luc Simard. So of course Luc became her hero, and her first crush, and her big brother’s best friend all rolled into one.

Cat comes back to town to look after her mother a bit, after the cancer scare, but also to use a research grant to work on a book about women’s sports in Vermont history. She hopes that getting the book published will finally put her on track for a tenure-track teaching position – something that is really hard to come by for history Ph. D.s, even when they get that Ph. D. from Harvard.

And Cat is hoping that Firefly Lake will give her daughter a chance for a do-over at school. At 12, all Amy wants to do is play hockey. But her dyslexia has held her back academically, and her Boston team was ready to kick her out for not meeting academic standards. The Firefly Lake team is a community team and not a school team, so her grades are not an issue. But Cat worries just as much, because there is no separate girls hockey team in tiny Firefly Lake. Amy will have to play with the boys. And while she’s plenty good enough, if not better, than the other players on the team, as puberty kicks in she just isn’t as big.

But Luc Simard has retired from the NHL and come home. As the new head coach of the team, he sees something in Amy that he doesn’t often see. She can feel the ice in a way that only great players can. It’s a talent he’s happy to nurture. not just for the joy of coaching but also as a way to “pay forward” to the sport that he loves and that has given him so much, even though it has also taken so much away.

Like it took his late wife, who was  herself a women’s hockey star. But now Maggie is gone, two years dead after a brain aneurysm burst. He wasn’t there because he was on the road with his team. And he can’t manage to let go of his grief or his guilt.

So when he discovers that Cat, the little girl he used to protect, is all grown up, he discovers that she touches a part of his heart that he thought he had buried with Maggie. He feels even more guilty.

But the ice has melted, and he can’t stop feeling. Even if he doesn’t know what to do about it. And even as he mucks things up again. Second chances are rare. Third chances are almost – but not quite – impossible.

Escape Rating B+: This series, heartwarming from its beginning in The Cottage at Firefly Lake to its end with this book, with its small town centered around a lake and its second chance at love stories reads a lot like Mary McNear’s equally lovely Butternut Lake series. Although the two are several states apart, these little lake towns and the people who populate them have a very similar feel. If you like one, you’ll like the other – even if Firefly Lake in Vermont sounds BRRRRR cold this time of year!

Although both Luc and Cat need the second chances offered by a return to Firefly Lake, the second chances that they each need are different.

In some ways, Luc’s story is a bit more obvious. In his mid-30s, Luc has been a widower for two years. His wife died suddenly and tragically, while carrying their child. Her aneurysm may have been caused by her high-risk pregnancy. He feels guilty, both about persuading her to try again after a series of heartbreaking miscarriages, and because he wasn’t there when she died. He’s grieving the loss of his soulmate, their child and the future that they had planned together.

And he’s grieving the loss of his career in the NHL, after an illegal hit took out his shoulder. And even though the reality is that if he had not retired when he did, he hadn’t had many years left at the top of his sport, and if he weren’t retired by now, it would be coming soon. Which doesn’t make that loss any easier to deal with.

Cat’s circumstances are different. She isn’t eligible for a second chance at love because she’s never let herself be vulnerable enough for a first chance. Her beloved daughter Amy is the result of a leaky condom and what she thought might be the beginning of a relationship while the guy in question was trying to win a bet. That circumstance, on top of her dad’s betrayal, has left Cat understandably gunshy about men and relationships.

But she does need to step back and do a re-think of her choices and her options. She’s been so focused on achieving her academic goals that she hasn’t been able to look at the big picture. A picture that makes the future look a lot like the past and present, stringing together enough temporary teaching gigs to make barely enough to keep Amy and herself fed and clothed by working 16 hours a day for too little pay. Liberal arts Ph. D.s are unfortunately on the wrong end of a buyer’s market. There are too many candidates and not nearly enough tenure-track jobs.

Both Luc and Cat are back in Firefly Lake at the point of a kind of “time-out” in both of their lives. Even though neither of them is looking for it, both of them are in a position where they need to re-think both their pasts and their futures.

And what they discover is that the affection that they’ve always had for each other is still there, but that now they have the possibility of more – if they can get past the baggage that they are both tripping over on the way there. As their chemistry heats up but the roadblocks multiply, their HEA looks like it might derail before it even leaves the station. It’s only when they all (including Amy) finally decide to go for it anyway that they are able to reach for the future, together.

~~~~~~ TOURWIDE GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

Jen is offering one (1) lucky Grand Prize winner a $25 Amazon Gift Card and a paperback copy of Back Home at Firefly Lake. Five (5) runner-up winners will receive a paperback copy of their choice from the Firefly Lake series! This giveaway is open internationally. To enter, simply fill out the Rafflecopter below:

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Review: Christmas at Thorncliff Manor by Sophie Barnes + Giveaway

Review: Christmas at Thorncliff Manor by Sophie Barnes + GiveawayChristmas at Thorncliff Manor (Secrets at Thorncliff Manor, #4) by Sophie Barnes
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: historical romance, holiday romance
Pages: 244
Published by Sophie Barnes on December 5th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

More than love is in the air …Join the Heartly family as they return to Thorncliff Manor for the holiday season where four sisters and four very handsome, very eligible bachelors, are about to enjoy a lively Christmastime filled with laughter and love. But aside from the covert matchmaking undertaken by the eccentric hostess, Lady Duncaster, the thrill of adventure is sweeping through the estate. Soon, all the guests will be entangled in a treasure hunt for a lost heirloom and secrets hidden for decades will rise to the surface as matters of the heart are finally revealed.

Will Fiona ever see the Earl of Chadwick as more than a friend? Will Emily find an unlikely love in the Marquess of Montsmouth? Can Laura recognize the man of her dreams in the Duke of Lamont? And is Viscount Belgrave able to open Rachel’s eyes to romance? The magic of Thorncliff is about to offer the last unmarried Heartly sisters a chance at their own happily-ever-afters. So sit back with a warm mug of cocoa and lose yourself in a Regency Christmas Romance…

My Review:

Christmas at Thorncliff Manor is a delightful little sugarplum of a holiday romance.

It is also the final book in the Secrets at Thorncliff Manor series, and as such, it does its level best to both resolve the outstanding mysteries left from the first three books in the series and get the remaining Heartly daughters happily married before the final page.

I have not read the previous books in the series, and it looks like some absolutely fascinating things occurred during those books. Thorncliffe Manor is hiding a secret stash of valuables smuggled out of France during the Terror. And while those who betrayed the nobles who left that stash have been revealed and received their just desserts, the treasure trove itself has never discovered.

Not that several of the Heartly siblings, among others, have not spent a significant amount of time hunting for it.

Fiona is hoping to find her great-aunts jewel box. The Marquess of Montsmouth, an avid art collector, wants to find the paintings that are supposed to be included. They do not end up with each other.

But the remaining Heartly sisters, fun-loving Fiona, author Laura, artist Emily and scientist Rachel, do find their happily ever afters where they at least least expect them, among the wealthy, titled, and eligible men that their hostess Lady Duncaster has invited to spend the holidays at Thorncliff Manor.

The fun in this story is watching each of these singular sisters find someone who is just perfect for them. Even the scientific and mathematically inclined Rachel, who can prove with statistical certain that it is statistically impossible for her to ever meet the right man for her.

Instead, one after another the sisters find their matches, men who appreciate them as they are, and have no desire to attempt to mold them into what society expects them to be.

The sweetest story of all is Fiona’s. She is finally mature enough to see that the man who has been her playmate and protector is the only man she could ever possibly love. Even though trying for more has the potential to ruin the foundational friendship of both of their lives, it is too great a prize for them not to risk it all.

Finding the missing treasure is the icing on a very delicious cake of a holiday romance.

Escape Rating B+: If you’re looking for a sweet historical holiday romance, Christmas at Thorncliff Manor is an excellent choice. And I say that even though I have not read the rest of the series. It seems clear that there is more depth to the backstory if you’ve read them all, but this entry is surprisingly complete in itself, especially considering that the Heartly siblings have been hunting for that treasure from the very first book.

The holiday party setting also adds to the fun, and it provides the “glue” that makes these four separate romances stick together. It’s obvious to the reader, and to at least some of the participants, that someone is matchmaking in the background, and that everyone is more than willing to go along for the ride.

I did find Fiona and Chadwick’s romance to have the most depth. It does feel as if they are the primary couple in the story, and we see Fiona’s point of view more than her sisters. Their romance is in a classic trope. They have known each other forever, but Chadwick was her older brother’s friend. He has treated her like a little sister, but now she is 19 and he has finally realized that she is the woman he wants to marry. He has to figure out how to make her see him as something other than an older brother without scaring her off. And there’s a bit of a bittersweet touch because he knows this marks an ending no matter what happens. If she can’t see him as a romantic partner, he’ll need to step away from a family that has become a second home to him.

As I said at the very beginning, this one is a sugarplum, a sweet holiday treat, indeed.

~~~~~~ TOURWIDE GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

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Winter is Coming Giveaway Hop

winteriscomingbutton

Welcome to the second annual Winter is Coming Giveaway Hop,  hosted by The Kids Did It and The Mommy Island.

Winter is really coming, even down here in Atlanta. It’s in the upper 60s as I type, but by the time you read this post the temperature will have dropped 20 degrees and a cold rain is supposed to be falling. My friends up in Anchorage probably think of that as a balmy day, but down here it’s time for everyone to get out all of their winter clothes that it is barely cold enough to wear.

Hopefully your winter won’t be too frostbitten this year!

No matter how cold it is, or not, there’s always time to curl up with a hot libation of your choice and a good book. I’m giving away the winner’s choice of a $10 Amazon Gift Card or a $10 Book from the Book Depository to help provide either the book or the libation. Fill out the rafflecopter for your chance at something to help you while away the cold winter months!

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And for more fabulous prizes, be sure to visit the other stops on the hop!

Review: The Lady Travelers Guide to Larceny with a Dashing Stranger by Victoria Alexander

Review: The Lady Travelers Guide to Larceny with a Dashing Stranger by Victoria AlexanderThe Lady Travelers Guide to Larceny with a Dashing Stranger (The Lady Travelers Society, #2) by Victoria Alexander
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical romance
Series: Lady Travelers Society #2
Pages: 544
Published by Hqn on November 28th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Join the Lady Travelers Society in their latest romantic misadventure, from #1 New York Times bestselling author Victoria Alexander


She must secure her future

A lady should never be obliged to think of matters financial! But when Lady Wilhelmina Bascombe’s carefree, extravagant lifestyle vanishes with the demise of her husband, her only hope lies in retrieving a family treasure—a Renaissance masterpiece currently in the hands of a cunning art collector in Venice. Thankfully, the Lady Travelers Society has orchestrated a clever plan to get Willie to Europe, leading a tour of mothers and daughters…and one curiously attentive man.


He must reclaim his heritage

Dante Augustus Montague’s one passion has long been his family’s art collection. He’s finally tracked a long-lost painting to the enchanting Lady Bascombe. Convinced that the canvas had been stolen, he will use any means to reclaim his birthright—including deception. But how long before pretend infatuation gives way to genuine desire?


Now they’re rivals for a prize that will change everything

Willie and Dante know they’re playing with fire in the magical moonlit city. Their common quest could compromise them both…or lead them to happily-ever-after.

My Review: 

This Lady Travelers Guide is a fitting successor to the first book in this delightful series, The Lady Travelers Guide to Scoundrels and Other Gentlemen, even though both the hero and the heroine are opposites from those in the first book.

Unlike India Prendergast, Lady Wilhelmina Bascombe is quite likeable, and more than a bit uncertain of herself. Which does not stop her from being absolutely determined to find a way to rescue her fortunes without resorting to marrying for money.

As a widow, Willie has a bit of latitude in her behavior. As the widow of a young man who seems to have had zero funds but was determined to have oodles of fun, Willie has few means at her disposal, particularly after she paid off her late husband’s many (many) debts.

She may have eloped with George in a cloud of scandal, but she’s discovered over the two years since his death that she doesn’t miss him very much. And she’s outgrown the constant thrill-seeking that used to be their existence. But she does miss all the friends she thought she had.

And where Derek Saunders certainly had lived up to being the “scoundrel” of the title in that first book, Dante Montague has become a bit too staid and respectable for his sister Rosalind’s comfort. Not that respectability isn’t a good thing, but it seems as if Dante has lost the spirit of fun that he used to have, between managing his investments and managing the down-at-heels art museum he inherited.

But Willie and Dante have something in common, something that is going to bring them together, and very nearly tear them apart.

Once upon a time, Dante’s grandfather owned a beautiful triptych of paintings by one of Titian’s students. And dear grandfather either gave the center painting in the set to Willie’s grandmother – or Willie’s grandmother stole it.

Willie’s late and less-and-less lamented husband pawned it to an Italian collector. She plans to go to Venice to pay back the loan and redeem her painting, so that she can sell it for enough to provide her with financial independence.

But Willie is pretty much flat broke, and the only way she can manage the trip to Venice is to take over as tour host for one of the tours arranged by her godmother’s little enterprise, the Lady Travelers Society.

Dante wants to take back what he believes is “his” painting, and the only way he can do that is to follow Willie to Venice. He contacts the brilliantly idiotic scheme to accompany his sister and her daughter on the Lady Travelers Society tour.

And that’s where everything goes terribly right and horribly wrong, all at the same time. Even before they are forced to flee Venice one step ahead of the polizia.

Escape Rating B+: As Dante discovers, it is impossible not to like Willie Bascombe. Her life was completely overthrown, but she is determined to make the best of the situation that she admits she stuck herself in. George was charming, but neither steady nor trustworthy. Sooner or later, they would have come to financial grief, with or without his death.

Willie is independent, whether she wants to be or not, and she is determined to make the most of it. Not by remarrying for money, but by finding a way to achieve independence on her own. She’s having a difficult time of it, and she’s finding out she has more inner strength and resources than she ever imagined. And that independence can be very, very hard.

One of the lovely bits of this story is the way that the women on Willie’s tour band together and develop a true and sincere friendship, in spite of their many differences. That they all end up first fostering Willie’s relationship with Dante and then uniting against the common enemy is a terrific testimonial to the power of real friendship.

Dante is used to being in control. His investments are successful because he does his research and controls his emotions. While he may have done his research on Willie, he is never, ever in charge of his emotions. Part of what makes the story so much fun is the way that Dante’s sister Rosalind manages to burst his bubble at every turn. She’s his older sister, he’s being a complete idiot, and she relishes calling him on it, while still making it clear that she loves him in his idiocy, even though she refuses to save him from the folly of his own actions.

This is my second book in a row to feature Paris as a setting. In this case, a big chunk of the tour is set in Paris during the time of the 1889 World’s Fair, when the Eiffel Tower was new and a marvel of the world. The descriptions of Paris in general and the Tower in particular are lyrical and moving. It’s astonishing to think that the icon of Paris was originally intended to be a temporary structure.

At the end, this story surprisingly reminded me of the famous short story, The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry. Each tries to give the other something that they once wanted desperately but no longer need. The little bit of mystery at the end is the icing on a very fine cake.

There’s one more book in this series at least so far. The Lady Travelers Guide to Deception with an Unlikely Earl will be published next May. And it looks like another treat!

TLC
This post is part of a TLC book tour. Click on the logo for more reviews and features.

Review: The Paris Secret by Karen Swan

Review: The Paris Secret by Karen SwanThe Paris Secret by Karen Swan
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, historical fiction, women's fiction, World War II
Pages: 416
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks on November 14th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Somewhere along the cobbled streets of Paris, an apartment lies thick with dust and secrets: full of priceless artworks hidden away for decades.

High-flying Fine Art Agent Flora from London, more comfortable with the tension of a million-pound auction than a cosy candlelit dinner for two, is called in to asses these suddenly discovered treasures. As an expert in her field, she must trace the history of each painting and just who has concealed them for so long.

Thrown in amongst the glamorous Vermeil family as they move between Paris and Antibes, Flora begins to discover that things aren't all that they seem, while back at home her own family is recoiling from a seismic shock. The terse and brooding Xavier Vermeil seems intent on forcing Flora out of his family's affairs - but just what is he hiding?

My Review:

This is not the first book to fictionalize the history of the very real Parisian Time Capsule apartment, or even the first book using this apartment that I have read. That would be Paris Time Capsule by Ella Carey – and the fictionalization of its history hews a bit closer to the actual history than does The Paris Secret.

But in spite of the similarity of their origins, the stories are completely different. And also a bit the same, but not so much the same that The Paris Secret does not stand on its own – because it does.

The real Paris Time Capsule apartment

In this version, the “lost” apartment belongs to the wealthy and philanthropic Vermeil family, and they are as surprised as anyone else when their lawyer informs them that someone has broken into this apartment that they never knew they owned. It’s even more surprising that the apartment turns out to be a virtual treasure-trove of modernist art, including paintings and sketches by Renoir, Picasso and others. These art treasures have not seen the light of day since the apartment was closed up during the dark days of the Nazis occupation of Paris during WW2.

Our heroine, Flora Sykes, is the art history expert who is tasked with cataloging the vast collection and researching its provenance for the Vermeil family. But her involvement with the family gets off to a rocky start, and stays rocky throughout the book. Sometimes because of the family, but mostly because of what Flora discovers about them.

Their present is gossip-worthy enough on its own. The two adult children of the family, Xavier and Natascha. They are at the top of every gossip site – their exploits and tantrums are legendary. And something about Flora seems to rub both of them absolutely the wrong way, to the point where they both act out every time they are around her.

But it’s the past of the family that Flora uncovers, and that is where history comes in. In order to sell the treasure trove, or even to donate it to museums, Flora must determine its provenance, in other words just how all those paintings came to be in that apartment in the first place.

That search takes her back to the war, and unearths a terrible secret that everyone wishes had never come to light. But once it does, there is no going back. Only forwards. Because the whole truth has been buried under layer after layer of lies and deceits, and it is past time for everything to finally be revealed.

Not in black or white, but in terrible shades of gray.

Escape Rating B: It was fascinating to read a book that used the exact same premise as something I’d already read, and see where this author used the inspiration in an entirely different way.

Paris Time Capsule focused more on uncovering the history. The Paris Secret revolves around the art. History gets uncovered, but it uses the art as a focus in a way that made the two stories very different.

The Paris Secret also illuminates one of the murkier (and often nastier) facets of the Nazi occupation of Paris. The ownership of the paintings traces back to an art dealer who was reviled for his cooperation with the Nazis. He was instrumental in the forcing of many Jewish families to sell their precious collections at gunpoint for bargain-basement prices in the families’ belief that they were buying freedom for themselves – when all they received was betrayal while the dealer made a fortune.

The betrayal was even more heinous because the dealer himself was a Jew. If he hadn’t died in 1942, after the war he would certainly have been tried as a collaborateur and ultimately convicted.

But of course this is not the whole story, and the revelation of all the truths involved adds depth to the contemporary parts of the book. Not that there are not plenty of revelations there as well.

Because the more that Flora interacts with the family, the more she sees beneath the surface. The tragic events in Natascha’s own past have bearing both on her present and on the current real-life revelations of the sexual misconduct of prominent figures in the entertainment world today. That resonance is more profound than might even have been intended at the time this book was first published over a year ago in Britain.

Layered on top of the history and the present-day traumas there is a romance between Flora and the Vermeil’s adult son and all-around bad boy, Xavier Vermeil. For this reader, the romance fell just a bit flat, as did Flora’s own family drama. Your mileage, of course, may vary.

There is at least one other book that revolves around the discovery of the real-life apartment, appropriately titled A Paris Apartment by Michelle Gable. And it looks worth checking out too. The story of the lost apartment is just so fascinating that more interpretations seem irresistible!

TLC
This post is part of a TLC book tour. Click on the logo for more reviews and features.

The Sunday Post AKA What’s on my (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 12-3-17

Sunday Post

It’s so hard to believe that it’s December. Especially since it has been in the 60s in Atlanta this week. But it is, and the winter holidays are just around the corner.

It’s also blog hop season. It looks like I’ll be giving something away every week between now and Xmas. Which reminds me. Reading Reality is an Amazon Associate, and if you click on any of the links in my posts, and then do some of your Xmas shopping at Amazon, I’ll get a teeny, tiny percentage from everything you buy. It won’t cost you anything you weren’t already planning to spend, but it will help with funding the prizes I give away at all the blog hops. Thank you so much for all of your participation and comments and good wishes throughout the year.

Because of the Thanksgiving holiday, I managed to get one really, really long book read. I absolutely adored A Plague of Giants by Kevin Hearne. Now I just have to find a day to post my review. But if you know someone who loves epic fantasy and you’re trying to think of a book to get them for the holidays, A Plague of Giants was marvelous from beginning to end.

Current Giveaways:

$10 Amazon Gift Card or $10 Book in the December Book of Choice Giveaway Hop
$25 Amazon Gift Card from Lori Foster and Harlequin
Paperback copy of Hate to Want You by Alisha Rai

Winner Announcements:

The winner of the $10 Gift Card in the Black Friday Book Bonanza Giveaway Hop is Elizabeth T.
The winner of the $10 Gift Card in the Super Stocking Stuffer Giveaway Hop is Tracy S.

Blog Recap:

A- Review: A Scandal in Battersea by Mercedes Lackey
A Review: Wrong to Need You by Alisha Rai + Giveaway
A- Review: Close Contact by Lori Foster + Giveaway
B Review: Rogue by Anna Hackett
December Book of Choice Giveaway Hop
Stacking the Shelves (264)

Coming Next Week:

The Paris Secret by Karen Swan (blog tour review)
The Lady Travelers Guide to Larceny with a Dashing Stranger by Victoria Alexander (blog tour review)
Winter is Coming Giveaway Hop
Christmas at Thorncliff Manor by Sophie Barnes (blog tour review)
Back Home at Firefly Lake by Jen Gilroy (blog tour review)